ON DRAMATIC CRITICS
(Addison in the “Spectator”)
No. 592. FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 1714.
“—Studium sine divite
HOR. ARS POET. 409.
“Art without a vein.”
I look upon the playhouse as a world within itself. They have lately furnished the middle region of it with a new set of meteors, in order to give the sublime to many modern tragedies. I was there last winter at the first rehearsal of the new thunder,[A] which is much more deep and sonorous than any hitherto made use of. They have a Salmonus behind the scenes who plays it off with great success. Their lightnings are made to flash more briskly than heretofore; their clouds are also better furbelowed, and more voluminous; not to mention a violent storm locked up in a great chest, that is designed for the “Tempest.” They are also provided with above a dozen showers of snow, which, as I am informed, are the plays of many unsuccessful poets artificially cut and shredded for that use. Mr. Rymer’s “Edgar” is to fall in snow, at the next acting of “King Lear,” in order to heighten, or rather to alleviate, the distress of that unfortunate prince; and to serve by way of decoration to a piece which that great critic has written against.
[Footnote A: Mr. Dennis’s new and approved method of making thunder. Dennis had contrived this thunder for the advantage of his tragedy of “Appius and Virginia”; the players highly approved of it, and it is the same that is used at the present day. Notwithstanding the effect of this thunder, however, the play was coldy received, and laid aside. Some nights after, Dennis being in the pit at the representation of “Macbeth,” and hearing the thunder made use of, arose from his seat in a violent passion, exclaiming with an oath, that that was his thunder. “See (said he) how these rascals use me: they will not let my play run, and yet they steal my thunder.”—“Notes on the Spectator.”]
I do not indeed wonder that the actors should be such professed enemies to those among our nation who are commonly known by the name of critics, since it is a rule among these gentlemen to fall upon a play, not because it is ill written, but because it takes. Several of them lay it down as a maxim, that whatever dramatic performance has a long run, must of necessity be good for nothing; as though the first precept in poetry were “not to please.” Whether this rule holds good or not, I shall leave to the determination of those who are better judges than myself; if it does, I am sure it tends very much to the honour of those gentlemen who have established it; few of their pieces having been disgraced by a run of three days, and most of them being so exquisitely written, that the town would never give them more than one night’s hearing.