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Respecting the merits of this composition, criticism is reduced to the same state of unwilling acquiescence in the prevailing taste of the times, it is so often called upon to exercise in giving judgment upon most of the productions of fancy, whether novel, romance, or drama, which now inundate Great Britain. All that can be said in favour of this whole class of compositions is that the authors write and make money by them; that the people are pleased to receive them; and that the critic must take them as they come, whether he will or no. Of the Doubtful Son, however, it may be asserted, that though the kind be not good, it is tolerably good of the kind. Mrs. Radcliffe, Mr. Matthew Lewis, and Co. have amused (the former indeed delighted) the world; but, to borrow an expression of Falstaff's, they have also done it much harm. A faithful, picture of nature, in which man is portrayed as he is really found in the probable course of life, will not now be looked at. If a fable be constructed without romance, horrors, and awe-inspiring mystery, it is “caviere to the multitude.” Aware of the perverted taste of the public, and perhaps convinced of its depravity, Mr. Diamond displays in all his pieces the most consummate skill in catering for it. No writer can more successfully agitate the feelings by a mysterious involution of fable, ingulf the mind in more dark and dread suspense, by the black art of the pen, make a more dismal cauldron of wo rise in the obscurity of the back ground, or sink it again with greater dexterity. In his plays we find not a trace of legitimate comedy; no mirror held up to nature or to man; no delineation of manners; no just portraiture of the human character; none of the probabilities of life; but, on the contrary, a series of romance in dialogue, in which possibility is urged to its extremest verge.
In the play before us, what is offered? Let us only imagine a person, just arrived from Germany and relating it in a mixed company, and consider what every one would think of his veracity or his understanding. One family of no more than six persons, connected to each other by the ordinary domestic ties, and without more reasonable means or motives to go aside than people in domestic life can be supposed to have, are involved in as many secret plots and mysteries, perplexed with as many intricacies, and surrounded with as many snares, in one drama, as the police of the blackest Italian republic; nay, of Venice itself, with its bravoes and its lazaroni, and its canals and gondolas to aid their subtleties,
ever brought to light in a whole year. The husband has an illegitimate child and a mystery; the wife another child and another mystery; and the husband gives in marriage his mysterious child, which the unravelling of her mystery shows to be the offspring of an adulterous intercourse, to the mysterious child of his wife; and the poor mother sees her good son tied to the fruits of the adulterous wrong offered to her insulted bed. Thus the relations of parent and child and of husband and wife are perplexed; and thus right and wrong, vice and virtue, marquises and secretaries, servants and masters, are made to dance the hayes, cross over, change places, and right and left with each other, till such a cloud of romantic dust and horrible obscurity is raised, that nothing is visible to the moral or critical eye, until it answers the purpose of the author to dispel it; when, with a presto pass and begone, the audience are told, and that by the characters themselves, that all matters are settled to satisfaction, that all doubts are at an end; and that all the embarrassments and intricacies have, during the fog, been disintangled. As usual, the villain is detected and sent off; as usual, a reconciliation of all quarrels takes place; and, as usual, the young people are married; and the denouement, of course, is very pleasing and very natural.
Yet this stuff of the imagination, collected from the murky realms of the newfangled romance, is so constructed (and that is the worst of it, because it perpetuates the contagion) as to excite and keep alive, from beginning to end, considerable interest. If we must have dramatic romances instead of plays, however, we shall be content with Mr. Diamond's mode of managing them. Improbable as the incidents of this piece are, and stained as it is in one case by avowed immorality, the action is conducted with much art; the succession of events is unforced and orderly; and the development, though somewhat huddled up, is pleasing. We entertain very little doubt of its success in representation; and we should be wanting in candor if we omitted to say, that, when compared with its fellow travellers tẶrough the shortlived existence allotted them by their nature, it deserves some praise. That it should come to this, however, with the British drama, so grieves us, that we cannot help breathing forth our regrets, and saying with Ophelia,
Ab! wo is me,
A TRAGEDY, BY JOANNA BAILLIE. Beside the tragedy of DE MONFORT, this lady has added to the mass of English poetry a number of plays which deserve the best efforts of criticism in their eulogy and illustration, on account of the originality of their design, and the peculiar beauty and vigor of their execution. Her avowed object is to delineate the stronger passions of the mind. In accomplishing this, she does not, as is usual, take the passion intended to be delineated, at its full grown height, but begins with it at its inchoate state-not in the maturation of the fruit, but in the heart's first reception of the seed; from which she traces it, step by step, in its rise and its progress, up to its ultimate pernicious effects. A conception so great, bold and original, could be the growth of no other than a mind abundantly enriched by nature with genius, fertilized by the best culture, and invigorated by a just confidence in its own resources for the means of carrying so vast a plan into execution. The passion she has chosen to investigate in the tragedy of De Monfort is that of HATRED: how far she has succeeded in her management of the subject, it is our present business to inquire.
Hatred is, unfortunately, so common a feeling, and has furnished so many dramatists, epic poets and essayists with topics for exercitation, that it may, at first view, appear little capable of novelty; and so it really would be in ordinary hands; but in those of a person of real genius, nothing appears commonplace: if the thought be old, his pencil portrays it in a new and captivating attitude, and presents it in a rich drapery, the novelty of which makes it original and his own. Thus Miss Baillie has, in De Monfort, contrived to render one of the most familiar and vulgar passions novel, striking and original, not only by forming the general disposition of the person who entertains it a contrast to the character of the passion itself, but by making it apparently disproportionate to the motives which influence him and the hatred he entertains. Effects of the most stupendous, frightful and criminal magnitude are produced; and when the causes are sought for, they are found so diminutive as scarcely to be visible to the naked eye. Nor is this done for the purpose of mystery—that miserable device of modern dramatists; for there is no concealment. From the outset, the hatred is perceptible and the cause is seen in the germ; but to the dim eye it apVOL. III.
pears for a while so little adequate to the effect, that the mind disowns its competency, and looks for something more. At first the passion, like the breeze that passes over the smooth surface of a becalmed water, barely ruffles his bosom; but soon it grows to a gale- from the gale it swells into a storm--from the storm to the tempest, and rages till every opposing barrier of virtue is swept away in a whirlwind of fury. And here it is that we ought to dwell upon the great superiority of the author of De Monfort to all dra, matic poets of our day, in the great primary essential of moral purpose and effect; holding out to parents, as she does in the chal'acter of De Monfort, the most salutary admonition they can possibly receive for the training up of their children in the way
that they should go. Shakspeare shows us the danger of ambition, the mischiefs of jealousy, the hatefulness as well as folly of revenge, in his Richard, Macbeth, Othello, and Shylock; but he does not point out how and when they are to be prevented; he does not, like our present subject, lay bare the root, and show where to direct the axe. Miss Baillie, in De Monfort, inculcates this moral truth, kill the vice in its first seeds destroy it in the germ; for if once it gains a living lodgment in the heart, it will hold a perpetual despotic dominion over it. Treat it, therefore,
As a serpent's egg,
And kill it in the shell. She does more: by endowing with the noblest virtues, particularly with generosity, honour, and benevolence, the man who becomes a prey to so detestable a passion, she holds out an awful warning to mankind not to consider any imaginable portion of virtue a sufficient security against a bad passion, if it be once suffered to get rule in the heart, and gives a terrible example of the fatal effects of an overweening confidence in our own vigilance and resolution.
By her efforts to produce this excellent moral lesson, our admirable authoress has thrown many difficulties in her own way. The fundamental passion of the Iliad is the anger of Achilles: but Achilles is complexionally irascible and furious ferox, iracundus, acer. His provocations too are such as justify some degree of resentment, and, being at the very outset made known, they throw a light on the subject, so that there is no semblance of incongruity between cause and effect, no disproportion to be reconciled. The same may be said of Richard, Macbeth, Soc., in which Shakspeare at once plunges in
medias res, and leaves nothing for conjecture or doubt: but in De Monfort, we have man who yields to a vice seemingly in direct violation of the general composition of his nature and upon a provocation apparently too trifling to excite serious resentment; a man who, though naturally amiable and benevolent, nourishes in his bosom one of the most detestable passions than can deform human nature; while convinced, nay ashamed of its turpitude, indulges it even to the perpetration of murder, and becomes an assassin; and then, in the excessive sensibility of his nature, immolates himself, and dies of horror at the ruin he has made.
Such is the character and conduct of De Monfort, as it appears to the careless eye, in naked abstraction: but if we follow the author, step by step, through the detail of her hero's feelings, as she traces them from the original cause to the fatal effect, and at the same time take along with us a reasonable knowledge of our common nature, or if, as Shakspeare says, we
“ Know all qualities with a learned spirit
Of human dealings,” we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that, however unworthy and exceeding all due measure, the hatred of De Monfort may be, it is not at all unnatural; that the cause of it is not of that diminutive size or moderate nature, of which, superficially considered, it appears to be; and that such a disposition, as his, is far from being unsusceptible of excessive and criminal resentment. Extreme sensibility often hoops up, in one narrow circle, the most refined virtues with the blackest vices, all the tender charities with fell hatred, vindictiveness and ruthless cruelty. The same heart that would bleed at the tale of woe, has often, at the instigation of anger, meditated murder. The same hand that, trembling with sympathy, emptied the purse to the beggar's tale, has often, at the call of honour, or of guilty pride, pierced the bosom of a friend with a sword, or sent him to his last account with a pistol. De Monfort has not received from the man he hates any injury; but he has received what, to feelings of exquisite sensibility, are infinitely worse~contempt and sneering insult. Not one of the passions is more universally felt, though none perhaps more evades particular notice, than this. Whether it be an infirmity, or a sound part of our composition, it is so intimately woven into the texture of man's nature, that it cannot be removed. Here a stoic may conquer it; there a wretch, subdued to the lowest prostration of spirit, may be