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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
STUD I E S.
BY MRS. HEMANS,
No. 1.-SCENES AND PASSAGES FROM THE
Tasso" of Goethe. The dramatic poem of “Tasso,” though presenting no changeful pageants of many-coloured life,-no combination of stirring incidents, nor conflict of tempestuous passions,-is yet rich in interest for those who find “ The still small music of humanity
of ample power To chasten and subdue." It is a picture of the struggle between elements which never can assimilate--powers whose dominion is over spheres essentially adverse; between the spirit of poetry and the spirit of the world. Why is it that this collision is almost invariably fatal to the gentler and the holier nature ? Some master-minds have, indeed, winged their way through the tumults of crowded life, like the sea-bird cleaving the storm from which its pinions come forth unstained; but there needs a celestial panoply, with which few indeed are gifted, to bear the heirs of genius not only unwounded, but unsoiled, through the battle; and too frequently the result of the poet's lingering afar from his better home has been mental degradation and untimely death. Let us not be understood as requiring for his well-being an absolute seclusion from the world and its interests. His nature, if the abiding place of the true light be indeed within him, is endowed above all others with the tenderest and most widely-embracing sympathies. Not alone from "the things of the everlasting hills," from the storms or the silence of midnight skies, will he seek the grandeur and the beauty which have their central residence in a far more majestic temple. Mountains, and rivers, and mighty woods, the cathedrals of uature—these will have their part in his pictures; but their colouring and shadows will not be wholly the gift of rising or departing suns, nor of the night with all her stars; it will be a varying suffusion from the life within, from the glowing clouds of thought and feeling, which mantle with their changeful drapery all external creation,
“We receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does nature live. Let the poet bear into the recesses of woods and shadowy hills a heart full-fraught with the sympathies which will have been fostered by intercourse with his kind, a memory covered with the secret inscriptions which joy and sorrow fail not indelibly to write,—then will the voice of every stream respond to him in tones of gladness or melancholy, accordant with those of his own soul; and he himself, by the might of feelings intensely human, may breathe the living spirit of the oracle into the resounding cavern or the whispering oak. We thus admit it essential to
Jan.-VOL, XL. NO, CLVII,
his high office, that the chambers of imagery in the heart of the poet must be filled with materials moulded from the sorrows, the affections, the fiery trials, and immortal longings of the human soul. Where love, and faith, and anguish, meet and contend; where the tones of prayer are wrung from the suffering spirit,—there lie his veins of treasure; there are the sweet waters ready to flow from the stricken rock. But he will not seek them through the gaudy and hurrying masque of artificial life; he will not be the fettered Sampson to make sport for the sons and daughters of fashion. Whilst he shuns no brotherly communion with his kind, he will ever reserve to his nature the power of self-communion, silent hours for
“The harvest of the quiet eye
That broods and sleeps on his own heart;" and inviolate retreats in the depths of his being-fountains lone and still, upon which only the eye of Heaven shines down in its hallowed serenity. So have those who make us “heirs of truth and freedom by immortal lays," ever preserved the calm intellectual ether in which they live and move, from the taint of worldly infection; and it appears the object of Goethe, in the work before us, to make the gifted spirit sadder and wiser by the contemplation of one, which, having sold its birthright, and stooped from its “ privacy of glorious light,” is forced into perpetual contact with things essentially of the earth earthy. Dante has spoken of what the Italian poets must have learned but too feelingly under their protecting princes—the bitter taste of another's bread, the weary steps by which the stairs of another's house are ascended; but it is suffering of a more spiritual nature which is here pourtrayed. Would that the courtly patronage, at the shrine of which the Italian inuse has so often waved her censer, had exposed no severer tasks upon its votaries than the fashioning of the snow-statue which it required from the genius of Michael Angelo! The story of Tasso is fraught with yet deeper meaning, though it is not from the period of his most agonizing trials that the materials of Goethe's work are drawn. The poet is here introduced to us as a youth at the court of Ferrara ; visionary, enthusiastic, keenly alive to the splendour of the gorgeous world around him, throwing himself passionately upon the current of every newly-excited feeling; a creature of sudden lights and shadows, of restless strivings after ideal perfection, of exultations and of agonies. Why is it that the being thus exhibited as endowed with all these trembling capacities for joy and pain, with noble aspirations and fervid eloquence, fails to excite a more reverential interest, a more tender admiration ? He is wanting in dignity, in the sustaining consciousness of his own high mission; he has no city of refuge within himself, and thus
“Every little living nerve,
That from bitter words doth swerve," has the power to shake his whole soul from its pride of place. He is thus borne down by the cold triumphant worldliness of the courtier Antonio, from the collision with whom, and the mistaken endeavour of Tasso's friends to reconcile natures dissimilar as the Sylph and Gnome of fanciful creations, the conflicting elements of the piece are chiefly derived. There are impressive lessons to be drawn from the contemplation of these scenes, though, perhaps, it is not quite thus that we could have wished him delineated who " poured his spirit over Palestine;" >
Scenes and Passages from the “ Tasso" of Goethe. 3 and it is occasionally almost too painful to behold the high-minded Tasso, recognized by his country as superior with the sword and the pen to all men, struggling in so ignoble an arena, and finally overpowered by so unworthy an antagonist. This world is, indeed, too much with us,” and but too powerful is often its withering breath upon the ethereal natures of love, devotion, and enthusiasm, which in other regions
“May bear bright golden flowers, but not in this soil.” Yet who has not known victorious moments, in which the lightly-armed genii of ridicule have quailed—the conventional forms of life have shrunk as a shrivelled scroll before the Ithuriel touch of some generous feeling, some high and overshadowing passion suddenly aroused from the inmost recesses of the folded soul, and striking the electric chain which mysteriously connects all humanity? We could have wished that some such thrilling moment had been here introduced by the mighty master of Germany; something to relieve the too continuous impression of inherent weakness in the cause of the vanquished; something of a transmuting power in the soul of Tasso, to glorify the clouds which accumulate around it,—to turn them into “ contingencies of pomp” by the interpenetration of its own celestial light. Yet we approach with reverence the work of a noble hand; and, whilst entering upon our task of translation, we acknowledge, in humility, the feebleness of all endeavour to pour into the vase of another language the exquisitely subtle spirit of Goethe's poetry,—to transplant and naturalize the delicate felicities of thought and expression by which this piece is so eminently distinguished.
The visionary rapture which takes possession of Tasso upon being crowned with laurel by the Princess Leonora d'Este, the object of an affection which the youthful poet has scarcely yet acknowledged to himself, is thus pourtrayed in one of the earlier scenes :
** Let me then bear the burden of my bliss
To some deep grove, that oft hath veil'd my grief;-
To seek Achilles and his poet flies.
Might I behold their meeting !" But he is a reed shaken with the wind. Antonio reaches the Court of Ferrara at this crisis, in all the importance of a successful negociation with the Vatican. He strikes down the wing of the poet's delicate imagination with the arrows of a careless irony; and Tasso is for a time completely dazzled and overpowered by the worldly science of the skilful diplomatist. The deeper wisdom of his own simplicity is yet veiled from his eyes. Life seems to pass before him, as pourtrayed by the discourse of Antonio, like a mighty triumphal procession, in the exulting movements and clarion sounds of which he alone has no share; and, at last, the forms of beauty peopling his own spiritual world seem to dissolve into clouds, even into faint shadows of clouds, before the strong glare of the external world, leaving his imagination as a desolate house, whence light and music have departed. He thus pours forth, when alone with the Princess Leonora, the impressions produced upon him by Antonio's descriptions :
They still disturb my heart,-
A shadowy sound-a nothing !" There is something of a very touching beauty in the character of the Princess Leonora d'Este. She does not, indeed, resemble some of the lovely beings delineated by Shakspeare—the females“ graceful without design, and unforeseeing,” in whom, even under the pressure of heaviest calamity, it is easy to discern the existence of the sunny and gladsome nature which would spring up with fawn-like buoyancy, were but the crushing weight withdrawn. The spirit of Leonora has been at once elevated and subdued by early trial: high thoughts, like messengers from heaven, have been its visitants in the solitude of the sick chamber; and, looking upon life and creation, as it were, through the softening veil of remembered suffering, it has settled into such majestic loveliness as the Italian painters delight to shadow forth on the calm brow of their Madonna. Its very tenderness is self-resignation; its inner existence serene, yet sad,—“ a being breathing thoughtful breath.” She is worshipped by the poet as his tutelary angel, and her secret affection for him might almost become that character. It has all the deep devotedness of a woman's heart, with the still purity of a“ seraphic guardian, taking no part in the passionate dreams of earthly happiness. She feels his genius with a reverential appreciation ; she watches over it with a religious tenderness, for ever interposing to screen its unfolding powers from every ruder breath. She rejoices in his presence as a flower filling its cup with gladness from the morning light; yet, preferring his well-being to all earthly things, she would meekly offer up, for the knowledge of his distant happiness, even the fulness of that only and unutterable joy.
A deep feeling of woman's lot on earth,—the lot of endurance and of