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to mingle the narratives of Scripture with the incidents of ordinary life, and the language of inspiration with the refuse of colloquial abuse, and depraved idiom--hence their representations were without dignity, and their morality without effect.

At various times, it has been attempted to engage the drama in a service equally foreign, and to make it the organ of political sentiment—the attempt was equally unsuccessful, and the reason is obvious.

At the dramas above-mentioned all who were assembled knew what they had to expect : every man sat to be delighted with the echo of his own religious opinions, to have the doctrines on which he rested his future hopes confirmed by example, and enlivened by sensible representation; and retired to compare with his Bible the testimony of confessors, or to meditate on the tortures of martyrs to which, according to the prevalent creed, he might soon be summoned to add his own. The man who could sit to witness the attributes of the Deity or the Covenant of Grace made the subject of theatrical representation, would have shrunk with horror from the scenical martyrdom of a catholic saint. Every man at each assembly was of the same mind, and the satisfaction, however obtained, was universal. - But in a drama which is rendered the vehicle of political sentiment, the case is widely different. Such a drama must include the supposition of a state so constituted as to render the theatre accessible to various parties; the audience is promiscuous, and, as at the first representation of Cato, one party applaud to shew that they feel the application of the sentiments, and the other to shew that they disregarded the application; they go not to be pleased with the performance, but with themselves, with their zeal in approving the sanction of their own sentiments, or their vehemence in decrying all that would venture to oppose

them. But the mind delights to keep its pleasures distinct from its toils; and though a man may carry the spirit of a patriot to the theatre, he soon grows weary of the labour of gratuitously supporting it. Thus, after various trials, the adventitious drapery fell from the dramatic muse-gorgeous tragedy once more came sweeping by in her own sceptered pall, and the drama was restored to her legitimate rights—of delighting by the living representation of the passions and manners of mankind elevated by poetry, and chastened by morality.

We have thus briefly deduced the history of the drama to prove that its great object was to give delight with deference to certain restrictions, and we have been the more circumstantial in doing so, because it leads us to the notice of a phænomenon unparalleled in the history of literature. While in every other department of literature, all means have been employed to excite and to satiate the

appetite appetite for novelty; while history, philosophy, and theology have contributed to enrich and diversify poetry, while it has sought to interest us not only by painting man in every situation in which he has yet been discovered, but in situations in which the vivid creations of fancy alone could give a habitation and a name, while the passions have been depicted not only in their visible «peration on life, but in the silent and unwitnessed workings of the heart, the drama still rests her claiin on the merit of her earliest productions, and the efforts of competitors or of imitators have only served to establish the triumphs of Shakspeare. That the genius of this great writer surpassed, and probably will continue to surpass, the powers of every other dramatic poet will scarcely be disputed. But since the mind of man is always in a state of progression, since the changes of society, though they could not alter the nature of the passions, have at least modified their expression,--since the improvement of our manners, by heightening and retining our sensibility, has afforded opportunities of displaying it in new situations and struggles before unimagined, since the artificial and imaginary causes of its excitement have multiplied, and thus given to morbid and factitious feeling the sympathy ouce bestowed only on real-writers of feebler powers might have hoped to please, at least by dramas more regularly constructed,-by feelings more philosophically traced, by exhibitions of complicated passion, which had never been depicted before but in their elements, by new combinations of qualities diversified by the more intricate relations of society, by imagery borrowed from sources which the limited state of literature did not then afford, and by a harmony of modulation with which the improvement of our language has enabled us to delight the ear. This at least might have been expected, but that the expectation has not been fulfilled is obvious, from our not having had, since the days of Rowe, (a writer of no poetical eminence,) more than two decisively and permanently successful performances.* To inquire into the causes of this, may not be useless, and certainly cannot be uninteresting.

The history of the English stage presents us with two striking periods. The one, when dramatic composition, free from all external influence, formed a distinct and separate school of its own. The other, when the introduction of French rules, both in criticism and composition, gradually changed its aspect, and brought along with it a taste for the principles and structure of the Greek tragedy, on which the French is founded, and wbich indeed it very closely resembles. There are, in truth, some points of obvious difference,

* The tragedies of Zanga and Douglas are the only exceptions we remember; those of the Gamester and the Fatal Marriage owed their revival to the inimitable talents of Mrs. Siddons.


but it may be observed, in general, that the agreement is essential, and the difference merely accidental. The rigid preservation of the unities of time, place, and action; the historical subjects, regal personages, and public events; the developement of the story always at its commencement, and generally at its conclasion, committed to narrative, and usually entrusted to an inferior performer, the immeasurable length of the speeches in the dialogue, the absence of all vehement action in the scenes, or practical catastrophe on the stage, are points of invariable and original agreement, that not only assimilate, but in a measure identify the French and classical dramas with each other.

The points of dissimilitude are few and unimportant, and, as we before remarked, arise rather from the difference of manners necessarily modified by the lapse of ages, than from any inherent discrepancy either in the conception of the authors or the taste of the audience. The predominance of love* as the principal agent among the passions, the consequent superiority of female interest in French plays, the bienséance of the heroes who appear to have changed sexes with the heroines, (the latter being licensed to rant, while the former are permitted only to whine, the official niceties of court etiquette, preserved alike amid the courts of Epirus,t Babylon,f Rome, and Constantinople,ll where they were all alike unknown, are features of the French drama impossible not to be recognized as national; but the difference produced by them is (to borrow the language of the schools) modal, not essential; they leave the general resemblance unaltered; the unity of their character, principle, and structure unbroken. Such was the school that, at the period of which we speak, held the balance of dramatic criticism suspended with a lofty hand, and pronounced all the theatres in Europe barbarous but her own.

Of the classical drama, on which it was founded, it may not be amiss to add a few words—to assist the inquiries of those who may be desirous of ascertaining why, supported as it has been by scholars and critics, it can never become popular on the modern stage?

The basis of ancient tragedy is mythology—and that mythology, long exploded, can now scarcely afford a striking illustration to the theme of a school-boy, much less a popular subject for tragedy ;what, according to Gibbon, was viewed by contemporary philosophers with cold and jealous scepticism, is viewed by modern readers with incredulous disdain. This mythology, always offensive to reason, cannot be considered entitled to much respect for its morality. The gods who always visibly or invisibly present) constitute the whole matériel of the drama, are beings whom, as mortal, we should feel disposed to execrate, and whom their rank of deity only makes us view with greater horror;—they are all malignant, vindictive, and meanly jealous of their prescriptive privileges of sacrifice and worship; in passion they are below mortals, in power they are fatally superior to them. In this system, religion and morality are completely disjoined ;-the deities frequently impel to the commission of the most atrocious crimes, and their anger is never excited by the breach of moral duties.

* Voltaire, in the preface to his Merope, expresses his astonishment at the success of his play, because the interest was not founded on what the French call love. + Andromaque. # Semiramide.

♡ Titus.

|| Bajazet. Abbé le Blanc gives a humorous defence of the politesse of the French stage, which he, perhaps, thought very serious. · I am sure there is nothing half so insipid in Titus, or any of Racine's effeminate heroes, as in the title which Dryden gives his cele brated tragedy “All for Love, or The World Weli Lost.”.


In these plays all the excitement that might be derivable from the operation of the passions, or the influence of character, is necessarily suspended. It is not the agitation of the human mind, but the hostile agency of the gods, we are called on to witness ;-the fate of the personages is decided from the commencement of the drama, and often announced in the prologue by the gods themselves.

If one overpowering and tremendous impression of the power of the deities (abstracted from all ideas of their justice or their beneficence) were the result of these exhibitions, the grandeur of the impression might atone for its falsity and immorality. But nothing like this terrible singleness of view can occur in the perusal of the Greek tragedy. The gods (who have all the littleness of mortality among themselves, as well as in their mortal transactions) are as much at variance with each other as they are with their human victims.

One final observation occurs to us on the subject of the Greek drama, grounded, like the rest, on that false mythology which

pervades its whole essence. Of all the various views under which human misery can be beheld, that is surely the most overpowering which denies it all the consolations of conscious rectitude, and all the hope of future reward. The gods of the Greek drama are so intently occupied in aggravating the miseries of human existence, that they seem never to have time or inclination to afford their victims or their favourites a hope of expiation or relief from futurity. This, it may be said, was their national creed-granted;- but does not the concession aggravate the difficulty, by proving a total want of the sensibility not only of poetical justice, but of moral feeling, in both the author and the audience? All around the personages of their tragedies is suffering--all beyond them is darkness. In a word, the Greek drama presents an actual moral desert, without one fertile spot to cheer the traveller, not even a mirage to allure him by its seductive brilliaucy.


Were we to take our estimate of the effect of the French and classical drama on the English, from the simple and obvious truth, that previous to their introduction our drama had attained its present distinction, and since that period its decline has been rapid and total, it mnight seem enough, but we conceive this can be more successfully proved by a brief recurrence to our dramatic history. To enable us to judge of the causes that rendered the early writers so eminent, we must take a view not only of their mental powers, whose admitted superiority was doubtless the first of those causes, but also of the circumstances under which those powers were exercised, of the state of society and literature under which they existed, of the prevalent habits of thinking at that period, and the influence which these causes produced on their writings.

The Reformation had introduced an unbounded freedom of thought-the most awful subjects had been rendered familiar, they were the topics of lonely meditation, and of public discussion; the same license was probably extended to every other sobject that the human mind can grasp or retain—the key of knowledge was wrested from the jealous and tenacious hands of the Romish priesthood, the doors of the temple were thrown open, all were invited to enter, and multitudes obeyed the call.

Men thus born amid controversy, and brought up among the perpetual fluctuations of opposite opinions, are of all others most apt to think and write for themselves. · This was eminently the case with the dramatic writers before whom life lay open in all its exhaustless varieties. They were literary auto x doves, they had no precedent to lcok to, for they were themselves the originators of the English drama; no authority to regard, for though some of them were scholars, and ripe and good ones,' not one, with the exception perhaps of Jonson, conceived the idea of prescribing as a standard the drama of distant ages and remote nations: they had no dread of their audience--the theatres were frequented by men who, satistied with the faithful representation of passions and mamers, paid little regard to those rules by which succeeding critics have tried to restrain the enthusiasm of composition, or the sympathy of attention, to teach writers that they must please, not by consulting nature but art,--and spectators that they should be satisfied not when they feel they are pleased, but when they are informed (and sometimes they need the information) that they ought to be. Every variety of passion, however unfit to be exposed, and every modification of character, however difficult to be traced, enter into their representations, which include the whole of human existence. Many incidents in life are mean and trivial, yet they stoop to record them; many passions are foul and loathsome, yet they do not shrink from painting them ;


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