Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

dialogue, pervade them; yet the sensibility and enthusiasm which prevail in their works extort the applause of the reader, in spite of their irregularities. The dialogue, in all Richardson's novels, is so level, that it has never furnished a single quotation; and it would be very difficult to prove his knowlege of the heart, from any unconnected sentence. He abounds in descriptions, not in maxims. Yet no per. son of taste and feeling can read his works, without experiencing the strongest interest in his plots, and without contracting a kind of attachment to his principal characters. This is the sensation produced by the tragedy of Goethe. Weread with increasing curiosity, yet we retain no striking passage, as we proceed ; and though our pas. sions are agitated frequently before the conclusion, we do not revert to any scene on which we can dwell with particular fondness. On the contrary, those minute particulars, which roused attention at the first perusal, prove insipid on a reyiew of the performance.

We are aware that many of the faults, which we have noticed, are imputed to the prevalent admiration of Shakspeare among the German dramatists. The errors of Shakspeare would be readily forgiven in any man who should approach his excellence: but we confess that he has not been frequently brought to our recollection in the present work. If, however, luxuriance of style be a promise of good-writing in the infancy of art, as Quintilian establishes it to be in that of the individual, we may still hope to see unexceptionable dramatic pieces produced by the German School. When its writers shall elevate themselves more to the majestic simplicity of the Greck Tragedians, and when they shall attend to the correct representation of human passions more than to stage-effect and the impression of vulgar pre. judices, we may receive from them productions worthy of our study and our tears,

'Fer..I. Art. 38. Adelaide of Wulfingen, a Tragedy, in Four Acts, (exem

plifying the Barbarity which prevailed during the Thirteenth Cen. tury,) from the German of Augustus Von Kotzebue. By Benjamin Thompson, jun. 8vo. 25. Vernor and Hood.

It has been frequently observed, that Professor Kotzebue's plays are distinguished by great latitude of morals. In the present instance, we conceive that his licence has been extended too far; and we can not help thinking that he has acted very injudiciously, in combining an attack on bigotry and hypocrisy with something like a vindication of incest. We should have dismissed an inferior writer from our bar with a summary rebuke, but the popularity of this author renders his errors extremely dangerous. The intended moral of the play seems to be, that superstitious prejudices are the bane of society: but surely no wise nor good man would rank detestation of an incestuous marriage, though contracted from the ignorance of the parties, among blameable feelings: yet the innocent and virtuous heroine of the piece is driven, by discovering that her husband is her brother, to the murder of her children. This is an unnecessary and shocking termination of the action, and it is very improperly made to pass before the eyes of the audience. We may truly say, after having gone through the play, that we “ have supped full with horrors;" though

we

we perceive no salutary effect from the agitation of the passions produced by it.

This tragedy contains more of Kotzebue's faults, and fewer of his excellencies, than any of his numerous productions that have come under our notice. To his former works, we have given our tribute of applause ; it may not be useless, therefore, in the present instance, to point out some of his defects.

Probability is violated, throughout this play; the Countess of Wulfingen is introduced, in the first scene where she makes her appearance, carrying two pitchers of water from a well in the village, This proof of humility reminds us of Foote's Piety in Pattens, and is not to be excused by the barbarous manners of the age. There are customs and modes of life, which, however true and usual at certain periods, are totally unfit for dramatic representation. A tragic poet, vho should produce Andromache making a mash for Hector's coursers, or feeding them, on the stage, might quote Homer's authority, without being able to save himself from ridicule. These are not the convenientia recommended by Horace.

Another obvious defect of this play is, that, however improbable the plot may appear, the author has depended so much on it, that he has not finished one character, excepting the superstitious timidity of Old Bertram. There are no phrases, no sentiments in the dialogue, which take possession of the reader's mind; we are hurried on by the rapidity of the action; and wherever that seems to pause, 'we are instructed in the feelings of the characters, not by their own expressions, but by the help of marginal directions to the actors. Without this never species of tuition, many pathetic pages in our author would excite neither pity nor terror. If one of his characters should merely have to say, * how do you do?” the reader's feelings would be little interested: but, should he be informed by the friendly interpreters within crotchets, that these words are to be spoken (very mournfully, or with real agitation, though under a constrained appearance of indiffer, ence] he would doubtless sympathize with the afflicted orator.

This invention, it must be confessed, is much superior to Mr. Bayes's plan for “ insinuating the plot into the boxes ;' for not only is the jeu du théatre thus conveyed with full effect to the reader, but the whole expence of thought and invention in the dialogue is retrenched.

In justification of these strictures, we shall cite the following passage, from that trying scene in which Sir Hugo is suddenly infotmed of the casual marriage contracted between his son and daughter, during his absence in Palestine. This situation would have severely tasked the invention of a tragic writer of the Old School ; horror, remorse, affection, and shame, would have been displayed in bursts of impassioned eloquence. The German hero's speech consists of two words ;' Well! Proceed !' quiet words in themselves : but they affect the reader in a wonderful manner, by means of the marginal directions, which are very pathetic indecd.

Hugo. [Starts like a man wbo suddenly espies a phantom, but has courage enough to run towards it, and unmask it. The muscles of his face, for some moments, express an inward struggle, which, however, soon sube sides. That serenity, which ever accompanies firmly-rooted principles, resumes its place in his countenance, and he turns to Bertram.] Well! PROCEED.

some

This pantomime reminds us of Puff's actor in the Critic, who in. culcates so many political truths by the significant manner of shaking his head. Cervantes compares authors, who have recourse to similar means of moving the passions, to those painters who are obliged to write under their figures, this is a cock, or this is a lion, for the information of the spectators : but the device was never carried to such a length in his time. Had this been the only instance of the practice, we should have overlooked it ; but it occurs so frequently in Kotzebue's works, that we cannot forbear to notice it.-How dif. ferently is the silent anguish of Shakspeare's Macduff impressed on our feelings! We need not apologize for quoting the passage, though it must be fresh in the memories of most of our readers : : Rosse. Your castle is surprized : your wife and babes

Savagely slaughter'd: to relate the manner,
Were, on the quarry of these murdered deer,

To add the death of you.
Malcolm. Merciful Heaven!

What, Man, ne'er pull your hat upon your brows,
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak,

Whispers the o'er fraught heart, and bids it break.
Macduff. My children too!

There need no marginal notes to inform us what have been the workings of Macduff's passions, previously to this exclamation ; it is the cry of Nature, and penetrates every heart. Let us try how this pathetic scene would appear in the Teutonic style:

Malcolm. Thunder of Heaven ! · Macduff. [Draws forwards his bonnet, so as to conceal his eyes; crosses his arms on his breast; stamps ; gnaws his under.lip; the whole muscles of the body expressing violence of resentment, grief, and desire of revenge; he then looks up to heaven, afterward turns to Rosse, and says, in a broken voice] Go on!

Per..... Art. 39. The Virgin of the Sun. A Play, in Five Acts. By · Augustus Von Kotzebuc. Translated from the genuine German

Edition, by Anne Plumptre. 8vo. 2s. 6d. Phillips, Symonds, &c. 1799.

After the copious remarks which we have made on the preceding play, we have little to add on the subject of this. We meet here with fresh proofs of the author's capacity for better things; more extravagance of plot, more attacks on superstition, and more marginal directions. We acknowlege, however, amid all the writer's errors, that this piece excires considerable interest; and that it may be read, once, with satisfaction :-but he is evidently deficient in judgmens and labour; without which no powers of invention can deliver to mankind a production, in which there will not be something that they would willingly resign,

We

We have, in this play, many attempts at the sublime, in which Kotzebue has not succeeded. Such is the following speech of Rolla, when he is informed that Cora is condemned to die :

“ Tremble then, O earth, and let thy whole surface become desolate! Groan! groan! ye hills! Thou fire, burst forth in the val. leys [vallies] and consume the fruits of the soil, that the fertile spots may no longer be crowned with verdure, but the whole earth appear as one vast scene of conflagration ! Rise, ye terrors of Nature, ye storms and whirlwinds, that I may breathe more freely amid your mighty conflicts-that the voice of my agony may contend with your roarings! that my arm may slay more rapidly than the lightning itself.'

We remember a similar passage in a burlesque tragedy, which had
somę celebrity in the days of our youth, and which was considered as
the successor of Hurlothrumbo:
“ A blow! shall Bombardinian take a blow ?

Blush, blush, thou Sun! start back, thou rapid Ocean!
Hills, Vales, and Mountains, all commixing crumble,
And into chaos pulverize the world!
For Bombardinian has receiv'd a blow,

And Chrononhotonthologos shall die!”
Even this tirade of Rolla, however, is out.done in a succeeding
speech, where he threatens to kill his enemies after he is dead:

Sooner shall he be stretched upon the earth, senseless, motionless, a breathless corpse! Yet let him not even then be trusted liastily! examine carefully that every spark of life be really extinguished, since if only one be left smothering, it will assuredly burst forth into a fame, and consume the persecutors of Cora!”

This stroke seems rather calculated for the meridian of Tipperary, than that of Vienna or London. We can, however, assure the numerous admirers of this poet, that this is by no means the worst of his performances.

Fer...I. Art. 40. The Reconciliation : a Comedy, in Five Acts. Translated

from the German of Augustus Von Kotzebue. 8vo. 35. Ridgway.

In this comedy, more attention is paid to the discrimination of character, than in some of the preceding dramas: but it is unfortunately over-run with an exuberance of sentiment; a fault whichi the Germans seem to have contracted, just as we have been getting rid of it. Here are a sentimental shoemaker and house-maid, who open the piece, and give a view of the characters, in the following delectable dialogue :

Will. Good morrow to you, Miss Ann. Ann. Thank you, honest William.

Will. How are all the family? how does the old gentleman come on?

Ann. He has had a tolerable good night; he is getting better Will. Upon my soul I am glad of it, for the sake of your good mistress, and for your own sake too, Miss Ann.

Ann.

[ocr errors]

Ann. You are right there ; for such a good place I shall never have again. Be our pittance ever so scanty, my master has no better fare than myself; and when love and affection distribute the bread, no matter whether the slices be large or small. There is many a lady's maid, indeed, that has greater wages than mine, and that dresses in silk and muslin : but then the mistresses are sometimes so queer and ill-tempered-never pleasedno pin will do unless pinned ten times over and every fold in a handkerchief is to be twisted into a thousand different shapes, before it will suit their fancy. But my young mistiešs, up she gets in a minute, dressed she is in another, and wants no assistance whatever.

Will. And carries always the smile of a Madonna on her coun. tenance.

Ann. I never yet heard her utter an angry word in my life. Will. Her lips seem not to be formed for that neither.

* Ann. Ah, she is a good child, indeed! she will never be so much as out of temper. She has borne the long illness of her father with uncommon constancy and resolution. The old man might mutter and grumble ever so much, she would be courteous and resigned. She has not slept a wink these many weeks, and would not suffer me to sit up by the old gentleman ; as soon as the clock struck ten she would bid me go and lie down. In the beginning I was very uneasy about it. Miss is young, thinks I; she may be well-disposed for aught I know, but she may fall asleep ; and when young people have once shut their eyes, not even a thunderclap will rouse them. But I was in the wrong box there : Miss Charlotte would nod by her fa ther's bed-side, but at the least cough she would be at his service.'

This, it may be said, is Nature : but it is certainly not la belle Nature. In the description of Village-Manners, the blacksmiths' or barbers' shops would furnish scenes perfectly natural, but very disa gusting. The rustics introduced here are discinguished by nothing that can apologize for their production on the stage ; while they talk, the reader yawns, and the plot stands still.

In the character of Frank Bertram and his Servant, we perceive an attempt to copy Uncle Toby and Trim : but the recollection is rather unfavourable to Kotzebue ; for Sterne possessed the art of blotting too well, to permit insipidity to constitute any part of their qualities.

Fer...r. Art. 41. Feudal Times ; or the Banquet Gallery; a Drama, in Two

Acts. Written by George Colman, the Younger. 8vo. Is. 6d.
Cadell jun. and Davies. 1799.

This drama being, as the author humbly informs us, a mere vehicle for well-painted scenes, ingenious machinery, and music, rather than containing in itself poetry, plot, or character, no fame is to be expect. ed from its dramatic merit. Had Milton, when he wrote his Mask of Comus, been of this opinion, would he have thought it worth while to bestow so much pains and poetry on that exquisite production? Our lyric bards, at present, seem to think that any nonsense, if it be well-tuned, will do for music ; or, as Mr. Colman contemptuously calls it, Sing-Song ; and, under this prejudice, they take it for granted that neither genius nor pains can be accessary in arranging the fable,

striking

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »