Imatges de pÓgina

considers only how he may work these human telegraphs so as to make them the communicants of acceptable intelligence to the audience. Thus it becomes the intelect, and of course the practice of both parties, to despise moral when compared with physical means of attraction ; to exalt matter over mind, to sacrifice intellect and dialogue at the shrine of splendour and pantomime, and convert a histrionic artist into a muminer and a inime.

Even where a performer has an unexceptionable colloquy to deliver, and a genuine passion to develop, he must keep his lungs perpetually on the stretch to become audible, and distort his face into caricature to produce adequate expression. As the scenes must be highly orer-coloured and bedaubed with coarse patches of paint or tirsel, to have any effect in the remote boxes, so must the actors, who may be termed the living scenery of the stage, spread out their features into grimace, and assume a broad foreground of buffoonery, that the picture they present may be visible to the distant spectators. Hence all those miniature touches, those delicate and evanescent shadowings of passion, which flit over the countenance to foretell the coming storm, like the shadows of clouds coursing athwart the mirror of the deep, are totally lost, and with them disappears the essence of the actor's art, and the proper principle of the spectator's delight. Garrick himself, were he to revisit us, and perform as in his happiest days, would be Garrick to the stage boxes only : the rest of the audience could no more follow the finer fluctuations of his countenance, or catch the undertones of his voice, than if they were gazing upan his statue in Westminster Abbey.




The birds that sang so sweet in the summer skies are fled,
And we trample under foot leaves that flutter'd o'er our head ;
The verdant fields of June wear a winding-sheet of white,
The stream has lost its tune, and the glancing waves their light.
We too, my faithful wife, feel our winter coming on,
And our dream of early life like the summer birds are gone :
My head is silver'd o'er, while thine eyes their fire have lost,
And thy voice so sweet of yore, is enchain'd by age's frost.
But the founts that live and shoot through the bosom of the

earth, Still prepare each seed and root to give future flowers their

birth; And we, my dearest Jane, spite of age's wintry blight, In our bosoms will retain Spring's florescence and delight. The seeds of love and lore that we planted in our youth, Shall develop more and more their attractiveness and truth; The springs beneath shall run, though the snows be on our

head, For love's declining sun shall with friendship’s rays be fede Thus as happy as when young shall we both grow old, my wife, On one bough united hung of the fruitful tree of life; May we never disengage through each change of wind and

weather, Till in ripeness of old age we both drop to earth together!

[ocr errors]



No. II.

These are causes which, reciprocally operating upon and strengthening each other, appear to have occasioned the declension of Attic comedy, so far as affects its dialogue and literary reputation. But the degeneracy, it may be averred, is not confined to language and imagery ; it is of deeper root, and pervades the very elements of the art, as well as the medium by which it is unfolded. The materials themselves are as inferior as the skill with which they are combined, and the decorations with which they are attempted to be embellished. We no longer discern those strong and distant characters, those striking contrasts and broad delineations, which are as necessary to give vividness and variety to the picture upon the stage, as are the opposition of light and shade to produce effect in a painting upon


All our modern presentations are either exaggerated into farce and caricature, or else they are uniformly spiritless and inexpressive ; faint shadows of former and more vigorous portraitures. This complaint is, we apprehend, so far from being limited to ourselves, that it will be found to prevail in every country that has kept pace with us in the march of civilization. Were there any exceptions to this dramatic sickliness, it will hardly be contended, that, in the present state of literary cummunication, we would not eagerly avail ourselves of the strength of others, and endeavour to corroborate our debilitated muse by an administration of tonics. But in this domestic dearth, what have we been able to import from abroad? A few light afterpieces from France, lively in their objects and happy in their construction, but too frivolous to arrest our attention in a dissertation upon comedy: from Spain we have derived some artfully complicated fablesand little or nothing from the rest of Europe, with the exception of Germany. From that quarter, indeed, we were for a time inundated; and many fondly imagined that we were transplanting from a newly discovered hot-bed of genius and originality, but it was quickly found that these nondescript exotics were only new, because they were boldly un. natural; that their sentiment was false, their morality spurious, their characters imaginary; and hence, like every thing else that wants the stamp of truth, they were unable to make any permanent impression upon the public mind. A temporary admiration

was excited by the novel exhibition of characters invested with qualities and habits directly the reverse of those which exist in ordinary life ; and we were, at first, too much struck by their monstrous features, to reflect that they were not human; that the authors, so far from holding a faithful mirror up to nature, had employed one of those deceptive reflectors, which either present figures turned topsyturvy, huddled up into a fantastic breadth, or drawn out to a ridiculous length. Finding little of novelty in the characters of existing beings, the German dramatists seem to have thought themselves authorized to fly to the realms of abstraction and metaphysics; to people the drama with creatures of their own, and to thrust forward their phantasmagoric spectres, conjured up by the force of imagination, and painted upon air, in lieu of those sober dramatic portraits which can only please in proportion as they are accurate copies of living prototypes. Anomalies like these are rather a confirmation of, than exception to, the evident decay in the materials of comedy ; and since the symptoms of this defectiveness are common to all Europe, it would be idle to seek its solution in temporary or local causes, The progress of civilization and refinement, and the universal diffusion of knowledge, are the efficient operators in debilitating the drama by destroying the means of support. It is the province of the stage to point out those peculiarities of quality or mode which constitute character, and, in the ruder stages of society, when men are led by ignorance or prejudice to let their minds shoot out in native wildness, unpruned by cultivation, they will be perpetoally assuming those irregular outlines and fantastic forms, which, like crooked timbers to a shipwright, are the most valuable materials to a dramatist, in strengthening and perfecting his work. But in the collision produced by gradual civilization, the prominent points are progressively rounded away, and men, like coins long shaken in a bag, in proportion as they become polished, lose the stamp and impress of their character, and with them every thing that conferred individuality and distinction. In this consolidation, the stage has been a slow but powerful auxiliary. By bringing before the eyes of all classes the foibles and peculiarities of each, it has inculcated a general lesson, which, acting in every direction to the removal of those modes by which ranks are distinguished, has gradually brought about an approximation in which all ranks are confounded. Dressing their minds indiscriminately before this dramatic mirror, men have insensibly assimilated themselves to each other, until society has become invested in a sort of mental uniform, which it is as difficult for a dramatist to pourtray with any

a degree of picturesque or striking effect, as it would be for an artist to produce a rich and varied composition in painting a meeting of Quakers. This conformity of manners, and diffusion of refinement, in the same proportion that they are beneficial to the community are injurious to the stage, as the enclosure of commons and ploughing up of heaths, while they improve the country, are highly detrimental to the landscape painter.

Human nature will undoubtedly still remain the same, and that strange compound, the mind of man, will still retain its inexhaustible variety of vices, follies, and inconsistencies. But they will be less exposed to passing observation ; they will be secreted with as much anxiety as bodily defects; and as these latter will be hidden, as far as possible, by a nice adaptation of draperies, so will the former be concealed under a covering of hypocrisy, denomi. nated refinement. Qualities of the mind, moreover, even where they rise so far above the surface as to be easily gathered by the dramatic writer, will afford him an unproductive harvest. It requires a fine cultivated, and discriminating

« AnteriorContinua »