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Which speeches well pronounc'd, with lively action framed,
The history of the epilogue is very short: the Greeks had none; the Romans next to none; · Valete et plaudite' was their concise forni of dismissal; and we have never seen, in
French or Italian work, any form of epilogue whatever. It is, we presume, exclusively our own, and was, we are inclined to think, nothing more at first than a song, or speech, making part of the play. Many of our earlier dramas conclude in this way: to Damon and Pythias, the prologue to which we have quoted, there is also an epilogue under the title of The Last Song;' and Twelfth Night, the Midsummer Night's Dream, and other of Shakespeare's comedies, conclude with an epilogical sony. Sometimes, though delivered by one of the characters, it was distinct from the play: Prospero speaks such an epilogue to the Tempest, in rhyme, and Rosalind another to · As you Like It,' in prose, and in this she acquaints us that it was unusual to assign this duty to the female parts; a proof that it was usual to have epilogues. Very soon, however, the epilogue became wholly disconnected from the play and the dramatis personæ, and for these two hundred years has been, as we see it now a-days, sometimes spoken in character, and sometimes not; frequently with allusion to the preceding scenes, and often without. It has been upon all subjects, and in all metres, and often without any metre: the single consistency of character that it appears to preserve, is its levity. We recollect but two instances of grave epilogues, the one to Thompson's · Agamemnon;' the other to Sheridan's Semiramis ;' and in both, a laboured apology is made for being serious, and plausible reasons are urged against the gayety of modern epilogues, whose mirth but deadens generous woe.' This, in theory, may be very just; but the experience of three centuries has decided, that, after an anxious attention during five long acts of either tragedy or comedy, the mind becomes impatient of didactics, and is vulgar enough to be pleased with the gay absurdities of epilogues and farces.
From prologues and epilogues, the progress of the theatrical muse to Occasional Addresses was easy; - playing before the king,' or at' Oxford,' were, in Dryden's day, the usual subjects of these compositions. In later times the secession from the stage, or death of favourite actors has produced valedictory addresses of considerable merit; but the opening of a new theatre is, naturally, the occasion on which the highest efforts of this species of poetry has been expected by the public.
We do not think those expectations have been realized; the best that has eyer graced such an occasion is Jobuson's, on the opening of Drury Lane in 1747; and yet it is far from excellent--it has
what, in so short a production, is the less pardonable, some strikin faults-of bombast; as,
• Panting time toiled after him in vain,' -of conceit and pun; as,
• For we that live to please must please to live:' but it has also great beauties, and is, on the whole, a monument of his taste and powers, such as we find that
Not an hundred wits can raise, Such wits as live in these degenerate days.' All later pieces of this sort are already sunk in oblivion ; indeed, except this, and two or three other prologues by Johnson, that of Pope to Cato, (the best piece of the kind ever written,) and a few, very few of Dryden's, it would do our poetical character but little injury* if the whole species of theatrical addresses, grave and gay, were erased from our literature; nor can we find, in those recent efforts which have led us into this examination, any one which we should desire to save from the general doom.
It seems, the rebuilding of the theatre at Drury Lane, after its late destruction by fire, was managed by a certain committee, to whom also was confided, amidst other minor and mechanical arrangements, the care of procuring an occasional prologue. This committee, it it was wisely selected for its other duties, could not, we may well suppose, be greatly qualified for this, and, accordingly, with due modesty, and in the true spirit of tradesmen, they advertised for the best poetical address, to be sealed and delivered within a certain number of days, folded and directed in a given form,-in short, like the tender for a public contracı.
The result has been just what we should have expected from so auspicious a beginning, in every respect but two; one is that, to our great astonishment, three and forty persons were found to contend for this prize; and the other, that amongst these are to be found two or three persons who appear to have some share of taste and genius.
The three and forty addresses, however, properly folded, sealed, marked, and directed, reached the committee: we can easily ima. gine the modest dismay with which they viewed their increasing hoards; they began to think that it would have been easier and gafer to trust to the reputation and taste of Mr. Scott or Mr. Southey, Mr. Campbell, or Mr. Rogers, than to have pledged themselves to the task of making a choice and selection in a master of which what little they knew was worse than nothing
• Many of these compositions have the merit of preserving curious traces of manners wbieb would have been probably otherwise, lost.
The builders of the lofty pile were totally at a loss to know how to dispose of the builders of the lofty rhyme—the latter all spoke different languages, and all, to the former, equally unintelligible. The committee were alike confounded with the number of addresses and their own debates. No such confusion of tongues had accompanied any erection since the building of Babel. Nor could matters have been set to rights, (unless by a miracle,) if the convenient, though not very candid plan of rejecting all the addresses had not occurred, as a mezzotermine' in which the whole committee might safely agree; and the addresses were rejected accordingly. We do not think that they deserved, in true poetical justice, a better fate; not one was excellent, two or three only were tolerable, and the rest so execrable that we wonder this committee of taste did not agree upon one of them. But as the several bards were induced to expend their precious time and more precious paper, by the implied engagement ou the part of the committee, that the best bidder should have the contract, we think they have a right to protest against the injustice of this wholesale rejection. It was about as fair as it would be in Messrs. Bish and Carter, after they had disposed of all their lottery tickets, to acquaint the holders that there should be no drawing, but that they intended to transfer the £20,000 prize to an acquaintance of their own. The committee, we readily admit, made an absurd engagement; but surely they were bound to keep it.
• In the dilemma to which,' says the preface to the Genuine Ad dresses, that learned body was reduced by the rejection of all the biddings, they put themselves under the care of Lord Byron, who prescribed in their case a composition which bears the honour of his name, and occupies the first place in the following collection.'
We have already had the pleasure of expressing our very favourable opinion of Lord Byron's poetical powers, and we shall, therefore, with the less hesitation, confess that it was not to a person distinguished only by a work so little critical or didactic in its thoughts or style, that we should have thought of applying in such an emergency. We were therefore not at all disappointed at finding his lordship’s composition, marked indeed with brilliant touches of poetry, but, on the whole, if not unworthy of, at least very illsuited to the occasion.
We shall enter into little detail of criticism on this successful address; but a few observations will be expected from us; and, first, we must protest against the stale common-place of lamenting that · Shakespeare has ceased to reign,' because, forsooth, a play-house is buned down. It does, we believe, so happen, that the late Drury Lane theatre exhibited, in its time, fewer of Shakespeare's plays than any of its predecessors or rivals; and yet Lord
Byron, and twenty-seven out of the forty-three rejected poets, have, to a bard, hailed, iuveked, embodied, revived, enshrined, enthroned, and consecrated Shakespeare on the auspicious occasion of building a new theatre upon the site of an old one lately burned down;
The fire is, we think, somewhat too conspicuous in Lord Byron's address, and the comparison of it to Israel's pillar,' at once injudicious and incorrect; the fiery pillar of the Israelites was a flame, not of devastation and ruin, but of guidance and security ;--not a conflagrution, but a beacon. How it resembles the Drury Lane fire, except in the common quality of being visible, we cannot conceive; and even in this particular, any other fire that ever blazed would have afforded, we think, a more appropriate allusion.
Upon the whole, we are almost inclined to think, that the committee was as wrong, in point of taste, as it was in point of fair dealing. Two or three of the rejected addresses appear quite as proper for the occasion, as that which has been adopted, and one of them, though not so brilliant, rather more so. Had his lordship's address been sent anonymously to the committee, we do not doubt that it would have experienced the same kind treatment which these excellent and truly impartial judges bestowed on all the rest.
We now arrive at the Rejected Addresses,' a jeu d'esprit which has had so much success as to oblige the others to advertize themselves as genuine; and declare, with great solemnity of assertion, that they are the real Simon Pures. This little work comprizes a number of invitations and parodies of our best and our worst living poets, executed with great humoar, discrimination, and good taste, and exhibiting a most striking contrast to the gross ribaldry of the eforts to be comical which we noticed in a former article.*
The imitation of the noble author of the successful address is written in the stanza of Childe Harold, and is slyly entitled, “Cui Bono ? the pococurante style of the fastidious pilgrim is happily imitated.
Sated with home, of wife, of children tired,
* Poetical Vagaries, by George Colman. VOL. tut. NO. XV.
Scorning to view fantastic Columbine,
Nothing in Childe Harold exceeds the sublimity of ennui and carelessness which the conclusion of the 8th stanza presents.
• Thinking is but an idle waste of thought,
Our readers will be amused by the following parody on a beautiful passage of Southey's Kehama, which was quoted by us in our review of that work.*
Midnight, yet not a nose
Midnight, yet not a nose
See with what crimson fury,
The tops of houses, blue with lead,
Bend beneath the landlord's tread;
Nailor and taylor,
Grazier and brazier,
All, all abroad to gaze,
And wonder at the blaze.
As if the dismal view Were but to them a mighty jubilee.'- pp. 29, 30. Yamen, the god of fire, however, soon consumes old Drury, but he is in a dreadful anxiety lest the proprietors should agree to reseue his prey from him by rebuilding the theatre.
“The lawyers are met at the Crown and Anchor,
The solicitor reads,
* Vol. V. Art. ii. page 45.