« AnteriorContinua »
seems to us, with all deference to critics who are belter qualified to judge correctly, that they are commonly rated too low. The one is a Tragedy,
. called Numancia," which has for its subject the taking of the city of Numancia by the Romans. Without entering into the details of the execution, we will simply ask those who are disposed to detract from its merits, to name a drama, in which pity and terror, the means by which tragic effect is to be produced, are more forcibly excited ? The other piece, which is entitled “ The Way of Living at Algiers,” “El Trato de Argel,” must disarm the severity of criticism : for who can censure, on account of a breach of certain arbitrary rules of art, this charming picture of real life? It relates the affecting tale of the captivity of the author and many of his gallant countrymen; and genuine sorrows are painted with a truth of colouring that nature alone can teach. It is unusual for an author to introduce himself in his own drama; but this Cervantes does by his name Saavedra, and with an excellent effect; it is not less uncommon fora dramatist to bear an important part in adventures so romantic and so well adapted to the exigencies of his profession. Calderon is the prince of Spanish poets ; his numerous comedies attest his wonderful and various powers. It is not to be forgotten that, in Spain, comedy is of a graver cast than elsewhere; gravity, indeed, is so essential, that one of their dramatic writers seems to consider a grave countenance as indicative of his nation :
“ Y es un mozo
It is not on his comedies, however, that the fame of this wonderful genius principally rests. The most celebrated of his pieces are of a more solemn nature; we mean his “ Autos,” or Sacramental Acts : which were dramas on sacred subjects, represented on the great Feast of Corpus Christi, of a most mysterious and deeply devotional cast. It would far exceed the compass of the present portion of the subject to convey an adequate idea of these remarkable performances; we have only alluded to them in confirmation of the doctrine we have before advanced, that the Drama is intimately connected with Religion, and not opposed to it, as the vulgar of different ages and countries have sometimes ventured to maintain ; on the contrary, wherever it has been most successful, it has been found in the closest and most perfect union. The five most celebrated of the Spanish dramatisis actually became monks; viz. Lope de Vega, Calderon, Moreto, Tellez, and Solis. In more modern times, the task of supporting the ancient glory of the Spanish Stage rests upon Moratin; to this he is quite inadequate, but he is not devoid of merit.
There is much that is interesting in the theatre of the Italians; the Comedy of Art, as their extemporaneous comedy is called, is peculiar to Italy. The plan of the drama is accurately laid down, and some whole passages and important scenes are carefully written; but the rest of the canvass is filled up at the will, and according to the means, of the performers. It consequently resembles a speech, of which the general design has been maturely considered and arranged, and certain portions have been composed, perhaps even written down and committed to memory, while the remainder is spontaneous effusion, skilfully and judiciously adapted to the circumstances under which it is delivered, and rigidly confined to the method which had previously been devised. This kind of drama has long been a great savourite with ihe Italians, and, if we may judge from the specimens
which Gozzi has given us, we cannot but applaud their taste; we cannot doubt that the effect of a clever performance, like that of a good speech, which is partly composed by premeditation, and partly extempore, is often exceedingly powerful. In the comedy of art, masks are adopted; or we may say rather, that they have retained this part of the ancient practice; at least as to the principal characters, which, as in some of the older representations, are introduced in every piece, and are deemed indispensable; ihey are not a little fantastical and extravagant. This, and some others of the scenic diversions of the South of Europe, are almost unknown in the North; and it might be well, perhaps, to give a detailed account of them on another occasion : but they are not to the present purpose.
The French are rich in excellent comedies; we only mention their tragedies, that we may enter our protest against the assertion which misguided people frequently make, that they closely resemble those of the Greeks. They are no more like them, than a French marquis, arrayed in his full dress, and ready to dance a minuet before Louis XIV., was like Apollo Musagetes; or Madame, his charming and fashionable marchioness, when about to shine at the same brilliant court, was à counterpart of the simple and severe Minerva. They are, in truth, very bad imitations of very bad models of the tragedies of Seneca : they are bad things made infinitely worse. Our own tasle, in many respects, is sufficiently unclassical ; but we retain enough of the antique simplicity to be quite unable to endure productions, that would be of all writings the most intolerable, but that the dramatic form always imparts a degree of vivacity. Tiresome as the French tragedies are, they are less tiresome than epic poems would be. Difficult it is, no doubt, to read many of the tragedies of Voltaire, but it is far more difficult to wade through the Henriade ; and a narrative poem by Alfieri would undoubtedly be still more repelling than his “crude and sere” tragedies.
Our worthy friends and kinsmen of Germany have invented for themselves a strange sort of theatre, with which they are wonderfully delighted : one or two of their most celebrated pieces have been translated, and have been not only endured, but successful. It would be hard to deny the praise of genius to Schiller : but we must confess that we thought Wallenstein tiresome. Their lighter pieces--for, in comparison with two or three denser bodies, even lead is a light substance seem wonderfully ponderous to pigmies like ourselves. In their serious works they are less happy than any other nation-being cold and phlegmatic when natural, and, after grcat labour and with much apparent art, they become, for the most part, only monstrous and extravagant. They assert that the Greeks! attained their comic greatness by dint of severe exertion. It may be so; and as the ways of Providence are dark, the Germans are perhaps fated to arrive at an exquisite and most elaborate facetiousness. But, until this transcendent mirth shall be worked out, we shall content ourselves with the results of their erudition, which are sometimes more satisfactory. These ingenious and hard-working people toil incessantly to draw up Truth from her deep well. After unceasing efforts, by many iurns of the windlass, and having eagerly watched scores of fathoms of dripping rope, instead of bringing to light a naked goddess, they very carefully land another bucket of water!
We cannot conclude our hasty sketch of the principal theatres of modern Europe better than by borrowing the remarks of an acute Italian writer,
who observes very justly, that of whatever nation tbe imaginary characters in a drama may be, they will be always, in many respects, and fundamentally, the countrymen of the author. “ In those French tragedies, he says, “which treat of the palaces and princes of various nations of antiquity, we may always trace a certain air of the brilliancy, the politeness, the refinement, and the gallantry of the Parisian court. Whenever the kings and royal personages of the Greek tragedy are represented by the French, they appear totally different beings. Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Iphigenia, seem to be Mons. Agamemnon, Madame ClytemBestre, and Mlle Iphigenie. In the Spanish tragedies, ancient characters and people of different nations display, notwithstanding something of punctilio and restiveness, a certain sensitiveness and haughtiness, which discover the national disposition, and prove that their Achilles is Don Achilles.”
“ There are few Italian translations of the tragedies of the English ; but the Calo of Mr. Addison exhibits the character of that nalion, in a certain deep and profound way of thinking, and in a certain unattractive carriage, that are ill suited to the facility of manner of the Romans; and all the persons of this drama seem to be English gentlemen.”
It is time, however, to return to the point from which we have apparently somewhat digressed, and to enquire why the theatre is so little encouraged at the present day? The festivity of the people of England has been destroyed ; - in what manner, and when will it be restored? It is not impossible that the erroneous notion, that the drama is hostile to religion -a notion adopted through ignorance of the real objection of the fathers of the church, who originally abused dramatic representations, not because they were dramatic, but because they were idolatrous—has in some degree injured the theatre, and interrupted its prosperity. The shulling the theatre for thirteen years by the Puritans was no doubt a distinct and public acknowledgment that the sky was too small to hold two suns—that the conventicle and the playhouse could not subsist together : that is comedies, such as Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, could be heard at the Jalter place, sermons would not be heard at the former: in short, that unless they were too much for ridicule, it would soon be too much for them. But this extravagance of fanaticism could not produce any permanent effect. We are inclined to attribute the evil, therefore, to another cause, whish we have already named ; that our Jewpixò have been applied to other purposes. The fund which would have enabled us to pay our way into the playhouse has been dissipated, directly or indirectly, and various and great impediments have been opposed to our entrance, by the same authority. A distinguished jurist, who has carefully examined the constitutions of most of the countries of Europe, and that of Great Britain amongst the rest, wisely remarks, that the benefits of a representative system of government, and of the trial by jury, however transcendent, may perhaps be outweighed by the evils arising from a blind and selfish submission to the insane fury of excessive taxation, and of inordinate legislation : if we have many institutions admirably adapted to favour theoretical liberty, we have at least as many that assist equally well the cause of practical oppression.
By taxes innumerable, imposed immediately, and through every medium by which man is assailable, an universal poverty is created in the midst of affluence, and the private Sewpixor of each individual is absorbed; the shilling which remains to him after satisfying his more
pressing wants, and would serve to gratify his desire for amuseinent, by procuring his admission into the gallery of some playhouse, is extracted from his pocket by a tax-gatherer before he reaches the door; and is most equitably bestowed upon that minister for the trouble of detecting it. It may be urged, that the shilling only changes masters ; but its new possessor is too busy in laying informations, in taking and tendering oaths, in making permits, seizures, and surcharges, and in being assaulted and obstructed in the execution of his duty, to find time to enjoy fictitious distress.
This, however, is a rude kind of taxation, and betrays the helpless infancy of the art : a spare shilling rarely finds its way now to any man's pocket; the theatrical fund is intercepted higher up the stream, and commonly at the fountain-head, as soon as it rises out of the ground. The amount that is extracted from us by varied and complicated taxation, is not only enormous, but many of the details create innumerable vexations, and interfere greatly with the diversions of the people. It is by no means the same grievance, that the same sum should be raised by one tax as by another ; by a tax on income, is such a tax could ever be fairly levied, and by one on consumption. If, for example, the price of wine were raised to a guinea a bottle, a man of small fortune, who had a friend to dine with him occasionally, might still continue his hospitality without contributing more to the state than he would if he paid a sum annually, that was imposed upon him under some fiscal name, or without one : but as he would feel that he could always avoid the tax, by not using the taxed article, if he were prudent, he would often hesitate, and sometimes forbear from inviting his friend, being of course ashamed to seek to enjoy his sociely without producing one social holtle at the least ; and thus the ancient intercourse of mankind would be interrupted, and the hospitable Jupiter offended at the impious imposition. An indulgent father, and indeed every father, desires that his children should have a competent supply of toys; but if playthings were heavily taxed, although the sum he would pay, if he still continued to purchase the same toys as before, might not be great, and if there were no other tax, he might consider himself fortunate, yet as it would be so easy, at least for the father, to save it altogether, the toyman would soon be compelled to seek another employment. If a tax of five guineas were laid upon each doll, and if, according to the humane and considerate spirit of our revenue laws, it were made high treason in the nurse and babe, and a capital felony in all aidors and abettors, to play with an unstamped doll, that wooden instrument, upon which the maternal affections are made up betimes, like a shoe on a last, would soon become very scarce ; and in the next generation nothing would seem more natural than an unnatural mother ; we should find one Medea at least in every street. But it is not cruel, they say, to tax mere luxuries and amusements. Alas ? what induces men to submit to live every day upon necessaries, but the hope of sometimes indulging in a little luxury ? what tempts any one to bear with his elders and his superiors, who are necessarily so grave and so solemn, and to endure to inhabit the same world with men who are wiser and better than himself, but the expectation that some day or other they may make amends, by giving him cause to laugh at them a lillle? It is the distant hope of diversion at some future time that keeps us all alive. Nor is taxation the only impediment that authority throws in the way; our most
illogical magistrates, exercising freely the faculty of simple apprehension, no other judgment than the legal, and no reasoning whatever, have long carried on, but too successfully, a war of extermination against minute theatricals; against Punch and all puppetshows, horsemen, and mountebanks; and they send Mr. Merryman to the treadmill whenever he appears, in order to preserve unsullied the morality of the lower classes that they may guzzle muddy beer for the benefit of social order at public houses, duly licensed, to promote the interests of genuine piety, and their proprietors, the porter-brewers.
With our uncertain climate and dirty streets, a carriage is as necessary for many persons to take them to the theatre, as a bench to sit upon, when they arrive there : but carriages, horses, and drivers, have long been the devoted victims of the perverse and insane zeal for taxation by which British legislators are distinguished. It would far exceed the limits within which the present article must be confined, barely and briefly to enumerale all the impediments and obstacles that in lorg successior have been interposed between the free citizen of moderate fortune and the use of a carriage.
Jn many countries the government actually expends large sums on the theatre. In other states, the rulers of which we are apt to stigmatise as tyrants, much money and great attention are bestowed to facilitate and encourage the amusements of the people. Such a disposilion of the public treasure is, no doubt, contrary lo the genius of our constitution ; it is not to be expected or desired; but we may reasonably demand, that the sources of innocent, or rather instructive recreation, should not be dried up rashly, or wantonly diverted by unjust and pernicious interference. The Barons of the Exchequer at Westminster, some years ago, decided, that the scenes of the theatres are painted canvass, precisely the same as floor-cloth, and as such were liable to pay a heavy duty; and consequently that a scene could not be painted without rendering the house at all times subject to the irksome visits of the exciseman. After a long argument, the Chief Baron, who professed to be a judge of paintings as well as of revenue cases, declared thai a scene is a floor-cloth; and the three learned Barons repealed his words, like the Echo! This decision seems so incredible, that no one but an actual hearer can be expected to believe it. It was not perhaps of much importance in itself, but it illustrates the feelings of our rulers towards the stage. We ought not, it is probable, to censure the learned judges in this case; the statutes that inflict our taxes upon us are penned with such large words, that they are rather snares and drag-nels, than laws.; no one, who has not consulted them with the vain hope of relieving some victim, can have an adequate notion of their inextricable mazes, or of the grasping interpretation they have long continued to receive. There were more theatres in London formerly, in proportion to the population, than in any other city in Europe; now there are fewer; for, by an odious and unjust monopoly, the number is restricted: nor is this, however grievous, the only restraint to which, the Drama is subject.
It is fit that a private gentleman should have his chambermaid, and that a king should have his chamberlain ; and in proportion as a king is elevated above a private person, his servants ought to be exalted above those of his subjects. It may be very proper, therefore, that his chamberlain should be a peer of high rank, and a great, officer of state.
It is pot our intention to degrade an office which derives dignity from the august personage, on arcount of whom duties, in themselves insiguificant,