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It seems among the caprices of literature, that one whose life has excited an interest so unfading and universal, and whose destinies--even more than the splendors of his reign, the solemn graces of his court, or the stately muses of Racine-invest with no unreal poetry the memory of Louis the Fourteenth,—that one whose
very fate was a poem, whose very struggles were a drama, should have furnished so little inspiration to the poet, and escaped altogether the resuscitation of the stage. If it be true (as I hold it indisputable) that the great material of dramalic representation lies not so much in the analysis of one, as in the delineation of adverse and opposing, passions, perhaps few subjects can be found more adapted to the skill of the dramatic poet than the love and the repentance, the fall and the atonement, of Madame de La Vallière. The strongest contrast of motives, the most tragic struggle of impulse and of principle, in the breast of a woman, is ever that which is created by the conflict ofthe Affections and the Conscience : nor does the spectacle fail of a great and an impressive moral, if, after all the concessions and most of the triumphs of the first, the last becomes eventually the victor.
The mind of Madame de La Vallière was not of the highest order. With her the reasoning faculty was sealed in the heart; but her very weakness, united and embellished as it was with so much genuine tenderness of sentiment and honest depth of emotion, ought to render her character yet more affecting on the stage. For pathos is rarely derived from the sternness of qualities purely intellectual ; and we are led, by our sympathies with the infirmities of our nature, to conclusions that purify and exalt it. The philosophy of the drama is the metaphysics of the passions.
But if the character of Madame de La Vallière be dramatic, it is a task, I allow, of considerable difliculty, to concentrate the events of her life into the limits of a drama. The Probabilities require us to extend the period of action over the eight years of her historical career; that sad, not sudden, but unceasing, progress from innocence lo splendour~from the idolized to the deserted— from the deserted to the penitent and devout. In the interval between the second and third act more especially, the reader will tacitly supply the lapse of time that may seem to him required by such harmonies as Fiction, insensibly, as it were, establishes with Fact.
The time is past for discussing the propriety of the Unilies, which even the dazzling example of the Author of Sardanapalus could not prove to be other than the sacrifice of Nature, from a misguided superstition for the Natural. The unity of character --the only one, indeed, on which Aristotle very peremptorily insists—is also the only one which all time and all criticism must recognise as essential and indispensable. When the Stagirite condemns Euripides for violating the unity of his character of Iphigenia, by ascribing to her, in one sentence, sentiments wholly inapposite to, and irreconcileable with, the character which preceding sentences had portrayed, that great philosopher proved, by the most illustrious example, what common sense might suffice to teach us-viz., that no poetry of expression can atone for that anomaly in poetical creation by which the creatures are made inconsistent with themselves. It may, however, be noticeable, that when fidelity to truth compels us to waive the minor unity of time, nicer and more delicale refinements of art are sometimes afforded us in our treatment of the unity of character. Maintaining the paramount qualities that individualize our creation, we are enabled subtilely, and (to the uninvestigating) almost insensibly, to show how we have served ourselves of the lapse of time, to modify them or develop. Macbeth in the fifth act is not the Macbeth of the first. But the bold, the ruthless, never the hardened tyrant, is precisely that which years and events would necessarily ripen, from the brave, but vacillating, the tender but ambitious thane, who requires omen and prediction, the urgings of tell, and the familiar inspirations of a feller and more powerful mind, to shape the thought into the action, the “Dare not,” to “I will.”
In the Play now submitted to the reader, the supposed interval