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THE drama has formed an interesting and important part of the literature of every nation into which it has been introduced, and no nation that has cultivated literature at all is entirely without it. Among the Athenians, scenical representations were frequented with a degree of enthusiasm of which we cannot easily form an adequate notion. A successful play was the most certain and the shortest road to literary fame, and even to fortune and preferment in the state. The dramatic poets were men of eminent genius, and not more remarkable for the qualities of mind that form the poet, than for those that constitute the philosopher. Euripides was the disciple and the friend of Socrates, who saw the important moral purposes to which the drama might be applied, and the divine philosopher did not think it beneath him to aid the poet in the correction of his pieces. In the Greek theatre, not only was the taste of the people formed to a simple and natural style of composition, and their minds inspired with a love of virtue, but their piety and their imagination were equally improved by the unfolding of the beauties of a poetical mythology. It was not merely a place of public amusement, but rather a temple for the purification of the national manners, and the worship of the gods, -more moral in its tendency than their sacrifices and festivals. It is to be understood, that these observations apply only to tragedy, for the Greek comedy was often licentious and immoral.
It was fortunate for the Greeks that in their literature they had no mo
dels to copy. It was the growth of their own soil, rooted in their usages, laws, legends, mythology, and peculiar modes of thinking and conformation of character, and was native to Greece as the vine to her moun tains. It was drawn directly from nature, and the likeness was pleas ing, because it was the faithful copy of a fair original; not, as too frequently happens among the ancient Romans and the modern nations of Europe, a servile imitation-a tame copy of a copy; it was like nature herself, fresh, and rich, and vigorous, and unconstrained, ever varying and ever graceful.
On a first view of the Greek tragedy, what strikes the reader, if he is at all conversant in the drama of the moderns, is its simplicity. The char acters are few, and the fable neither intricate nor the incidents surprising. Its whole interest arises out of the simple expression of natural feeling in situations of suffering and sorrow; yet scanty as the materials are, by their judicious arrangement, a beautiful superstructure is raised. It may be likened to a fine painting, in which the figures are correctly drawn and skilfully grouped-the costume appropriate the drapery easy and graceful-the expression of the passions, such as naturally flow from the cir cumstances of the actors the story perspicuous-and the lights and shades disposed with such art as to give to the whole the most pleasing effect.
It has been often repeated, and as often acknowledged, that the composition of a tragedy is one of the most difficult of all the efforts of human intellect. It requires a knowledge of the nature of man, and of those general laws by which he is governed in every stage of society, which is the portion only of a gifted few,-of those main springs of thought, and feeling, and action, that are universal, and of all the varieties of their modification produced by his moral, physical, and political state→→→ the temperature or severity of climate
the purity of religion or the grossness of superstition-the exaltation of liberty or the degradation of slavery. The dramatic writer must be endowed with the eye that can unveil the human heart, detect the passions in their source, and trace them in their intricate windings, and give to all fit utterance. He must be possessed of a pliancy of mind, by which he may
place himself almost simultaneously in high reputation which he has obtained the situation of all his characters of a among the poets of Greece, is now to sympathy with the beings of his own be examined; and I shall begin with imagination, which will enable him to a short analysis of the play of Promethink with their minds, to feel with theus. It is founded on a well-known their hearts, and speak with their fable. In the wars of the gods, Protongues, as if they were real charac- metheus had joined the party of Jupiters-to become at once a Shylock and ter, to whom he gave important aid in a Portia a Hamlet and the Queen the unnatural expulsion of his father, Mother. So to conceive and to paint Saturn, from the throne of heaven. character, as to clothe it in the garb of Jupiter, however, forgetful of past nature, to model it to symmetry, and services and of solemn oaths, was no to inspire it with the animation of life, sooner seated on the throne, than he not merely in description, but in re- began to exercise his authority in acts presentation-so to invent a fable as to of the most abominable tyranny over make it at once probable and interest gods and men. His amusement was ing, to lead us into the society of men and women in the moment of suffering or heroism, and to light the whole with a radiant atmosphere of poetry-from the frequency of the failure, must be concluded to be one of the most arduous of the enterprises of genius. Hence the miscarriages of men, even of great poetical talents; of whom some have brought upon the stage characters so cold and so correct, so stiff and so formal, so unlike the men and women with whom we mingle in real life, that we have no more sympathy with them than with the inhabitants of the moon. They are mere puppets, through which their authors pour forth their declamations on stale morality, and without the smallest regard to propriety; every thing is spoken in the same tone, and with the same emphasis. With these writers, every breeze is a whirlwind, and every feeling an ecstasy. They do not suit the language to the sentiment, nor study the processes of Nature, who never errs in fitness, but gives to every stream its own particular key-sound, according to the weight of its waters and the rapidity of its descent. These hints, crude and undigested as they are, will be of practical application in my remarks on Greek Tragedy.
Eschylus, in a glorious age, had perhaps a fairer claim to originality than any of his contemporaries. He did not improve, but create tragedy. He not only paved the way in which Shakspeare was afterwards to move with a splendour that should eclipse his own and every other name, but he gave to the acting manager the mechanism of scenery that was to represent the beauties of the landscape, not merely to delight the eye of the spectator, but to give a fit place for the action..
The claims of this writer to the
in insulting the subject gods, but men he determined to exterminate, by at once depriving them of food and fire. Prometheus was not like the submissive throng of courtier gods, so far corrupted by the contagion of servility, as not to feel pity for the distresses of mankind. In defiance of the tyrant, he interposed to save them from the threatened destruction, and not only gave them fire and food, but instructed them in many of the useful and ornamental arts. Jupiter, enraged at this act of disobedience to his despotic mandates, condemned him to be chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus, there to remain till he should expiate his crime, and offer submission; and this sen tence was carried into execution with many circumstances of cruelty and insult. This preface was necessary to the right understanding of the play.
The main object of Eschylus, in writing this tragedy, was to exhibit to his countrymen, in Jupiter, a ferocious tyrant, stained with every crime; and in Prometheus, a suffering patriot. Among the Athenians, such a subject could not fail to awaken the deepest interest. Never was an altar erected to freedom in any country on earth where her flame burnt purer than in that city; and this drama was an offering worthy of such a shrine.
The fable is more than commonly simple, and all the characters mythological or allegorical except one. They are, Prometheus-a Chorus of Ocean Nymphs-Io, the Daughter of Inachus
-Ocean-Vulcan-Force-and Violence;-of whom the two latter, under the direction of Vulcan, bind Prometheus to a rock with chains of adamant. In their presence, neither pain, nor the insults of Force, who is a well painted executioner-nor the sympathy of Vulcan, who is his kinsman
draws from him a single word; but as soon as they retire, he apostrophizes the rivers, the ocean, the earth, the air, and the sun; and calls upon them to witness the injustice of his punish ment. The sound of his lamentations draws to the scene of his sufferings a company of ocean nymphs, who form the Chorus, and consequently never leave the stage.* They come as friends, to sooth and to sympathise; and to them he explains, that by his counsels Jupiter had succeeded in his designs on his father's throne, and that in him they may see what reward they have to expect who serve a tyrant. To them he likewise narrates, at full length, the favours he had conferred on man. With Ocean, who was also attracted to the place by his complaints, he holds a dialogue on the same subject, who, after having reasoned with him in vain on the inutility of resistance, and advised submission, quits the stage. Io then enters. She, like Prometheus, was the victim of the cruelty and the crimes of Jupiter, and was wandering over the earth in solitary wretchedness, goaded on by the jealousy of Juno. Prometheus foretells her future wanderings, and gives a short but rapid and poetical description of the countries which she is to
The most remarkable feature of difference between the ancient and modern dra
mas was the Chorus, a company of persons who might naturally be supposed present on the occasion, and interested in the events which were going on. The number of the chorus was at first indefinite. Eschylus, in his Eumenides, brought no fewer than fifty on the stage, but was obliged by the civil authority to reduce them to twelve. Sophocles was afterwards permitted to add three; and after that time fifteen seems to have been the number to which the chorus was restricted. This company was constantly on the stage. One of them, who was called Choragus, or Choryphæus, the leader or president of the chorus, generally spoke for the rest; but their odes were sung by the whole band, accompanied with music and dancing. It was the office of the chorus to deduce from the events represented those moral reflections which the principal actors were too busy, or too impassioned, to make; to direct the leading characters with their counsel; and, during the intervals of the action, to sing their odes, in which they prayed to the gods for success to the virtuous, lamented their misfortunes, and took occasion, from the events, to enforce upon their audience the lessons of religion and morality.
traverse. In the last scene, Mercury appears, commissioned by Jupiter to extort from Prometheus a secret at which he had hinted in his conversation with Io,-that it was in the decrees of fate that the tyrant himself should be dethroned, and that he alone knew the means by which the danger might be averted. On the sight of this minion of the despot, he addresses bim in the language of sarcasm and defiance, confessing his knowledge of the secrets of fate, and his resolution never to reveal them till his bonds should be loosed. The rock to which he is fixed is struck with thunder, and he descends to the infernal regions amid the convulsions of nature.
Such, divested of all poetical ornament, is an abstract of this singular play. Here there is none of the interest that arises from the hurry of incident, and the unexpected change of fortune. From the conclusion of the first scene to the beginning of the last, the action stands still-the intermediate scenes being merely conversational, and in nowise forwarding the plot. The only thing like business is in the first scene, where Prometheus is chained; and in the last, when he sinks amid the thunder. Nor are the subordinate characters more interesting than the incidents, displaying none of those fine creations in which the charm of dramatic poetry consists, nor of the language well ima gined, yet suitable to the situation of the speaker. They do nothing more than utter common places of sympathy and submission to the powers that be; and what is said by one, may, with equal propriety, be put into the mouth of any other. In what then, it may be asked, does the merit of this tragedy consist? In the character of Prometheus alone ;-in the benevolence that refines, and in the sublimity that elevates, the soul of man ;-in the consciousness of rectitude, that reposes on itself, independent of fortune;-in the glorious energy of spirit, that resists oppression, though armed with omnipotence; and in the fortitude that rises superior to unmerited sufferings. It was the love of independence, and the hatred of tyranny, and the unquenchable daring of a lofty mind, that rendered it the delight of the Athenians. It was the bright reflection of their own souls, and the fair image returned to them again with all F
the joy of self-exultation. This was the halo that shone from heaven, and shed over the tragedy a lustre by which it was sanctified in the eye of freedom.
I have brought heavy charges against this performance as a drama, and it is only justice that I should bring for ward some of its beauties in detail: and here enough of matter will be found to soften the rigour of criticism. However wide the tragedies of Eschylus may be of the standard of excellence established in the land that gave Shakspeare birth, yet in all ages and in all countries he must be considered an eminent poet. In the eye that kindles as it rolls over the beauties of nature, and in the imagination that teems with great conceptions, he is inferior to few poets. There is a grandeur and loftiness of soul about hiin, generated by the elevation of freedom, that is blazing forth on every fit occasion, a mysterious sublimity that cannot be understood, much less felt, by the slaves of a despot.
The following is a feeble attempt to render the meaning of the beautiful passage in which Prometheus describes the degraded state in which he found man, and by what means he had raised him from it; and it will be well if the meaning is given-the inspiration of poetry evaporates at the touch of translation.
"Eyes had they, but they saw not; they
But heard not: Like the shadows of a dream,
The season's change they knew not; when
Should shed its roses, or the Summer pour
The time the constellations rose and set,
I to the plough bound the submissive ox,
P. To be a slave, thy words sound wondrous well, The words of wisdom and authority. The tyrant is but young in power, and deems His place inaccessible to sorrow,
But bear him this defiance: I have seen Two hated despots hurl'd from the saine throne,
And in him I shall soon behold a third,
M. It was thy proud rebellion brought
Else hadst thou from calamity been free.
P. Thinkst thou that I would change
these galling bonds For slavery, and be the thing that thou art ? No! I would rather hang upon this rock For aye, than be the slave of Jupiter. Thus I return his insults,-thus defy him. Yet must he fall; but he shall never learn From me whose hand shall strike the whelming blow:
There is no pang by which he may prevail. No! let him launch at me the flaming bolt, Load with the white-wing'd snow the weary
And to its centre rock it by the earthquake, He shall not shake me from my firm resolve."
There is so striking a resemblance between this passage and Satan's ad
book of Paradise Lost, that there is reason to believe that Milton's farfamed line,
dress to Infernal Horrors in the first
"Betterto reign in hell than serve in heaven." might have been suggested by this: "No! I would rather bang upon this rock For aye, than be the slave of Jupiter."
It would be easy, were not this article already swelled too much in length, to draw such a parallel betwixt the two characters, as to give strong first idea of that of Satan from Promereason to suspect that Milton took his theus. Yet this is to detract little from the glory of one of the greatest of our poets. An accidental spark is sufficient to kindle the fires of a volcano.
NOTICES CONCERNING THE SCOTTISH GYPSIES.
"Hast thou not noted on the bye-way side,
Strange are their annals !-list, and mark them well-
THAT an Asiatic people should have resided four hundred years in the heart of Europe, subject to its civilized polity and commingled with its varied population, and yet have retained almost unaltered their distinct oriental character, customs, and language,-is a phenomenon so singular as only to be equalled, perhaps, by the unaccountable indifference with which, till very lately, this remarkable fact appears to have been regarded. Men of letters, while eagerly investigating the customs of Otaheite or Kamschatka, and losing their tempers in endless disputes about Gothic and Celtic antiquities, have witnessed with apathy and contempt the striking spectacle of a Gypsey camp,pitched, perhaps, amidst the mouldering entrenchments of their favourite Picts and Romans. The rest of the community, familiar from infancy with the general character and appearance of these vagrant hordes, have probably never regarded them with any deeper interest than what springs from the recollected terrors of a nursery tale, or the finer associations of poetical and picturesque description. It may, indeed, be reckoned as one of the many remarkable circumstances in the history of this singular race, that the best and almost the only accounts of them that have hitherto appeared in this country, are to be found in works of fiction. Disregarded by philosophers and literati,—the strange, picturesque, and sometimes terrific features of the gypsey character, have afforded to our poets and novelists a favourite subject for delineation; and they have executed the task so well, that we have little more to ask of the historian, than merely to extend the canvass, and to affix the stamp of authenticity to the striking representations which they
have furnished. In presenting to the public the following desultory notices, we are very far from any thoughts of aspiring to this grave office-nor indeed is it our province. Our duty is rather to collect and store up (if we may so express it,) the raw materials of literature-to gather into our repository scattered facts, hints, and observations,-which more elaborate and learned authors may afterwards work up into the dignified tissue of history or science. With this idea, and with the hope of affording to general readers something both of information and amusement on a subject so curious and so indistinctly known, we have collected some particulars respecting the Gypsies in Scotland, both from public records and popular tradition; and, in order to render the picture more complete, we shall introduce these by a rapid view of their earlier history-reserving to a future occasion our obser vations on their present state, and on the mysterious subject of their national language and origin.
That this wandering people attracted considerable attention on their first arrival in Christendom in the beginning of the fifteenth century, is sufficiently evident, both from the notices of contemporary authors, and from the various edicts respecting them still existing in the archives of every state in Europe. Their first appearance and pretensions were indeed somewhat imposing. They entered Hungary and Bohemia from the east, travelling in numerous hordes, under leaders who assumed the titles of Kings, Dukes, Counts, or Lords of Lesser Egypt, and they gave themselves out for Christian Pilgrims, who had been expelled from that country by the Saracens for their adherence to the true religion. However doubt