Imatges de pÓgina

ation of character was the cardinal excellence of the drama, we should find great difficulty in admitting that her plan was the most likely to ensure its attainment. The peculiarity of that plan consists in limiting the interest of the piece, in a great degree, to the developement of some one great passion in the principal character, and in exhibiting this passion in all the successive stages of its progress, from its origin to its final catastrophe. It does not appear to us that either of these observances is well calculated to increase the effect of any dramatic production.

If any thing more is meant by limiting the interest of the piece to the consequences of a single passion, than is implied in the vulgar rules for preserving unity of character and of action, we are inclined to think that something more is meant than can very easily be justified. The old maxims evidently require the predominancy of certain motives in the minds of the leading characters, and a certain consistency in the sympathies that are excited by their fortunes. To carry these restrictions still farther, and to confine the whole interest of the story to the developement of a single passion, seems to us to be altogether impracticable, and could not even be attempted, in a very imperfect degree, without violating that unity of action, by which the general effect of the piece would be very materially impaired. To confine the attention, and tie down the sympathies, to the observance of one master passion through a whole play, is plainly impossible; first, because that passion, in order to prove its strength, must have some other passion to encounter and overcome in the bosom where it is at last to reign; and, secondly, because a certain portion of our sympathy must necessarily be reserved for the fate and the feelings of those who are the objects and the victims of this ruling passion in the hero. The first partition of our sympathy is altogether unavoidable; and Miss Baillie herself has accordingly been forced to submit to it. Count Basil is distracted between love and a passion for military glory; and the interest and sympathy excited by the whole story may be referred to the one passion just as properly as to the other. De Montfort is represented as struggling between a high sense of honour and a frantic and disgraceful antipathy; nor could the latter have been made interesting in any degree, unless our sympathy had first been very powerfully engaged for the former. Ethwald, in like manner, is agitated by ambition, and gratitude, and personal attachment; and pleases us as much by his generosity and kind affections, as he terrifies us by the consequences of his thirst for power. The second division of interest that is claimed by those who inspire or oppose the domineering passion of the chief personage, is scarcely less necessary. We cannot easily sympathise with a lover, unless we take some concern in the object of his attachment; and are seldom much offended by the oppres sions of tyrant, when we do not enter very warmly into the feelings of those whom he oppresses. The only way in which the interest we take in the story can be in any degree engrossed by the hero, is to provide him with a succession of inferior patients and observers, through whom he moves in the grand career of his passion, and who are successively forgotten for the sake of those who replace them. By this contrivance, which is but seldom practicable, it is very obvious, however, that the interest of the piece is impaired and dissipated, and the unity of the action entirely broken. Miss Baillie has had recourse to it in the tragedy that occupies so large a portion of the present volume; and every reader of Ethwald must acknowledge, that the interest of the play is exceedingly diminished by the constant introduction and renewal of the inferior characters; and that the catastrophe,

which is accomplished by persons with whom we have scarcely any previous acquaintance, is but ill calculated to produce any strong or satisfactory impression.

The peculiarity of Miss Baillie's plan, however, does not consist so much in reducing any play to the exhibition of a single passion, as in attempting to comprehend within it a complete view of the origin, growth, and consummation of this passion, under all its aspects of progress and maturity. This plan seems to us almost as unpoetical as that of the bard who began the tale of the Trojan war from the egg of Leda; and really does not appear very well calculated for a species of composition, in which the time of the action represented has usually been more circumscribed than in any other. Miss Baillie, however, is of opinion, that it will turn out to be a very valuable discovery; and insists much upon the advantage that will be gained by adhering to it, both in the developement of character, the increase of interest, and the 'promotion of moral improvement. We are afraid that these expectations are more sanguine than reasonable.

To delineate a man's character, by tracing the progress of his ruling passion, is like describing his person by the yearly admeasurement of his foot, or rather by a termly report of the increase of a wen, by which his health and his beauty are ultimately destroyed. A ruling passion distorts and deforms the character; and its growth, instead of developing that character more fully, constantly withdraws more and more of it from our view. The growth of the passion is not the growth of the mind; and its progress and symptoms are pretty conform, in whatever subject it may have originated. Amor omnibus idem, at least so says the poet; and it may fairly be admitted, that men become assimilated, by their common subjection to some master-passion, who had previously been distinguished by very opposite characters. To delineate character, therefore, by the progress of such a passion, is like following a cloud of smoke, in order to discriminate more clearly the objects that it envelopes.

These considerations are so very obvious, that though Miss Baillie has certainly talked a great deal about tracing a passion from its origin, we are persuaded that she really did not expect much assistance from this maxim in the delineation of character. She has built, in general, upon a truer ground; and seems to have perceived very clearly the method of employing a predominating passion, so as to give brilliancy and effect to characteristic representation. This method, which, however, is by no means new, consists principally in the occasional introduction of the passion, or peculiar turn of mind, in transactions of inferior moment, and in circurastances where it does not serve at all to help forward the action of the piece. By this apparently accidental disclosure of consistency, a stamp of nature and reality is given to the whole delineation; and the glimpses that are thus caught of the hero, in the course of his ordinary deportment, serve, in a manner, to confirm those impressions that had been excited by his more studied and imposing appearances. In private life, and on trifling occasions, the splendid drapery of the passions is usually laid aside; and if we are permitted to look in upon them in this situation, we fancy that we recognise their genuine features with less uncertainty. If care be taken, therefore, to relieve the glare and pomp of the main action, by the insertion of a few such casual incidents, we seem to be let into the interior of the character, and attain a certain sa

miliarity with the chief personages, that renders our conception of their whole character much more lively, entire, and impressive. It is upon this principle that the effect of most of the fine strokes of nature and character which occur in the writings of the poets, will be found to depend; and it is a principle, that has been quite familiar to criticism, ever since it was illustrated by the ancient commentators of Homer.

But though Miss Baillie has not overlooked this powerful instrument for the developement of characteristic effect, there is another, of still greater importance, which appears to be, ip a good measure, excluded by her doctrine of the unity of passion. The art to which we now allude is that by which an appearance of individual reality is communicated to an ideal personage, and the functions of a dramatic hero assigned to a living being, with the whole of whose capacities and dispositions we are made to feel that we are acquainted. This poetical deception, however, can never be accomplished by the display of a single passion; and cannot even take place, we should imagine, where such a display is made the chief object of our attention. It is to be effected, indeed, only by an occasional neglect and intermission of the principal action, and of the passions by which that action is forwarded; by the introduction of arbitrary and inconsiderable occurrences, and slight and transient indications of habits, sentiments, and feelings, that could not have been inferred from the conduct or emotions of the chief characters in the greater incidents of the piece. It is by these, and by these alone, that a definite object can be created for our sympathies to attach upon, and the true image of a living man be presented to our imagination. There is no man alive, of whose whole character we could judge merely from his conduct or expressions in some important transaction; and our sympathies are always but feebly excited for those with whose internal feelings we are so imperfectly acquainted. It is not enough, therefore, that the qualities bestowed upon our heroes be suitable to the conduct which is assigned them, or consistent with each other. A naked combination of the qualities necessary to account for the action, will never make up the idea of a real and entire man. There must be a delineation of those, also, that are of no use at the moment, and are not necessarily implied by the presence of the leading features. Without these, an action indeed may be represented; but the actors will be utterly unknown, and all impression of reality, along with every emotion of individual sympathy, will be utterly excluded. A play which discriminates its characters only by the great and leading passions that are essential to the parts they have to sustain, must be as deficient in interest and effect, therefore, as a picture which shows no more of the figures than is necessary to explain its subject; that displays the hand of the murderer, and the bleeding bosom of his victim," but omits all representation of the countenance and gestures of either, or of those circumstances in the surrounding scenery which may suggest aggravations or apologies for the crime. By the plan of Miss Baillie, however, these subordinate and arbitrary traits of character appear to be in a great measure excluded. Her heroes are to be mere personifications of single passions; and the growth and varied condition of one grand feature is to be incessantly held out to our observation, while an impenetrable shade is to be spread upon all the rest of the physiognomy. Among the debasements of modern tragedy, against which Miss Baillie declaims with so much animation, there is none, perhaps, so material as this, which her

doctrine has so evident a tendency to sanction; nor is there any thing by which the writings of Shakspeare, and Beaumont and Fletcher, are so remarkably distinguished from those of the later dramatists, as by the individual truth and completeness of their representations of character. They are all drawn with the full lineaments and just proportions of real men; and, while the qualities by which their conduct is to be determined are marked with sufficient boldness and vivacity, the subordinate attributes are not forgotten, by which we recognise them to be creatures like ourselves, and are enabled to attach our feelings upon some definite and tangible object.

As to the moral effect of the drama, conducted upon this or upon any other plan, we confess that we are disposed to be very sceptical. Those plays are the best, we believe, that have done the least harm. The display of great passions is apt to excite an admiration which is not always extinguished by a fictitious view of their tragical effects; and the exhibition of interesting occurrences sometimes begets a disgust and contempt for the insipidity of ordinary life. There is something of cant, however, in this also. Plays have for the most part no moral effect at all: they are seen or read for amusement and curiosity only; and the study of them forms so small a part of the occupation of any individual, that it is really altogether fantastical to ascribe to them any sensible effect in the formation of his character.

But even if the case were otherwise, and we were to believe all the pretty things that have been delivered by our essayists as to the moral effects of the stage, we really do not perceive that Miss Baillie's plan of composition is at all likely to forward that great and salutary object. It is her persuasion, it seems, that "looking back to the first rise, and tracing the progress of passion, points out to us those stages, in the approach of the enemy, where he might have been combated most successfully, and where the suffering him to pass may be considered as occasioning all the misery that ensues.' Now, though this observation sounds tolerably well when taken in the abstract, it unfortunately fails altogether in the application. The greater part of the passions that are made use of in the drama are laudable in themselves, and only become vicious in their excess; while, at the same time, their progress is so gradual that it is frequently almost impossible to say where they ought to have been arrested. To look back to the first rise of such a passion, therefore, will be of no use to us in any case; since it is not till long after that period that it can become an object of jealousy or alarm; and since the occasions and stages of its increase are so complicated and multiplied, that it must often be impracticable to settle where the vicious series begins. The passion itself, too, may often be confirmed, before it indicates any tendency to evil; and the warning of the drama must either come too late, or lead us to repress some of the noblest and most generous propensities of our nature. The love of Count Basil, for instance, for an accomplished and virtuous princess, has nothing in it that should lead the readers of that tragedy to stifle such an honourable and successful passion in their own bosoms, or to shut the avenues of their hearts to the approaches of beauty and merit. Ethwald's impatience of obscurity, and his thirst for honourable distinction, in like manner, is a feeling which no moralist would wish to eradicate from a powerful or aspiring mind. In all such cases the shades by which a passion graduates into criminality are so fine, and the

temptations and apologies by which its seductions are made effectual, so variously and nicely adapted to the circumstances of the imaginary character, that it is impossible to suppose, for a moment, that any one can be taught to guard against them by the peculiar incidents of one dramatic representation. Every one knows, that violent passions are apt to hurry men into crimes and improprieties; and this vulgar lesson, which surely stands in no need of illustration, can scarcely be brought more home to our feelings by a drama, which can never accommodate its fable to the particular character and situations of individuals.

If there be any passions to which Miss Baillie's dramatic warnings can be applicable, they can only be those, therefore, that are intrinsically and fundamentally vicious, and against the remotest approaches of which we ought to be continually on our guard. Hatred, jealousy, envy, and some others, are in this class; and it may be conceived, that to trace these to their origin may contribute to the preservation of our morality, by enabling us to detect them in their rudiments, and to resist them in their infancy. It has happened, however, that Miss B., by a very singular infelicity in the execution of her plan, has been at the trouble to trace the origin and progress of love and ambition with great care and exactness, while she has only given us a view of hatred in its matured and confirmed state. She has taught us, in this way, how to distinguish and resist the first symptoms of those passions which, in the beginning, are neither criminal nor dangerous; and has left us altogether without any instructions for combating or discovering those other passions that are never for a moment either innocent or satisfactory, and against the first dawnings of which our conscientious vigilance should have been directed. Basil and Ethwald are made to run their whole career of love and ambition before us, while it is almost impossible to say at what period their passions become criminal; while De Montfort presents himself, in the very first scene, the victim of a confirmed and inveterate hatred. If Miss B. really believed that her readers would be better able to resist the influence of bad passions by studying their natural history and early symptoms in her plays, she ought certainly to have traced this of hatred to its origin more carefully than any other, since there is none of which it would be so desirable to cut off the shoots, or extirpate the seeds, at the beginning.

Though it be almost time to conclude these general remarks upon the plan announced in the titlepage of this volume, yet we cannot leave the subject without making one remark upon the spontaneous addition that is made to its difficulties, by the extraordinary resolution of making every separate passion the subject of a tragedy and a comedy. Passion, perhaps, is not essential to comedy at all; but the distribution of passion into tragical and comical, is so old, so obvious, and so natural, that we really are at a loss to conceive what strange caprice could have tempted this ingenious writer into so wanton a violation of it. A comedy upon Hatred sounds as paradoxical to our ears as an elegy on a wedding, and implies as great a violation of all our customary associations. The constraint that must be submitted to, in order to make out this fantastic piece of uniformity, would deserve our most cordial compassion, if it were not assumed with a certain voluntary perversity: it would not be half so absurd in a manager to insist that all his performers should appear every night both in a tragic and a comic character.

Upon the whole, then, we are pretty decidedly of opinion, that Miss

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