Imágenes de páginas

morals, notorious pat:iotism, and tried Mæcenasship, these were the recommendations that influenced the votes of the proprietary subscribers of Drury Lane Theatre, these the motives that occa. sioned the election of its Supreme Committee of Management. This circumstance alone would have excited a strong interest in the public mind, respecting the first production of the Tragic Muse which had been announced under such auspices, and had passed the ordeal of such judgments: and the tragedy, on which you have requested my judgment, was the work on which the great expectations, justified by so many causes, were doomed at length to settle.

But before I enter on the examination of BERTRAM, or The CASTLE OF ST. ALDOBRAND, I shall interpose a few words, on the phrase German Drama, which I hold to be altogether a misnomer. At the time of Lessing, the German stage, such as it was, appears to have been a flat and servile copy of the French. It was Lessing who first introduced the name and the works of Shakspeare to the admiration of the Germans; and I should not perhaps go too far, if I add, that it was Lessing who first proved to all thinking men, even to Shakspeare's own country. men, the true nature of his apparent irregularities. These, he demonstrated, were deviations only from the accidents of the Greek tragedy; and from such accidents as hung a heavy weight on the wings of the Greek poets, and narrowed their flight within the limits of what we may call the heroic opera. He proved, that, in all the essentials of art, no less than in the truth of nature, the Plays of Shakspeare were incomparably more coincident with the principles of Aristotle, than the productions of Cor. neille and -Racine, notwithstanding the boasted regularity of the latter. Under these convictions were Lessing's own dramatic works composed. Their deficiency is in depth and imagination : their excellence is in the construction of the plot; the good sense of the sentiments; the sobriety of the morals; and the high polish of the diction and dialogue. In short, his dramas are the very antipodes of all those which it has been the fashion

3 [See his Hamburgische Dramaturgie, especially vol. ii., Works, 1841, rol. vii., S. C.)

of late years at once to abuse and enjoy, under the name of the German drama. Of this latter, Schiller's ROBBERS was the earliest specimen; the first fruits of his youth (I had almost said of his boy hood), and as such the pledge, and promise of no ordinary genius. Only as such, did the maturer judgment of the author tolerate the play. During his whole life he expressed himself concerning this production with more than needful aspe. rity, as a monster not less offensive to good taste, than to sound morals; and in his latter years, his indignation at the unwonted popularity of the ROBBERS seduced him into the contrary extremes, viz. a studied feebleness of interest (as far as the interest was to be derived from incidents and the excitement of curiosity); a diction elaborately metrical; the affectation of rhymes; and the pedantry of the chorus.

But to understand the true character of the ROBBERS, and of the countless imitations which were its spawn, I mușt inform you, or at least call to your recollection, that, about that time, and for some years before it, three of the most popular books in the German language were, the translations of Young's Night Thoughts, Hervey's MEDITATIONS, and RICHARDSON'S CLARISSA Harlow. Now we have only to combine the bloated style and

4 [Night i. of The Complaint: or Night Thoughts, was before the world in 1742: Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs and Reflections in a Flower Garden, appeared in 1746 : the first two vols, of Clarissa in 1748. This work of Richardson's and his Pamela were written purposely to guard the morals of the young, and of the latter it was said, Pamela is like snow; she covers all things with her whiteness. Snow, when much trodden under a warm sun, is soon converted into slop—which coalesces ere long into mud and mire; in this respect the moral lessons of Pamela and Clarissa do indeed resemble snow; they seem fitter to stir up the mud of the soul —" the earthly mire” of its nature,—than permanently to cleanse and whiten it.-See Comparison of Richardson with Fielding, Remains, vol. ii.

Young's great poem is a notable instance of the want of reserve and poetical economy. In the poetry of Cowper, Burns, Crabbe, we have abundance of sadness, and it is all the more truly and deeply sad, because it seems to come unsought, nay, rather shunned. The poet's soul appears to crave the sunshine: he“ does not love the shower nor seek the cold," but only yields to mournful reflections because they force themselves upon him in a world of woe. But when Young so resolutely makes love to Gloom and sets his cap at Melancholy, we suspect that both are in masque


peculiar rhythm of Hervey, which is poetic only on account of its utter unfitness for prose, and might as appropriately be called prosaic, from its utter unfitness for poetry ; we have only, I repeat, to combine these Herveyisms with the strained thoughts, the figurative metaphysics and solemn epigrams of Young on the one hand ; and with the loaded sensibility, the minute detail, the morbid consciousness of every thought and feeling in the whole flux and reflux of the mind, in short, the self-involution and dream-like continuity of Richardson on the other hand; and then to add the horrific incidents, and mysterious villains (geniuses of supernatural intellect, if you will take the author's words for it, but on a level with the meanest ruffians of the con. demned cells, if we are to judge by their actions and contrivances)—to add the ruined castles, the dungeons, the trap-doors, the skeletons, the flesh-and-blood ghosts, and the perpetual moon. shine of a modern author (themselves the literary brood of the CASTLE OF OTRANTO, the translations of which, with the imitations and improvements aforesaid, were about that time beginning to make as much noise in Germany as their originals were making in England),-and as the compound of these ingredients duly

rade, and that blooming forms are beneath the sable stole; when he sur. rounds his head with cypress, we imagine a snug velvet cap under the dusky wreath; when he “ sits by a lamp at mid-day, and has skulls, bones, and instruments of death for the ornaments of his study,” we feel disposed to think that he makes sin, death, and sorrow a poetical amusement, and takes up these topics because they offer facilities for impressive writing more than to relieve their pressure on a burdened heart. I would not say the same of Hervey's piety, though it has such an air of what, in a colloquial not philosophical sense, may be called determinism. The author of The Doctor says that some styles are flowery, but that the Meditationist's is a weedy style; alluding, I suppose, to its luxuriant commonplace, and vulgar showiness, as of corn-poppies and wild mustard. But Hervey seems to have been a simple earnest clergyman, with his heart in his parish ; whereas it is difficult not to look upon Young as a solemn worldling; though, as many a mountain-brow looks from a distance a sheer precipice, yet, when we approach, appears passable to the foot of man; so many a life viewed afar off seems hard and worldly, but shows its humani. ty and Christianity to those who see it closely. S. C.]

5 [This tale, by Horace Walpole, afterwards Earl of Orford, was publish ed in 1765. S C.]

mixed, you will recognise the so-called German drama. The olla podrida thus cooked up, was denounced, by the best critics in Germany, as the mere cramps of weakness, and orgasms of a sickly imagination on the part of the author, and the lowest provocation of torpid feeling on that of the readers. The old blunder, however, concerning the irregularity and wildness of Shakspeare, in which the German did but echo the French, who again were but the echoes of our own critics, was still in vogue, and Shakspeare was quoted as authority for the most anti-Shak. spearean drama.

We have indeed two poets who wrote as one, near the age of Shakspeare, to whom (as the worst characteristio of their writings) the Coryphæus of the present drama may challenge the honor of being a poor relation, or impoverished descendant. For if we would charitably consent to forget the comic humor, the wit, the felicities of style, in other words, ali the poetry, and nine-tenths of all the genius of Beaumont and Fletcher, that which would remain becomes a Kotzebue.

The so-called German drama, therefore, is English in its origin, English in its materials, and English by re-adoption; and till we can prove

that Kotzebue, or any of the whole breed of Kotzebues, whether dramatists or romantic writers, or writers of romantic dramas, were ever admitted to any other shelf in the libraries of well-educated Germans than were occupied by their originals, and apes' apes in their mother country, we should submit to carry our own brat on our own shoulders; or rather consider it as a lack-grace returned from transportation with such improvements only in growth and manners as young transported convicts usually come home with.

I know nothing thať contributes more to a clear insight into the true nature of any literary phenomenon, than the comparison of it with some elder production, the likeness of which is striking, yet only apparent, while the difference is real. case this opportunity is furnished us, by the old Spanish play, entitled Atheista Fulminata, formerly, and perhaps still, acted in the churches and monasteries of Spain, and which, under various names (Don Juan, the Libertine, f.c.), has had its day of favor in every country throughout Europe. A popularity so exten. sive, and of a work so grotesque and extravagant, claims and

In the present

merits philosophical attention and investigation. The first point to be noticed is, that the play is throughout imaginative. Nothing of it belongs to the real world, but the names of the places and persons. The comic parts, equally with the tragic ; the living, equally with the defunct characters, are creatures of the brain : as little amenable to the rules of ordinary probability, as the Satan of PARADISE Lost, or the Caliban of The TEMPEST, and, therefore, to be understood and judged of as impersonated ab. stractions. Rank, fortune, wit, talent, acquired knowledge, and liberal accomplishments, with beauty of person, vigorous health, and constitutional hardihood, -all these advantages, elevated by the habits and sympathies of noble birth and national character. are supposed to have combined in Don Juan, so as to give him the means of carrying into all its practical const quences the doctrine of a godless nature, as the sole ground and efficient cause not only of all things, events, and appearances, but likewise of all our thoughts, sensations, impulses, and actions. Obedience to nature is the only virtue : the gratification of the passions and appetites her only dictate : each individual's selfwill the sole organ through which nature utters her commands, and

“ Self-contradiction is the only wrong!

For, by the laws of spirit, in the right
Is every individual character
That acts in strict consistence with itself.”

That speculative opinions, however impious and daring they may be, are not always followed by correspondent conduct, is most true, as well as that they can scarcely in any instance be systematically realized, on account of their unsuitableness to human nature and to the institutions of society. It can be hell, only where it is all hell; and a separate world of devils is ne. cessary for the existence of any one complete devil. But on the other hand it is no less clear, nor, with the biography of Carriera

6 [First Part of Wallenstein, translated from Schiller. Coleridge's Poet. Works. Vol. iii. S C.]

? [This man figured in that last and worst state of the French Revolution, that state of seven-fold possession, when Jacobinism, having borne

« AnteriorContinuar »