« AnteriorContinua »
all, liable to contingencies. Private interest cannot always coincide with public good: the former our author styles prudence; the latter, benevolence. These are reconciled by religion, and particularly by the religion of Christ, which teaches us, that great shall the reward be for those who sacrifice the prudential motives to benevolence. The Jews, to whom a future state was darkly and incompletely revealed, were not capable of such a sacrifice; and the moral lessons of Solomon's Proverbs are enforced, in our author's opinion, by motives which reach not beyond the grave.
Mr. Bellham's observations on epic poetry' are pleasing and just. After a comprehensive summary of what Aristotle has taught respecting the epopeia, which he very properly calls a developement of principles, by a philosophical illustration of facts already known and established, he adduces and confutes the properties which modern critics have supposed eflential to the epic in addition to what Aristotle has said. The following remarks are truly judicious, and deserve selection :
• Rejecting, however, the authority of all rules but those originally promulgated by the Stagyrite himself-rules founded on the basis of reason, and sanctioned by the prescription of ages; it must be allowed, that a work constructed in perfect conformity to them, must be worthy, not only of regard and attention, but of the highest admiration, as manifelly requiring, in order to its accomplishment, the most noble and ardent efforts of the human faculties. Valt extent of knowledge is necessary, as a primary qualification, to enable the poet to treat the numerous topics incidentally connected with, or arising from his main subject, with clearness and precision. He must also posress exquisite feeling and sensibility. “ For those (says the great critic), who are moved by passions themselves, will express those passions molt naturally from their own feelings; and he who is affected himself, will beit know how to affect others.” A cool and impartial judgment must accompany this warmth of passion, which will else precipitate the poet into ab. furdity and e::travagance. Juftness of taste and fertility of invention must supply hin with beauty of language, and variety of ima. gery and of incident. And lastly, the flame of genius must invigorate and pervade the whole - that celestial fame, which, in the breast of a true poet, is inextinguishable as the hallowed fire upon the altar of Velta. It is not to be imagined that any human production will endure the criterion of so severe a teft. Nevertheless, various poets, of different ages and countries, have made !uch an approximation to this perfection of excellence, as to excite very lively emotions of delight in the minds of all who are competent to form a judgment of their works.- Poets, who, by the luttre of their talents, have immortalized their names, and to whom is juftly paid the willing tribute of universal admiration.'
The author next proceeds to give some general observations on the principal epics. The tale of Troy divine' he praises with every feeling heart and judicious head: the Odyssey he does not mention. His character of the Æneid is not essentially different from the general one; but to the poem of Lucan he at: tributes more merit than has been generally allotted. Tasso is praised more highly than we think he deserves, and some thing should probably be detracted for occasional puerility, for a too obvious wish, on every occasion, to elevate and surprize. Camoens our author commends, as well as his English translator, whose criticism in defence of the Portuguese poet against the attacks of Voltaire, is treated with some deserved asperity. Of the Araucana of D'Ercilla, and the Paradise Lost of Milton, he only repeats what has been said before ; and to the Telemachus of Fenelon he allows the merit of an excellent historical romance, but is unwilling to style it an epic poem. To Ossian he is not very complaisant, and his opinion is expressed in an excellent short imitation of his style.
• Thy thoughts are dark, O Fingal ! thy thoughts are dark and troubled. They are as a dim meteor that hovers round the marshy lake. Comest thou, son of night, in the darkness of thy pride, as a spirit speaking through a cloud of night? Thou art enveloped in obscurity, chief of Morna! like the moon veiled in a thick cloud. Thy words are dark, like songs of old, son of the cloudy Morven!'
The next subject of Mr. Belsham's disquisition is Dramatic Poetry. He begins, as in the former essay, with a summary of what Aristotle has advanced, and proceeds to the modern alterations, dictated by the various improvements in scenical arrangements. The principal passage in this additional view relates to the question, whether it is necessary to preserve the unities of time and place. He observes, with propriety, that the difference between the representations of the drama, and the scenes in real life, is so considerable, that we laugh at the attempt to deceive. It is seldom that the deception lasts beyond a single scene; and if, by avoiding conversation, the tone of mind in the interval of acts and scenes is preserved, and the succeeding impreslion in that way rendered more forcible, it is all that dramatic imitation can effect. Mr. Garrick and Mrs. Siddons, the one by the purest imitation of nature, and the other by the most consummate well-conducted art, have done no more: Mrs. Siddons has scarcely ever done so much. .• It has been asserted that there is another species of unity, of
more real importance than all the three combined, upon which the critics have so much infifted - Unity of character. This is a species of excellence, however, upon which the Stagyrite himself lays the highest stress, both in epic and dramatic composition. But then the justice of his observation must be admitted, that the fable, or action, is of primary importance in the formation of a perfect drama, and that character is not to be substituted for incident. And if strength and variety of character will not atone for any radical defect in the construction of the fable, much less will propriety or beauty of sentiment. In the tragedy of Cato, the action is cold, uninteresting, and barren of incident: the characters are sketched with a faint and powerless pencil; but the senti. ments are noble and elevated, expressed in language highly poetical, and for the most part juftly and happily adapted to the respective characters. But, is the great end of tragedy attained? Is pity or terror excited ? Do we glow, and iremble, and weep? No.--We are contented calmly to admire ; and are solely attentive, as Dr. Johnson has remarked, not to what is done, but merely to what is said. Even Comus, and Samson Agonistes, must be acknowledged essentially deficient as dramas, however juilly they are celebrated as the effufions of a brilliant imagination or an elevated genius. With respect to the general style of dramatic composition, we find that Aristotle is of opinion, that tragedy admits, and even requires, higher dignity and elevation of language than even the epopeia itself. As the epopce may with propriety occasionally assume a dramatic form, the higher beauties of poetry are not, however, the exclusive property of the drama. But I think it must be acknowledged, that the actual representation and expref. fion of passion, will, in the hands of a matter, be accompanied with that energy and force of language which no mere description, however highly coloured, can reach ; and which must exhaust all the niagic of that art, by which, as by some poetic spell, the poet at his pleasure infames and fafcinates the foul. The bold and glowing expressions which so hinppily correspond with the tone of the pasiion when actually represented, must, when the action is converted into narration, appear itrained, turgid, and unnatural. Had Shakspeare feared to excite the laughter of the critics by introducing the ghost of " buried Denmark” upon the fiage, and this incident had been thrown by the poet into narrative; how, for instance, could the lofty and daring images which Hamlet's apostrophe to the apparition at present exhibits, have found a place? In a word, as narration must ever necessarily confine it. fulf to the description of passion, it cannot adopt the genuine lan. guage of paßion, which affords the most unlimited scope for the highest flights of poetry. It must, therefore, ever remain comparaively tame and spiritless.'
All this is well said, and what is added on the simplicity of the fable, and the difficulties which Aristotle felt, from having asferred that pity and horror are the means by which the moral purposes of the drama are to be effected, deserves great atten- . tion. The observations are truly correct and well expressed.
The analysis of bishop Butler's Analogy is clear, accurate, and comprehensive ; but it must be obvious, that an essay of this kind admits neither of an abstract nor of a quotation.
The French Revolution has been the subject of much controversy, and has filled our pages with different arguments, and representations of a various nature. Mr. Belsham's history of the important event is correct, and many of his obfervations on the conftitution are just. The English, are, however, accused by our author of a sullen silence on this great event, and a malignant or a suspicious reserve. The accusation is not founded on reason. Should we have praised an attempt new, innovations apparently rash, and a constitution built seemingly on the unstable foundations of a visionary philosophy ? All was ruin, or all was in a state of reparation, and the cool observer was watching the event before he formed his opinion. In our fituation, we were called on to give an opinion; and with the best information before us, we gave the result of the best judgment we could form. What has been the consequence? In pursuing the varied progress of these new legislators, who have learned wisdom from their errors, and caution from the effects of their wild precipitance, we have had occafion to blame and to praise. Because we were not the decided tools of a party, our opinions have been called variable and unsteady. Had the nation, at any one period, been called on to decide, by its representatives, on this momentous subject, there would have been many subsequent æras when their decision might have been pronounced most wise, or supremely foolish : so much has the political state of our neighhours varied in their progress. Besides, could a parliament, ballanced by a monarch and an hereditary nobility, approve of a system of democracy where the king has no share in the government, and is merely, in their own language, the first functionary? Could they, on the other hand, themselves in possession of liberty, blame others in search of this blessing? The accusation is an inconsiderate one. When some of the representatives gave their opinions, they were, of course, different, and Mr. Belsham introduces a short account of the principal speeches on this subject; an excellent one of Mr. Burke's famous declamation, for it was in reality no more.
What we have said of the various opinions formed in different situations, particularly applies to Mr. Beltham, who opposes Mi. Burke on the foundation of events which occur
red subsequent to his publication, and may, in turn, be opposed by circumstances posterior to the publication of the volume before us. Our author admires the regulation of elections: what have they produced ? the present assembly, a body, to say the least of them, very inadequate to the government of a great kingdom. We can scarcely fix the period when it was possible to say with propriety~ France, at this moment, enjoys perfect tranquillity, and is rising rapidly to the summit of profperity.' It is not at this moment, January 9th, 1792. Mr. Belsham's observations on some parts of the French constitua tion are very proper.
- The national assembly (in excluding the ministers of the -crown) have, I think unhappily, adopted a policy founded on different principles. Deliberation is, as they conceive, the fole province of the legislative power ; and action, that of the executive. And the intervention or influence of the sovereign, relative to the decisions of the legislature, are guarded against by every precaution that the most anxious policy can suggest. The inevi. table result of this constitution, must be the final and total dile union of the different powers of government. There is no visible bond of connection. The ministers of the crown, I might say the crown itself, must sink into a state of imbecility and contempt. Committees will be instituted by the assembly, to whom the entire functions of the executive power will be gradually transferred, For, will the passions of men, and the secret suggestions of pride and ambition, in circumstances so favourable to their gratifia cation, ever cease to operate? The orders of the sovereign will become a mere matter of form, and will only be issued in compli. ance with the addresses of the assembly. The monarch will be regarded as a mere pageant of state. An irresistible tendency to republicanism will soon become apparent. Monarchy will be at first virtually, and at length, perhaps, openly and avowedly annihilated. But here a question of the utmost moment and impor, tance arifes. To whom is, or will, the command of the army be entrusted by the new constitution of France? To whom can it be entrusted, but to the king, as supreme executive magistrate? But will the king patiently submit to be divested of his civil authority, and to be reduced to a mere cypher in the state, so long as his military authority remains unimpaired? Are not the seeds of future division and discord implanted in this system? And when division and discord arise to a certain height of animosity, with how much facility a sudden and total change of government may be effected by the aid of the military, the Swedish revolution affords a recent and memorable instance. And this beautiful and lofty fabric, reared, as it were, by enchantment, the brilliant illusion of a day, is destined, perhaps, to diffolve into air, when touched by the Spear