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he aims at some end, glory, for example, or riches, or conquest, the procuring happiness to individuals, or to his country in general : he proposes means, and lays plans to attain the end purposed. Here are a number of facts or incidents, leading to the end in view, the whole composing one chain by the relation of cause and effect. "In running over a series of such facts or incidents, we cannot rest upon any one ; because they are presented to us as means only, leading to some end: but we rest with satisfaction upon the end or ultimate event; because there the purpose or aim of the chief person or persons is accomplished. This indicates the beginning, the middle, and the end, of what Aristotle calls an entire action.* The story naturally begins with describing those circumstances which move the principal person to form a plan, in order to compass fome desired event : the profecution of that plan and the obstructions, carry the reader into the heat of action : the middle is properly where the action is the most involved ; and the end is where the event is brought about, and the plan accomplished..
A plan thus happily accomplished after many obstructions, affords wonderful delight to the reader ; to produce which, a principle mentioned above f mainly contributes, the same that disposes the mind to complete every work commenced, and in general to carry every thing to a conclusion.
I have given the foregoing example of a plan crowned with success, because it affords the clearest conception of a beginning, a middle, and an end, in which consists unity of action; and indeed stricter unity cannot be imagined than in that case. action may have unity, or a beginning, middle, and end, without so intimate a relation of parts ; as
where 6. See also cap. 7.
where the catastrophe is different from what is intended or desired, which frequently happens in our but tragedies. In the Æneid, the hero, after many obstructions, make his plan effectual. The Iliad is formed upon a different model : It begins with the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon ; goes on to describe the several effects produced by that cause; and ends in a reconciliation. Here is unity of action, no doubt, a beginning, a middle, and an end ; but inferior to that of the Æneid, which will thus appear. The mind hath a propensity to go forward in the chain of history : it keeps always in view the expected event; and when the incidents or under-parts are connected by their relation to the event, the mind runs sweetly and easily along them.
This pleasure we have in the neid. It is not altogether fo pleasant, as in the Iliad, to connect effects by their common cause ; for such connection forces 'the mind to a continual retrospect : looking back is like walking backward.
Ilomer's plan is full more defective upon another account, That the events described are but imperfectly connected with the wrath of Achilles, their cause : his wrath did not exert itself in action; and the misfortunes of his countrymen were but negatively the effects of his wrath, by depriving them of his affiftance.
If unity of adion be a capital beauty in a fable imitative of human affairs, a plurality of unconnected fables must be a capital deformity. For the fake of variety, we indulge an under-plot that is connected with the principal : but two unconnected events are extremely unpleasant, even where the fame actors are engaged in both. · Ariosto is quite licentious in that particular : he carries on at the same time a plurality of unconnected stories. His only excuse is, that his plan is perfectly well adjusted to his suba ject; for every thing in the Orlando Furiofo is wild and extravagant.
Though to state facts in the order of time is natural, yet that order may be varied for the sake of conspicuous beauties.* If, for example, a noted story, cold and simple in its first movements, be made the subject of an epic poem, the reader may be hurried into the heat of action : reserving the preliminaries for a conversation-piece, if thought necessary; and that method, at the same time, hath a peculiar beauty from being dramatic.t But a privilege that deviates from nature ought to be sparingly indulged ; and yet romance-writers make no difficulty of presenting to the reader, without the least preparation, unknown persons engaged in some arduous adventure equally unknown. In Cassandra, two personages, who afterward are discovered to be the heroes of the fable, start up completely armed upon the banks of the Euphrates, and engage in a single combat. I
A play analysed, is a chain of connected facts, of which each scene makes a link. Each scene, accordingly, ought to produce some incident relative to the catastrophe or ultimate event, by advancing or retarding it. A scene that produceth no incident, and for that reason may be termed barren, ought not to be indulged, because it breaks the unity of action : a barren scene can never be intitled to a place, because the chain is complete without it. In the Old
Bachelor, * See chap. 1.
+ See chap. 21. #1 am sensible that a commencement of this fort is much relished by readers disposed to the marvellous. Their curiosity is raised, and they are much tickled in its gratification. But cariolitv is at an end with the first reading, because the personages are no longer unknown; and therea fore at the second reading, a commencement so artificial loses its power even over the vulgar, . A writer of genius prefers lasting beauties, VOL. II.
Bachelor, the 3d scene of act 2. and all that follow to the end of that act, are mere conversation-pieces, productive of no consequence. The 10th and 11th scenes, act 3. Double Dealer, the roth, rith, 12th, 13th, and 14th scenes, act 1. Love for Love, are of the same kind. Neither is The way of the World entirely guiltless of such scenes. It will be no justification, that they help to display characters : it were better, like Dryden, in his dramatis perfonæ, to describe characters beforehand, which would not break the chain of action. But a writer of genius has no occasion for such artifice : he can display the characters of his personages much more to the life in sentiment and action. How fuccessfully is this done by Shakespear! in whose works there is not to be found a fingle barren scene.
Upon the whole, it appears, that all the facts in an historical fable, ought to have a mutual connection, by their common relation to the grand event or catastrophe, and this relation, in which the unity of action consists, is equally effential to epic and dramatic compofitions.
In handling unity of action, it ought not to escape observation, that the mind is satisfied with slighter unity in a picture than in a poem ; because the perceptions of the former are more lively than the ideas of the latter. In Hogarth’s Enraged Musician, we have a collection of every grating found in nature, without any mutual connection except that of place. But the horror they give to the delicate ear
of an Italian fidler, who is represented almost in convulsions, bestows anity upon the piece, with which the mind is fatisfied.
How far the unities of time and of place are essential, is a question of greater intricacy. These uni. ties were strictly observed in the Greek and Roman
theatres : and they are inculcated by the French and English critics, as essential to every dramatic composition. They are also acknowledged by our best poets, though in practice they make frequent deviation, which they pretend not to justify, against the practice of the Greeks and Romans, and against the folemn decision of their own countrymen. But in the course of this inquiry it will be made evident, that in this article we are under no necessity to copy the ancients; and that our critics are guilty of a mistake, in admitting no greater latitude of place and time than was admitted in Greece and Rome.
Suffer me only to premise, that the unities of place and time, are not by the most rigid critics required in a narrative poem. In such a composition, if it pretend to copy nature, these unities would be absurd ; be. cause real events are feldom confined within narrow limits either of place or of time. And yet we can follow history, or an historical fable, through all its changes with the greatest facility : we never once think of measuring the real time by what is taken in reading; nor of forming any connection between the place of action and that which we occupy.
I am fenfible, that the drama differs so far from the epic, as to admit different rules. It will be ob. served, " That an historical fable, intended for reading solely, is under no limitation of time nor of place, more than a genuine history ; but that a dramatic composition cannot be accurately represented, unless it be limited, as its representation is, to one place and to a few hours ; and therefore that it can admit.no fable but what has these properties : because it would be absurd to compose a piece for representation that cannot be justly represented.” This argument, I acknowledge, has at least a plaufible appearance ; and