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naturally in the soul, but which admit of no expression, and which, when reduced to words, appear almost preposterous. Yet poets, like other men, have no mode but language of giving form to fancy. In Romeo's situation nothing could be less probable than that he would tamely give a description of an apothecary whom he had seen by chance, and considered but heedlessly. But that the image of this man, with all its grotesque accompaniments— and which else, perhaps, had been lost for ever—should return to Romeo's mind in an hour of desperate necessity, is most natural.
1 Oh, mischief, thou art swift
To enter in the thoughts of desperate men!'
The long detail of particulars which he minutely recollects is a proof of the vivacity of his feelings at the moment of his remembrance; but it appears almost ridiculous when submitted to articulation. His recollections are separately brought before him, like broken wrecks of thought swept along by the hurried torrent of despair; and even though in the mind they may follow in succession, as they were seen when linked together as a fabric, yet they are thrown from the encumbered brain with a tumultuous wildness which utterance cannot reach. The reader in his closet has time to consider Romeo's soliloquy in this light; but on the stage it cannot be spoken as it was conceived; and hence it is generally declaimed with the same effect as if it were a page of * Gilpin's Forest Scenery.' We once witnessed a circumstance in real life analogous to this. A mother standing by the agonizing bed of a son, beloved as few sons ever were, could not, in the first moments of her despair, when the inevitable loss of her child was broken to her, drive from her mind some uninteresting verses she had heard a few days previously, which she had scarcely recollected during the interval, and which faded on her memory as her anguish subsided into calm affliction. The surest commentators upon Shakspeare are truth and nature.
The tragedies of Lear, Othello and Macbeth have undergone a similar castigation from M. Ducis; and, as he is a poet of merit, the deficiences which must strike an English reader should not be entirely attributed to him, but, in some part, to the deference which he was compelled to have for the taste of his countrymen. To such of our British readers as may take an interest in the subject, we would recommend a comparison between the originals, and the translations of these tragedies, as a study from which they may acquire accurate notions concerning the modern state and spirit of the English and French theatres. We cannot enter into the matter in all its details; but, in general, the translators have been forced to lop off every thing which constitutes individual character; to alter the whole moral costume
belonging to the time and place of the action; to reduce every passion to the measure of Parisian feelings; to give it no growth or development which cannot be included in three hours; to convert into recital all that is in action; to compose, instead of a tragedy, a dialogued epopea; and, above all, to grant their personages unlimited credit upon the patience of the audience, for long speeches.*
Many of the imitations by Ducis appeared before the revolution; but when the French conceived that they had been rendered more energetic by that event, his tragedies became more popular. The revolution however lent something of its character to the theatre. The omission common to both was liberty, though a little anarchy crept into the latter, in smaller quantity indeed than into the former, for the rules were not repealed; but every other kind of incongruity laid hold upon the stage. Marius a Minturnes, one of the best of those tragedies played in 1790, contains a singular instance of the childish deference still prevailing, for the rule which enjoins that the stage never should be empty, but at the end of an act. Marius is going out in pursuit of vengeance against his persecutors; and they are coming in, in pursuit of him: consequently the two parties cannot see each other, or a conflict must ensue. In this dilemma, the following stage direction is given: ' Le theatre ne reste point vuide ici. Des soldats, qu'on a vus errer dans la foret pendant la derniere scene, entrent sur le theatre par differens c6tes.'—This tragedy contains many line lines and speeches, and some striking situations. Marius is one of the best Romans of the French theatre; and the play has a character of energy rarely exhibited there. The same author, citizen Arnault, to give him the appropriate title of the times, surpassed himself in Blanche et Montcassin, ou les Venitiens, the subject of which is highly tragic, and which he has treated more tragically than an author would have ventured to do twenty years earlier. But he fell sadly below himself in Lucrece. Sextus had been enamoured of her before her marriage with Collatinus, and she with him, though she is now perfectly attached to her husband. Collatinus too is of the royal party,
• Apropos of long speeches; we think we can account, upon a broader principle than any we remember to have seen adduced, for the toleration, or rather the extasy, with which they are heard on the French stage; namely, the principle which is said to be the source of all the pleasure we derive from the drama, which makes us weep with the sad and rejoice with Ihe fortunate,—sympathy. It is amusing to witness the delight with which a French audience, every man and every woman of which knows that no intrusive confidant will dare to interrupt the hero, even should he cough, or sneeze, or stop for breath, listens to the length of his tale; the delicious fellow-feeling with which each and all contemplate the heroine in her exquisite career of a hundred alexandrines; and the rapture with which they sympathise with an actor, in proportion to the magnitude, not of his sorrow, but of his speech.
Vol. xxix. No. Lvii. D and and in opposition to his father-in-law Spurius. Lucrece, after a year of matrimony, informs her husband of Sextus' former attachment to her; and that she had just read in his looks that he never had loved her more than at the present moment: but Collatinus is not in the least alarmed; for Sextus himself had told him lately that he was enamoured of another person.
Du secret de Sextus par lui-mSme informe
Je sais qu'il aime ailleurs, autant qu'il est aime.
Lucrece is quite shocked at his inconstancy; and coquettishly stung at the loss of her rejected conquest. In a soliloquy which follows she still further laments:
Ainsi Sextus est libre—II est libre! et son &me
Sextus appears; she orders her attendants to retire, and they remain alone, when he urges his suit with great vehemence in a very absurd scene, wherein the virtue of the Roman matron totters a little. But Brutus appears, and, ' k sa vu,' she exclaims, 'Ma vertu toute entiere k mon ame est rendue.' Thus interrupted, Sextus sends to beg of Lucrece—what? a rendez-vous, which she grants: and when Sextus asks, Pour me parler ainsi m'aimez-vous encore?—Lucrece replies—Oui:—upon which the terms perfide, cruelle, &c. are bandied about pretty thickly; ejaculations become frequent, and the lady flees—but where i— into her bed-room, whither Sextus follows her. The denouement is very badly managed; and the liberty of Rome is only talked of, as of a thing in prospect. As to the character of Brutus, there is no deciphering it: he reminds us in one or two instances of the Fool in King Lear. The author has put into the mouth of this model of Roman chastity a few sentiments completely French at all times; but which, previously to the revolution, would certainly have been consigned to boudoir morality, and never found their way to the stage—
> La passion excuse un court egaremenl,
Je rougirois d'un crime, et nou d'un sentiment. Sentiment means, in fashionable language, an illicit passion. But such were the ideas which prevailed in revolutionary France concerning decorum. The revolution indeed, in most instances, tore off the tinsel veil under which the disgusting idol of depravity had been concealed from vulgar eyes, and brought new incense to its shrine.
A symptom of the increasing ferocity of the time may be found in the Levite d'Ephraim by Lemercier. Ayoar, of the tribe of
Ephraim, Ephraim, marries Nilo6 of the tribe of Juda. Both are persecuted by Abaziel, a former suitor; who, after various attempts, succeeds in carrying off, dishonouring and killing her, during the absence of Ayoar. Ayoar, on returning home, cuts the body of his wife into twelve pieces, and distributes them among the twelve tribes, to excite their vengeance. The scenic representation of so horrid an act denotes no small change in a people who could not bear that Horace should murder his sister on the stage, when he tells her—
'Vas dedans les enfers plaindre ton Curiace.' A still more melancholy prognostic was exhibited by Legouve, m his Mort d'Abel, a very strange composition, imitated from the German poem of Gesner, ' Un des chefs-d'ceuvres de la langue Allemande, et qui,k quelques longueurs pr&s, seroit digne de figurer avec liouneur dans la tidtre,' says the French poet in his preface. The subject, one would suppose, was incapable of dramatic representation; yet we actually saw it played; and our first parents appeared upon the stage, clad in the most accurate imitation of that state in which they were, upon leaving the garden of Eden. Cain from the beginning shows a bad and sullen heart. He reproaches Adam with all the evil qualities he feels within himself:
Si j'ai mille defauts enfin, c'est votre ouvrage;
To his assembled family he says—
A tous les sentimens Dieu m'a rendu contraire;
But the most horrible circumstance is, that, after the murder of Abel, the Almighty, from a cloud which covers the whole stage, pronounces, in about a dozen lines, his malediction against Cain; and, as if on purpose to take away from the solemnity of the scene, the invisible actor who spoke the lines had a thin shrill voice, which almost made the curse ludicrous. If the preparatory apostles of atheism had wanted any thing to assist them in tearing away, from unhappy France, the last remnants of Christian belief, they could not have imagined a better method than this; backed by the author's defence of himself, for having introduced such a denouement. 'Que cette rigueur de Dieu soit juste ou non, c'est un fait ecrit et connu; et cela suffit pour que j'aie pu le mettre au theatre, puis que le resultat est dramatique. Et pourquoi serions-nous choques d'un pareil ressort? Pourquoi ne nous preterions-nous pas, sur la scene, aux donnees que nous fouruit la bible, quand nous y admettons, saus effort, les chimeres
I) 2 de de la mythologie et les dogmes extravagans de la religion payenne? Dieu, dans la Mort d'Abel, blesse-t-il plus la raison et l'equite, que les dieux du paganisme, qui entrainent, sans motif, le vertueux Edipe a l'inceste et au parricide, et qui conduisent le bras d'Oreste dans le flanc maternel; surtout que Diane, qui, dans Iphigenie, ordonne a Agamemnon d'immoler sa fille, parcequ'il a tu6 par hasard une biche qui lui 6toit consacr6e!'
The later tragedies—some of the most remarkable of which are enumerated at the head of this article—are, like all that have appeared since Racine, even including those of Voltaire, much inferior to his in execution; but like them also, they are conceived upon a bolder plan. They have however fallen back a little toward the timidity of the cold and regular dramatists; and are not so energetic as M arius, for instance. The evident tendency is to return to the old standard; to find pleasure in curbing imagination, and making the heart discuss its feeling in scholastic aphorisms. And such we think will long remain the ruling taste of the nation, and its critics; for we cannot perceive that a period, during which every passion was unbridled, and every propensity allowed to rage uncontrouled, has taught them any truths respecting human nature in general; or given them any true lessons on the heart of man.
M. Schlegel, in whom Shakspeare has found one of his ablest commentators, and than whom indeed no person has better explained the nature of the dramatic art, regrets that Corneille did not follow the impulse of his own energetic mind, and purposely break through the unities, in his subsequent plays, as he had begun to do in the Spanish subject of the Cid. 'Je ne sais,' says he, 'quel sort malheureux detourna des presages aussi favorables.' That fate unquestionably was the national taste, and the state of society; the ascendancy of the court, and of courtly politeness: but, it may still be asked, how came those things to be so established in France, as to curtail the domain of tragedy, and to convert it, from a moving picture of the soul, into a measured imitation of art; delighting by rules not by feelings, and approved or condemned, not by the natural impulses which passion makes irresistible, but by laws which the chillingness of diminutive intellect has invented?
The national taste, the state of society, the ascendancy of the court, together with their influence over the domain of French tragedy, result entirely from the limited knowledge and appreciation of nature in general, and of human nature in particular, which the French have acquired. Man is not held in sufficient estimation in France, to be thought a worthy object of exclusive study; and all the acquaintance with him that is necessary in a court, is