Imatges de pÓgina

upon the paffion of Love, to which the man, the prince, the hero, is made to facrifice every other confideration, even private morals are corrupted. Of this we shall be perfectly convinced, if we compare the conduct and fentiments of Thefeus, and of the unfortunate daughter of Jocafta, in Antigone, and Edipus Coloneus, with the Thefeus and Dirce of Corneille; where the enamoured pair disclaim all other regards and duties, human and divine, for the character of mere Lovers. In this play, great violence is done to the character of the perfons, to which Horace, and all good critics, prescribe a most exact adherence. And though the Romans, who had conquered all other nations, had the best right to prefer their own manners, and despise those of other countries, yet their critics inculcated the neceffity of imitating those of the people represented.

The French Tragedians not only deviate from the character of the Individual represented, but even from the general character of the Age and Country, Thefeus and Achilles

Achilles are not only unlike to Thefeus and Achilles, but they are not Greeks. Sophocles and Euripides never introduce a hero who had appeared in the Iliad or Odyssey, without a strict attention to make him act fuitably to the opinion conceived of him from those epic Poems. the tragedy of Hecuba, Polixena to be facrificed, how admirably is his conduct fuited to our conceptions of him! He is cold, prudent, deaf to pity, blind to beauty, and to be moved only by confideration of the public weal. See him in the Iphigenia of Racine, on a fimilar occafion, where he tells Agamemnon, he is ready to cry,

Je fuis pret de pleurer;

When Ulyffes, in comes to demand

and examine whether there appears any thing of Ulyffes upon the Stage, but his Name. Nor is there a greater resemblance between the French and Greek Achilles. Euripides paints him with a peculiar frankness and warmth of character, abhorrent of fraud, and highly provoked when he discovers his name has been used in a deceit. When he fees Iphigenia preferring the good of her country,

country, and an immortal fame, to the pleafures of life, he is then ftruck with fentiments fo fuitable to the greatness of his own mind; and, in the style of a hero and a Greek, expreffes how glad he should have been of fuch a bride. The Achilles of Racine is not distinguished from any young lover of fpirit; yet this is one of the best French tragedies.

It is ufual to compliment Corneille with having added dignity to the Romans; and he has undoubtedly given them a certain strained elevation of fentiment and expreffion, which has perhaps a theatrical greatness: but this is not Roman dignity, nor fuitable to the character of republicans; for, as the excellent Bishop of Cambray obferves*, history represents the Romans great and high in Sentiment, but fimple, modest, natural in Words, and very unlike the bombast, turgid heroes of romance. A great man, fays he, does not declaim in the tone of the Theatre; his expreffions in conversation are just and strong; *Lettres fur l'Eloquence, &c.

[blocks in formation]

heutters nothing low, nor any thing pompous. Auguftus Cæfar, reprefented to a barbarous audience, would command more respect, if feated on the Mogul's golden throne, sparkling with gems, than in the curule chair, to which power, not pomp, gave dignity. It is a degree of barbarism to ascribe noblenefs of mind to arrogance of phrase, or infolence of manners. There is a certain expreffion of ftyle and behaviour which verges towards barbarism; a state to which we may approach by roads that rife, as well as by those that fall. An European monarch would think it as unbecoming him to be styled light of the world, glory of nations, and by the fwelling titles affumed by the Afiatic princes, as to be called the tamer of horses, or the swift-footed, like the heroes of Homer.

[ocr errors]

Pere Brumoy feems to be very fenfible of Corneille's mifrepresentation of the Roman character, though he speaks of it in all the ambiguity of language which prudence could fuggeft, to one who was thwarting a natio


nal opinion. He talks of un raffinement de fierté in the Romans, and afks, if they are of this globe, or fpirits of a fuperior world? The Greeks of Racine, fays he, are not indeed of that univerfe, which belonged only to Corneille; but with what pleasure does he make us behold ourselves in the perfons he presents to us! and how agreeably would the heroes of antiquity be surprised to find themselves adorned by new manners, not indeed like their own, but which yet do not misbecome them!

It can hardly be fuppofed that a Critic of Pere Brumoy's taste did not mean to convey an oblique cenfure in these observations. The Tragic Poet is not to let his Pegasus, like the Hippogriffe of Aftolpho, carry him to the moon; he is to represent men such as they were; and, indeed, when the fable and manners do not agree, great improprieties and perfect incredibility enfue.

If a Grecian fable is chofen, Grecian

+ Theatre Grec. par Brumoy.

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinua »