1778 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Robinson

Anonymous, "On seeing Mrs. Robinson in the character of Ophelia, at Drury-lane Theatre" Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (23 September 1778).



When our Shakespeare (blest name)
British manners to tame,
Chose pity's bright charms to impart,
Ophelia he drew,
Such distress was a clue
To reach ev'ry string of the heart.

Yet in vain on the stage,
Did the bard then engage,
Cou'd fancy o'er nature prevail?
Cou'd ill-acted distress
Any bosom impress,
Fair woes were burlesqued by a male.

This defect soon perceiv'd,
Our genius was griev'd,
In vain for some remedy strove:
Cou'd Roscius persuade
Us, to think him a maid,
Or pierce with the plainings of love?

To this office preferr'd,
Since the time of our bard,
Some fair ones attempted in vain,
Yet their powers' when known,
Prov'd like "bells out of tune,"
They let no impression remain.

Then how great is the praise
To the taste of our days,
When Nature's own mirror we see!
Did our Shakespeare but live,
What applause wou'd he give
To passions so pictured by thee.

Amid madness' wild strains,
While thou pleadest thy pains,
To sympathize who shall forbear?
Oh! "fair rose of the state,"
Thou Ophelia complete,
From stones can extort the soft tear.

Yet think, think, while we feel,
The feign'd griefs you instil,
What stores of affliction remain;
The kind pity you move,
Melts the soul into love,
Requiting our virtues with pain.