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HIS eminent dramatic poet was the fon of a clergyman of the church of England, and was educated at Weftminfter fchool under Dr. Bufby. After he left this school, he was fome time at Trinity College, Cambridge; whence returning to London, he went upon the stage as an actor.
Very few particulars are preferved concerning Mr. Lee. He died before he was 34 years of age, and wrote eleven tragedies, all of which contain the divine enthufiafm of a poet, a noble fire and elevation, and the tender breathings of love, beyond many of his cotemporaries. He feems to have been born to write for the Ladies; none ever felt the paffion of love more intimately, none ever knew to defcribe it more gracefully, and no poet ever moved the breafts of his audience with ftronger palpitations, than Lee. The excellent Mr. Addifon, whofe opinion in a matter of this fort, is of the greatest weight, fpeaking of the genius of Lee, thus proceeds *. "Among our modern English poets, there is none "who was better turned for tragedy than our "author; if inftead of favouring the impetuofity "of his genius, he had reftrained it, and kept
it within proper bounds. His thoughts are "wonderfully fuited for tragedy; but frequently "loft in fuch a cloud of words, that it is hard
to fee the beauty of them. There is an infi"nite fire in his works, but fo involved in smoke, "that it does not appear in half its luftre. He
*Spectator. No. 39, vol. 1ft.
"frequently fucceeds in the paffionate part of the tragedy; but more particularly where he flackens "his efforts, and cafes the ftile of thofe epithets "and metaphors in which he fo much abounds."
It is certain that our author for fome time was deprived of his fenfes, and was confined in Bedlam; and as Langbaine obferves, it is to be regretted, that his madness exceeded that divine fury which Ovid mentions, and which ufually accompany the best poets.
Eft Deus in nobus agitante calescimus illo.
His condition in Bedlam was far worse; in a
Satire on the Poets it is thus described.
There in a den remov'd from human eyes,
Too miferably wretched to be nam'd;
For plays, for heroes, and for paffion fam'd:
The reader may please to obferve, the two laft lines are taken from Lee himself in his defcription of madness in Cæfar Borgia, which is inimitable. Dryden has obferved, that there is a pleasure in being mad, which madmen only know, and indeed Lee has defcribed the condition in fuch lively terms, that a man can almost imagine himfelf in the fituation,
To my charm'd ears no more of woman tell,
He reafons well. His eyes their wildness lofe
His eye-balls roll, and he is mad again.
If we may credit the earl of Rochester, Mr. Lee was addicted to drinking; for in a fatire of his, in imitation of Sir John Suckling's Seffion of the Poets, which, 'like the original, is deftitute of wit, poetry, and good manners, he charges him with it.
The lines, miferable as they are, we fhall infert
Nat. Lee ftept in next, in hopes of a prize;
Yet own'd he had fenfe, and t' encourage him
He made him his Ovid in Augustus's court.
The teftimony of Rochefter indeed is of no great value, for he was governed by no principles of honour, and as his ruling paffion was malice, he was ready on all occafions to indulge it, at the expence of truth and fincerity. We cannot afcertain whether our author wrote any of his plays in Bedlam, tho it is not improbable he might have attempted fomething that way in his intervals.
Mad people have often been obferved to do very ingenious things. I have feen a fhip of
ftraw, finely fabricated by a mad fhip-builder; and the most lovely attitudes have been represented by a mad ftatuary in his cell.
Lee, for aught we know, might have fome noble flights of fancy, even in Bedlam; and it is reported of him, that while he was writing one of his fcenes by moon-light, a cloud intervening, he cried out in extafy, Jove fnuff the Moon,' but as this is only related upon common report, we defire no more credit may be given to it, than its own nature demands. We do not pretend notwithstanding our high opinion of Lee, to defend all his rants and extravagancies; fome of them are ridiculous, fome bombaft, and others unintelligible; but this obfervation by no means holds true in general; for tho' fome paffages are too extravagant, yet others are nobly fublime, we had almoft faid, unequalled by any other poet.
As there are not many particulars preserved of Lee's life, we think ourselves warranted to enlarge a little upon his works; and therefore we beg leave to introduce to our reader's acquaintance a tragedy which perhaps he has not for fome time heard of, written by this great man, viz. Lucius Junius Brutus, the Father of his country.
We mention this tragedy because it is certainly the fineft of Lee's, and perhaps one of the most moving plays in our language. Junius Brutus engages in the juft defence of the injured rights of his country, against Tarquin the Proud; he fucceeds in driving him out of Rome. His fon Titus falls in love, and interchanges vows with the tyrant's daughter; his father commands him not to touch her, nor to correfpond with her; he faithfully promifes; but his refolutions are baffled by the infinuating and irrefiftable charms of Teraminta; he is won by her beauties; he joins in the attempt to reftore Tarquin; the enter
prize miscarries, and his own father fits in judgment upon him, and condemns him to fuffer.
The interview between the father and fon is inexpreffibly moving, and is only exceeded by that between the fon and his Teraminta. Titus is a young hero, ftruggling between love and duty. Teraminta an amiable Roman lady, fond of her husband, and dutiful to her father.
There are throughout this play, we dare be bold to affirm, as affecting fcenes as ever melted the hearts of an audience. Why it is not revived, may be difficult to account for. Shall we charge it to want of tafte in the town, or want of difcernment in the managers? or are our present actors conscious that they may be unequal to fome of the parts in it? yet were Mr. Quin engaged, at either theatre, to do the author justice in the character of Brutus, we are not wanting in a Garrick or a Barry, to perform the part of Titus; nor is either stage destitute of a Teraminta. This is one of those plays that Mr. Booth pro pofed to revive (with fome few alterations) had he lived to return to the stage: And the part of Brutus was what he purposed to have appeared in.
As to Lee's works, they are in every body's hands, fo that we need not trouble the reader with a lift of them.
In his tragedy of the Rival Queens, our author has fhewn what he could do on the fubject of Love; he has there almost exhaufted the paffion, painted it in its various forms, and delineated the workings of the human foul, when inAluenced by it.
He makes Statira thus speak of Alexander.
Not the fpring's mouth, nor breath of Jeffamin, Nor Vi'lets infant fweets, nor op'ning buds