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MR. ADDISON'S TRAGEDY OF CATO.*
THE Prologue to Addison's Tragedy of Cato, is superior to any Prologue of Dryden; who, notwithstanding, is so justly celebrated for this species of writing. The Prologues of Dryden are satirical and facetious; this of Pope is solemn and sublime, as the subject required. Those of Dryden contain general topics of criticism and wit, and may precede any play whatsoever, even tragedy or comedy. This of Pope is particular, and appropriated to the tragedy alone which it was designed to introduce. Warton.
To the above just tribute to the merit of the following Prologue, I shall add the opinion of an excellent critic, the late Dr. Aikin, who has observed that "scarcely any thing grave or dignified had been offered to the public in this form, till Pope, inspired by the noble subject of Addison's Tragedy, composed this piece; which not only stands at the head of all prologues, but is scarcely surpassed in vigour of expression and elevation of sentiment by any passage in his own works.”
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
* This Prologue, and the Epilogue (to Jane Shore) are the most perfect models of this species of writing, both in the serious and the ludicrous way. Warburton.
The former is much the better of the two; for some of Dryden's, of the latter kind, are unequalled.
For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage,
In pitying love, we but our weakness show,
Ver. 7. Tyrants no more] Louis XIV. wished to have pardoned the Cardinal de Rohan, after hearing the Cinna of Corneille.
Ver. 11. In pitying love,] Why then did Addison introduce the loves of Juba and Marcia? which Pope said to Mr. Spence, were not in the original plan of the play, but were introduced in compliance with the popular practice of the stage. Warton.
Ver. 20. But what with pleasure] This alludes to a famous passage of Seneca, which Mr. Addison afterwards used as a motto to his play, when it was printed. Warburton.
Ver. 21. A brave man, &c.] The noble passage of Seneca, which Addison adopted as a Motto, and to which Pope in this passage finely alludes, is this,
"Ecce spectaculum dignum ad quod respiciat, intentus operi suo, DEUS! Ecce par Deo dignum, vir fortis cum malâ fortunâ com
While Cato gives his little Senate laws,
Show'd Rome her Cato's figure drawn in state; 30
positus! Non video, inquam, quid habeat in terris Jupiter pulchrius, si convertere animum velit, quàm ut spectet CATONEM, jam partibus non semel fractis, nihilominùs inter ruinas publicas erectum."
Pope has very much heightened the idea of Seneca, in one passage, "Fortis vir, malâ fortunâ compositus;" which is far less animated than
A brave man struggling in the storms of fate!
Let me take this opportunity of remarking, that Pope has very seldom laid the stress, as it is in the line,
A brave măn
The stress, however, laid upon the epithet in this manner, has often a pleasing effect, and, when it is judiciously introduced, is particularly grateful to the ear. Milton and Shakespear often accent a line in this manner, and who but feels its occasional propriety and beauty?
"Thro' the HIGH wood, echoing shrill."
"What time the GRAY fly winds her sullen horn." Lycidas. "On which the SWART star sparely looks." Bowles.
Ver. 27. Ev'n when] The twenty-seventh, thirtieth, thirtyfourth, thirty-ninth, and forty-fifth lines, are artful allusions to the character and history of Cato himself.