« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
personal and harmonious conception : | against er, to refute her. Maximin we must not mingle two strange and says:
opposite ones. Dryden has left un-War is my province l-Priest, why stand done what he should have done, and
has done what he should not have done.
He had, moreover, the worst of audiences, debauched and frivolous, void of individual taste, floundering amid onfused recollections of the national literature and deformed imitations of foreign literature, expecting nothing from the stage but the pleasure of the senses or the gratification of curiosity. In reality, the drama, like every work of art, only gives life and truth to a profound ideal of man and of existence; there is a hidden philosophy under its circumvolutions and violences, and the public ought to be capable of comprehending it, as the poet is of conceiving it. The audience must have reflected or felt with energy or refinement, in order to take in energetic or refined thoughts; Hamlet and Iphigénie will never move a vulgar roisterer or a lover of money. The character who weeps on the stage only rehearses our own tears; our interest is but sympathy; and the drama is like an external conscience, which shows us what we are, what we love, what we have felt. What could the drama teach to gamesters like St. Albans, drunkards like Rochester,prostitutes like Castlemaine, old boys like Charles II.? What spectators were those coarse epicureans, incapable even of an assumed decency, lovers of brutal pleasures, barbarians in their sports, obscene in words, void of honor, humanity, politeness, who made the court a house of ill fame! The splendid decorations, change of scenes, the patter of long verse and forced Bentiments, the observance of a few rules imported from Paris,-such was the natural food of their vanity and folly, and such the theatre of the Engish Restoration.
I take one of Dryden's tragedies, very celebrated in time past, Tyrannic Love, or the Royal Martyr;· a fine title, and fit to make a stir. The royal martyr is St. Catharine, a princess of royal blood as it appears, who is orought before the tyrant Maximin. She confesses her faith, and a pagan philosopher, Apollonius, is set loose
You gain by heaven, and, therefore, should dispute."
Thus encouraged, the priest argues; but St. Catharine replies in the follow. ing words:
Apollonius scratches his ear a little, and then answers that there are great truths and good moral rules in paganism. The pious logician immediately replies:
"Then let the whole dispute concluded be
Betwixt these rules, and Christianity." ↑
Being nonplussed, Apollonius is con
"Absent, I may her martyrdom decree,
Since you neglect to answer my desires, Know, princess, you shall burn in other fires." §
Thereupon she beards and defies him, calls him a slave, and walks off. Touched by these delicate manners, he wishes to marry her lawfully, and to repudiate his wife. Still, to omit no ex pedient, he employs a magician, whe utters invocations (on the stage), sum mons the infernal spirits, and brings up sing voluptuous songs about the bed of a troop of spirits; these dance and
Tyrannic Love, iii. 2. 1.
8 Ibid. 3. 1. This Maximin has a turn for jokes. Porphyrius, to whom he offers his daughter in marriage, says that "the distance was so vast;" whereupon Maximin replies pear, are by the air, which flows etwixt them, "Yet heaven and earth, which so remote ap near (2. 1).
the Puritans. I recognize behind these heaps of improbabilities and adventures the puerile and worn-out courtiers, who, sodden with wine, were past seeing incongruities, and whose nerves were only stirred by startling sur prises and barbarous events.
St. Catharine Her guardian-angel | recognize in this frightful pedantry the comes and drives them away. As a handsome cavaliers of the time, lo last resource, Maximin has a wheel gicians and hangmen, who fed on conbrought on the stage, on which to ex- troversy, and for the sake of amuse pose St. Catharine and her mother.ment went to look at the tortures of Whilst the executioners are going to strip the saint, a modest angel descends in the nick of time, and breaks the wheel; after which the ladies are carried off, and their throats are cut behind the wings. Add to these pretty inventions a twofold intrigue, the love of Maximin's daughter, Valeria, for Porphyrius, captain of the Prætorian bands, and that of Porphyrius for Berenice, Maximin's wife; then a sudden catastrophe, three deaths, and the triumph of the good people, who get married and interchange polite phrases. Such is this tragedy, which is called French-like; and most of the others are like it. In Secret Love, in Marriage à la Mode, in Aureng-Zebe, in the Indian Emperor, and especially in the Conquest of Granada, every thing is extravagant. People cut one another to pieces, take towns, stab each other, shout lustily. These dramas have just the truth and naturalness of the libretto of an opera. Incantations abound; a spirit appears in the Indian Emperor, and declares that the Indian gods "are driven to exile from their native lands." Ballets are also there; Vasquez and Pizarro, seated in a pleasant grotto," watch like conquerors the dances of the Indian girls, who gambol voluptuously about them. Scenes worthy of Lulli* are not want ing; Almeria, like Armide, comes to slay Cortez in his sleep, and suddenly falls in love with him. Yet the libretti of the opera have no incongruities; they avoid all which might shock the imagination or the eyes; they are written for men of taste, who shun agliness and heaviness of any sort. Would you believe it? In the Indian Emperor, Montezuma is tortured on the stage, and to cap all, a priest tries to convert him in the meanwhile.t
* Lulli (1633-1687), a renowned Italian composer. Armide is one of his chief works.TR.
↑ Christian Priest. But we by martyrdom our faith avow.
Montezuma. You do no more than I for ours do now.
To prove religion true,
Let us go still further. Dryden would set up on his stage the beauties of French tragedy, and in the first place its nobility of sentiment. Is it enough to copy, as he does, phrases of chivalry? He would need a whole world, for a whole world is necessary to form noble souls. Virtue, in the French tragic poets, is based on reason, religion, education, philosophy. Their characters have that uprightness of mind, that clearness of logic, that lofty judgment, which plant in a man settled maxims and self-government. We perceive in their company the doctrines of Bossuet and Descartes; with them, reflection aids conscience; the habits of society add tact and finesse. The avoidance of violent actions and physical horrors, the meed and order of the fable, the art of disguising or shunning coarse or low persons, the continuous perfection of the most measured and noble style, every thing contributes to raise the stage to a sublime region, and we believe in higher souls by seeing them in a purer air. Can we believe in them in Dryden? Frightful or infamous characters every instant drag us down by their coarse expressions in their own mire. Maximin, having stabbed Placidius, sits on his body, stabs him twice more, and says to the guards:
If either wit or sufferings would suffice,
Refer yourself to our unerring head.
Christian Priest. Renounce that carna reason, and believe.
Pizarro. Increase their pains, the cords
are yet too slack.
-The Indian Emperor, ▼ 2.
Bring me Porphyrius and my empress | conduct themselves; they look on im
I would brave heaven, in my each hand a
Nourmahal, repulsed by her husband's son, insists four times, using such indecent and pedantic words as the following:
And why this niceness to that pleasure
Where nature sums up all her joys in one...
Illusion vanishes at once; instead of
tenderness; they have the recklessness pertinence as dignity, sensuality as grisette, the pettiness of a chapman's of the courtesan, the jealousies of the wife, the billingsgate of a fishwoman The heroes are the most unpleasant of swashbucklers. Leonidas, first recog nized as hereditary prince, then sudden ly forsaken, consoles himself with this modest reflection:
""Tis true I am alone.
So was the godhead, ere he made the wor.d,
I have scene enough within To exercise my virtue."* Shall I speak of that great trumpetblower Almanzor, painted, as Dryden confesses, after Artaban,† a redresser of wrongs, a battalion-smiter, a de stroyer of kingdoms? We find nothing but overcharged sentiments, "I take this garland, not as given by you, sudden devotedness, exaggerated genBut as my merit, and my beauty's due." + erosities, high-sounding bathos of a Indamora, to whom an old courtier clumsy chivalry; at bottom the characmakes love, settles him with the boast-ters are clods and barbarians, who fulness of an upstart and the coarseness of a kitchen-maid :
"Were I no queen, did you my beauty weigh, My youth in bloom, your age in its decay."§ None of these heroines know how to
Tyrannic Love, iii. 5. 1. When dying Maximin says: "And shoving back this earth on which I sit, I'll mount, and scatter all the Gods I hit."
† Aureng-Zebe, v. 4. 1. Dryden thought he was imitating Racine, when six lines further on he wakes Nourmahal say:
"I am not changed, I love my husband still;
Racine's Phèdre (2. 5) thinks her husband
Oui, prince, je languis, je brûle pour Thésée:
Mais fidèle, mais fier, et même un peu farouche,
Charmant, jeune, traînant tous les cœurs après soi,
Tel qu'on dépeint nos dieux, ou tel que je vous voi.
Il avait votre port, vos yeux, votre langage; Cette noble pudeur colorait son visage.' According to a note in Sir Walter Scott's edidion of Dryden's works, Langbaine traces this speech also to Seneca's Hippolytus.—TR. The Indian Emperor, i. 2. Aureng-Zobe, v. 2, 2.
have tried to deck themselves in French honor and fashionable poiiteness. And such, in fact, was the English court: it imitated that of Louis XIV. as a signpainter imitates an artist. It had neither taste nor refinement, and wished to appear as if it possessed them. Panders and licentious women, ruffianly or butchering courtiers, who went to see Harrison drawn, or to mutilate Coventry, maids of honor who have awkward accidents at a ball,§ or sell to them, a palace full of baying dogs and the planters the convicts presented to bawling gamesters, a king who would bandy obscenities in public with hie * Marriage à la Mode, iv. 3. I.
"The first image I had of him was from the Achilles of Homer, the next from Tasso's Rinaldo, and the third from the Artaban of Monsieur Calpranède."-Preface
half-naked mistresses, *—such was this illustrious society; from French modes they took but dress, from French noble sentiments but high-sounding words.
it; general terms, tways rather thread bare, suit best the caution and niceties of select society. Dryden sins heavi!, against all these rules. His rhymes, to an Englishman's ear, scatter at once the whole illusion of the stage; they see that the characters who speak thus are but squeaking puppets; he himself ad mits that his heroic tragedy is only fit to represent on the stage chivalric poems like those of Ariosto and Spenser.
"As some fair tulip, by a storm oppress'd
So, shrouded up, your beauty disappears:
What a singular triumphal song are
The second point worthy of imitation in classical tragedy is the style. Dryden, in fact, purifies his own, and renders it more clear, by introducing dose reasoning and precise words. He aas oratorical discussions like Corneille, well-delivered retorts, symmetri- Poetic dash gives the finishing stroke eal, like carefully parried arguments. to all likelihood. Would we recognize He has maxims vigorously enclosed in the dramatic accent in this epic com the compass of a single line, distinc-parison? ' tions, developments, and the whole art of special pleading. He has happy antitheses, ornamental epithets, finelywrought comparisons, and all the artifices of the literary mind. What is most striking is, that he abandons that kind of verse specially appropriated to the English drama which is without rhyme, and the mixture of prose and verse common to the old authors, for a rhymed tragedy like the French, fancying that he is thus inventing a new species, which he calls heroic play. But in this transformation the good perished, the bad remains. For rhyme differs in different races. To an Englishman it resembles a song, and transports him at once to an ideal and fairy world. To a Frenchman it is only a conventionalism or an expediency, and transports him at once to an antechamber or a drawing-room; to him it is an ornamental dress and nothing more; if it mars prose, it ennobles it; it imposes respect, not enthusiasm, and changes a vulgar into a high-bred style. Moreover, in French aristocratic verse every thing is connected; pedantry, logical machinery of every kind, is excluded from it; there is nothing more disagreeable to well-bred and refined persons than the scholastic rust. Images are rare, but always well kept up; bold poesy, real fantasy, have no rlace in it; their brilliancy and divergencies would derange the politeness and regular flow of the social world. The right word, the prominence of free expressions, are not to be met with in
Compare the song of the Zambra dance in the first part of Almanzor and Almahide,
Think how these patches of color would contrast with the sober design of French dissertation. Here lovers vie with each other in metaphors; there a wooer, in order to magnify the beauties of his mistress, says that "bloody hearts lie panting in her hand." In every page harsh or vulgar words spoil the regularity of a noble style. Ponderous logic is broadly displayed in the speeches of princesses. "Two ifs," says Lyndaraxa, scarce make one possibility." Dryden sets his college cap on the heads of these poor women. Neither he nor his characters are well brought up; they have taken from the French but the outer garb of the bar and the schools; * The first part of Almanzor and Almahids, iv. 5. 2.
The Indian Emperor, ii. 1. 1.
+ The first part of Almanzor and Almahide, iv. 2. 1. This same Lyndaraxa says also to Abdalla (4. 2), "Poor women's thoughts are al extempore. These logical ladies can be very coarse; for example, this same damsel says ir act 2. 1, to the same love: who extreats her to make him "happy" "If I make you so, you shall pay my price.'
they have left behind symmetrical elo- | tion, stroke after stroke, to the ground quence, measured diction, elegance and We cannot tell if the matter be a true delicacy. A while before, the licentious portrait or a fancy painting; we remain coarseness of the Restoration pierced suspended between truth and fancy; the mask of the fine sentiments with we should like either to get up to which it was covered; now the rude heaven or down to earth, and we jump English imagination breaks the orator- down as quick as possible from the ical mould in which it tried to enclose clumsy scaffolding where the poet itself. would perch us.
On the other hand, when Shakspeare wishes to impress a doctrine, not raise a dream, he attunes us to it before hand, but after another fashion. We naturally remain in doubt before a cruel action: we divine that the red irons which are about to put out the eyes of little Arthur are painted sticks, and that the six rascals who besiege Rome, are supernumeraries hired at a shilling a night. To conquer this mistrust we must employ the most natural style, circumstantial and rude imitation of the manners of the guardroom and of the alehouse; I can only believe in Jack Cade's sedition on hearing the dirty words of bestial lewdness and
Let us look at the other side of the picture. Dryden would keep the foundation of the old English drama, and retains the abundance of events, the variety of plot, the unforeseen accidents, and the physical representation of bloody or violent action. He kills as many people as Shakspeare. Unfortunately, all poets are not justified in killing. When they take their spectators among murders and sudden accidents, they ought to have a hundred hidden preparations. Fancy a sort of rapture and romantic folly, a most daring style, eccentric and poetical, songs, pictures, reveries spoken aloud, frank scorn of all verisimilitude, a mixture of tenderness, philos-mobbish stupidity. You must let me ophy, and mockery, all the retiring charms of varied feelings, all the whims of nimble fancy; the truth of events matters little. No one who ever saw Cymbeline or As you Like it looked at these plays with the eyes of a politician or a historian; no one took these military processions, these accessions of princes, seriously; the spectators were present at dissolving views. They did not demand that things should proceed after the laws of nature; on the contrary, they willingly did require that they should proceed against the laws of nature. The irrationality is the charm. That new world must be all imagination; if it was only so by halves, no one would care to rise to it. This is why we do not rise to Dryden's. A queen dethroned, then suddenly set up again; a tyrant who finds his lost son, is deceived, adopts a girl in his place; a young prince led to punishment, who snatches the sword of a guard, and recovers his crown: such are the romances which constitute the Maiden Queen and the Marriage à la Mode. We can imagine what a display classical dissertations make in this medley; solid reason beats down imagina
have the jests, the coarse laughter, drunkenness, the manners of butchers and tanners, to make me imagine a mob or an election. So in murders, let me feel the fire of bubbling passion, the accumulation of despair or hate which have unchained the will and nerved the hand. When the unchecked words, the fits of rage, the convulsive ejaculations of exasperated desire, have brought me in contact with all the links of the inward necessity which has moulded the man and guided the crime, I no longer think whether the knife is bloody, because I feel with inner trembling the passion which has handled it. Have I to see if Shakspeare's Cleopa tra be really dead? The strange laugh that bursts from her when the basket of asps is brought, the sudden tension of nerves, the flow of feverish words, the fitful gayety, the coarse language. the torrent of ideas with which she overflows, have already made me sound all the depths of suicide,* and I have
"He words me, girls; he words me, that I should not
Be noble to myself; but hark thee Charmian.
Now, Iras, what think'st thou? Thou, an Egyptian puppet shalt be shown In Rome, as well as I: mechanic slaves.