« PreviousContinue »
And marvell’d much how envy found a place
But mutter something of a broken row.'-p. 182-3. The personifications of“ metals and minerals,' and of the ageneies of volcanic fire,' as may be expected from the specimens which we have given of Miss Porden's poetry, are managed with great talent and ingenuity, and they exhibit a thorough knowledge of the subject. But they are materials upon which talent and ingenuity should not attempt to work. They are either too refractory to be moulded into grace, or too rarified and penetrating to be rendered visible and tangible. Nor could these difficulties be surmounted, even if, as Miss Porden wishes, the operations of her Rosicrucian mythology had been directed by a person possessing the scientific knowledge of Sir Humphry Davy, and the energy and imagination of Lord Byron and Mr. Scoit.'
The privilege of personification is an important one, and therefore it should be used charily. The forms bestowed by the poet must be indicated, not defined. The vitality which he bestows must be breathed into the object in an instant, and for an instant only. Like the mock life produced in the slaughtered animal by the powers of galvanism, as soon as the subtle influence has darted through, its effects must cease; and inert nature must relapse inte its primitive quiescence. Thus,
Jura answers through her misty stroud
Back to the joyous Alps who call to her aloud.' But although the voices of the mountains were heard during the raging of the midnight storm, we do not find that they continued to bold a dialogue after it had subsided.
The themes of poetry must be such as can agitate or allure us; the lessons of poetry must be such as can enter into alliance with our virtues, nay, even with our errors. But science soars above the troubled region of passion and feeling, and dwells in the calm and cloudless heaven where all is light and tranquillity.
' — out' avsuolto TIVAJOITAI, OUTE TOT' Ou Gews :
The object of science is the discovery and diffusion of truth: and the flowing veil of poetry is wholly abhorrent from this its only intent and end. Science cannot be taught in allegory or metaphor, and it seeks neither ornament nor disguise; the one can give it no additional fairness, the other must detract from its utility. The laws and properties of matter are the handmaids' of the Power who laid the foundations of the world; and in the investigation of their workings, we must confide in reasou, without invoking the deceitful aid of fancy or imagination. Let the Muse be content to roam in the haunts to which she has been accustomed from days of old, and employ herself in her wonted tasks. She may breathe the fresh gale without trying its purity in the eudiometer. When she gathers flowers, let her weave them in a wreath, and she will find it easier than to class the sweets which she lias culled between the leaves of the hortus siccus. All nature is before her, and it is her duty to point out the beauties of the great pageant; but it will not be required of her, that she should conduct the spectators behind the scenes.
With respect to Miss Porden, we must conclude by confessing, that although we think her endeavour to blend poetry and science together is objectionable, yet her knowledge becomes her well; and we are quite sure that the age cannot produce many female writers possessing ability and information enough to err as she has done.
ART. VI. Lavu-sing-urh, or An Heir in his Old Age,' a
Chinese Drama. Translated from the Original Chinese. By J. F. Davis, Esq. of Canton. To which is prefired a Brief View of the Chinese Drama and of their Theatrical Exhibitions.
Small 8vo. pp. 164. London. 1817. IN the voluminous compilations concerning China, which were 1 published on the continent of Europe, and chiefly in France, in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we meet with very few observations on the general state of literature in that country. The Catholic Missionaries, from whom they were received, labour hard, it is true, to persuade their correspondents, by vague and general assertions, that the Chinese are a nation of sages; that the love of letters is universal; that learning alone leads to wealth and honours; that, with it, the highest offices of the state are open to the lowest of the people; and, without it, that princes siuk quietly, as a matter of common occurrence, into the. vulgar hierd ; that, in short, under this enlightened government,
. Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow,
The rest is all but leather or prunella.' We are cautioned, however, at the same time, not to regard the literary qualifications, which pave the way to the highest offices in the state, as consisting of that vulgar wisdom which implies a knowledge of men and of things, or of the pursuits of physical or abstract science, or even of the history of the great events which have been passing in any other part of the world; but that the perfection of the human intellect, and the indispensable qualification for a great statesman, consist in knowing precisely what Yao said, and what Chun did, on any particular occasion, four thousand years ago; and in applying the maxims of the one and the practice of the other to the events of the present time. This, with a critical knowledge of the construction, and precise import, of an old character of their symbolic language, together with the exact mode of ad. dressing a superior, or returning the salute of an inferior, according to the regulations prescribed by Confucius, constitute, in a great measure, the learning of a Chinese state philosopher. But the most remarkable circumstance seems to be that these automatons should have succeeded in persuading the Jesuits, whom no one will accuse of being deficient in worldly wisdom, that this puerile trifling of the Chinese was learving; while every succeeding communication to their superiors in Europe bore unequivocal proofs of the gross ignorance in which the whole nation was immersed. And yet we ought, perhaps, not so much to wonder at the miraculous accounts of those who had travelled to the opposite side of the globe in search of miracles, as at the credulity of such men as Voltaire, Freret, De Guignes, Isaac Vossius, and many others, who so greedily swallowed them. The Jesuits indeed had some excuse : the conversion of the heathen being the inain object of their mission, they found it, probably, conducive to their success to adopt the habits and prejudices of their Chinese neophytes.
It still, however, remains to be explained why these early Missionaries, who were themselves men of learning, and more free from prejudices than any of the other Religious Orders, should not have bestowed a little attention on the modern state of literature among the great mass of the people. We read, it is true, of the hundreds of thousands of volumes contained in the Imperial library at Pekin, and every now and then we meet with the titles of some of them; we are also told that thousands of the lighter kind of productions, such as moral tales, entertaining stories, novels, plays and songs, issue daily from the press; but this lumping mention of Chinese Libraries and Chinese books, with the exception of one drama translated by Père Premare, two or three inoral tales, as many
ne short Grozie possesserature gene
apologues and some short specimens of poetry, collected and published by Du Halde and Grozier, constituted all the knowledge which, till of very late years, we possessed in Europe, of the taste of the Chinese in that department of literature generally known by the name of belles lettres.
Yet a more intimate knowledge of this particular branch of national literature would seem precisely to be that which was most wanting to enable us to form a true estimate of the national character-it is that which, of all others, appears best calculated to shew us how this singular people acted and thought under the ordinary occurrences of life, and how far the fine moral sentiments, which Confucius uttered, and which are painted in large characters in their houses and temples, by the sides of the high roads, and in all public places, are carried into practice in real life. That beautiful lille novel the Hao-kivu-tchuan, translated by Mr. Wilkinson and published by Dr. Percy, did this to a certain extent, but it remained for many years the solitary specimen of this kind of composition. The knowledge of the language which the translator had acquired seems to have died with him; and as Bohea and Sou-chong could be provided by the easier process of a sort of telegraphic communication aided by a murderous jargon of English, the study of the language of China revived only with, the Embassy of Lord Macartney to the Court of Pekin. This mission afforded an opportunity to the present Sir George Staunton, then a boy, to cultivate it with complete success; and his example has been followed by several of the Company's servants at Canton, but by none with more assiduity and advantage than by Mr. Davis, the translator of the drama before us: this young gentleman is a writer on the establishment of the East India Company's factory at Canton, where, we understand, he has not been resident much more than two years.
The editor of this literary curiosity, for such it must be considered whatever its merits or defects may be, has taken a summary view of the Chinese drama, or rather, we should say, of the stage-representations, as they are exbibited for the entertainment of foreign ambassadors; these exhibitions, it must be confessed, are puerile enough, consisting chiefly of broad farce, of tumbling, juggling, posture-making, and ridiculous processions of men disguised as animals, the last of which may be intended perhaps to convey, by personified allegories, allusions to some national tradition or religious superstition. Of their regular dramas, such as this before us, we hear little or nothing in the accounts published of the several embassies sent by different nations to the Court of Pekin. The reason is obvious. Until the present embassy of Lord Amherst, neither the ambassador nor any of his suite were fortunate
enough to understand one word of what they heard; and as it is said that, when one sense is shut, the others become more open, these travellers describe accurately enough, no doubt, what they saw, but are necessarily silent as lo what they heard.
The editor mentions a poem, written by a common Chinese, called London,' also translated by Mr. Davis. We have procured a copy of this poem, or rather of that part of it which has been translated : though the author's observations, in general, are just, yet, as he was ignorant of our language, they proceed almost wholly from what was communicated to the mind through the organ of sight. “Their play-houses,' he says, ' are always shut during the day; after dark the scenes are opened. The faces of the actors are very handsome. Their dresses are embroidered and splendid; and they sing in exact unison with the music; and dance to the drums and Autes. The exhibition is delightful in the highest degree, and all go away with laughing countenances.' And he adds, in a note, for this Chinese poet too vises his verses as pegs to hang notes upon,—that all descriptions of people mix together and pay a certain fixed price ; that the scenes are painted to represent trees and houses, that they are frequently changed; and that the female characters are all performed by women. Of the Thames, he says, 'three bridges resist the stream, and form a communication. Ships and boats pass beneath the arches; men and horses walk amidst the clouds; a thousand masses of stone rise one above the other; and the river flows through nine channels. The bridge of Lo-yang, which out-tops all under heaven, resembles them in form.'- But he adds, in a note, that the bridge of Lo-yang, in Fokien, is the finest in the world; that it resembles these (of the Thames) in appearance, but there is a difference in point of size:in the original, there is an artiul ambignity by which the superiority • in point of size' is left undecided. Our traveller (who is not de. ficient in intelligence) notices chiefly those objects which excited attention by their contrast with those of his own country-thus he observes that, “ the houses are so lofty that you may pluck the stars from them ;' that, on four sacred days in the month, people put on their best clothes, and go to the temple; that the virtuous read their sacred book, which they call Pe-lee. to kot, (pray to God); that the appearance of the country is beautiful, and the hills rising one above another delightful to behold ; that litile girls have rosy cheeksi and fair complexions; that men and women marry from mutual choice; and love and respect each other; and that there are no second wives; that the grass is cut, and dried, to feed cattle in winter when there is frost and snow; that men and women ramble into the fields to gather flowers; that poor womeu at the wheat harvest gather the grain which is left, and sing as they go home; VOL. XVI. NO, XXXI). CC