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valled, in earlier or in later times;–and places them, in our estimation, in the very highest and foremost place among ancient or modern poets. 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 so 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 ... 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 #. 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 o: effusion, the work acquires the false and feeble brilliancy of a prize essay in a foreign tongue—a collection of splendid patches of §.m. 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 . It is in vain to expect the praises of suc o: 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 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 poeticall 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-pos. session, 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 a brave contempt for the cavils to which they might expose themselves. In our own times, we know but one writer who is emancipated from this slavish awe of vulgar detraction—this petty timidity about being detected in blunders and faults and that is the illustrious author of Waverley, and the other novels that have made an era in our literature as remarkable, and as likely to be remembered, as any which can yet be traced in its history. We shall not now say how large a portion of his success we ascribe to this intrepid temper of his genius; but we are confident that no person can read any one of his wonderful works, without feeling that their author v as utterly careless of the repreach 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 '.o which it left him free to aspire.
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, bot aversion to it; and, instead of proving that he is indifferent to detraction, shows onlv, 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 ot his inffictions, than the bitter scorn and fierce defiance with which they are encountered ; and tie more vehemently the noble author protfstä that he despises the reproaches that have been bestowed on him, the more certain it is that he suffers from their severity, and would be glad to escape, if he cannot overbear, them. But however this may be, we think it is certain that his late dramatic efforts have not been made carelessly, or without »niiety. To us, at least, they seem very elaborate and hard-wrought compositions; and this indeed we take to be their leading characteristic, and the key to most of their peculiarities.
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 wbich he need to be distinguished. They are for the most part solemn, prolix, and ostentatious— l^uïihened out by large preparations for catastrophes that never arrive, and tantalizing us with flight specimens and glimpses of a higher interest, scattered thinly up and down many weary pages of declamation. Along with the concentrated pathos and homestruck tentiments of his former poetry, the noble author seems also, we cannot imagine why, 11 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 général march of the verse is cumbrous and unmusical. His line» do not vibrate like Hished lances, at once strong and light, in the hands of his persons, but are wielded like rlnmsy batons in a bloodless affray. Instead ы the graceful familiarity and idiomatical melodies of Shakespeare, they are apt, too, to •'all into clumsy prose, in their approaches to jhi eagy and colloquial style; and, in the «'tier passages, are occasionally deformed by lw and common images, that harmonize but w »ilh '.he 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 susp( it there is something in the character or liaLl 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 —some magnificent reflections, and some inimitable delineations of character: But the same feelings prevail in them all; and his portraits in particular, though a little varied m the drapery and attitude, seem all copied from the same original. His Childe Harold, his Giaour, Conrad, Lara, Manfred. Cain, and Lucifer—are all one individual. There is the same varnish of voluptuousness on the surface—the same canker of misanthropy at the core, of all he touches. He cannot draw the changes of many-coloured life, nor transport 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. What a character is there !—how full of thought and refinement, and fancy and individuality! "How infinite in faculties! In form and motion how express and admirable! The beauty of the universe, the paragon of animals f" Yet close the play, and we meet with him no more—neither in the author's other works, nor any where else! A common uthor who had hit upon such a character, would have dragged it in at every turn, and worn it to very tatters. Sir John Falstaff, again, is a world of wit and humour in himself. But except in the two parts of Henrv IV., there would have been no trace of such a being, had not the author been "ordered to continue him" in the Merry Wives of Windsor. He is not the least like Benedick, or Mercutio, or Sir Toby Belch, or any of the other witty and jovial personages of the same author—nor are they like each other. Othello is one of the most striking and powerful inventions on the stage. But when the play closes, we hear no more of him! The poet's creation comes no more to life again, under a fictitious name, than the real man would have done. Lord Byron in Shakespeare's place, would have peopled the world with black Othellos! What indications are there of Lear in any of his earlier plays? What traces of it in any that he wrote afterwards1? None. It might have been written by any other man, he is so little conscious of it. He never once returns to that huge sea of sorrow; but has left it standing by itself, shoreless and unapproachable! Who else could have afforded not to have "drowned the stage with tears" from such a source? But we must break away from Shakespeare, and come at last to the work before us.
In a very brief preface, Lord Byron renews his protest against looking upon any of his plays, as having been composed "with the most remote view to the stage "—and. at the same time, testifies in behalf of the Unities, as essential to the existence of the drama— according to what "was, till lately, the law of literature throughout the world, and is still so, in the more civilised parts of it." We do not think those opinions very consistent; and we think that neither of them could possibly find favour with a person whose genius had a truly dramatic character. We should as soon expect an orator to compose a speech altogether unfit to be spoken. A drama is not merely a dialogue, but on action: and necessarily supposes that something is to pass before the eyes of assembled spectators. Whatever is peculiar to its written part, should derive its peculiarity from this consideration. Its style should be throughout an accompaniment to action—and should be calculated to excite the emotions, and keep alive the attention, of gazing multitudes. If an author does not bear this continually in his mind, and does not write in the ideal presence of an eager and diversified assemblage, he may be a poet perhaps, but assuredly he never will be a dramatist. If Lord Byron really does not wish to imprégnate his elaborate scenes with the living
spirit of the drama—if he has no bankers after stage-effect—if he is not haunted witi the visible presentment of the persons he Ьг> created—if, in setting down a vehement invective, he does not fancy the tone in which Mr. Kean would deliver it, and anticípale the long applauses of the pit. then he may be sure that neither his feelings nor his gemui are in unison with the stage at all. Wb. then, should he affect the form, without the power of tragedy? He may, indeed, produce a mystery like Cain, or a far sweeter пейс, like Manfred, without subjecting himself to the censure of legitimate criticism: But H, with a regular subject before him, capablf o; all the strength and graces of the drama, hdoes not feel himself able or willing to lirarc forth its resources so as to affect an audier.ce with terror and delight, he is not the roan we want—and his time and talents are rated here. Didactic reasoning and eloquent description will not compensate, in a play, for» dearth of dramatic spirit and invention: tai besides, sterling sense and poetry, a» rack, ought to stand by themselves, without the unmeaning mockery of a dramatis ptrstmt.
As to Lord, Byron's pretending to set up le Unities at this time of day, as "the law of literature throughout the world," it ie mere caprice and contradiction. He, if ever гаг. was, is a law to himself—"a chartered libertine;"—and now, when he is tired of tail unbridled licence, he wants to do penare? within the Unities! This certainly looks very like affectation; or; if there is anv thins facere in it, the motive must be, tfkt. by retting rid of so much story and action, in onvr to simplify the plot and -bring it within ;br prescribed limits, he may fill up the blank spaces with long discussions, and have nea.'iy all the talk to himself! For ourselves,« will confess that we have had a con«t!er«t'if contempt for those same Unities, ever since we read Dennis' Criticism on Calo in of boyhood—except indeed the unity of aclii: which Lord Byron does not appear to let much store by. Dr. Johnson, we conceit''. has pretty well settled this question: ami;! Lord Byron chooses to grapple with birr, fcf will find that it requires a stronger aim thf.s that with which he puts down our Laureate? We shall only add, that when the moiirrns tie themselves down to write tragedies ol the same length, and on the same simple plan, ш other respects, with those of Sophocle« ar.i .lEschylus, we shall not object to their adbering to the Unities; for there can. in that «se. be no sufficient inducement for violating them But, in the mean time, we hold that Ensbfh dramatic poetry soars above the Unities, pf'^ the imagination does. The only pretence lor insisting on them is, that we suppose ibe stage itself to be, actually and really, the very spot on which a given action is peform ed; and, if со. this space cannot be rcmon-d to another. But the supposition is manifestly quite contrary to truth and experience. The stage is considered merely as a place in wb;f h any given action ad libitum may be performed; and accordingly may be shifted, ard a tn in imagination, as often as the action reqm-es it. That any writer should ever have insisted on such an unity as this, must appear sufficiently preposterous; but, that the defence of it should be taken up by an author whose play» are never to be acted at all, and which, therefore, have nothing more than a nominal reference to any stage or locality whatever, гтш stnke one as absolutely incredible.
It so happens, however, that the dijadvantage, and. in truth, absurdity of sacrificing higher objects to a formality of this kind, is strikmely displayed in one of these dramas— Thi Two Foscari. The whole interest here lamí upon the younger of them having returned from banishment, in defiance of the law and its consequences, from an unconquerable longing after his native country. Now, the only way to have made this sentiment palpable, the practicable foundation of stupendous sufferings, would have been, to have presented him to the audience wearing out ins heart in exile—and forming his resolution to return, at a distance from his country, or hovering, in excrtfciating suspense, within sight of its borders. We might then have caught some glimpse of the nature of his motives, and of so extraordinary a character. Bot as this would have been contrary to one ni the unities, we first meet with him led from "the Question," and afterwards taken back to it in the Ducal Palace, or clinging to the dungeon-walls of his native city, and expiring from his dread of leaving them; and therelore fppl more wonder than sympathy, when we are told in a Jeremiad of wilful lamentati'm«. that these agonising consequences have resulted, not from guilt or disaster, but merely from the intensity of his love for his country. But we must now look at the other Tragédie«; and on turning again to Sardanapalus, we are half inclined to repent of the severity of some of our preceding remarks, or to own at least that they are not strictly applicable le this performance. It is a work beyond all question of great beauty and power; and though the heroine has many traits in common with the Medoras and Guiñares of Lord Byron1» undramatic poetry, the hero must be allowed to be a new character in his hands. He ha?, indeed, the scorn of war, and glory, and priestcraft, and regular morality, which distinguishes the rest of his Lordship's favourite»; but he has no misanthropy, and very little pride—and may be regarded, on the whole, as one of the most truly good-humoured, amiable, and respectable voluptuaries to whom we have ever been presented. In this conception of his character, the author has тегу wisely followed nature and fancy rather than history. His Sardanapalus is not an effeminate, worn-out debauchee, with shattered nerves and exhausted senses, the slave of indolence and vicious habits; but a sanглпн votary of pleasure, a princely epicure, indulging, revelling in boundless luxury while hf can. but with a soul so inured to voluptuousness, to saturated with delights, that pin and danger, when they come uncalled юг, gire him neither concern nor dread;
and he goes forth, from- the banquet to the battle, as to a dance or measure, attired by the Graces, and with youth, joy, and love for his guides. He dallies with Bellona as her bridegroom—for his sport and pastime; and the spear or fan, the shield or shining mirror, become his hands equally well. He enjoys life, in short, and triumphs over death; and whether in prosperous or adverse circumstances, his soul smiles out superior to evil. The Epicurean philosophy of Sardanapalus gives him a fine opportunity, in his conferences with his stern and confidential adviser, Salemenes, to contrast his own imputed and fatal vices of ease and love of pleasure with the boasted virtues of his predecessors, War and Conquest; and we may as well begin with a short specimen of this characteristic discussion. Salemenes is brother to the neglected queen; and the controversy originates in the monarch's allusion to her.
"Sard. Thou think'st that I have wrong'd the queen: is'l not aoî
Sale. Think! Thou hast wrong'd her!
Sard. Patience, prince, and hear me.
She has all power and splendour of her station,
Sale. I pray thee, change the theme; my blood
Complaint, and Salemenes' sister seeks not
Sard. And why not her brother?
Sale. I only echo thee the voice of empires. Which he who long neglects not long will govern.
Sard. The ungrateful and ungracious t-kvcs!
Because I have not shed their blood, nor led them
Sale. Yet these are trophies
More worthy of a people and their prince
Sard. Oh ! for my trophies I have founded cities»
Sale. 'Tie most ,-ue;
I own thy merit in those founded cities,
Sard. Shame me! By Baal, the cities, thougj
Are not more goodly than the verse! Say wha:
Sale. A worthy moral, and a wise inscription, For a king lo put up before his subjects!
Sard. Oh, thou wouldst have me doubileis Mt up edicts—
Obey the king-contribute to his treasureRecruit his phalanx—spill your blood at biddingFall down and worship, or get up and toil.’ Or thus-“Sardanapalus on this spot Slew fifty thousand of his enemies. These are their sepulchres, and this his trophy.’ I leave such things to conquerors; enough For me, if I can make my subjects feel The weight of human misery less, and glide Ungroaning to the tomb; I take no licence Which I deny to them. We all are men.
Sale. Thy sires have been revered as gods
Sard. In dust And death—where they are neither gods nor men. Talk not of such to me! the worms are gods; At least they banqueted upon your gods, And died for lack of farther nutriment. Those gods were merely men; look to their issue— I feel a thousand mortal things about me, But nothing godlike—unless it may be The thing which you condemn, a disposition To love and to be merciful; to pardon The follies of my species, and (that's human) To be indulgent to my own.”—pp. 18–21.
But the chief charm and vivifying angel of the piece is MYRRHA, the Greek slave of Sardanapalus—a beautiful, heroic, devoted, and ethereal being—in love with the generous and infatuated monarch—ashamed of loving a barbarian—and using all her influence over him to ennoble as well as to adorn his existence, and to arm him against the terrors of its close. Her voluptuousness is that of the heart—her heroism of the affections. If the part she takes in the dialogue be sometimes too subdued and submissive for the lofty daring of her character, it is still such as might become a Greek slave—a lovely Ionian girl, in whom the love of liberty and the scorn of death, was tempered by the consciousness of what she regarded as a degrading
ion, and an inward sense of fitness and
#. with reference to her condition. The development of this character and its consequences form so materiala part of the play, that most of the citations with which we shall illustrate our abstract of it will be found to bear upon it. o
Salemenes, in the interview to which we have just alluded, had driven “the Ionian minion” from the royal presence by his reproaches. After his departure, the Monarch again recalls his favourite, and reports to her the warning he had received. Her answer lets us at once into the nobleness and delicacy of her character.
“Myr. He did well.
ard. And say'st thou so 7
Thou whom he spurn'd so harshly, and now dared Drive from our presence with his savage jeers, And made thee weep and blush
Myr. I should do both More frequently t and he did well to call me Back to my duty. But thou spakest of peril— Peril to thee
Sard. Ay, from dark plots and snares From Medes-and discontented troops and nations. I know not what—a labyrinth of things— A maze of mutter'd threats and mysteries: Thou know'st the man—it is his usual custom. But he is honest. Come, we'll think no more on'tBut of the midnight festival.
yr. 'Tis time
To think of aught save festivals. Thou hast not
Sard. What?-and dost thou fear !
Myr. Fear !-I'm a Greek, and how should fear death A slave, and wherefore should I dread my freedom? Sard. Then wherefore dost thou turn so pale 1 Myr. I love-Sard. And do not I? I love thee far—far more Than either the brief life or the wide realm, Which, it may be, are menaced: yet I blanch not. Alyr. When he who is their ruler Forgets himself, will they remember him? Sard. Myrrha : Myr. Frown not upon me: you have smiled Too often on me, not to make those frowns Bitterer to bear than any punishment Which they may augur.-King, I am your subject: Master, I am your slave' Man, I have loved you!— Loved you, I know not by what fatal weakness, Although a Greek, and born a foe to monarchs— A slave, and hating setters—an Ionian, And, therefore, when I love a stranger, more Degraded by that passion than by chains ! Still I have loved you... If that love were strong Enough to overcome all former nature, Shall it not claim the privilege to save you! Sard. Save me, my beauty : Thou art very fair, And what I seek of thee is love to safety. Myr. And without love where dwells security ? Sard. I speak of woman's love. Myr. The very first Of human life must spring from woman's breast; Your first small words are taught you from her lips, Your first o quench'd by her, and your last signs Too often breathed out in a woman's hearing, When men have shrunk from the ignoble care Of watching the last hour of him who led them. Sard. My eloquent Ionian' thou speak'st music! The very chorus of the tragic song I have heard thee talk of as the favourite pastime Of thy far father-land. Nay, weep not-calm thee. Myr. I weep not-But I pray thee, do not speak About my fathers, or their so Yet oft
ard. Thou speakest of them. Jur. True—true! constant thought Will overflow in words unconsciously; But when another speaks of Greece, it wounds me. Sard. Well, then, how wouldst thou save me, as thou saidst (founders. Myr. Look to the annals of thine empire's Sard. They are so blotted over with blood, I cannot. [ed. But what wouldst have t the empire has been found. I cannot go on multiplying empires. Myr. Preserve thine own. Sard. At least I will enjoy it. Come, Myrrha, let us on to the Euphrates; The hour invites, the galley is prepared, And the pavilion, deck'd for our return, In fit adornment for the evening banquet, Shall blaze with beauty and with light, until It seems unto the stars which are above us Itself an opposite star; and we will sit Crown'd with fresh flowers like— Myr. Victims. Sard. No, like sovereigns, The shepherd kings of patriarchal times, Who knew no brighter gems than summer wreaths. And none but tearless triumphs. Let us on.” pp. 31–36.
The second act, which contains the details of the conspiracy of Arbaces, its detection b the vigilance of Salamenes, and the too ras and hasty forgiveness of the rebels by the King, is on the whole, heavy and uninteresting. Early in the third act, the royal ban quet is disturbed by sudden tidings of trea. son and revolt; and then the reveller blazes out into the hero, and the Greek blood of Myrrha mounts to its proper office! The