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Britons, attend: be worth like this approv'd, And show, you have the virtue to be mov'd. With honest scorn the first fam'd Cato view'd Rome learning arts from Greece whom she subdu'd; Your scene precariously subsists too long On French translation, and Italian song. Dare to have sense yourselves; assert the stage; Be justly warm'd with your own native rage: Such Plays alone should win a British ear, As Cato's self had not disdain'd to hear.
Ver. 37. Britons, attend:] Spence told me, that Pope had written it" Britons, arise"; but that Addison, frightened at so strong an expression, as promoting insurrection, lowered and weakened it, by the word, "attend." Warton.
Ver. 42. On French translation,] He glances obliquely at the Distrest Mother of his old antagonist, Philips, taken, evidently, from Racine. Cato's last soliloquy is translated with great purity and elegance by Bland.
It is a little remarkable that the last line of Cato is Pope's; and the last of Eloisa is Addison's. Warton.
Ver. 45. Such Plays alone] Addison, having finished and laid by, for several years, the first four acts of Cato, applied to Hughes for a fifth, and Dr. Johnson, from entertaining too mean an opinion of Hughes, does not think the application serious. When Hughes brought his supplement, he found the author himself had finished his play. Hughes was very capable of writing this fifth act. The Siege of Damascus is a better tragedy than Cato; though Pope affected to speak slightingly of its author. An audience was packed by Steele on the first night of Cato; and Addison suffered inexpressible uneasiness and solicitude during the representation. Bolingbroke called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for defending the cause of liberty so well, against a perpetual dictator. Warton.
Ver. 46. As Cato's self, &c.] This alludes to that famous story of his coming into the Theatre, and going out again, related by Martial.
BY POPE AND MALLET.*
WHEN Learning, after the long Gothic night,
The tragic Muse, returning, wept her woes.
What foreign theatres with pride have shewn, Britain, by juster title, makes her own. When freedom is the cause, 'tis her's to fight, And hers, when freedom is the theme, to write. For this a British Author bids again
The Heroine rise, to grace the British scene: Here, as in life, she breathes her genuine flame, 15 She asks, what bosom has not felt the same?
* I have been told by Savage, that of the Prologue to Sophonisba, the first part was written by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish it, and that the concluding lines were written by Mallet. Johnson.
Asks of the British Youth-is silence there?
"Tis to his British heart he trusts for fame.
If France excel him in one free-born thought, 25
Whose force alone can raise or melt the heart,
Thy silent whisper is the sacred text.
To a Play for Mr. DENNIS's Benefit in 1733, when he was old, blind, and in great Distress, a little before his Death.
As when that Hero, who in each Campaign,
Ver. 6. But pitied Belisarius, &c.] Nothing could be more happily imagined than this allusion, nor more finely conducted. The continued pleasantry is so delicately touched, that it took nothing from the self-satisfaction which the critic who heard it, had in his own merit, or the audience in their charity. In a word, this benevolent irony is prosecuted with so masterly a hand, that the Poet supposed, had Dennis himself the wit to see it, he would have had the ingenuity to approve of it.
"This dreaded Sat'rist, Dennis will confess,
Foe to his pride, but friend to his distress." Warburton. Ver. 7. Was there a Chief, &c.] The fine figure of the Commander in that capital picture of Belisarius at Chiswick, supplied the Poet with this beautiful idea.
Dennis, who long had warr'd with modern Huns,
If there's a Senior, who contemns this age;
Ver. 12. Their Quibbles routed, and defy'd their Puns;] An old gentleman of the last century, who used to frequent Button's coffee-house, told me they had many pleasant scenes of Dennis's indignation and resentment, when Steele and Rowe, in particular, teazed him with a pun. Warton. Ver. 13. A desp'rate Bulwark, &c.] Alluding to his hatred of rhyme. Warton.
Dr. WARTON thinks that much "bitter satire is concealed under these topics of commiseration." If sarcasms were intended upon such an occasion, they were as ill-timed as they were cruel. I perceive nothing bitter, but a good humoured smile, on poor Dennis's favourite topics. Hard, indeed, must be the heart, that could strike a blow at a fallen enemy, disarmed and poor, under the shew of pity and generosity. I dare say, the old man heard the Prologue, not only with complacency but with delight. It is added, that Mallet and Thomson interested themselves much in procuring him a good benefit. Bowles.