I Had thought, Reader, in this Preface to have written somewhat concerning the difference betwixt the Playes of our Age, and those of our Predecessors on the English Stage: to have shewn in what parts of Dramatick Poesie we were excell'd by Ben. John∣son, I mean, humour, and contrivance of Comedy; and in what we may justly claim precedence of Shakespear and Fletcher, namely in Heroick Playes: but this design I have wav'd on second considera∣tions; at least deferr'd it till I publish the Conquest of Granada, where the discourse will be more proper. I had also prepar'd to treat of the improvemeni of our Language since Fletcher's and Johnson's dayes, and consequently of our refining the Courtship, Raillery, and Conver∣sation of Playes: but as I am willing to decline that envy which I shou'd draw on my self from some old Opiniatre judges of the Stage; so likewise I am prest in time so much that I have not leisure, at pre∣sent, to go thorough with it. Neither, indeed, do I value a reputa∣tion gain'd from Comedy, so far as to concern my self about it any more than I needs must in my own defence: for I think it, in it's own noture, inferiour to all sorts of Dramatick writing. Low Comedy espe∣cially requires, on the Writers part, much of conversation with the vulgar: and much of ill nature in the observation of their follies. But let all men please themselves according to their several tastes: that which is not pleasant to me may be to others who judge better: and, to prevent an accusation from my enemies, I am sometimes rea∣dy to imagine that my disgust of low Comedy proceeds not so much from my judgement as from my temper; which is the reason why I so seldom write it; and that when I succeed in it, (I mean so far as to please the Audience) yet I am nothing satisfi'd with what I have done; but am often vex'd to hear the people laugh, and clap, as they perpetually do, where I intended 'em no jest; while they let pass the better things without taking notice of them. Yet even this confirms me in my opi∣nion of slighting popular applause, and of contemning that approbation which those very people give, equally with me, to the Zany of a Moun∣tebank; or to the appearance of an Antick on the Theatre, without wit Page [unnumbered] on the Poets part, or any occasion of laughter from the Actor, besides the ridiculousness of his habit and his Grimaces.
But I have descended before I was aware, from Comedy to Farce; which consists principally of Grimaces. That I admire not any Comedy equally with Tragedy, is, perhaps, from the sullenness of my humor; but that I detest those Farees, which are now the most frequent enter∣tainments of the Stage, I am sure I have reason on my side. Comedy consists, though of low persons, yet of natural actions, and characters; I mean such humours, adventures, and designes, as are to be found and met with in the world. Farce, on the other side, consists of forc'd humours, and unnatural events: Comedy presents us with the imper∣fections of humane nature. Farce entertains us with what is mon∣struous and chimerical: the one causes laughter in those who can judge of men and manners; by the lively representation of their folly or cor∣ruption; the other produces the same effect in those who can judge of neither, and that only by its extravagances. The first works on the judgment and fancy; the latter on the fancy only: There is more of satisfaction in the former kind of laughter, and in the latter more of scorn. But, how it happens that an impossible adventure should cause our mirth, I cannot so easily imagine. Something there may be in the oddness of it, because on the Stage it is the common effect of things un∣expected to surprize us into a delight: and that is to be ascrib'd to the strange appetite, as I may call it, of the fancy; which, like that of a longing Woman, often runs out into the most extravagant desires; and is better satisfi•d sometimes with Loam, or with the Rinds of Trees, than with the wholsome nourishments of life. In short, there is the same difference betwixt Farce and Comedy, as betwixt an Empirique and a true Physitian: both of them may attain their ends; but what the one performs by hazard, the other does by skill. And as the Artist is often unsuccessful, while the Mountebank succeeds; so Farces more commonly take the people than Comedies. For to write unnatural things, is the most probable way of pleasing them, who understand not Nature. And a true Poet often misses of applause, because he cannot debase himself to write so ill as to please his Audience.
After all, it is to be acknowledg'd, that most of those Comedies, which have been lately written, have been ally'd too much to Farce: and this must of necessity fall out till we forbear the translation of French Plays: for their Poets wanting judgement to make, or to Page [unnumbered] maintain true characters, strive to cover their defects with ridiculous Figures and Grimaces. While I say this I accuse my self as well as others: and this very play would rise up in judgment against me, if I would de fend all things I have written to be natural: but I confess I have given too much to the people in it, and am asham'd for them as well as for my self, that I have pleas'd them at so cheap a rate: not that there is anything here which I would not defend to an ill-na∣tur'd judge: (for I despise their censures, who I am sure wou'd write worse on the same subject:) but because I love to deal clearly and plain∣ly, and to speak of my own faults withmore criticism, then I would of another Poets. Yet I think it no vanity to say that this Comedy has as much of entertainment in as it many other which have bin lately written: and, if I find my own errors in it, I am able at the same time to arraign all my Contemporaries for greater. As I pretend not that I can write hu∣mour, so none of them can reasonably pretend to have written it as they ought. Johnson was the only man of all Ages and Nations wo has per∣form'd it well; and that but in three or four of his Comedies: the rest are but a Crambe bis cocta; the same humours a little vary'd and written worse: neither was it more allowable in him, than it is in our present Poets, to represent the follies of particular persons; of which many have accus'd him. Parcere personis dicere de vitiis is the rule of Plays. And Horace tells you that the old Comedy amongst the Grecians was silenc'd for the too great liberties of the Poets.
Of which he gives you the reason in another place: where having gi∣ven the precept.
He immediately subjoyns,
But Ben. Johnson is to be admir'd for many excellencies; and can be tax'd with fewer failings than any English Poet. I know I have been accus'd as an enemy of his writings; but without any other reason than that I do not admire him blindly, and without looking into his imperfections. For why should he only be exempted from those frail∣ties, from which Homer and Virgil are not free? Or why should there be any ipse dixit in our Poetry, any more than there is in our Philosophy? Page [unnumbered] I admire and applaud him where I ought: those who do more do but value themselves in their admiration of him: and, by telling you they extoll Ben. Johnson s way, would insinuate to you that they can pra∣ctice it. For my part I declare that I want judgement to imitate him: and shou'd think it a great impudence in my self to attempt it. To make men appear pleasantly ridiculous on the Stage was, as I have said, his talent: and in this he needed not the acumen of wit, but that of judgement. For the characters and representations of folly are only the effects of observation; and observation is an effect of judg∣ment. Some ingenious men, for whom I have a particular esteem, have thought I have much injur'd Ben. Johnson when I have not al∣low'd his wit to be extraordinary: but they confound the notion of what is witty with what is pleasant. That Ben. Johnson's Playes were pleasant he must want reason who denyes: But that pleasantness was not properly wit, or the sharpness of conceit; but the natural imitation of folly: which I confess to be excellent in it's kind, but not to be of that kind which they pretend. Yet if we will believe Quintilian in his Chapter de Movendo risu, he gives his opinion of both in these fol∣lowing words.
And some perhaps wou'd be apt to say of Johnson as it was said of Demosthenes; Non displicuisse illi j•cos, sed non contig•sse, I will not deny but that I approve most the mixt way of Comedy; that which is neither all wit, nor all humour, but the result of both. Neither so little of humour as Fletcher shews, nor so little of love and wit, as Johnson. Neither all cheat, with which the best Playes of the one are fill'd, nor all adventure, which is the common practice of the other. I would have the characters well chosen, and kept distant from inter∣faring with each other; which is more than Fletcher or Shakespear did: but I would have more of the Urbana, venusta, s•lsa, faceta and the rest which Quintilian reckons up as the ornaments of wit; and these are extremely wanting in Ben. Johnson. As for repartie in par∣ticular; as it is the very soul of conversation, so it is the greatest grace of Comedy, where it is proper to the Characters: there may be much of acuteness in a thing well said; but there is more in a quick reply: sunt, enim, longè venustiora omnia in respondendo quàm in pro∣vocando. Of one thing I am sure, that no man ever will decry wit, Page [unnumbered] but he who despairs of it himself; and who has no other quarrel to it but that which the Fox had to the Grapes. Yet, as Mr. Cowley, (who had a greater portion of it than any man I know) tells us in his Character of Wit, rather than all wit let there be none; I think there's no folly so great in any Poet of our Age as the superfluity and wast of wit was in some of our predecessors: particularly we may say of Flet∣cher and of Shakespear, what was said of Ovid, In omni ejus inge∣nio, facilius quod rejici, quàm quod adjici potest, invenies. The con∣trary of which was true in Virgil and our incomparable Johnson.
Some enemies of Repartie have observ'd to us, that there is a great latitude in their Characters, which are made to speak it: And that it is easier to write wit than humour; because in the characters of humour, the Poet is confin'd to make the person speak what is only pro∣per to it. Whereas all kind of wit is proper in the Character of a witty person. But, by their favour, there are as different characters in wit as in folly. Neither is all kind of wit proper in the mouth of every ingenious person. A witty Coward and a wity Brave must speak differently. Falstaffe and the Lyar, speak not like Don John in the Chances, and Valentine in Wit without Money. And Johnson's Truwit in the Silent Woman, is a Character different from all of them. Yet it appears that this one Character of Wit was more difficult to the Author, than all his images of humour in the Play: For those he could describe and manage from his observation of men; this he has taken, at least a part of it, from books: witness the Specches in the first Act, translated verbatim out of Ovid de Arte Amandi. To omit what afterwards he borrowed from the sixth Satyre of Juvenal a∣gainst Women.
However, if I should grant, that there were a greater latitude in Cha∣racters of Wit, than in those of Humour; yet that latitude would be of small advantage to such Poets who have too narrow an imagination to write it. And to entertain an Audience perpetually with Humour, is to carry them from the conversation of Gentlemen, and treat them with the follies and extravagances of Bedlam.
I find I have launch'd out farther than I intended in the beginning of this Preface. And that in the heat of writing, I have touch'd at something, which I thought to have avoided. 'Tis time now to draw homeward: and to think rather of defending my self, than assaulting others. I have already acknowledg'd that this Play is far from perfect: but I do not think my self oblig'd to discover the imperfections of it to Page [unnumbered] my Adversaries, any more than a guilty person is bound to accuse him∣self before his Judges. 'Tis charg'd upon me that I make debauch'd persons (such as they say my Astrologer and Gamester are) my Prota∣gonists, or the chief persons of the Drama; and that I make them hap∣py in the conclusion of my Play; against the Law of Comedy, which is to reward virtue and punish vice. I answer first, that I know no such law to have been constantly observ'd in Comedy, either by the Ancient or Modern Poets. Choerea is made happy in the Eunuch, after ha∣ving deflour'd a Virgin: and Terence generally does the same through all his Plays, where you perpetually see, not only debauch'd young men enjoy their Mistresses, but even the Courtezans themselves rewarded and honour'd in the Catastrophe. The same may be observ'd in Plautus almost every where. Ben. Johnson himself, after whom I may be proud to erre, has given me more than once the example of it. That in the Alchemist is notorious, where Face, after having contriv'd and car∣ried on the great cozenage of the Play, and continued in it without re∣pentance to the last, is not only forgiven by his Master, but inrich'd by his consent, with the spoiles of those whom he had cheated. And, which is more, his Master himself, a grave man, and a Widower, is introduc'd taking his Man's counsel, debauching the Widow first, in hope to marry her afterward. In the Silent Woman, Dauphine, (who with the other two Gentlemen, is of the same Character with my Celadon in the Maiden Queen, and with Wildblood in this) professes himself in love with all the Collegiate Ladies: and they likewise are all of the same Cha∣racter with each other, excepting only Madam Otter, who has something singular:) yet this naughty Dauphine is crown'd in the end with the possession of his Uncles Estate, and with the hopes of enjoying all his Mi∣stresses. And his friend Mr. Truwit (the best Character of a Gentle∣man which Ben. Johnson ever made) is not asham'd to pimp for him. As for Beaumont and Fletcher, I need not alledge examples out of them; for that were to quote almost all their Comedies. But now it will be objected that I patronize vice by the authority of former Poets, and extenuate my own faults by recrimination. I answer that as I de∣fend my self by their example; so that example I defend by reason, and by the end of all Dramatique Poesie. In the first place therefore give me leave to shew you their mistake who have accus'd me. They have not distinguish'd, as they ought, betwixt-the rules of Tragedy and Comedy. In Tragedy, where the Actions and Persons are great, and the crimes Page [unnumbered] horrid, the laws of justice are more strictly to be observ'd: and exam∣ples of punishment to be made to deterre mankind from the pursuit of vice. Faults of this kind have been rare amongst the Ancient Poets: for they have punish'd in Oedipus, and in his posterity, the sinne which he knew not he had committed. Medea is the only example I remem∣ber at present, who escapes from punishment after murder. Thus Tra∣gedie fulfils one great part of its institution; which is by example to instruct. But in Comedy it is not so; for the chief end of it is diver∣tisement and delight: and that so much, that it is disputed, I think, by Heinsius, before Horace his art of Poetry, whether instruction be any part of its employment. At least I am sure it can be but its secondary end: for the business of the Poet is to make you laugh: when he writes humour he makes folly ridiculous; when wit, he moves you, if not al∣wayes to laughter, yet to a pleasure that is more noble. And if he works a cure on folly, and the small imperfections in mankind, by ex∣posing them to publick view, that cure is not perform'd by an immedi∣ate operation. For it works first on the ill nature of the Audience; they are mov'd to laugh by the representation of deformity; and the shame of that laughter, teaches us to amend what is ridiculous in our manners. This being, then, establish'd, that the first end of Comedie is delight, and instruction only the second; it may reasonably be inferr'd that Comedy is not so much oblig'd to the punishment of the faults which it represents, as Tragedy. For the persons in Comedy are of a lower quality, the action is little, and the faults and vices are but the sallies of youth, and the frailties of humane nature, and not premeditated crimes: such to which all men are obnoxious, not such, as are attemp∣ted only by few, and those abandonn'd to all sense of vertue: such as move pity and commiseration; not detestation and horror; such in short as may be forgiven, not such as must of necessity be punish'd. But, lest any man should think that I write this to make libertinism amiable; or that I car'd not to debase the end and institution of Comedy, so I might thereby maintain my own errors, and those of better Poets; I must farther declare, both for them and for my self, that we make not vicious persons happy, but only as heaven makes sinners so: that is by reclaiming them first from vice. For so 'tis to be suppos'd they are, when they resolve to marry; for then enjoying what they desire in one, they cease to pursue the love of many. So Chaerea is made happy by Page [unnumbered]Terence, in marrying her whom he had deflour'd: And so are Wild∣blood and the Astrologer in this Play.
There is another crime with which I am charg'd, at which I am yet much less concern'd, because it does not relate to my manners, as the former did, but only to my reputation as a Poet: A name of which I assure the Reader I am nothing proud; and therefore cannot be very solicitous to defend it. I am tax'd with stealing all my Playes, and that by some who should be the last men from whom I would steal any part of 'em. There is one answer which I will not make; but it has been made for me by him to whose Grace and Pa∣tronage I owe all things.
And without whose command they shou'd no longer be troubl'd with any thing of mine, that he only desir'd that they who accus'd me of theft would alwayes steal him Playes like mine. But though I have reason to be proud of this defence, yet I should wave it, be∣cause I have a worse opinion of my own Comedies than any of my Enemies can have. 'Tis true, that where ever I have lik'd any story in a Romance, Novel, or forreign Play, I have made no difficulty, nor ever shall, to take the foundation of it, to build it up, and to make it proper for the English Stage. And I will be so vain to say it has lost nothing in my hands: But it alwayes cost me so much trouble to heighten it, for our Theatre (which is incomparably more curious in all the ornaments of Dramatick Poesie, than the French or Spanish) that when I had finish'd my Play, it was like the Hulk of Sir Francis Drake, so strangely alter'd, that there scarce re∣main'd any Plank of the Timber which first built it. To witness this I need go no farther than this Play: It was first Spanish, and call'd El Astrologo fingido; then made French by the younger Corneille: and is now translated into English, and in print, under the name of the Feign'd Astrologer. What I have perform'd in this will best appear by comparing it with those: you will see that I have reje∣cted some adventures which I judg'd were not divertising: that I have heightned those which I have chosen, and that I have added o∣thers which were neither in the French nor Spanish. And besides yoù will easily discover that the Walk of the Astrologer is the least considerable in my Play: for the design of it turns more on the parts Page [unnumbered] of Wildblood and Jacinta, who are the chief persons in it. I have farther to add, that I seldome use the wit and language of any Ro∣mance, or Play which I undertake to alter: because my own inven∣tion (as bad as it is) can furnish me with nothing so dull as what is there. Those who have call'd Virgil, Terence, and Tasso Plagiaries (though they much injur'd them,) had yet a better colour for their accusation: For Virgil has evidently translated Theocritus, He∣siod, and Homer, in many places; besides what he has taken from Ennius in his own language. Terence was not only known to translate Menander, (which he avows also in his Prologues) but was said also to be help' in those Translations by Scipio the African, and Laelius. And Tasso, the most excellent of modern Poets, and whom I reverence next to Virgil, has taken both from Homer many admirable things which were left untouch'd by Virgil, and from Virgil himself where Homer cou'd not furnish him. Yet the bodies of Virgil's and Tasso's Poems were their own: and so are all the Ornaments of language and elocution in them. The same (if there were any thing commendable in this Play) I could say for it. But I will come nearer to our own Countrymen. Most of Shakespear's Playes, I mean the Stories of them, are to be found in the Heca∣tommuthi, or hundred Novels of Cinthio. I have, my self, read in his Italian, that of Romeo and Juliet, the Moor of Venice, and many others of them. Beaumont and Fletcher had most of theirs from Spanish Novels: witness the Chances, the Spanish Cu∣rate, Rule a Wife and have a Wife, the Little French Lawyer, and so many others of them as compose the greatest part of their Volume in folio. Ben. Johnson, indeed, has design'd his Plots him∣self; but no man has borrow'd so much from the Ancients as he has done: And he did well in it, for he has thereby beautifi'd our language.
But these little Criticks do not well consider what is the work of a Poet, and what the Graces of a Poem: The Story is the least part of either: I mean the foundation of it, before it is modell'd by the art of him who writes it; who formes it with more care, by expo∣sing only the beautiful parts of it to view, than a skilful Lapidary sets a Jewel. On this foundation of the Story the Characters are rais'd: and, since no Story can afford Characters enough for the variety of the English Stage, it follows that it is to be alter'd, and Page [unnumbered] inlarg'd, with new persons, accidents, and designes, which wil almost make it new. When this is done, the forming it into Acts, and Scenes, disposing of actions and passións into their proper places, and beauti∣fying both with descriptions, similitudes, and propriety of language, is the principal employment of the Poet; as being the largest field of fan∣cy, which is the principall quality requir'd in him: For so much the word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 imployes. Judgement, indeed, is necessary in him; but 'tis fancy that gives the life touches, and the secret graces to it; espe∣cially in serious Plays, which depend not much on observation. For to write humour in Comedy (which is the theft of Poets from man∣kind) little of fancy is requir'd; the Poet observes only what is ridi∣culous, and pleasant folly, and by judging exactly what is so, he plea∣ses in the representation of it.
But in general, the employment of a Poet, is like that of a curious Gunsmith, or Watchmaker: the Iron or Silver is not his own; but they are the least part of that which gives the value: The price lyes wholly in the workmanship. And he who works dully on a Story, without mo∣ving laughter in a Comedy, or raising concernments in a serious Play, is no more to be accounted a good Poet, than a Gunsmith of the Mino∣ries is to be compar'd with the best workman of the Town.
But I have said more of this than I intended; and more, perhaps, than I needed to have done: I shall but laugh at them hereafter, who accuse me with so little reason; and withall contemn their dulness, who, if they could ruine that little reputation I have got, and which I value not, yet would want both wit and learning to establish their own; or to be rememberd in after ages for any thing, but only that which makes them ridiculous in this.