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. It was confessedly an experiment. He wished to the following problem : •La scène Française s'ouvrira-t
ou non, à une tragédie moderne, produisante dans sa conpion un tableau large de la vie, au lieu du tableau resserré de la catastrophe d'une intrigue; dans sa composition des * caractères, non des rôles ; dans son éxécution, un style familier, * comique, tragique, et parfois épique?' Success was the answer. It was acted from fifty to sixty times. From that time translators have been busy ; critics have echoed the laudatory tones of Germany and England, and every petty novelist and journalist can quote that is the question, and talk glibly of le vieux
William' and · l'immortel Will.' Even the great -- the illustrious--the pyramidal Dumas himself, translates Hamlet à ses heures perdues ; and condescends to make the dénouement more effective and plus logique ! He is a daring master of paradox who can now venture - as M. Ducuing, in a very remarkable essay, lately ventured * -to question Shakspeare's superiority over every other dramatist. The critic just named is, we conceive, altogether mistaken in his views of dramatic art; but as a protest in favour of the classic school, his essay is both vigorous and ingenious. What particularly strikes us in it, is the obstinacy with which he persists in demanding des rôles in lieu of characters (to use De Vigny's happy phrase), and in seeing nothing but a mechanical regularity in dramatic structure. We may quote as significant of the present state of feeling in France the following passage:
• De démontrer, après tant d'autres, comment Shakspeare a porté dans son cerveau, depuis les plus suaves éclosions de l'églogue jusqu'aux plus resplendissantes créations de l'èpopée, * et comment il a su approprier à la scène Anglaise les modes les plus divers de la poesie dramatique ; à qui pourrait-il aujourdhui paraître profitable de venir le tenter de nouveau ?'
The admiration for Shakspeare, in short, is now so general, and panegyrics have become so common, that M. Ducuing is forced to apologise for presuming to take the other side. What a change from the language of Voltaire! That French criticism upon Shakspeare is, even now, entirely satisfactory, few Englishmen will allow; but it seems to us to be distinguished by one merit, which may in some sense be a set-off against its imperfect appreciation of the poet- we mean its appreciation of the dramatist. While England writes glowing eulogies on the poetry, and Germany utters oracles on the philosophy, France at present appears
* Shakspeare et notre Repertoire in ‘La Revue Nouvelle, Jan. 7. 1846.
oetic consistensency a great their nature,
always to bear in mind the dramatic purpose of Shakspeare, and to remember that in works written for the stage what we ought first to inquire after is the theatrical art which they display. Sometimes, indeed, they seem to overlook the fact of Shakspeare being something more than a mere playwright; as for instance, when they undertake to teach him how he might have produced greater effects.' Thus Shakspeare makes Macduff slay Macbeth, and appear with his head upon a pole; after which, Malcolm is proclaimed king. M. Deschamps has not only made Macbeth and Macduff mortally wound each other (a most unwarrantable change),-- but, to, produce a coup de théâtre, he summons the witches, who with torches in their hands appear on the citadel, and then Macbeth, slightly raising himself, points to them and exclaims: —
Malcolm tu vas régner! c'est juste! mais regarde !
(N meurt. — Eclat de rire des sorcières.)
This is doubtless an effect;' but it is produced at the expense of poetic consistency. Shakspeare understood the treatment of his supernatural agency a great deal too well to bring witches into any place less congenial to their nature, than the blasted • heath' or their own dark cave!
This example alone may show us how difficult it is for the poet to preserve the integral truth and consistency of his creations, and at the same time to achieve theatrical effects. We English laugh at Dumas when he alters Hamlet, and at M. Deschamps when he alters Macbeth, thinking to make them more effective; but we should remember that Cibber had done the same with Richard III.; and that our own Garrick — the friend of Johnson and Reynolds — the great Shakspearian interpreter (as he was called), had practised still bolder experiments on the object of his worship, and for precisely the same purpose. Our age repudiates such things; because we have learned to believe that we cannot tamper with a work of art without injuring its effect. Though the momentary theatrical effect may be heightened, the permanent dramatic effect is spoiled. As before stated, the great difficulty which the dramatist has to overcome, is to preserve the poetic truth of conception with the theatrical effect of execution. In almost all plays, except Shakspeare's, we see that the difficulty is greater than the dramatist can master. Either he sacrifices poetic truth to theatrical effect, or he sacrifices theatrical effect to a poetic consistency which only produces languor in the audience. Shakspeare's art' consists
Place less ency a grenare under produced at t
in the marvellous power with which he exhibits the most beautiful poetry in combination with the most effective modes of stage representation. To talk of his poetry as poetry, irrespective of the conditions of the stage and the difficulties of those conditions, is as if we were to talk of Raphael's wonderful grace, beauty, and mental power, irrespective of his facility in transferring to canvass the images which bewitched his soul. When we think of the plays of such poets as Coleridge, Byron, Wordsworth, and Keats, ranking, with all their poetry, in the lowest grade of theatrical merit; and compare with them some of the plays of Shakspeare, ranking as the very highest and most perfect of theatrical pieces, we shall perhaps acknowledge that the criticism, which loses sight of theatrical art as a main element in dramatic art, must be but one-sided and imperfect.
Art. III. — Histoire Philosophique du Règne de Louis XV.
Par le COMTE DE TOCQUEVILLE. Paris : 1847. The writer of this work is, as we understand, the father of
the distinguished Deputy, and, for the present, Minister, whose literary reputation has been so widely spread in England by his philosophical examination of American democracy. It would be difficult to find two books that represent more creditably the respective opinions of the last and the present generations. The Démocratie en Amérique is remarkable for the wise candour and toleration with which its author confesses the defects of his favourite systems; and recognises the points in which they might be improved by borrowing from monarchical or aristocratical examples. The Histoire Philosophique du Règne de Louis Quinze is equally free from most of the vices to which French literature seems now peculiarly exposed.
The historians of the modern French school have an incontestable excellence in their skilful arrangement, and power of rapid analysis. But their tendency to acquiesce in the most unscrupulous policy, when successful, goes far to render them very unsafe guides in the search for political truth. This tendency is, indeed, more or less inevitable in citizens of a state, whose history, for the last two generations, has fatigued us with little else than the coarse and faring colours of a revolutionary crisis. It was the same in ancient times; both after that marvellous century in which the quick Athenian genius ran through all the stages of national development; and again, when the great Roman Revolution first seated the Imperial chiefs of the democracy on the Curule Chairs. The glories of such an
epoch as that which began in 1790, and through which France is still labouring, are too undeniable to make it possible that the nation should ignore them -as has been attempted by the compilers of Catholic and Legitimatist text-books for French schools : while, on the other hand, the blood and tears are still too recent, for the children of proscribed parents to accept the Reign of Terror, as it is accepted and reverenced by Barbés and Louis Blanc, or even as palliated by Lamartine. To reconcile, or rather to escape from committing themselves to, either of these extremes, their recent historians have mostly betaken themselves to a system that represents society as moving in an invariable current, — which the frailties and passions of individuals can no more affect, than a child can disarrange the order of the tides by throwing pebbles into the waves. With such writers the end, of course, is everything; though they do not so much seek to justify, as totally to omit all consideration of, the means. Actions and events are regarded, in the mean time, merely as necessary steps in a predestined sequence, in relation to which their moral character is a matter of no concern.
M. Mignet is exclusively possessed with the idea of a great dynasty, giving laws from Versailles, to its Prefects at Madrid and Naples; and is no more disturbed in his enjoyment of the exciting struggle which was decided by the testament of Charles II., than M. de Gremonville was disturbed when Lionne intoxicated him with the gratifying assurance, que sa Majesté vous trouve le plus effronté des Ministres ! - et en cela il vous fait la plus
grande louange possible.'* M. Capefigue relates the elevation of the profligate Dubois to the Cardinalate; and contents himself, for all commentary, with jumbling together a few phrases about the invincible law of equality in the Catholic Church. M. Bignon is entitled to more than ordinary allowance in this respect, in consequence of the more than ordinary temptation to which he was exposed: je l'engage à écrire l'histoire de la diplo
matic Française de 1792 à 1815, was among the bequests in the Testament de Napoléon. The same vice infects French writers, in their severest philosophy, and on topics most removed from the exciting accessories of the hour. M. Comte turns neither to right nor left, as the remorseless machinery of his system crushes every example of heroic individual exertion into its place in the world's preconstituted march. M. Cousint, with his eyes fixed on the radiant and beneficent image of the
* Negociations rélatives à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV. Par M. Mignet, vol. i. p. 248. if Cours de Philosophie' (1828), par M. Victor Cousin leç. xme.
Dictator Cæsar, has no sympathies for the brave tenderness of Caius Gracchus, nor for the melancholy and majestic selfdevotion of the younger Brutus.
We can see no merit, we must confess, in this cold abnegation of all moral sensibility; and feel, on the contrary, that history not only loses most of its utility, but at once lowers its dignity and deserts its duty, when it thus renounces its high Censorial functions; and declines to give judgment on the merits of those whose proceedings it is contented with recording. It is, accordingly, as an exception to this rule, that M. de Tocqueville's work seems to us most entitled to praise. To a rare power of historical arrangement, and to a still rarer one of historical compression, he adds a discriminating honesty, worthy (and we can cite no more honourable parallels) of Niebuhr and Hallam. To all appearance profoundly royalist in his convictions, he is never induced by his partizanship, to extenuate the infamies of the Regency and the parc aux cerfs. He is still more free from the corrupting indifference with which M. Capefigue speaks of abominations - which have never been approached, except by the foulest and basest of the Roman Cæsars, --if not in terms of actual approval, at least as the excusable concomitants of a high civilisation and a brilliant court. And if at times M. de Tocqueville averts his eyes from this blind and enervated Royalty to the fiery baptism that awaited it, it is only to remind us that its crimes were severely (though not more severely than consistently) expiated, in the Temple and on the Place de la Guillotine.
We have many works that detail the patient exertions by which separate departments of the great Bourbon Monarchy were elaborated to their culminating grandeur: But it is curious to observe how instinctively most French writers have shrunk from the unattractive turpitudes that prepared its decay. M. de Tocqueville, however, takes up the history of France from the moment when the Grand Monarque is laid in St. Denys, full of years and honours; and honestly as well as skilfully traces, till the very eve of their outbreak, the causes of dissolution which were already undermining the stately fabric he had erected. The cumbrous ceremonial of Versailles, and the sanctimonious exterior enforced by Madame de Maintenon, gave way at once to the wildest profligacy. The exaggerated tone of highflown loyalty was succeeded by cynical ridicule and ostentatious heartlessness. Court and nation together sank lower and lower in corruption; till at last, on the tardy accession of a religious and conscientious Prince, he finds himself unable to rally round his polluted Throne a single sentiment of respect or confidence.
Internally, the history of the long and inglorious reign of