Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

library of Prince Posterity. I know nothing more about the poem than that I have read it ; and about the author no more than that he is a poet. It is nothing to me whether the book has found readers, or whether it has been praised by the critics. Whether the author be a Tory or a Radical, an Aristocrat or an Operative, I care not. I never saw him—I never heard of him before I read his name upon the titlepage of his book ; but now I know that he is a genuine poet; I am sure of it; I am not more certain that the sun giveth light when it shines.

But ! what was I saying ere I began to speak of his poem? Oh! truth, golden truth, was my theme. We do not arrive at truth by dogmatizing, but by inquiring. “ Yes, we were both philosophers, said the shade of Bayle to the shade of Plato, in Lord Lyttleton's Dialogues of the Dead, “but my philosophy was the deepest ; you dogmatized and I doubted.” This was intended by “the good lord” as a keen stroke of irony, but I do not think that it is a remarkably happy one. “ The dogmatist,” says Watts, “is sure of every thing; the sceptic believes nothing." To doubt, then, is surely as wise as to dogmatize; but Plato did neither, he inquired ; and, after long inquiries, he found.

I have taken the spade into my hand, and over my shoulder is the mattock, for I am now going forth to dig. I am a sinner; and the ore that I seek, more precious is than gold; it is Truth. Wilt thou dig with me, reader ? and deeply, for this ore lieth not near the surface; it is interwoven with the rubbish of error ; but from the enclosing mass it must be extricated—and by us? nay, that is presumption; but I will plant my foot upon the spade, and try.

What is the love of children? Is it weakness, or is it strength ? Is it greatness, or is it littleness? Is it philanthropy- now do not start at this seemingly paradoxical question-Is it philanthropy, I ask; or is it not, rather, misanthropy ?

To this I answer that it may be either ; according to the soil in which it is planted, does it grow up a weed or a flower. The love of children is not universally a manifestation of benevolence; often proceeds it from bitterness of heart—often is it pride, and not lowliness—often expresses it nothing else but a hatred and a contempt of the world.

I have commented upon two illustrative examples-one historical and one poetical-of the love which full-grown men sometimes bear to little children. These examples will assist me still further-Agesilaus and the Solitary of the Excursion.

And firstly of Agesilaus.—We find him romping with his childrenbut we know the nobility of his nature—we know how by all men he was loved. Great and generous and universally benevolent was Agesilaus of Lacedæmon. “He was so mild and courteous," writes Plutarch, “ that every courteous word wrought in him better obedience than any feare could doe.” Knowing his nature, then, we can neither accuse him of pride, nor of bitterness, nor of a mean spirit; we cannot say that his love of children was nothing better than the scum of misanthropy. It was a beautiful and hallowed affection-it was another and not the dullest jewel in the crown of his lustrous virtue. This is so very manifest, that I am almost ashamed of myself for insisting upon such palpable common-places.

But the Solitary of Wordsworth's “ Excursion,”-why did he love children? Because he was disgusted with men. And this is common; the feeling is identical with that which often generates an attachment to animals. It is misanthropy-nothing better. They who delight much in the companionship of brutes are seldom very fond of their

fellows.

I agree with Cæsar, who,“ seeing in Rome, one day, certaine rich and wealthy strangers having little dogs and monkeys in their armes, and that they made marvellous much of them, asked if the women of their country had no children, wisely reproving them by this question, for that they bestowed their natural love and affection upon brute beasts, which they should, with all kindness, bestowe upon men."**This from Plutarch-I know that in the Spectator there is a capital paper reprehending this passion for dogs and monkeys; but I have not the leisure to search for it. This, at least, is an unseemly expenditure of affection; and as we liken ourselves unto that which we love,

“ As a lover or a chameleon

Grows like what it looks upon," I cannot think otherwise than that it is wasting beauty upon a beast.

It is most frequently a misanthropical affection. In the bitterness of his heart Lord Byron erected a monument to his dog; and he inscribed thereon an epitaph which concluded with this notable and well-known couplet,

“ To mark a friend's remains these stones arise,

I never knew but one-and here he lies.” To compliment the carcass of a dead dog at the expense of humanity was a noble contrivance to spit his lordly venom at the world. There was Pope too-he was bitter enough to write that “ Histories are more full of the examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends,"--an untruth of the worst order-a malicious one. Arcades ambo. But Agesilaus was deformed also; and I love him the better for his deformity. He indeed was a bright exception; and beautiful his character altogether. He made not himself “even with nature,” but he returned good for evil, and was the kindest of men. I think that to Lord Byron, the profligate Alcibiades was the most dazzling character of antiquity. The son of Clinias also had a large dog, “ exceeding faire,” saith the Biographer; yet methinks he loved nothing save himself and that ;—but as a pendant to this treatise I will some day write a commentary upon “ Pet Animals, and my Disgust of them," beginning with Caligula's horse.

In some morbid bosoms the love of children is identical with this affection for beasts. “Oh! I do so delight in children," quoth Misanthropos, “ because they are so unlike to men."

This is bitterness; but the love of children is often the scum of pride. Children are weak and helpless, they cling to us, and therefore we love them. “This is generosity!” No; it is pride-pride that apes humility. Children do not set up their pretensions against our own, and therefore we love them dearly. I do not say that of such

* North's Plutarch-Life of Pericles.

materials our affection for young people is always constituted; but so, doubtless, sometimes it is. I am only maintaining, now, that the love of children is not uniformly an amiable feeling. Beyond a question, it is pleasant to patronize, and we patronize young people. From a manuscript fiction which may some day see the light, I select a passage which purporteth to explore the penetralia of these emotions. Thus writeth the imaginary autobiographer.

“I am always very urbane and tolerant towards my inferiors; and if ever I be hard and uncompromising, it is towards them who consider themselves superior to me. This is by no means an uncommon trait, and I think that it originates in pride; not in frothy, superficial arrogance, but in genuine, deep-seated pride. An arrogant man is imperious, a proud man condescending towards the lowly. The one despises those beneath him: the other hates those above him. The proudest men are the kindest to their inferiors; they love the poor for being poor, and are the most courteous towards those whom it is the greatest condescension to favour. Arrogance loves to trample upon-pride to patronize the humble. I was a proud man; I certainly was not an arrogant one.”

And from pride of this nature oftentimes proceedeth the love of children; for children are weak and lowly; they look up to us for protection and patronage, and it is certainly pleasing to be looked up to and to congratulate ourselves on our superior strength. Is not this truth? I hope not ; though I fear that it is; for I would fain adopt a more cheerful philosophy. Nothing but the conviction that I am labouring in the cause of Truth could have upheld me throughout all this time that I have been painfully anatomizing the worser parts of man's nature; but anon the better segment shall be displayed, and I will write of pure love in my second essay, and of the beautiful objects that awaken it-of little children and of their thousand graces; all shall be gay and cheerful and amiable; I will not vituperate, but praise. Bear with me, then, and forgive what I have written, for that which I am about to write will exolve me, I hope, from all charges of malignity. It is a hard thing, at times, to be compelled to unravel the tangled web of truth.

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

THE ENGLISH LEGITIMATE DRAMA, IN WRAT IT ORIGINATED, WAY IT CEASED, AND HOW IT WILL BE RESTORED, WITH EXPLANATIONS OF ITS PRINCIPAL PROPERTIES.

BY EDWARD MAYIIEW. When treating of any art, the first step towards an understanding must be the definition of terms; for as all knowledge is contained in words, things are only understood when these are comprehended; but so long as these remain to be explained, the science of any art can never be laid down. To define all the words used in such discussions on the Drama would occupy too much space, and require perhaps more attention than the general reader would be disposed to afford an article in a magazine. The more important, therefore, alone must be selected, and for the rest some future opportunity be sought. The most important appear to be Poetry, Dramatic Pathos and Humour.

Poetry has been well said to mean feeling, as, wherever feeling is conveyed in words, the language becomes poetic. Some have insisted rhyme and rhythm to be elements of true poetry ; but if so, rhyme being no constitutional part of feeling, the truth of the first definition would be limited, or probably destroyed. Homer, Virgil, Shakspere, and the Sacred Writings, are proof that the highest possible poetry may be expressed without the aid of rhyme, wherefore the opinion of the necessity of rhyme appears unfounded. Though the presence of rhyme does not destroy poetry, the highest order of poetry has not hitherto availed itself of such ornament. Rhythm is a quality of all languages, and the stranger in a country is struck by the chant or sing-song of a tongue heard for the first time. We unconsciously set our speech to music; and if, when speaking, any word suggest itself out of harmony with “ the run," it is rejected, and a check ensues in the discourse; thus rhythm must be present more or less marked ; however, that it must be of a metrical prominence before poetry can exist, is by no means proved, but the contrary is certainly established in our translation of the Bible.

Poetry is feeling. Rhyme and metre are employed by the poet, but are no more than ornaments superadded, and can exist apart from poetry, as poetry may be where rhyme and metre are not.

The Dramatic is also feeling. Where then is the distinction beiween the Poetic and the Dramatic ? The Poet describes feeling. The Dramatist expresses feeling. In the first the Poet is the means of communication between the feeling and the object. In the last, the Dramatist is not present, but the feeling speaks direct ; so Poetry becomes Dramatic whenever the Poet passionately addresses the reader in his own character, or the persons in the poem utter exclamations that appeal at once to the sympathies; and the Dramatist ceases to be Dramatic when he inserts mere description, or makes his characters speak otherwise than in their feeling. Congreve wrote Comedies so called, without evolving poetry; but these pieces are not Dramas, only witty dialogues ; for the moment the feeling is absent the Dramatic gives place to the colloquial, and wit renders it no more than

intelligent. The Dramatist is the first in poetic honour, as nearest to the source of inspiration. He sits upon the tripod and delivers the oracle. The Epic Poet is the inferior in rank, though hitherto the richer in estimation. The Epic Poet aims at sublimity-he selects his objects from nature, and limits his sphere of action-he can appeal to conventional ideas, and reject all unsuited to his purpose ; but the Dramatist has little power in his office. Nature unsorted is his dominion, and he must harmonize the vulgar and the refined. This is the more difficult and the higher province, which the Epic poets unconsciously admit, as all the sublimest sentences in Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton, are delivered in the Dramatic form. Whenever the Epic Poet would rise above the level of his theme, he does so by assuming the character the Dramatist never puts off; whence the force of a truth which has descended to us from that time when the Drama was much loved is perceived, asserting that “ A good Drama is the highest effort of human genius.”

Pathos is the consciousness of mental love the acknowledgment of the bond in which all nature is united—the response of the highest and the purest sensibility. Whenever the perception of the bodily corruptions, the regard for mere conventional and worldly ties and havings is surmounted, and man's finest faculty thereby allowed to operate, the sensation will be pathetic. No man can have an impure mental love. This part of our affections is incorruptible. Pride, lust, avarice, and revenge, are of earth- they spring from and feed on the things of this world, but mental love is immortal. In all, from the child to the old man, it is innate and immutable. With rage and appetite we can sympathize, yet no two in like degree, for no two have the baser desires in the same intensity ; but in the love of abstract goodness mankind are unanimous. A beautiful monotony pervades our nature in this particular alone; for where disputes arise it is because the moral vision is by some worldly opacity obscured, not because the purity itself is without power. To couch the eyes of the morally blind, strong incidents are generally employed, and the love of this world being by their force thrown down, the better impulse is released in that feeling termed pathetic. Not that strong incidents are required for the generation of the emotion, as the sight of abstract goodness, elevated generosity, and devotion, or even outward objects, as pictures of ideal beauty and buildings of harmonious proportions, or sounds of exquisite melody, do excite, by appealing to the higher mental affection for things approaching its own nature of perfection, a sensation which, though pleasurable, yet is pathetic. The Tragic writer seeks to create pathetic emotions in the highest degree ; wherefore in the Drama, and therefore in all poetry, Tragedy holds the foremost place.

Humour expresses its own meaning, and signifies the humour in which mirth is indulged the feeling of enjoyment or sense of fun in which any sport is perpetrated or joke expressed. Thus Pathos touches the highest sensibility. Humour appeals to a natural sympathy, and both therefore are universally recognized. All classes can participate in humour, but wit, being merely an exercise of intelligence, may be unintelligible to the uneducated.

« AnteriorContinua »