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THE SECRET AGENT.

THE tales and spirited military sketches of Mr F. W. Hackländer, which in Germany have met with a highly favourable reception, are pretty well known in England, not only to readers of German, but some of them, if we mistake not, through the medium of translations. But we are not aware that Mr Hackländer's fame as a dramatist has as yet crossed the water. The author of Guardroom Adventures, Soldier's Life in Peace time, and other pleasant volumes, has written two plays, the earliest of which is now before us. We have not had an opportunity of seeing it acted, but it is extremely amusing to read, and must be still more so upon the stage. The leading idea of the piece, upon which the whole plot hinges, is excellent; and Mr Hackländer, although he may not have made of it all that would have been made had it occurred to a Scribe deserves great credit for the manner in which he has worked it out. We miss the wit and sparkle that a French dramatist would have thrown into the dialogue, and to which the French language is more favourable than the German; it occurs to us more than once, in the course of the five acts, that the play would have been more effective (and quite long enough) in three: but we admire and heartily laugh at the capital situations and quid pro quos in which it abounds. From an early period of the piece there is little difficulty in foreseeing how it will end; its author has not aimed at startling his audience by an unexpected catastrophe, but has preferred tickling them by a succession of ludicrous complications, for which he cleverly keeps them unprepared. Throughout the play the spectator is, in one sense, behind the scenes. He is in the confidence of the two lovers, who combine to mystify an imperious and ambitious dowager and a set of time-serving minis

ters and courtiers, more bent on keeping their places than on doing their duty to their sovereign. The harmless and ingenious contrivances by which the duke and his pretty cousin outwit and frighten with a shadow the experienced prime-minister and the court chamberlain of thirty years' standing, are all exposed to the amused eyes of the audience as soon as they are put in practice. The play is one of intrigue, not of mystery, and little is left to conjecture; but the interest is sustained to the very end, and would be still more vivid and incessant if some of the scenes were shortened and the three-act form adopted.

The sovereign of a German state has been for many years dead, and his son sits in his place, but can hardly be said to reign in his stead. During Duke Alfred's long minority, and during an extensive tour he subsequently made, the dowager duchess held the reins of state. On his return she reluctantly resigned to him the name of ruler and the appearance of authority-but she resigned to him no more. He was told how discontented the people would be to see a change in the system that had so long existed; in fact, that they would never submit to it, and that it would be perilous to attempt it. The ministers, who had served long under the deceased duke and during the whole of the regency of the duchess, were devoted to her. Duke Alfred, young and inexperienced, fell into the snare; and when, after a time, he perceived that he was a mere puppet, and that, far from being devotedly attached to his mother's system, the people murmured at his inactivity, and looked to him for the redress of many abuses that had crept in under a government blindly attached to old and time-worn institutions, it had become doubly difficult for him to regain the ground he at first had too casily ceded.

Der Geheime Agent, Lustspiel in fünf Aufzügen. Von F. W. HACKLÄNDER. (The Secret Agent, a Comedy, in five acts.) Stuttgart, Krabbe; London, Williams and Norgate, 1851.

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VOL. LXXVI.-NO. CCCCLXIX.

The least attempt of his at independent action, the slightest indication of an intention to govern his own duchy, or even his own palace, was a signal for intrigues to thwart himfor most respectful but ominous remonstrances on the part of the elderly ministers, to whom, from his infancy, he had been taught to look up as his father's wise and faithful advisers and truest friends-and for a display of shattered nerves on the part of his mother, a stout, resolute, loud-voiced old lady, who enjoyed the health of a milkmaid, but whose voice dwindled and grew tremulous, and who could hardly cross the room without assistance, as soon as her son showed a disposition to have a way of his own. Thus beset and cramped, the unlucky duke, nominally regnant, but far from dominant, knew not how to break the meshes that environed him. He was a cipher at his own court; the ministers assembled in council in his mother's apartments; the most important decisions were come to without his being consulted; in smaller matters, too, he met with systematic opposition, for it was feared that, if he once tasted the sweets of a little power, he might grow greedy and grasp at more. Young, generous, and loving to see cheerful faces around him, he gave orders that his palace-gardens should be open to the public, and that the band of his regiment of body-guards should play there on Sundays, and he himself took pleasure in walking amongst the people. The premier, Count Steinhausen, held this for a dangerous innovation, because it had been made on the duke's sole authority. Had he been first consulted, he confidentially informed his old friend and particular crony, the grand chamberlain, he should have found it the most fitting and natural thing in the world to afford the people so innocent a recreation. But, done without his previous approbation, he looked upon the opening of the gardens as improper, upon the playing of the band as a desecration of the Sabbath. He would have done better to have left his sovereign at liberty to act as he pleased, at least with in his own private domain. His persistent remonstrances exasperated

the duke. They were supported by the duchess, whose feeble nerves could not endure the noise of the music and the coarse merriment of the crowd. Her son yielded, but not until he had made up his mind to put an end to the sort of slavery in which he lived. Attached to his mother, notwithstanding her unwarrantable interference with his prerogative, and having a regard for his father's old ministers, in spite of the scanty obedience they showed him, he was unwilling, and it would have been unwise, abruptly to assume towards them an attitude of defiant opposition. But he was deficient neither in good sense, in resolution, nor in wit, and he soon formed a plan of his own by which he trusted peaceably to attain his end. The minister's unwise meddling with his gardens had been the last pound, which breaks the camel's back, and had exhausted the young prince's patience. He is confirmed in his resolve by a revelation made to him by his cousin, his mother's niece, the Princess Eugenie, to whom he is ardently, but secretly attached. She informs him that negotiations are already in progress for his marriage with a princess of Brunswick. On learning this, he loses all patience, and vows at once to show that he is master, not only of himself, but in his own dominions. Eugenie implores him to be prudent, reminding him that an abrupt and violent step must draw down upon them the anger of the duchess, to whom their mutual attachment is unknown. He entreats her to advise him. In the remainder of the scene, the main idea of the play is developed.

Eugenie. Every step that you take contrary to the decision of your ministers is unfortunately, as things now stand, taken also against your mother. You cannot at once openly step forward and oppose them. You have lived too carelessly. You took the crown as a plaything, and, through the inspirations of others, you have hitherto worn it as a plaything. They have outwitted you; they have made you believe that your government could prosper, and yourself be beloved by your people, only so long as you left the guidance of affairs to your mother, and blindly followed her advice. Be

lieve me, any violent measure will be imputed to you, who are little known to your subjects, as criminal presumption, and will be interpreted as a wanton desire to destroy all that the Duchess has done for the good of the country.

Duke. I will begin by appointing a new ministry, composed of younger men, popular, and with good intentions. I will say to them, give me your advice, guide me on this difficult path until I am able steadily to pursue it.

Eugenie. You will not succeed, Prince. Who will accept a minister's portfolio without your mother's sanction? Supposing you really were able to remove the old ministers, what alteration would that make in your position? Oh that you had but one friend, who would stand by you firmly and decidedly!

Duke. Alas, for such a friend to serve me, must he not himself first gain the confidence of the countrymust he not first work himself through the labyrinth of intrigues that on all sides surrounds me? And where is a friend to be found? How seldom have princes true friends; and a false friend, in whom I should entirely confide, were far worse than none. Did there really exist a hand so powerful as to wrest the government from its present possessors, we must bear in mind that power is pleasant to exercise, and the hand might perhaps choose to retain what it once had grasped.

Eugenie. But what other expedient is there?

Duke. I have hit upon one, and should like to have your opinion of it. Listen to me. Whether I admit into my counsels a foreigner or one of my subjects, it will be of no avail; he will have his weaknesses-they will know how to take advantage of them, and I shall be only the more closely beset by snares. I will govern, but with the aid of a secret agent entirely devoted to me, impenetrable to corruption, invisible to all, known to me alone.

Eugenie. And where is such a treasure to be found?

Duke. Not amongst the living; but our fancy shall create it. I will take an opportunity of mentioning, that a person whom I have known upon my

travels is coming to pass some time in this capital. I will add, that he is one of the cleverest, most accomplished, and yet one of the most modest of men, and that he is to act as my counsellor and friend. But as I know how many would strive to convert him into the tool of their own ambition and intrigues, it is my will that he shall be invisible for the whole court.

Eugenie. Ah, I understand your Highness-an excellent idea! You thus create for yourself an unseen power-the more dreaded because invisible and inaccessible to all. The mere belief in the existence of such a being will spread alarm and distrust in the ranks of your foes. They will lose all feeling of security so soon as they believe themselves under the eye of an invisible observer.

Duke. Yes, I feel that to be the only means of conquering my rightful position.

The Secret Agent is now soon brought into play. In the next scene the Duke announces to his mother his friend's approaching arrival. She is startled at the idea of a stranger appearing at court as her son's most intimate and trusted companion-as a favourite, in fact. He will not appear at court the Duke replies: he is not a man of high family-he loves not much society, is of studious habits, and somewhat of a man-hater. But he is most honourable and intelligent, and has rendered the Duke great services. The Duchess still objects. We must tell people, she says, who the young man is, and what he does at our court.

Duke. Certainly; we can say that he attends to some private foreign affairs of mine, and is in connection with the neighbouring courts. I call him my secret agent.

Duchess. But that designation? Duke. Is, for the court, but a name; but for me, he really is a secret agent. I will soon prove to you that he is a man who has good information. Today, for instance, he writes me from Brunswick

Duchess. From the court of Brunswick?

Duke, (nods.) He writes me a charming piece of news. You know the Princess Amelia?

Duchess, (astonished.) Yes, certainly, and

Duke. My Secret Agent writes to me concerning her, and mentions, amongst other things, that there is a project at our court to bring about a marriage between the Princess and myself.

Duchess. Who writes that?

Duke. My Secret Agent. Mother, mother, is it possible there is any truth in it? Have they been again manoeuvring, without my knowledge, things that so nearly concern me?

Duchess. Not so, my son. I confess to you that the idea had occurred to me, and I was on the point of speaking to you of it.

Duke. Oh, indeed!

Duchess. I consider it time to think about a suitable alliance for you.

Duke. Certainly; and what they write to me concerning the Princess Amelia

Duchess. Who writes?

Duke. My Secret Agent; - might well dispose me at once to coincide in such a project. He represents her as a very charming person; young, handsome, witty and amiable. Really I might do much worse than ally myself with the court of Brunswick.

Duchess. Your Secret Agent writes the truth, (Aside) He is perhaps sent from Brunswick. (Aloud) I thank you heartily, my dear son, for the words you have just spoken. They make me very happy. The good sense and readiness with which you enter into my dearest wish, are alone able to sustain my failing health and feeble nerves.

Duke. Grant yourself a little repose. You seem fatigued. We can talk about these things some other time.

Count Steinhausen has evil forebodings on learning from the Duchess that her son expects an old friend who enjoys his confidence, is to remain unseen by all, and has heralded his arrival by the communication to the Duke of so important a state secret as the projected alliance with the house of Brunswick. But he flatters himself he shall soon discover the name and proceedings of the mysterious personage. That afternoon, when the court are assembled and awaiting the dinner hour, George, the Duke's gentleman of the chamber, who has long been dissatisfied to find that he enjoys less influence than the last of

the Duchess's ladies, and on whose fidelity and discretion the Duke knows he can depend, enters and makes a communication to the Chamberlain, who, in his turn, announces to the Duke, with an air of great astonishment, that his Highness's Secret Agent has just arrived. The Duke immediately retires to his private apartments to receive the mysterious stranger, leaving the court, and especially the Premier and the Grand Chamberlain, puzzled, anxious, and with an unpleasant presentiment. And the first act concludes.

In the second act the Secret Agent is in full activity. In the first scene the Grand Chamberlain soliloquises his uneasiness. He has in vain endeavoured to find out something about the Duke's new friend: all his wily offers of service, of apartments, carriage, horses, &c., have been declined; during the whole of his thirty years' service at court he has found no knot so difficult to untie, no secret so impenetrable to his acuteness. He and Count Steinhausen lay their heads together, but the sole result is an agreement to support each other staunchly against the redoubtable and invisible influence. Incidents soon occur to augment their alarm. His Highness, it is presently announced by George, will not require the usual morning report. He will know, without that, what is going on. ministers can assemble, as usual, in the Duchess's apartments. Is his Highness unwell? Count Steinhausen inquires. Not in the least, but, on the contrary, in perfect health and spirits, and at that moment transacting business in his cabinet with his Secret Agent. The Count's alarm is doubled. Hitherto the Duke has always been so eager to know all that went on, so displeased when he thought anything was kept from him, and now-the change is great indeed, and bodes no good. Steinhausen bids the valet-de-chambre announce him to the Duke, as particularly desiring an audience. This is granted, and the minister craves permission to present to his Highness his nephew, Count Oscar, on his return from his travels.

The

Duke. Ah! I remember him well. He is a little younger than I am; an agreeable young man and a good

rider. I shall be glad to see him.
(Count Steinhausen bows low.)
will remain here some time, I hope.

He

Count, (coughs and looks cautiously around him.) Your Highness will perhaps permit me to make to you a confidential communication with regard to my nephew.

Duke. By my Secret Agent. Count, (after a little struggle with that I have constantly reproached himself.) True it is, your Highness, myself and regretted that we were not permitted to inform you of everything that passed, as it certainly is my duty to inform you. But your Highher Highness the Duchessness is aware of the ardent wish of

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Duke, (smiling.) A confidential communication-to me? A real secret, known perhaps, as yet, to none but to my mother and to you? No, no; I am not curious, nor care to be intrusted with such important matters.

Count. But it is a matter that concerns your Highness's house, and which will probably not be communicated to you for some days by her Highness the Duchess.

Duke. Indeed! Well, I can wait. -Or what should you say, my dear Count, if I already knew something of your secret?

Count, (astonished.) Of the most gracious intention-?

Duke. Of my mother with respect

to

Count. The marriage of my nephew with

Duke. Exactly so. Count. With the Princess Eugenie? Duke, (aside.) What! himself, aloud) She has for some time (Collects thought of marrying the Princess, and as regards your nephew

Count. Your Highness was fully informed of the project?

Duke. Certainly. Count. By her Duchess?

Highness

the

Duke. No; by my Secret Agent. Count, (aside.) The devil! He is well informed. The subject was broached this morning for the first

time.

Duke, (glancing over a newspaper.) Is that all you have to say, Count? You see that your secrets are today valueless for me. I know them already. Count. Yes, your Highness, and I am quite astonished-confounded.

Duke. It certainly is a pity, my dear Count, that you should have waited, to be frank with me, until the very day when your frankness is of no avail, since, as you perceive, I am informed of everything. Count. Of everything?

Duke. Yes, yes!

Highness's good-so that it was imCount. To work secretly for your possible for us—

Duke. Enough of apologies, my good done, and for the futureCount! What is done cannot be un

529

Count. I am fully resolved to observe only the interests of my most gracious master.

you unpleasantness with my lady Duke. Why so? That would cause mother. I now know everything that you could possibly communicate to

me.

Count. Everything, your Highness?
Duke. Everything, Count Steinhau-

sen.

Count, (takes a paper from his portfolio.) Not excepting the contents of this despatch to the court of Bavaria?

Duke, (rejects the paper by a motion if not, I am sure to learn it to-day in of his hand.) Doubtless that also, and, a manner less compromising for you. Through my Secret Agent. (Gravely) (The Count gazes hard at the Duke.) Yes, my dear Count, the time is gone by when a communication of that kind from you, which it certainly is quite your duty to make to me, might dered. have been reckoned as a service ren

his forehead.) I am in despair, your
Count, (wipes the perspiration from
ed with the contents of this paper,
Highness! But since you are acquaint-
suffer me to beg that you will be gra-
ciously pleased to favour me with your
opinion of them, that I may be able
ness's wishes and interests.
to act conformably with your High-

Duke, (takes the paper and glances over it, represses a movement of surprise and displeasure, and speaks in this affair. I shall give my opinion a firm and decided tone.) I knew of of it to my mother, but will not mention that I have heard of it from you. (With a forced smile) Go and make

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