BOOK V. CONTAINING A PORTION OF TIME SOMEWHAT LONGER THAN HALF A YEAR.
1. Chapter i. Of the SERIOUS in writing...
Of the SERIOUS in writing, and for what purpose it is introduced.
Peradventure there may be no parts in this prodigious work which will
give the reader less pleasure in the perusing, than those which have
given the author the greatest pains in composing. Among these probably
may be reckoned those initial essays which we have prefixed to the
historical matter contained in every book; and which we have
determined to be essentially necessary to this kind of writing, of
which we have set ourselves at the head.
For this our determination we do not hold ourselves strictly bound to
assign any reason; it being abundantly sufficient that we have laid it
down as a rule necessary to be observed in all prosai-comi-epic
writing. Who ever demanded the reasons of that nice unity of time or
place which is now established to be so essential to dramatic poetry?
What critic hath been ever asked, why a play may not contain two days
as well as one? Or why the audience (provided they travel, like
electors, without any expense) may not be wafted fifty miles as well
as five? Hath any commentator well accounted for the limitation which
an antient critic hath set to the drama, which he will have contain
neither more nor less than five acts? Or hath any one living attempted
to explain what the modern judges of our theatres mean by that word
low; by which they have happily succeeded in banishing all humour
from the stage, and have made the theatre as dull as a drawing-room!
Upon all these occasions the world seems to have embraced a maxim of
our law, viz., cuicunque in arte sua perito credendum est: for it
seems perhaps difficult to conceive that any one should have had
enough of impudence to lay down dogmatical rules in any art or science
without the least foundation. In such cases, therefore, we are apt to
conclude there are sound and good reasons at the bottom, though we are
unfortunately not able to see so far.
Now, in reality, the world have paid too great a compliment to
critics, and have imagined them men of much greater profundity than
they really are. From this complacence, the critics have been
emboldened to assume a dictatorial power, and have so far succeeded,
that they are now become the masters, and have the assurance to give
laws to those authors from whose predecessors they originally received