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EVEN AFTER OUR RETURN TO ITS TRUE STANDARDS. 89
absolutely, and in itself, nothing better than a tissue of wearisome and unimpassioned declamations. We have named the most celebrated names in our literature, since the decline of the drama, almost to our own days; and if they have neither lent any new honours to the stage, nor borrowed any from it, it is needless to say, that. those who adventured with weaker powers had no better fortune. The Mourning Bride of Congreve, the Revenge of Young, and the Douglas of Home (we cannot add the Mysterious Mother of Walpole — even to please Lord Byron), are almost the only tragedies of the last age that are familiar to the present; and they are evidently the works of a feebler and more effeminate generation -- indicating, as much by their exaggerations as by their timidity, their own consciousness of inferiority to their great predecessors — whom they affected, however, not to imitate, but to supplant.
But the native taste of our people was not thus to be seduced and perverted; and when the wits of Queen Anne's time had lost the authority of living authors, it asserted itself-by a fondi recurrence to its original standards, and a résolute neglect of the more regular and elaborate dramas" by which they had been succeeded. Shakespeare, whom it had long been the fashion to decry and even ridicule, as the poet of a rude and barbarous age was reinstated in his old supremacy: and when his legitimate progeny could no longer be found at home, his spurious issue were hailed with rapture from foreign
It is not a little remarkable to find such a man as Goldsmith joining in this pitiful sneer. In his Vicar of Wakefield, he constantly represents his famous town ladies, Miss Caroline Amelia Wilelmina Skeggs, and the other, as discoursing about “ high life, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses !"—And, in a more serious passage, he introduces a player as astonishing the Vicar, by informing him that “ Dryden and Rowe's manner were quite out of fashion our taste has
gone back a whole century; Fletcher, Ben Johnson, and, above all, the plays of Shakespeare, are the only things that go down." - How!" says the Vicar, “is it possible that the present age can be pleased. with that antiquated dialect, that obsolete humour, and those overcharged characters which abound in the works you mention?" No writer of name, who was not aiming at a paradox, would venture to say this now.
MAY THERE BE ILLUSION OR IDOLATRY
countries, and invited and welcomed with the most eager enthusiasm on their arrival. The German imitations, of Schiller and Kotzebue, caricatured and distorted as they were by the aberrations of a vulgar and vitiated taste, had still so much of the raciness and vigour of the old English drama, from which they were avowedly derived, that they instantly became more popular in England than any thing that her own artists had recently produced; and served still more effectually to recall our affections to their native and legitimate rulers. Then followed republications of Massinger, and Beaumont and Fletcher, and Ford, and their contemporaries
and a host of new tragedies, all written in avowed an elaborate imitation of the ancient models. Miss Baillie, we rather think, had the merit of leading the way in this return to our old allegiance — and then came a volume of plays by Mr. Chenevix, and a succession of single plays, all of considerable merit, from Mr. Coleridge, Mr. Maturin, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Barry Cornwall, and Mr. Milman. The first and the last of these names are the most likely to be remembered; but none of them, we fear, will ever be ranked with the older worthies; nor is it conceivable that any age should ever class them together.
We do not mean, however, altogether to deny, that there may be some illusion, in our habitual feelings, as to the merits of the great originals -- consecrated as they are, in our imaginations, by early admiration, and associated, as all their peculiarities, and the mere accidents and oddities of their diction now are, with the recollection of their intrinsic excellences. It is owing to this, we suppose, that we can scarcely venture to ask ourselves, steadily, and without an inward startling and feeling of alarm, what reception one of Shakespeare's irregular plays the Tempest for example, or the Midsummer Night's Dream --- would be likely to meet with, if it were now to appear for the first time, without name, notice or preparation? Nor can we pursue the hazardous suppostion through all the possibilities to which it invites us, without something like a sense of impiety and
IN OUR WORSHIP OF THE OLD MODELS?
all its power.
profanation. Yet, though some little superstition may mingle with our faith, we must still believe it to be the true one. Though time may have hallowed many things that were at first but common, and accidental associations imparted a charm to much that was in itself indifferent, we cannot but believe that there was an original sanctity, which time only matured and extended -- and an inherent charm from which the association derived
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 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 copiousness of imagery, and a sweetness and flexibility of verse, which is altogether unrivalled, in earlier or in later times ; — and places them, in our estimation, in the very highest and foremost place among ancient or
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
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
INHERENT FAULTS OF IMITATORS.
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 ever-varying 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.
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 - but the vigilant and paltry derision which is perpetually stirring in idle societies, and but too continually present to the spirits of all who aspire to their notice. There is nothing so certain, we take it, as that those who are the most alert in discovering the faults of a work of genius, are the least touched with its beauties. Those who admire and enjoy fine poetry, in short, are quite a different class of persons from those who find out its flaws and defects ---who are sharp at detecting a plagiarism or a grammatical inaccuracy, and laudably industrious in bringing to light an obscure passage -- sneering at an exaggerated one-or wondering at the meaning of some piece of excessive simplicity. It is in vain to expect the praises of such people; for they never praise ; — and it is truly very little worth while to disarm their censure. It is only the praises of the real lovers of poetry that
WANT OF FREEDOM AND COURAGE.
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 nor 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 !
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 necessary 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 privileges, and of