Imagini ale paginilor

plays it is seldom that we can find a speech which could without violence be given to any other character than that to which it is assigned: how little this is the case at present, it is needless to prove by examples which might be so abuşdantly supplied. It is true that the old writers freguently introduced scenes which had no place in real life ; but while in compliance with the public taste, which was yet unformed, they sometimes presented extravagant and incre. dible fictions, they were careful to preserve throughout, propriety and exactress in each of the persons. There are doubtless, in the plays of Shakspeare and others, many characters of which no person's experience could furnish a prototype; but it is only necessary at first to exercise the imagination so far as to conceive them real, and all the actions and sentiments which are attributed to them, will be found almost invariably appropriate. So far is this from being adverse to the true spirit of the drama, that it would perhaps be better if there were some relaxation of the strictness which at present restrains the excursions of fancy. While we e yield our warmest admiration to "the Tempest,” and to the Midsummer's Night's Dream” of our immortal bard, it would be difficult to assign a sufficient reason for the severity which would confine the imagination of the modern poet within narrow limits. The heights of genius are not to be reached by the aid of rules; and to insist that native talent shall be confined to the observance of invariable laws, is to impede its powers, and to encumber its flight. If the standard of excellence is to be fixed, it would be far more wise to determine it by the works of bold and enlightened minds, which might excite emulation, than by the practice of inferior writers, and thus reduce all to a condition of unaspiring mediocrity.

In the construction also of their verse, the older dramatists were eminently successful : without paying a scrupulous regard to the alternation of syllables, their style was sufficiently removed from prosaic diction for the dignity of the buskin. Their lines were easy, and rose into grandeur whenever the subject demanded elevation, without presenting the constant appearance of artificial effort. The dialogue was natural, and unaffected, and the ear was not perpetually wearied with the attempt to reach the noble and sublime. They pos, sessed the happy art of interspersing passages of the utmost beauty in the progress of the piece, with so much skill

, that the audience were never reminded of the labour which had been spent upon them. Their successors, however, have so little imitated this excellence, that the illusion is soon de

stroyed, and we seem to be listening only to words, lofty and well-sounding indeed, but such as nature would not have suggested. To the larger number may be applied the assertion which Garrick used in speaking of Johnson, that " when they write tragedy, declamation roars and passion sleeps."

Shakspeare has been frequently accused of violating the dignity of his characters, by the introduction of unworthy circumstances. But the truth is, that having deeply studied human nature, he chose to represent his beroes such as men must ever be, a compound of strength with weakness, and of wisdom with folly, rather than pourtray faultless beings, who could excite little sympathy in those who were conscious of no community of feeling. He employed his exquisite skill in painting, not an individual, the child only of his own imagination, but one of a species to which his hearers felt bound by the brotherhood of similar virtues, and similar imperfections.

Such are a few of the points of difference between Shakspeare and his cotemporaries, and the present school of writers of plays. To the latter certainly belongs the merit of greater refinement, and more correct taste, and in short all the advantages which progress in literature can give. In the construction of their plots they are free from the intricate and numerous incidents which confused the fables; drawn from popular legends; and the ear of delicacy is seldom offended by a passage in their productions. But even these advantages are dearly purchased at the expence of the vigorous and forcible expression of nature which is lost in the too close observation of artificial life. Before we can hope that our national stage will recover the importance which it once possessed, we must retrace our way to the simplicity which adorned the drama of an earlier period. We must sacrifice the affectation of originality in our plan, and be content to study the models of excellence which have been transmitted as the most valuable relics of past times. It is true that the possession and developement of dramatic genius must ever be uncertain ; but we should carefully guard it from the influence of incorrect and perverted taste.

To quit these remarks for the volume which gave rise to them, we may observe, that" The Bride's Tragedy" contains many passages which cause us to regret that it should not have been adapted for representation. Bat since the author informs us that it was intended only for the closet, we shall view it merely as a dramatic poem, without adverting to the points which render it ill-calculated for public exhibition. It is certainly a palpable anomaly to have plays wbich are not to be acted, and thus entirely to reject the aid of the histrionic art; but much allowance is to be made for the coup d'essai of a young writer, who fears to trust to the chance of popular approval or rejection. We could sincerely wish that public taste were so little corrupted as to make the theatre a tribunal, to which the poet might appeal without fear of injustice : but at present the case is far otherwise.

The plot is founded on the circumstance which occurred a century since at Oxford, of a youth having secretly contracted marriage with the daughter of a college manciple. His father proposing a more exalted alliance, he resolved, having no repugnance towards his destined bride, to remove the only obstacle to his second union, and on his return murdered the ill-fated object of his first affection. In the developement and combination of the scenes which are founded upon these facts, Mr. Beddoes has not displayed much skill, or much observation of dramatic writings; but be has many passages which are written in the true spirit of poetry, and afford great promise of future excellence.

Lord Ernest being thrown into prison by Orlando, the brother of Olivia, in order to induce his son (Hesperus) to procure his release by consenting to the proposed marriage, a pleasing scene passes, in wbich the affectionate and tender feelings of a father towards his only child, and the struggle which filial duty maintains with love and bonor, are well depicted.

“ Come, speak to him, my chains, for ye've a voice.
To conquer every heart that's not your kin?
Oh! that ye were my son, for then at least
He would be with me. How I loved him once !
Aye, when I thought him good; but now—Nay, still
He must be good, and I, I have been harsh,
I feel, I have not prized him at his worth:
And yet I think if Hesperus had erred,
I could have pardoned him, indeed I could.


“ We'll live together. « LORD ERNEST.

“ No, for I shall die; But that's no matter.


" Bring the priest, the bride. Quick, quick. These fetters have infected him With slavery's sickness. Yet there is a secret,

"Twixt heaven and me, forbids it. Tell me, father;
Were it not best for both to die at once ?

“ Die! thou hast spoke a word, that makes my

Grow sick and wither; thou hast palsied me
To death. Live thou to wed some worthier maid ;
Know that thy father chose this sad seclusion ;
(Ye rebel lips, why do you call it sad?)
Should I die soon, think not that sorrow caused it,
But, if you recollect my name, bestow it
Upon your best-loved child, and when you give him
His Grandsire's blessing, add not that he perished
A wretched prisoner,


• Stop, or I am made
I know not what,--perhaps a villain. Curse me,
Oh if you love me, curse.


“ Aye, thou shalt hear
A father's curse ; if fate hath put a moment
Of pain into thy life ; a sigh, a word,
A dream of woe; be it transferred to mine;
And for thy days; oh! never may a thought
Of other's sorrow, even of old Ernest's,
Darken their calm uninterrupted bliss,
And be thy end-oh! any thing but mine.

« Guilt, thou art sanctified in such a cause ;

Guards ; (they enter) I am ready. Let me say't so low,
So quickly that it may escape the ear

Of watchful angels ; I will do it all.” P. 18, Hesperus having his jealousy of Floribel excited, quits her to pay his court to his destined bride, whose delight at the prospect of the fulfilment of the hopes which she had long fondly cherished, is mingled with a feeling of humiliation at the too open avowal of her affection---she says

“ Had I a right to pray to you, I would.

Pray, lady? Didst thou ever see the goddess
Step from her dignity of stone, or leave
The hallowed picture in its tinted stole
And crouch unto her suppliant ? Oh A0;
If there is aught so poor a thing as I
Can please you with, command it and you bless me,

Try, I beseech thee, try not to detest,
Not utterly to detest a silly girl,
Whose only merit is that she'd be thine.


“ Hate thee, thou virtue?

“ Well, if it must be,
Play the deceiver for a little while ;
Don't tell me so.


“ By Truth's white name I'll tell thee,
Olivia, there was once an idle thought
That aped affection in my heart ; nay, nay,
Not in my heart; it was a dream, or so;
A dream within a dream ; a pale, dim warmth ;
But thou hast dawned like summer on my soul,
Or like a new existence.


« 'T'were delightful,
Įf credible, but you are all too gallant.

" I knew it must be so : you'll not believe me,
But doubt and say 'tis sudden.' Do not minute
The movements of the soul, for some there are
Of pinion unimpeded, thrice word-swift,
Dut soar the sluggish flesh; and these, Olivia,
Anticipating their death-given powers can grasp
A century of feeling and of thought ;
Oatlive the old world's age, and be at once
In the present, past, and future; while the body
Lives half a pulse's stroke. To see and love thee
Was but one soul's step.


“ Then thou canst endure me ;
Thou dost pot hate the forward maid ? My prayer
Through many a year has been for that one word ;
And I have kept the precious thought of thee,
Hidden almost from myself. But I'll not speak,

For I have told too much, too childishly." P. 39. Floribel waking from her dream of happiness, thus beautifully invites the approach of death.

"And must I wake again? Oh come to me,
Thou that with dew-cold fingers softly closest

[ocr errors]
« ÎnapoiContinuați »