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impaled, is certainly the sign of a cruel temper: and as this is often practised before the British audience, several French critics, who think these are grateful spectacles to us, take occasion from them to represent us as a people that delight in blood. It is indeed very odd, to see our stage strewed with carcases in the last scenes of a tragedy; and to observe in the wardrobe of the play-house several daggers, poniards, wheels, bowls for poison, and many other instruments of death. Murders and executions are always transacted behind the scenes in the French theatre; which in general is very agreeable to the manners of a polite and civilized people: but as there are no exceptions to this rule on the French stage, it leads them into absurdities almost as ridiculous as that which falls under our preI remember in the famous play of Cor. neille, written upon the subject of the Horatii and Curiatii, the fierce young hero who had overcome the Curiatii one after another, (instead of being congratulated by his sister for his victory, being upbraided by her for having slain her lover) in the height of his passion and resentment kills her. If any thing could extenuate so brutal an action, it would be the doing of it on a sudden, before the sentiments of nature, reason, or manhood could take place in him. However, to avoid public bloodshed, as soon as his passion is wrought to its height, he follows his sister the whole length of the stage, and forbears killing her till they are both withdrawn behind the scenes. I must confess, had he murdered her before the audience, the indecency might have been greater; but as it is, it ap pears very unnatural, and looks like killing in cold blood. To give my opinion upon this case, the fact ought not to have been represented, but to have been told, if there was any occasion for it.
It may not be unacceptable to the reader to see how Sophocles has conducted a tragedy under the like delicate circumstances. Orestes was in the same condition with Hamlet in Shakspeare, his mother having mw.
dered his father, and taken possession of his kingdom in conspiracy with her adulterer. That young prince, therefore, being determined to revenge his father's death upon those who filled his throne, conveys himself by a beautiful stratagem into his mother's apartment, with a resolution to kill her. But because such a spectacle would have been too shocking to the audience, this dreadful resolution is executed behind the scenes: the mother is heard calling out to her son for mercy; and the son answering her, that she showed no mercy to his father: after which she shrieks out that she is wounded, and by what follows we find that she is slain. I do not remember that in any of our plays there are speeches made behind the scenes, though there are other instances of this nature to be met with in those of the ancients; and I believe my reader will agree with me, that there is something infinitely more affecting in this dreadful dialogue be tween the mother and her son behind the scenes, than could have been in any thing transacted before the audience. Orestes immediately after meets the usurper at the entrance of his palace; and by a very happy thought of the poet, avoids killing him before the audience, by telling him that he should live some time in his present bitterness of soul before he would dispatch him, and by ordering him to retire into that part of the palace where he had slain his father, whose murder he would revenge in the very same place where it was committed. By these means the poet observes that decency, which Horace afterwards established by a rule, of forbearing to commit parricides or unnatural murders before the audience.
Nec coram populo natos Medea trucidet.
Ars Poet. ver. 185.
"Let not Medea draw her murd'ring knife, And spill her children's blood upon the stage."
The French have therefore refined too much upon Horace's rule, who never designed to banish all kinds of death from the stage; but only such as had too much horror in them, and which would have a better effect upon the audience when transacted behind the scenes. I would therefore recommend to my countrymen the practice of the ancient poets, who were very sparing of their public executions, and rather chose to perform them behind the scenes, if it could be done with as great an effect upon the audience. At the same time I must observe, that though the devoted persons of the tragedy were seldom slain before the audience, which has generally something ridiculous in it, their bodies were often produced after their death, which has always in it something melancholy or terri. fying; so that the killing on the stage does not seem to have been avoided only as an indecency, but also as an improbability.
Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet;
I have now gone through the several dramatic inventions which are made use of by the ignorant poets to supply the place of tragedy, and by the skilful to improve it; some of which I could wish entirely rejected, and the rest to be used with caution. It would be an endless task to consider comedy in the same
light, and to mention the innumerable shifts that small wits put in practice to raise a laugh. Bullock in a short coat, and Norris in a long one, seldom fail of this effect. In ordinary comedies, a broad and a narrow brimmed hat are different characters. Sometimes the wit of the scene lies in a shoulder-belt, and sometimes in a pair of whiskers. A lover running about the stage, with his head peeping out of a barrel*, was thought a very good jest in King Charles the Second's time; and invented by one of the first wits of that age. But because ridicule is not so delicate as compassion, and because the objects that make us laugh are infinitely more numerous than those that make us weep, there is a much greater latitude for comic than tragic artifices, and by consequence a much greater indulgence to be allowed them.
ON THE PROPER READING OF
THE COMMON PRAYER.
Pronunciatio est vocis et vultus et gestus moderatio oum venustate.
Delivery is a graceful management of the voice, countenance, and gesture.
IE WELL READING OF THE COMMON PRAYER is of so great importance, and so much neglected, that I take the liberty to offer to the consideration of the reader some particulars on that subject; and what more worthy his observation than this? A thing so public, and of so high consequence.
The comedy of The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub, by Sir George Etheridge, 1664.
It is indeed wonderful, that the frequent exercise of it should not make the performers of that duty more expert in it. This inability, as I conceive, proceeds from the little care that is taken of their reading, while boys are at school, where the reading of English is wholly neglected, or at least read to very little purpose, without any due observations made to them on the proper accent and manner of reading: by this means they have acquired such ill habits as will not easily be removed. The only way that I know of to remedy this, is to propose some person of great ability that way as a pattern for them; example being most effectual to convince the learned, as well as instruct the ignorant.
I have been a constant frequenter of the service of the church of England for above these four years last past, and until Sunday was seven-night never discovered, to so great a degree, the excellency of the com. mon-prayer. When being at St. James's, Garlick-hill church, I heard the service read so distinctly, 20 emphatically, and so fervently, that it was next to an impossibility to be unattentive. My eyes and my thoughts could not wander as usual, but were confined to my prayers: I then considered I addressed myself to the Almighty, and not to a beautiful face. And when I reflected on my former performances of that duty, I found I had run it over as a matter of form, in comparison to the manner in which I then discharged it. My mind was really affected, and fervent wishes accompanied my words. The confession was read with such a resigned humility, the absolution with such a comfortable authority, the thanksgivings with such a religious joy, as made me feel those affections of the mind in the manner I never did before. To remedy therefore the grievance above complained of, I humbly propose, that this excellent reader, upon the next and every annual assembly of the clergy of Sion-College, and all other conventions, should read prayers before them. For then those that are afraid of stretching their mouths, and spoiling their soft voices, will