Imatges de pàgina


AFTER having spoken of Young, I proceed to a man who has made a schism in literature, who is idolized by the country which gave him birth, admired throughout the North of Europe, and placed by some Frenchmen at the side of Corneille and Racine.

It was Voltaire, who made France acquaiuted with Shakspeare. The opinion, which he at first formed of English tragedy, was, like most of his early opinions, replete with justice, taste, and impartiality. In a letter to Lord Bo. lingbroke, written about the year 1730, he observed : " With what pleasure did I see, while in London, the tragedy of Julius Cæsar, which has been the delight of your nation for a century and a half !” On another occasion he said :

Shakespeare created the English stage. He had a genios abounding with vigorous conception; he was natural and sublime, but he did not possess a single spark of taste, or the least knowledge of rules. I shall make a bold assertion, but a true one, when I state that this

author spoiled the English stage. There are such beautiful scenes, such grand and terrible passages in his monstrous farces, whic hare called tragedies, that his pieces have always been performed with great success.

Such were the first decisions of Voltaire as to Shakspeare; but when an attempt was made to set up this great genius as a model of perfection, when the masterpieces of the Greek and French drama were declared inferior to his writings, then the author of Merope perceived the danger. He perceived that by elevating the beauties of a barbarian, he had misled those, who were unable, like himself, to separate the pure metal from the dross. He wished to retrace his steps, and attacked the idol he had worshipped ; but it was then too late, and he in vain repented that he had opened the gate to mediocrity, and assisted, as he himself said, in placing the monster on the altar. Voltaire had made Eng land, which was then but little known, a sort of marvellous country to supply him with such heroes, opinions, and ideas as he wanted. Towards the close of his life he reproached himself with this false admiration, of which he had only availed himself to support his doctrines. He began to discover its lamentable consequences, and might unfortunately exclaim: Et quorum pars magna fui.

M. de la Harpe, an excellent critic, in his analysis of Shakspeare's Tempest, which was translated into French by M. Le Tourneur, exposed to full view the gross irregularities of Shakspeare, and avenged the cause of the French stage. Two modern authors, Madame de Staël Holstein and M. de Rivarol have also passed sentence on the great English tragic poet; but it appears to me that notwithstanding so much has been written on this subject, several interesting remarks may yet be made.

As to the English critics, they have seldom spoken the truth respecting their favourite poet. Ben Jonson, who was first the disciple, and then the rival of Shakspeare, shared with him at first their good opinion. Pope observes that “ they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expense of the other." Because Ben Jonson had much the more learning it was said, on the one hand,



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that Shakspeare had none at all ; and because Shakspeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other that Jonson wanted both. Ben Jonson is only known at the present day by his Fox and his Alchymist.*

Pope displayed more impartiality in his criticisms, “ Of all English poets," says he, “ Shakspeare must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as most conspicuous instances, both of beauties and faults of all


If Pope had abided by this judgment, he would have deserved praise for his moderation; but soon afterwards he is hurried away by the prejudices of his country, and extols Shakspeare above every genius ancient and modern, He goes so far as even to excuse the lowness of some characters in the English poet by this ingenions comparison.

* Surely at present better known by Every Man in his Humour than any of the pieces mentioned by the author. The Fox is never performed, and the Alchymist, which Garrick reduced to a farce, under the title of the Tobacconist, for the purpose of displaying his own inimitable powers in the character of Abel Drugger, has been also laid on the shelf, noneofour modern performers having attempted that part except Mr. Emery. The great actor of the present day, however, Mr. Kean is about to appear in the character.-EDITOR.

“ In these cases,” says he, “Shakspeare's genius is like some prince of a romance in the disguise of a shepherd or peasant; a certain greatness of spirit now and then breaks ont, which manifest his higher extraction and qualities.


* M. de Chateaubriand has here been guilty of a great oversight, for I will not suppose that he has wilfully perverted Pope's meaning to support his own philippic against our immortal bard. He seems to think that the above quotation was made upon tragedy, whereas it was made upon comedy, and every one must be aware that strictures upon the one are very unlikely to be just as to the other. That the reader may judge for himself I will quote the whole passage from Pope. “In tragedy," says he, “nothing was so sure to surprise and cause admiration, as the most strange, unespected, and consequently most unnatural events and inci. dents; the most exaggerated thoughts; the most verbose and bombast expressions; the most pompous rhimes, and thundering versifications. In comedy, nothing was so sure to please as mean buffoonery, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jests of fools and clowns. Yet even in these our author's wit buoys up, and is borne above his subject; his genius in those low parts is like some prince of a romance in the dis

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