A DISSERTATION ON RACINE’S TRAGEDY, CALLED
THE GRAND ALEXANDER.
To Madam Bourneau.
ince I have read the Grand Alexander, the old age of Corneille does not so much alarm me; and I am not so apprehensive that the writing of Tragedies will end with him. However, I could wish, that before his death he would adopt the Author of this Piece, and, like a tender father, give a right cast to theJudgment of one, who alone deserves to be his Successor. I wish that he would give him a good taste of Antiquity, which he enjoys to so much advantage; that he would make him enter into the Genius of those dead Nations, and know judiciously the Character of Heroes that are now no more. This is, in my opinion, the only thing which is wanting in so great a Genius. Some of his Thoughts are strong andbold; his Expressions equal the force of his thoughts: but then you must give me leave to say, he is not acquainted with Alexander, or Porus. By his performance one would think, that he had a mind to give the world a greater idea of Porus, than of Alexander, in which it was not possible for him to succeed : for the History of Alexander, as true as it is, has much of the air of a Romance in it; andfor an Author to make a greater Hero than him, is to affect to deal in fiction, and rob his Work, not only of the credit of truth, but the agreeableness of probability. Let us not therefore imagine any thing greater than this Conqueror of the World, otherwise our imaginations will range too far, and soar too high. If we would give other Heroes an advantage over him, let us take from them the Viceswhich he had, and give them the Virtues which he had not : let us not make Scipio greater, altho there never was amongst the Romans, a soul so aspiring as his; he should be made more just, more dispos’d to do good, more moderate, more temperate, and more virtuous.
Let not those that are most partial to Cesar, against Alexander, alledge in his favour, either his passion of Glory, greatness of Soul,or firmness of Resolution. These Qualities are so conspicuously shining in the Grecian, that to have had them in a higher degree, would have been to have had them to excess; but let them make the Roman more wise in his undertakings, more dextrous in his affairs, one that better understood his own interests, and was more master of himself in his passions.
A very nice Judge of the merits of Men,is contented to compare to Alexander, the man whom he thought worthy of the highest character : he durst not attribute to him greater qualities, but took away from him the bad : magno illi Alexandro, sed sobrio neque iracundo simillimus1.
Perhaps these considerations influenc’d our Author in some measure : perhaps, to make Porus the greater man, without diving into fables, he thought it convenientto lessen his Alexander. If that was his design, ’tis impossible for him to have executed it better; for he has made him so moderate a Prince, that a hundred others may be preferred to him, as well as Porus. Not but that Hephestion gives us a fine idea of him; that Taxilus and Porus himself, speak advantageously enough of his greatness : but when he appears himself, he has not force enough tosustain it; unless, out of modesty, he has a mind to appear an ordinary Man amongst the Indians, in a just repentance, for having been ambitious to pass for a God amongst the Persians. To speak seriously, I can here discern nothing of Alexander, but his bare name; his Genius, his Humour, his Qualities, appear to me no where. I expect to find in an impetuous Hero such extraordinary motions, as shouldexcite my passion; but I find a Prince of so little spirit, that he makes no manner of impression upon me. I imagin’d to find in Porus, a greatness of soul, which would be somewhat more surprizing to us; an Indian Hero should have a different character from one of ours. Another Heaven, if I may so speak, another Sun, and another Earth, produce other Animals, and other Fruits : the Men seem to be...
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