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We have observed above, that the new and certainly inferior taste introduced by Racine, so completely conquered Corneille, that he retired from the theatre and it may be remembered, that we broke off the history of that greatest of French poets at that point where he retired, for the purpose of introducing in due regular order the life of Moliere and Racine, and the other circumstances that intervened between the retirement of Corneille and his return to the dramatic poetry. We will now take him up where we left him, and employ the short remainder of this volume to speak of him and his works.
Othon appeared in 1664. “In which," says FONTENELLE, "CORNEILLE has fairly placed Tacitus on the French stage.” The marshal de GRAMMONT said, “that in Othon CORNEILLE was the breviary of kings.” Boileau, however, who was at this time attached both to the writings and the person of RACINE was not contented with this tragedy, because perhaps, it had none of that tinsel with which he and others at that time corrupted the French taste.
Agesilaus was performed in 1666. This piece is said by some not to have been written by CORNEILLE, but FonTENELLE contends that it was, and points out a scene that he says could not have been written by any body else. The controversies about it, however, prove that it came from no other pen.
DESPREAUX, the eternal puffer of RACINE, attacked this piece, as it was customary for him to do with every thing written by CORNEILLE. He wrote this epigram to decry Agesilaus and Anila.
BOILEAU expected that Corneille would have been greatly mortified at this, but the latter turned it to his own advantage, and to the confusion of the satirist, pretending it was meant as a compliment. The literal words mean “after Agesilaus, alas! after Attila, , no more.” Despreaux's intention is selfevident; but CORNEILLE pretended to believe that it meant, that Agesilaus had attained every end of tragedy, by exciting pity; Helas being an interjection of commisseration, and Attila was the ne plus ultra of tragedy; and that, therefore, the epigramatist had seemed to hope there would never be another.
Attila came out in 1667. CORNEILLE piqued at the preference given to RACINE by the company of the Hotel de Bourgogne, carried this tragedy to the Palais Royal, where Moliere received it with great satisfaction. The celebrated THORIBLIERE performed Attila, and madame MOLIERE represented Ilavic. It was well received at first, but the goût for Racine and declamation, carried every thing before it, and Attila was soon neglected.
Tite et Bérénice, represented in 1671, yielded the victory to Racine's tragedy under the same title. They were both written to please the vanity of a woman, and RACINE being a perfect courtier, and a young man, succeeded best. It was impossible any thing but nature could dictate to CORNEILLE; RACINE perpetually suffered himself to be dictated to by the reigning taste, and his friend Despreaux.
Pulcheric, brought out in 1672, gave Racine another triumph. There is however, a strength of character in it which Racine never reached; but the tide of prejudice was now so strong against CORNEILLE, that he ventured but one more play, and then retired.
Surene was that play. It was performed in 1674, and has some strokes of the master which, perhaps, has not been since equalled; but it failed, and CORNEILLE determined to retire from the busy world, and make up his mind to die like a man and a christian.
Besides his dramatic compositions, CORNEILLE produced a variety of things, both in French and in Latin, all which bear the sterling stamp of an extraordinary and commanding genius; a genius, like the tripod of the Sybil, which it is impossible to approach without feeling a sudden enthusiasm.
CORNEILLE was at the height of his glory, when he retired in 1653. The advantage taken of his absence to model the theatres to the rules of art, so enervated the drama, that what is gained on the side of taste and refinenient, is lost on the side of simplicity and nature. The grandeur of tragedy in particular sunk after MOLIERE had taught them how to admire true comedy, and the softness and effeminacy, introduced by RACINE, which in proportion as it sunk to mere style and regularity, fost sight of the sublime, enchained the theatre in the shackles of complaisance and servility; till women, the universal rulers of French fashions, became the arbiters of dramatic excellence, and the courtier bore
away the victory from the philosopher, who was now in derision called Old CORNEILLE.
He, however, proudly disdained to adopt this new taste. Not because he could not have excelled RACINE, nor because his age had enfeebled his mind-both of which observations have been urged against him for in those scenes of Psyche which he wrote, but did not acknowledge, he has purposely abandoned himself to an excess of tenderness which Racine would have found it difficult to imitate.
CORNEILLE was of a portly stature. He had an agreeable coun. tenance, a large nose, and eyes full of fire; the whole effect lively, and marking, and proper to be transmitted to posterity, either in a medal or a bust. He knew, as a perfect master, Les Belles Lettres, history, politics, and every other elegant and erudite study; but his great and favourite object was the theatre; for any thing else he had neither leisure, nor curiosity, nor much esteem. He spoke, even on subjects he well understood, diffidently; and to know the great CORNEILLE, he must be read. ·
He was grave, but never sour; his humour was plain, but never rude; he was a kind husband, a fond parent, and a faithful friend. His temperament inclined him to love, but never to libertinism. He had a firm and independent mind, without suppleness, but was little calculated to make a fortune at a French court, whose manners he despised.
And it is material to add here, that though CORNEILLE by the cabals of RICHELIEU, was kept out of the French academy till after that minister's death, yet the whole world have allowed him to have been a brilliant ornament of that society, and he was at its head when he died. It will be but justice hereafter to insert the elegant eulogium of RACINE on this great man, when his brother, T. CORNEILLE was admitted into the academy as his successor.
He was sensible of praise, but he detested flattery; diffident of his own merit, and forward to encourage the merit of others. To great natural probity, he joined a fervid, but not a bigoted love of religion; and, indeed, such was his public talents and his private virtues, that it is difficult to say which was predominant in this truly great and justly celebrated character, the man or the writer.
(To be continued.)
LIFE OF CHARLES MACKLIN, COMEDIAN,
CHARLES MACKLIN was born in Ireland, in the year 1690. His father was of an old respectable Roman Catholic family, and a captain in king James's army; and Charles, then an infant, was, along with his mother; carried in a turf-kish from the field of the Boyne, on the day when the victory obtained by William the third, over James's forces decided the fate of Ireland, and gave to confiscation the property of the rightful monarch's faithful Irish adherents, and among the rest of our hero's family. Macklin's mother was an O'Flanagan, from whence it appears, that his blood was pure and unmixed, of the old Milesian race. The name of his father's family was Macloughlin, which he on his becoming an actor, Anglicised into Macklin. He was placed by his mother, then a widow, under the care of a Mr. Nicholson, a gentleman of Scotland, who at that time kept a respectable school in Dublin.
In 1726 he came to England, and having a passion for the stage, joined several strolling companies, and was afterwards engaged at Lincoln's-inn Fields, where he first discovered his merit in a trifling character in Fielding's Coffeehouse Politician. For several seasons he performed comic characters; and in 1735 was unfortunate enough to kill Mr. Hallam, an actor in the same theatre with himself, and who was grandfather to the present Mrs. Mattocks, and to the late Lewis Hallam, the father of the American stage. The dispute originated about a wig which Hallam had on, and which the other claimed as his property, and in the warmth of altercation he raised his cane,
him a fatal stroke in the eye. He was brought to trial in consequence, but no malicious intent appearing in evidence, he was acquitted.
On the 14th February, 1741, Macklin established his fame as an actor, in the character of Shylock, in the Merchant of Venice, for his own benefit, and restored to the stage a play which had been forty years supplanted, by lord Lansdowne's Jew of Venice, which was a miserable alteration of the above. Macklin's performance of this character so forcibly struck a gentleman in the pit, that he exclaimed, “ This is the Jew which Shakspeare drew." Macklin himself said, that this was Mr. Pope, and that he meant his pane
gyric on Macklin as a satire against lord Lansdowne; but the state of Pope's health at the time, sufficiently corrects the error of the veteran's recollection.
The principal characters of the Merchant of Venice, were thus cast:-Antonio, Mr. Quin; Bassanio, Mr. Milward; Gratiano, Mr. Mills; Launcelot, Mr. Chapman; Gobbo, Mr. Johnstone; Portia, Mrs. Clive; Nerissa, Mrs. Pritchard; and Jessica, Mrs. Woodman.
The managers and performers having now disagreed, Macklin and several of the most eminent of the company revolted, among whom was Mr. Garrick; and a formal agreement was signed, by which they obliged themselves not to accede to any terms which might be proposed to them by the patentee, without the consent of all the subscribers. The contest between the managers and the seceders soon became very unequal. The latter found all applications for a new patent ineffectual. There was now no remedy left, but to agree with the manager upon the best terms that could be obtained. Some of the principal actors, and such as were absolutely necessary to the conducting of the theatrical machine, were admitted to favour upon equal terms, and were allowed the same annual stipends which they enjoyed before the secession; others of less consequence were abridged of half their income. The manager ascribed this revolt of the players principally to Mr. Macklin; and him he determined to punish for his ingratitude. To the rest he was reconciled, but eternal banishment from his theatre was the doom which he pronounced on the man who had been once his friend and adviser.
Macklin had no inclination to become the 'scape-goat in this business, and he urged Mr. Garrick to perfect the articles of their agreement, by which it was covenanted, that neither of the contracting parties should accommodate matters with the patentee, without the consent of the other. Mr. Garrick could not but acknowledge the justice of Macklin's plea: he declared that he was ready to do all in his power to fulfil his agreement; but as the manager continued obstinate in his resolution to exclude Mr. Macklin, it could not reasonably be expected that he should, by any obstinate perseverance in a desperate contest, greatly injure his own fortune, and absolutely be the means of starving eight or ten people, whose fate depended on his accommodating the dispute with Fleetwood. He offered Mr. Macklin a sum to be paid weekly out of his income, for a certain time, till the manager could be VOL. IV.