« AnteriorContinua »
the paffion of Love, to which the man, upon the prince, the hero, is made to facrifice every other confideration, even private morals are corrupted. Of this we shall be perfectly convinced, if we compare the conduct and fentiments of Thefeus, and of the unfortunate daughter of Jocafta, in Antigone, and Edipus Coloneus, with the Thefeus and Dirce of Corneille; where the enamoured pair disclaim all other regards and duties, human and divine, for the character of mere Lovers. In this play, great violence is done to the character of the perfons, to which Horace, and all good critics, prescribe a most exact adherence. And though the Romans, who had conquered all other nations, had the best right to prefer their own manners, and despise those of other countries, yet their critics inculcated the neceffity of imitating those of the people reprefented.
The French Tragedians not only deviate from the character of the Individual reprefented, but even from the general character of the Age and Country. Thefeus and Achilles
Achilles are not only unlike to Thefeus and Achilles, but they are not Greeks. Sophocles and Euripides never introduce a hero who had appeared in the Iliad or Odyffey, without a ftrict attention to make him act fuitably to the opinion conceived of him from those epic Poems. When Ulysses, in the tragedy of Hecuba, comes to demand Polixena to be facrificed, how admirably is his conduct fuited to our conceptions of him! He is cold, prudent, deaf to pity, blind to beauty, and to be moved only by confideration of the public weal. See him in the Iphigenia of Racine, on a fimilar occafion, where he tells Agamemnon, he is ready to cry, Je fuis pret de pleurer;
and examine whether there appears any thing of Ulyffes upon the Stage, but his Name. Nor is there a greater refemblance between the French and Greek Achilles. Euripides paints him with a peculiar franknefs and warmth of character, abhorrent of fraud, and highly provoked when he difcovers his name has been used in a deceit. When he fees Iphigenia preferring the good of her country,
country, and an immortal fame, to the pleafures of life, he is then ftruck with fentiments fo fuitable to the greatness of his own mind; and, in the ftyle of a hero and a Greek, expreffes how glad he should have been of fuch a bride. The Achilles of Racine is not distinguished from any young lover of fpirit; yet this is one of the best French tragedies.
It is ufual to compliment Corneille with having added dignity to the Romans; and he has undoubtedly given them a certain strained elevation of fentiment and expreffion, which has perhaps a theatrical greatness: but this is not Roman dignity, nor fuitable to the character of republicans; for, as the excellent Bishop of Cambray obferves*, hiftory reprefents the Romans great and high in Sentiment, but fimple, modeft, natural in Words, and very unlike the bombaft, turgid heroes of romance. A great man, fays he, does not declaim in the tone of the Theatre; his expreffions in conversation are just and strong; *Lettres fur l'Eloquence, &c.
heutters nothing low, nor anything pompous. Auguftus Cæfar, reprefented to a barbarous audience, would command more respect, if feated on the Mogul's golden throne, sparkthan in the curule chair, gems, ling with to which power, not pomp, gave dignity. It is a degree of barbarism to afcribe noblenefs of mind to arrogance of phrase, or infolence of manners. There is a certain expreffion of style and behaviour which verges towards barbarism; a state to which we may approach by roads that rife, as well as by those that fall. An European monarch would think it as unbecoming him to be styled light of the world, glory of nations, and by the swelling titles affumed by the Afiatic princes, as to be called the tamer of horses, or the swift-footed, like the heroes of Homer.
Pere Brumoy feems to be fenfible of very Corneille's mifrepresentation of the Roman character, though he speaks of it in all the ambiguity of language which prudence could suggest, to one who was thwarting a national
nal opinion †. He talks of un raffinement de fierté in the Romans, and asks, if they are of this globe, or fpirits of a fuperior world? The Greeks of Racine, fays he, are not indeed of that universe, which belonged only to Corneille; but with what pleasure does he make us behold ourselves in the perfons he presents to us! and how agreeably would the heroes of antiquity be surprised to find themselves adorned by new manners, not indeed like their own, but which yet do not misbecome them!
It can hardly be fuppofed that a Critic of Pere Brumoy's taste did not mean to convey an oblique cenfure in these observations. The Tragic Poet is not to let his Pegasus, like the Hippogriffe of Aftolpho, carry him to the moon; he is to reprefent men fuch as they were; and, indeed, when the fable and manners do not agree, great improprieties and perfect incredibility enfue.
If a Grecian fable is chofen, Grecian + Theatre Grec. par Brumoy.