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many leagues. I even say (though you will think me a bad judge of this) that the world will like it better. I am struck with the chorus, who are not there merely to sing and dance, but bear throughout a principal part in the action; and have (beside the costume, which is excellent) as much a character of their own, as any other person. I am charmed with their priestly pride and obstinacy, when, after all is lost, they resolve to confront the Roman general, and spit in his face. But now I am going to tell you what touches me most from the beginning. The first opening is greatly improved: the curiosity of Didius is now a very natural reason for dwelling on each particular of the scene before him; nor is the description at all too long. I am glad to find the two young men are Cartismandua's sons. They interest me far more. I love people of condition. They were men before that nobody knew: one could not make them a bow if one had met them at a public place.
I always admired that interruption of the druids to Evelina, Peace, virgin, peace, &c. and chiefly the abstract idea personified (to use the words of a critic). at the end of it. That of Caractacus, Would save my queen, &c. and still more that, I know it, reverend
a conclusion, yet it was afterwards in many places altered. He was mistaken with regard to the opinion the world would have about it. That world, which usually loves to be led in such matters, rather than form an opinion for itself, was taught a different sentiment; and one of its leaders went so far as to des clare, that he never knew a second work fall so much below a first from the same hand. To oppose Mr. Gray's judgment to his, I must own gives me some satisfaction; and to enjoy it I am willing to risk that imputation of vanity, which may probably fall to my share for having published this letter. I must add, however, that some of my friends advised it for the sake of the more ge neral criticisms which they thought too valuable to be suppressed.
fathers, 'tis Heav'n's high will, &c. to I've done, begin the rites! This latter is exemplary for the expression (always the great point with me); I do not mean by expression the mere choice of words, but the whole dress, fashion, and arrangement of a thought. Here, in particular, it is the brokenness, the ungrammatical position, the total subversion of the period that charms me. All that ushers in the incantation from Try we yet, what holiness can do, I am delighted with in quite another way; for this is pure poetry, as it ought to be, forming proper transition, and leading on the mind to that still purer poetry that follows it.
In the beginning of the succeeding act I admire the chorus again, Is it not now the hour, the holy hour, &c. and their evasion of a lie, Say'st thou, proud boy, &c. and sleep with the unsun'd silver, which is an example of a dramatic simile. The sudden appearance of Caractacus, the pretended respect and admiration of Vellinus, and the probability of his story, the distrust of the druids, and their reasoning with Caractacus, and particularly that 'Tis meet thou should'st, thou art a king, &c. and Mark me, prince, the time will come, when destiny, &c. are well, and happily imagined. A-propos, of the last striking passage I have mentioned, I am going to make a digression.
When we treat a subject, where the manners are almost lost in antiquity, our stock of ideas must needs be small; and nothing betrays our poverty more, than the returning to, and harping frequently on, one image. It was therefore I thought you should omit some lines before, though good in themselves, about the scythed car, that the passage
now before us might appear with greater lustre when it came; and in this I see you have complied with me. But there are other ideas here and there still, that occur too often, particularly about the oaks, some of which I would discard to make way for the rest.
But the subjects I speak of to compensate (and more than compensate) that unavoidable poverty, have one great advantage when they fall into good hands. They leave an unbounded liberty to pure imagination and fiction, (our favourite provinces) where no critic can molest, or antiquary gainsay us; and yet (to please me) these fictions must have some affinity, some seeming connexion, with that little we really know of the character and customs of the people. For example, I never heard in my days that midnight and the moon were sisters; that they carried rods of ebony and gold, or met to whisper on the top of a mountain: but now I could lay my life it is all true; and do not doubt it will be found so in some pantheon of the druids, that is to be discovered in the Library at Herculaneum. The car of Destiny and Death is a very noble invention of the same class, and as far as that goes, is so fine, that it makes me more delicate than perhaps I should be, about the close of it. Andraste sailing on the wings of Fame, that snatches the wreaths from oblivion to hang them on her loftiest amaranth, though a clear and beautiful piece of unknown mythology, has too Greek an air to give me perfect satisfaction.
Now I proceed. The preparation to the chorus, though so much akin to that in the former act, is excellent. The remarks of Evelina and her suspi
cions of the brothers, mixed with a secret inclination to the younger of them, (though, I think, her part throughout wants retouching) yet please me much, and the contrivance of the following scene much more. Masters of wisdom, no, &c. I always admired; as I do the rocking stone, and the distress of Elidurus. Evelina's examination of him is a well-invented scene, and will be, with a little pains, a very touching one; but the introduction of Arviragus is superlative. I am not sure whether those few lines of his short narrative, My strength repair'd, it boots not, that I tell, &c. do not please me as much as any thing in the whole drama. The sullen bravery of Elidurus, the menaces of the chorus, that Think not, religion, &c. the trumpet of the druids, that I'll follow him, though in my chains, &c. Hast thou a brother, no, &c. the placability of the chorus, when they see the motives of Elidurus's obstinacy, give me great contentment: so do the reflections of the druid on the necessity of lustration, and the reasons for Vellinus's easy escape; but I would not have him seize on a spear, nor issue hasty through the cavern's mouth. Why should he not steal away, unasked and unmissed, till the hurry of passions in those, that should have guarded him, was a little abated? But I chiefly admire the two speeches of Elidurus; Ah, Vellinus, is this then, &c. and, Ye do gaze on me, fathers, &c. the manner in which the chorus reply to him is very fine; but the image at the end wants a little mending. The next scene is highly moving! it is so very good, that I must have it made yet
Now for the last act. I do not know what you
would have, but to me the design and contrivance of it is at least equal to any part of the whole. The short-lived triumph of the Britons, the address of Caractacus to the Roman victims, Evelina's discovery of the ambush, the mistake of the Roman fires for the rising sun, the death of Arviragus, the interview between Didius and Caractacus, his mourning over his dead son, his parting speech, (in which you have made all the use of Tacitus that your plan would admit) every thing, in short, but that little dispute between Didius and him; 'Tis well; and therefore to increase that reverence, &c. down to, Give me a moment (which must be omitted, or put in the mouth of the druids) I approve in the highest degree. If I should find any fault with the last act, it could only be with trifles and little expressions. If you make any alterations, I fear it will never improve it; I mean as to the plan. I send you back the two last sheets, because you bid me. I reserve my nibblings and minutiæ for another day.
MR. GRAY TO MR. MASON.
Cambridge, Dec. 19, 1757.
A LIFE spent out of the world has its hours of despondence, its inconveniences, its sufferings, as numerous and as real, though not quite of the same sort, as a life spent in the midst of it. The power we have, when we will exert it over our own minds, joined to a little strength and consolation,