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in the court amusements arises; but it would be quite consistent with the character of this mean and insolent government, to suppose that these exhibitions were got up for the occasion, as being, in their opinion, best suited to the taste and understanding of foreign barbarians, who, according to their votions, come from afar to offer them tribute and to seek their protection.
But the vulgar and childish exhibitions of the Chinese stage form not the most serious charge against the taste and judgment of this nation of sages; it appears from the Brief View,' that they frequently offend against all deceucy and, inorality. Not satisfied with the mere relation of a criminal act or a tiltby story, the Chinese require something more-the eye must be gratified by a sight of every process of the transaction. The following instance will suffice as a specimen of their taste in this respect.
• The history of husbands deceived by their mistresses, says M. de Guignes, “ being frequently, the subject of their comedies, there occur therein sometimes situations so free, and in which the actor exhibits so much truth, that the scene becomes extremely indecent," and he mentions an instance of which he was an eye-witness, where the beroine of the piece “ devint grosse et accoucha sur le théátre d'un enfant.” The piece was called the See-huu Pagoda, being the history of the destruction of the Pagoda now in ruins, on that famous lake described by Mr. Barrow under the name of Lui-fung-ta,-the Temple of the Thundering Winds. Several genii, mounted upon serpents, and marching along the margin of the lake, opened the scene; a neighbouring bonze shortly after made love to one of these goddesses, who, in spite of the remonstrances of her sister, listened to the young man, married him, became pregnant, and was delivered of a child upon the stage, who very soon found itself in a condition to walk about. Enraged at this scandalous adventure, the genii drove away the bonze, and finished by striking the pagoda with lightning, and reducing it to the ruined condition in which it now appears.” (Brief View, p. 29.)
The translation of the Laou-sing-urh puts an end to all dispute with regard to the nature of the Chinese drama, if any doubt could have been entertained with regard to the authenticity and the fidelity of the translation of the Orphan of Tchao.' The latter is abused by Voltaire, though he made it the ground-work of one of his best tragedies; he admits, indeed, that, in spite of the innumerable crowd of events, they are all exhibited in the most clear and distinct manner;, but he quarrels with it, because unity of time and action, 'sentiment, character, eloquence, passion, all, by his account, are wanting-a grave list of defects, truly—but Voltaire probably was not aware that Premare's translation is the skeleton only of the Chinese play, and that those parts which have been compared with the Greek chorus, and in which sentiment and CC 2
passion, if not eloquence, are expressed, were omitted by the translator. The editor observes,
• Our countryman, Doctor Hurd, in his “ Discourse on Practical Imitation," formed a very different opinion of this tragedy from that of Voltaire. He conceived that it embraces the two essentials of dramatic poetry, unity and integrity of action-and a close connection of the incidents of the story; for, “ first,” he observes, “ the action is strictly one; the destruction of the house of Chao is the single event on which our attention turns from the beginning; we see it gradually prepared and brought on; and with its completion, the tragedy finishes. Secondly, tlre action proceeds with as much rapidity, as Aristotle himself demands."---And having noticed its resemblance in many points to the Electra of Sophocles" let me add,” says he,
"an intermixture of songs in passionate parts, heightened into sublime poetry, and somewhat resembling the character of the ancient chorus."? Had Premare translated more of these lyrics, he would probably have found the resemblance still more complete.' (Brief View, p. 34.))*7030, mis
The Heir in his Old Age' is liable to none of the objections brought by Voltaire against the ' Orphan of Chao, except the want of unity of place and time, a defeet of which we in England, at least, are not warranted to complain. This drama is wauting neither in sentiment, passion, nor character of its eloquence none can judge correctly, but those who feel the force of the association of ideas' suggested by the compounded symbols of the Chinese language, whose most striking beauties, as a Chinese bas observed, pass through the eye immediately to the heart, and whose sound, striking upon the ear,“ brings the recollection of the picture to the eye. These combinations of syınbols, the frequent use of metaphors, and of allusions to ancient history and popular stories, especially in the lyrical parts, which are sung or chanted with music,' must render the translation of them' a difficult task to an European; and after all, the best translation can only be an approximation to the origioal, wanting the strength, and beauty, and expression conveyed by the latter to the eye of a Chinese. Mr. Davis, we think, has done wonders; he found, he says, the lyrical parts very obscure, but where doubtful passages occurred, 'the opinion of two or more natives was asked, and that sense adopted which appeared to be most consistent with the idiom of the language, and with the scope of the original.'
The comedy of 'An Heir in his old Age' is the representation of a simple story in domestic life, the dramatis persona being composed entirely of the members of a family in the mercantile, or trading profession, which in China we may consider as constitụting the middle class of society. The moral meant to be cons veyed is an illustration of the happiness or the misery of having
or wanting a son to honour his aged parents, and to pay an annual visit to their tombs when dead; filial piety being, in the estimation of this singular people, the first of moral virtues, and the lack of it the worst of moral offences; it is, in fact, the grand basis on which all the religious, moral, and civil institutions of the empire are founded : hence the want of an heir to perpetuate the family naine, and to perform the posthumous ceremonies, is a source of misery in a man's life-time, and a reproach to his memory wlien dead. To obviate this misfortune, as far as human means will admit, custom, which is here stronger than law, allows' a' man to take an inferior, or second wife, whom he generally purchases from poor relations ; in this character she has no rights, and, if she bear children, they are considered as the children of the first or legitimate wife, and enjoy the same privileges as if born in lawful wedlock.
The characters in the ' Heir in his old Age are an old man, his wife, his second wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, and his nephew. The outline of the fable is briefly this 'The old man, having amassed considerable wealth by trade, and being without a son to per
form the duties which filial piety demands, both to the living and the dead, had taken a second wife, whose pregnancy is announced at the opening of the play. To atone for some httle irsegularities in his trading concerns, and incline heaven to be favourable to his wishes, he makes a sacrifice of his book-debts, by burning them in the presence of his family. He then bequeaths his property to his wife and married daughter; and having got rid of a nephew, who is hated by his old wife, by giving him a hundred pieces of silver, he sets out for his house in the country, to await the congratulatious of his family on the wished-for birth of a sor.
He is scarcely departed, however, before the disappointment iti of the son-in-law, on the pregnancy of the second wife, vents itself
in invectives ; and he plainly tells the daughter, (his wife,) that he only married her for the sake of the old inan's wealth. The daughter soothes him by hinting how easy it will be to get rid of the pregnant wife, and to frame a plausible story to deceive her father; and from what follows, the husband, as well as the audience, is left to conclude that she has contrived to dispatch the unfortunate
In the meantime, the old gentleman is waiting in great anxiety for the result; his family appear in succession to conimua nicate the doleful tidings of the disappearance of his second wife, crt which he conceives to be a trick, and is at length reluctantly su brought to believe it true. In the bitterness of his disappointment, weshe bursts into tears, and expresses his suspicions of foul play. + Attributing at length his misfortunes to some little peculations of
which he has been guilty, he resolves to bestow alms at a neighbouring temple, and to fast for seven days, in the hope that the CC3
objects of his charity may in some measure, however imperfectly, sapply the place of a son. We have now a scene at the temple in which the beggars of China, like the beggars in all other countries, esbibit their talent at fraud and imposture: here also the nephew appears, in the most hopeless state of poverty; he is insulted by the son-in-law, and reproached by the old wife; the uncle, however, dismisses him with a trifle of money to supply his immediate wants, and earnestly recommends him to be punctual in visiting the tombs of his family at the approaching season, giving him the strongest assurances that a due attention to the duties of filial piety nlist ultimately lead to prosperity.
The nephew accordingly visits the tombs, makes the best oblations that his poverty will allow, invokes the shades of his ancestors to commiserate his distress, and to grant him their protection : he then goes away, and the old man and his wife make their appearance, observe the vestiges of a recent oblation, conclude from the meanness of the offerings that it must have been their nephew, and express great indignation that their own daughter and son-in-law should be so tardy in fulfilling their duty. The old man takes this opportunity of convincing his wife of her injustice to this nephew, who is not only more worthy, but nearer in blood than their son-inlaw; she relents, and expresses a desire to make reparation; he enters, a reconciliation takes place, and he is again received into the family.
Soon after, the son-in-law and daughter appear with a great noise and a procession of village officers, to perform the ceremonies; but they are received by their parents with bitter reproaches for their ingratitude and tardy piety, and ordered never more to enter the doors of their parents. Dn the old man's birth-day, however, they approach his house and entreat to pay their respects, when to the utter astonishment and joy of the old man, bis daughter presents him with his second wife, leading a son in her hand about three
age, both of whom, it now appears, had been secreted by the daughter, and supported by her, out of affection to her father, unknown to her husband, who had all along supposed both mother and child to have been otherwise disposed of. The daughter is now separated from her worthless husband, and taken into her father's house ; a new arrangement is made of his property; and the piece concludes with the joy and gratitude of the old gentleman, for being so unexpectedly made happy by an heir ia his old age.'
This simple story is worked up with considerable ingenuity; the wity and integrity of the action are closely adhered to, the incidents are all connected with the main design, and the character of each of the dramatis persona well preserved throughout, especially that
of the old man: that of the old lady is not quite so passive as we had been led to suppose the female character to be in China ; she rules her family with undisputed sway; and is moreover a reasonable woman, listens to argument, and is open to conviction. The action proceeds without the least interruption, and though the time employed is somewhat more than three years, the events follow each other in such natural order, and are so closely connected, that the lapse of time would not be perceived, bụt for the age
of the child brought forward in the concluding scene. It is very remarkable that the divisions of this drama should approximate so nearly to those of most European nations. It consists of five acts, or four besides the sie-tsze, or opening, which is, to all intents and purposes, an act differing in nothing from the other acts. Its resemblance to the prologues of the Greek drama is sufficiently striking, where the principal personages come forward to let the audience into the argument or story on which the action is to turn, and to acquaint them with the names and characters of the actors. The Old Man,' in the Opening' of the present drama, announces himself in this manner, :— I am a man of Tung-ping-foo; my sirname is Lew, my name Tsung-sheu. I am sixty years of age, and Le-she, my wife, is fifty-eight. My daughter Yin-chung's age is twenty-seven, and that of her husband, Chang-lang, thirty, &c.;' and so he goes on to tell the ages, connections, and history of the whole dramatis persone-like the single actor of Thespis, announcing his own name and family, and telling the simple tale of his misfortunes,—or, like the ghost of Polydore, in the Hecuba of Euripides, acquainting the audience that he is the son of Hecuba and Priam, just come from the mansions of the dead, &c.--or Helena, who exclaims,
I from Sparta draw my birth, a realm
and Helena my name.' But the nearest parallel to the Chinese drama may perhaps bą found in some of our old Mysteries; as in that of Candlemas Day, or the Killing of the Children of Israel, where, for instance, King Herod thus announces himself:
• Jam King Herowd, I will it be knowen so,
Most strong and myghty in feld for to fyght, &c.' This practice of addressing the audience, as Mr. Gifford has observed, is ridiculed by Ben Jonson in his · Bartholomew Fair;' where Lanthorn Leatherhead thus opens his pappet-show.
Gentles, that no longer your expectations may wander,