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indebted for our good fortune to the under-plot of Adrastus, Eurydice, and Creon. The truth' is, he miserably failed in the character of his hero: If he desired that Edipus should be pitied, he should have made him a better man. He forgot, that Sophocles had taken care to show him, in his first entrance, a just, a merciful, a successful, a religious prince, and, in short, a father of his country. Instead of these, he has drawn him suspicious, designing, more anxious of keeping the Theban crown, than solicitous for the safety of his people; hectored by Theseus, condemned by Dirce, and scarce maintaining a second part in his own tragedy. This was an error in the first concoction; and therefore never to be mended in the second or the third. He introduced a greater hero than Edipus himself; for when Theseus
was once there, that companion of Hercules must yield to none. The poet was obliged to furnish him with business, to make him an equipage suitable to his dignity; and, by following him too close, to lose his other king of Brentford in the crowd. Seneca, on the other side, as if there were no such thing as nature to be minded in a play, is always running after pompous expression, pointed sentences, and philosophical notions, more proper
for the study than the stage: the Frenchman followed a wrong scent; and the Roman was absolutely at cold hunting. All we could gather out of Corneille was, that an episode must be, but not his way; and Seneca supplied us with no new hint, but only a relation which he makes of his Tiresias raising the ghost of Laius; which is here performed in view of the audience, the rites and ceremonies, so far his, as he agreed with antiquity, and the religion of the Greeks. But he himself was beholden to Homer's Tiresias, in the “Odysses,” for some of them; and the rest have been collected from Heliodore's “ Ethiopiques," and Lucan's Erictho*. Sophocles, indeed, is admirable everywhere; and therefore we have followed him as close as possibly we could. But the Athenian theatre, (whether more perfect than ours, is not now disputed,) had a perfection differing from ours. You see there in every act a single scene, (or two at most, which manage the business of the play; and after that succeeds the chorus, which commonly takes up more time in singing, than there has been employed in speaking. The principal person appears almost constantly through the play; but the inferior parts seldom above once in the whole tragedy. The conduct of our stage is much more difficult, where we are obliged never to lose any considerable character, which we have once presented. Custom likewise has obtained, that we must form an under-plot of second persons, which must be depending on the first ; and their by-walks must be like those in a labyrinth, which all of them lead into the great parterre; or like so many several lodging chambers, which have their outlets into the same gallery. Perhaps, after all, if we could think so, the ancient method, as it is the easiest, is also the most natural, and the best. For variety, as it is managed, is too often subject to breed distraction; and while we would please too many ways, for want of art in the conduct, we please in none*
* Heliodorus, bishop of Trica, wrote a romance in Greek, called the “ Ethiopiques," containing the amours of Theagenes and Chariclea. He was so fond of this production, that, the option being proposed to him by a synod, he rather chose to resign his bishopric than destroy his work. There occurs a scene of incantation in this romance. The story of Lucan's witch occurs in the sixth book of the Pharsalia,
Dryden has judiciously imitated Seneca, in representing necromancy as the last resort of Tiresias, after all milder modes of au
gury had failed.
* But we have given you more already than was necessary for a preface; and, for aught we know, may gain no more by our instructions, than that politic nation is like to do, who have taught their enemies to fight so long, that at last they are in a condition to invade them t.
It had been much to be wished, that our author had preferred his own better judgment, and the simplicity of the Greek plot, to compliance with this foolish custom.
+ This seems to allude to the French, who, after having repeatedly reluced the Dutch to extremity, were about this period defeated by the Prince of Orange, in ihe battle of Muns. See the next note.
WHEN Athens all the Grecian state did guide,
* On the 17th of August, 1678, the Prince of Orange, afterwards William III. marched to the attack of the French army, which blockaded Mons, and lay secured by the most formidable entrenchinents. Notwithstanding a powerful and well-served artillery, the duke of Luxemburgh was forced to abandon his trenches, and retire with great loss. The English and Scottish regiments, under the gailant carl of Ossory, had their full share in the glory of the day. It is strongly suspected, that the Prince of Orange, when he wildertook this perilous atchievement, knew that a peace had been signed hetwixt France and the States, though the intelligence was not made public till next day. Carleton says, that the troops, when drawn up for the aitack, supposed the purpose was io fire a few-de-joie for the conclusion of the war. The enterprize, therefore, though successful, was neediess as well as desperate, and merited Dryden's oblique censure.
With some respect to ancient wit proceed ;