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Condemned Poets
by [?]

I flatter myself that those readers who have taken any interest in my volume have not conceived me to have been deficient in the elevated feeling which, from early life, I have preserved for the great literary character: if time weaken our enthusiasm, it is the coldness of age which creeps on us, but the principle is unalterable which inspired the sympathy. Who will not venerate those master-spirits “whose PUBLISHED LABOURS advance the good of mankind,” and those BOOKS which are “the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, imbalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life?” But it has happened that I have more than once incurred the censure of the inconsiderate and the tasteless, for attempting to separate those writers who exist in a state of perpetual illusion; who live on querulously, which is an evil for themselves, and to no purpose of life, which is an evil to others. I have been blamed for exemplifying “the illusions of writers in verse,”[1] by the remarkable case of Percival Stockdale,[2] who, after a condemned silence of nearly half a century, like a vivacious spectre throwing aside his shroud in gaiety, came forward, a venerable man in his eightieth year, to assure us of the immortality of one of the worst poets of his age; and for this wrote his own memoirs, which only proved, that when authors are troubled with a literary hallucination, and possess the unhappy talent of reasoning in their madness, a little raillery, if it cannot cure, may serve at least as a salutary regimen.

I shall illustrate the case of condemned authors who will still be pleading after their trials, by a foreign dramatic writer. Among those incorrigible murmurers at public justice, not the least extraordinary was a M. Peyraud de Beaussol, who, in 1775, had a tragedy, Les Arsacides, in six acts, printed, “not as it was acted,” as Fielding says on the title-page of one of his comedies, but “as it was damned!”

In a preface, this Sir Fretful, more inimitable than that original, with all the gravity of an historical narrative, details the public conspiracy; and with all the pathetic touches of a shipwrecked mariner, the agonies of his literary egotism.

He declares that it is absurd to condemn a piece which they can only know by the title, for heard it had never been! And yet he observes, with infinite naivete, “My piece is as generally condemned as if the world had it all by heart.”

One of the great objections against this tragedy was its monstrous plan of six acts; this innovation did not lean towards improvement in the minds of those who had endured the long sufferings of tragedies of the accepted size. But the author offers some solemn reasons to induce us to believe that six acts were so far from being too many, that the piece had been more perfect with a seventh! M. de Beaussol had, perhaps, been happy to have known, that other dramatists have considered that the usual restrictions are detrimental to a grand genius. Nat. Lee, when in Bedlam, wrote a play in twenty-five acts.

Our philosophical dramatist, from the constituent principles of the human mind, and the physical powers of man, and the French nation more particularly, deduces the origin of the sublime, and the faculty of attention. The plan of his tragedy is agreeable to these principles: Monarchs, Queens, and Rivals, and every class of men; it is therefore grand! and the acts can be listened to, and therefore it is not too long! It was the high opinion that he had formed of human nature and the French people, which at once terrified and excited him to finish a tragedy, which, he modestly adds, “may not have the merit of any single one; but which one day will be discovered to include the labour bestowed on fifty!”