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ART. IV. Cours de Literature Dramatique.
POETRY and the fine arts, say the German critics, of whose doctrines we conceive no better exposition could be selected than this work of Schlegel, may be divided into classic and romantic. Each in its own way admirable, having in common the object of working on the mind by a representation of what is beautiful and grand, differing in the manner of producing its impression. Each having its principles founded in the universal nature of man, and addressed to desires, sympathies, and affections, which exist equally within the Pagan and Christian, the Icelander, and the African, but modified according to the various contingencies of climate, of manners, and religion. Thus in certain respects, the emotions excited in an Athenian at the representation of Edipus were similar to what we are accus. tomed to at that of Macbeth; but we doubt not there were to him sources of delight and admiration, which to us are entirely sealed, or feebly felt: while much, which harrows and excites us, to him, could we revive him with all his habits of mind, would be dull and vapid. In the same manner could we place a citizen of ancient Corinth or Ephesus in York Minster; doubtless the deep religious gloom would be oppressive and displeasing, while to us the simple and stately harmony of a Grecian temple wants that mysterious solemnity and awe, which our long receding Gothic aisles breath around. The parallel, according to our author, holds good also in our music, and dared we hint a contradiction to him on the subject of sculpture, perhaps the same analogy might be applied to the Apollo and to the Moses of Michael Angelo. The causes of this striking contrast are beautifully, though a little indistinctly sketched. We quote the French Translation, because in the preface we are informed, that the author consents to be judged by it.
Par A. W.
"La culture morale des Grecs, étoit l'éducation de la nature perfectionée; issus d'une race noble et belle, doues d'organes sensibles, et d'une ame seriene, ils vivoient sous un ciel doux et pur dans toute la plenitude d'une existence florissante; et, favorisés par les plus heureux circonstances, ils accomplissoient tout ce qu'il est donnè a l'homme, renferme dans les bornes de la vie, d'accomplir ici bas. L'ensemble de leurs arts, et de leur poesie, exprime le sentiment de l'accord harmonieux de leur diverses facultes, ils ont imagines la poetique du bonheur."
* Their religion, which deified the operations and exterior forms
"There is an admirable passage in the 4th canto of Mr. WordsWorth's Excursion on this subject."
of nature, instead of darkening their minds, like other Paganism, with dreadful images, and hardening them with savage rites, assumed a mild, a calm, and a majestic character. Superstition, in general the foe of genius, here avowed its free developement, it encouraged those arts which adorned its altars, and her idols became models of ideal beauty.
But after all, their intellectual cultivation was but a refined and ennobled sensuality; higher things were indeed unveiled to the meditations of their philosophers, and the ardent visions of their poets.-"L'homme ne peut jamais se detourner en entier de l'enfini, et des souvenirs fugitifs de sa celeste patrie viennent par moment lui rappeler ce qu'il a perdu; mais il s'agit ici de la tendence generale des esprits."
The peculiar features of the romantic taste are to be traced, in the first instance, to the influence of Christianity, in the second, to the stern and hardy character of the northern barbarians, who conquered and regenerated Europe. The prospects of the Greek were limited to the narrow circle of this earth. His notions of another life were vague and fanciful, the enjoy ments of the blessed islands those of earthly sense, flowers, and music, a sky of unclouded azure; their Elysium was but an earth idealized to a purer and more tranquil scene of delight, the sense refined to a keener consciousness of pleasure, and the voluptuousness of a nature more serene and passionless. To the Christian it is precisely the inverse; infinity is ever before his eyes. He knows the earth which he inhabits a passing vision, his meditations are of his own mysterious state; fallen from grace, a height which he hopes to recover only by the unseen spirit of God: they are of the grave, with its eternity beyond, of doubt, of danger, of despair, or of glory, of security, and everlasting triumph. Hence, and from the sternness of their northern origin, there is a moral sublimity, a deep and solemn influence over the heart within, and a melancholy majesty in the romantic arts and poetry. The Greek serenely imagined and calmly embodied an ideal assemblage of all that was admirable in human form and human mind; the effect of his work was a whole of the most symmetrical and harmonious proportion. The romantic poet, habituated to the contemplation of what is infinite and eternal, is ever grasping at the vast and uncircumscribed; scorus all limits but the limits of his own powers, sacrifices symmetry to sublimity, arrangement to forcible and profound impression, the unity of the whole in the "minds eye," to a slow and solemn succession of majestic parts. As a proof of this we appeal to the different sensations produced on a mind naturally alive to the enjoyment of poetry, by Homer and Virgil
on one hand, and Dante and Milton on the other. It is important to subjoin the following observation:
"De meme, que la tragedie a souvent etè chez les Grecs, énergique et terrible, malgrè l'aspect serein sous lequel ils envisagoient la vie, ainsi la poesie romantique, telle que nous venons de la depeindre, peut parcourir tous les tons, depuis ceux de la tristesse jusqu' a ceux de la joie; mais on trouve toujours en elle quelque chose d' indefinissible qui denote son origine; le sentiment y est plus intime, l' imagination moins sensuelle, la pensée plus contemplative.
We postpone our general remarks on the influence of dramatic representation, and pass rapidly to the Grecian stage; and here also we must deny ourselves and our readers the plea sure of raising before them the beautiful and stately Athenian theatre, which M. Schlegel has rebuilt from the indistinct and scattered authorities of the ancient writers. We should be sorry if any of the foundations of this airy edifice were found to fail. Suffice it to remark that the Greeks seem to have had infinitely more skill in their machinery and decorations, to speak technically, than is generally supposed, while their performances, being in open day, set them above our seemingly trifling, yet unconquerable difficulties in the distribution of the lights. But surely with regard to the mask, his infatuate fondness for antiquity, transports him beyond the bounds of reason; even Athenian art could not supply the concealment of the "human face divine," and we unhappily read the condemnation of his theory in one of his own notes. "Enfin ils sont si parfaitement faits, qu'ils imitent la vie au mouvement pres." It is that very motion, that working of the countenance, that arching of the brow, that quivering of the lip, that is wanting; the elegant monotony of the finest wrought mask of antiquity would be a sorry substitute for the speaking features of Kean or Mrs. Siddons. We owe in return our unqualified gratitude for the death-blow inflicted on that monstrous and fatal comparison of the Italian opera to the Grecian tragedy.
The genius of the Grecian drama was purely ideal, not that the beings it presented were above error and passion, but their virtues and their vices, their crimes and their exploits were those of a nature superior to the common race of man. The real and ideal were blended, or to drop scholastic terms, a supernatural grandeur was allied to the truth of nature.
The moral liberty of man and a mysterious notion of destiny are the prevailing ideas; that destiny, which, according to their belief, inhabited an inaccessible sphere, and to whose resistless edicts the very gods were subject. On these principles the dif
ficult question is solved, concerning the source of that pleasure so apparently alien to our nature, which arises from the terror and dismay excited by tragic representations. This pleasure springs not from the contrast of those terrible sights with the conscious calm and quiet of our own bosoms, if it did, the tragic emotion must affect us slightly and tamely. When our sympathies are strongly excited that calm cannot exist. It is not the moral effect produced by the equity of poetical justice in its distributions of rewards and punishments, working on our own consciences; were it so, the emotion would be neither ele. vating nor pleasureable, but humiliating and contrite. It is a still stronger objection, that in many of the noblest Greek tragedies this equitable distribution does not take place. Is it then the purification of our passions by terror and pity? But the meaning of this sentence of Aristotle has never been accurately defined, and even did this moral cure take place within us, the singular union of pleasure and pain remains to be accounted for. Is it the necessity of violent agitation to break the monotonous insipidity of our daily life? In that necessity originated the sanguinary combats of the arena, but gentler dispositions need not such excessive and overpowering imitation. No-its sources are nobler. It is the admiration of human power and courage, which raises in us a proud sentiment of our nature's dignity, or it is the hope of tracing through the apparent irregularity of human events, a higher order of things, which may perhaps reveal itself. Such are the arguments of M. Schlegel, but we suspect that some of the causes which he rejects have a greater influence than he is willing to allow; indeed some of his objections appear unusually feeble, and we may observe en passant, that even conceding their ineffectiveness on the mind of an Athenian, we shall nevertheless claim some of them as no unimportant fountain of the tragic feeling, as it affects us, when we arrive at that part of our subject. But we clearly comprehend and strongly feel the sources of delight, to which our author alludes, in the innocent Edipus, persecuted by, yet enduring this unrelenting and inevitable destiny, in Orestes, haunted by the avenging furies for a crime which the oracle had commanded, above all in Laocoon, whose attempt to arrest the fatal fall of his native Troy was so severely and fearfully punished. All in that master-piece of sculpture is untameable human constancy, and overpowering destiny. The consciousness of that viewless and unconquerable enemy has drenched his unsubdued mind with a desperate quiet, a kind of stately torpor, which is not alive even to his children's sufferings, while the body still writhes and struggles with the agony, and holds up to heaven the coil of the serpent not with a grasp of anger, but of silent
reproach to that power that so cruelly visits an act of pa
"Tragedy sprung, armed at all points, from the forehead of Eschylus, as Pallas from that of Jove. The stage and the scenery were entirely invented or greatly improved by him. He developed the dialogue, and assigned its proper office to the chorus. His plots are simple yet eminently striking; his style rude and bold even to obscurity, careless of the artifical niceties and refinements of language, he sometimes omits connecting particles, loads a single substantive with a mass of epithets, yet never without adding energy to the main idea, and delights in a hardihood of metaphor which allies images most incongruous, yet rarely without elevating the effect and crowding the imagination, so as to confuse and overpower it into a sort of enforced and undistinguishing admiration."
The ideal of Eschylus was a colossus. Destiny in his poems wheeled her dark and majestic flight nearer to our earth, while his human beings or existences of a superior nature, which he delighted to paint, advanced their gigantic fronts to Heaven. The conflict therefore was more immediate and terrible. We know nothing in tragedy more powerful than the Agamemnon. The hero of poetical fame, the king of men, the conqueror of Troy slain by a woman and a cowardly adulterer, before the celebration of the festival for his victory. The opening is wonderfully picturesque, and at once fixes the attention on the hero, for a hero must he be, to announce whose conquests the whole coast of Greece is expected to burst out into a blaze of beacons. The sentinel who is watching them, in every word unfolds the plot. Those critics who reproach Eschylus as inartifical have surely paid little attention to the progress of this play, as well by the way as the strong supporters of the triple unity, for here the unity of time is as palpably violated as by Shakespeare himself. What is more artful, yet at the same time more finely veiled art, than the choice song which introduces the war of Troy, and the sacrifice of Iphigenia? and how exquisitely, though slightly, is her soft retiring modesty sketched? Then enters the herald Talthybius, with the recital of the taking of Troy, and the shipwreck which ensued, a mournful presage of future calamity. The attention gasps for Agamemnon. He arrives in his car, with Cassandra, shows by his refusal of the divine honours offered by his wife, that his noble soul is not intoxicated by success, and enters unsuspectingly the fatal palace. Cassandra remains on the stage, labouring with the god; the destiny which overhangs herself and Agamemnon is visible only to her eyes, cursed with perception of the future. Her speech,