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are exposed to it, only by inexperience; who want not inclination to wisdom or virtue, though they have been dissipated by negligence, or misled by example; and who would gladly find the way to rational happiness, though it should be necessary to struggle with habit, and abandon fashion. To these many arts of spending time might be recommended, which would neither sadden the present hour with weariness, nor the future with repentance.
It would seem impossible to a solitary speculatist, that a human being can want employment. To be born in ignorance with a capacity of knowledge, and to be placed in the midst of a world filled with variety, perpetually pressing upon the senses and irritating curiosity, is surely a sufficient security against the languishment of inattention. Novelty is indeed necessary to preserve eagerness and alacrity; but art and nature have stores inexhaustible by human intellects; and every moment produces something new to him, who has quickened his faculties by diligent observation.
Some studies, for which the country and the summer afford peculiar opportunities, I shall perhaps endeavour to recommend in a future essay; but if there be any apprehension not apt to admit unaccustomed ideas, or any attention so stubborn and inflexible, as not easily to comply with new directions, even these obstructions cannot exclude the pleasure of application ; for there is a higher and nobler employment, to which all faculties are adapted by Him who gave them. The duties of religion, sincerely and regularly performed, will always be sufficient to exalt the mean est, and to exercise the highest understanding. That mind will never be vacant, which is frequently recalled by stated duties to meditations on eternal interests ; nor can any hour be long, which is spent in obtaining some new qualification for celestial happiness.
NUMB. 125. TUESDAY, May 28, 1751.
Descriptas servare vices, operumque colores,
But if, through weakness, or my want of art,
It is one of the maxims of the civil law, that definitions are hazardous. Things modified by human understandings, subject to varieties of complication, and changeable as experience advances knowledge, or accident influences caprice, are scarcely to be included in any standing form of expression, because they are always suffering some alteration of their state. Definition is, indeed, not the province of man ; every thing is set above or below our faculties. The works and operations of nature are too great in their extent, or too much diffused in their relations, and the performances of art too inconstant and uncertain, to be reduced to any determinate idea. It is impossible to impress upon our minds an adequate and just representation of an object so great that we can never take it into our view, or so mutable that it is always changing under our eye, and has already lost its form while we are labouring to conceive it.
Definitions have been no less difficult or uncertain in criticisms than in law. Imagination, a licentious and vagrant faculty, unsusceptible of limitations, and impatient of restraint, has always endeavoured to baffle the logician, to perplex the confines of distinction, and burst the inclosures of regularity. There is therefore scarcely any species of writing, of which we can tell what is its essence, and what are its constituents; every new genius produces some innovation, which, when invented and approved, subverts the rules which the practice of foregoing authors had established.
Comedy has been particularly unpropitious to definers; for though perhaps they might properly have contented themselves, with declaring it to be such a dramatick representation of human life, as may excite mirth, they have embarrassed their definition with the means by which the comick writers attain their end, without considering that the various methods of exhilarating their audience, not being limited by nature, cannot be comprised in precept. Thus, , some make comedy a representation of mean, and others of bad men; some think that its essence consists in the unimportance, others in the fictitiousness of the transaction. But any man's reflections will inform him, that every dramatick composition which raises mirth, is comick; and that, to raise mirth, it is by no means universally necessary, that the personages should be either mean or corrupt, nor always requisite, that the action should be trivial, nor ever, that it should be fictitious.
If the two kinds of dramatick poetry had been defined only by their effects upon the mind, some absurdities might have been prevented, with which the compositions of our greatest poets are disgraced, who, for want of some settled ideas and accurate distinctions, have unhappily confounded tragick with comick sentiments. They seem to have thought, that as the meanness of personages constituted comedy, their greatness was sufficient to form a tragedy; and that nothing was necessary but that they should crowd the scene with monarchs, and generals, and guards; and make them talk, at certain intervals, of the downfall of kingdoms, and the rout of armies. They have not considered, that thoughts or incidents, in themselves ridiculous, grow still more grotesque by the solemnity of such characters; that reason and nature are uniform and inflexible; and that what is despicable and absurd, will not, by any association with splendid titles, become rational or great; that the most important affairs, by an intermixture of an unseasonable levity, may be made contemptible ; and that the robes of royalty can give no dignity to nonsense or to folly.
Comedy,” says Horace, “ sometimes raises her voice ;” and Tragedy may likewise on proper occasions abate her dignity ; but as the comick personages can only depart from their familiarity of style, when the more violent passions are put in motion, the heroes and queens of tragedy should
never descend to trifle, but in the hours of ease, and intermissions of danger. Yet in the tragedy of Don Sebastian, when the king of Portugal is in the hands of his enemy, and having just drawn the lot, by which he is condemned to die, breaks out into a wild boast that his dust shall take possession of Africk, the dialogue proceeds thus between the captive and his conqueror :
Muley Moluch. What shall I do to conquer thee?
Seb. Impossible !
M. Mol. I 'll shew thee for a monster thro' my Africk.
Seb. No, thou canst only shew me for a man : Africk is stor’d with monsters ; man 's a prodigy Thy subjects have not seen.
M. Mol. Thou talk'st as if Still at the head of battle.
Seb. Thou mistak'st : For there I would not talk.
Benducar, the Minister. Sure he would sleep.
This conversation, with the sly remark of the mi. nister, can only be found not to be comick, because it wants the probability necessary to representations of common life, and degenerates too much towards buffoonery and farce.
The same play affords a smart return of the general to the emperor, who, enforcing his orders for the death of Sebastian, vents his impatience in this abrupt threat:
No more replies, But see thou dost it: OrTo which Dorax answers,
Choak in that threat: I can say Or as loud.