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But if Shakspeare, sày his defenders, sins against rules, confounds all the genera of the art, and destroys verisimi. litude, he at least produces more bustle in his scenes, and infuses more terror than the French.
I will not examine to what extent this assertion is true, or whether the liberty of saying or doing every thing is not a natural consequence of this multitude of characters. I will not examine whether, in Shakspeare's plays, all proceeds rapidly towards the catastrophe; whether the plot is ravelled and unravelled with art, by incessantly prolonging and forwarding the interest excited in the minds of the audience. I will only say that if our tragedies be really deficient as to incidents (which I by no means al. low) it is principally ascribable to the subjects of them; but this does not prove that we ought to introduce upon our stage the monstrosities of the man, whom Voltaire called a drunken savage. A single beauty in Shakspeare does not atone for his innumerable faults. A gothic monument may impart pleasure by its obscurity, and even by the deformity of its proportion; but no one would think of chusing it as a model for a palace.
It is particularly contended that Shakspeare is a great master in the art of causing tears to flow. I do not know whether it is the first of arts to make a person weep, according to the way in which that expression is now understood. Those are genuine, tears which poetry produces, but it is necessary that there should be as much admiration as sorrow in the mind of the person who sheds them. When Sophocles presents to my view Cdipus covered with blood, my heart is ready to break; but my ear is struck with a gentle melancholy, and my eyes are enchanted by a spectacle transcendantly fine. I experience pleasure and pain at the same moment. I have before me a frightful truth, and yet I feel that it is ouly an ingenious imitation of an action, which does not exist, perhaps neyer existed. Hence my tears flow with delight. I
weep, but it is while listening to the accents of the Muses. Those daughters of Heaven weep, also; but they do not disfigure their divine faces by grimace. The ancients depicted even their Furies with beautiful countenances, apparently because there is a moral beauty in remorse.
While discussing this important subject, let me be allowed to say a few words respecting the quarrel which at present divides the literary world. Part of our men of letters admire none but foreign works, while the other part lean strongly to our own school. According to the former, the writers, who existed during the reign of Louis XIV. had not sufficient vivacity in their style, and betrayed a poverty of conception. According to the others, all this pretended vivacity, all these efforts of the present day, towards the attainment of new ideas, are only decadence and corruption. One party rejects all rules, the other recals them all.
To the former it may be observed that an author is lost beyond redemption if he abandons the great models, which can alone keep us within the delicatę bounds of taste, and that it is erroneous to think a style possessed of vivacity which proceeds ad infinitum in exclamations and interrogations. The second age of Latin literature, had the same pretensions as ours. It is certain that Tacitus, Seneca, and Lucan possess a more varied style of colouring than Livy, Cicero and Virgil. They affect the same conciseness of ideas and brilliancy of expression, which we at present endeavour to attain. They Imad their de. scriptions; they feel a pleasure in forming pictures to the “mind's eye;" they abound in sentiment, for it is always during corrupt times that morality is most talked of. Ages, however, have passed away, and without regard to the thinkers of Trajan's time, the palm is awarded to the reign of Augustus, in which imagination and the arts flou
rished at large. If examples were instructive, I could add that another cause of decay in Latin literature was the confusion of dialects in the Roman empire. When the Gauls skat in the Senate; when within the walls of Rome, which was become the capital of the world, every jargon might be leard from the Gothic to the Parthian, it may easily be supposed that all taste for the beauties of Horace and Cicero was at an end. The similarity is striking. At least, if it should still remain fashionable in France to study foreign idioms, and inundate us with translations, our language will soon lose its florid simplici. ty, and those gallicisms, which constitute its genius and grace.
One of the errors, into which men of letters have fallen, when in search of unbeaten roads, arises from the uncertainty which they observed to exist as to the principles of taste. A person is a great author in one journal, and a miserable scribbler in another. One calls him a brilliant genius, another a declaimer.' Whole nations vary in opinion. Foreigners deny that Racine was a man of genius, or that his numbers are possessed of harmony; and we judge of English writers in
to the English themselves. It would astonish the French if I were to mention what French authors are admired and despised in England.
All this, however, ought not to create an uncertainty of opinion, and cause original principles to be abandoned, under a pretext of there being no established standard of taste. There is a sure basis, which may always be relied upon, namely, ancient literature. This remains an invariable model. It is round those, who point out such great examples, that we ought at once to rally, if we would escape barbarism. If the partisans of the old school go a little too far in their dislike of foreign literature, it may be overlooked. Upon this principle it was
that Boileau opposed Tasso, asserting that thie age ili which he lived, had too strong a propensity to fall into the errors of that author.
Still by ceding something to an adversary, shall we not more easily bring public opinion back to good models ? May it now be allowed that imagination and the arts were indulged to too great an extent in the reign of Louis XIV ? Was not the art of painting nature, as it is now termed, almost unknown at that time? Why should it not be admitted that the style of the present day has really assumed a more perfect form, that the liberty of discussing any subject has brought a greater number of truths into circulation, that the sciences have imparted more firmness to the human mind, and more precision to human ideas? I know that there is danger in allow. ing all this, and that if one point be yielded, it is difficult to know where to stop; but still is it not possible that a man, by proceeding cautiously between the two lines, and always leaning rather towards the ancient than the modern one, may unite the two schools, and create from them the genius of a new era ? Be this as it may, every effort to produce so great a revolution will be abortive if we remain irreligious. Imagination and sentiment are essentially combined with religion. A species of literature, from which the charms of tenderness are banished, can never be otherwise than dry, cold, and merely possessed of mediocrity.*
* The reader will have found in the foregoing dissertation a considerable portion of genuine critical acumen, mingled with no small share of the national partialities and prejudices, which M. de Chateaubriand so freely ascribes to others. When Voltaire's earlier observations are against Shakspeare it is declared that, while young, his criticisms were “ replete with justice, taste, and impartiality," but when he is not sufficiently abusive, his later attacks are preferred. Shakspeare is placed, by M. de Chateaubriand, below such crude authors as Garnier and Hardy. He is
THE genius of Scotland has, during the present age, sustained with honour the literature, which Pope, Addison, Steele, Rowe, &c. had elevated to a high degree of perfection.: England can boast of no historians superior to Hume and Robertson, and of no poets more richly gifted than Thomson and Beattie. The latter, who never. left his native desert, was a minister and a professor of Philosophy, resident at a small town in the north of Scot., land. He is distinguished as a poet by a character entirely novel, and when he touched his lyre, he in some degree i brought back the tones of the ancient bards. His principal, and I as: it were only work, is a small poem entitled the Minstrel, or the Progress of Genius.. Beattie wished to pourtray the effects of the Muse on a young mountain shepherd, and to retrace the inspirations which he himself had doubtless felt. The original idea of the
allowed to have a regained the dramatic art after it had been lost in the lapse of ages,” but this is only for the purpose of describ ing Moliere as having brought it to perfection. Racine is declared to be more natural than Shakspeare, and it is deemed literary treason that the latter should have been elevated to the side of Corneille. I venture, however, to doubt whether a competent judge, of any nation, can peruse the scenes, from which M. de Chateaubriand himself has made extracts to show their comparative skill, without giving a decisive preference to our countryman.. In spite of “the monstrosities" of this “barbarian" as M. de C. calls him, or this drunken savage, if he prefers Voltaire's expréssion to his own, may the day soon arrive when Britain can boast of possessing another dramatic genius equal to Shakspeare !