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THE MODERN DRAMA."
A TRAGEDY in five acts !—what student of poetry,—(for, ad. mire, O 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, Flect Strect, 1841.
Athelwald, a tragaly in five acts, by W. Smith, Esq.; William Blackwood and Sons. London and Edinburgh, 1842.
Strafford, a lragedy, by Joha Sterling. London ; Edward Moxon, Doves Stroet, 1913.
results in the works of others, cannot but feel that tha draria 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, onoe 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, siinple, comprehensive, and vari. ous, 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 entertain. mcnt of an evening, or the closet theme of meditative yeurs. Adipus, 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 wishər, no form of art will succeed with him to whom it is the object of deliberate choice. It must 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 grcatness. 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 10. wards such virtue and entertain their friends with a pipe cut from their own grove, rather than display an ivory iute 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 fanoy.fed by the crumbs that fall from the tables or 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 mentico one or two of the inont 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 immor. tal vigour in the stem that rose to this height.
But his children should not hope to walk in his stcps. Pros. pero 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
1 reproduce him.”
He is the cause why so much of England's intellect tends towards the drama, a cause why it so often fuils. 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 representation, would explore the realms of sound and sight, to make to itself other organs, which must for a timo superscde ihe drama.
There is, perhaps, a correspondence between the successions of literary vegetation with those of the earth's surface, where, ir you burn or cut down an ancient wood, the next offering of the
soil will not be in the same kind, but raspberries and purplo flowers will succeed the oak, poplars the pine. Thus, beneath the roots of the drama, lay seeds of the historic novel, the roman. uic epic, which were to take its place to the reader, and for tho scene, the oratorios, the opera, and ballet.
Music is the great art of the time. Its dominion is constantly widening, its powers are more profoundly recognized. In the forms it has already evolved, it is equal to representing any subject, can address the entire range of thoughts and emotions. These forms have not yet attained their completeness, and al. ready we discern many others hovering in the vast distances of the Tone-world.
The opera is in this io ferior to the drama, that it produces its effects by the double method of dialogue and song. So easy seems it to excite a feeling, and by the orchestral accompani. ments to sustain it to the end, that we have not the intellectual exhilaration which accompanies a severer enjoyment. For the same reasons, nothing can surpass the mere luxury of a fine opera.
The oratorio, so great, so perfect in itself, is limited in its subjects; and these, though they must be of the graver class, do not properly admit of tragedy. Minds cannot dwell on special griefs and seeming partial fates, when circling the universe on the wings of the great chorus, sharing the will of the Divine, catching the sense of humanity.
Thus much, as has been given, we demand from musio yet another method, simpler and more comprehensive than these. lo instrumental music this is given by the symphony, but we want another that shall admit the voice, too, and permit the assa ciation of the spectacle.
The ballet seems capable of an infinite perfection. There is no boundary here to the powers of design and expression, if only Et artists can be formed mentally and practically. What could
not a vigorous imagination do, if it had delicato Ariels to enact its plans, with that facility and completeness which pantomine permits ? There is reason to think we shall see the language of the eye, of gesture and attitude carried to a perfection, body made pliant to the inspirations of spirit, as it can hardly be where spoken words are admitted to eke out deficiencies. From our America we hope some form entirely now, not yet to be predicted, while, though the desire for dramatic representation ex. ists, as it always must where there is any vigorous life, the habit of borrowing is so pervasive, that in the lately peopled prairies of the West, where civilization is but five years old, we find the young people acting plays, indeed, and “on successive nights to overflowing audiences,"—but what ? Some drama, ready made to hand by the fortunes of Boon, or the defeats of Black Hawk ? Not at all, but-Tamerlane and the like-Bombastes Furioso, and King Cambyses vein to the "storekeepers" and labourers of republican America.
In this connection let me mention the drama of Metamora, a favourite on the boards in our cities, which, if it have no other merit, yields something that belongs to this region, Forrest hav. ing studied for this part the Indian gait and expression with some
He is naturally adapted to the part by the strength and dignity of his person and outline.
To return to Britain.
The stage was full of life, after the drama began to decline, and the actors, whom Shakspeare should have had to represent his parts, were born, after his departure, from the dignity given to the profession by the existence of such occasion for it. And again, out of the existence of such actors rose hosts of play. wrights, who wrote not to embody the spirit of life, in forms shifting and interwoven in the space of a spectacle, but to give room for display of the powers of such and such actors. A little higher stood those, who excelled in invention of plots, preg.