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The First-born; a Drama. (Printed for private circulation.')*
THE present composition is, properly speaking, neither a tragedy or comedy, but a domestic drama, a poem in a dramatic form, exhibiting in a lively and pleasing manner, through the medium of the persons themselves, the simple fortunes and adventures of rural life—tlie disappointment of rejected love in one, the punishment of guilty and unnatural pride in another, and the trial of virtuous affection and constancy, and resistance to the temptations of ambition, in a third. Such is the subject which the poet has embellished with the elegancies of ideal fiction, and conducted through the vicissitudes of contending passions, of op|K>sing interests, and those changes that affect the destinies of the humblest life, and disturb the repose even of the most tranquil disposition. Our literature does not abound in tins branch or class of the dramatic story so much as that of some of our neighbours; our flight has been of a more ambitious kind . in the higher region of intense mental agitation, in the conflict of mighty passions, in the exhibition of deeper sorrows, in the imposing grandeur of feelings lofty and remote from common participation ;—in the descriptioa of that presumptuous and erring ambition that is crushed under the gigantic structure itself has raised, and the delineation of that utter and hopeless misery that admits no hope, and seeks no other refuge than the grave. Such are the achievements of the great masters of their art; and so great has been at once their power and success, that the forms of their creative fancy, the images which they hare called forth from the depth of mental inspiration, and to which they have given the truest and noblest attributes of nature, have become little less than realities in the memory of mankind,—a rival creation of human power, so strongly are they painted, so freshly remembered, so easily and quickly recalled, at least by all who are gifted with vivid perceptions of the beautiful and the true. The impressions they make are so permanent that we are scarce willing to distinguish them from what Nature herself has done -, and, like the monk in the chapel of the Escurial, when pointing to the figures of Titian and Velasqnez, we may say—I have lived so long among these, and seen them unchanged while all else is changing around me, that 1 almost believe these to be the real figures of humanity, and that we are bnt the pictures and shadows of it.
But the empire of the drama, the mental dominion of thought and poetry, is not so to be confined as to admit pleasure and instruction only through one channel. The true poet stands in the central point, where all human passions and feelings, high and low, strong and weak, permanent and transitory, are at his command and subject to his choice. The
* In expressing the pleasure we have received from the present composition, we trait that we may publicly return our thanks to the Rev. Wm. Harness as to the author j to whom we were previously obliged by hia affecting little drama of "Welcome and Farewell."
gentler passions, the softer emotions of the heart, the humbler interests, the common cares and joys and sorrows of lowly life, have also their power to affect the mind when represented with that clearness, perspicuity, and truth which poetry requires, and with that judicious selection of circumstances and taste in combination, which good natural feeling and acquired habits of composition seldom fail to enable the author to produce. There is one province in the poetic drama beyond this, more remote from the sympathies of ordinary minds, and further removed from their knowledge, where fancy and imagination liold the supreme sway, soliciting little assistance from the passions, from change of incident, from variety of circumstance, or force of character, but imparting sufficient delight to the mind by the beauty of the imagery, the elegance of the fable, the delicate arrangement and choice of the language, and the exquisite harmony of the metre. Such is the Comus of Milton, in which the little simple story is but the vehicle for those ethereal flights of fancy, those fine allusions, and those rich combinations of poetical language that have justly placed it at the head of its class. Such also are the beautiful dramas of Tasso and Guarini. In this species of poem, what is wanting in views of common life and individual nature is supplied by the ideal grace and the pervading dignity of the execution; by the refined expressions and beautiful and remote allusions; the whole heightened by musical accompaniment and scenical decoration. Between these two kinds of dramatic fable, in a region lying below the dark and tempestuous passions of the deep tragedy, more remote from the immediate presence of Melpomene, and not requiring the rich exuberance of ornament and reflected lustre of that poetic diction which would oaly mar the simple pathos, and overload the plain narrative of the domestic story, the present drama makes no unsuccessful appeal both to our natural feelings and to our poetical taste. The subject is so treated as to be natural without being common; and the poet, while borrowing by observation from the realities of everyday life and of private manners, has embodied his ideas in characters permanently and poetically true. The characters of the persons in the drama are well conceived and consistently maintained, the contrasts in incident and situation keep the attention alive, and the events are so directed as to apprar to flow naturally from the causes, yet sufficiently attractive to occasion a pleasing surprise; the reader is satisfied with the justness of the reflections, that are either deliberately given, or such as arise from accidental associations or sudden turns of fortune ; and the lover of nature will not overlook the short but pleasing touches of description which are at all times calculated to gratify and soothe the mind, but which are presented with double force and interest when they appear in their sweet and undisturbed tranquillity, amid the conflict of human passions, the anxiety of worldly cares, and the disappointment of cherished hopes ; recalling us from the transitory to the permanent, from what has only an artificial and false connection with the feelings to that which claims a strong, inherent, and natural association with them. There is no further need of remark or introduction from us, and we turn to the far more pleasing occupation of giving such an abridgment of the story as may place its leading features before the reader's mind, making use of the author's language when we can, and only introducing our own in order to bring the narrative into a compass convenient to the space we can command. The poet should strike his first blow as early as he can, seize and secure our attention by spine early exhibition of his power, and his after-path will be comparatively smooth and easy. This is effected iu the present case successfully by the quarrel between George and Walter in the opening scene, and we tbink also that ranch talent and skill are shewn in designing the character of Sir Charles, which seems intended to harmonize the opposing shadows of the other characters, acting as a medium between the contrasts of the artificial sentiments and erroneous views of Lady Ellinor, and the strong, plain, and natural sense and feeling of Walter and the Empsons. We do not mean to say that there is no part of the drama that might not be capable of some improvement; and we certainly think that, without any violent interference with the general scope or the particular execution of the plot, Lady Ellioor's first error might have been spared, and her character have been preserved free from those spots that we too distinctly see upon her virgin zone; while some other satisfactory reason might have been found for the strange concealment of Walter: and this is of importance, because that one error must spread a cloud over the remainder of her life, which no reconciliation with her son could remove, and sully a reputation, that no late repentance could restore, thus leaving the termination of the story not quite satisfactory to us , but he whom a few faults in any composition prevents from partaking of the many beauties, is one who is attempting to dry up the very sources of enjoyment, and to reverse the beautiful ordinations of nature, which enable us, if rightly disposed, to draw good out of evil, and to extract nourishment and pleasure from trivial or even noxious things. Perhaps, also, in the instance before us, we are mistaken in our judgment, and that the poet, if called upon, would convince us that his plot was not in any part formed without sufficient deliberation, that he had fully considered the different means to effect his desired purpose, and that no particular portion could be .altered without injury to the whole. In this case we are quite willing to be convinced, and shall see without displeasure the torch of criticism drop from our hands and expire, which we uplifted only to reflect the lustre, and exhibit to others the beauties of that structure which we ourselves approved and admired.
The play opens with the scene of a corn field in harvest time, and a dispute between two young husbandmen, Walter and George Saxby; the cause of quarrel being, as Walter gives it, that George Saxby taunts him
That I an infant at the vicar's gate
while George points to Walter's arrogance and scorn, and his absence from the village festivities.
Is't not pride
Which when the wake, or fair, or village feast, .
Collects us to keep holiday together,
The real cause, however, is George's jealousy of Walter, who he thinks has estranged his cousin Mary from his love.
Gzokge.—I know not how to speak, I'm all in doubt;
And laugh aloud, and try to come to me
Even from her mother's lap ; as she grew up
And 'gan to walk alone she'd take my hand
And stroll for hours about the fields and lanei,
Gathering the wild rose and the eglantine,
As I bent down the branches to her reach.
In all my boyhood's light and stirring houn
There was no sport i' th' green nor chase a-field,
Though well I loved them, gave me half the joy
I found in idling with that soft-eyed child.
And when with feigned reluctance I forbore,
She with her pretty wiles and promised kisses
Would woo me still to be her playfellow.
Then afterwards, in all her school-day troubles,
To me she ran to hide her bursting tears;
In all her school-day triumphs first to me
Would run to show the prize she bad obtained;
Nor did she wish for any living thing,
Kitten, or bird, or squirrel from the wood,
To cast her girlish care and fondness on,
But cousin George must seek it. And 'till Walter
Began to train his slight and delicate limbs
To our field labours, and to haunt the farm
With his soft voice and gently flowing speech,
His rhymes of love to suit old scraps of tunes,
His tales of distant lands and former times,
Conn'd from the vicar's books, her kindness never
Knew shadow of abatement or caprice.
But now—I know not—there's an icy power
That severs us ; we are not as we were;
Her eye averted never answers mine;
She talks constrainedly with me ; speaks of things
Which of slight moment are to her or roe;
Calls me no more by kind familiar names;
Withdraws, if chance cast us alone together;
And with her strange indifference breaks my heart.
This speech is given with a true warmth of feeling, conveyed in tenderness and elegance of expression; but, whether it is quite in accordance with the impression which the reader has previously formed of George Saxby in the opening scene in (he harvest field, where he urges Walter to fight with him, we say, this we must leave to the mithor's judgment.
Walter docs not deny his love, but says that being an unknown and friendless orphan he had never ventured to disclose it.
Walter.—I own I love your daughter—fondly love her.
* » • •
Bethink you what she is, and what I am I
* • * *
My lonely life
Knows but one solace—to admire her beauty;
Mary now appears, and an explanation takes place, which is the only passage that is not quite satisfactory to our minds ; when George tells Mary,
Till he came hither I'll be sworn you loved me; and then Mary answers,
Yes, George, I loved you as a sister loves,
But when you came
To talk to me of love it chilled and shocked me;
Now this we do not think quite natural, for, in the first place, being cousins, there was nothing that ought to have appeared wicked in Mary's eyes in George's love; and, secondly, there is such a wide difference between the brother's friendly affection and the lover's fondness that surely Mary could not have mistaken them. We feel how utterly absurd it is for a critic to give advice to an author, or for his " clouted shcon " to tread upon the poet's fairy path ; but we think something might have been devised for Mary's coldness more natural than this. \Ve should propose that George should have previously trifled, or been supposed by Mary to have trifled, with the affections of one of her female friends, and thus closed her heart against him as a lover of her own, while she was content to have lived with him under the same roof with the feeling of sisterly affection only. However this may be, Mary's father approves of the alliance of his daughter with Walter, and George departs in angry sorrow.
Next comes on the scene the puritanical Vicar of the parish, who in his place as Vicar has entrusted him the annual donation which is sent to him by an unknown hand for Walter's maintenance, and who, in his character as Puritan, has had the mean and low curiosity (a curiosity which belongs now and ever has done to that class of churchmen) to pry into the secret of Walter's birth, aud who now informs him that he believes he has discovered it.
I'm more deceived than I was ever yet,
and he resolves to go to the Hall straight and commune with the lady.
The second Act opens at Long-Ashby Hall, and with the presence of Sir Charles and Lady Elliuor Tracy, who discourse very prettily "de summo bono," Sir Charles taking the philosophical side of the question.
Happiness, I'm sure,
Dwells not in lofty places. The lark soars