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whatever its errors may have been—and that the Poet may yet be good, great, and happy.
[From the New Monthly Magazine.-Lond. May, 1820.) 4.-The Cenci : a tragedy, in five acts—by Percy B. SHELLEY.
8vo. Italy. (London, 1819.) Whatever may be the opinion respecting the poetical genius displayed in this work, there can be but one sentiment of wonder and disgust
, in every honest heart, at the strange perversity of taste which selected its theme. It is the story of a wretch grown old in crime, whose passions are concentrated at last in quenchless hate towards his children, especially his innocent and lovely daughter, against whom he perpetrates the most fearful of outrages, which leads to his death by her contrivance, and her own execution for the almost blameless parricide. The narrative we believe “is extant in choice Italian,” but this is no excuse for making its awful circumstances the groundwork of a tragedy.—The circumstance of a tale being true, does not always render it fit for the general
The exposure of a crime too often pollutes the very soul which shudders at its recital, and destroys that unconsciousness of ill which most safely preserves its sanctities. There can be little doubt that the horrible details of murder which are too minutely given in our public journals, lead men to dwell on horrors until they cease to petrify, and gradually prepare them for that which once they trembled to think on. 6. Direness familiar to their slaughterous thoughts cannot once start them.” One suicide is usually followed by others, because men of distempered imaginations brood over the thoughts of the deed, until their diseased and fevered minds are ready to embrace it.-All know that, for many centuries, there was no punishment provided at Rome for parricide, and that not an instance occurred to make the people repent of the omission. And may it not be supposed that this absence of the crime was owing to the absence of the law—that the subject was thrown far back from the imagination—that the offence was impossible because it was believed so—and that the regarding it as out of all human calculation, gave to it a distant awfulness far more fearful than the severest of earthly penalties ?—The ordinary wicked regard themselves as on a pinnacle of virtue, while they look into the fearful depth beneath them. The reader of this play, however intense his hatred of crime, feels in its perusal that the sting is taken from offences which usually chill the blood with horror, by the far removed atrocity which it discloses. The more ordinary vices of the hero become reliefs to us : his cruelties seem to
link him to humanity; and his murders are pillows on which the imagination reposes.--Sir
Thomas Brown, in the last chapter of his Enquiries into Vulgar Errors, observes of such sins as want either name or precedent—“We desire no records of such enormities : sins should be accounted new, that so they may be esteemed monstrous. The pens of men may sufficiently expatiate, without these singularities of villany; for as they increase the hatred of vice in some, so do they enlarge the theory of wickedness in all. And this is one thing that may make latter ages worse than the former; for the vicious examples of ages past, poison the curiosity of these present, affording a hint of sin unto seduceable spirits, and soliciting those unto the imitation of them, whose heads were never so perversely principled as to invent them.-In things of this nature, silence commendeth History; 'tis the veniable part of things lost, wherein there must never rise a Pancirollus, a nor remain any register but that of Hell!"
If the story of the drama before us is unfit to be told as mere matter of historic truth, still further is it from being suited to the uses of poetry.--Mr. Shelley acknowledges that any thing like' 'dry exhibition of his tale on the stage would be insupportable, and that the person who would treat such a subject must increase 'the ideal, and diminish the actual horror of the events, so that the *pleasure which arises from the poetry which exists in these stu
pendous sufferings and crimes, may mitigate the pain of the con"templation of the moral deformity from which they spring. But in the most prominent of their sufferings and crimes, there can be no poetry, nor has poetry the power to lessen the weight of superfluous misery they cast on the soul. Beauties may be thrown around them; but as they cannot mingle with their essence they will but increase their horrors; 'as flowers fantastically braided round a corpse, instead of lending any bloom to the cheek, render its lividness more sickening. In justice to Mr. Shelley we must observe that he has not been guilty of attempting to realize his own fancy. There is no attempt to lessen the horror of the crime, no endeavour to redeem its perpetrator by intellectual superiority, no thin veil thrown over the atrocities of his life. He stands, base as he is odious, and, as we have hinted already, is only thought of as a man, when he softens into a murderer. We are far from denying that there is great power in many parts of this shocking tragedy. Its author has at least shown himself capable of leaving these cold abstractions which he has usually chosen to embody, and of endowing human characters with life, sympathy and passion. With the exception of Cenci, who is half maniac and half fiend, his persons speak and act like creatures of flesh and blood—not like the
a Who wrote of Inventions Lost-de Antiquis deperditis. Vol. I.
problem of strange philosophy set in motion by galvanic art. The heroine, Beatrice, is distinguished only from the multitude of her sex, by her singular beauty and sufferings. In destroying her father she seems impelled by madness rather than will, and in her fate, excites pity more by her situation than her virtues. Instead of avowing the deed, and asserting its justice, as would be strictly natural for one who had committed such a crime from such a cause -she tries to avoid death by the meanest arts of falsehood, and encourages her accomplices to endure the extremity of torture rather than implicate her by confession. The banquet given by Cenci to all the cardinals and nobles of Rome, in order to give expression to his delight on the violent deaths of his sons, is a wanton piece of absurdity, which could have nothing but its improbability to recommend it for adoption. The earlier scenes of the play are tame—the middle ones petrifying-and the last scene of all affecting and gentle. Some may object to the final speech of Beatrice as she and her mother are going out to die—when she companion of her fate to tie her girdle for her, and bind up her "hair in any simple knot,' and refers to the many times they had done this for each other which they should do no more,'-—as poor and trifling for the close of a tragedy But the play, from the commencement of the third act, is one catastrophe, and the quiet pathos of the last lines is welcome, as breaking the iron spell which so long has bound the currents of sympathy.
The diction of the whole piece is strictly dramatic—that is, it is nearly confined to the expression of present feeling, and scarcely ever overloaded with imagery which the passion does not naturally create.—The speeches of Cenci, are hardly of this world. His curses on his child-extending, as they do, the view of the reader beyond the subject into a frightful vista of horrors-are terrific almost beyond example; but we dare not place them before the eyes of our readers. There is one touch, however, in them, singularly profound and sublime, to which we may refer. The wretch, debased as he is, asserts his indissoluble relation of father, as giving him a potency to execrate his child, which the universe must unite to support, and Heaven allow-leaning upon this one sacred right, which cannot sink from under him, even while he curses ! The bewildered ravings of Beatrice, are awgl; but their subject will not allow of their quotation.a -We must make one more rer mark on this strange instance of perverted genius, and we shall then gladly fly from its remembrance for ever. sight wonderful, that Mr. Shelley, of all men, should have perpetrated this offence against taste and morals. He professes to look almost wholly on the brightest side of humanity—to " bid the lovely scenes at distance hail” -and live in fond and disinterested
It seems at first
expectation of a "progeny of golden years" hereafter to bless the world. We sympathize with him in these anticipations, though we differ widely from him as to the means by which the gradual advancement of the species will be effected.-A restless activity prompts bim to the boldest and most fearful excursions—sometimes almost touching on the portals of heaven, and at others, sinking a thousand fathoms deep in the cloudy chair of cold fantasy, into the regions of chaos and eternal night. Thus will he continue to vibrate, until he shall learn that there are sanctities in his nature, as well as rights, and that these venerable relations which he despises, instead of contracting the soul, nurture its most extended charities, and cherish its purest aspirations for universal good.
[From the Edinburgh Review.-Jan. 1820.] Art. XV.-1. A Sicilian Story. With Diego de Montilla; and
other Poems. By BARRY CORNWALL. 12mo. pp. 180. London, 1820.
A good imitation of what is excellent, is generally preferable to original mediocrity :-Only it provokes dangerous comparisonsand makes failures more conspicuous--and sometimes reminds us that excellent things are imitable by their faults--and that too diligent a study of the wonders of Art, is apt to lead into some forgetfulness of the beauties of Nature.
In spite of all these dangers we must say that the author before us is a very good imitator-and unquestionably, for the most part, of very good models. His style is chiefly moulded, and his versification modulated on the pattern of Shakspeare, and the other dramatists of that glorious age-particularly Marlow, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger. He has also copied something from Milton and Ben Jonson, and the amorous cavaliers of the Usurpation-and then passing disdainfully over all the intermediate writers, has flung himself fairly into the arms of Lord Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Leigh Hunt.—This may be thought, perhaps, rather a violent transition; and likely to lead to something of an incongruous mixture. But the materials really harmonize very tolerably; and the candid reader of the work will easily discover the secret of this amalgamation.
In the first place, Mr. Cornwall is himself a poet and one of no mean rate ;-and not being a maker of parodies or centos, he does not imitate by indiscriminately caricaturing the prominent peculiarities of his models, or crowding together their external or mechanical characteristics—but merely disciplines his own genius in the school of theirs—and tinges the creatures of his fancy with the colouring which glows in theirs. In the next place, and what is
Like woman's love 'midst sorrow flourishing:
Yet was there one in that gay shifting crowd
“Dark Guido came not all that night, while she
A figure came, and whispering in her ear”-]
It was her brother's voice-Leoni!-no;