« AnteriorContinuar »
votre cheminée.-Couché les pieds sur les chenets, comme on est chez ses amis ?-Oui, madamc. Il faut convenir qu'il est peu de liaisons aussi anciennes que la nôtre.-Cela est vrai. Il y a cinquante ans.-Oui, cinquante ans passés.--Et dans ce long intervalle aucun nuage, pas même l'apparence d'une brouillerie. C'est ce que j'ai toujours admiré.-Mais, Ponte-de-Vesle, cela ne viendraitil point de ce qu'au fond nous avons toujours été fort i différens l'un à l'autre ? --Cela se pourrait bien, madame."
The evening this veteran admirer died she came rather late to a great supper in the neighbourhood; and as it was known that she made it a point of honour to attend on him, the catastrophe was generally suspected. She mentioned it, however, herself, immediately on coming in ;-adding, that it was lucky he had gone off so early in the evening, as she might otherwise have been prevented from appearing. She then sat down to table, and made a very hearty and merry meal of it!
Besides Ponte-de-Vesle, however, this celebrated lady had a lover almost as ancient, in the President Henault-whom also she bad the misfortune to survive; though he had the complaisance, as well as his predecessor, to live to near ninety years for her sake. The poor president, however, fell into dotage before his death; and one day, when in that state, Mad. du Deffant having happened to ask him whether he liked her or Mad. du Castlemoron the best, he, quite unconscious of the person to whom he was speaking, not only declared his preference of the absent lady, but proceeded to justify it, by a most feeling and accurate enumeration of the vices and defects of his hearer, in which he grew so warm and eloquent, that it was quite impossible either to stop him, or to prevent all who were present from profiting by the communication. When Mad. de Chatelet died, Mad. du Deffant testified her grief for the most intimate of her female acquaintance, by circalating all over Paris, the very next morning, the most libellous and venomous attack on her person, her understanding, and her morals. When she came to die herself, however, she met with just about as much sympathy as she deserved. Three of her dearest friends used to come and play cards every evening by the side of her couch-and as she chose to die in the middle of a very interesting game, they quietly played it out-and settled their accounts before leaving the apartment. We hope these little traits go near to justify what we ventured to say in the outset, of the tendency of large and agreeable society to forlify the heart ;-at all events, they give us a pretty lively idea of the liaisons that united kindred souls at Paris. We might add to the number several anecdotes of the President Henault-and of the Baron d'Holbach, who told Helvetius, a little time before the death of the latter, that though he had lived all his life with irritable and indigent men of
letters, he could not recollect that he had either quarrelled with or done the smallest service to, any one among them.
There is a great deal of admirable criticism in this work upon the writings and genius of almost all the author's cotemporaries Dorat, Piron, Millot, Bernard, Mirabeau, Moncrif, Colardeau, and many others, more or less generally known in this country; nor do we know any publication, indeed, so well calculated to give a stranger a just and comprehensive view of the recent literature. of France.
Montesquieu, Buffon, and Raynal, are the only authors, we think, of whom M. Grimm speaks with serious respect and admiration. Great praise is lavished upon Robertson's Charles V. Young's Night Thoughts are said, and with justice, to be rather ingenious than pathetic; and to show more of a gloomy imaginar tion than a feeling heart. Thompson's Seasons are less happily stigmatized as excessively ornate and artificial, and said to stand in the same relation to the Georgics, that the Lady of Loretto, with all her tawdry finery, bears to the naked graces of the Venus de Medici. Johnson's Life of Savage is extolled as exceedingly entertaining--though the author is laughed at, in the true Parisian taste, for not having made a jest of his hero. Hawkesworth's Voyages are also very much commended; and Sir William Jones's letter to Anquetil du Perron, is said to be capable, with a few retrenchments, of being made worthy of the pen of the patriarch himself. Mrs. Montagu's Essay on Shakspeare is also applauded to the full extent of its merits; and, indeed, a very faudable degree of candour and moderation is observed as to our national taste in the drama. Shakspeare, he observes, is fit for us, and Racine for them; and each should be satisfied with his lot, and would do well to keep to his own national manner. When we attempt to be regular and dignified, we are merely cold and stiff; and when they aim at freedom and energy, they become absurd and extravagant. The celebrity of Garrick seems to have been scarcely less at Paris than in London, their greatest actor being familiarly designated “Le Garrick François.” His powers of pantomime, indeed, were universally intelligible, and seem to have made a prodigious impression upon the theatrical critics of France. But his authority is quoted by M. Grimm, for the observattion, that there is not the smallest affinity in the tragic declamation of the two countries; so that an actor who could give the most astonishing effect to a passage of Sbakspeare, would not, though perfectly master of French, be able to guess how a single line of Racine should be spoken on the stage.
We cannot leave the subject of the drama, however, without observing, with what an agreeable surprise we discovered in M. Grimm, an auxiliary in that battle which we have for some time
waged, though not without trepidation, against the theatrical standards of France, and in defence of our own more free and irregular drama. While a considerable part of our own men of letters, carried away by the authority and supposed unanimity of the continental judges, were disposed to desert the cause of Shakspeare and nature, and to recognise Racine and Voltaire as the only true models of dramatic excellence, it turns out that the greatest Parisian critic, of that best age of criticism, was of opinion that the very idea of dramatic excellence had never been developed in France; and that, from the very causes which we have formerly specified, there was neither powerful passion nor real nature on their stage. After giving some account of a play of La Harpe's, he observes, “ I am more and more confirmed in the opinion, that true tragedy, such as has never yet existed in France, must, after all, be written in prose; or at least can never accommodate itself to the pompous and rhetorical tone of our stately versification. The ceremonious and affected dignity which belongs to such compositions, is quite inconsistent with the just imitation of nature, and destructive of all true pathos. It may be very fine and very poetical; but it is not dramatic: and accordingly I have no hesitation in maintaining, that all our celebrated tragedies belong to the epic and not to the dramatic division of poetry. The Greeks and Romans had a dramatic verse, which did not interfere with simplicity or familiarity of diction; but as we have none, we must make up our minds to compose our tragedies in prose, if we ever expect to have any that may deserve the name. What then?” he continues, "must we throw our Racines and Voltaires in the fire? By no means; on the contrary, we must keep them, and study and admire them more than ever; but with right conceptions of their true nature and meritas masterpieces of poetry, and reasoning, and description; as the first works of the first geniuses that ever adorned any nation under heaven: but not as tragedies, not as pieces intended to exhibit natural characters and passions speaking their own language, and to produce that terrible impression which such pieces alone can produce. Considered in that light, their coldness and childishness will be immediately apparent; and though the talents of the artist will always be conspicuous, their misapplication and failure will not be less so. With the prospect that lies hefore us, the best thing, perhaps, that we can do is to go on, boasting of the unparalleled excellence we have attained. But how speedily should our boastings be silenced if the present race of children should be succeeded by a generation of men! Here is a theory,” concludes the worthy baron, a little alarmed, it would seem, at his own temerity, “which it would be easy to confirm and illustrate much more completely~if a man had a desire to be stoned to death before the door of the Theatre François. But,
in the mean time, till I am better prepared for the honours of martyrdom, I must entreat you to keep the secret of my infidelity to yourself.”
Diderot holds very nearly the same language. After a long dissertation upon the difference between real and artificial dignity, he proceeds—“What follows, then, from all this--but that tragedy is still to be invented in France; and that the ancients, with all their faults, were probably much nearer inventing it than we have been ?-Noble actions and sentiments, with simple and familiar language, are among its first elements : and I strongly suspect, that for these two hundred years, we have mistaken the stateliness of Madrid for the heroism of Rome. If once a man of genius shall venture to give to his characters and to his diction the simplicity of ancient dignity, plays and players will be very different things from what they are now. But how much of this,' he adds also in a fit of sympathetic terror, “could I venture to say to any body but you! I should be pelted in the streets, if I were but suspected of the blasphemies I have just uttered.”
With the assistance of two such allies, we shal} renew the combat against the continental dramatists with fresh spirits and confidence; and shall probably find an early opportunity to brave the field, upon that important theme. In the mean time we shall only remark, that we suspect there is something more than an analogy between the government and political constitution of the two countries, and the character of their drama. The tragedy of the continent is conceived in the very genius and spirit of absolute monarchy-the same artificial stateliness--the same slow moving of few persons—the same suppression of ordinary emotions, and profound and ostentatious display of lofty sentiments, and, finally, the same jealousy of the interference of lower agents, and the same horror of vulgarity and tumult. When we consider, that in the countries where this form of the drama has been established, the court is the chief patron of the theatre, and courtiers almost its only supporters, we shall probably be inclined to think that this uniformity of character is not a mere accidental coincidence, but that the same causes which have stamped those attributes on the serious hours of its rulers, have extended them to those mimic representations which were originally devised for their amusement. In England, again, our drama has all along partaken of the mixed nature of our government;-persons of all degrees take a share in both, each in his own peculiar character and fashion: and the result has been, in both, a much greater activity, variety and vigour, than was ever exhibited under a more exclusive system. In England, too, the stage has, in general, been dependent on the nation at large, and not on the favour of the court;-and it is natural to suppose that the character of its exhibitions has been affected by a due consideration of that of
the miscellaneous patron whose feelings it was its business to gratify and reflect.
After having said so much about the stage, we cannot afford room either for the quarrels or witticisms of the actors, which are reported at great length in these volumes-or for the absurdities, however ludicrous, of the “ Dieu de Danse,” as old Vestris ycleped himself-or even for the famous “affaire du Menuet" which distracted the whole court of France at the marriage of the late king. We can allow only a sentence indeed to the elaborate dissertation in which Diderot endeavours to prove that an actor is all the worse for having any feeling of the passions he represents, and is never so sure to agitate the souls of his hearers as when his own is perfectly at ease. We are persuaded that this is not correctly true ;—though it might take more distinctions than the subject is worth, to fix precisely where the truth lies. It is plain, we think, however, that a good actor must have a capacity, at least, of all the passions whose language he mimics--and we are rather inclined to think that he must also have a transient feeling of them, whenever his mimicry is very successful. That the emotion should be very short-lived, and should give way to trivial or comic sensations, with very little interval, affords but a slender presumption against its reality, when we consider how rapidly such contradictory feelings succeed each other, in light minds, in the real business of life. That real passion, again, never would be so graceful and dignified as the counterfeited passion of the stage, is either an impeachment of the accuracy of the copy, or a contradiction in terms. The real passion of a noble and dignified character must always be dignified and graceful and if Cæsar, when actually bleeding in the senate-house, folded his robe around him, that he might fall with decorum at the feet of his assassins, why should we say that it is out of nature for a player both to sympathize with the passions of his hero, and to ihink of the figure he makes in the eyes of the spectators ? Strong conception is, perhaps, in every case, attended with a temporary belief of the reality of its objects ;--and it is impossible for any one to copy with tolerable success the symptoms of a powerful emotion, without a very lively apprehension and recollection of its actual presence.
We have no idea, we own, that the copy can ever be given without some participation in the emotion itself or that it is possible to repeat pathetic words, with the tone or gestures of passion, with the same indifference with which a schoolboy repeats his task, or a juggler his deceptions. The feeling, we believe, is often very momentary; and it is this which has misled those who have doubted of its existence. But there are many strong feelings equally fleeting and undeniable. The feelings of the spectators, in the theatre, though frequently more keen