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as before : more so (good, industrious creature !) she could not be The third and last act, the wife still frantic, very frantic indeed the soldiers just about to fire, the handkerchief actually dropped; when, reprieve ! reprieve ! is heard from behind the scenes, and in comes Prince Somebody, pardons the Count, and the wife is still frantic, only with joy ; that was all !
O dear lady! this is one of the cases in which laughter is followed by melancholy: for such is the kind of drama which is now substituted everywhere for Shakspeare and Racine. You well know, that I offer violence to my own feelings in joining these names. But however meanly I may think of the French serious drama, even in its most perfect specimens; and with whatever right I may complain of its perpetual falsification of the language, and of the connexions and transitions of thought, which Nature has appropriated to states of passion ; still, however, the French tragedies are consistent works of art, and the offspring of great intellectual power. Preserving a fitness in the parts, and a harmony in the whole, they form a nature of their own, though a false nature. Still they excite the minds of the spectators to active thought, to a striving after ideal excellence. The soul is not stupified into mere sensations by a worthless sympathy with our own ordinary sufferings, or an empty curiosity for the surprising, undignified by the language or the situations which awe and delight the imagination. What (I would ask of the crowd that press forward to the pantomimic tragedies and weeping comedies of Kotzebue and his imitators'), what are you seeking? Is it comedy? But in the comedy of Shakspeare and Molière, the more accurate my knowledge, and the more profoundly I think, the greater is the satisfaction that mingles with my laughter. For though the qualities which these writers portray are ludicrous indeed, either from the kind or the excess, and exquisitely ludicrous, yet are they the natural growth of the human mind, and such as, with more or less change in the drapery, I can apply to my own heart, or at least to whole classes of my fellow-creatures. How often are not the moralist and the metaphysician obliged, for the happiest illustrations of general truths and the subordinate laws of human thought and action, to quotations, not only from the tragic characters, but equally from the Jaques, Falstaff, and even from the fools and clowns of Shak. speare, or from the Miser, Hypochondriast, and Hypocrite, of Molière! Say not that I am recommending abstractions : for these class-characteristics, which constitute the instructiveness of a character, are so modified and particularized in each person of the Shakspearian Drama, that life itself does not excite more distinctly that sense of individuality which belongs to real existence. Paradoxical as it may sound, one of the essential proper. ties of geometry is not less essential to dramatic excellence, and (if I may mention his name without pedantry to a lady) Aristotle has accordingly required of the poet an involution of the univer. sal in the individual. The chief differences are, that, in geome. try, it is the universal truth itself which is uppermost in the consciousness ; in poetry, the individual forin in which the truth is clothed. With the ancients, and not less with the elder dramatists of England and France, both comedy and tragedy were considered as kinds of poetry. They neither sought in comedy to make us laugh merely, much less to make us laugh by wry faces, accidents of jargon, slang phrases for the day, or the clothing of common-place morals in metaphors drawn from the shops or mechanic-occupations of their characters; nor did they con. descend, in tragedy, to wheedle away the applause of the spectators by representing before them fac-similes of their own mean selves in all their existing meanness, or to work on their sluggish sympathies by a pathos not a whit more respectable than the maudlin tears of drunkenness. Their tragic scenes were meant to affect us, indeed, but within the bounds of pleasure, and in union with the activity both of our understanding and imagination. They wished to transport the mind to a sense of its possi. greatness, and to implant the germs of that greatness during the temporary oblivion of the worthless “thing we are,” and of the peculiar state in which each man happens to be; suspending our individual recollections, and lulling them to sleep amid the music of nobler thoughts.
Hold !-(methinks I hear the spokesman of the crowd reply, and we will listen to him. I am the plaintiff, and he the defendant.)
DEFENDANT. Hold! are not our modern sentimental plays filled with the best Christian morality ?
PLAINTIFF. Yes ! just as much of it, and just that part of it, which you can exercise without a single Christian virtue-without a single sacrifice that is really painful to you !—just as much as flatters you, sends you away pleased with your own hearts, and quite reconciled to your vices, which can never be thought very ill of, when they keep such good company, and walk hand in hand with so much compassion and generosity; adulation so loathsome, that you would spit in the man's face who dared offer it to you in a private company, unless you interpreted it as insulting irony, you appropriate with infinite satisfaction, when you share the garbage with the whole stye, and gobble it out of a common trough. No Cæsar must pace your boards—no Antony, no royal Dane, no Orestes, no Andromache !
D. No: or as few of them as possible. What has a plain citizen of London, or Hamburg, to do with your kings and queens, and your old school-boy Pagan heroes ? Besides, everybody knows the stories ; and what curiosity can we feel
P. What, Sir, not for the manner ?_not for the delightful language of the poet ?—not for the situations, the action and reaction of the passions ?
D. You are hasty, Sir! the only curiosity we feel, is in the story: and how can we be anxious concerning the end of a play, or be surprised by it, when we know how it will turn out ?
P. Your pardon, for having interrupted you! we now understand each other. You seek then, in a tragedy, which wise men of old held for the highest effort of human genius, the same gratification as that you receive from a new novel, the last German romance, and other dainties of the day, which can be enjoyed but once. If you carry these feelings to the sister art of Painting, Michael Angelo's Sixtine Chapel, and the Scripture Gallery of Raphael, can expect no favor from you. You know all about them beforehand ; and are, doubtless, more familiar with the subjects of those paintings, than with the tragic tales of the historic or heroic ages. There is a consistency, therefore, in your preference of contemporary writers: for the great men of former times, those at least who were deemed great by our ancestors, sought so little to gratify this kind of curiosity, that they seem to have regarded the story in a not much higher light than the painter regards his canvas: as that on, not by, which they were to display their appropriate excellence. No work, resembling a tale or romance, can well show less variety of invention in the incidents, or less anxiety in weaving them together, than the Don QUIXOTE of Cervantes. Its admirers feel the disposition to go back and re-peruse some preceding chapter, at least ten times for once that they find any eagerness to hurry forwards : or open the book on those parts which they best recollect, even as we visit those friends oftenest whom we love most, and with whose characters and actions we are the most intimately acquainted. In the divine Ariosto (as his countrymen call this, their darling poet), I question whether there be a single tale of his own inven. tion, or the elements of which were not familiar to the readers of “old romance.” I will pass by the ancient Greeks, who thought it even necessary to the fable of a tragedy, that its substance should be previously known. That there had been at least fifty tragedies with the same title, would be one of the motives which determined Sophocles and Euripides, in the choice of Electra as a subject. But Milton
D. Aye, Milton, indeed !—but do not Dr. Johnson and other great men tell us, that nobody now reads Milton but as a task ?
P. So much the worse for them, of whom this can be truly said ! But why then do you pretend to admire Shakspeare ? The greater part, if not all, of his dramas were, as far as the names and the main incidents are concerned, already stock plays. All the stories, at least, on which they are built, pre-existed in the chronicles, ballads, or translations of contemporary or preceding English writers. Why, I repeat, do you pretend to ad. mire Shakspeare ? Is it, perhaps, that you only pretend to admire him? However, as once for all you have dismissed the well-known events and personages of history, or the epic muse, what have you taken in their stead? Whom has your tragic muse armed with her bowl and dagger ? the sentimental muse I should have said, whom you have seated in the throne of tragedy ? What heroes has she reared on her buskins ?
D. O! our good friends and next-door neighbors—honest tradesmen, valiant tars, high-spirited half-pay officers, philanthropic Jews, virtuous courtezans, tender-hearted braziers, and sentimental rat-catchers !—a little bluff or so, but all our very generous, tender-hearted characters are a little rude or misanthropic, and all our misanthropes very tender-hearted).
P. But I pray you, friend, in what actions great or interesting, can such men be engaged ?
D. They give away a great deal of money ; find rich dowries for young men and maidens who have all other good quali. ties; they brow-beat lords, baronets, and justices of the peace (for they are as bold as Hector !)—they rescue stage coaches at the instant they are falling down precipices ; carry away infants in the sight of opposing armies; and some of our performers act a muscular able-bodied man to such perfection, that our dramatic poets, who always have the actors in their eye, seldom fail to make their favorite male character as strong as Samson. And then they take such prodigious leaps !! And what is done on the stage is more striking even than what is acted. I once remember such a deafening explosion, that I could not hear a word of the play for half an act after it : and a little real gunpowder being set fire to at the same time, and smelt by all the spectators, the naturalness of the scene was quite astonishing !
P. But how can you connect with such men and such actions that dependence of thousands on the fate of one, which gives so lofty an interest to the personages of Shakspeare, and the Greek Tragedians ? How can you connect with them that sublimest of all feelings, the power of destiny and the controlling might of heaven, which seems to elevate the characters which sink beneath its irresistible blow?
D. O mere fancies ! We seek and find on the present stage our own wants and passions, our own vexations, losses, and embarrassments.
P. It is your own poor pettifogging nature then, which you desire to have represented before you ?—not human nature in its height and vigor. But surely you might find the former, with