Imatges de pÓgina

work, that it would be tedious to point them out; but it is to be hoped, they will deter other beaux efprits from attempting to hurt works of genius, by the masked battery of an unfair tranflation. Mr. Voltaire defires, that by his tranflation all Europe will compare the thoughts, the stile, and the judgment of Shakespear, with the thoughts, the ftile, and the judgment of Corneille. It is difficult, perhaps impoffible, to make the graces of ftyle pass from one language to another; and our blank verfe cannot be equalled by French blank verfe. The thoughts might in some measure have been given, if the translator had understood the words, in which Shakespear hath expreffed them, Upon the judgment of both the authors in the choice of the ftory, in the conduct of it, in exciting the sympathies belonging to it, in the fashioning of the characters, in the nobleness of fentiment, and the reprefentation of Roman manners, we shall upon close examination of the Cinna and Julius Cæfar be able to pronounce,


As the subject of the drama is built on a confpiracy, which every one knows had not any effect, and as the author has fo conducted it as to render the pardon, Augustus gives the confpirators, an act of political prudence rather than of generous clemency, there is not any thing to intereft us, but the characters of Cinna, Emilia, and Maximus. Let us examine how far they are worthy to do fo, as fet forth in this piece; for we have no historical acquaintance with them. Emilia is the daughter of Toranius, the Tutor of Augustus, who was profcribed by him in his Triumvirate. As we have not any knowledge of this Toranius, we are no more concerned about any cruelty committed upon him, than upon any other man, so that we are not prepared to enter into the outrageous resentment of Emilia; especially as we fee her, in the court of Auguftus, under the facred relation of his adopted daughter, enjoying all the privileges of that distinguished fituation, and treated with the tenderness of paternal love. Nothing fo much deforms the feminine

feminine character, as ferocity of fentiment. Nothing fo deeply ftains the human character, as ingratitude.

This lady, however odious fhe appears to the fpectator, is made to engage Cinna her lover, a nephew of the great Pompey, in a confpiracy against Auguftus. Shakespear moft judiciously laboured to fhew, that Brutus's motives to kill Cæfar were perfectly generous, and purely public-spirited. Corneille has not kindled Cinna to his enterprize, with any fpark of Roman fire. In every thing he appears treacherous, base, and timid. Maximus, the other confpirator, feems at firft a better character; but in the third act he makes a moft lamentable confeffion to a flave, of his love for Emilia, and his jealoufy of Cinna: this Slave gives fuch advice as one might expect from fuch a counsellor; he urges him to betray his afsociates, and by means of a Lie, to prevail upon Emilia to go off with him. Thus Maximus becomes as treacherous and base as Cinna his friend, and Emilia his mistress. The


The Poet follows Seneca's account of this affair, in making Livia (who has no other bufinefs in the drama) advise Auguftus to try the effects of clemency, as his punishment of former confpiracies excited new ones. Auguftus tells her fhe talks like a wornan, treats her counsel with fcorn, and then follows it. Auguftus appears with dignity and sense in the other scene, and is the only perfon in the play for whom one has any respect. This is the plan of a work which is to prove Corneille's genius and judgment fuperior to Shakespear's. As Mr. Voltaire has given his tranflation of Julius Cæfar, I will just present to the reader a literal translation of the first scene of the


first Act, which begins by a foliloquy.



Impatiens défirs d'une illuftre vengeance,

Dont la mort de mon pére à formé la naiffance,
Enfans impetueux de mon reffentiment,


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Que ma douleur feduite embraffe aveuglément,
Vous prenez fur mon ame un trop puiffant empire:
Durant quelques momens fouffrez que je refpire,
Et que je confidere, en l'etat où je fuis,

Et ce que je hazarde, & ce que je pourfuis.
Quand je regarde Augufte au milieu de fa gloire,
Et que vous reprochez à ma trifte mémoire
Que par fa propre main mon pére massacré
Du trône où je le vois fait le premier degré :
Quand vous me prefentez cette fanglante image,
La caufe da ma haine, & l'effet de fa rage,
Je m'abandonne toute à vos ardens transports,
Et crois pour une mort lui devoir mille morts.
Au milieu toutefois d'une fureur fi jufte,
J'aime encor plus Cinna que je ne hais Auguste;
Et je fens refroidir ce bouillant mouvement,
Quand il faut pour le fuivre expofer mon amant.
Oui, Cinna, contre moi moi-même je m'irrite,
Quand je fonge aux dangers où je te précipite.
Quoique pour me servir tu n'apprehendes rien,
Te demander du fang, c'est exposer le tien.
D'une fi haute place on n'abat point de têtes,
Sans attirer fur foi mille & mille tempêtes;
L'iffue en eft douteufe, & le peril certain.
Un ami deloyal peut trahir ton dessein;


« AnteriorContinua »