Page images
PDF
EPUB

or familiarity of diction; but as we have none, spirit of absolute monarchy—the same artifiwe must make up our minds to compose our cial stateliness—the same slow moving of few tragedies in prose, if we ever expect to have persons—the same suppression of ordinary any that may deserve the name. What then?' emotions, and ostentatious display of lofty he continues; “must we throw our Racines sentiments, and, finally, the same jealousy of and Voltaires in the fire ?-by no means;- the interference of lower agents, and the same on the contrary, we must keep them, and horror of vulgarity and tumult. When we study and admire them more than ever ;- consider too, that in the countries where this but with right conceptions of their true nature form of the drama has been established, the and merit—as masterpieces of poetr and Court is the chief patron of the theatre, and reasoning, and description ;- -as the first works courtiers almost its only supporters, we shall of the first geniuses that ever adorned any probably be inclined to think that this unination under heaven :-But not as tragedies, formity of character is not a mere accidental —not as pieces intended to exhibit natural coincidence, but that the same causes which characters and passions speaking their own have stamped those attributes on the serious language, and to produce that terrible impres- hours of its rulers, have extended them to sion which such pieces alone can produce. those mimic representations which were orig. Considered in that light, their coldness and inally devised for their amusement. In Engchildishness will be immediately apparent ; land, again, our drama has all along partaken and though the talents of the artist will al- of the mixed nature of our government, ways be conspicuous, their misapplication persons of all degrees take a share in both, and failure will not be less so. With the each in his own peculiar characterand fashion: prospect that lies before us, the best thing, and the result has been, in both, a much perhaps, that we can do is to go on, boasting greater activity, variety; and vigour, than was of the unparalleled excellence we have at- ever exhibited undera more exclusive system. tained. But how speedily should our boastings In England, too, the stage has in general been be silenced if the present race of children dependent on the nation at large, and not on should be succeeded by a generation of men! the favour of the Court;—and it is natural lo Here is a theory,” concludes the worthy Baron, suppose that the character of its exhibitions a little alarmed it would seem at his own te- has been affected by a due consideration of merity, “which it would be easy to confirm that of the miscellaneous patron whose feel. and illustrate much more completely--if a ings it was its business to gratify and reflect. man had a desire to be stoned to death before After having said so much about the stage, the door of the Theatre François ! But, in the we cannot afford room either for the quarrels mean time, till I am better prepared for the or witticisms of the actors, which are reporthonours of martyrdom, I must entreat you to ed at great length in these volumes-or for keep the secret of my infidelity to yourself.” the absurdities, however ludicrous, of the

Diderot holds very nearly ihe same lan. “ Diou de Danseas old Vestris ycleped himguage. After a long dissertation upon the self-or even the famous “affaire du Menuet" difference between real and artificial dignity, which distracted the whole court of France he proceeds,_"What follows, then, from all at the marriage of the late King. We can this-but that tragedy is still to be invented allow only a sentence indeed to the elaborate in France; and that the ancients, with all their dissertation in which 'Diderot endeavours to faults, were probably much nearer inventing prove that an actor is all the worse for having it than we have been ?-Noble actions and any feeling of the passions he represents, and sentiments, with simple and familiar language, is never so sure to agitate the souls of his are among its first elements;—and I strongly hearers as when his own is perfectly at ease. suspect, that for these two hundred years, we | We are persuaded that this is not correctly have mistaken the stateliness of Madrid for true;—though it might take more distinctions the heroism of Rome. If once a man of ge- than the subject is worth, to fix precisely nius shall venture to give to his characters where the truth lies. It is plain we think, and to his diction the simplicity of ancient however, that a good actor must have a capadignity, plays and players will be very differ- city, at least, of all the passions whose lanent things from what they are now. But how guage he mimics,—and we are rather inclined much of this,” he adds also in a fit of sympa- to think, that he must also have a transient

"could I venture to say to any feeling of them, whenever his mimicry is body but you! I should be pelted in the very successful.' That the emotion should be streets, if I were but suspected of the blas- very short-lived, and should give way to triphemies I have just uttered.”

vial or comic sensations, with very little in. With the assistance of two such allies, we terval, affords but a slender presumption shall renew the combat against the Continental against its reality, when we consider how dramatists with fresh spirits and confidence; rapidly such contradictory feelings succeed and shall probably find an early opportunity each other, in light minds, in the real business to brave the field, upon that important theme. of life. That real passion, again, never would In the mean time we shall only remark, that be so graceful and dignified as the counterwe suspect there is something more than an feited passion of the stage, is either an imanalogy between the government and political peachment of the accuracy of the copy, or a constitution of the two countries, and the char-contradiction in terms. The real passion of a acter of their drama. The tragedy of the noble and dignified character must always be Continent is conceived in the very genius and dignified and graceful, and if Cæsar, when

thetic terror,

[ocr errors]

actually bleeding in the Senate-house, folded from the arms of her lawful husband, and to his robe around him, that he might fall with compel her to submit again to his embraces, decorum at the feet of his assassins, why and that the court was actually guilty of the should we say that it is out of nature for a incredible atrocity of granting such an order! player, both to sympathise with the passions It was not only granted, M. Grimm assures of his hero, and to think of the figure he us, but executed, --and this poor creature was makes in the eyes of the spectators ? Strong dragged from the house of her husband, and conception is, perhaps in every case, attended conducted by a file of grenadiers to the quarwith a temporary belief of the reality of its ters of his highness, where she remained till objects;—and it is impossible for any one to his death, the unwilling and disgusted victim copy with tolerable success the symptoms of of his sensuality! It is scarcely possible to a powerful emotion, without a very lively ap- regret the subversion of a form of governprehension and recollection of its actual pre- ment, that admitted, if but once in a century, sence. We have no idea, we own, that the of abuses so enormous as this: But the tone copy can erer be given without some partici- in which M. Grimm notices it, as a mere foipation in the emotion itself—or that it is pos- blesse on the part of le Grand Maurice, gives sible to repeat pathetic words, and with the us reason to think that it was by no means true tone and gestures of passion, with the without a parallel in the contemporary history, same indifference with which a schoolboy re- In England, we verily believe, there never peats his task, or a juggler his deceptions. was a time in which it would not have proThe feeling, we believe, is often very mo- duced insurrection or assassination. mentary; and it is this which has misled One of the most remarkable passages in those who have doubted of its existence. this philosophical journal, is that which conBut there are many strong feelings equally tains the author's estimate of the advantages fleeting and undeniable The feelings of the and disadvantages of philosophy. Not being spectators, in the theatre, though frequently much more of an optimist than ourselves, M. more keen than they experience anywhere Grimm thinks that good and evil are pretty elre

, are in general infinitely less durable than fairly distributed to the different generations those excited by real transactions; and a lu- of men; and that, if an age of philosophy be dierous incident or blunder in the perform. happier in some respects than one of ignorance, will carry the whole house, in an instant, ance and prejudice, there are particulars in from sobbing to ungovernable laughter: And which it is not so fortunate. Philosophy, he even in real life, we have every day occasion thinks, is the necessary fruit of a certain exto observe, how quickly the busy, the dissi- perience and a certain maturity; and implies, pated. the frivolous, and the very youthsul, in nations as well as individuals, the extinccan pass from one powerful and engrossing tion of some of the pleasures as well as the emotion to another. The daily life of Vol follies of early life. ‘All nations, he observes, taire, we think, might have furnished Diderot have begun with poetry, and ended with phiwith as many and as striking instances of the losophy—or, rather, have passed through the actual succession of incongruous emotions, as region of philosophy in their way to that of he has collected from the theatrical life of stupidity and dotage. They lose the poetical

Sophie Arnoud, to prove that one part of the passion, therefore, before they acquire the ! succession must necessarily have been ficti- taste for speculation; and, with it, they lose tious.

all faith in those allusions, and all interest in There are various traits of the oppressions those trifles which make the happiness of the and abuses of the government, incidentally brightest portion of our existence. If, in this noticed in this work, which maintains, on the advanced stage of society, men are less brutal, whole, a very aristocratical tone of politics. they are also less enthusiastic ;—if they are One of the most remarkable relates to no less more habitually beneficent, they have less a person than the Maréchal de Saxe. This warmth of affection. They are delivered ingreat warrior, who is known never to have deed from the yoke of many prejudices; but taken the field without a small travelling se- at the same time deprived of many motives raglio in his suite, had engaged a certain of action. They are more prudent, but more Majlle. Chantilly to attend him in one of his anxious—are more affected with the general campaigns. The lady could not prudently interests of mankind, but feel less for their decline the honour of the invitation, because neighbours; and, while curiosity takes the she was very poor; but her heart and soul place of admiration, are more enlightened, but pere devoted to a young pastry cook of the far less delighted with the universe in which name of Favart, for whose sake she at last they are placed. broke out of the Marshal's camp, and took The effect of this philosophical spirit on the refuse in the arms of her lover ; who reward- arts, is evidently unfavourable on the whole. ed her heroism by immediately making her Their end and object is delight, and that of his wife. The history of the Marshal's la- philosophy is truth; and the talent that seeks meritation on finding himself deserted, is to instruct, will rarely condescend to aim purely ridiculous, and is very well told; but merely at pleasing. Racine and Molière, and cur feelings take a very different character, Boileau, were satisfied with furnishing amusewhen, upon reading a little farther, we find ment to such men as Louis XIV., and Colbert, that this illustrious person had the baseness and Turenne; but the geniuses of the presand brutality to apply to his sovereign for a ent day pretend to nothing less than enlightlettre de cachet to force this unfortunate woman lening their rulers; and the same young men

who would formerly have made their debút | After these precious ameliorations were comwith a pastoral or a tragedy, now generally pleted, they threw of the full impression ; leave college with a new system of philoso- and, to make all sure and irremediable, conphy and government in their portfolios. The signed both the manuscript and the original very metaphysical, prying, and expounding proofs to the flames! Such, says M. Grimm, turn of mind that is nourished by the spirit is the true explanation of that mass of imof philosophy, unquestionably deadens our pertinences, contradictions, and incoherences, sensibility to those enjoyments which it con- with which all the world has been struck, in verts into subjects of speculation. It busies the last ten volumes of this great compilation. itself in endeavouring to understand those It was not discovered till the very eve of the emotions which a simpler age was contented publication; when Diderot having a desire to with enjoying ;-and seeking, like Psyche, to look back to one of his own articles, printed have a distinct view of the sources of our some years before, with difficulty obtained a pleasures, is punished, like her, by their in- copy of the sheets containing it from the stant annihilation.

warehouse of M. Breton-and found, to his Religion, too, continues M. Grimm, consid- horror and consternation, that it had been garered as a source of enjoyment or consolation bled and mutilated, in the manner we have in this world, has suffered from the progress just stated. His rage and vexation on the of philosophy, exactly as the fine arts and af- discovery, are well expressed in a long letter fections have done. 'It has no doubt become to Breton, which M. Grimm has engrossed in infinitely more rational, and less liable to his register. The mischief however vas iratrocious perversions; but then it has also remediable, without an intolerable delay and become much less enchanting and ecstatic-expense; and as it was impossible for the much less prolific of sublime raptures, bea- editor to take any steps to bring Breton to tisic visions, and lofty enthusiasm. It has punishment for this horrible forfait,'' withsuffered, in short, in the common disenchant- out openly avowing the intended publication ment; and the same cold spirit which has of a work which the court only tolerated by chased so many lovely illusions from the earth, affecting ignorance of its existence, it was at has dispeopled heaven of hall its marvels and last resolved, with many tears of rage and its splendours.

vexation, to keep the abomination secret-at We could enlarge with pleasure upon these least till it was proclaimed by the indignant just and interesting speculations; but it is denunciations of the respective authors whose time we should think of drawing this article works had been subjected to such cruel muto a close; and we must take notice of a very tilation. The most surprising part of the extraordinary transaction which M. Grimm story however is, that none these authors has recorded with regard to the final publica- ever made any complaint about the matter. tion of the celebrated Encyclopedie. The re- Whether the number of years that had elapsdaction of this great work, it is known, was ed since the time when most of them had ultimately confided to Diderot ; who thought furnished their papers, had made them init best, after the disturbances that had been sensible of the alterations—whether they beexcited by the separate publication of some lieved the change effected by the base hand of the earlier volumes, to keep up the whole of Breton to have originated with Diderot, of the last ten till the printing was finished; their legal censor-or that, in fact, the altera. and then to put forth the complete work at tions were chiefly in the articles of the said

A bookseller of the name of Breton, Diderot himself, we cannot pretend to say; who was a joint proprietor of the work, had but M. Grimm assures us, that, to his astonthe charge of the mechanical part of the con- ishment and that of Diderot, the mutilated cern; but, being wholly illiterate, and indeed publication, when it at last made its appear. without pretensions to literature, had of ance, was very quietly received by the incourse no concern with the correction, or even jured authors as their authentic production, the perusal of the text. This person, how- and apologies humbly made, by some of them, ever, who had heard of the clamours and for imperfections that had been created by threatened prosecutions which were excited the beast of a publisher. by the freedom of some articles in the earlier There are many curious and original anecvolumes, took it into his head, that the value dotes of the Empress of Russia in this book; and security of the property might be improv- and as she always appeared to advantage ed, by a prudent castigation of the remaining where munificence and clemency to individuparts; and accordingly, after receiving from als were concerned, they are certainly calcuDiderot the last proofs and revises of the dif- lated to give us a very favourable impression serent articles, took them home, and, with the of that extraordinary woman.

We can only assistance of another tradesman, scored out, afford room now for one, which characterises altered, and suppressed, at their own discre- the nation as well as its sovereign. A popution, all the passages which they in their wis- lar poet, of the name of Sumarokofi, had dom apprehended might give offence to the quarrelled with the leading actress at Moscow, court, or the church, or any other persons in and protested that she should never again authority-giving themselves, for the most have the honour to perform in any of his trapart, no sort of trouble to connect the disjoint- gedies. The Governor of Moscow, however, ed passages that were left after these mutila- not being aware of this theatrical feud, tions—and sometimes soldering them together thought fit to order one of Sumarokoff's trage. with masses of their own stupid vulgarity. dies for representation, and also to command

once.

the services of the offending actress on the miscellaneous contents. Whoever wishes to occasion. Sumarokoff did not venture to take see the economist wittily abused to read a any step against his Excellency the Gover- full and picturesque account of the tragical nor ; but when the heroine advanced in full rejoicings that filled Paris with mourning at Muscovite costume on the stage, the indig. the marriage of the late King—to learn how nant poet rushed forward from behind the Paul Jones was a writer of pastorals and love scenes, seized her reluctantly by the collar songs--or how they made carriages of leather, and waist, and tossed her furiously from the and evaporated diamonds in 1772—10 trace boards. He then went home, and indited two the debût of Madame de Staël as an author at querulous and sublime epistles to the Em- the age of twelve, in the year

!-to unpress. Catherine, in the midst of her gigantic derstand M. Grimm's notions on suicide and schemes of conquest and improvement, had happiness—to know in what the unique charm the patience to sit down and address the fol- of Madlle. Thevenin consisted—and in what lowing good-humoured and sensible exhorta- manner the dispute between the patrons of tion to the disordered bard.

the French and the Italian music was con"Monsieur Sumarokoff, j'ai été fort étonnée de ducted—will do well to peruse the five thick votre lettre du 28 Janvier, et encore plus de celle volumes, in which these, and innumerable du premier Février. Toutes deux contiennent, à other matters of equal importance are disce qu'il me semble, des plaintes contre la Belmon. cussed, with the talent and vivacity with tia qui pourtant n'a fait que suivre les ordres du which the reader must have been struck, in comle Soltikoff. Le feld-maréchal a désiré de voir the least of the foregoing extracts. représenter votre tragédie; cela vous fait honneur. Il était convenable de vous conformer au désir de la

We add but one trivial remark, which is première personne en autorité à Moscou ; mais si forced upon us, indeed, at almost every page elle a jugé à propos d'ordonner que cette pièce fôr of this correspondence. The profession of litrepréseniée, il fallait exécuter sa volonté sans con erature must be much wholesomer in France testation. Je crois que vous savez mieux que per than in any other country :—for though the sonne combien de respect méritent des hommes qui volumes before us may be regarded as a great ont servi avec gloire, et dont la tête est couverte de cheveux blancs; c'est pourquoi je vous conseille literary obituary, and record the deaths, we d'éviter de pareilles disputes à l'avenir

. Par ce suppose, of more than an hundred persons of moyen vous conserverez la tranquillité d'âme qui some note in the world of letters, we scarcely est nécessaire pour vos ouvrages, et il me sera tou meet with an individual who is less than jours plus agréable de voir les passions représentées seventy or eighty years of age--and no very dans vos drames que de les lire dans vos lettres. Au surplus, je suis votre affectionnée.

small proportion actually last till near ninety Signé CATHERINE.'

or an hundred—although the greater part of “Je conseille," adds M. Grimm, “ à tout min. them seem neither to have lodged so high, istre ehargé du département des lettres de cachet, nor lived so low, as their more active and abd'enregistrer ce formulaire à son greffe, et à tout stemious brethren in other cities. M. Grimm hasard de n'en jamais délivrer d'autres aux poetes observes that, by a remarkable fatality, Euc'est-à-dire enfant et fou par état. Après cette rope was deprived, in the course of little more lettre qui mérite peut-être autant l'immortalité que than six months, of the splendid and comles monumens de la sagesse et de la gloire du règne manding talents of Rousseau, Voltaire, Haller, actuel de la Russie, je meurs de peur de m'affermir Linnæus, Heidegger, Lord Chatham, and Le dans la pensée hérétique que l'esprit ne gâte jamais Kain—a constellation of genius, he adds, that rien, même sur le trône.'

when it set to us, must have carried a dazzling But it is at last necessary to close these en- light into the domains of the King of Terrors, tertaining volumes,—though we have not and excited no small alarm in his ministers been able to furnish our readers with any if they bear any resemblance to the ministers thing like a fair specimen of their various and of other sovereigns.

( January, 1810.) Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Victor ALFIERI. Written by Himself. 2 vols. 8vo.

pp. 614. London: 1810.

This book contains the delineation of an great leading features in the mind of Alfieri. extraordinary and not very engaging charac- Strengthened, and in some degree produced, ter; and an imperfect sketch of the rise and by a loose and injudicious education, those progress of a great poetical genius. It is de traits were still further developed by the preserving of notice in both capacities—but mature and protracted indulgences of a very chiefly in the first; as there probably never dissipated youth; and when, at last, they adwas an instance in which the works of an mitted of an application to study, imparted anthor were more likely to be influenced by their own character of impetuosity to those his personal peculiarities. Pride and enthu- more meritorious exertions ;-converted a siasm-irrepressible vehemence and ambition taste into a passion; and left him, for a great -and an arrogant, fastidious, and somewhat part of his life, under the influence of a true narrow system of taste and opinions, were the and irresistible inspiration. Every thing in him, indeed, appears to have been passion and are by no means well written; and that they ungoverned' impulse; and, while he was will form no exception to the general obserraised above the common level of his degene- vation, that almost all Italian prose is feeble rate countrymen by a stern and self-willed and deficient in precision. There is somehaughtiness, that might have become an an- thing, indeed, quite remarkable in the wordicient Roman, he was chiefly distinguished ness of most of the modern writers in this from other erect spirits by the vehemence language, -the very copiousness and smoothwhich formed the basis of his character, and ness of which seeins to form an apology for by the uncontrolled dominion which he al- the want of force or exactness and to hide, lowed to his various and successive propensi- with its sweet and uniform flow, both from ties. So constantly and entirely, indeed, was the writer and the reader, that penury of he under the influence of these domineering thought, and looseness of reasoning, which attachments, that his whole life and character are so easily detected when it is rendered into might be summed up by describing him as a harsher dialect. Unsatisfactory, however, the victim, successively; of a passion for as they are in many particulars, it is still imhorses—a passion for travelling--a passion for possible to peruse the memoirs of such a man literature-and a passion for what he called as Alfieri without interest and gratification. independence.

The traits of ardour and originality that are The memoirs of such a life, and the con- disclosed through all the reserve and gravity fessions of such a man, seem to hold out a of the style, beget a continual expectation and promise of no common interest and amuse- curiosity; and even those parts of the story ment. Yet, though they are here presented which seem to belong rather to his youth, to us with considerable fulness and apparent rank, and education, than to his genius or pefidelity, we cannot say that we have been culiar character, acquire a degree of importmuch amused or interested by the perusal. ance, from considering how far those vers There is a proud coldness in the narrative, circumstances may have assisted the formawhich neither invites sympathy, nor kindles tion, and obstructed the development of that the imagination. The author seems to dis- character and genius; and in what respects dain giving himself en spectacle to his readers; its peculiarities may be referred to the obstaand chronicles his various acts of extrava- cles it had to encounter, in misguidance, gance and fits of passion, with a sober and passion, and prejudice. languid gravity, to which we can recollect no Alfieri was born at Asti, in Piedmont, of parallel. In this review of the events and noble and rich, but illiterate parents, in Janufeelings of a life of adventure and agitation, ary 1749. The history of his childhood, he is never once betrayed into the genuine which fills five chapters, contains nothing language of emotion; but dwells on the scenes very remarkable. The earliest thing he reof his childhood without tenderness, and on members, is being fed with sweetmeats by the struggles and tumults of his riper years an old uncle with square-toed shoes. He was without any sort of animation. We look in educated at home by a good-natured, stupid vain through the whole narrative for one priest; and having no brother of his own age, gleam of that magical eloquence by which was without any friend or companion for the Rousseau transports us into ihe scenes he de- greater part of his childhood. When about scribes, and into the heart which responded seven years old, he falls in love with the to those scenes, or even for a trait of that smooth faces of some male novices in a neigh. social garrulity which has enabled Marmontel bouring church; and is obliged to walk about and Cumberland to give a grace to obsolete with a green net on his hair, as a punishment anecdote, and to people the whole space for fibbing. To the agony which he endured around them with living pictures of the beings from this infliction, he ascribes his scrupulous among whom they existed. There is not one adherence to truth through the rest of his life; character attempted, from beginning to end -all this notwithstanding, he is tempted to of this biography;—which is neither lively, in steal a fan from an old lady in the family, short, nor eloquent-neither playful, impas- and grows silent, melancholy, and reserved : sioned, nor sarcastic. Neither is it a mere —at last, when about ten years of age, he is unassuming outline of the author's history and sent to the academy at Turin. publications, like the short notices of Hume This migration adds but little to the interest or Smith. It is, on the contrary, a pretty co-of the narrative, or the improvement of the pious and minute narrative of all his feelings writer. The academy was a great, ill-regu. and adventures; and contains, as we should lated establishment; in one quarter of which suppose, a tolerably accurate enumeration of the pages of the court, and foreigners of dishis migrations, prejudices, and antipathies. It tinction, were indulged in every sort of dissiis not that he does not condescend to talk pation—while the younger pupils were stowed about trifling things, but that he will not talk into filthy cells, ill fed, and worse educated. about them in a lively or interesting manner; There he learned a little Latin, and tried, in and systematically declines investing any part vain, to acquire the elements of mathematics; of his statement with those pictures que de- for, after the painful application of several tails, and that warm colouring, by which alone months, he was never able to comprehend the story of an individual can often excite the fourth proposition of Euclid; and found, much interest among strangers. Though we he says, all his life after, that he had “a comhave not been able to see the original of these pletely anti-geometrical head." From the Memoirs, we will venture to add, that they | bad diet, and preposterously early hours of

« PreviousContinue »