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people. Demofthenes, and his contemporaries, speak with a freedom at which we are astonished, notwithstanding the notion we have of a popular government, yet at what time but this did comedy adventure to claim the same rights with civil eloquence? The Italian comedy of the last age, all daring as it was, could for its boldness come into no competition with the ancient. It was limited to general fatire, which was sometimes carried fo far, that the malignity was overlooked in an attention to the wild exaggeration, the unexpected strokes, the pungent wit, and the malignity concealed under such wild fights as became the character of Harlequin. But though it so far resembled Aristophanes, our age is yet at a great distance from his, and the Italian comedy from his scenes. But with respect to the liberty of censuring the government, there can be no comparison made of one age or comedy with another. Aristophanes is the only writer of his kind, and is for that reason of the highest value. A powerful ftate set at the head of Greece, is the subject of his merriment, and that merriment is allowed by the state itfelf. This appears to us an inconsistency; but it is true that it was the interest of the state to allow it, though not always without inconveniency. It was a restraint upon

the ambition and tyranny of single men, a matter of great importance to a people so very jealous of their liberty. Cleon, Alcibiades, Lamachus, and many other generals and magistrates, were kept under by tear of the comic strokes of a poet so little cautious as Aristophanes. He was once indeed in danger of paying dear for his wit. He profeffed, as he tells us himself, to be of great use by his writings to the state ; and rated his merit so high as to complain that he was not rewarded. But, under pretence of this public fpirit, he fpared no part of the public conduct, neither was government, councils, revenues, popular assemblies, secret proceedings in judicature, choice of ministers, the government of the nobles, or that of the people spared.

The Acharnians, the Peace, and the Birds, are aternal monuments of the boldness of the poet, who was not afraid of censuring the governments for the obftinate continuance of a ruinous war, for undertaking new ones, and feeding itself with wild imaginations, and running to destruction as it did for an idle point of honour.

Nothing can be more reproachful to the Atbenians than his play of the Knights, when he represents under an allegory that may be easily seen through, the nation of the Athenians as an old doating fellow tricked by a new man, such as Cleon and his companions, who were of the same stamp.

A single glance upon Lyftrata, and the Female Orators, must raise astonishment when the Athenian policy is fer below the schemes of women, whom the authour makes ridiculous for no other reason than to bring contempt upon their husbands, who held the helm of


The Wasps is written to expose the madness of people for lawsuits and litigations, and a multitude of iniquities are laid open.

It may easily be gathered, that notwithstanding the wise laws of Solon, which they still professed to follow, the government was falling into decay, for we are not to understand the jefts of Ariftopbanes in the literal fenfe. It is plain that the corruption, though we should suppose it but half as much as we are told, was very great, for it ended in the destruction of Athens, which could scarce raise its head again, after it had been taken by Lylander. Though we consider Arifophanes as a comic writer who deals in exaggeration, and bring down his stories to their true standard, we still find that the fundamentals of their government fail in almost all the efsential points. That the people were inveigled by men of ambition ; that all councils and decrees had their original in factious combinations ; that avạrice and private interest animated all their policy to the hurt of the public; that their revenues were ill managed, their allies improperly treated; that their good citizens were facrificed, and the bad put in places; that a mad eagerness for judicial litigation took up all their attention within, and that war was made without, not so much with wildom and precaution, as with temerity and good luck; that the love of novelty and fashion in the manner of managing the public affairs was a madness universally prevalent; and that Melantbius says in Plutarch, the republic of Albens was continued only by the perpetual discord of those that managed its affairs. This remedied the dishonour þy preserving the equilibrium, and was kept always in action by eloquence and comedy,

This is what in general may be drawn from the read, ing Ariftophanes. The fagacity of the readers will go farther : they will compare the different forms of

government by which that tumultuous people endeavoured to regulate or increase the democracy, which forms were all faral to the state, because they were not built


upon lasting foundations, and had all in them the prin'ciples of destruction. A strange contrivance it was to perpetuate a state by changing the just proportion which Solon had wisely settled between the nobles and the people; and by opening a gate to the skilful ambition of those who had art or courage enough to force themselves into the government by means of the people, whom they Aattered with protections that they might more certainly crush them. The tragic

of the works of Ariftophanes are his pleasant reflections upon the most celebrated poets: the shafts which he lets Aly at the three heroes of tragedy, and particularly at Euripides, might incline the reader to believe that he had little esteem for those great men; and that probably the spectators that applauded him were of his opinion. This conclusion would not be just, as I have already shewn by arguments, which, if I had not offered them, the reader might have discovered better than I. But that I may leave no room for objections, and prevent any Shadow of captiousness, I shall venture to observe, that posterity will not consider Racine as less a master of the French stage because his plays were ridiculed by parodies. Parody always fixes upon the best pieces, and was more to the taste of the Greeks than to ours. At present the high theatres give it up to stages of inferior rank; but in Athens the comic theatre considered parody as its principal ornament, for a reason which is worth examining. The ancient comedy was not like ours, a remote and delicate imitation ; it was the art of grofs mimicry, and would have been supposed to have misfed its aim, had it not copied the mien, the walk, the dress, the motions of the face of those whom it exhibited. Now parody is an imitation of this kind; it is a change of serious to burlesque, by a Night variation of words, inflection of voice, or an imperceptible art of mimicry. Parody is to poetry as a masque to a face. As the tra-, gedies of Eschylus, of Sophocles, and of Euripides, were much in fashion, and were known by memory to the people, the parudies upon them would naturally strike, and please, when they were accompanied by the grimaces of a good comedian, who mimicked with archness a serious character. Such is the malignity of human nature; we love to laugh at those whom we esteem most, and by this make ourselves some recompence for the unwilling homage which we pay to merit. The parodies upon these poets made by Aristophanes, ought to be considered rather as encomiums than satires. They give us occasion to examine whether the criticisms are juft or not in themselves : but what is more important, they afford no proof that Euripides or his predecessors wanted the esteem of Aristophanes or his age. The statues raised to their honour, the respect paid by the Arbenians to their writings, and the careful preservation of those writings themselves, are immortal testimonies in their favour, and make it unnecessary for me to stop any longer upon so plausible a solution of fo frivolous an objection.

poets rallied.

IV. Another


V. The most troublesome difficulty, Frequent ridiand that which, so far as I know, has cule of the gods. not yet been cleared to satisfaction, is the contemptuous manner in which Aristophanes treats the gods. Though

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