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But stills not, neither angers; from his height
The music wafted to the reverent ear;
[From Stanzas addressed by Bulwer to Wordsworth.]
Read him, then, in your leisure hours, and when you walk into the summer fields you shall find the sky more blue, the flowers more fair, the birds more musical, your minds more awake, and your hearts more tender, for having held communion with him.
I have not troubled myself to point out the occasional affectations of Southey, the frequent obscurity of Coleridge, or the dif. fuseness of Wordsworth. I should fear to be treated like the critic mentioned in the story Addison quotes from Boccalini, whom Apollo rewarded for his labours by presenting him with a bushel of chaff from which all the wheat had been winnowed. For myself I think that where there is such beauty and strength, we can afford to be silent about slight defects; and that we refine our tastes more effectually by venerating the grand and lovely, than by detecting the little and mean.
THE MODERN DRAMA.*
A TRAGEDY in five acts !-what student of poetry,—(for, ad. mire, 0 Posterity, the strange fact, these days of book-craft produce not only inspired singers, and enchanted listeners, but stu. dents of poetry,)—what student in this strange sort, I say, has not felt his eye rivetted to this title, as it were written in letters of fire ? has not heard it whispered in his secret breast ?—In this form alone canst thou express thy thought in the liveliness of life, this success alone should satisfy thy ambition !
Were all these ardours caught from a genuine fire, such as, in favouring eras, led the master geniuses by their successive ef. forts to perfect this form, till it afforded the greatest advantages in the smallest space, we should be glad to warm and cheer us at a very small blaze. But it is not so. The drama, at least the English drama of our day, shows a reflected light, not a spreading fire. It is not because the touch of genius has roused genius to production, but because the admiration of genius has made talent ambitious, that the harvest is still so abundant.
This is not an observation to which there are no exceptions, some we shall proceed to specify, but those who have, with any care, watched this ambition in their own minds, or analyzed its
* 'The Patrician's Daughter, a tragedy, in five acts, by J. Westland Marston : London: C. Mitchel, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, 1841.
Athelwold, a tragedy in five acts, by W. Smith, Esq.; William Blackwuod and Sons. London and Edinburgh, 1842.
Strafford, a tragedy, by John Sterling. London; Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 1843.
results in the works of others, cannot but feel that the drama is not a growth native to this age, and that the numerous grafts produce little fruit, worthy the toil they cost.
'Tis indeed, hard to believe that the drama, once invented, should cease to be a habitual and healthy expression of the mind. It satisfies so fully the wants both of sense and soul, supplying both deep and light excitements, simple, comprehensive, and various, adapted either to great national and religious subjects, or to the private woes of any human breast. The space and the time occupied, the vehicle of expression, fit it equally for the entertainment of an evening, or the closet theme of meditative years. Ædipus, Macbeth, Wallenstein, chain us for the hour, lead us through the age.
Who would not covet this mirror, which, like that of the old wizards, not only reflects, but reproduces the whole range of forms, this key, which unlocks the realms of speculation at the hour when the lights are boldest and the shadows most suggestive, this goblet, whose single sparkling draught is locked from common air by walls of glittering ice ? An artful wild, where nature finds no bound to her fertility, while art steadily draws to a whole its linked chain.
Were it in man's power by choosing the best, to attain the best in any particular kind, we would not blame the young poet, if he always chose the drama.
But by the same law of faery which ordains that wishes shall be granted unavailingly to the wisher, no form of art will succeed with him to whom it is the object of deliberate choice. It musi grow from his nature in a certain position, as it first did from the general mind in a certain position, and be no garment taken from the shining store to be worn at a banquet, but a real body gradually woven and assimilated from the earth and sky which environed the poet in his youthful years. He may learn from the old Greek or Hindoo, but he must speak in his mother-tongue.
It was a melancholy praise bestowed on the German Iphigenia, that it was an echo of the Greek mind. O give us something rather than Greece more Grecian, so new, so universal, so indi. vidual !
An “ After Muse,” an appendix period must come to every kind of greatness. It is the criticism of the grandchild upon the inheritance bequeathed by his ancestors. It writes madrigals and sonnets, it makes Brutus wigs, and covers old chairs with damask patch-work, yet happy those who have no affection towards such virtue and entertain their friends with a pipe cut from their own grove, rather than display an ivory lute handed down from the old time, whose sweetness we want the skill to draw forth.
The drama cannot die out: it is too naturally born of certain periods of national development. It is a stream that will sink in one place, only to rise to light in another. As it has appeared successively in Hindostan, Greece, (Rome we cannot count) England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, so has it yet to appear in New Holland, New Zealand, and among ourselves, when we too shall be made new by a sunrise of our own, when our popula. tion shall have settled into a homogeneous, national life, and we have attained vigour to walk in our own way, make our own world, and leave off copying Europe.
At present our attempts are, for the most part, feebler than those of the British “ After Muse,” for our play-wrights are not from youth so fancy-fed by the crumbs that fall from the tables of the lords of literature, and having no relish for the berries of our own woods, the roots of our own fields, they are meagre, and their works bodiless; yet, as they are pupils of the British school, their works need not be classed apart, and I shall mention one or two of the inost note-worthy by-and-by.
England boasts one Shakspeare-ah! that alone was more than the share of any one kingdom,—such a king! There Apollo himself tended sheep, and there is not a blade of the field but glows with a peculiar light. At times we are tempted to think him the only genius earth has ever known, so beyond compare is he, when looked at as the myriad-minded; then he seems to sit at the head of the stream of thought, a lone god beside his urn; the minds of others, lower down, feed the current to a greater width, but they come not near him. Happily, in the constructive power, in sweep of soul, others may be named beside him : he is not always all alone.
Historically, such isolation was not possible. Such a being implies a long ancestry, a longer posterity. We discern immortal vigour in the stem that rose to this height.
But his children should not hope to walk in his steps. Prospero gave Miranda a sceptre, not his wand. His genius is too great for his followers, they dwindle in its shadow. They see objects so early with his eyes, they can hardly learn to use their own. “They seek to produce from themselves, but they only reproduce him.”
He is the cause why so much of England's intellect tends towards the drama, a cause why it so often fails. His works bring despair to genius, they are the bait and the snare of talent.
The impetus he has given, the lustre with which he dazzles, are a chief cause of the dramatic efforts, one cause of failure, but not the only one, for it seems probable that European life tends to new languages, and for a while neglecting this form of repre. sentation, would explore the realms of sound and sight, to make to itself other organs, which must for a time supersede the drama.
There is, perhaps, a correspondence between the successions of literary vegetation with those of the earth's surface, where, if you burn or cut down an ancient wood, the next offering of the