Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Yietweens. It is well if a writer can manage his hero so as to excite and keep alive our sympathies, without incumbering himself with an intermediate biographer. The contrivance required more dramatic power than the Abbe Terasson possessed; and those who have it may use it in a thousand ways more interesting to their readers. Matthews playing Macheath in the manner of Incledon was a much easier and pleasanter thing than a Frenchman telling an Egyptian tale in the character of a Greek. Even when such imitations are most successful, they do not blend well with the legitimate enjoyment of romance or drama. The more deeply we are affected by a tale, the less we think of the narrator. It is quite enough that in Sethos we are so often reminded of the Abbe himself; the additional intrusion of the Greek is intolerable. Indeed the latter seems to be aware that we have no very strong impression of his share in the work before us, and so he deems it necessary to make himself seen and heard. All at once, when nobody could be further from our thoughts, he bustles in, with his Egyptian Anecdotes under his arm, to tell us something about our good Emperor Aurelius, or the present state of the arts amongst us Greeks; as if he were imitating the reasoning of Descartes, and, by speaking, demonstrating his existence. His impertinent fit does not last long, however; he makes his remarks, and then makes his exit: Sethos reappears, and we forget him. Not so the Abbe: he is much more visible than he intended. Nobody but a Frenchman could, or would, have given so much the air of " la bonne compagnie" to the Memphian court. The description of the Egyptian assemblies is quite enchanting. He says, in his dedication of the work to

Madame la Comtesse de , "les personnes choisies, qui ont

l'avantage de frequenter votre maison, y reconnoitront aisement votre caractere;" and she might safely believe him. Who else would have aggravated the severity of the initiatory trials by the agency of the wives and daughters of the priests? In three several ways was Sethos afflicted by these amiable ladies during his noviciate. At first, when he met them in the gardens and galleries of the temple, he was prohibited taking any notice of them, however intimate they might have been at court; "and what will appear, without doubt, mortifying to well-bred gentlemen, these ladies, who were most of them of singular beauty, never passed by him without paying him their respect, and he was not suffered to make the least show of a return." His fortitude was next tried by their ceasing to notice him: and at last, when the restriction is removed from his own politeness, it is transferred to theirs, and to all his bows and civil speeches they are dumb and motionless. "This was the unkindest cut of all." Sethos is French in his diplomacy, and has no scruples about performing something like the ko-tou to the King of Congo. His Phoenician colleagues remonstrated on behalf of "the dignity of their kings, and even that of their own persons, which they esteemed far preferable to all the species of animals they had met with in Africa;" but on his assuring them that "the true honour of an embassy was to succeed in the business proposed, and disputes about precedency ought never to be a hinderance to a design which is really advantageous," they subnutted, and made the required prostrations to a half-naked savage. All this, and much more of the same sort (besides the confirmatory references to classical authors, which are really valuable), make the Frenchman share our attention with the Egyptian, and render the inartificial obtrusion of the Greek very annoying. The author, like many others, adopted this expedient, to give an air of authenticity to the narrative. The execution must be excellent indeed, not to produce an opposite effect; and, even when most excellent, it is superfluous. The novelist, who can interest us in the scenes, persons, and transactions, which he invents or describes, needs no better claim upon all the credence which the nature of his work requires. We resign ourselves to his dictation with implicit faith. He is the creator of his heroes; and, as to them, omnipotent and omniscient. He knows their motives, and decides their destiny. Antiquity of time or distance of country are nothing to him: his power is as plenary as ever was claimed by the holy father, and we devoutly rely on his infallibility. We believe as firmly in Isaac the Jew as if he had lent us money upon bond; we have no more doubt of the excellence of Parson Adams' sermon on vanity than if we had actually heard it; the autograph of the Judge's minutes would nothing increase our knowledge of Mac Ivor's trial; nor have we the least occasion for extracts from the parish registers to certify us of the births, marriages, or deaths, of any of the natural children of the Deucalions, who have peopled the world of fancy. They are magicians, whose wand is as much the type of absolute sway as the conqueror's sword or despot's sceptre. We should as soon think of asking the Autocrat of the North for his title-deeds as of calling on them to produce their verifying documents, and bring their witnesses into court. There is also another kind of evidence, which renders needless the contrivance in question— our personal knowledge of the heroes and heroines, with their friends, enemies, attendants, 8tc., of all real masters of their art. They have a substantial and permanent existence in our minds. We have the evidence not only of faith, but of sight. We have seen the noble-minded Don, with Mambrino's helmet on his head, glittering in the sunshine; and ourselves fished up a pullet or so from the mighty kettle at Camacho's wedding. We have revelled many anight at the Boar's Head in Eastcheap,

and walked home by the light of Bardolph's nose. We have had our fortunes told by Meg Merrilies, and have given alms to Edie Ochiltrie. These wondrous creatures are become independant of their creators: they were formed, but cannot be annihilated. We know them as well as he that made them: seldom a day passes without our having intercourse with some of them. A certificate of their existence is as wanton a waste of words to us as would be a proof of that of our brothers and sisters, of our debtors and creditors, of radicals and tax-gatherers. Had Sethos been of their kindred, the French translator need not have referred to his Greek author, nor the Greek author to his Egyptian Anecdotes: one touch of nature would have done the business more effectually. But, while our author was well qualified to imitate and rival Fenelon in whatever depended on learning and ingenuity, and is not behind his master in a pure and elevated tone of morals, there are two charms in Telemachus, of which he knew nothing—feeling and imagination.

A specimen is afforded by our extracts of the manner in which the author expounds the mythology and mysteries of antiquity. He pursues a similar course through a very extensive range of poetic fable. All, according to him, originated in facts, and those frequently not of the most heroic or imposing description. The Hesperian dragon was a winding river; the mother earth of Antaeus, whose touch gave him strength, was his own dominions, in which his army was easily recruited after a defeat; the suffering giant Tityus, was the nine-acre "field of tears," which served as a sacerdotal penitentiary at Memphis; initiatory trials and funeral ceremonies were the tangible reality of all the fearful and glorious visions of poesy; the crowned shades, that held their high conclave on Olympus, become as fleshly as the ghosts of the theatre; and we are prepared to admit that Pluto was only a clever undertaker; Mercury, perhaps, a king's messenger; and Iris a pretty milliner. This is turning the wrong end of the telescope to the eye. His theory is the reverse of the philosopher's stone: it transmutes all the gold of antique song into lead. We must correct the Iliad by a gazette account of the Siege of Troy, with authentic returns of the killed and wounded; and read the descent of jEneas into hell, with a plan of the cellars of the temple in which it was performed, accompanied by a scale of feet and inches, and certified by the surveyor's report or builder's receipt. Of all theories, this, surely, is the worst; the most fatal to our enjoyment of the sweet sounds which float to us down the stream of ages. Much rather would we, with Bacon, trace in them hidden truths of sublime philosophy or inspired doctrine; with Bryant, deem them memorials of that dread catastrophe which made shipwreck of the world; with Warburton, assign them to legislative invention consecrating the designs of patriotism to religious reverence; or with Gibbon, make speculation only the handmaid of taste, care little about the distant and undiscoverable source of the waters which refresh us, and say that "far better 'tis to bless the sun, than reason why he shines." Nor has this theory more pretension to truth than to beauty. If the Greeks themselves were not indigenous, much of their mythology and poetry was. The faculty of invention never rusted in their hands for lack of use. Their home manufactory was far too good for them to depend upon importation. And meanly should we think of Egyptian wisdom not to assign some higher origin to the legends, which that mother of nations taught her rising children, than is here indicated. Historical fact was doubtless often sublimated into heroic fable; but the philosophy of the heavens, of nature, of man, contributed, also, to the mythological treasure; and imagination stamped its own glorious form upon the whole, and bade it pass current through the world.

Yet is Sethos, with all its defects, a monument of learning, industry, and ingenuity, which cannot be contemplated without gratification. It was published before the Divine Legation of Moses, and disproves the vaunted originality of the mighty theologian, in his dissertation on the mysteries and interpretation of the sixth book of the JEneid. His ardent love and liberal use of the historians, poets, orators, and philosophers of Greece and Rome, cannot but recommend him. We may dissent from the arrangement, but the materials look well any way, and he has employed them unsparingly. "Whatever may be the fortune of the chace, we are sure it leads us through pleasant prospects and a fine country." He has formed them into fantastic constellations, but still there are the stars, whose light always gladdens us. We may wish he had not broken it to pieces, in order to re-arrange its colours, but yet we can walk pleasantly amid "atoms of the rainbow fluttering round." A curious theory, acutely and learnedly supported, repays the trouble of wiping the dust off his three little volumes; besides that they contain very much less questionable and highly interesting matter, illustrative of Egyptian and Phoenician manners, government, and religion.

Who thinks not with interest and with reverence of Egypt, that theatre of strange vicissitude, whose very name suggests the discordant recollection of all that most elevates and most degrades our nature; that nation of sages, and of savages; the source of philosophic illumination, and the sink of barbarous ignorance; the mistress of the mightiest and the tributary of the meanest; earth's palace of splendour, and her hospital of wretchedness ;—who would not delight in a well-told tale, which might combine whatever can be gleaned of the mysterious science of her priests, the gorgeous pomp of her monarchs, the customs and superstitions of her inhabitants, and all that constituted her primeval greatness, with what belongs to man in all times and countries, and must be found in any work that can permanently command his attention ?—Such a tale Sethos certainly is not; but it contains materials "rich and rare," and of boundless variety, from which such a tale might be framed. It is the discovery and description of a noble country; but nothing more. Would that some bold adventurer would steer for this "unploughed, untrodden shore," and subject it to the despotism of genius. We suggest the enterprize, although, should it be ever so successful, we may neither reward nor partake the triumph, for our habitation is among the tombs: but the retrospectives of a future generation should adorn his bust with their brightest laurels.

Art. VII. The Araynment ofParis, a Pastorall. Presented before the Queene's Majestie, by the Children of her Chappell. Imprinted at London, by Henrie Marsh, 1584, 4to.

The famous Chronicle of King Edward the First, sirnamed Edward Longshankes, with his Returne from the Holy Land. Also the Life of Lluellen, Rebell in Wales. Lastly, the Sinking of Queene Elinor, who sunck at Charing Cross and rose again at Pottershith, now named Queenhith. London, 1593. Ato.

The Historie of Orlando Furioso, one of the twelve Peeres of France. As it was plaid before the Queene's Majestie. Ato. London, 1594.

Sire Court Comedies. Often presented and acted before Queene Elizabeth, by the Children of her Majestie's Chappel and the Children of Paule's. Written by the only rare poet of that time, the wit tie, comical,facetiously-quick, and unparalleled John Lilly, Master of Arts.

Decies repetita placebunt. London, printed by William Stansby./br Edward Blunt, 1632, 12mo.

We are glad to meet our readers once more on dramatic ground. It will be recollected that we have, in our preceding numbers, given a hasty sketch of the rise and progress of the English drama, from those very curious old compositions The Vol. in. PART I. H

« AnteriorContinuar »