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Oh, what is life? A phrenzy. What is life?
End of Act II.
THE COUNT DE FOIX.+ FROIssart, the most delightful of Chroniclers, abounds, as every body is aware, with incidents of the most curious interest. His volumes are so many rooms of a storehouse, inexhaustible in materials for the romance-writer, the dramatist, and the narrative poet. Mr. Powell has made a bold choice in the subject that he has extracted from that various treasury. The story of the Count de Foix is of a nature so profoundly tragical, and in some particulars so perplexing, that it required a master-hand to deal with the details in such a manner as to render the perasal other than intolerably painful, and to keep the reader's horror under the control of his commiseration. Froissart has effected this difficult task as if by magic, and we trembled for Mr. Powell when we found him venturing in the footsteps of the sorcerer on such dangerous ground. But “ Fortune favours the brave.” He has acquitted himself with honour. The narrative is versified with a facility quite remarkable; and the very tone and buoyancy of Froissart have been caught and preserved, not in the lighter parts only, but in those passages which required something much more subtle than mere levity of will and hardihood of spirit, to bear him up and carry him through with success. When we add, that in the amplification of Froissart's narrative, Mr. Powell has shown considerable ingenuity, that his own additions to the web are in keeping with the original tissue, and that he has enriched it with many poetical graces, we have given an opinion certainly very favourable to his pretensions—but not too much so for the talent with which he has vindicated his right to them. We shall content ourselves with few selections, for it would hardly be fair to make many from so short a work; it would be taking the heart out of the mystery; for the whole affair is comprised within sixty pages. Mr.
* It is worth while for any one to read this Play in the original Spanish, for the sake of this speech. It is in rhyme, and has a sort of hurried character, which pro. duces a magnificent effect. I cannot help transcribing the last six lines.
" Qué es la vida ? Un frenesí :
Qué es la vida ? Una illusion,
Y los sueños sueño son." There is a mass of tedious, frigid rubbish in the Spanish Drama,-but when the flash does come, it is sometimes glorious.-J. O.
+ A Tale of the Olden Time. By Thomas Powell. Effingham Wilson, 18, Bishopsgate Street. 1842.
Powell is already known to us by former poetical publications, of which the merit was not a little damaged by what we, critically speaking, must call his own unpardonable carelessness. Not only did he leave too many screws loose in his versification, but the sense of the thoughts was often utterly disconcerted by his inattention to accuracy of construction. We wish we could say that he has in the present publication shown himself to be quite free from his besetting sin of negligence in composition. But though we cannot go so far, we can congratulate him on much improvement. Those faults of style are comparatively few--we were about to add insignificant-but a glance at one of his pages reminds us, and may prove to our readers, and perhaps to himself, how completely a false word may betray a spirited passage into the slough of bathos.
“The Minstrel took
Tears to the eyes, with old rememberings.” Here a single letter too much spoils the whole passage, and brings it to a “ lame and impotent conclusion.” The verb should, of course, have been bring, but an additional s was convenient to make the line rhyme to the weak one that follows. Had Mr. Powell paid due reverence to Priscian, he would have avoided the solecism, and so compelled himself to the trouble of finding another rhyme; but he would no doubt have been rewarded by finding one with more reason in it, and more strength.
We need not tell Mr. Powell that “light” and “ delight” are not rhymes ; French perfect rhymes are far from perfect English ones. We need not tell him that “ trance” and “ pants” are worse than no rhymes; they are cheats that break the word of promise to the ear! He knows all that well enough, we have no doubt; and he may, for aught we know, smile with complacent indifference at such carpings, as the cavils of “word-catchers that live on syllables.” Youthful aspirants for the bays are too apt to overlook the importance of correctness of diction, without which, we will venture to say, no poet of modern times will live, for without it there is really no clearness and no justness of sense. Even the marvellous poet Spenser, who flourished in the days when the vaunted “ well of English undefiled” was current, has added nothing to his fame by making his stanza a bed of Procrustes, on which words, prisoners of rhyme, were clipped or stretched at pleasure. Pope—though it was he who ridicules" word-catchers,”
– was, of all writers, the most ambitious of correctness; and though he could “snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,” he was a true respecter, as well as an able expounder, of the "Art of Criticism." And his genius will continue to live by the vital force of its good sense, when all the clever essays that have been written to prove him no poet, are as utterly forgotten as they are already disregarded, by all but crotchetty censors and their unreasoning echoes.
But to our extracts. The wife of the Count de Foix is at Pampeluna, at the Court of her brother, the King of Navarre. She has been there eighteen years—the long period of her estrangement from her husband, whose palace is at Orthes. She has not seen her only son, Gaston, during all that time. He is now expected on a visit to her and his Uncle. Her emotion, while she is waiting for his arrival, is thus depicted :
“ The Countess rose betimes, for 'twas the day
When she would see her son ; wbom, since he lay
The bright side of her heart."
" "Twere vain to tell the rapture and the greeting
That gushed from both their hearts at this blest meeting.
The youth, happy in the prospect of an early reconciliation between his parents, takes leave of his mother and uncle, and sets out on his return homeward.
“Loaded with gifts and jewels he departed,
The stately castle where his father reigned.” The moral use of ancient family trophies, when suspended in the halls of the descendants of their wearers or gainers, is pithily suggested :
-“ hear the song
An impulse after death to those who live.” The Count de Foix is of a noble but hasty and haughty disposition, though usually of affable and seemingly even cheerful demeanour to his dependents and guests ; but he is in secret the victim of a rankling sorrow.
“ For since the Countess left him, he had known
No human heart that he could call his own,
Of a proud spirit,-else, how desolate !" The horrible circumstance on which the catastrophe hinges, and which we purposely omit because we will not take the edge off of the curiosity of the reader, deprives him of this solace in the most unexpected and appalling manner.
“ A thrill of horror ran through all. The Count
Felt his indignant blood in vengeance mount;
The feast broke up in silence and dismay ;-
He passed to his own chamber.
His fair-haired boy, first saw the light of day:
Now let us from the father to the son,
Where still his ancestors their battles fought?”— The lines that conclude this portion of the poem are good, but we have not room for them. We must come to the close. The youth has been more than a week in prison, when the wretched father, after a night of miserable dreams,
“ Awaking from a world of bones,
Resolved to visit Gaston.”
“And drawing near the door with noiseless pace,
Paused for an instant; then looked round the place,
Cold as a newt in some o'ershadowed brook."-
_" opened the grating door,
But all was silent, save that the damp walls