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If I was to speak here of Aristotle’s Merit only, the excellence of his Poetick Art, and the reasons I had to publish it, I need do no more than refer the Reader to that Work, to shew the disorders into which the Theatre is long since fallen, and to let him see that as the Injustice of Men, gave occasion to the making of Laws; so the decay of Arts and the Faults committed in them, oblig’d first to the making Rules, and the renewing them. But in order to prevent the Objections of some, who scorn to be bound to any Rules, only that of their own fancy, I think it necessary, to prove, not only that Poetry is an Art, but that ’tis known and its Rules so certainly those which Aristotle gives us, that ’tis impossible to succeed any other way. This being prov’d, I shall examine the two Consequences which naturally flow from thence: First, that the Rules, and what pleases, are never contrary to one another, and that you can never obtain the latter without the former. Secondly, That Poesie being an Art can never be prejudicial to Mankind, and that ’twas invented and improv’d for their advantage only.

To follow this Method, ’tis necessary to trace Poetry from its Original, to shew that ’twas the Daughter of Religion, that at length ’twas vitiated, and debauch’d, and lastly, brought under the Rules of Art, which assisted, in Correcting the defaults of Nature.

God touch’d with Compassion for the Misery of Men, who were obliged to toil and labour, ordain’d Feasts to give them some rest; the offering of Sacrifices to himself, by way of Thanksgiving, for those Blessings they had received by his Bounty. This is a Truth which the Heathens themselves acknowledged; they not only imitated these Feasts, but spake of them as a Gift of the Gods, who having granted a time of Repose, requir’d some tokens of their grateful remembrance.

The first Feasts of the Ancients were thus, They assembled at certain times, especially in Autumn, after the gathering in their Fruits, for to rejoyce, and to offer the choicest of them to God; and this ’tis, which first gave birth to Poetry: For Men, who are naturally inclined to the imitation of Musick, employ’d their Talents to sing the praises of the God they worshipped, and to celebrate his most remarkable Actions.

If they had always kept to that Primitive Simplicity, all the Poesie we should have had, would have been, only Thanksgivings, Hymns, and Songs, as amongst the Jews. But ’twas very difficult, or rather impossible, that Wisdom and Purity, should reign long in the Heathen Assemblies; they soon mingl’d the Praises of Men, with those of their Gods, and came at last, to the Licentiousness of filling their Poems with biting Satyrs, which they sung to one another at their drunken Meetings; Thus Poetry was entirely Corrupted, and the present scarce retains any Mark of Religion.

The Poets which followed, and who were (properly speaking,) the Philosophers and Divines of those Times, seeing the desire the People had for those Feasts, and Shows, and impossibility of retrieving the first Simplicity; took another way to remedy this Disorder, and making an advantage of the Peoples Inclinations, gave them Instructions, disguis’d under the Charmes of Pleasure, as Physicians gild and sweeten the bitter Pills they administer to their Patients.

I shall not recount all the different Changes, which have happen’d in Poetry, and by what degrees it has arrived to the Perfection, we now find it; I have spoken of it already in my Commentaries on Horace’s Art of Poetry, and shall say more in explaining, what Aristotle writes in this Treatise.

Homer was the first that invented, or finished, an Epick Poem, for he found out the Unity of the Subject, the Manners, the Characters, and the Fable. But this Poem could only affect Customes, and was not moving enough to Correct the Passions, there wanted a Poem, which by imitating our Actions, might work in our Spirits a more ready and sensible effect. ’Twas this, which gave occasion for Tragedy, and banished all Satyrs, by this means Poetry was entirely purg’d from all the disorders its Corruption had brought it into.

This is no proper place to shew, that Men who are quickly weary of regulated Pleasures, took pains to plunge themselves again into their former Licentiousness by the invention of Comedy. I shall keep my self to Tragedy, which is the most noble Imitation, and principal Subject of this Treatise, all the Parts of an Epick Poem are comprized in a Tragedy.

However short this account may be, it suffices to let you see that Poesie is an Art, for since it has a certain End, there must necessarily be some way to arrive there: No body doubts of this constant Truth, that in all concerns where you may be in the right, or the wrong, there is an Art and sure Rules to lead you to the one, and direct you, how to avoid the other.

The question then is, whether the Rules of this Art are known, and whether they are those which Aristotle gives us here? This question is no less doubtful, than the former, I must also confess that this cannot be determined, but by the unlearned; who because they are the greater number, I shall make my Examination in their favour. To do this with some sort of Method, there are four Things to be consider’d, who gives the Rules, the time when he gives them; the manner in which he gives them, and the effects they have in divers times wrought on different People: For I believe from these four Circumstances, I can draw such Conclusions, that the most obstinate shall not be able to gainsay.

He who gives these Rules, is one of the greatest Philosophers that ever was, his Genius was large, and of vast extent, the great Discoveries he made in all Sciences, and particularly in the Knowledge of Man, are certain Signs, that he had a sufficient insight into our Passions, to discover the Rules of the Art of Poetry, which is founded on them. But I shall suspend my Judgment, and pass on to the time in which he gave these Rules.

I find that he was born in the Age in which Tragedy first appear’d, for he lived with the Disciples of AEschylus, who brought it out of Confusion; and he had the same Masters with Sophocles, and Euripides, who carried it to its utmost Perfection: Besides he was witness of the Opinion the most nice and knowing People of the World had of this Poem. ’Tis therefore impossible that Aristotle should be ignorant of the Origine, Progress, Design and Effects of this Art; and consequently even before I examine these Rules, I am well assur’d upon his account who gives them, that they have all the Certainty, and Authority, that Rules can possibly have.

But when I come to examine the Manner in which Aristotle delivers them, I find them so evident and conformable to Nature, that I cannot but be sensible they are true; for what does Aristotle? He gives not his Rules as Legisltors do their Laws, without any other reason than their Wills only; he advances nothing but what is accompanied with Reason, drawn from the common Sentiment of Mankind, insomuch that the Men themselves become the Rule and Measure of what he prescribes. Thus without considering that the Rules are of almost equal Date with the Art they Teach, or any prejudice, in favour of Aristotle’s Name, (for ’tis the Work which ought to make the Name valued, and not the Name the Work) I am forced to submit to all his Decisions, the Truth of which I am convinc’d of in my self, and whose Certainty I discover by Reason and Experience, which never yet deceiv’d any body.

To this I shall add, the Effects which these Rules have produc’d in all Ages, on different sort of People, and I see, that as they made the Beauty of Homer’s Sophocles, and Euripides Poems in Greece, from which they were drawn; so four or five Hundred Years after, they adorn’d the Poems of Virgil and other famous Latin Poets, and that now after Two Thousand Years they make the best Tragedies we have, in which all that pleases, only does so, as ’tis conformable to these Rules, (and that too without our being aware of it,) and what is displeasing, is such, because it is contrary to them, for good Sense, and right Reason, is of all Countries and Places, the same Subjects which caus’d so many Tears to be shed in the Roman Theatre, produce the same Effects in ours, and those Things which gave distaste then, do the same now, from whence I am convinced, that never any Laws had either so much Force, Authority, or Might. Humane Laws expire or Change very often after the Deaths of their Authors, because Circumstances Change, and the Interests of Men, whom they are made to serve, are different; but these still take new vigor, because they are the Laws of Nature, who always acts uniformly, renews them incessantly, and gives them a perpetual Existence.

I won’t pretend nevertheless that the Rules of this Art, are so firmly established, that ‘tis impossible to add any thing to them, for tho’ Tragedy has all its proper Parts, ’tis probable one of those may yet arrive to greater Perfection. I am perswaded, that tho’ we have been able to add nothing to the Subject, or Means, yet we have added something to the Manner, as you’l find in the Remarks, and all the new Discoveries are so far from destroying this Establishment, that they do nothing more than confirm it; for Nature is never contrary to herself, and one may apply to the Art of Poetry, what Hippocrates says of Physick, Physick is of long standing, hath sure Principles, and a certain way by which in the Course of many Ages, an Infinity of Things have been discovered, of which, Experience confirms the Goodness; All that is wanting, for the perfection of this Art, will without doubt be found out, by those Ingenious Men, who will search for it, according to the Instructions and Rules of the Ancients, and endeavour to arrive at what is unknown, by what is already plain: For whoever shall boast that he has obtained this Art by rejecting the ways of the Ancients, and taking a quite different one, deceives others, and is himself deceived; because that’s absolutely impossible. This Truth extends it self to all Arts and Sciences, ’tis no difficult matter to find a proper Example in our Subject, there is no want of Tragedies, where the management is altogether opposite to that of the Ancients. According to the Rules of Aristotle, a Tragedy is the Imitation of an Allegorical and Universal Action, which by the means of Terror, and Compassion, moderates and corrects our Inclinations. But according to these new Tragedies ’tis an imitation of some particular Action, which affects no body, and is only invented to amuse the Spectators, by the Plot, and unravelling a vain Intrigue, which tends only to excite and satisfie their Curiosity, and stir up their Passions, instead of rend’ring them calm and quiet. This is not only not the same Art, but can be none at all, since it tends to no good, and ’tis a pure Lye without any mixture of Truth; what advantage can be drawn from this Falshood? In a word, ’tis not a Fable, and by consequence, is in no wise a_ Tragedy_, for a Tragedy cannot subsist without a Fable, as you will see elsewhere.

We come now to the first Consequence, which we draw, from what we have Establish’d, and shall endeavour to prove, that our Laws, and what pleases, can never be opposite, since the Rules were made only for what pleases, and tend only to show the way you must walk in, to do so. By this we shall destroy the false Maxim, That, all that pleases is good, and assert that we ought on the contrary to say, That, all that is good pleases, or ought to please. For the goodness of any Work whatsoever, does not proceed from this, that it gives us pleasure, but the pleasure that we have proceeds from its goodness, unless our deluded Eyes and corrupt Imaginations mislead us, for that which causes our mistakes, is not, where is, but what is not.

If the Rules, and what pleased, were things opposite, you would never arrive at the giving pleasure, but by meer chance, which is absurd: There must for that reason be a certain way, which leads thither, and that way is the Rule which we ought to learn; but what is that Rule? ’Tis a Precept, which being drawn from the Pleasant and Profitable, leads us to their source. Now what is the Pleasant and Profitable? ’Tis that which pleases naturally, in all Arts ’tis this we consult, ’tis the most sure and perfect Model we can Imitate; in it we find perfect Unity and Order, for it self is Order, or to speak more properly, the effect of Order, and the Rule which conducts us thither; there is but one way to find Order, but a great many to fall into Confusion.

There would be nothing bad in the World, if all that pleas’d were good; for there is nothing so ridiculous, but what will have its Admirers. You may say indeed, ’tis no truer, that what is good pleases, because we see ev’ry day Disputes about the Good and Pleasant, that the same Thing pleases some, and displeases others; nay, it pleases and displeases the very same Persons at different times: from whence then proceeds this difference? It comes either from an absolute Ignorance of the Rule, or that the Passions alter it. Rightly to clear this Truth, I believe I may lay down this Maxim, that all sensible Objects are of two sorts; some may be judged of, by Sense independantly from Reason. I can Sense that Impression which the animal Spirits make on the Soul, others can’t be judged of but by Reason exercised in Science, Things simply agreeable, or disagreeable, are of the first Sort, all the World may judge alike of these, for example the most Ignorant in Musick, perceives very well, when a Player on the Lute strikes one String for another, because he judges by his Sense, and that Sense is the Rule; in such occasions, we may therefore very well say, that all that pleases is good, because that which is Good doth please, or that which is Evil never fails to displease; for neither the Passions, nor Ignorance dull the Senses, on the contrary they sharpen them. ’Tis not so in Things which spring from Reason; Passion and Ignorance act very strongly on it, and oftentimes choak it, this is the Reason, why we ordinarily judge so ill, and differently concerning those Things, of which, that is the Rule and the Cause. Why, what is Bad often pleases, and that which is Good doth not always so, ’tis not the fault of the Object, ’tis the fault of him who judges; but what is Good will infallibly please those who can judge, and that’s sufficient. By this we may see, that a Play, that shall bring those Things which are to be judg’d of by Reason, within the Rules, as also what is to be judg’d of by the Sense, shall never fail to please, for it will please both the Learned, and Ignorant: Now this Conformity of suffrages is the most sure, or according to Aristotle the only Mark of the Good, and Pleasant, as he proves in the following part of his Discourse. Now these Suffrages are not obtained, but by the observation of the Rules, and consequently, these Rules are the only Cause of the Good, and Pleasant, whether they are follow’d Methodically and with Design, or by Hazard only; for ’tis certain, there are many Persons who are entirely Ignorant of these Rules, and yet don’t fail to succeed in several Affairs: This is far from destroying the Rules, and serves to shew their Beauty, and proves how far they are conformable to Nature, since those often follow them, who know nothing of ’em. In the Remarks you shall find many Examples of the vast difference, the observance or neglect of the Rules make in the same Subject, and by that be throughly convinc’d that they are the two only Causes of Good, or Bad Works, and that there can never be any occasion, where the perfect Harmony which is between the Rules, and what pleases, shou’d be broken.

’Tis true to come to the last Consequence, that Poetry is an Art, invented for the Instruction of Mankind, and consequently must be profitable: ’Tis a general Truth that ev’ry Art is a good Thing, because there is none whose End is not Good: But, as it is not less true, that Men ordinarily abuse the best Things, that which was design’d for an wholsome Remedy, may in time become a very dangerous Poison. I declare then that I don’t speak of corrupted Tragedy, for ’tis not in vitious and depraved Works, that we must look for Reason, and the intent of Nature, but in those which are sound and perfect; I speak of Ancient Tragedy, that which is conform to Aristotle’s Rules, and I dare say, ’tis the most profitable, and necessary of all Diversions.

If ’twas possible to oblige Men to follow the Precepts of the Gospel, nothing could be more happy, they would find there true Peace, solid Pleasure, and a Remedy for all their Infirmities, and would look on Tragedy as useless and below them. How could they do otherwise than have this opinion? since those Pagans who apply’d themselves to the Study of Wisdome, consider’d it with the same Genius. They themselves own, that could the People be always brought up in the solid Truths of Philosophy, the Philosophers need have no recourse to Fables, to give their Instructions: But as so much Corruption was inconsistent with such Wisdom, they were forc’d to seek for a Remedy to the Disorders of their Pleasures; they then invented Tragedy, and inspir’d them with it, not as the best Employment Men could take up, but as a means, which was able to correct the excess, into which they plung’d themselves at their Feasts, and to render those amusements profitable, which Custom and their Infirmities had made necessary, and their Corruption very dangerous.

Men are the same now, they were then, they have the same Passions, and run with the same Eagerness after Pleasures. To endeavour to reclaim them from that State, by the severity of Precepts, is attempting to put a Bridle on an unruly Horse in the middle of his carrier, in the mean while, there is no Medium, they run into the most criminal excess, unless you afford them regular and sober Pleasures. ’Tis a great Happiness that their remaining Reason inclines them to love Diversions, where there is Order, and Shows, where Truth is to be found, and I am perswaded, that Charity obliges us, to take advantage of this, and not to allow too much time for Debauches, which would extinguish that Spark of Reason, which yet shines in them. Those People are distemper’d, and Tragedy is all the Remedy they are capable of receiving any advantage from; for it is the only Recreation in which they can find the agreeable and Profitable.

Tragedy does not only represent the Punishments, which voluntary Crimes always draw on their Authors, these are too common, and well known Truths, and leave too much liberty to our Passions; this is the meanest sort of Tragedy: But it sets forth the misfortunes which even in voluntary Crimes, and those committed by Imprudence, draw on such as we are, and this is perfect Tragedy. It instructs us to stand on our guard, to refine and moderate our Passions, which alone occasion’d the loss of those unfortunate ones. Thus the aspiring may learn to give bounds to his Ambition; the Prophane to fear God; the Malicious to forget his Wrongs; the Passionate to restrain his Anger; the Tyrant to forsake his Violence and Injustice, _&c._ Those idle and infirm Men, who are not able to bear the Yoak of Religion, and have need of a grosser sort of Instruction, which falls under the Senses, can never have more profitable amusements; ’twere to be wish’d, that they would renounce all other Pleasures, and love this only. If any shall now condemn Tragedy, he must also condemn the use of Fables, which the most Holy Men have employ’d, and God himself has vouchsaf’t to make use of: For Tragedy is only a Fable, and was invented as a Fable, to form the Manners, by Instructions, disguis’d under the Allegory of an Action. He must also condemn History; for History is much less Grave and Moral than Fable, insomuch as ’tis particular, when a Fable is more general, and universal, and by consequence more profitable.

We may say too, that the only Aim of true Politicks, is to procure to the People Virtue, Peace and Pleasure, this Design cannot be contrary to Religion, because we chuse none of those Pleasures which destroy Virtue, or Peace. Tragedy is far from it, and endeavours only their preservation; for ’tis the only Pleasure, which disposes Men to endure their Passions, to a perfect Mediocrity, which contributes more to the maintaining of Peace, and acquisition of Virtue, than any thing else; I also believe that from this Truth, we might draw a sure Rule to judge of those Pleasures which might be permitted, and those which ought to be forbidden.

You may say, Tragedy is dangerous, by reason of the abuses which creep into it. Every Thing is dangerous, and may be condemn’d at this rate, for there is nothing so excellent where Abuses may not be committed, and of which a bad, or good use may not be made. We must remember this Truth, that all Arts and Sciences, by the Ignorance and Corruption of Men, ordinarily produce false Arts, and false Sciences; but these false Arts and false Sciences, are more opposite to what they Counterfeit than any thing besides; for there is nothing more opposite to what is good, than what is bad in the same Kind. If that which is false, engages us to condemn what is true, it has gain’d its point, that’s what it would have, and having thus Triumph’d over Truth, soon puts its self into its place, than which nothing can be more Pernicious.

Since Tragedy has no defect, but what is external, it follows from thence, that ’tis good in its self, and consequently profitable; this cannot be contested, and those who condemn it, condemn, not only the most noble Diversion, but the most capable to raise the Courage, and form the Genius, and the only one, which can refine the Passions, and touch the most vicious and obdurate Souls. I could give many examples; but shall content my self with relating the Story of Alexander of Pherea: This barbarous Man, having order’d the Hecuba of Euripides to be Acted before him, found himself so affected, that he went out before the end of the first Act, saying, That he was asham’d to be seen to weep, at the Misfortunes of Hecuba and Polyxena, when he daily imbrud his Hands in the Blood of his Citizens; he was affraid that his Heart should be truly mollify’d, that the Spirit of Tyranny would now leave the possession of his Breast, and that he should come a private person out of that Theatre into which he enter’d Master. The Actor who so sensibly touch’d him, difficultly escaped with his Life, but was secur’d by some remains of that pity, which was the cause of his Crime.

A very grave Historian, makes reflection much to this purpose, and which seems to me no indifferent one in Politicks; in speaking of the People of Arcadia, he says, That their Humanity, sweetness of Temper, respect for Religion, in a word, the Purity of their Manners, and all their Virtues proceeded chiefly from the Love they had to Musick, which by its Melody, corrected those ill Impressions, a thick and unwholesome Air, joyn’d to a hard, and laborious way of living, made on their Bodies and Minds. He says on the contrary, That the Cynethians fell into all sorts of Crimes and Impieties, because they despised the wise Institutions of their Ancestors; and neglected this Art, which was so much the more necessary for them, as they liv’d in the coldest and worst place of Arcadia: There was scarcely any City in Greece, where wickedness was so great and frequent as here. If Polybius speaks thus of Musick, and accuses Ephorus, for having spoken a thing unworthy of himself, when he said, That ’twas invented to deceive Mankind: what ought we then to say of Tragedy, of which Musick is only a small part; and which is as much above it, as a Word is above an inarticulate Sound, which signifies nothing.

This is what, according to my Opinion, may be truly said of Tragedy, and the Mean we ought to keep. But to the end this may be justly said, the Parts must conform themselves entirely to the Rules of Ancient Tragedy, that is to say, which endeavours rather to Instruct than Please, and regard the Agreeable, as a means only to make the Profitable more taking; they must paint the Disorders of the Passions, and the inevitable Mischiefs which arise from thence. ’Twas for this the Greek Tragedians were so much Honour’d in their own Age, and esteemed in those which follow’d. Their Theatre was a School, where Virtue was generally better Taught, than in the Schools of their Philosophers, and at this very Day, the reading their Pieces will Inspire an Hatred to Vice, and a Love to Virtue. To Imitate them profitably, we should re-establish the Chorus, which establishing the veri-Similitude of the Tragedy, gives an Opportunity to set forth to the People, those particular Sentiments, you would inspire them with, and to let them know, what is Vicious or Laudable, in the Characters which are Introduc’d. Mr. Racine saw the necessity of this, and cannot be sufficiently praised, for having brought it, into his two last Pieces, which have happily reconcil’d Tragedy to its greatest Enemies. Those who have seen the effects of these Chorus’s, cannot but be sensible of their Advantage, and by Consequence, must Consent to what I say in my Remarks. After Examples, and Authorities of this Nature, I have no Reason to fear my Arguments. But enough of this Matter, tis time to come to what respects my self, and to give some Account of this Work.

I have endeavour’d to make the Translation as literal as possible, being perswaded, that I could not do better, than to stick close to the Words of a Man, who wrote with wonderful Exactness, and puts in nothing, but what is to the purpose. I have nevertheless taken the Liberty sometimes, to enlarge his Thoughts, for what was understood in his time, by half a Word, would hardly be Intelligible now, unless some Pains was taken to explain it.

A simple Translation of Aristotle, would be clear enough, and there would be no need of Commentaries, if we were well Instructed in those Poets, from whom he takes his Rules, but as almost all the World is Ignorant of them, and ’tis necessary to explain by Example, what is Obscure in the Rule. This is what I have endeavour’d to do in my Remarks, which will seem short, if you consider the many large Volumes which have been wrote on this little Treatise.

Of all the Latin Commentators, Victorius seems to me the most Wise, Knowing, and Exact, but his Assistance is not sufficient, to give us an Understanding of Poesie. The Italian Castelvetro, has a great deal of Wit, and Knowledge, if we may call that Wit, which is only Fancy, and bestow on much Reading the name of Knowledge. If we recollect all the Qualities of a good Interpreter, we shall have an Idea just contrary to that of Castelvetro. He knew neither the Theatre, the Passions, nor the Characters; he understood neither Aristotle’s Reasons, nor his Method, and strove rather to contradict, than explain him. On the other hand, he is so Infatuated with the Author’s of his own Country, that he forgot how to Criticise well; he talks without Measure, like Homer’s Thersites, and declares War to all that is fine. Indeed he has some good things, but ’tis not worth while to spend our time in looking after them. The French Art of Poetry by Mesnardiere, may pass for a Commentary on some Chapters of Aristotle, but that Work is of little value; for besides that Author’s being no good Critick, and perpetually deceiv’d, he did not penetrate into the Meaning of the Philosopher. The Practice of the Theatre by the Abbot D’Aubignac, is infinitely better, but is rather a Sequel and Supplement, than an Explication of Aristotle; on which, a perfect Instruction in the Ancient Rules, will enable you to pass a Judgment. The Treatise of Epick Poem by Father Bossu, is above all the Moderns have done in that Kind, and is the best Commentary Extant, on what Aristotle has wrote concerning that sort of Poem; none ever penetrated deeper into the bottom of that Art, and set in a better Light (according to Aristotle’s Rules) Homer’s, and Virgil’s Beauties, or the Solidity, and Beauty of Aristotle’s Rules, by the marvellous Conduct of those two great Poets. If he had Treated of Tragedy, as throughly, as he has done of the Epopoeia, he had left almost nothing for me to have done after him; but unfortunately, he omitted the most difficult, which he could have Explain’d much better than my self, had he had spare time. His Work however has done me great Service. I have profited by the good, which others have Wrote, and must confess, that their Faults have been useful to me. But after all, the most excellent Commentators on the Poetick Art, are the Ancient Poems, and as they gave the hint to make Rules, ’tis by them, that these ought to be Explain’d. I hope, I have not followed such good Guides in vain. If I have wander’d, by following them, without a true Understanding, I should be very well pleased to be put in the right way, by any, who would advise me of my Faults, or make them publickly known.

Perhaps some may Reproach me, as Mr. Corneille did all the precedent Commentators. They have Explain’d Aristotle (says that great Man) as Grammarians, or Philosophers, and not as Poets; because they had more of the Study, and Speculation, than Experience of the Theatre. The Reading them may make us more Learned, but can give us no further Insight, how we may succeed. This Reproach is founded on this general Maxim, That every one ought to be believ’d in his own Art. It seems then, that those should not pretend to explain the Rules of Poesie, who never yet made Poems. The Principle is true, but the Consequence is not so, for before that is drawn, we must see to whom the Art of Poetry, and what it produc’d, does property belong. ’Tis not Poesie it self which is produced, for then it would have been, before it was. ’Tis Philosophy that brought it first into play, and consequently, it belongs to Philosophy, to give, and explain its Rules. This is so true, that Aristotle made not these Rules as a Poet, but as a Philosopher: And if he made them as such, why may they not be explain’d that way too? And as it was not necessary to make Dramatick Poems, to give Rules to that Art, so ’tis no more necessary that they should be made, to Explain those Rules.

I don’t know indeed, whether he who has made Pieces for the Theatre, is so proper to explain the Rules of this Art, as he that never did, for ’twould be a Miracle if one was not biass’d by self-Love, when the other is a dis-interested Judge, who has no other Aim, than discovering the Truth, and making it known. Mr. Corneille himself may be an Example of this. All that he would Establish in his new Discourse of Dramatick Poetry, is less founded on Nature, than his own proper Interest. It appears by his own Words, that the design he had of defending what he had ventured on the Stage, obliged him to forsake Aristotle’s Rules, and to Establish new ones, which should be more favourable to himself; we shall see in the Remarks, whether they can bear the Test. ’Tis therefore no ways necessary to have made Poems, to prescribe Rules for Poesie, and yet much less to explain them. If it was so, I would say there were none, for of all those which have given any, I knew but one that was a Poet; Horace himself never made an Epick Poem or a Tragedy, but to prescribe Rules for Poesie, as also to explain them; it is sufficient to know the Origine, and Scope of the Art Treated of; to have examin’d those Poems, which are the Basis and Foundation, to have made Reflections on what is agreeable, and disagreeable, and rightly to discover the Causes; this is the only necessary Knowledge I have endeavour’d to acquire, and Philosophy alone can lead me thither.

I shall add once more, that if we make a Man more Learned, by explaining the Rules as a Philosopher, ’tis Impossible, but he must attain a surer Knowledge, to succeed in this Art. ’Tis true, we can’t give a Genius, that’s not done by Art, but we can shew the Path a Genius ought to Tread in, and that is the only Design of all Rules.

I have not made the Apology of Commentators, to praise my self, for although I am no Poet, it does not follow that I cannot be a good Philosopher; I leave it to the Publick, and time, to Judge of my Work, for I will neither Court, nor slight their Favours.

I have spoken very freely, in what I have pass’d my Judgment on, and in so doing, Imitated the ancient Criticks, who spared neither Demosthenes, nor Thucidides, nor Plato, nor any that was Great, or Venerable in Antiquity. A flattering Criticism would be a pleasant sort of one, when we should seek to Applaud, and the Respect due to the Name, should check the Censure due to the Fault. I am not so scrupulous, and if any one be offended, I shall Answer him as Dionysius Halicarnassaeus answered Pompey the Great, who wrote to him, to complain, that he had tax’d Plato with some Faults. The Veneration you have for Plato is Just, (says that excellent Critick,) but the Blame you lay on me, is not so. When any one writes on a Subject, to shew what is Good or Bad in it, he ought to discover, and mark very exactly all its Virtues, and Vices, for that is a sure way to find out the Truth, which is more valuable than all things else whatever. If I had written against Plato with a Design to Decry his Works, I should be as Impious as Zoilus, but on the contrary, I would praise him, and if in doing so I have Improved any of his Defects, I have done nothing worthy of Complaint, and which was not necessary for my Design. Notwithstanding this, I have put some Bounds to this Liberty, and if I have discovered some Faults, I have conceal’d some others, that seem’d to me not so considerable. I had respect in them, to the Approbation of many Persons of Merit, for I would not run Counter to an almost Universal Consent, which always is of great Weight, and ought at least to oblige us to be cautious. But that I might give to those Persons, an Opportunity of recollecting themselves, I have endeavoured to explain the Rule, in such a manner, that they may perceive those very Faults, if they will Read the Remarks with attention. As for the rest, I had no design to offend any Body; if there are some things which make them uneasie, ’tis impossible to write any Work of this nature, without disgusting some. ’Tis also the Mark of good Criticism, as well as good Philosophy. From hence it proceeded, that Plato was blamed for having taught his Philosophy a long time, without displeasing any one Person; and they pretended by that, to say that either his Doctrine was not good, or his Method defective, since none had by Hearing him been made sensible of that Uneasiness, which People naturally have, when they perceive themselves to be Vitious.

It would be unjust to finish this Preface, without saying something of Aristotle’s Life, that those who read his Work, may know something of him. He was the Son of Nicomachus, Physician of Amyntas, and descended from Esculapius. His Mother was the Daughter of one of the Descendants of those, who Transplanted a Colony, from Chalcis to Stagira, in Macedonia; that is to say, she was of Noble Extraction, on both sides. He was born at Stagira, about four Hundred Years, before our Saviour. At Eighteen Years of Age, he went to Athens, and abode with Plato, he pass’d twenty Years in his School, and when his Master was dead, he went to Hermeas the Tyrant of Atarna, a City of Mysia; he went from thence to Mytelene, from whence he was call’d by Philip, to be his Son Alexander’s Tutor; he was eight Years, with that Young Prince, and after Philip’s Death, returned to Athens, where he Taught, in the Lyceum twelve Years, till the Death of Alexander. For Antipater having carried the War into Greece, Aristotle, who fancied, the Athenians suspected him, by reason of the strict Friendship, which was between him, and the Viceroy of Macedonia, retir’d to Calchis, where he died soon after, by a Fit of Sickness in the sixty third Year of his Age. He left one Son, and one Daughter, both Young, and made Antipater Executor of his Will, and Administrator of all his Goods, which were very considerable, if we may judge of them by Alexander’s Liberality, who gave him eight Hundred Talents, for his History of Animals, that is according to the lesser Talent, one hundred and forty Thousand Pounds Sterling, or according to the greater, one Hundred eighty six Thousand, six Hundred, sixty five Pounds, thirteen Shillings and four Pence. The most precious of his Moveables was his Library, which was afterwards Sold to Ptolomy Philadelphus, and which he had Enrich’d with four Hundred Volumes, of his own making. In those of his Writings which now remain, and are happily a considerable Number, we find a very discerning Spirit, a solid Judgment, a wonderful Method, prodigious Knowledge, and an Eloquence both strong and sweet. He himself found out more, than the most Knowing now, learn with a great deal of Labour and Pains, and as for those things which depended on the Vivacity of the Spirit, no Man ever carried his Knowledge further, or Establish’d more sure, or extensive Principles. In Dialecticks, Logick, Rhetorick, Politicks, and Morality, we have little but what he taught us.

By making a proper use of his Informations, there have appear’d Works in some of these Sciences, preferable to his, but his Rhetorick is the most Preferable we as yet have. His Art of Poetry is more to be admir’d, for in his Rhetorick, he made use of the Precepts of those, who Wrote before him. But he is the first that discovered the Grounds, and Secrets of Poesie, and none since have undertaken to Write, but in Explication of his Thoughts, which have serv’d, and will always serve as the Rule. He alone has Reviv’d Tragedy more than once.

In effect after it was brought to its Perfection, under the Reign of Alexander, the Son of Amyntas, under the Reigns of Perdiccas, and Archelaus, and degenerated in those which follow’d, but under that of Philip, and Alexander, the Poets being Encourag’d by those Glorious Princes, and guided by Aristotle’s Genius, made it flourish as before.

After the Death of Alexander, it began to Languish, and never recover’d its entire Strength till the Reign of Augustus, in which the Rules of this Philosopher were Reviv’d.

Since the Death of Augustus, it has grown Feeble, for more than sixteen Hundred Years, till in this last Age ’twas recover’d out of its long Decay, by Mr. Corneille, and Mr. Racine, who upheld themselves by Aristotle’s Rules. So true is it, that Time is the Faithful Guardian, not only of Great Men, as Pindar saith, but also of the Liberal Arts, which it revives as occasion offers, and always, under the greatest Princes. For what a good Soil and Air, are to Seeds and Fruits, such is the Glory, Grandeur, Magnificence, and Liberality of Princes, to Arts, and Sciences, which do not so much flourish under them, as by them; and we may very properly apply to this Subject the fallowing Verse of Agathon.

Art favours Fortune, Fortune favours Art.

If Tragedy shall some time hence suffer any sort of Eclipse, ’twill be by the Laziness, and Haste of those Poets, who Write without being rightly Instructed. Plato in his Phedrus Introduces a young Poet seeking Sophocles and Euripides, and Accosting them thus. I can make Verses tolerably well; and I know how in my Descriptions to extend a mean Subject, and Contract a great one: I know how to excite Terror, and Compassion, and to make pitiful things appear Dreadful and Menacing. I will therefore go, and write Tragedies. Sophocles and Euripides answer’d him, Don’t go so fast, Tragedy is not what you take it to be; ’tis a Body, composed of many different, and well-suited Parts, of which you will make a Monster, unless you know how to adjust them; you may know what is to be learn’d, before the Study of the Art of Tragedy; but you don’t yet know that Art.

If there are Poets now, which don’t know so much as the Young Man, of whom Plato speaks, these Rules can be of no Advantage to them; but those who are like him, and in the same Circumstances, need only keep to these Rules, which will teach them what they are Ignorant of, and the fourth time restore Tragedy to its first Lustre and Brightness. This is the most profitable Present, can be made them, if by Meditation and Practice they will endeavour to make a right use of it; for Precepts alone are not sufficient to make us Learned, the Advantage, and Profit of any Rules, depend on our Labour and Pains. If these Rules are not for them, they will be against them, and their Works shall be Judg’d by them.