Nov. 27, 1712.
'I have read this Day's Paper with a great deal of Pleasure, and could send you an Account of several Elixirs and Antidotes in your third Volume, which your Correspondents have not taken Notice of in their Advertisements; and at the same time must own to you, that I have seldom seen a Shop furnished with such a Variety of Medicaments, and in which there are fewer Soporifics. The several Vehicles you have invented for conveying your unacceptable Truths to us, are what I most particularly admire, as I am afraid they are Secrets which will die with you. I do not find that any of your Critical Essays are taken Notice of in this Paper, notwithstanding I look upon them to be excellent Cleansers of the Brain, and could venture to superscribe them with an Advertisement which I have lately seen in one of our News-Papers, wherein there is an Account given of a Sovereign Remedy for restoring the Taste of all such Persons whose Palates have been vitiated by Distempers, unwholesome Food, or any the like Occasions. But to let fall the Allusion, notwithstanding your Criticisms, and particularly the Candour which you have discovered in them, are not the least taking Part of your Works, I find your Opinion concerning Poetical Justice, as it is expressed in the first Part of your Fortieth Spectator, is controverted by some eminent Criticks; and as you now seem, to our great Grief of Heart, to be winding up your Bottoms, I hoped you would have enlarged a little upon that Subject. It is indeed but a single Paragraph in your Works, and I believe those who have read it with the same Attention I have done, will think there is nothing to be objected against it. I have however drawn up some additional Arguments to strengthen the Opinion which you have there delivered, having endeavoured to go to the Bottom of that Matter, which you may either publish or suppress as you think fit.
'Horace in my Motto says, that all Men are vicious, and that they differ from one another, only as they are more or less so. Boileau has given the same Account of our Wisdom, as Horace has of our Virtue.
'Tous les homines sont fous, et, malgré tous leurs soins,
Ne different entre eux, que du plus et du moins.'
All Men, says he, are Fools, and, in spite of their Endeavours to the contrary, differ from one another only as they are more or less so.
'Two or three of the old Greek Poets have given the same turn to a Sentence which describes the Happiness of Man in this Life;
[Greek: Tò zaen alypôs, andrós esti eutuchous]
'That Man is most happy who is the least miserable.
'It will not perhaps be unentertaining to the Polite Reader to observe how these three beautiful Sentences are formed upon different Subjects by the same way of thinking; but I shall return to the first of them.
'Our Goodness being of a comparative, and not an absolute nature, there is none who in strictness can be called a Virtuous Man. Every one has in him a natural Alloy, tho' one may be fuller of Dross than another: For this reason I cannot think it right to introduce a perfect or a faultless Man upon the Stage; not only because such a Character is improper to move Compassion, but because there is no such a thing in Nature. This might probably be one Reason why the SPECTATOR in one of his Papers took notice of that late invented Term called Poetical Justice, and the wrong Notions into which it has led some Tragick Writers. The most perfect Man has Vices enough to draw down Punishments upon his Head, and to justify Providence in regard to any Miseries that may befal him. For this reason I cannot think, but that the Instruction and Moral are much finer, where a Man who is virtuous in the main of his Character falls into Distress, and sinks under the Blows of Fortune at the End of a Tragedy, than when he is represented as Happy and Triumphant. Such an Example corrects the Insolence of Human Nature, softens the Mind of the Beholder with Sentiments of Pity and Compassion, comforts him under his own private Affliction, and teaches him not to judge Mens Virtues by their Successes. I cannot think of one real Hero in all Antiquity so far raised above Human Infirmities, that he might not be very naturally represented in a Tragedy as plunged in Misfortunes and Calamities. The Poet may still find out some prevailing Passion or Indiscretion in his Character, and shew it in such a Manner, as will sufficiently acquit the Gods of any Injustice in his Sufferings. For as Horace observes in my Text, the best Man is faulty, tho' not in so great a degree as those whom we generally call vicious Men.
'If such a strict Poetical Justice, as some Gentlemen insist upon, was to be observed in this Art, there is no manner of Reason why it should not extend to Heroick Poetry, as well as Tragedy. But we find it so little observed in Homer, that his Achilles is placed in the greatest point of Glory and Success, though his Character is Morally Vicious, and only Poetically Good, if I may use the Phrase of our modern Criticks. The Æneid is filled with Innocent, unhappy Persons. Nisus and Eurialus, Lausus and Pallas come all to unfortunate Ends. The Poet takes Notice in particular, that in the Sacking of Troy, Ripheus fell, who was the most just Man among the Trojans.
'--Cadit et Ripheus justissimus unus,
Qui fuit in Teucris et servantissimus Æqui:
Dijs aliter visum est--'
'And that Pantheus could neither be preserved by his transcendent Piety, nor by the holy Fillets of Apollo, whose Priest he was.
'--nec Te tua plurima Pantheu
Labentem pietas, nec Apollinis infula texit.'
(Æn. 1. 2.)
'I might here mention the Practice of ancient Tragick Poets, both Greek and Latin; but as this Particular is touched upon in the Paper above-mentioned, I shall pass it over in Silence. I could produce Passages out of Aristotle in favour of my Opinion, and if in one Place he says that an absolutely Virtuous Man should not be represented as unhappy, this does not justifie any one who shall think fit to bring in an absolutely virtuous Man upon the Stage. Those who are acquainted with that Author's Way of Writing, know very well, that to take the whole extent of his Subject into his Divisions of it, he often makes use of such Cases as are imaginary, and not reducible to Practice: He himself declares that such Tragedies as ended unhappily bore away the Prize in Theatrical Contentions, from those which ended happily; and for the Fortieth Speculation, which I am now considering, as it has given Reasons why these are more apt to please an Audience, so it only proves that these are generally preferable to the other, tho' at the same time it affirms that many excellent Tragedies have and may be written in both kinds.
['I shall conclude with observing, that though the Spectator above-mentioned is so far against the Rule of Poetical Justice, as to affirm, that good Men may meet with an unhappy Catastrophe in Tragedy, it does not say that ill Men may go off unpunished. The Reason for this Distinction is very plain, namely, because the best of Men are vicious enough to justify Providence for any Misfortunes and Afflictions which may befal them, but there are many Men so criminal that they can have no Claim or Pretence to Happiness. The best of Men may deserve Punishment, but the worst of Men cannot deserve Happiness.']
[Footnote 1: Unacknowledged, but doubtless by Addison, who took this indirect way of answering Dennis. Addison's hand is further shown by the addition made to the reprint.]Translation of motto: