Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

most unequi\ocal exactness, while the other interlocutors are portraits of individuals of his family, and a few literary originals that were very well known in Madrid. It is even asserted that the author himself figures in the piece, under the gay mask of Don Pedro.

The plot is extremely simple. An unhappy fellow with a large family, and little bread to give them, suddenly tries to make himself a poet. He writes a comedy, in which he gets his wife to help him. This performance is received and extolled by a learned wiseacre, brimful of Greek and Latin, whose main object all the while is to marry the poet's sister, a damsel exceedingly ignorant and pretty, and at the same time most perversely mistrustful as to the success of her papa's bold achievement; which is, amongst other things, to purchase for her the means to marry. The family are supposed to reside in a coffeehouse, which is daily frequented by two gentlemen who are unknown to them. One of these strangers (Don Antonio) belongs to that class who divert society by their lively spirit of satire, and who affect to .sympathize with those whom they are laughing at. The other, Don Pedro, is the reverse of that stamp; plain, severe, abrupt, but intrinsecally kind and sensible—a species of rough philanthropist. All the first act and half the second are filled with the pompous projects of the poet and his coterie, the scientific dogmas of the pedant, the pleasant sallies of Don Antonio, the sound remarks of Don Pedro, and the recital of sundry fragments of the momentous comedy, which are, in fact, parodies of so many passages in Comelia's plays. In the last scenes, they go to witness the play, which is damned; the poor poet falls from the clouds; his learned friend insults and then avoids him in his misfortune, and the family is in the most woeful dilemma, till the generous Don Pedro relieves them, and promises future support, stipulating only that the poetaster shall totally abandon his luckless mania.

Nothing indeed now remained for poor Comelia, but to abdicate his theatrical sovereignty; so decisive was the victory gained by his adversary *. It is indeed wonderful how such an union of interest, gaiety, neatness, and wit, could have been attained in the short compass of two acts. This little piece is even now constantly witnessed with pleasure; what, then, may we not imagine its original effect to have been upon an audience to whom every character and every allusion contained in it were perfectly familiar? No efforts of criticism have availed to overthrow its popularity. In vain has it been asserted that "The Coffee-house," being destitute of the essential point, action, can be no comedy, but a mere pleasant dissertation on the dramatic art. These, and the like specimens of acumen, have been all thrown away. The production continues a stock-piece, and will do so whilst a theatre shall exist in the Peninsula. The sanction of posterity is additionally insured to it, from its having proved itself the Don Quixote of the Spanish stage.

Since the period in question, Moratin's dramatic career has been a constant series of success. Five-and-twenty years have witnessed him

* We cannot avoid noticing here an error in M. de Bonterwek's justly esteemed History of Spanish Literature, and which has been copied by other writers. He asserts that " Comelia was the rival of Moratin in dramatic poetry, as may be collected from the expressions in the peninsular journalists." Our readers may have well perceived Comelia to have been the butt of Moratin. Bnt as to any question of rivalry, the approach of the one to the other was but as that of the hammer to the anvil.

without a rival, and during the greater portion of that time his productions alone have supplied the national stage. All other candidates were as pigmies compared to him, and competition was sure to be beheld with aversion by the public, and to end in defeat. A comedy of considerable merit was condemned the first night, solely because the author had ventured on a story which Moratin had likewise selected *. Those persons who feel surprise at a dearth in this department of the modern Spanish drama, will probably find that feeling much lessened by what we have just remarked. This dearth it is that has recently brought back a taste for the productions of the old school. The question of permitting fresh intruders, or recalling those who had been banished, has been decided in favour of the latter.

Moratin's third play, which may be termed his master-piece, was Im Mogigata (the Female Tartuffe.) The story is exceedmgly well conceived and managed, the characters well defined and sustained, the dialogue clever and sparkling, and the denouement so happily and naturally contrived, as to form at once the admiration and despair of succeeding aspirants. It has been objected by some, that Moratin has taken from Terence the substance of two of the characters in La Mogigata, as well as the chief part of the first scenes in the first act. But this accusation, which applies as well to Moliere, who has done the same kind of thing in his comedy of L'ecole des Maris, far from lessening the merit of both imitators, is in itself a merit. Surely those who have succeeded in rendering better the best of Terence's creations, may be naturally supposed to exhibit no mean excellence.

The last-mentioned comedy of Moratin's did not fail to excite alarm among the prudes and false devotees;—

"Monsieur le President ne veut pas qu'on le joue," and it was forbidden by the' Inquisition. The author would have obtained the honours of martyrdom, had not his Maecenas, the Prince of Peace, stood openly in the way between him and the holy hangmen. The secret machinations, however, of his enemies seem to have created in him a disgust of some duration with the theatre—for it was not till several years afterwards that he produced his Baron, from which (were it not for the Si de las Ninas, since written) we might almost conclude his imagination to have lost its fire, and his genius to have become half eclipsed. The Baron is, in fact, the feeblest of his plays. Its plot is bad, and its too farcical denouement destroys all interest by the readiness with which it is anticipated. Its characters are not original, and it shews nothing worthy of Moratin, except in the dialogue.

We have now to speak of the most popular and most striking, although not the best written, of all the plays of this Spanish Moliere,— namely, the Si de las Ninas (the Female Assent). A most happy combination of wit and sensibility runs throughout it, and (however the critics may possibly condemn such an union) compels, in a pre-eminent degree, the approbation of the spectator, who laughs and weeps alternately, and goes away delighted with this double excitement. The fame of this production was further aided by another circumstance of a singular nature. It had become usual to find fault with Moratin for an alleged feebleness in his delineations of the passion of love through

* The subject of La Lugarina orgollosa (the Proud Village-girl), by M. Memlozn, corresponds with one adopted in the Baron of Moratin. We shall notice the former i i our next and concluding article.

out his dramatic works, and to doubt his ability to pourtray a genuine picture of that kind. How agreeable, then, was the surprise of the _ public, on finding in this instance a plot entirely romantic, and a pair of lovers as tender and as passionate as are to be found within the verge of rationality? Of the story we will give a brief idea. A young maiden, daughter of a poor, prejudiced, gossiping, ignorant old lady, is educated in a convent, where she finds an opportunity of forming an acquaintance with a young officer of cavalry, the result of which is a mutual passion. Just at this interesting point the mother removes her daughter from the convent, in the design of marrying her at Madrid to a very rich, sensible, and worthy, but very aged gentleman. The two ladies in their journey stop to pass the night at an inn at Alcala, and there the officer likewise arrives, with the hope of rescuing his beloved. Discovering, however, that the rival is his own uncle and benefactor, he makes an honourable but painful resolution to forego the wish of his heart, without divulging the secret—but this becomes fortuitously known to the uncle d>y means of a letter, which leads to an Sclaircisscment. The good old gentleman hereupon not only compassionates the suffering lovers, but pleads their cause with the mother, unites them in marriage, and finally makes them his heirs. Within this confined and simple scope of subject has Moratin, with a merit truly remarkable, contrived to introduce an infmity of details abounding in life. The interest is worked up with admirable gradation to the end of the piece. The scene wherein the lovers are compelled to part, without the power of mutually explaining the cause of their separation, is highly skilful. That where the interview takes place between the uncle and nephew, is a masterly contrivance. One is here forcibly led to remark the author's profound and extensive knowledge of the human heart. The scene, too, in which the uncle extracts from the timid girl her secret, is a model of sentiment and delicacy. Of the characters specifically, we scarcely need to speak: were they not natural portraits, the picture could never convey to our minds so lively an interest. In one of the personages, however, (the mother,) we discover a little too much of caricature:—as for the dialogue, it is even more captivating and natural than that of the other comedies of the same author.

Moratin has besides translated two of Moliere's plays, and with his accustomed talent—L'ecole des Maris, and Le Medecin malgri lui. He has also made a translation, or a paraphrase of Shakspeare's Hamlet. This last has never been performed, nor indeed do we think it has, by any means, embodied either the genius or the expression of the original.

It is now some years since the author of El Viejo y la Nina, El Cafe, Im Mogigata, and El si de las Ni~as, has written any thing for the stage. He chooses to repose under the shade of his laurels, doubtless fearful of that ill effect which the infirmities of age are apt to produce in efforts depending so entirely on the power of the imagination, and unwilling to incur those mortifications which visited the author of the Cid in the decline of his days.—In this he has acted well. Moratin has written enough for his country's fame, as well as for his own. To the first he can bequeath four dramatic masterpieces that will abide comparison with the best of any modern theatre, whilst he has acquired for himself the title of regenerator of his own national drama. Could he aspire to a more fortunate distinction? G.

REDGAUNTLET.*

An opinion has frequently gone abroad, that the literary labours of certain individuals have exerted a decided and paramount influence upon the actions and thoughts of their contemporaries, redeeming them from prejudices which would otherwise have remained unchanged, opening to them new views which, under different circumstances, would have awaited more distant occasions of developement, and thereby giving a totally new direction to the current of opinion, and a new course to the fortunes of mankind. To Cervantes has been constantly attributed the downfall of an absurd and fanciful attachment to the wildest notions of chivalry, in Spain; and Voltaire and Rousseau have again and again been made the marks of obloquy and reproach, as having by their writings awakened a disposition to sceptical inquiry, and engendered in the breasts of the French people a restless and anarchical spirit of revolution. The influence of the press upon opinion, is doubtless incalculably great; and without such an organ, the formation of any public opinion at all must be the work of much time: but its agency is principally felt in the diffusion of sentiments and doctrines, whose germs have already existed in the public mind; and not in putting forth new combinations of thought, with which mankind are unprepared to sympathize, or which more probably are in decided opposition to established falsehood. In matters of speculative opinion, the ratio recipienlis is of paramount consideration; and the existence of a writer, whose works becoming popular, have effected great changes in national sentiment, is in itself an irrecusable testimony of "a foregone conclusion." In this respect, iln'y-a qu'heur et malheur; and every age has its literary Cassandras, who have suffered neglect and persecution for innovations, which in riper times would have raised them to the highest grade among the benefactors of mankind; while, per contra, the demigods of our ancestors are incessantly tumbling from their niches in the Temple of Fame, and mingling with the dust to which they return. It is not, therefore, too much to conclude, that whenever men have appeared, to whose writings a great revolution can with any plausibility be assigned, their works have in reality been rather the effects than the causes of popular change. In the case of Voltaire we know, not only that the harvest he brought to maturity sprang chiefly from the fitness of the soil to which he committed his seed, but also that the seed itself was the fruit of opinions and events which had their birth long before the existence of the husbandman. t

Agreeably with this view of the question, we have before expressed a suspicion that the popularity of the "Author of Waverley" is a sign of the times; and that the interest which the present generation takes in works of pure description, in pages disclosing a series of pictures divested of moral interest,—and delineating characters politically profligate, or privately depraved, is an unequivocal mark of a culpable indifference to right and wrong, and of a certain effeminacy of mind, the precursors of national degradation. How much of this effect is fairly attributable to the extraordinary talents of the author, and how much

• Redgauntlet: a Tale of the Eighteenth Century, by the Author of" Waverley," 3 vols. t The League and the Fronde.

to the peculiarities of the age, is matter worthy of serious consideration; for, if the habits and notions which he evidently strives to bring into fashion, find more favour than is implied in their being tolerated for the sake of the fascinating stories in which they are embodied, there are many of us, whose long-cherished hopes of national and European liberty are likely to be bitterly disappointed, and whose attachment to constitutional government and equal rights may cost us as much suffering and privation as Redgauntlet experienced in his hopeless efforts to stem the torrent of public opinion. It is not, however, our present purpose to enter upon so wide a theme, and to attempt an "estimate of the times" with this reference; though that subject might be materially circumscribed by the recollection of how much more influential are interests than principles, or rather how necessarily and how closely the latter are dependent on the former. That the author of Waverley himself entertains considerable expectations of political influence from his writings, may be gathered from the frequency and the pertinacity with which he returns to the charge. In the greater number of the novels which he has produced, we find one common outline, in which it is not easy to determine whether we should be more astonished at the sameness of the design, or the ingenuity and variety of the details and the colouring,—at the paucity of the elements, or the number of their combinations. As in the Italian Commedia del Arte, Harlequin and Columbine, Trufaldino and // Dollore, ever present the same masks, and bring the same personal peculiarities in evidence: so in the novels "by the author of Waverley," we have again and again served up the party contests of a divided nation—Papistical Jacobites for the heroes of the melodrame, hypocritical mechanics and canting puritans for the niais, and a young walking gentleman and lady of no very decided character, who owe their safe passage through the casualties of the story, and their ultimate prosperity at its close, to their inertness and irresolution, and to a considerable dose of that political pliancy which is well known, "intra muros el extra," by the technical appellation of "trimming." This poverty of invention we cannot attribute to the sterility of the author's imagination. He has in every other department of his art exhibited such wonderful and inexhaustible fecundity, that he cannot, in thus frequently returning to the one theme, but be influenced by some powerful, though perhaps unconscious impulse, to disgust the people with the turmoil inseparable from the assertion of rights, and to recommend a political quietism, which leaves every thing to chance, and finds in every abuse its own compensation and cure.

Be this, however, as it may; be it accident or design, there is, we are sorry to say, but too much sympathy between the author and his readers: and the present " piping times of peace" give an additional inducement to those which human nature, in all ages, affords for the adoption of a fashionable indifference, and for embracing those very convenient mezzo termini in politics, which forward personal and private advantage, without a barefaced abandonment of public interests. Against this tendency, whether in the novel or the reader, we feel it our duty to protest, and to bear testimony against an apathy and a flexibility, which are as dangerous to the community as they are degrading to the individuals; and which, if they become general, will be the grave of national honour and of public prosperity.

« AnteriorContinuar »