« 前へ次へ »
mechanics; He follows a sedentary trade, and he is accordingly represented as conceited, serious, and fantastical. He is ready to undertake any thing and every thing, as if it was as much a matter of course as the motion of his loom and shutile. He is for play ing the tyrant, the lover, the lady, the lion. He will roar that it shall do any man's heart good to hear him;' and this being objected to as improper, he still has a resource in his good opinion of himself, and will roar you an 'twere any nightingale.' Snug the Joiner is the moral man of the piece, who proceeds by measurement and discretion in all things. You see him with his rule and compasses in his hand. Have you the lion's part written? Pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study. You may do it extempore,' says Quince, for it is nothing but roaring.' Starve ling the Tailor keeps the peace, and objects to the lion and the drawn sword. I believe we must leave the killing out when all's done.' Starveling, however, does not start the objections himself, but seconds them when made by others, as if he had no spirit to express his fears without encouragement. It is too much to suppose all this intentional: but it very luckily falls out so."—pp. 126, 127.
Mr. H. admires Romeo and Juliet rather too much-though his encomium on it is about the most eloquent part of his performance: But we really cannot sympathise with all the conceits and puerilities that occur in this play; for instance, this exhortation to Night, which Mr. H. has extracted for praise !
"Give me my Romeo-and when he shall die,
We agree, however, with less reservation, in his rapturous encomium on Lear-but can afford no extracts. The following speculation on the character of Falstaff is a striking, and, on the whole, a favourable specimen of our author's manner.
"Wit is often a meagre substitute for pleasureable sensation; an effusion of spleen and petty spire at the comforts of others, from feeling none in itself. Falstaff's wit is an emanation of a fine constitution; an exuberance of good-humour and goodnature; an overflowing of his love of laughter, and good-fellowship; a giving vent to his heart's ease and over-contentment with himself and others. He would not be in character if he were not so fat as he is; for there is the greatest keeping in the boundless luxury of his imagination and the pampered self-indulgence of his physical appetites. He manures and nourishes his mind with jests, as he does his body with sack and sugar. He carves out his jokes, as he would a capon, or a haunch of Venison, where there is cut and come again: and lavishly pours out upon them the oil of gladness. His tongue drops fatness, and in the chambers of his brain it snows of meat and drink.' He keeps up perpetual holiday and open house, and we live with him in a round of invitations to a rump and dozen.-Yet we are not left to suppose that he was a mere sensualist. All this is as much in imaginareality. His sensuality does not engross and stupify his other faculties, but ascends me into the brain, clears away all the dull, crude vapours that environ it, and makes it full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes.' His imagination keeps up the ball long after his senses have done with it. He seems to have even a greater enjoy. ment of the freedom from restraint, of good cheer, of his ease, of his vanity, in the ideal and exaggerated descriptions which he gives of them, than in fact. He never fails to enrich his discourse with allusions to eating and drinking; but we
never see him at table. He carries his own larder about with him, and he is himself a tun of man.' His pulling out the bottle in the field of battle is a joke to show his contempt for glory accompanied with danger, his systematic adherence to his Epicurean philosophy in the most trying circumstances. Again, such is his deliberate exaggeration of his own vices, that it does not seem quite certain whether the account of his hostess' bill, found in his pocket, with such an out-of-the-way charge for capons and sack with only one half-penny-worth of bread, was not put there by himself, as a trick to humour the jest upon his favourite propensities, and as a conscious caricature of himself.
"The secret of Falstaff's wit is for the most part a masterly presence of mind, an absolute self-possession, which nothing can disturb. His repartees are involuntary suggestions of his self-love; instinctive evasions of every thing that threatens to interrupt the career of his triumphant jollity and self-complacency. His very size floats him out of all his difficulties in a sea of rich conceits; and he turns round on the pivot of his convenience, with every occasion and at a moment's warning. His natural repugnance to every unpleasant thought or circumstance, of itself makes light of objections, and provokes the most extravagant and licentious answers in his own justification. His indifference to truth puts no check upon his invention; and the more improbable and unexpected his contrivances of them, the anticipation of their effect acting as a are, the more happily does he seem to be delivered stimulus to the gaiety of his fancy. The success of one adventurous sally gives him spirits to undertake another: he deals always in round numbers, and his exaggerations and excuses are open, palpable, monstrous as the father that begets them.' pp. 189-192.
It is time, however, to make an end of this. We are not in the humour to discuss points of learning with this author; and our readers now see well enough what sort of book he has written. We shall conclude with his remarks on Shakespeare's style of Comedy, introduced in the account of the Twelfth Night.
"This is justly considered as one of the most delightful of Shakespeare's comedies. It is full of sweetness and pleasantry. It is perhaps too goodnatured for comedy. It has little satire, and no spleen. It aims at the ludicrous rather than the ridiculous. It makes us laugh at the follies of mankind; not despise them, and still less bear any ill-will towards them. Shakespeare's comic genius resembles the bee rather in its power of extracting sweets from weeds or poisons, than in leaving a sting behind it. He gives the most amusing exaggeration of the prevailing foibles of his characters, but in a way that they themselves, instead of being offended at, would almost join in to humour; he rather contrives opportunities for them to show themselves off in the happiest lights, than renders them contemptible in the perverse construction of the wit or malice of others.
There is a certain stage of society, in which people become conscious of their peculiarities and absurdities, affect to disguise what they are, and set up pretensions to what they are not. This gives rise to a corresponding style of comedy, the object of which is to detect the disguises of self-love, and to make reprisals on these preposterous assumptions of vanity, by marking the contrast between the real and the affected character as severely as possible, and denying to those, who would impose on us for what they are not, even the merit which they have. This is the comedy of artificial life, of wit and satire, such as we see in Congreve, Wycherley, Vanbrugh, &c. But there is a period in the progress of manners anterior to this, in which the foibles and follies of individuals are of nature's planting, not the growth of art or study; in which they are therefore
unconscious of them themselves, or care not who
Maria, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Sardanapalus, a Tragedy. The Two Foscari, a Tragedy. Cain, a Mystery. By LORD BYRON. 8vo. pp. 440. Murray. London: 1822.*
Ir must be a more difficult thing to write a | scenity, or deforms with rant, the genuine good play- —or even a good dramatic poem- passion and profligacy of Antony and Cleopatra than we had imagined. Not that we should, or intrudes on the enchanted solitude of a priori, have imagined it to be very easy: Prospero and his daughter, with the tones of But it is impossible not to be struck with the worldly gallantry, or the caricatures of affected fact, that, in comparatively rude times, when simplicity. Otway, with the sweet and mel the resources of the art had been less care- low diction of the former age, had none of its fully considered, and Poetry certainly had not force, variety, or invention. Its decaying fires collected all her materials, success seems to burst forth in some strong and irregular flashes, have been more frequently, and far more in the disorderly scenes of Lee; and sunk at easily obtained. From the middle of Eliza- last in the ashes, and scarcely glowing embers, beth's reign till the end of James', the drama of Rowe. formed by far the most brilliant and beautiful part of our poetry,—and indeed of our literature in general. From that period to the Revolution, it lost a part of its splendour and originality; but still continued to occupy the most conspicuous and considerable place in our literary annals. For the last century, it has been quite otherwise. Our poetry has ceased almost entirely to be dramatic; and, though men of great name and great talent have occasionally adventured into this once fertile field, they have reaped no laurels, and left no trophies behind them. The genius of Dryden appears nowhere to so little advantage as in his tragedies; and the contrast is truly humiliating when, in a presumptuous attempt to heighten the colouring, or enrich the simplicity of Shakespeare, he bedaubs with ob
* I have thought it best to put all my Dramatical criticisms in one series: and, therefore, I take the tragedies of Lord Byron in this place-and apart from his other poetry.
Since his time-till very lately-the school of our ancient dramatists has been deserted: and we can scarcely say that any new one has been established. Instead of the irregular and comprehensive plot-the rich discursive dialogue-the ramblings of fancy-the magic creations of poetry-the rapid succession of incidents and characters-the soft, flexible, and ever-varying diction-and the flowing, continuous, and easy versification, which characterised those masters of the golden time, we have had tame, formal, elaborate, and stately compositions-meagre stories-few personages-characters decorous and consistent, but without nature or spirit-a guarded, timid, classical diction-ingenious and methodical disquisitions-turgid or sententious declamations and a solemn and monotonous strain of versification. Nor can this be as
cribed, even plausibly, to any decay of genius among us; for the most remarkable failures have fallen on the highest talents. We have already hinted at the miscarriages of Dryden.
We do not mean, however, altogether to deny, that there may be some illusion, in our
The exquisite taste and fine observation of imitations, of Schiller and Kotzebue, caricaAddison, produced only the solemn mawkish- tured and distorted as they were by the aberness of Cato. The beautiful fancy, the gor-rations of a vulgar and vitiated taste, had still geous diction, and generous affections of so much of the raciness and vigour of the old Thomson, were chilled and withered as soon English drama, from which they were avowas he touched the verge of the Drama; where edly derived, that they instantly became more his name is associated with a mass of verbose popular in England than any thing that her puerility, which it is difficult to conceive could own artists had recently produced; and served ever have proceeded from the author of the still more effectually to recal our affections to Seasons and the Castle of Indolence. Even their native and legitimate rulers. Then folthe mighty intellect, the eloquent morality, lowed republications of Massinger, and Beauand lofty style of Johnson, which gave too mont and Fletcher, and Ford, and their tragic and magnificent a tone to his ordinary contemporaries—and a host of new tragedies, writing, failed altogether to support him in his all written in avowed and elaborate imitation attempt to write actual tragedy; and Irene is of the ancient models. Miss Baillie, we rather not only unworthy of the imitator of Juvenal think, had the merit of leading the way in this and the author of Rasselas and the Lives of return to our old allegiance-and then came the Poets, but is absolutely, and in itself, a volume of plays by Mr. Chenevix, and a nothing better than a tissue of wearisome succession of single plays, all of considerable and unimpassioned declamations. We have merit, from Mr. Coleridge, Mr. Maturin, Mr. named the most celebrated names in our Wilson, Mr. Barry Cornwall, and Mr. Milman. literature, since the decline of the drama, al- The first and the last of these names are the most to our own days; and if they have neither most likely to be remembered; but none of lent any new honours to the stage, nor bor- them, we fear, will ever be ranked with the rowed any from it, it is needless to say, that older worthies; nor is it conceivable that any those who adventured with weaker powers age should ever class them together. had no better fortune. The Mourning Bride of Congreve, the Revenge of Young, and the Douglas of Home [we cannot add the Mys-habitual feelings, as to the merits of the great terious Mother of Walpole-even to please originals-consecrated as they are, in our Lord Byron], are almost the only tragedies of imaginations, by early admiration, and assothe last age that are familiar to the present; ciated, as all their peculiarities, and the mere and they are evidently the works of a feebler accidents and oddities of their diction now and more effeminate generation-indicating, are, with the recollection of their intrinsic exas much by their exaggerations as by their cellences. It is owing to this, we suppose, timidity, their own consciousness of inferiority that we can scarcely venture to ask ourselves, to their great predecessors-whom they af- steadily, and without an inward startling and fected, however, not to imitate, but to supplant. feeling of alarm, what reception one of ShakeBut the native taste of our people was not speare's irregular plays-the Tempest for exthus to be seduced and perverted; and when ample, or the Midsummer Night's Dreamthe wits of Queen Anne's time had lost the would be likely to meet with, if it were now authority of living authors, it asserted itself to appear for the first time, without name, by a fond recurrence to its original standards, notice, or preparation? Nor can we pursue and a resolute neglect of the more regular the hazardous supposition through all the posand elaborate dramas by which they had been sibilities to which it invites us, without somesucceeded. Shakespeare, whom it had long thing like a sense of impiety and profanation. been the fashion to decry and even ridicule, Yet, though some little superstition may minas the poet of a rude and barbarous age*, was gle with our faith, we must still believe it to reinstated in his old supremacy: and when be the true one. Though time may have his legitimate progeny could no longer be hallowed many things that were at first but found at home, his spurious issue were hailed common, and accidental associations imparted with rapture from foreign countries, and in- a charm to much that was in itself indifferent, vited and welcomed with the most eager we cannot but believe that there was an origenthusiasm on their arrival. The German inal sanctity, which time only matured and extended-and an inherent charm from which the association derived all its power. And when we look candidly and calmly to the works of our early dramatists, it is impossible, we think, to dispute, that after criticism has done its worst on them-after all deductions
It is not a little remarkable to find such a man
player as astonishing the Vicar, by informing him
And, in a more serious passage, he introduces a for impossible plots and fantastical characters, unaccountable forms of speech, and occasional extravagance, indelicacy, and horrors-there is a facility and richness about them, both of thought and of diction-a force of invention, and a depth of sagacity-an originality of conception, and a play of fancy-a nakedness and energy of passion, and, above all, a co
"No piousness of imagery, and a sweetness and
a paradox, would venture to say this now.
flexibility of verse, which is altogether unri
2 B 2
valled, in earlier or in later times;-and places | excessive simplicity. It is in vain to expect the them, in our estimation, in the very highest praises of such people; for they never praise; and foremost place among ancient or modern poets.
and it is truly very little worth while to I disarm their censure. It is only the praises of the real lovers of poetry that ever give it true fame or popularity-and these are little affected by the cavils of the fastidious. Yet the genius of most modern writers seems to be rebuked under that of those pragmatical and insignificant censors. They are so much afraid of faults, that they will scarcely venture upon beauties; and seem more anxious in general to be safe, than original. They dare not indulge in a florid and magnificent way of writing, for fear of being charged with bombast by the cold-blooded and malignant. They must not be tender, lest they should be laughed at for puling and whining; nor discursive and fanciful like their great predecessors, under pain of being held out to derision, as ingenious gentlemen who have dreamed that the gods have made them poetical!
It is in these particulars that the inferiority of their recent imitators is most apparent-in the want of ease and variety-originality and grace. There is, in all their attempts, whatever may be their other merits or defects, an air of anxiety and labour-and indications, by far too visible, at once of timidity and ambition. This may arise, in part, from the fact of their being, too obviously and consciously, imitators. They do not aspire so much to rival the genius of their originals, as to copy their manner. They do not write as they would have written in the present day, but as they imagine they themselves would have written two hundred years ago. They revive the antique phraseology, repeat the venerable oaths, and emulate the quaint familiarities of that classical period-and wonder that they are not mistaken for new incarnations of its departed poets! One great cause why they are not, is, that they speak an unnatural dialect, and are constrained by a masquerade habit; in neither of which it is possible to display that freedom, and those delicate traits of character, which are the life of the drama, and were among the chief merits of those who once exalted it so highly. Another bad effect of imitation, and especially of the imitation of unequal and irregular models in a critical age, is, that nothing is thought fit to be copied but the exquisite and shining passages;from which it results, in the first place, that all our rivalry is reserved for occasions in which its success is most hopeless; and, in the second place, that instances, even of occasional success, want their proper grace and effect, by being deprived of the relief, shading, and preparation, which they would naturally have received in a less fastidious composition; and, instead of the warm and native and evervarying graces of a spontaneous effusion, the work acquires the false and feeble brilliancy of a prize essay in a foreign tongue-a collection of splendid patches of different texture and pattern.
Thus, the dread of ridicule, which they have ever before their eyes, represses all the emotions, on the expression of which their success entirely depends; and in order to escape the blame of those to whom they can give no pleasure, and through whom they can gain no fame, they throw away their best chance of pleasing those who are capable of relishing their excellences, and on whose admiration alone their reputation must at all events be founded. There is a great want of magnanimity, we think, as well as of wisdom, in this sensitiveness to blame; and we are convinced that no modern author will ever write with the grace and vigour of the older ones, who does not write with some portion of their fearlessness and indifference to censure. Courage, in short, is at least as neces sary as genius to the success of a work of imagination; since, without this, it is impossible to attain that freedom and self-possession, without which no talents can ever have fair play, and, far less, that inward confidence and exaltation of spirit which must accompany all the higher acts of the understanding. The earlier writers had probably less occasion for courage to secure them these advantages; as the public was far less critical in their day, and much more prone to admiration than to derision: But we can still trace in their writings the indications both of a proud consciousness of their own powers and
At the bottom of all this-and perhaps as its most efficient cause-there lurks, we suspect, an unreasonable and undue dread of criticism;-not the deliberate and indulgent criticism which we exercise, rather for the encouragement of talent than its warning-privileges, and of a brave contempt for the but the vigilant and paltry derision which is cavils to which they might expose themperpetually stirring in idle societies, and but selves. In our own times, we know but one too continually present to the spirits of all who writer who is emancipated from this slavish aspire to their notice. There is nothing so awe of vulgar detraction-this petty timidity certain, we take it, as that those who are the about being detected in blunders and faults; most alert in discovering the faults of a work and that is the illustrious author of Waverley, of genius, are the least touched with its beau- and the other novels that have made an era ties. Those who admire and enjoy fine poetry, in our literature as remarkable, and as likely in short, are quite a different class of persons to be remembered, as any which can yet be from those who find out its flaws and defects traced in its history. We shall not now say -who are sharp at detecting a plagiarism or how large a portion of his success we ascribe a grammatical inaccuracy, and laudably in- to this intrepid temper of his genius; but we dustrious in bringing to light an obscure pas- are confident that no person can read any one sage sneering at an exaggerated one-or of his wonderful works, without feeling that wondering at the meaning of some piece of their author was utterly careless of the re
proach of small imperfections; disdained the inglorious labour of perpetual correctness, and has consequently imparted to his productions that spirit and ease and variety, which reminds us of better times, and gives lustre and effect to those rich and resplendent passages to which it left him free to aspire.
Considered as Poems, we confess they appear to us to be rather heavy, verbose, and inelegant-deficient in the passion and energy which belongs to the other writings of the noble author-and still more in the richness of imagery, the originality of thought, and the sweetness of versification for which he used to be distinguished. They are for the most part solemn, prolix, and ostentatious lengthened out by large preparations for catastrophes that never arrive, and tantalizing us with slight specimens and glimpses of a higher interest, scattered thinly up and down many weary pages of declamation. Along with the concentrated pathos and homestruck sentiments of his former poetry, the noble author seems also, we cannot imagine why, to have discarded the spirited and melodious versification in which they were embodied, and to have formed to himself a measure equally remote from the spring and vigour of his former compositions, and from the softness and flexibility of the ancient masters of the drama. There are some sweet lines, and many of great weight and energy; but the general march of the verse is cumbrous and unmusical. His lines do not vibrate like polished lances, at once strong and light, in the hands of his persons, but are wielded like clumsy batons in a bloodless affray. Instead of the graceful familiarity and idiomatical melodies of Shakespeare, they are apt, too, to fall into clumsy prose, in their approaches to the easy and colloquial style; and, in the loftier passages, are occasionally deformed by low and common images, that harmonize but ill with the general solemnity of the diction.
As Plays, we are afraid we must also say that the pieces before us are wanting in interest, character, and action-at least we must say this of the three last of them-for there is interest in Sardanapalus-and beauties besides, that make us blind to its other defects. There is, however, throughout, a want of dramatic effect and variety; and we suspect there is something in the character or habit of Lord Byron's genius which will render this unattainable. He has too little sympathy with the ordinary feelings and frailties of humanity, to succeed well in their representation-"His soul is like a star, and dwells apart." It does not "hold the mirror up to nature," nor catch the hues of surrounding objects; but, like a kindled furnace, throws out its intense glare and gloomy grandeur on the narrow scene which it irradiates. He has given us, in his other works, some glorious pictures of nature
Lord Byron, in some respects, may appear not to have been wanting in intrepidity. He has not certainly been very tractable to advice, nor very patient of blame. But this, in him, we fear, is not superiority to censure, but aversion to it; and, instead of proving that he is indifferent to detraction, shows only, that the dread and dislike of it operate with more than common force on his mind. A critic, whose object was to give pain, would desire no better proof of the efficacy of his infictions, than the bitter scorn and fierce defiance with which they are encountered; and the more vehemently the noble author pro--some magnificent reflections, and some intests that he despises the reproaches that imitable delineations of character: But the have been bestowed on him, the more certain same feelings prevail in them all; and his it is that he suffers from their severity, and portraits in particular, though a little varied would be glad to escape, if he cannot over- in the drapery and attitude, seem all copied bear, them. But however this may be, we from the same original. His Childe Harold, think it is certain that his late dramatic efforts his Giaour, Conrad, Lara, Manfred, Cain, and have not been made carelessly, or without Lucifer-are all one individual. There is the anxiety. To us, at least, they seem very elab- same varnish of voluptuousness on the surorate and hard-wrought compositions; and face-the same canker of misanthropy at the this indeed we take to be their leading char- core, of all he touches. He cannot draw the acteristic, and the key to most of their pe- changes of many-coloured life, nor transport culiarities. himself into the condition of the infinitely diversified characters by whom a stage should be peopled. The very intensity of his feelings-the loftiness of his views-the pride of his nature or his genius-withhold him from this identification; so that in personating the heroes of the scene, he does little but repeat himself. It would be better for him, we think, if it were otherwise. We are sure it would be better for his readers. He would get more fame, and things of far more worth than fame, if he would condescend to a more extended and cordial sympathy with his fellow-creatures; and we should have more variety of fine poetry, and, at all events, better tragedies. We have no business to read him a homily on the sinfulness of pride and uncharity; but we have a right to say, that it argues a poorness of genius to keep always to the same topics and persons; and that the world will weary at last of the most energetic pictures of misanthropes and madmen-outlaws and their mistresses!
A man gifted as he is, when he aspires at dramatic fame, should emulate the greatest of dramatists. Let Lord Byron then think of Shakespeare-and consider what a noble range of character, what a freedom from mannerism and egotism, there is in him! How much he seems to have studied nature; how little to have thought about himself; how seldom to have repeated or glanced back at his own most successful inventions! Why indeed should he? Nature was still open before him, and inexhaustible; and the freshness and variety that still delight his readers, must have had constant atractions for himself. Take his Hamlet, for instance.