« IndietroContinua »
courtly tone of Racine, and his syste- and embody, with a sort of stoical matic adaptation of Greek manners to pomp of thought and laconic conthe tone of French society, appear in densation of expression, somewhat in the most ludicrous caricature, unre- the style of Seneca (with whom he deemed by his real tenderness, and the has many points of resemblance), exquisite polish and beauty of his ver scenes of atrocity and gloom, he is in sification. The romance writers of general completely deficient in the the school of Scudery and Calprenede, delineation of all feeling or character whose aim it was “peindre Caton ga- of a more level, natural, or tender lant et Brutus dameret," found a not kind. We say in general, because unworthy dramatic rival in Chancel; we willingly exempt from this charge whose Orestes, Meleager, Arsaces, and his tragedy of Rhadamiste, which apAlceste, form as extraordinary a tra peared in 1711, the solitary dramatic vestie of antiquity as can well be ima work between the time of Racine and gined.
Voltaire, which even approaches to Crebillon certainly rises consider the character of genius; and to which ably above these feeble imitators we are glad to see that justice is done of Racine ; for, coarse as his tastes by Villemain. He blames the first were, he was a man who thought for act as 65 ill-written, because without himself—at least within the limits passion"-of which we are scarcely which the existing rules of the drama disposed to demand much in a first permitted; for these rules, as laid act--but admits that the rest is elodown by the precept or practice of quent and tragic, and realizes all that Corneille or Racine, he adopted to the could be effected within the narrow letter. He is, indeed, the very reverse limits then allowed to French tra. of an innovator, so far as regards the gedy. established dramatic creed of his time; With one remark of Crebillon we but, endowed with a sombre, fantastic, suppose most readers will be disposed and vigorous turn of mind, approach- entirely to concur: when asked which ing to the savage, he has occasionally of his works he preferred, his answer thrown a force and vivacity, derived was, “ It is difficult to say which is the from his own character, into those best; but this,” pointing to his scapemythological terrors which he borrow. grace son, the novelist, “is certainly ed from antiquity, of which, at first the worst." sight, such subjects would hardly have La Motte, a contemporary of Creappeared susceptible. “Corneille,” he billon, did endeavour to effect what used to say,
“ has laid hold of heaven, Crebillon seems to have in no respect Racine of earth; nothing was left to aimed at: viz. an innovation in the me but hell, and I have thrown myself recognised dramatic code. His great into it, heart and soul." “ Unfortu principle, besides an attack on the nately,” as Villemain dryly observes, unities, was this, that the drama gained - he is not always quite so infernal as nothing by being written in verse ; he seems to think.” Placed side by and he illustrated his proposition by side with love intrigues and dialogues, the production of an @dipus in prose in which the argument, however agi- and an Edipus in verse, which cer. tating, is maintained with a politeness tainly left the reader in a pleasing worthy of the school of Chesterfield, uncertainty which was most intoler. his scenes of bloodshed, incest, and able. crime, very often wear an almost ludi. And yet, in his speculations as to crous air, though we admit the forcible the unities, though apparently igno. effect of some scenes or passages, like rant even of the existence of Shakthat of the famous line borrowed from speare, and certainly entirely unacthe Thyestes of Seneca,* when Thy-quainted with his works, it is interestestes addresses his brother, after the ing to observe how much his notion of hideous banquet, with the words a Roman tragedy, conducted upon the
principles which he was disposed to “ Reconnais tu ce sang ? Je reconnais mon
recognise as just, seems to correspond frère.”
with the manner in which such subjects But though Crebillon could conceive had been actually treated by Shak
* " Natos et quidem noscis tuos ?-Agnosco fratrem."
speare. Take, for instance, his remarks modifications to suit the expression to as to the plan on which a tragedy, the taste of a Parisian public, be made founded on the subject of Coriolanus, effective upon the French stage. He might be conceived and theatrically aimed,in short, at the difficult, and, there embodied. “ I should not be surprised is reason to think, incompatible task, if a people, intelligent though less at. of amalgamating two dramatic systems, tached to rules, should reconcile itself the principles of which are not only to the idea of witnessing the history of unharmonious, but in many respects Coriolanus divided into severalacts. In contradictory. It is well known that, the first, that patrician, accused by the in the opinion of certain French critics tribunes, defended by the consuland the of no mean note, Voltaire has sucpeople whom he has saved, and then ceeded in his attempt.
La Harpe condemned by the people to perpetual seems to think that he had perfected exile; in the second, the despair of what Corneille had begun and Racine his family, and the gloomy grief with improved, by adding to the dignified which he separates from them: in the or graceful sentiments of his predeces. third, the magnanimous boldness with sors, more life, energy, and natural which he presents himself to the Vol. movement in the dialogue. He has scian general, whom he has so often been described as :-—“ Vainqueur de vanquished ; ready to sacrifice his life deux rivaux qui regnaient sur la if he can but associate him in his ven- scène." Time, however, has pro. geance : in the fourth, the hero at the nounced a different judgment, Villegates of Rome, the deputations of the main remarks that the plays of Cor. consuls and priests, the prayers and neille, and the chefs d'æuvre of Ratears of a mother obtaining favour forcine, when revived about twenty Rome.”: La Motte does not pursue years ago, were received with the same the subject down to the assassination enthusiasm as at first, while those of of Coriolanus in Antium ; but so far Voltaire fell cold and dull upon the as he goes, there is a strong, though public ear. Though nearer in date to apparently unconscious, resemblance his audience, he was less felt, less unbetween his sketch and the outline derstood : bis theatrical effects and traced by Shakspeare.
philosophic maxims were found hackThe views of Voltaire (the third neyed ; his sonorous eloquence did not member of the French Dramatic Tri- touch the feelings like the bursts of umvirate) as to the drama, changed genius of Corneille or the passionate greatly after his compulsory resi- refinement of Racine. The want of dence in England. His first play, a genuine enthusiasm for high poetry the Edipus, produced at the age of any kind was too palpable in Vol. of twenty-three, was in all respects taire; while the faith which animated a play of the school of Corneille and his dramatic rivals, and the seriousness Racine. But the acquaintance he had with which they vewed the high aim acquired with English literature, su of tragedy, had, on the contrary, im. perficial in many respects as it was, parted to their compositions a peren. had impressed him with the conviction njal freshness and enduring life. of the powerful effects which the irre « Voltaire," says Villemain,“wished gular drama of the northern nations to give boldness and animation to the was capable of producing; and without scene-to multiply theatrical effects. in the least degree meaning to call in He has frequently succeeded: but in question the laws which had been laid the grandeur and novelty of character, down by his predecessors, except per which is the very life of the drama, has haps as to the employment of the passion he approached his models? Has he proof love as an indispensable dramatic duced any thing that can be compared agent, he seems to have conceived that with such original and novel creations a great deal of the spirit of the roman as Don Diego, Pauline, Severa, Burtic drama might be thrown into the rhus, Acomat, or Joad ? Is his dic. classical form ; that the natural elo tion, dramatic as it is in point of quence of Antony, the jealousy of the movement and warmth, equally so in Moor, or the philosophic or sceptical point of truth? Does it equal the musings and melancholy of Hamlet, or poetry of Racine and Corneille, when perhaps the impression of supernatural he is Corneille ? And is not the perterror which the ghost scenes of Shak. fection of poetry a necessary part of speare produce, might, with certain our severe and regular theatre ?
Setting out with the principle that poetical_still further excited by the good poetry was only good prose, with romantic and occasionally extravagant the addition of measure and rhyme, he tone of the Spanish drama, which was frequently prosaic and negligent had been his favourite study. That in his verses. He had few of those union of the spirit of the romantic drabold forms of expression, those origi- ma with the classical, which Voltaire nal turns, and those bold images, vainly laboured to effect, because in which form the accent of poetry. He truth' he felt not the inspiration of was not less rigorously faithful to the either, is attained so far as such a union etiquette of our theatre. He even ex was practicable (for we have already aggerated its habitual pomp, and its said, that in its full extent it is impos. periphrases of politeness, without cor. sible) in the plays of Corneille. His recting them by those naive turns which dramas remind us of some ancient RoCorneille found in the language of his man monument, like the tomb of Ceday, and which Racine dexterously cilia Metella— some “stern round mingled with that of the court. Thus tower of ancient days"-converted, he was at once less poetical, less simple, during the middle ages, into a place of and less true, than his great predeces. defence ; exhibiting feudal outworks sors."
and barbaric ornaments embossed upon It is impossible, we think, to claim a classic fabric, but so harmonized and for Voltaire even an equality with Cor. blended with the original structure, by neille and Racine. Compare the im. the softening touch of time and the pressions left on the mind by the pe- growth of vegetation, that the whole fusal of the works of the three great possesses a sombre and stately ur ity of dramatists, and the inferiority of the effect. The effect of Racine's dramas, third is at once perceptible. “ Cor- again, very much resembles that of the neille," says St Beuve, “ with his architecture of Palladio ; it exhibits à great qualities and defects, produces on purely classic framework, internally me the effect of one of those great trees, and with some difficulty accommoda. naked, rugged, sombre in the trunk, ted to modern usages, but yet so graceand adorned with branches and a ful in its outward proportions, so dusky verdure only towards the sum finished and polished within, that the mit. They are strong, gigantic, scan limited accommodation of the edifice is tily leaved ; an abundant sap circu- forgotten in the compactness and prolates through them, but we are not to portion and elegance of the apartments. expect from them shade, shelter, or But Voltaire, without any real feeling flowers. They bud late, begin to shed for the classic drama, as his contemptheir foliage early, and live a long time tuous style of treating Sophocles in the half shorn of their leaves. Even after preface to the Edipus shows, and their bare heads havesurrendered their equally incapable of appreciating any leaves to the autumnal wind, the viva. thing of the spirit of the romantic stage, city of their nature still throws out or of borrowing from it any thing here and there scattered branches and but a few hints for theatrical effect suckers; and when they fall, they re and a more lively dialogue-has mere. semble, in their crash and groans, that ly put together incoherent fragments trunk covered with armour to which from antiquity and feudalism_" To Lucan bas compared the fall of Pom make a third he joined the other two," pey."
but without real blending of parts or This fanciful comparison which St unity of spirit. His compositions might Beuve has applied to the old age of the be appropriately compared to an arti. great Corneille, is applicable to his ficial ruin, in which the modern aspeet poetical character generally, only in of the materials is in contradiction to so far as it expresses not inaptly the the form and architecture of the edi. idea of irregular grandeur, which is fice. the characteristic of Corneille's mind; Of his great works, Brutus, the Or. for, amidst the conventional limitations phan of China, Zaire, and the Death of of the French stage, the genius of the Cæsar - the two latter owed their very poet obviously drew its nourishment existence, and almost their whole drafrom an imagination naturally highly matic merit, to the inspiration of Shak.
• Critiques et Portraits Litéraires. Première Série-Corneille.
speare. With a warm admiration for and no less than three separate love Zaire, Villemain candidly admits, that stories are interwoven with the “ fate in all which evinces deep and pro
of Cato and of Rome.” If the refound insight into the heart, or the marks of Villemain contain little that power of artfully indicating and pre- is absolutely new so far as regards paring remote future effects, in which the peculiar excellencies of Shake perhaps, more than any thing else, speare's play, they have at least a dramatic skill is evinced, Shakspeare species of novelty in the mouth of a in his Othello has infinitely the ad. French critic, from their candour vantage over Voltaire. Nay, even and impartiality, unmixed with extrain regard to mere art of narration or vagance; for, to confess the truth, we exposition, the very point on which would in most cases rather put up with Voltaire and the French dramatists the sneers of Voltaire, or the cold and have piqued themselves most, he seems niggard approbation of La Harpe, than inclined to give the preference to the rhapsodical and indiscriminating Othello's speech to the Venetian Se admiration of many modern French nate over the corresponding explana- critics, bestowed as it is without reation of Orosmane, in which he commu. son or intelligible principle, and pracnicates his position and designs to tically exemplified and illustrated by Zaire. He concludes, however, by ob- extravagant and revolting caricatures serving, with a natural wish to do juse of the peculiarities of Shakspeare's tice to a very talented imitation, which age, without the least approach to the in some respects almost borders on redeeming qualities of his genius. genius, “ If in the subject itself, which Shakspeare has taken the Roman is borrowed from Shakspeare, that of history as he found it; he has inventjealousy and murder, Voltaire is infe ed nothing-he has retrenched little. rior in pathos and even in art—if he In the costume and the language he is less energetic, less natural, less pro may have erred occasionally, from bable-he has, notwithstanding, infus. ignorance of classical minutiæ ; but ed into Zaire an unequalled (?) charm in the numerous and contrasted chaand interest. What he has created racters of the piece, particularly in that makes amends for what he has feebly of the philosophical Brutus uniting imitated ; and although Voltaire was the firmness and unshaken dignity of probably in jest when he compared this the Stoic with the gentlest affections, piece to Polyeucte, it is the Christian Shakspeare shows his usual mastery. episode-it is Lusignan and the Cru. When the spirit of human nature is to sade-which constitute the immortal be divined, such as it exists in all ages beauty of Zaire."
and countries among ambitious nobles, In Zaire, Voltaire had conformed to interested demagogues, and an idle, his original, and, on the French stage, heartless, and vacillating populace, prescriptive plan of making love the Shakspeare is never mistaken. moving power of the piece. In his Voltaire, on the contrary, has chosen Death of Cæsar, all the best points of to step beyond history, and his invenwhich plainly were suggested by the tion marks the real want of dramatic Julius Cæsar of Shakspeare, he re refinement which is observable in his verted to an idea he had long enter- plays, disguised as they are in a dratained of a tragedy constructed on a pery of pompous morality. The vague more austere and patriotic principle. suspicion founded on some tale of scanHe determined to compose a tragedy, dal, that Brutus was the son of Cæsar, as he says, in the English taste, ba- becomes with bim the nodus, and connishing not merely love intrigues, but stitutes the main interest of the piece. almost all interference on the part of Patriotism, it would seem, according to .women; though, where he found the French ideas, is presented in its most authority for this novel kind of unity- imposing form when accompanied by the unity of sex—we are at a loss to imam parricide. The conjugal scenes begine. Not in Shakspeare certainly; tween Brutus and Portia, which, by for in Julius Cæsar, Portia, slightly as their homefelt beauty, so finely relieve she is brought into view, is felt to be, the republican hardness of the political and not undeservedly, a personage of interest, Voltaire has entirely banish. strong interest and influence. Stilled; and we are left without a glimpse less in the Cato of his friend Addison, into domestic life, or one tranquil conwhere, if we remember rightly, “the versation in which the Stoic and the noble Martia towers above her sex," politician relaxes into the man.
" Tout le camp
The famous scene, in which the rival "I will confess," says Villemain, leaders pronounce their orations over o the sublime of art once more appears the dead body of Cæsar, has been in to me to be on the side of Shakspeare." many passages translated by Voltaire. -In Voltaire's play, Antony begins In others he has attempted to improve thus :upon it, with what success a few spe
Oui, je l'aimais, Romains ; cimens will enable the reader to judge. Oui, j'aurais de mes jours prolongé ses The speech of Brutus, written with destins. Jaconic brevity, and in prose, proba. Hélas ! vous avez tous pensé comme moibly in order to raise it out of the ordi. même, nary level of the verse, and thus to give El lorsque de son front otant le diadèmie, it more the appearance of a formal ora
Ce heros à vos lois s'immolait aujourd'hui, tion, Voltaire has placed less appro
Qui de vous, en effet, n'eut expiré pour priately in the mouth of Cassius, and
lui ?” his version, we admit, is fairly execu
This is much too rapid, too unprerated. But how absurd the unanimous red an apostrophe. The prejudices of reply which he puts into the mouth of the people had not been soothed, by the multitude :
reminding them, not only how deeply
Cæsar had suffered for his fault, if he * Aux vengeurs de l'état nos caurs sont
were ambitious, but also how much cerassurés !” This is about as natural as the admi.
tain parts of his conduct contradicted
the supposition of his ambition. Before ring antithesis which La Motte makes
introducing the declinature of the crown the Greek army repeat in chorus after the reconciliation of Achilles and Aga- his audience how often the ransom of
upon the Lupercal, Antony reminds memnon:
Cæsar's captives had gone into the ges'écriait dans une joie ex neral coffers, and how," when the poor trême,
had cried, Cæsar had wept.” “ AmbiQue ne raincra-t-il pas ; il s'est vaincu lui
tion should be made of sterner stuff!" même !" Shakspeare, says Villemain, has gone he reminds them of the refusal of the
Only when the way is thus prepared, differently to work, in giving a soul to
crown, and asks, was this ambitious ? the crowd, and completing his drama
Then first he recalls to their recollecby personages without a name. It is
tion their own love for Cæsar, which thus that his Roman people answer
Voltaire so ioartificially thrusts almost after the discourse of Brutus :
into the opening lines of his oration : · Live, Brutus, live!
os You all did love him once, not without 1st Plebeian. Bring him with triumph home unto his house. 2d Pleb. Give him a statue with his an
What cause withholds you then to mourn
for him ? 3d Pleb. Let him be Cæsar."
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason! Bear “ Let him be Casar!” Such is the
with me; notion of a republic entertained by the My heart is in the coffin there with Cæsar, mob of Rome. Their gratitude has no And I must pause till it come back to me.' other form of homage but servitude.
The contrast is still more remark. Antony mounts the chair-at first able, in the way in which Brutus is stormfully received_bespeaking indul- spoken of by Shakspeare and by Volgence for Brutus' sake; then opening taire. In the Mort de Cæsar, Antony in a subdued and humbled tone, feeling bursts out against him in a torrent of his way, as if deprecating the idea that abuse : he came to praise Cæsar or to com
“ Chers amis, je succombe, et mes sens sont plain of his fate. Compare the re interdits: spective commencements of Shak
Brutus, son assassin ! ce monstre était son speare and Voltaire :
fils, “ Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me
Brutus ! où suis je ? O ceil! O crime! O
barbarie !” your ears, I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him ;
Wouid the Romans have allowed The evil that men do lives after them language like this to be used as to The good is oft interred with their bones. Brutus ? Shakspeare, who knew betSo let it be with Cæsar ! The noble Brutus ter, makes Antony's tone as to Brutus Has told you Cæsar was ambitious : complimentary throughout. He is an If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
honourable man; so are they all. And grievously hath Cæsar answer'd it.” Even when speaking of the assassina