Page images
PDF
EPUB

The actioned turmoil of a bosom rending, Where pily, love, and honor, are contending;

Thy raried accents, rapid, fitful, slow,
Loud rage, and fear's snatch'd whisper, quick and low,
The burst of stilled love, the wail of grief,"
Aud tones of high command, full, solemn, brief;
The change of voice and emphasis that threw
Light on obscurity, and brought to view
Distinctions nice, when grave or comic mood,
Or mingled humors, terse and new, clude
Common perception, as earth's smallest things
To size and form the vesting hoar-frost brings.

Yet, under all these disadvantages there have risen up often, in England, and even in our own country, actors who gave a reason for the continued existence of the theatre, who sustained the ill-educated, flimsy troop, which commonly fills it, and provoked both the poet and the playwright to turn their powers ir. that direction.

The plays written for them, though no genuine dramas, are not without value as spectacle, and the opportunity, however lame, gives freer play to the actor's powers, than would the sim. ple recitation, by which some have thought any attempt at acting whole plays should be superseded. And under the starring sys. tem it is certainly less painful, on the whole, to see a play of Knowles's than one of Shakspeare's; for the former, with its frigid diction, unnatural dialogue, and academic figures, affords scopo for the actor to produce striking effects, and to show a knowledge of the passions, while all the various - beauties of Shakspeare are traduced by the puppets who should repeat them, and the being closer to nature, brings no one figure into such bold relief as is desirable when there is only one actor. Virginius, the Hunchback, Metamora, are plays quite good enough for the stage at present ; and they are such as those who attend the representations of plays will be very likely to write.

Another class of drarnas are those written by the scholars and thinkers, whose tastes have been formed, and whose ambition kindled, by acquaintance with the genuine English dramatists. These again may be divided into two sorts. One, those who have some idea to bring out, which craves a form more lively than the essay, more compact than the narrative, and who there. fore adopt (if Hibernicism may be permitted) the dialogued monologue to very good purpose. Such are Festus, Paracelsus, Coleridge's Remorse, Shelley's Cenci; Miss Baillie's plays, though meant for action, and with studied attempts to vary them by the lighter shades of common natura, which, from her want

11

• Thy light
• from the mental world can never fade,
Till all, who'vc scen thee, in the grave arc laid.
Thy graceful form still moves in nightly drcams
And what thou wert to the rapt sleeper scems,
While fcverish fancy on Joth fondly traco
Within her curtained couch thy wondrous face;
Yca, and to many a wight, bercît and lone,
In musing hours, though all to thce unknown,
Southing his early course of good and ill,

With all thy potent charm thou actest still. Perhaps the effect produced by Mrs. Siddons is still more vividly shown in the character of Jane de Montfort, which seems modelled from her. We have no such lotus cup to drink. Mademoiselle Rachel indeed seems to possess as much electric force as Mrs. Siddons, but not the same imposing individuality. The Kembles and Talma were cast in the royal mint to com. memorate the victories of genius. That Mrs. Siddons even added somewhat of congenial glory to Shakspeare's own conceptions, those who compare the engravings of her in Lady Macbeth and Catherine of Arragon, with the picture drawn in their own minds from acquaintance with these beings in the original, cannot doubt; the sun is reflected with new glory in the majestic river.

[ocr errors]

of lively power, have no effect, except to break up the interest, and Byron's are of the same class; they have no present life, no action, no slight natural touches, no delicate lines, as of one who paints his portrait from the fact; their interest is poetic, nature apprehended in her spirit ; philosophic, actions traced back to their causes ; but not dramatic, nature reproduced in actual pro. schce. This, as a form for the closet, is a very good one, and well fitted to the genius of our time. Whenever the writers of such fail, it is because they have the stage in view, instead of con. sidering the dramalis personæ merely as names for classes of thoughts. Somewhere betwixt these and the mere acting plays stand such as Maturin's Bertram, Talsourd's Ion, and (now before me) Longfellow's Spanish Student. Bertram is a good acting play, that is, it gives a good opportunity to one actor, and its painting, though coarse, is effective. Ion, also, can be acted, though its principal merit is in the nobleness of design, and in de. ails it is too elaborate for the scene. Still it does move and melt, and it'is honorable to us that a piece constructed on so high a molire, whose tragedy is so much nobler than the customary forms of passion, can act on audiences long unfamiliar with such reli. gion. The Spanish Student might also be acted, though with no great effect, for there is little movement in the piece, or develop. ment of character ; its chief merit is in the graceful expression of single thoughts or fancies; as here,

He takes tho charcoal from the peasant's hanil,
And by the magic of his touch at once
Transfigured, all its hidden virtues shino,
And in the eyes of the astonished clown,
It glcams a diamond. Even thus transformed,
Rude popular traditions and old tales
Shinc as immortal poems, at the touch
Of some poor houscless, homeless, wandering bard,
Who had but a night's lodging for his pains.
But there are brighter drcams than those of famo,
Which aro the dreams of love! Out of the heart
Riscs the bright ideal of theso dreams,
As from some woodland fount a spirit riscs
And sinks again into its silent deeps,
Ere tho enamoured knight can touch her robe!
'T is this idcal, that the soul of man,
Like the enamoured knight beside the fountain,
Waits for upon the margin of life's stream;
Waits to behold her rise from the dark waters
Clad in a mortal shapol Alas ! how many
Must wait in vain! The stream flows overmore,

But from its silent dceps no spirit rises.
Or here,

I will forget her! All Jcar recollections
Pressed in my heart, like flowers within a book,
Shall be torn out, and scattered to the winds;
I will forget her! But perhaps hereafter,
When sho shall lcarn how hcartless is the world,
A voice within her will repcat my namo,

And she will say, 'He was indeed my friend.' Passages like these would give great pleasure in the chaste and carefully-shaded recitation of Macready or Miss Tree. The style of the play is, throughout, elegant and simple. Neither the plot nor characters can boast any originality, but the one is woven with skill and taste, the others very well drawn, for so slight handling.

We had purposed in this place to notice some of the modern

All the means of action The shapeless masses, the materials, Lie every where about us. What we need Is the celestial fire to change the flint Into transparent crystal, bright and clear. That fire is genius! The rude peasant sits At evening in his smoky cot, and draws With charcoal uncouth figures on the wall. The son of genius comes, foot-sore with travel, And begs a shelter from the inclement night

[graphic]
[graphic]

French plays, which hold about the same relation to the true drama, but this task must wait a more convenient season.

One of the plays at the head of this notice also comes in here, The Patrician's Daughter, which, though a failure as a tragedy, from an improbability in the plot, and a want of power to touch the secret springs of passion, yet has the merits of genteel comedy in the unstrained and flowing dialogue, and dignity in the conception of character. A piece like this pleases, if only by the atmosphere of intellect and refinernent it breathes.

But a third class, of higher interest, is the historical, such as may well have been suggested to one whose youth was familiar with Shakspegre's Julius Cæsar, and Kings of England. Who that wears in his breast an English heart, and has feeling to appreciate the capabilities of the historic drama, but must burn with desire to use the occasions offered in profusion by the chronicles of England and kindred nations, to adorn the inherited halls with one tapestry more. It is difficult to say why such an attempt should fail, yet it does fail, and cach effort in this kind shows plainly that the historic novel, not the historic drama, is the form appropriate to the genius of our day. Yet these failures come so near success, the spent arrows show so bold and strong a hand in the marksman, that we would not, for much, be without them.

First and highest in this list comes Philip Van Artevelde, of which we can say that it bears new fruit on the twentieth read. ing. At first it fell rather coldly on the mind, coming as it did, not as the flower of full flushed being, but with the air of an ex. periment made to verify a theory. It came with wrinkled critic's brow, consciously antagonistic to a tendency of the age, and we looked on it with cold critic's eye, unapt 10 weep or glow at its bidding. But, on closer acquaintance, we see that this way of looking, though induced by the author, is quite unjust. It is really a doble work that teaches us, a genuine growth that makes us grow, a reflex of nature from the calm depths of a large soul

The grave and comprehensive character of the ripened man, of him whom fire, and light, and earth have tempered to an intelli. gent delegate of humanity, has never been more justly felt, rarely more life-like painted, than by this author. The Flemish blood and the fiery soul are both understood. Philip stands among his compatriots the man mature, not premature or alien. He is what they should be, his life the reconciling word of his age and nation, the thinking head of an unintelligent and easily distempered body, a true king. The accessories are all in keeping, saplings of the same wood. The eating, drinking, quarrelling citizens, the petulant sister, the pure and lovely bride, the sorrowful and stained, but deep-souled mistress, the monk, much a priest, but more a man, all belong to him and all require him. We can. not think of any part of this piece without its centre, and this fact proclaims it a great work of art. It is great, the conception of the swelling tide of fortune, on which this figure is upborne serenely eminent, of the sinking of that tide with the same face rising from the depths, veiled with the same cloud as the heavens, in its sadness calmer yet. Too wise and rich a nature he, too intelligent of the teachings of earth and heaven to be a stoic, but too comprehensive, too poetic, to be swayed, though he might be moved, by chance or passion. Some one called him Philip the Imperturbable, but his greatness is, that he is not imperturbable, only, as the author announces, “not passion's slave." The gods would not be gods, if they were ignorant, or impassive; they must be able to see all that men see, only from a higher point of view.

Such pictures make us willing to live in the widest sense, to bear all that may be borne, for we see that virgin gold may be fit to adorn a scabbard, but the good blade is made of ten.pered steel.

Justice has not been done by the critics to the admirable con. duct of the Second Part, because our imaginations were at first 80 struck by the full length picture of the hero in the conquering

functie

« PreviousContinue »