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were raised to the rank of heroes for feats of bodily strength and activity. The savages and barbarians that are still to be found in the world, are, no doubt, very exact likenesses of those whom civilisation has driven out of it; and they may be used accordingly for most of the purposes for which their ancient prototypes are found serviceable. In poetry, however, it happens again, as in sculpture, that it is safer, at least for a moderate genius, rather to work upon the relics we have of antiquity, than upon what is most nearly akin to it among our own contemporaries; both be— cause there is a certain charm and fascination in what is ancient and long remembered, and because those particular modifications of energetic forms and characters, which have already been made the subject of successful art, can be more securely ānd considently managed in imitation, than the undefined vastness of a natural condition, however analogous to that from which they were selected. Mr. Southey, accordingly, who has gone in search of strong passions among the savages of America, and the gods and enchanters of India, has had far less success than Mr. Scott, who has borrowed his energies from the more familiar scenes of European chivalry, and built his fairy castles with materials already tried and consecrated in the fabric of our old romances. The noble author before us has been obliged, like them, to go out of his own age and country in quest of the same indispensable ingredients; and his lot has fallen among the Turks and Arabs of the Mediterranean;–russians and desperadoes, certainly not much more amiable in themselves than the worst subjects of the others,but capable of great redemption in the hands of a poet of genius, by being placed within the enchanted circle of ancient |. and preserving among them so many vestiges of Roman pride and magnificence. There is still one general remark, however, to be made, before coming imme— diately to the merit of the pieces before us. Although the necessity of finding beings capable of strong passions, thus occasions the revival, in a late stage of civilisation, of the characters and adventures which animated the poetry of rude ages, it must not be thought that they are made to act and feel, on this resurrection, exactly as they did in their first natural presentation. They were then produced, not as exotics, or creatures of the imagination, but merely as better specimens of the ordinary nature with which their authors were familiar; and the astonishing situations and appalling exploits in which they were engaged, were but a selection from the actual occurrences of the times. Neither the heroes themselves, nor their first celebrators, would have perceived any sublimity in the character itself, or the tone of feeling which such scenes and such exploits indicate to the more reflecting readers of a distant generation; and would still less have thought of analysing the workings of those emotions, or moralizing on the incidents to which they gave birth. In this primitive poetry, accordingly, we have rather the result than the delineation of strong passions—the events which they produce, rather than the energy that produces them. The character of the agent is unavoidably disclosed, indeed, in short and impressive glimpses—but is never made the direct subject of exhibition; and the attention of the reader is always directed to what he does—not to what he feels. A more refined, reflecting, and sensitive generation, indeed, in reading these very legends, Supposes what must have been felt, both before and after the actions that are so minutely recorded; and thus lends to them, from the stores of its own sensibility, a dignity and an interest which they did not pos
sess in the minds of their own rude composers. When the same scenes and characters, however, are ultimately called back to feed the craving of a race disgusted with heartless occupations for natural passions and overpowering emotions, it would go near to defeat the very object of their revival, if these passions were still left to indicate themselves only by the giant vestiges of outrageous deeds, or acts of daring and desperation. The passion itself must now be portrayed—and all its fearful workings displayed in detail before us. The minds of the great agents must be unmasked for us—and all the anatomy of their throbbing bosoms laid open to our gaze. We must be made to understand what they feel, and enjoy, and endure;—and all the course and progress of their possession, and the crossing and mingling of their opposite affections, must be rendered sensible to our touch ; till, without regard to their external circumstances, we can enter into all the emotions of their hearts, and read, and shudder as we read, the secret characters which stamp the capacity of unlimited suffering on a nature which we feel to be our own. It is chiefly by these portraitures of the interior of human nature that the poetry of the present day is distinguished from all that preceded it—and the difference is perhaps most conspicuous when the persons and subjects are borrowed from the poetry of an earlier age. Not only is all this ana– tomy of the feelings superadded to the primitive legend of exploits, but in many cases feelings are imputed to the agents, of which persons in their condition were certainly incapable, and which no description could have made intelligible to their contemporaries—while, in others, the want of feeling, probably a little exaggerated beyond nature also, is dwelt upon, and made to produce great effect as a trait of singular atrocity, though far too familiar to have excited any sensation either in the readers or spectators of the time to which the adventures naturally belong. Our modern poets, in short, have borrowed little more than the situations and unrestrained passions of the state of society from which they have taken their characters —and have added all the sensibility and delicacy from the stores of their own experience. They have lent their knights and squires of the fifteenth century the deep reflection and considerable delicacy of the nineteenth,and combined the desperate and reckless valour of a buccaneer or corsair of any age, with the refined gallantry and sentimental generosity of an English gentleman of the present day. The combination we believe to be radically incongruous; but it was almost indispensable to the poetical effect that was in contemplation. The point was, to unite all the fine and strong feelings to which cultivation and reflection alone can give birth, with those manners and that condition of society, in which passions are uncontrolled, and their natural indications manifested without reserve. It was necessary, therefore, to unite two things that never did exist together in any period of society; and the union, though it may startle sober thinkers a little, is perhaps within the legitimate prerogatives of poetry. The most outrageous and the least successful attempt of this sort we remember, is that of Mr. Southey, who represents a wild Welsh chieftain, who goes a buccaneering to America in the twelfth century, with all the softness, decorum, and pretty behaviour of Sir Charles Grandison. But the incongruity itself is universal —from Campbell, who invests a Pennsylvanian farmer with the wisdom and mildness of Socrates, and the dignified manners of an old Croix de St. Louis -to Scott, who makes an old, bloody-minded, and mercenary russian lalk
like a sentimental hero and poet in his latter days—or the author before. us, who has adorned a merciless corsair, on a rock in the Mediterranean, with every virtue under heaven—except common honesty." Of that noble author, and the peculiarity of his manner, we have not much more to say. His object obviously is, to produce a great effect, partly by the novelty of his situations, but chiefly by the force and energy of his sentiments and expressions; and the themes which he has selected, though perhaps too much resembling each other, are unquestionably well adapted for this purpose. There is something grand and imposing in the unbroken stateliness, courage and heroic bigotry of a Turk of the higher order; and a certain voluptuous and barbaric pomp about his establishment, that ad– dresses itself very forcibly to the imagination. His climate too, and most of its productions are magnificent—and glow with a raised and exotic splendour; but the ruins of Grecian art, and of Grecian liberty and glory, with which he is surrounded, form by far the finest of his accompaniments. There is nothing, we admit, half so trite in poetry as commonplaces of classical enthusiasm; but it is for this very reason that we admire the force of genius by which Lord Byron has contrived to be original, and pathetic, upon a subject so unpromising, and apparently so long exhausted. How he has managed it, we do not yet exactly understand; though is is partly, we have no doubt, by placing us in the midst of the scene as it actually exists, and superadding the charm of enchanting landscape to that of interesting recollections. Lord Byron, we think, is the only modern poet who has set before our eyes a visible picture of the present aspect of scenes so famous in story; and, instead of feeding us with the unsubstantial food of historical associations, has spread around us the blue waters and dazzling skies, the ruined temples and dusky olives, the desolated cities and turbaned population, of Modern Attica. We scarcely knew before that Greece was still a beautiful country. He has also made a fine use of the gentleness and submission of the fe— males of these regions, as contrasted with the lordly pride and martial fe— rocity of the men: and though we suspect he has lent them more soul than of right belongs to them, as well as more delicacy and reflection; yet there is something so true to female nature in general, in his representations of this sort, and so much of the Oriental softness and acquiescence in his par— ticular delineations, that it is scarcely possible to refuse the picture the praise of being characteristic and harmonious, as well as eminently sweet and beautiful in itself. The other merits of his composition are such as his previous publications had already made familiar to the public,-an unparalleled rapidity of narrative, and condensation of thoughts and images—a style always vi– gorous and original, though sometimes quaint and affected, and more frequently strained, harsh and abrupt—a diction and versification invariably spirited, and almost always harmonious and emphatic: nothing diluted in short, or diffused into weakness, but full of life, and nerve, and activity— expanding only in the eloquent expression of strong and favourite affections,
" In vol. xi. p. 455, of the Quarterly Review, the writer of an able critique on Lord Byron's Corsair and Lara, opposes with great force and ingenuity the theory so eloquently expounded by the author of the above Essay. #. discussion is interesting to those who take delight in tracing the causes which operate upon the character and progress of poetry. For the information of the o have transcribed in the Appendix, No. 1. a large portion of the dissertation to which I allude.
and every where else concise, energetic, and impetuous—hurrying on with a disdain of little ornaments and accuracies, and not always very solicitous about being comprehended by readers of inferior capacity.
HISTORY OF THE DRAMA."
There were at Athens various funds applicable to public purposes; one of which, and among the most considerable, was called to §sopikov or to: Seafizi, and appropriated for the expenses of sacrifices, processions, festivals, spectacles, and of the theatres. The citizens were admitted to the theatres for some time gratis; but in consequence of the disturbances caused by multitudes crowding to get seats, to introduce order, and, as the phrase is, to keep out improper persons, a small sum of money was afterwards demanded for admission. That the poorer classes, however, might not be deprived of their favourite gratification, they received from the treasury, out of this fund, the price of a seat, and thus peace and regularity were secured, and the fund still applied to its original purpose. The money that was taken at the doors, having served as a ticket, was expended, together with that which had not been used in this manner, to maintain the edifice itself, and to pay the manifold charges of the representation. It had been enacted by a general law, that in time of war the surplus of every branch of the revenue should be applied to military purposes; this, of course, included the Sewpikov; and, moreover, by a particular decree, the whole of that fund was not unfrequently thus appropriated: but as such appropriations were rather unpopular, and had sometimes been made improperly, it was made a capital offence, on the motion of one Eubulus, to attempt to apply the theatrical fund to carry on a war. Oayd to onusga'at, si tis irrxelpoin ustaroissy to Seapixd atpatiotika, are the words of Ulpian. By this decree the Athenians were, in some measure, secured against a hasty misapplication; as it made two steps necessary, where one only had been required—it being now indispensable to procure a repeal of the penal decree before the question of the application of the money could be prudently moved; and thus necessitating a deliberate consideration of a measure so important as the commencement of a war. It is curious to observe with how much virulence the people of Athens have been calumniated for passing this decree; with what an absurd violence the enemies of what they call luxury, and of the human species, the fast friends of asceticism and of war, have in all times reiterated the same censure, and with what a blind credulity the vulgar have re-echoed the cry. If we consider the advantages which the Athenians, and indeed the whole civilised world, derived from the Greek theatre, and the small benefits, or rather the miserable calamities, occasioned by their wars of aggression—in other words, by almost all the wars in which they engaged— we shall be induced to look upon the decree of Eubulus as a most salutary law, which forbade turbulent spirits to consume a fund, raised for the great purposes of public instruction and civilisation, in promoting waste, slaughter, and barbarism. The matter is not without interest, if we view it only as a portion of
* Seven Years of the King's Theatre. By John Ebers.-Vol. xlix. p. 317. June, 1829.
ancient history, and as it respects the manners and policy of times long gone by; but it is far more important, if we bring it home to our own days, and ask ourselves whether our own Seapixd have not often been taken from us, and applied, when there was no Eubulus at hand to help us, to those very purposes which the much-censured Athenians so wisely sought to prevent? It cannot be denied that this fund, with us—the fund for supporting elegant arts, and embuing the body of the people with noble tastes and refined sentiments—has been frequently seized on by anticipation,-not only before it was collected in the treasury of the theatre, but before it was accumulated in the hands of the opulent individuals who would otherwise have created and applied it; and that it has been expended upon wars, that were purely and peculiarly wars of aggression. Why, we would also ask, is the influence of our theatres so small, seeing that in a free country their power ought to be great? Why do men of worth refuse almost unanimously to visit them? Why will no man of real talent write for them? These questions, and such as these, continually occur to all who reflect upon the present state of our society; and we will briefly discuss, and endeavour to solve some of them. Travellers inform us, that savages, even in a very rude state, are found to divert themselves by imitating some common event in life: but it is not necessary to leave our own quiet homes, to satisfy ourselves that dramatic representations are natural to man. All children delight in mimicking action; many of their amusements consist in such performances, and are in every sense plays. It is curious, indeed, to observe at how early an age the young of the most imitative of animals, man, begin to copy the actions of others; how soon the infant displays its intimate conviction of the great truth, that “all the world's a stage.” The baby does not imitate those acts
only, that are useful and necessary to be learned; but it instinctively mocks :
useless and unimportant actions and unmeaning sounds, for its amusement, and for the mere pleasure of imitation, and is evidently much delighted when it is successful. The diversions of children are very commonly dramatic. When they are not occupied with their hoops, tops, and balls, or engaged in some artificial game, they amuse themselves in playing at soldiers, in being at school, or at church, in going to market, in receiving company; and they imitate the various employments of life with so much fidelity, that the theatrical critic, who delights in chaste acting, will often find less to censure in his own little servants in the nursery, than in his Majesty's servants in a theatre-royal. When they are somewhat older, they dramatise the stories they read: most boys have represented Robin Hood, or one of his merrymen; and every one has enacted the part of Robinson Crusoe, and his man Friday. We have heard of many extraordinary tastes and antipathies; but we never knew an instance of a young person who was not delighted the first time he visited a theatre. The true enjoyment of life consists in action; and happiness, according to the peripatetic definition, is to be found in energy; it accords, therefore, with the nature and etymology of the drama, which is, in truth, not less natural than agreeable. Its grand divisions correspond, moreover, with those of time; the contemplation of the present is Comedy—mirth, for the most part, being connected with the preo only—and the past and the future are the dominions of the Tragic
It has been a grave question, since the first introduction of theatrical representations, whether they are on the whole beneficial to society, or