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IN WHICH THE CANON PURSUES THE SUBJECT OF THE BOOKS OF CHIVALRY, WITH OTHER MATTERS WORTHY OF HIS WIT
"It is as you say, senor canon," said the curate; "and for that reason those who have hitherto written books of the sort deserve all the more censure for writing without paying any attention to good taste or the rules of art, by which they might guide themselves and become as famous in prose as the two princes of Greek and Latin poetry are in verse."
"I myself, at any rate," said the canon, "was once tempted to write a book of chivalry in which all the points I have mentioned were to be observed; and if I must own the truth I have more than a hundred sheets written; and to try if it came up to my own opinion of it, I showed them to persons who were fond of this kind of reading, to learned and intelligent men as well as to ignorant people who cared for nothing but the pleasure of listening to nonsense, and from all I obtained flattering approval; nevertheless I proceeded no farther with it, as well because it seemed to me an occupation inconsistent with my profession, as because I perceived that the fools are more numerous than the wise; and, though it is better to be praised by the wise few than applauded by the foolish many, I have no mind to submit myself to the stupid judgment of the silly public, to whom the reading of such books falls for the most part.
"But what most of all made me hold my hand and even abandon all idea of finishing it was an argument I put to myself taken from the plays that are acted now-a-days, which was in this wise:
if those that are now in vogue, as well those that are pure invention as those founded on history, are, all or most of them, downright nonsense and things that have neither head nor tail, and yet the public listens to them with delight, and regards and cries them up as perfection when they are so far from it; and if the authors who write them, and the players who act them, say that this is what they must be, for the public wants this and will have nothing else; and that those that go by rule and work out a plot according to the laws of art will only find some half-dozen intelligent people to understand them, while all the rest remain blind to the merit of their composition; and that for themselves it is better to get bread from the many than praise from the few; then my book will fare the same way, after I have burnt off my eyebrows in trying to observe the principles I have spoken of, and I shall be 'the tailor of the corner.
' And though I have sometimes endeavoured to convince actors that they are mistaken in this notion they have adopted, and that they would attract more people, and get more credit, by producing plays in accordance with the rules of art, than by absurd ones, they are so thoroughly wedded to their own opinion that no argument or evidence can wean them from it.
"I remember saying one day to one of these obstinate fellows, 'Tell me, do you not recollect that a few years ago, there were three tragedies acted in Spain, written by a famous poet of these kingdoms, which were such that they filled all who heard them with admiration, delight, and interest, the ignorant as well as the wise, the masses as well as the higher orders, and brought in more money to the performers, these three alone, than thirty of the best that have been since produced?'
"'No doubt,' replied the actor in question, 'you mean the "Isabella," the "Phyllis," and the "Alexandra."'
"'Those are the ones I mean,' said I; 'and see if they did not observe the principles of art, and if, by observing them, they failed to show their superiority and please all the world; so that the fault does not lie with the public that insists upon nonsense, but with those who don't know how to produce something else. "The Ingratitude Revenged" was not nonsense, nor was there any in "The Numantia," nor any to be found in "The Merchant Lover," nor yet in "The Friendly Fair Foe," nor in some others that have been written by certain gifted poets, to their own fame and renown, and to the profit of those that brought them out;' some further remarks I added to these, with which, I think, I left him rather dumbfoundered, but not so satisfied or convinced that I could disabuse him of his error."
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