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cularly the candour, which you have discovered in them, are not the least taking part of your works, 1 find your opinion concerning poetical justice, as it is expressed in the first part of your fortieth Spectator, is controverted by some eminent critics; and as you now seem, to our great grief of heart, to be winding up your bottoms, I hoped you would have enlarged a little upon that subject. It is indeed but a single paragraph in your works, and I believe those who have read it with the same attention I have done, will think there is nothing to be objected against it. I have however drawn up some additional arguments to strengthen the opinion which you have there delivered, having endeavoured to go to the bottom of that matter, which you may either publish or suppress as you think fit.
Horace in my motto says, that all men are vicious, and that they differ from one another only as they are more or less so. Boileau has given the same account of our wisdom, as Horace has of our virtue.
Tous les hommes sont fous, et malgré tous leurs soins,
Ne différent entre eux, que du plus et du moins. “ All men,” says he, “ are fools, and, in spite of their endeavours to the contrary, differ from one another only as they are more or less so.
• Two or three of the old Greek poets have given the same turn to a sentence which describes the happiness of man in this life;
Το ζήν αλύσεως, άνδρoς έστιν ευτυχούς. “ That man is most happy who is the least miserable.” It will not perhaps be unentertaining to the polite reader to observe how these three beautiful sentences are formed upon different subjects by the same way of thinking; but I shall return to the first of them.
Our goodness being of a comparative and not an absolute nature, there is none who in strictness can be called a virtuous man. Every one has in him a natural alloy, though one may be fuller of dross than another: for this reason I cannot think it right to introduce a perfect or a faultless man upon the stage; not only because such a character is improper to move compassion, but because there is no such thing in nature. This might probably be one reason why the Spectator in one of his papers took notice of that late invented term called poetical justice, and the wrong notions into which it has led some tragic writers. The most perfect man has vices enough to draw down punishments upon his head, and to justify Providence in regard to any miseries that may befal him. For this reason I cannot think but that the instruction and moral are much finer, where a man who is virtuous in the main of his character falls into distress, and sinks under the blows of fortune at the end of a tragedy, than when he is represented as happy and triumphant. Such an example corrects the insolence of human nature, softens the mind of the beholder with sentiments of pity and compassion, comforts him under his own private affliction, and teaches him not to judge of men's virtues by their
I cannot think of one real hero in all antiquity so far raised above human infirmities, that he might not be very naturally represented in a tragedy as plunged in misfortunes and calamities. The poet may still find out some prevailing passion or indiscretion in his character, and shew it in such a manner as will sufficiently acquit the gods of any injustice in his sufferings. For, as Horace observes in my text, the best man is faulty, though not in so great a degree as those whom we generally call vi
. If such a strict poetical justice as some gentlemen insist
upon were to be observed in this art, there is no manner of reason why it should not extend to
heroic poetry as well as tragedy. But we find it so little observed in Homer, that his Achilles is placed in the greatest point of glory and success, though his character is morally vicious, and only poetically good, if I may use the phrase of our modern critics. The Æneid is filled with innocent, unhappy persons. Nisus and Euryalus, Lausus and Pallas, come all to unfortunate ends. The poet takes notice in particular, that, in the sacking of Troy, Ripheus fell, who was the most just man among the Trojans.
-Cadit et Ripheus justissimus unus,
Æn. ii. 427.
-Nec te tua plurima, Pantheu, Labentem pietas, nec Apollinis infula texit.-Ibid. ver. 429. I might here mention the practice of ancient tragic poets, both Greek and Latin; but as this particular is touched upon in the paper above mentioned, I shall pass it over in silence. I could produce passages out of Aristotle in favour of my opinion; and if in one place he says that an absolutely virtuous man should not be represented as unhappy, this does not justify any one who shall think fit to bring in an absolutely virtuous man upon the stage. Those who are acquainted with that author's way of writing know very well that, to take the whole extent of his subject into his divisions of it, he often makes use of such cases as are imaginary, and not reducible to practice. He himself declares that such tragedies as ended unhappily bore away the prize in theatrical contentions, from those which ended happily; and for the fortieth speculation, which I am now considering, as it has given reasons why these are more apt to please an audience, so it only proves that these are generally preferable to the other, though at the same time it affirms that many excellent tragedies have and may be written in both kinds.
• I shall conclude with observing, that though the Spectator above mentioned is so far against the rule of poetical justice, as to affirm that good men may meet with an unhappy catastrophe in tragedy, it does not say that ill men may go off unpunished. The reason for this distinction is very plain, namely, because the best of men are vicious enough to justify Providence for any misfortunes and affictions which may befal them, but there are many men so criminal that they can have no claim or pretence to happiness. The best of men may deserve punishment, but the worst of men cannot deserve happiness.'
N° 549. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 1712.
Quamvis digressu veteris confusus amici,
His purpose of retiring I commend. I BELIEVE most people begin the world with a resolution to withdraw from it into a serious kind of solitude or retirement when they have made themselves
easy in it. Our unhappiness is, that we find out some excuse or other for deferring such our good resolutions until our intended retreat is cut off by death. But among all kinds of people there are none who are so hard to part with the world as those who are grown old in the heaping up of riches. Their minds are so warped with their constant attention to gain
that it is very difficult for them to give their souls another bent, and convert them towards those objects, which though they are proper for every stage of life, are so more especially for the last. Horace describes an old usurer as so charmed with the pleasure of a country life, that in order to make a purchase he called in all his money; but what was the event of it? Why, in a very few days after he put it out again. I am engaged in this series of thought by a discourse which I had last week with my worthy friend Sir Andrew Freeport, a man of so much natural eloquence, good sense, and probity of mind, that I always hear him with a particular pleasure. As we were sitting together, being the sole remaining members of our club, Sir Andrew gave me an account of the many busy scenes of life in which he had been engaged, and at the same time reckoned up to me abundance of those lucky hits, which at another time be would have called pieces of good fortune; but in the tem-, per
of mind he was then, he termed them mercies, favours of Providence, and blessings upon an honest industry. “Now,' says he, ‘you must know, my good friend, I am so used to consider myself as creditor and debtor, that I often state my accounts after the same manner with regard to heaven and my own soul. In this case when I look upon the debtor side, I find such innumerable articles, that want arithmetic to cast them up; but when I look
the creditor side, I find little more than blank paper, Now, though I am very well satisfied that it is not in my power to balance accounts with my Maker, I am resolved however to turn all my future endeayours that way. You must not therefore be surprised, my friend, if you hear that I am betaking myself to a more thoughtful kind of life, and if I meet you no more in this place.
I could not but approve so good a resolution, not