Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

lus, Sophocles, and Euripides, might successfully be adapted to the English stage, with their magnificent choruses.

Perhaps I ought to add an apology for the bold employment of supernatural agencies. Believing, with Goethe and Coleridge, that the principle of awe or terror is a necessary ingredient in the loftier forms of tragedy, I could not dispense with it; the example of other tragedians, likewise, prompted me to appal, if not to please.

The public will now decide whether this tragedy of “Socrates” is at all worthy of the subject. I have sought to soar to the highest sphere of the drama, for my motto is, “ aut Cesar aut nullus.

This motto, however, I wish not to monopolizeI would have all dramatic authors take it to themselves, and write their best, for the sake of the best. For such authors, I cherish an emulation, rather than a rivalry. If rivalry it must be called, let it be the generous rivalry of brethren, each striving by noble means to accomplish noble ends. Fellow labourers in dramatic literature should rather assist, than obstruct each other's progress.

It is because I cherish this sentiment, that I have eulogized many portions of the plays of Knowles, Talfourd, Bulwer, Stephens, Horne, Heraud, Tomlins, and other eminent dramatists. All of them have great-very great merits; and the censure that some critics have past on them, is, in my opinion, equally unjust and ungenerous. Those who best know the difficulties which dramatic authors labour under, will be ready to make most allowance for their works. It is no easy thing to interest the public by any literary effort; and those who succeed in rescuing the people from apathy and indifference, should be pardoned for the venial errors to which all men are liable.

In this play of “ Socrates" I have endeavoured to condense most of the principal facts and reflections that occur in the memoirs that Plato, Xenophon, Plutarch, and Cicero have left concerning him. Those who may wish to examine further into the history of this extraordinary man, may consult Brucker and Stanley's “History of Philosophy Charpentier's “Life of Socrates,” translated into English by CooperWigger's “Life of Socrates"-Balzac's “ Socrates Chrétienne"—the treatises written on the Religion of Socrates-and the Demon of Socrates. There are also several dramas on the death of Socrates, some of which are worthy of attention.

I know not whether • Socrates” will be considered a good acting tragedy; but as it was my special effort that it should be so, I have studiously avoided the display of learning, and endeavoured to be simple and familiar, even to a fault.

I hope that I shall not be severely satirized for this objectiveness, The necessity of things compelled me to it, and that necessity is of divine institution. From Deity himself we learn the proverb, “ars est celare artem.” The occult metaphysics of creation he reveals not ; but he reveals the creation itself--resplendent, beautiful. Ars est celare artem. The metaphysician or the philosopher who would succeed in the nineteenth century, must not be a theoretic, but a practical man. He must keep the subtle elaborations of abstract trains of thought altogether to himself; he must exhibit only their result, and that in the most palpable imagery. How many a man of genius has

been ruined for want of this power of realizing his dreams-of investing them with the language of plain common sense of bringing them home to men's bosoms and business, and assimilating them to the practicabilities of life as it is.

No other means of success is left open to an author-he must stoop to conquer. · Cicero was obliged to recollect that he was not speaking to the scholars of the Academy, but to the dregs of Romulus; and I have likewise to remember that I am not writing to the Doctors of the University, but to the hoi polloi of cockneyism.

There is one point more which requires a remark. The French tragedians have declared that a tragedy should maintain a uniformly dignified and majestic style of expression. I don't agree with their dictum; I would rather trust to the example of Shakspere in his Hamlet, and mingle the sublime with the beautiful, the beautiful with the ridiculous. If in this respect I have erred, I have erred on principle and system, for I have studiously emulated those rapid transitions and vivid contrasts which form Shakspere's most marked characteristics. In thus steering from the grave to the gay, and from the lively to the severe, we also imitate nature, which places in immediate juxta position the august and the familiar, the terrible and the absurd. Such is my defence against the charge of incongruity to which I have voluntarily exposed myself. I know not why Tragedy may not smile amid her tears, and why she may not be allowed to play the fool on occasion, as well as those who act, and those who listen to her.

To the critics of the press I have only to express my thanks for their past courtesies. As I have personally always endeavoured to speak as kindly as conscience allowed of my literary brethren, and have protested against the vehement recriminations which so often spoil good fellowship, it is probable enough I may share the usual fate of pacificators, which is not the most dainty. Still some of the critics may yet survive, who judge rather by rules of art, than by impulses of passion. To such I would say—“ If they find the play of Socrates' better than its competitors, let them praise it better-if worse, let them abuse it worse."

PERSONS REPRESENTED.

MEN. SOCRATES.

CRITJAS. Genius OR DEMON OF SOCRATES.

STOPHANES. PERICLES.

MELITUS. CHÆREPHON.

ANYTUS SOPHOCLES.

Lycos. EURIPIDES.

HIERARCH. ALCIBIADES.

PRIESTS. CRITO.

Heralds. PLATO.

WIZARD. XENOPHON.

GYMNASIASTS. PHÆDON.

WOMEN. PYTHIA.

EUPHROSYNE. ASPASIA.

Chloe. XANTIPPE.

WITCH Bor Br.

SOCRATES.

ACT I.

SCENE I.- Athens.
SOCRATES solus, basking in the sunshine.
Philosophers have many a pleasure—known
Felt-by themselves—which to the vulgar world
They rarely express : and when they do, how seldom
Do the hearts of men respond !-Ay, at this moment
There is a rapture in this sunshine-spreading
Its hot o'erwhelming lustre over Athens
Which they conceive not ;-Unto me it is
Symbolic of the incommunicable flame
Of Deity! It seems to embrace me, like
The beatific vision of Olympus,
Transforming what it shines on, to its likeness ;
It enters into my very soul, and makes
A summer of my conscience !-1 rejoice
To anticipate the eternity when I
Likewise shall be as a sunbeam.

Enter CHÆREPHON.

Socrates !

SOCRATES. Who speaks?

CHÆREPHON.

Who but your old friend, Chærephon ?. -Prithee descend from transcendental flights Among ethereal essences, and listen To one of the common herd of men, whom you So heartily despise.

SOCRATES.

No, Chærephone
You do yourself much wrong by such misplaced
Humility ;-know your own worth-esteem yourself;—
True self-esteem excels all fame, all wealth,
All beauty. You are something better far
Than the hoi polloi.

CHÆREPHON.

Thank you, noble sage,
Such eulogy from you is worth the hoarding-
I'll give my memory a special charge
To keep it safe. I had a curious question
That troubled me, and I would seek solution
From the wit of Socrates.

SOCRATES.

Then tell it me,
Frankly, and frankly will I do my best
To interpret soothly.

CHÆREPHON.

To the point, then, at once;Who, think you, is the wisest of the Greeks? You have taught noble scholars,—and sage sophists Of the chiefest name.

SOCRATES.

Nay, Cherephon, thy question Is quite beyond my scope'tis not in mortal To answer surely; to the Gods alone Belong such mysteries. If you'd know aright, Haste to the Oracle at Delphi, and Consult Apollo's prophetess.

CHÆREPHON.

I will; 'Tis not a very arduous imposition For a truth-searcher ;-tell me, my dear Socrates, What think ye of the state of Athens ?-People Who deem themselves Solons in politics Tell me strange tales.

SOCRATES.

In faith, good Cherephon,
The state of Athens trembles. Once she stood
Strong in the strength of monarchy : her kings
Condensed into one element of valour
Her scattered forces. Since our monarchs fell,
Ambitious chieftains in perpetual strife
Have grappled the supremacy. Their tenure
Has been most fickle chance; and the cement
Of their authority, their rival's blood.
Oft have I said as much to Pericles,
Our brilliant, bold, victorious usurper-
The scourge of the aristocracy—the favourite
Of the populace. His pomp will dwindle fast ;
The very faction, whose vile prejudice
He hath puffed and pampered for his proper uses,
Will turn against him :-ay, the state of Athens
Is Fortune's foot-ball, and the whim of the mob-
The breeze that blows the bubble of our lives,
Any way but the right.

CHÆREPHON.

You argue ill
For the Athenians. Let the better hope
Scatter these vapourish prognostications,
I'll take the brighter side ; so let us leave
All croaking to the ravens.—Now for Delphi.

SOCRATES.
Farewell, good Chærephon.

CHÆREPHON.

Till we meet again.

SCENE II.
Enter PERICLES and SOPHOCLES.

PERICLES.
Well met, my Sophocles : my eager soul
Has been so fired by politics and war,
That now she longs to bathe in the cooling streams
Of Hippocrene. After the hard debates,
Cheerings, hissings, and hootings, that still ring
On my ears, 'tis quite refreshing to encounter
A poet.

SOPHOCLES.
Ah! my Pericles, your knack
Of Aattery is unrivalled, it has raised you
To all you are; beware, lest it may sink you
To all you may be.

PERICLES.

Now, sweet Sophocles !
Don't moralize. On the stage 'tis well enough;
But, by the faith of the stars, when off the boards
'Tis a fashionable nuisance.

SOPHOCLES.

A tragedian
Is nothing without morals. But I see
Your humour-you would talk with me as doth
A brother with a brother.

PERICLES.

That I would ;
I want a heart in which to pour my own-
A sympathy—a something I can't find
In the coarse throng of senators and soldiers.
I'm sick, my Sophocles, of what they term
Great men, and public characters, with all
The pomp of circumstance.

SOPHOCLES.

I see how it is ; Your hot ambition has been surfeitedAnd your rich hopes wherewith you decked yourself, Have been so richly crowned—you are oppressed With the weight of your honours ! Athens owes to thee Her Parthenon and palaces! To thee, Our mightiest bow themselves! Thy ageNay, do not blush ; believe me by the Gods, I swear! the age of Pericles will be, By thronged posterity, in future centuries Most honoured.

PERICLES.

Ah ! dear friend, it may be honoured, But not for Pericles. I'm sick at heart;

« AnteriorContinua »