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CRITICAL SKETCHES of recent Continental Publications.
FOREIGN QUARTERLY REVIEW.
Art. 1.-1. Rosmonda d'Inghilterra, Tragedia di Gio. Batt.
Niccolini. Firenze. 1839. 2. Lorenzino de Medici, Dramma di Giuseppe Revere. Milano.
1839. 3. Luisa Strozzi, Dramma storico in cinque Atti, di Giacinto
Battaglia. Milano. 1839. 4. Il Conte Giovanni Anguissola e Beatrice Tenda, Drammi di
Felice Turotti. Milano. 1840. 5. Pier delle Vigne, Tragedia del Signor Briano. Torino. 1840. 6. Berengario Augusto e Cecilia di Baone, Tragedie di Carlo
Marenco da Ceva. Turin. 1840. LITERATURE is the inalienable property of a nation. Language remains as a last moral barrier when every other natural or artificial line of demarkation is broken. The inost accurate and spirited translation can give no more adequate idea of a work of imagination, thau the cast of an ancient statue can stand as a fair representation of its inimitable prototype. To attempt to render the spontaneous inspirations of a poet into another language, is to betray an imperfect acquaintance with the original; and we shall take it as an indication of a general prevalence of good taste when people shall altogether abstain from translations.
Nor can the grammatical and superficial study of a foreign language better enable us to enter into the spirit of the standard works which fame recommends to our attention, or constitute us judges on subjects of foreign æsthetics. A work of genius is the emanation of a whole age and country—it obeys the laws of national taste, which are perpetually fuctuating in accordance with local circumstances and social conventions. We cannot flatter ourselves to have fully appreciated the merits of a foreign work, until we have, by means of powerful abstraction, worked ourselves up to that state of feelings by which the author was actuated, until we have raised ourselves to his level, identified ourselves with him.
Hence it not unfrequently happens that the productions of genius lie for a long lapse of ages unhonoured and neglected, until they find favour in the eyes of a kindred genius, who holds them up to the veneration of the multitude, always ready to follow in
VOL, XXVII. NO. LIII.
the train of superior intellects, to join in their censure and plaudit, and to view with their eyes.
We say of a kindred genius; for the poem of Dante, even in this age of revivals, remained a close book, and was heedlessly thrown aside by Walter Scott, whose plastic mind, vast and versatile as it was, was incapable of following the deep train of thought of the greatest of metaphysical poets.
It is not otherwise in works of art, where yet we should be led to suppose that difference of speech should have no control, and that to have eyes or ears were a sufficient criterion. Bellini's Norma is to von Raumer “the ne plus ultra of false musical taste; a beggarly, tawdry, patch-work finery”- the “ladies' maids of Berlin,” are to Kotzebue, “ more beautiful than the Medicean Venus." The vault of the Pantheon is, to another German, “nothing better than a large oven.” The Roman and Teutonic races are waging a perpetual war against each other in every branch of letters and arts, and they have carried their prejudice and animosity so far as utterly to destroy every idea of an absolute standard of beauty.
Down to the period of the French revolution the chaste and symmetrical type of Greco-Latin classicism had established its absolute sway over Europe. It was in the days when Racine and Voltaire held an exclusive possession of the stage, when Addison's Cato was looked upon as the master-piece of English tragedy.
Our age has witnessed a most astonishing reaction. The northern nations have asserted their independence in letters and arts, as they had long since in religion and politics; they have spurned the models before which they had been taught to bow in awe and veneration, they have set up their Romantic school and broken the fetters of what had certainly become subservient to the intolerable despotism of classical pedantry.
The Gerinanic element has gained such a universal ascendency as to exert its sway even over those countries where classicism seemed indigenous. The Italians have in their turn become imitators, and, as such a state of things must appear to them novel and unnatural, their literature has fallen into that titubation and uncertainty which is perhaps only the consequence of a state of transition, but which has been too hastily set down as absolute stagnation and irrecoverable death.
When therefore we venture to discourse on the present state of the Italian stage, we valurally expect to be asked what we mean by it, and whether anything like an Italian drama can be said to exist in our days. We hasten to meet this question by acknowledging that dramatic poetry, as well as every other branch of literature, is indeed, in that country, at the lowest ebb; that music has the exclusive control over the Italian stage, and that the two or three plays which we have placed at the head of this article, with a few others enjoying even less notoriety, are perbaps the only tragedies that have appeared since Manzoni and Pellico retired from the petty cares of the literary world, to give themselves up to the contemplative ecstacies of their ascetic discipline.
According to the statements of a recent traveller there is scarcely one theatre in Italy open for dramatic performance to every three consecrated to the opera and ballet. We shall not attempt to vindicate the Italians from the charge of sensuality and effeminacy of taste, to which their blind partiality for music has given rise. The astonishing diffusion of that formless style of performance amply demonstrated how even the sounder judgment of other pations might be carried away by the melodious allurements of that syren which threatens to drive the drama from the stage, all over the world.
The opera is perhaps much less of an animal enjoyment than is generally supposed. It has some advantages over the drama to which rigid censors have not often adverted. The emotion worked on the human soul by a dramatic performance must be the result of close attention, of absolute long-continued abstraction. The drama is a tyrant that must absorb all our faculties, and whose chance of success depends on a thorough illusion. A slight reaction of reflection, a pre-occupation, an instant of listlessness or ennui, an ill-timed jest, a fortuitous interruption, and the spell is broken and the interest slackens.
Not so the opera. Music is no intruder. It asks for no admittance into the sanctuary of the mind, it hovers round its threshold like the minstrel at the entrance of a nuptial apartment; it breaks not, interferes not with the train of thoughts or feelings, it brings into them a gentle agitation, it fans them, it gives them an harmonious, delicate turn,-it rouses, soothes, enflames, spiritualizes them.
The effect of music is immediate--it requires no activity on the part of the mind, it urges not, importunes not; it awaits the proper moment, it steals upon us unconsciously, unexpectedly, when our eyes are turned away from the spectacle, when our cares or sorrows unfit us for every other mental exertion.
By the invention of a spectacle in which every thing was calculated to give music a boundless ascendency, the Italians provided for the wants of their own restless and highly sensitive nature, which sought in the theatre the source of an easy and genial relaxation, and to which a long silent sitting of about six hours in a play-house, as our good customers of Covent Garden or