Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

that to do this he has full liberty of selection and rejection. We migbt meet the objection thus, and our plea would be fully sufficient; but Lee's view of the mighty conqueror's character is not entirely indefensible, even on the score of history. Whatever may have been Alexander's virtues at the commencement of his career, we cannot conceive that one, who on the death of a favourite, could throw down the battlements of cities, crucify physicians, cut off the manes of horses and mules, bestow ten thousand talents on a sepulchre, and put a whole nation to the sword in order to alleviate his grief and make a sacrifice to his friend's ghost, differed materially from the headlong hero of Lee. Again, it is urged, that the violence of Alexander's passion for Statira is inconsistent with the character of strict continency given to him by nearly all historians. This objection, however, is entirely obviated by the fact, that for some period previous to his death his manners were infected by a general dissoluteness, as is admitted even by his panegyrist Plutarch. Lee has made a curious jumble of history and fiction in the plan of his play; but the dissensions of the rival queens, and the uxoriousness of Alexander, are not entirely unconfirmed by graver authors.

The last objection brought against Lee's Alexander is, that his manners are unfitting a hero. I do not pretend to know what the critics, who advance this objection, require of the buskined hero of two hours; whether they would have him eternally prate about liberty Ike Addison's Cato, or bluster and bully like Dryden's Almanzor; but I believe that if the defence I have above made be admitted, Lee will not run much danger of condemnation from their strictures. How a professed hero should conduct himself-how he should walk, speak, and love—is altogether such a disputable point among critics, that even Achilles himself is obnoxious to censure. This consideration will afford a sufficiently wide loophole for the escape of Nat Lee.

The critics, after attacking Alexander himself, next fall foul of Clytus. Io him, they say, the poet has confounded rudeness with honesty; and thus by inference taught the pernicious doctrine, that all good breeding must be necessarily the mask of the villain and the hypocrite. If the character were legitimately chargeable with such an intention on the part of the author, it would indeed be deserving of severe reprehension; but a little consideration will induce the reader to record an acquittal. Clytus is represented as a rough-hewn soldier, whose life had been passed in camps, and not in courts-as one to whom the field of battle had become a congenial home. To such a man, the opportunity of acquiring the arts of politeness could never have been presented; his best years had been spent in toil and danger, far from aught that could polish or refine; and, accordingly, he gives a full license to his deeds and his words--neither boasting his love, nor disguising his hatred. He possesses the rough virtues of a rough man-honesty and dauntless hardihood. The character of Clytus is quite justified by the circumstances which are supposed to have surrounded him; to have made him a smooth-spoken courtier would have rendered him a monstrosity. He is not held forth to us as a proper model for imitation ; on the contrary, his uncouthness is exhibited and exposed as a fault. Before any man could adduce the example of Clytus to extenuate an habitual disregard of the copventional forms of good society, he must show that he had the same lack of the means of knowledge.

[graphic]

The rest of the male characters I shall dismiss to the sentencer; only remarking that they seem to be intended as commentaries on the character of Alexander; for all their speeches and actions declare the mighty exaltation and grandeur he had attained :

“ He comes, the fatal glory of the world,

The headlong Alexander, with a guard
Of thronging crowns, comes on to Babylon,
Though warned, in spite of all the powers above,

Who by these prodigies foretell his ruin!" I must not, however, part in this manver with Roxana and Statira. To the interest excited by the violent antagonism of these two women, may perhaps be attributed the success which the play, for so long a period, enjoyed. It is owned, even by those least disposed to favour the pretensions of our poet, that few have excelled his power of depicting the glowing fever of Love. His lines seem frequently to tremble and burn with desire, until we feel the truth of Dryden's asser. tion.*

“ That 'tis no longer feigned—'tis real love!" Lee, in the management of the passion of his two queens, has exhibited a piece of exquisite art. It was needfnl for the conduct of his plot, that our sympathy should be excited on behalf of Statira, and our justice prevented from siding with Roxana. Nor was this all; it was expedient that Alexander should have some plausible plea for his preference of Statira, since Roxana was confessedly the first wedded, and therefore possessed of the superior right. Both the rivals express the same ardour and intensity of passion ; but there is a fatal difference in the quality of their love, which at once robs Roxana of our esteem. Statira loves the man--the mere Alexander, apart from the adventitious adjunct of his greatness; but it is the mighty monarch, the dreaded master of the universe, that Roxana adores. Her passion only consists in the gratification of a haughty self-love, as she herself is made to confess in the following lines :

Rox. “ You thought, perhaps, because I practised charms
To gain the king, that I had loose desires :
No, 'tis my pride that gives me height of pleasure,
To see the man by all the world admired,
Bowed to my bosom, and my captive there;
Then my veins swell;
My breasts grow bigger with the vast delight;

'Tis length of rapture, and an age of fury. We despise Roxana for being able to entertain such a passion as this; for owning that she has been won, not by the intrinsic worth of the man, but by the external magnificence with which he is surrounded. The love of Statira is disinterested; and although born of prosperity, would apparently stand the shock of adversity uninjured : but were Alexander to appear before Roxana stripped of power and greatness, her passion would evidently cease, when her pride could be no longer gratified. We feel that Statira best deserves Alexander's love, and that we, if placed in his position, should, like him, prefer her mildness to the fury and ambition of her rival; and hence we justify the King, and wholly forget that Roxana is, in reality, deeply wronged by all. A dramatist, less skilled in the means of his art, would never have thought of this subtle distinction, which depresses Roxana without offending our prejudices; and, therefore, must have resorted to other and grosser expedients, at the hazard of outraging either convention or nature.

* In his verses to Lee.

In considering the general plan of the play, the prodigies first arrest our attention. To these, many objections might be made; though it will be found, that it is not Lee's use of them, but our total disbelief that any such things are possible, which renders them offensive. But this is a disbelief which we have no right to entertain. It is reported by historians that such prodigies did occur; and therefore Lee could not, with propriety, omit them. They were necessary to give to his play an air of vraisemblance : without them it would not have appeared' like the death of Alexander the Great. The critics, I know, would here turn round upon me, and declare these prodigies to be useless, since they neither advance nor delay the catastrophe. This objection, however, is altogether ill-grounded; for being introduced before Alexander enters, the prodigies not only serve to make us impatient to behold the man who is thus of sufficient importance to interest the gods in his fate, but raise to the highest pitch our expectation of what dread event is to follow.

I shall not commit the absurdity of making long extracts from a play so universally known as Alexander the Great ; the reader can easily refer to passages in confirmation of my assertions. Not to weary the reader's patience, by drawing out this cogitation, or perhaps an unattractive subject to an unreasonable length, I will only further remark, that the banquet scene is very exquisitely conducted. But lest it should be said that I have unfairly displayed the beauties, and anxiously shirked the faults of my author, I hereby give notice to all whom it may concern, that I have no intention of defending Cassander's extravagant exclamation of

“ Thunder and lightning!
The lords above are angry, and talk big !"
Nor the following speech :-

Pol. Why all this noise because a king must die?
Or does heaven fear because he swayed the earth,
His ghost will war with the High Thunderer?
Curse on the babbling Fates that cannot see

A great man tumble, but they must be talking.”
Nor Alexander's furious address to Roxana after Statira's murder :-

"Oh, harpy! thou shalt reign the queen of devils !" Nor the following mad-brained speech of Alexander to the dying Statira:

“ Close not thy eyes;

Things of import I have to speak before
Thou tak'st thy journey :—Tell the Gods I'm coming
To give them an account of life and death;
And many other hundred thousand policies,

That much concern the government of Heaven.” These passages I hereby empower and permit all my pupils and admirers to expunge from their copies of the play.

In conclusion, I must again declare my conviction that Alexander the Great is the worst of Lee's productions; and, indeed, it was the perusal of his other plays (and particularly of Theodosius, or the Force of Love, which, with the exception of some political allusions in the earlier scenes, is pure drama,) that made me decide Lee to be a poet, and determine to find something to commend in his Alexander the Great. The consideration of his other plays I must reserve for a separate cogitation.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

Often do we hear persons accused of obstinacy; but seldom can the accusers give any rational meaning to the charge. Every man bas a right to place perfect faith in the correctness of his own opinion; and to act upon that faith to the fullest extent. Nor is this all; it is his duty to assert this right; and if he neglects to do so, we at once scorn him as a despicable pretender to the name of humanity. The experience of others to us is nought; that which is to be of use to us must be gained by the sweat of our own brow-must be the prize of our own valour. Wisdom, of any kind, was never yet imparted by precept, or warning, or lecture; we must arm for the battle, and win it ourselves in the conflict.

It is the distinguishing characteristic of humanity, that every man has within his own breast all that is requisite for the supply of bis mental needs. No necessity exists for him to depend on foreign help. He has the faculty of comparing cause and effect, and of drawing therefrom conclusions ; in which process he can scarcely be aided. Others may present new facts for his consideration ; but his conclusion, if it be good for anything, must be the unalloyed response of his own conscience. That man is unworthy of the name of man, who will not confide in the integrity of his own intuitions, and believe that he is not afflicted with a blindness to truth. If one man can reason well, I can do the same ; for wherein do we differ? Are we not of the same race ?-possessed of the same capabilities ?-moved by the same passions ?-animated by the same hopes ?—and heirs of the same destiny? Then in what he does well, wherefore should I not do well likewise ? Men are created equal; whatever difference exists between man and man is accidental, not essential. Claim a faculty for one man, and you claim it for the whole race. Thus I, being no ways inferior to my fellow men in aught which constitutes me man, cannot,

without abasement, desert the principles and opinions I have honestly conceived, however authority may browbeat, or custom deride.

But it may be asked, shall one man oppose his single opinion to the opinion of many ?—shall he dare to set up his judgement against that of the whole world ? I answer, Yes !--if he speak honestly from his conscience. Self-confidence is the crown of manhood. Nothing great--nothing good has been accomplished by those who have not had the courage to believe in their own truth. What is a crowd of opponent authorities to me? If I know what I declare to be true-not with a blind belief, but with my eyes open, and after patient toil and earnest meditation-it has become my duty, as I tender the dignity of manhood, to stand the brunt of the battle, and cry craven to none. But again, it may be asked, is it possible that the one man should be right, and the million wrong? Yes, o yes !-very possible;- nay, more, very probable. Error is more contagious than truth. The solitary student in his closet may be enabled to grasp the truth; yet, having grasped it, will he not stand alone? Some will call him a madman-others, nickname him an enthusiast; he will have to endure contumely, persecution, and malice; but if he yields not, his triumph is sure. Look into history or biography, and you will find that all those whom we now reverence as the apostles of truth, originally stood in this position, of one against many; that each had to combat the world, and that each came out of the contest victorious.

Stilla man may say, “I am unfitted for such daring ; I am no Luther -10 mighty reformer: I must produce authority for my actions, and do as others do, if I would avoid reproach." Why dost thou depreciate thyself, O thou of little faith? Dost thou think Luther had a single quality thou hast not? If he had, could he have been of the same species? The seeds of nobility may lie dormant in thee ; but every man has the capacity of being as great as man can be. Be not content with saying, “I am a pigmy; I can only crawl and lick the dust off the shoes of this man or that.”-Up! and try thy strength !—Think thyself a hero, and thou wilt prove one.

Nor is it necessary to be at the head of armies or of nations for the display of heroism. One can be a hero in one's own parlour; and he who is so, is the greatest of all. Private life affords us plenty of opportunities for the exhibition of strength or of weakness; to exercise the nobleness and expose the littleness of our minds. Guide thy course steadily in the light of fixed principle ; and scorn to change it because popular prejudice or fickleness make thee the butt of ridicule. The man of fixed principle is the only man whom no emergency can find unprepared. He steers truly and safely; for in all circumstances his path is plain and open before him. However involved and intricate a labyrinth may be, we may always be extricated from its mazes by keeping one way; but if we run up and down—now here, and now there every step we take but increases our confusion and our danger, So in the great labyrinth of the world, he who never deviates to the right nor the left, whose actions are all referable to principle and not to inclination, will be alike noble in the storms of adversity and the sunshine of prosperity-will be alike heroic at his domestic hearth and the helm of nations.

« AnteriorContinua »