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Quid quod præfatione præmunierim libellum, quâ conor omnem offendi
culi ansam præcidere ?1 Neque quicquam addubito, quin ea candidis omnibus faciat satis. Quid autem facias istis, qui vel ob ingenii perti- naciam sibi satisfieri nolint, vel stupidiores sint, quam ut satisfactionem intelligant ? Nam quemadmodum Simonides dixit, Thessalos hebetiores esse, quam ut possint a se decipi, ita quosdam videas stupidiores, quam ut placari queant. Adhæc, non mirum est invenire quod calumnietur, qui nihil aliud quærit, nisi quod calumnietur.
ERASMUS ad Dorpium, Theologum.
In the rifacimento of THE FRIEND, I have inserted extracts from the CONCIONES AD POPULUM, printed, though scarcely published, in the year 1795, in the very heat and height of my anti-ministerial enthusiasm : these in proof that my principles of politics have sustained no change. In the present chapter, I have annexed to my Letters from Germany, with particular reference to that which contains a disquisition on the modern drama, a critique on the Tragedy of BERTRAM, written within the last twelve months : in proof, that I have been as falsely charged with any fickleness in my principles of taste. The letter was written to a friend : and the apparent abruptness with which it begins, is owing to the omission of the introductory sentences.
You remember, my dear Sir, that Mr. Whitbread, shortly before his death, proposed to the assembled subscribers of Drury Lane Theatre, that the concern should be farmed to some responsible individual under certain conditions and limitations: and that his proposal was rejected, not without indignation, as subversive of the main object, for the attainment of which the enlightened and patriotic assemblage of philo-dramatists had been induced to risk their subscriptions. Now this object was avowed
. Præcludere calumniam, in the original.
to be no less than the redemption of the British stage not only from horses, dogs, elephants, and the like zoological rarities, but also from the more pernicious barbarisms and Kotzebuisms in morals and taste. Drury Lane was to be restored to its former classical renown; Shakspeare, Jonson, and Otway, with the expurgated muses of Vanbrugh, Congreve, and Wycherley, were to be re-inaugurated in their rightful dominion over British audiences;' and the Herculean process was to commence by exterminating the speaking monsters imported from the banks of the Danube, compared with which their mute relations, the emigrants from Exeter 'Change, and Polito (late Pidcock's) showcarts, were tare and inoffensive. Could an heroic project, at once so refined and so arduous, be consistently intrusted to, could its success be rationally expected from, a mercenary manager, at whose critical quarantine the lucri bonus odor would conciliate a bill of health to the plague in person ? No! As the work proposed, such must be the work-masters. Rank, fortune, liberal education, and (their natural accompaniments, or consequences) critical discernment, delicate tact, disinterestedness, unsuspected
2 [My eldest brother says of Congreve's comedies, after declaring them "s considerably more decorous than those of his predecessors,” “ They are too cold to be mischievous: they keep the brain in too incessant action to allow the passions to kindle. For those who search into the powers of intellect, the combinations of thought which may be produced by volition, the plays of Congreve may form a profitable study. But their time is filed -on the stage they will be received no more; and of the devotees of light reading such as could read them without disgust would probably peruse them with little pleasure.”_Worthies of Yorkshire and Lancashire, by Hartley Coleridge, p. 693.
My father says, in a marginal note on the Life from which I quote, “ Wickedness is no subject for Comedy. This was Congreve's great error, and almost peculiar to him. The Dramatis Personæ of Dryden, Wycherley, and others, are often vicious, indecent, but, not like Congreve's, wicked.”
Speaking of The Way of the TVorld, my brother says, “It has no moral interest. Vice may be, and too often has been, made interesting; but cold-hearted, unprincipled villany, never can. It is impossible to read this comedy without wonder and admiration; but it is an admiration altogether intellectual, by which no man is made better.” My father remarks, in the margin, “ Virtue and Wickedness are not sub eodem genere, The absence of Virtue is no deficiency in a genuine comedy: but the prebence of Wickedness a great defect.” S. C.)
morals, notorious patriotism, and tried Mæcenasship, these were the recommendations that influenced the votes of the proprietary subscribers of Drury Lane Theatre, these the motives that occa. sioned the election of its Supreme Committee of Management. This circumstance alone would have excited a strong interest in the public mind, respecting the first production of the Tragic Muse which had been announced under such auspices, and had passed the ordeal of such judgments: and the tragedy, on which you have requested my judgment, was the work on which the great expectations, justified by so many causes, were doomed at length to settle.
But before I enter on the examination of BERTRAM, or THE CASTLE OF ST. ALDOBRAND, I shall interpose a few words, on the phrase German Drama, which I hold to be altogether a misnomer. At the time of Lessing, the German stage, such as it was, appears to have been a flat and servile copy of the French. It was Lessing who first introduced the name and the works of Shakspeare to the admiration of the Germans; and I should not perhaps go too far, if I add, that it was Lessing who first proved to all thinking men, even to Shakspeare's own country. men, the true nature of his apparent irregularities. These, he demonstrated, were deviations only from the accidents of the Greek tragedy; and from such accidents as hung a heavy weight on the wings of the Greek poets, and narrowed their flight within the limits of what we may call the heroic opera. He proved, that, in all the essentials of art, no less than in the truth of nature, the Plays of Shakspeare were incomparably more coincident with the principles of Aristotle, than the productions of Corneille and Racine, notwithstanding the boasted regularity of the latter. Under these convictions were Lessing's own dramatic works composed. Their deficiency is in depth and imagination: their excellence is in the construction of the plot; the good sense of the sentiments; the sobriety of the morals; and the high polish of the diction and dialogue. In short, his dramas are the very antipodes of all those which it has been the fashion
3 [See his Hamburgische Dramaturgie, especially vol. ii., Works, 1841, vol. vii., S. C.]
of late years at once to abuse and cnjoy, under the name of the German drama. Of this latter, Schiller's ROBBERS was the earliest specimen; the first fruits of his youth (I had almost said of his boy hood), and as such the pledge, and promise of no ordinary genius. Only as such, did the maturer judgment of the author tolerate the play. During his whole life he expressed himself concerning this production with more than needful aspe. rity, as a monster not less offensive to good taste, than to sound morals; and in his latter years, his indignation at the unwonted popularity of the ROBBERS seduced him into the contrary extremes, viz. a studied feebleness of interest (as far as the interest was to be derived from incidents and the excitement of curiosity); a diction elaborately metrical ; the affectation of rhymes, and the pedantry of the chorus.
But to understand the true character of the Robbers, and of the countless imitations which were its spawn, I must inform you, or at least call to your recollection, that, about that time, and for some years before it, three of the most popular books in the German language were, the translations of Young's Night THOUGHTS, HERVEY's MEDITATIONS, and RICHARDSON'S CLARISSA HARLOW. Now we have only to combine the bloated style and
4 [Night i. of The Complaint: or Night Thoughts, was before the world in 1742: Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs and Reflections in a Flower Garden, appeared in 1746 : the first two vols, of Clarissa in 1748. This work of Richardson's and his Pamela were written purposely to guard the morals of the young, and of the latter it was said, Pamela is like snow; she covers all things with her whiteness. Snow, when much trodden under a warm sun, is soon converted into slop—which coalesces ere long into mud and mire; in this respect the moral lessons of Pamela and Clarissa do indeed resemble snow; they seem fitter to stir up the mud of the soul-" the earthly mire” of its nature,-than permanently to cleanse and whiten it.-See Comparison of Richardson with Fielding, Remains, vol. ii.
Young's great poem is a notable instance of the want of reserve and poetical economy. In the poetry of Cowper, Burns, Crabbe, we have abundance of sadness, and it is all the more truly and deeply sad, because it seems to come unsought, nay, rather shunned. The poet's soul appears to crave the sunshine : he“ does not love the shower nor seek the cold,” but only yields to mournful reflections because they force themselves upon him in a world of woe. But when Young so resolutely makes love to Gloom and sets his cap at Melancholy, we suspect that both are in masque
peculiar rhythm of Hervey, which is poetic only on account of its utter unfitness for prose, and might as appropriately be called prosaic, from its utter unfitness for poetry ; we have only, I repeat, to combine these Herveyisms with the strained thoughts, the figurative metaphysics and solemn epigrams of Young on the one hand ; and with the loaded sensibility, the minute detail, the morbid consciousness of every thought and feeling in the whole flux and reflux of the mind, in short, the self-involution and dream-like continuity of Richardson on the other hand; and then to add the horrific incidents, and mysterious villains (geniuses of supernatural intellect, if you will take the author's words for it, but on a level with the meanest ruffians of the condemned cells, if we are to judge by their actions and contri. vances)—to add the ruined castles, the dungeons, the trap-doors, the skeletons, the flesh-and-blood ghosts, and the perpetual moonshine of a modern author (themselves the literary brood of the CASTLE OF OTRANTO, the translations of which, with the imitations and improvements aforesaid, were about that time beginning to make as much noise in Germany as their originals were making in England),—and as the compound of these ingredients duly
rade, and that blooming forms are beneath the sable stole; when he surrounds his head with cypress, we imagine a snug velvet cap under the dusky wreath; when he “ sits by a lamp at mid-day, and has skulls, bones, and instruments of death for the ornaments of his study," we feel disposed to think that he makes sin, death, and sorrow a poetical amusement, and takes up these topics because they offer facilities for impressive writing more than to relieve their pressure on a burdened heart. I would not say the same of Hervey's piety, though it has such an air of what, in a colloquial not philosophical sense, may be called determinism. The author of The Doctor says that some styles are flowery, but that the Meditationist's is a weedy style ; alluding, I suppose, to its luxuriant commonplace, and vulgar showiness, as of corn-poppies and wild mustard. But Hervey seems to have been a simple earnest clergyman, with his heart in his parish ; whereas it is difficult not to look upon Young as a solemn worldling; though, as many a mountain-brow looks from a distance a sheer precipice, yet, when we approach, appears passable to the foot of man ; so many a life viewed afar off seems hard and worldly, but shows its humanity and Christianity to those who see it closely. S. C.]
6 [This tale, by Horace Walpole, afterwards Earl of Orford, was published in 1765. SC.]