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THE Tragedies of Cinna, and Julius Cæsar, are each of them the representation of a conspiracy; but it cannot be denied that our countryman has been by far more judicious in his choice of the story. An abortive scheme, in which some people of obscure fame were engaged, and even in whom, as they are represented, the enterprise was pardoned, more from contempt of their abilities and power, than the clemency of the emperor, makes a poor figure in contrast with that conspiracy, which, formed by the first characters in Rome, effected the destruction of the greatest man the world ever produced, and was succeeded by the most memorable consequences. History furnishes various examples of men of base and treacherous natures, of dissolute manners, ruined fortunes, and lost reputations, uniting in horrid association to destroy their prince. Ambition
Ambition often cuts itself a bloody way to greatness.-Exasperated misery sometimes plunges its desperate dagger in the breast of the oppressor. The cabal of a court, the mutiny of a camp, the wild zeal of fanatics, have too frequently produced events of that nature. But this conspiracy was formed of very different elements. It was the genius of Rome, the rights of her constitution, the spirit of her laws, that rose against the ambition of Cæsar; they steeled the heart, and whetted the dagger of the mild, the virtuous, the gentle Brutus, to give the mortal wound, not to a tyrant, who had fastened fetters on his fellow-citizens, but to the conqueror, who had made almost the whole world wear their chains; and who was then preparing to subdue the only empire that remained unsubjected to them.
Can there be a subject more worthy of the Tragic Muse, than an action so important in its consequences, and unparalleled in all its circumstances? How is our curiosity excited, to discover what could engage the man of virtue in an enterprise of such a terrible
terrible kind; and why, after its accomplishment, instead of being stigmatized with the name of conspirator and assassin, the decrees of an august senate, and the voice of Rome, unite to place him one of the first on the roll of patriots; and the successor of the murdered Cæsar, who devoted to destruction the most illustrious men of Rome, durst not offer violation to the statue of Brutus !
To create, in the English spectator, the same reverence for him, it is necessary we should be made to imbibe those doctrines, and to adopt those opinions, by which he himself was actuated. We must be in the very capitol of Rome; stand at the base of Pompey's statue, surrounded by the effigies of their patriots; we must be taught to adore the images of Junius Brutus, the Horatii, Decii, Fabii, and all who had offered dear and bloody sacrifice to the liberty of their country, in order to see this action in the point of view in which it offered itself to the deliberation of Brutus, and in which it was beheld by those, who judged of it Q
when done. To the very scene, to the very time, therefore, does our poet transport us: at Rome, we become Romans; we are affected by their manners; we are caught by their enthusiasm. But what a variety of imitations were there to be made by the artist to effect this! and who but Shakspeare was capable of such a task? A poet of ordinary genius would have endeavoured to interest us for Brutus, by the means of some imagined fond mother, or fonder mistress. But can a few female tears wipe out the stains of assassination? A base conspirator, a vile assassin, like the wretched Cinna, of Corneille, would Brutus have appeared to us, if the same feeble arts only had been exerted for him. It is for the genuine son of ancient Rome, the lover of the liberty of his country, that we are interested. A concern for him, mixed with compassion for any other person, would only, from these discordant sentiments, have excited some painful emotions in the spectator. Indeed, the common aim of tragedy-writers seems to be merely to make us uneasy, for some reason or other, during the drama. They take any
thing to be tragedy, in which there are great persons, and much lamentation; but our poet never represents an action of one sort, and raises emotions and passions of another sort. He excites the sympathies, and the concern, proper to the story. The passion of love, or maternal affection, may afford good subjects for a tragedy. In the fables of Phadra and Merope, those sentiments belong to the action; but they had no share in the resolution taken to kill Cæsar; and, if they are made to interfere, they adulterate the imitation; if to predominate, they spoil it. Our author disdains the legerdemain trick of substituting one passion for another. He is the great magician who can call forth passions of any sort. If they are such as time has destroyed, or custom extinguished, he summons from the dead those souls in which they once existed. Having sufficiently enlarged on the general scope of our author in this play, we will now consider it in the detail.
The first scene is in the streets of Rome. The Tribunes chide the people for gathering together