« AnteriorContinuar »
defy the Omnipotent to arms”-their ennent du cour!” “ Strange singulagreat resources, their discipline, and rity !” says Villemain, “while French perfect unity of purpose-their confi- 'society was labouring with the hope dence in themselves, their still increa- of liberalizing and elevating itself, sing dominion over the public mind, by and seeking to regain a civic virtue, which that confidence was more and a party of writers were systematically more exalted, presented a spectacle employed in giving vent in their writwhich it was impossible to contem- ings to opinions the most hostile to all plate without a feeling of awe. dignity or independence of mind. But
it is not the belief in personal interest “ Apparent diræ facies inimicaque Troja
and necessity; it is not the doctrine Numina."
which deprives man of his soul, and But when all the doctrines of infidelity makes him but the passive instrument andmaterialism had been promulgated of his own organs; it is not such a doc- when the“ Remunerateur Vengeur," trine which can inspire the courage whom even Voltaire scrupled to dis- necessary for great devotion, the pense with, had been cashiered by the heroism necessary for great duties more thorough-going Atheists of the social reform and materialism seem Système de la Nature when philosophy contradictory terms." had ventilated her philanthropic ward
“For when was public virtue ever found robe, till it had actually assumed the
Where private was not ? Can he love the look of cast-off finery–when ridicule
whole had been successively and successfully
Who loves no part? He be a nation's friend cast upon every thing as it was, and
Who is in truth the friend of no man all imaginable schemes of impossible
there? reform had been propounded even Can he be strenuous in his country's cause this species of literature, stimulating Who slights the charities for whose dear as it had been, ceased to interest - the sake productive talent of the country gra- That country, if at all, must be beloved ? ' dually took another direction; and while the principles of the French phi- ed literature merely as a profession, or
To the many, no doubt, who regardlosophers were operating with all the force of novelty in other countries,
a means of rising in the world, such a and with fear of change perplexing
state of things might seem tolerable enmonarchs, they had ceased in France ough. The regular Helots of literature to excite enthusiasm, and, to a superfi- --not gently indeed but equably-fur
continued to do their spiriting as before cial observer, might appear likely to pass away without any abiding effect nishing the daily tale of bricks as in bet
ter times; for theirs was a source of ineither on society or government. But, in truth, a permanent and incur- spiration unaffected by the absence of
faith or genuine feeling. But to minds able injury had been done to the national
of a better order, who had not wholly and to the literary character. The doctrines of selfishness which resulted from yielded to the degrading doctrines of
the time, the prospect appeared in the materialism, and which have ever been found to be the accompaniments of a
last degree gloomy and uncheering;
nor need we wonder that when the nastate of social decline—the want of tural feelings of such men found vent all fixed belief in a future state-the examples of servility to power, shame
in words, the sentiments expressed
should be indicative of profound lifeless flattery, mean rivalry, and intrigue, which had been set even by which offered neither comfort here
weariness and contempt for a world such men as Voltaire--seemed to have destroyed every source of inspiration in youth in the hospital, tired of
nor hope hereafter. Gilbert, dying springing from belief or enthusiasm of feeling ; while the torpor in which existence, tired even of fame, in one society generally was plunged-the of the few strains of genuine feeling
of which the poetry of this period has drowsy current in which affairs seemed
to boast, doubtless speaks the senti. to run on-equally excluded the stimulus which might have been given to
ments of many on whose hearts the the imagination by the vicinity of great aspect
of all around pressed as heavily
as on his own:events and engrossing public interests. Just and striking is the remark of Vau- “ Au banquet de la vie, infortuné convive, venargues, « Les grandes penseés vi- J'apparus un jour, et je meurs,
Je meurs, et sur la tombe où lentement and its generous feelings; for, as the j'arrive
imagination teaches us to apprehend Nul ne viendra verser de pleurs. the great, the heart enables us to apAdieu, champs que j'amais, adieu, douce preciate the true. The full beauty of verdure,
those reflections, which, being based Adieu, riant exil des bois ;
in the everlasting nature of man, are Ciel, pavillon de l'homme, admirable na- felt at the present day as they were in ture,
the days of Homer--those strokes of Adieu pour la derniere fois !”
feeling which, like an electric chain, The effect of this absence of all that make the world kin, can only be tho. was calculated to stimulate the higher roughly perceived by those who, in faculties of the mind, appeared in the an age of outworn civilisation, hava form which literature, so far as it ex- yet preserved something of their youthisted at all, now assumed. Hencefor- fulness of spirit and simplicity of ward, it became almost entirely criti. feeling. cal; instead of adding to the stock of The highest criticism, too, at least independent creations, it was content when applied to the productions of with analysing, comparing, comment- high art, must be reverential. The ing upon what had been already writ. critic must not forget the infinite disten, or with translating and imitating tance which separates the great creathe literature of other nations. Such tive artist from him who only judges is generally the direction which litera- of the creations of genius—the inter: ture takes in periods of decline. The preter from him whose oracles he extendency, indeed, towards criticism, pounds. It is the poet after all that had become apparent even in the time makes the critic; it is from the genius of Diderot and Voltaire, and many of of the former that the torch of the the happiest productions of the latter latter is kindled. He will approach are of a purely analytical character; his task, then, in the spirit of reverence but after his death the critical spirit in his praise will be warm and sympa. French literature became universal. thetic-his censure respectful ; where
Before we advert, however, to par- he fails to apprehend completely the ticular productions in this department, purpose of the artist, he will yet belet us bestow a few words on the gen. lieve that the deficiency may be not in eral character of the criticism which the poet but in himself. No spectacle arose under such circumstances ; as can be more ridiculous than that of contrasted with what criticism ought a self-satisfied critic reading a lecture to be.
ex cathedra to Homer or Shakspeare, “ Pour avoir du goût, il faut avoir on the barbarisms of their epic or de l'ame,” is another of those just dramatic poetry; perhaps bestowing remarks of Vauvenargues which make on them a “ Euge puer!” at the conus regret his early death. With- clusion; or dismissing them, as the out heart and imagination, there can Archbishop of Granada dismissed his be no elevated nor even useful criti. secretary, wishing them “ all manner cism. The soaring inventive imagina- of good fortune, with a little more tion of the et is not indeed necessary taste.” to the critic; but that lower degree To such requisites criticism must of imagination is essential, which en- add, of course, learning to correct her ables him to step beyond the narrow estimates--that logic and good sense circle of individual or even national which constitutes the balance of ima. habits and tastes-to follow the poet gination—that delicacy of taste which with a firm step, as Dante follows Vir- exposes the ridiculous, as well as degil over the "vastabrupt,"and through tects the beautiful in compositionthe regions where he marshals the way and that spirit of conscientiousness, -to acknowledge the divinity of ge- and absence of self-interest and selfnius, though presented to him under display, without which all criticism, unaccustomed forms, and to interpret however adorned by wit or ingenuity, its revelations with whatever novelty is valueless. The foundations of all of language they may be uttered. sound criticism must be laid in truth,
And to the gift of this imagination and its superstructure must be reared, is necessarily allied the possession of not merely by a logical head, but by pure and natural sensibility the a lively imagination and a loving ready sympathy with human nature heart.
The latter are precisely the requi. singular, and ingenious without being sites in which the French criticism of far-fetched.” Such is the state of the eighteenth century is deficient. matters which La Harpe deprecates, It brought neither the imagination nor but conceives it hopeless to attempt to the heart to bear upon the examina- alter. If at times a momentary extion of the masterpieces of literature; pression of admiration was extorted for the spirit of reverence it substitu- from French criticism by some burst ted the spirit of ridicule—the critic of natural feeling, either in a French looked down upon the artist whom he poet or in a foreign writer, to which criticised, like a judge upon a criminal no heart could be insensible, it was at the bar. Hence the whole tone generally accompanied by an expres. of his even praise wore the appear- sion of regret, that while the sentiment ance of supercilious condescension. was preserved, it had not been embel. The critical tendency of the time lished by a more courtly and refined was patronising, dictatorial, deprecia- expression. ting, negative-more occupied with On the other hand certain advantafaults than beauties—more intent on ges and certain merits must be conparticulars than on general views. ceded to the French criticism of the Without imagination to enable them eighteenth century, of which the more to rise beyond the conventional limi- imaginative criticism of Germany and tations which French opinions and England is not equally entitled to the practice of French writers had boast. It is possible, for instance, to apparently fixed as the laws of taste, take too transcendental and cosmopoand to perceive that excellence might litan a view of literature--to fix our exist under many other forms, all true point of sight so high that the whole to nature, and yet each growing out of landscape beneath us becomes faint the habits and feelings of different and confused_to labour after the uni. nations, and peculiarly suited to the versal, till the particular is neglected people among which it was found, and overlooked. Thus, in striving to they identified the code of French taste enlarge the circle to which poetry adwith the eternal laws of nature, and dresses itself, so as to deal with the most praised or condemned all works ac- extended sympathies, the critics of cording as they approximated to, or Germany have sometimes neglected or receded from, this artificial standard. overlooked the necessity of producing The absence of simplicity of mind the first and strongest effect upon the and genuine feeling, which as it prace poet's own nation; and have advocated tically existed in society was reflected systems in which poetry, like the abin the artificial character of conver. stract idea of a Lord Mayor, stripped sation and of literature, made them of all that is local and individual, is turn with a nervous horror from every sent wandering on a fruitless quest expression which appeared to fall short into the “ void and formless infinite." of that decorum or elegance which the Sound criticism, however, which is French canons of taste required to be but another word for a wide and enpreserved under all circumstances, lightened record of experience, teaches though the words might be warmed us that poetry, like charity, must begin with passion, and stamped with the very at home; must have its foundation signet of Nature herself. “ With us, in the present, and be connected with says La Harpe, while contrasting the realities with which men are then liberty allowed by the Greek Drama- and there engrossed ; and that the poet tic Vocabulary with the irksome re- whose words come most home to the straints affecting the French,“
"with hearts of the wise and good of his the poet does not enjoy the use of more own age and country, will speak with than a third of the national idiom ; the the most prevailing accents to the rest is interdicted as unworthy of him. world and for all time. There exist for bim only a certain num- This vagueness of aim French criber of received words; and the genius ticism has entirely escaped, for it proof style consists in varying their com- ceeded on the just principle, that “to binations, and in constantly present. write for France, one must write as a ing to the mind and the imagination Frenchman ;" * and to write for relations which are new without being France was, in their view of the mat.
La Harpe-Cours de Littérature.
ter, to write for the world. It may goes.
But the simple, statue-like, be fairly admitted, too, that it is grandeur of the Greek theatre, he apequally free from that obscurity, mys. pears to have been altogether unable ticism, or want of logical precision, to appreciate ; he is constantly bla. with which much of the German ming its poverty of dramatic resources, criticism may be reproached, and its defect of skill in the exposition of from that arbitrary and capricious plot, the want of a stirring and antidistribution of praise or censure, refer- thetic dialogue. One of his remarks ableto no principle except the personalon a passage in the Edipus Tyrannus,
a feeling of the critic, with which our is characteristic of this ignorance of modern English criticism is not less the Greek original, and his incapacity justly chargeable. The principles of of entering into the spirit of ancient the French critics are indeed drawn
In the first scene of that from a narrow sphere, and, as universal tragedy, dipus, alarmed at the rules, are unquestionably false; but groans and lamentations of his people their deductions from them are clearly thronging to the altar, comes out to and logically inade ; the opinion is enquire the cause, and addresses put in a tangible shape, in which it theneither admits of refutation or compels “ I could have sent to learn the fatal assent. To clear and consequent
cause, reasoning, though from narrow pre
But see, your anxious sovereign comes mises, they join a corresponding pre- himself, cision and clearness of style ; their To know of all of you : Behold your learning, though far from extensive, king, is respectable; in the perception of the Renowned Edipus!" ridiculous or the incongruous, their
Whereupon Voltaire thus remarkstact is rarely mistaken; where the point
" The scene opens with a chorus of and application of the criticism can be
Thebans prostrate at the foot of the heightened by wit, it is seldom want
altar. ing. Now that our literary horizon is their king, appears among them. I
Edipus, their liberator and enlarged, and our principles of taste drawn from a wider experience, much through all the world.
am (Edipus, says he, so renowned
There is some advantage, we humbly think, might be
likelihood that the Thebans were not gained from the judicious study of the ignorant that his name was Edipus. French criticism of the last century. This is no great proof of that perfecIt would do much to explode that vici- tion to which, it has been maintained ous and exaggerated school of criticism, to which the vast increase of periodi- Boileau,) “ that tragedy had been
some years since," (by Racine and cal writing at the present day has brought by Sophocles. It does not given rise, in which the extravagance
appear that we are much in the wrong of the sentiments is equalled by the
in refusing our admiration to a poet, inflation of the style ; in which praise who employs no better artifice to make and blame are equally in extremes, his personages known than to make and neither is bestowed upon any con.
them say I am Edipus.' We no sistent, intelligible, or even conscien- longer call such ess a noble simtious principle.
plicity.” La Harpe justly remarks, We have said that the tendency to
which is, indeed, sufficiently obvious, wards criticism is not less visible in Voltaire than in his successors; and, Edipus ;" but, after stating that he
_that Sophocles does not say, all things considered, he remains the might have employed a meaner mesbest representative of the French criticism of the eighteenth century, king himself-the world-renowned vic
senger, goes on to say, that he, their With the true spirit of antiquity, indeed, he was but partially acquainted, hesitated to come in person to answer
tor of the Sphynx-Edipus had not His ideas of it were taken at second the call of his subjects. But if Sophohand from the writings of the dra. cles be in the wrong, what becomes, matists and critics of the seventeenth
on the same principle, of the opening century. To the manly, bold, and line of the Iphigenie of Racine picturesque outlines of Homer, he has done justice. If his criticism “Oui, c'est Agamemnon, c'est son Roi que on the father of poetry contains no
l'eveille ?" thing profound or novel, it is at least Might not a critic with as much just and discriminating, so far as it justice say—"There is some likeli
“ I am non?"
hood that Arcas was not ignorant Now first, let it be kept in view that that his master's name was Agamem- the scene is not represented at all, but
merely described by the servant; for One other instance may be noticed Sophocles would have no more thought of the false views of Greek tragedy, of actually introducing such a scene as which the criticisms and analyses of passing on the stage, than Voltaire Voltaire on that subject are calculated himself; and, next, (although we fairly to convey. He is giving an account admit the scene even as described of that scene in the Alcestis of Euri- by Euripides appears singular,) the pides, where the servant describes the ironical description of Voltaire is very conduct of Hercules, who had been re- far from giving an idea of the real. ceived as a guest by Admetus into the ity. mansion of death, after the death of Most readers will recollect under his wife.
what circumstances the scene to which " A servant enters alone, speaking Voltaire alludes takes place. Overof the arrival of Hercules : he de- powered with grief for the loss of his scribes him as a stranger who opens wife, who has just expired, Admetus the door for himself, places himself sees a stranger approaching his threshimmediately at table, grumbles that old. According to the ideas of the his repast is not served soon enough, ancients, there was something sacred fills his cup, incessantly with wine, in the presence of a guest; he was drinks long draughts of white and red, considered as a man sent by Jupiter and bellows forth bad songs that re- and the gods to receive the rites semble howlings, without troubling of hospitality. Admetus tries to dishimself about the king and his wife, guise his grief from the stranger; he whom we are lamenting. He must be excuses the disorder in which every some rascal, some vagabond, some as. thing appears, by alleging the death sassin,"
of a female inmate of the family ; but • There is no disputing about he conceals the fact that this was Alcestastes," adds Voltaire ; « but it is cer- tis. Hercules, unconscious of the grief tain that with us such scenes would under which Admetus labours, accepts not be suffered at the Foire,” (a the invitation; and, it must be admitted, second-rate theatre, chiefly frequented takes his ease in his apartment, in a by the lower classes.) And La Harpe, manner not very consistent with mowho really seems to have formed his dern usages, which is thus described idea of the Alcestis from this travestie by the servant who had attended him; of Voltaire, expresses a similar opinion.
• To many strangers and from various lands,
On their arrival at Admetus' house,
* Wodhull's Euripides-Alcestis.