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terrible play with greater pleasure in future; as a whole, it is certainly one of the most perfect plays in Euripides. Our readers are aware, by this time, that the opinions of M. Schlegel are in no slight degree singular and original. What will they think, when they hear his assertion, that genuine poetical comedy exists solely in Aristophanes, and that in the hands of Menander, and the later writers, it was a secondary modification, more nearly allied to prose and matter of fact. Gaiety he considers the essence of comedy, and as seriousness, which is the essence of tragedy, consists in the concentration of the whole mind and all its faculties on a certain end, it is absolutely requisite to gaiety that it have no fixed end. "C'est l'abandon, c'est l'essor imprevu de la pensee, et non de certaines formes de discours qui caracterisent l'enjouement." Modern comedy is gay in its progress, but serious in its close, that is with a settled object to accomplish. With the ancients it was a general pleasantry or series of pleasantries, which amused and passed off, it was truly democratic poetry, from its opening to its. close all was anarchy. Now if this was really the case, if the ancient comedy, 68 en nous montrant les hommes comme ridicules et le sort comme capricieux, nous invite a cette gâietè vive et legere, qui se joue au dessus de tout," if it delighted to display," l'asservissement de la nature morale a la nature materielle," from which M. Schlegel derives the βόρβορος παχυς καὶ σκῶς ἀει vwv, we must think our change much for the better, as perhaps Voltaire's Candide would be a specimen of ancient comedy without its personality or its poetry; and we confess, that in spite of the amusement of some passages, the Birds, M. Schlegel's favourite piece, and which either has no particular object, or if it has, we are ignorant of it, for that especial reason, is least to our taste; while those, the scope of which is manifest, for even M. Schlegel allows, that however disguised and distant, there always is an object, the Knights, the opening of the Peace, and the Clouds, are infinitely more pleasing. But in rejecting the opprobrious title of an obscene farce-writer, with which ignorance has branded Aristophanes, we strongly agree, his light and airy poetry, the pure felicity of his language, his rich variety of versification, his poignant satire, his grouping of ludicrous images, make us blind even to his glaring faults, and it is one of the few books from which we gain any knowledge of Athenian manners. We avoid entering into the merits of the several plays, M. Schlegel's dislike of the Wasps is somewhat diverting, it has in fact the terrible fault of being in the way of his system, as any one may see, who will read it, divested, indeed of its diverting Chorus, in the Plaideurs of Racine.
Certain it is, and is well accounted for, that comedy, after Aristophanes, lost its poetry, not indeed entirely, for the imagination must be employed in the formation of a plot, and invention of characters, but the prosaic element became predominant. Its language, its personages were those of common-life. Its prevailing fault, if we may judge it from its imitator, Terence, must have been want of variety. Sameness of situation, sameness of incident, sameness of characters; while its great excel. lence was an elegant and natural painting of the lighter aud calmer emotions of the human mind, nothing was strong, nothing forced, all was ease, grace, harmony, and truth. Such must have been the writings of Menander, admirable, if we judge from the fragments of his works remaining to us, more admirable, if we consider that half his merit was considered by the Romans an adequate portion for so delightful a writer as Terence. Plautus followed a broader and more farcical model, we learn from Horace that of the Dorian Epicharmus. But the Romans were decidedly not a theatrical people. Their Mimes were their only natural growth, their Atellanæ came from Etruria, in them M. Schlegel fancies he traces our old acquaintance harlequin, and the zany, or clown. Their comedy, as we have seen, was Grecian, of their tragedy we have but the frigid, unimpassioned sentences and epigrammatic masses of heavy versification, which pass under the name of Seneca. The Latin language, in truth, was an idiom in which poetry never expressed itself with the freedom and flow of the Greek, and the conquerors of the world, in the hardness of their nature, required the stronger emotions of the circus, the wild-beasts, and the gladiators.
Entirely destroyed by the introduction of Christianity and the irruption of the barbarians, the drama revived in the grotesque. shape of moralities and mysteries, but shewed stronger symptoms of returning life with the other arts in modern Italy. But there, in spite of the master hand of Tasso, in whose Torrismondo, unnoticed by M. Schlegel, are some fine passages, it was heavy and cold, till the appearance of Maffei's Merope, and even in this perhaps the scholar predominates over the poet. It then fell into the hands of Metastasio; mawkish gallantry and everlasting madrigal replaced its lofty moral dignity, its stern and manly march, its full and majestic voice dwindled away to the strut of an opera hero, and the energy of a bravura air. We do not deny that there are speeches in Metastasio with considerable force and emphatic conciseness, particularly in Themistocles, that he is sometimes really pathetic in his situations, but the geperal effect is feeble and effeminate.
"It capers nimbly in a lady's chamber,
His atrocious characters are wicked and repentant, merely because the plot requires it, his heroes are always in the greatest possible danger simply to exercise the poet's art in extricating them. In short a magnaminous king, always offended and always forgiving, one damsel very delicate and disconsolate, a second very jealous and decently riotous, a very villainous villain with a due distribution of poignards and poison are the main ingredients of Metastasio's operas. The poetry is of the drawingroom species, pure and clear, but glittering without strength or solidity, with much common place moralizing, and a great poverty of illustration. We had once some thought of counting how many of the airs turn on the hackneyed image of the ship braving the winds and waves on the stormy ocean of human life, with its appendage of the "star lighting the shattered bark to its haven."
The stern mind of Alfieri was so disgusted with the gewgaw ornaments of tragedy, that he stripped her bare. The contrast between the life and writings of this singular man is the most extraordinary in literary history. Himself fiery and voluptuous, his dramas are cold and unimpassioned. "He aspired," says M. Schlegel," to be the Cato of the theatre, but forgot that a tragic poet may be a stoic, but that tragedy, whose province it is to move and affect, is of a totally opposite philosophy." Hence he succeeded best in his Romans, whose cold and severe uniformity of loftiness, he supports with great dignity. With this exception, the beings with which he peopled the stage were neither Greeks nor Italians, a sort of abstract beings suited to every climate and country, and to none. This monotony extends to his diction, which is naked and unornamented, the Italians add, hard and inverted. Moreover the ostentatiously independent Alfieri was a slave to French criticism. He got rid to be sure of the eternal confidants, and the role of the amoureux, but he carefully preserved their monotonous regularity; he broke one link of the chain, but hugged the rest the closer. Let us not, however, be intemperate, though not a poetical, Alfieri is a vigorous and eloquent writer, and in a land, like modern Italy, overrun with flowers and myrtles, it is a noble task to cherish plants of a hardier and loftier growth. Many of his speeches are powerful and energetic, many of his situations eminently striking. Is the fine play of Aristodemo unknown to M. Schlegel? We have little room to spare for Italian comedy, as far as we are acquainted with Goldoni, we rank him nearly in the same scale, which M. Schlegel assigns
him, as an author wanting force and depth, and insight into human nature, while his want of variety in plot and character, and his ignorance or neglect of national costume weary and offend us. Gozzi, his rival, appears a favourite with M. Schlegel. We now arrive at the French theatre, important not only on account of its intrinsic merit, but the literary as well as military despotism which France had well nigh established over Europe. Though in England we partly submitted to the bondage, yet our love of Shakespeare and liberty lurked within us, and in our own days we have revived to a total rejection of a foreign yoke, Spain escaped from her ignorance, and the happy obstinacy of inveterate habit, Germany at first quietly yielded, till at last the tocsin sounded, and her poets and philosoppers, with our author in their foremost ranks, advanced their irresistible artillery. The three unities was the war-cry of France, the authority of Aristotle their buckler. It is singular to observe with what hesitating caution our positive and dogmatic Johnson presumed to call in question these absolute unites. He, however, dealt them a deadly blow. Our scholars began to read their Aristotle without the leading strings of Boileau and Madame Dacier, when, to their great surprize, they found that of the three unities, that of place was not mentioned at all; that of time, loosely; that of action, obscurely.
What is meant by unity of action? It is a question by no means of easy solution. After examining what its literal meaning would be, M. Schlegel considers it evident, that Aristotle and his followers, simply mean by action, something that comes to pass. If the unity comprizes all the causes that conduce to a particular effect, there is unity of action in the play of Cal deron, on the Conversion of Peru to Christianity, which begins with the discovery of the country. The fact is that many subordinate causes must contribute to every effect, which is brought about by the agency of many persons. Each has his motives, his objects, and the unity of action is as well preserved in Hamlet as in Athalie. Unity of impression, as a French author observes, would be a much more intelligible expression.
With regard to the unity of time let us only add to the unanswerable arguments of Johnson, that each of the Greek tragedians, offer palpable violations of it in the Agamemnon, the Suppliants, and the Trachinians. The unity of place wants, as we have observed, the authority of Aristotle and the sanction of the Greeks, has experienced the same rude attack from Johnson, and the flimsy arguments of Voltaire, in its defence, are successfully unravelled by our author. Thus the unity of time excludes from the French stage the slow and silent growth of human passion, the gradual march of great events; subline
pictures, like that of Macbeth, led from temptation to crime, from crime to a habit of blood-thirstiness cannot be presented to them. Bat we doubt whether truth is not more flagrantly violated by their attempts to force a number of incidents into the narrow space of twenty-four hours, than by the regular succession of events to which we are habituated. If an interval of six hours be allowed to have passed between the acts, why not six days, or six months? The unity of place precludes almost all theatric pomp and scenic effect. It is our author's opinion, that this rule originated in want of skill in stage machinery, and the crowd of petit maitres who, to the days of Voltaire, took their seats on the stage, and Corneille having promulgated the decree, and the critics consequently adopted it, it passed into an irrefragable law. Voltaire, in the plenitude of his sway, attempted a cautious innovation in Semiramis, put the petit maitres to the rout, but from timidity retained a full half of the absurdities; for nothing can be more absurd than the contrivance in Semiramis, where the tomb of Ninus evidently appears in two different places.
But there are other convenances no less absolute than the unities the French critics carried too far the correct rule of Horace: "Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet," their delicate nerves interdicted the sight of death, and at the close whoever was to be killed, decently walked off the stage to suffer, and a confidant or second rate personage came forward with a flat recital of the main catastrophe. From this rule Voltaire also emancipated his country.-But there is another infinitely more deadening failure, which pervades almost the whole of French tragedy, Greek, Roman, or Chinese, all are purely French. It is not by the dress, by the names, or by calling the scene of action Rome or Athens, that the poet transports us among Athenians and Romans, his personages must speak and act, as we believe Athenians and Romans spoke and acted. It is not by a petty anachronism, or metaphor drawn from a modern custom, as in Shakespeare, that we are so strongly offended, but by the whole conduct and character of the beings represented being alien to their apparel and their names, This of course is less perceptible to a Frenchman; we all, and he in particular, identify ourselves with human nature, and are not unwilling to believe our own customs and habits universal: hence a French Achilles, in Paris, is no such monster; to us, whose notions of a Greek hero and modern Frenchman are equally acquired, the incongruity is ludicrous or revolting. It is the same with their violations of Greek legends and history. The prmciple of their selecting Orestes and Iphigenia as their subjects, is a fine one, the awakening old associations in the minds of the well-edu