BOOK V. CONTAINING A PORTION OF TIME SOMEWHAT LONGER THAN HALF A YEAR.
1. Chapter i. Of the SERIOUS in writing...
This was, perhaps, no very civil use of such personages: but the
contrivance was, nevertheless, ingenious enough, and had its effect.
And this will now plainly appear, if, instead of serious and comic, we
supply the words duller and dullest; for the comic was certainly
duller than anything before shown on the stage, and could be set off
only by that superlative degree of dulness which composed the serious.
So intolerably serious, indeed, were these gods and heroes, that
harlequin (though the English gentleman of that name is not at all
related to the French family, for he is of a much more serious
disposition) was always welcome on the stage, as he relieved the
audience from worse company.
Judicious writers have always practised this art of contrast with
great success. I have been surprized that Horace should cavil at this
art in Homer; but indeed he contradicts himself in the very next line:
Indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus;
Verum opere in longo fas est obrepere somnum.
I grieve if e'er great Homer chance to sleep,
Yet slumbers on long works have right to creep.
For we are not here to understand, as perhaps some have, that an
author actually falls asleep while he is writing. It is true, that
readers are too apt to be so overtaken; but if the work was as long as
any of Oldmixon, the author himself is too well entertained to be
subject to the least drowsiness. He is, as Mr Pope observes,
Sleepless himself to give his readers sleep.
To say the truth, these soporific parts are so many scenes of serious
artfully interwoven, in order to contrast and set off the rest; and
this is the true meaning of a late facetious writer, who told the
public that whenever he was dull they might be assured there was a
design in it.
In this light, then, or rather in this darkness, I would have the
reader to consider these initial essays. And after this warning, if he
shall be of opinion that he can find enough of serious in other parts
of this history, he may pass over these, in which we profess to be
laboriously dull, and begin the following books at the second chapter.