Page images
PDF
EPUB

“To the assertion, that my play is stupid, I have nothing to object; if it be found so, even let it so be said ; but if (as was most falsely asserted of Adelmorn) any anonymous writer should advance that this Tragedy is immoral, I expect him to prove his assertion by quoting the objectionable passages. This I demand as an act of justice.

We confess ourselves to have been highly delighted with these symptoms of returning, or perhaps nascent purity in the mind of Mr. Lewis; a delight somewhat impaired, to be sure, at the opening of the play, by the following explanation which Ottilia gives of her early rising.

" ACT I.

SCENE 1.— The palace-garden.-Day-break.
“OTTILIA enters in a night-dress: her hair flows dishevelled.

“OTTIL. Dews of the morn, descend! Breathe, summer gales :
My flushed cheeks woo ye ! Play, sweet wantons, play
'Mid my loose tresses, fan my panting breast,
Quench my blood's burning fever !–Vain, vain prayer !
Not Winter throned 'midst Alpine snows, whose will
Can with one breath, one touch, congeal whole realms,
And blanch whole seas : not that fiend's self could ease
This heart, this gulf of flames, this purple kingdom,
Where passion rules and nages !"

Ottilia at last becomes quite furious, from the conviction that Cæsario has been sleeping with a second lady, called Estella ; whereas he has really been sleeping with a third lady, called Amelrosa. Passing across the stage, this gallant gentleman takes an opportunity of mentioning to the audience, that he has been passing his time very agreeably, meets Ottilia, quarrels, makes it up; and so end the first two or three scenes.

Mr. Lewis will excuse us for the liberty we take in commenting on a few passages in his play which appear to us rather exceptionable.

The only information which Cæsario, imagining his father to have been dead for many years, receives of his existence, is in the following short speech of Melchior :

“Melch. The Count San Lucar, long thought dead, but saved,
It seems, by Amelrosa's care.—Time presses-
I must away : farewell."

To this laconic, but important information, Cæsario makes no reply; but merely desires Melchior to meet him at one o'clock, under the Royal Tower, and for some other purposes.

In the few cases which have fallen under our observation, of fathers restored to life after a supposed death of twenty years, the parties concerned have, on the first information, appeared a little surprised, and generally asked a few questions; though we do not go the length of saying it is natural so to do. This same Cæsario (whose love of his father is a principal cause of his conspiracy against the King) begins criticising the old warrior, upon his first seeing him again, much as a virtuoso would criticise an ancient statue that wanted an arm or a leg,

ORSINO enters from the cave.
CÆSARIO. Now by my life

A noble ruin."

a

Amelrosa, who imagines her father to have banished her from his presence for ever, in the first transports of joy for pardon, obtained by earnest intercessions, thus exclaims :

“Lend thy doves, dear Venus,
That I may send them where Cæsario strays :
And while he smooths their silver wings, and gives them
For drink the honey of his lips, I'll bid them

Coo in his ear, his Amelrosa's happy!” What judge of human feelings does not recognise in these images of silver wings, doves and honey, the genuine language of the passions ?

If Mr. Lewis is really in earnest in pointing out the coincidence between his own dramatic sentiments and the gospel of St. Matthew, such a reference (wide as we know this assertion to be) evinces a want of judgment, of which we did not think him capable. If it proceeded from irreligious levity, we pity the man who has bad taste enough not to prefer honest dulness to such paltry celebrity.

We beg leave to submit to Mr. Lewis, if Alfonso, considering the great interest he has in the decision, might not interfere a little in the long argument carried on between Cæsario and Orsino, upon the propriety of putting him to death. To have expressed any decisive opinion upon the subject, might perhaps have been incorrect; but a few gentle hints as to that side of the question to which he leaned, might be fairly allowed to be no very unnatural incident.

This tragedy delights in explosions. Alfonso's empire is destroyed by a blast of gunpowder, and restored by a clap of thunder. After the death of Cæsario, and a short exhortation to that purpose by Orsino, all the conspirators fall down in a thunder-clap, ask pardon of the king, and are forgiven. This mixture of physical and moral power is beautiful! How interesting a water-spout would appear among Mr. Lewis's kings and queens! We anxiously look forward, in his next tragedy, to a fall of snow three or four feet deep ; or expect that a plot shall gradually unfold itself by means of a general thaw.

All is not so bad in this play. There is some strong painting, which shows, every now and then, the hand of a master. The agitation which Cæsario exhibits upon his first joining the conspirators in the cave, previous to the blowing up of the mine, and immediately after stabbing Ottilia, is very fine.

« CÆSARIO. Ay, shout, shout,
And kneeling greet your blood-anointed king,
This steel his sceptre ! Tremble, dwarfs in guilt,
And own your master ! Thou art proof, Henriquez,

'Gainst pity ; ! once saw thee stab in þattle

a

A page who clasped thy knees : And Melchior there
Made quick work with a brother whom he hated.
But what did I this night? Hear, hear, and reverence!
There was a breast, on which my head had rested
A thousand times; a breast which loved me fondly
As heaven loves martyred saints, and yet this breast
I stabbed, knaves-stabbed it to the heart !--Wine! wine there!

For iny soul's joyous !”-p. 86. The resistance which Amelrosa opposes to the firing of the mine, is well wrought out; and there is some good poetry scattered up and down the play, of which we should very willingly make extracts, if our limits would permit. The ill success which it has justly experienced, is owing, we have no doubt, to the want of nature in the characters, and of probability and good arrangement in the incidents,-objections of some force'.

LETTRES SUR L'ANGLETERRE.

Lettres sur l'Angleterre. Par J. FievÉE. 1802. OF all the species of travels, that which has moral observation for its

object is the most liable to error, and has the greatest difficulties to overcome, before it can arrive at excellence. Stones, and roots, and leaves, are subjects which may exercise the understanding without rousing the passions. A mineralogical traveller will hardly fall foul upon the granite and the feldspar of other countries than his own; a botanist will not conceal its non-descripts; and an agricultural tourist will faithfully detail the average crop per acre ; but the traveller who observes on the manners, habits, and institutions of other countries, must have emancipated his mind from the extensive and powerful dominion of association, must have extinguished the agreeable and deceitful feelings of national vanity, and cultivated that patient humility which builds general inferences only upon the repetition of individual facts. Every thing he sees shocks some passion or flatters it; and he is perpetually seduced to distort facts, so as to render them agreeable to his system and his feeling! Books of travels are now published in such vast abundance, that it may not be useless, perhaps, to state a few of the reasons why their value so commonly happens to be in the inverse ratio of their number.

ist. Travels are bad, from a want of opportunity for observation in those who write them. If the sides of a building are to be measured, and the number of its windows to be counted, a very short space of time may suffice for theśë operations; but to gain such a knowledge of their prevalent opinions and propensities, as will enable a stranger to comprehend (what is commonly called) the genius of a people, requires

a

a

a long residence among them, a familiar acquaintance with their language, and an easy circulation among their various societies. The society into which a transient stranger gains the most easy access in any country, is not often that which ought to stamp the national character; and no criterion can be more fallible, in a people so reserved and inaccessible as the British, who (even when they open their doors to letters of introduction) cannot for years overcome the awkward timidity of their nature. The same expressions are of so different a val in different countries, the same actions proceed from such different causes, and produce such different effects, that a judgment of foreign nations, founded on rapid observation, is almost certainly a mere tissue of ludicrous and disgraceful mistakes; and yet a residence of a month or two seems to entitle a traveller to present the world with a picture of manners in London, Paris, or Vienna, and even to dogmatise upon the political, religious, and legal institutions, as if it were one and the same thing to speak of abstract effects of such institutions, and of their effects combined with all the peculiar circumstances in which any nation may be placed.

2dly. An affectation of quickness in observation, an intuitive glance that requires only a moment, and a part, to judge of a perpetuity and a whole. The late Mr. Petion, who was sent over into this country to acquire a knowledge of our criminal law, is said to have declared himself thoroughly informed upon the subject, after remaining precisely two and thirty minutes in the Old Bailey.

3rdly. The tendency to found observation on a system, rather than a system upon observation. The fact is, there are very few original eyes and ears. The great mass see and hear as they are directed by others, and bring back from a residence in foreign countries nothing but the vague and customary notions concerning it, which are carried and brought back for half a century, without verification or change. The most ordinary shape in which this tendency to prejudge makes its appearance among travellers, is by a disposition to exalt, or, a still more absurd disposition, to depreciate their native country. They are incapable of considering a foreign people but under one single point of view-the relation in which they stand to their own ; and the whole narrative is frequently nothing more than a mere triumph of national vanity, or the ostentation of superiority to so common a failing:

But we are wasting our time in giving a theory of the faults of travellers, when we have such ample means of exemplifying them all from the publication now before us, in which Mr. Jacob Fievée, with the most surprising talents for doing wrong, has contrived to condense and agglomerate every species of absurdity that has hitherto been made known, and even to launch out occasionally into new regions of nonsense, with a boldness which well entitles him to the merit of originality in folly, and discovery in impertinence. We consider Mr, Fievée's book as extremely valuable in one point of view. It affords a sort of limit or mind-mark, beyond which we conceive it to be impossible in future that pertness and petulance should pass. It is well to be acquainted with the boundaries of our nature on both sides ; and to Mr. Fievée we are indebted for this valuable approach to pessimism. The height of knowledge no man has yet scanned; but we have now pretty well fathomed the gulf of ignorance.

We must, however, do justice to Mr. Fievée when he deserves it. He evinces, in his preface, a lurking uneasiness at the apprehension of exciting war between the two countries, from the anger to which his letters will give birth in England. He pretends to deny that they will occasion a war; but it is very easy to see that he is not convinced by his own arguments, and we confess ourselves extremely pleased by this amiable solicitude at the probable effusion of human blood. We hope Mr. Fievée is deceived by his philanthropy, and that no such unhappy consequences will ensue, as he really believes, though he affects to deny them. We dare to say the dignity of this country will be satisfied, if the publication in question is disowned by the French government, or, at most, if the author is given up. At all events, we have no scruple to say, that to sacrifice 20,000 lives, and a hundred millions of money, to resent Mr. Fievée's book, would be an unjustifiable waste of blood and treasure ; and that to take him off privately by assassination would be an undertaking hardly compatible with the dignity of a great empire.

To show, however, the magnitude of the provocation, we shall specify a few of the charges which he makes against the English.—That they do not understand fireworks as well as the French; that they charge a shilling for admission to the exhibition ; that they have the misfortune of being incommoded by a certain disgraceful privilege, called the liberty of the press; that the opera band plays out of tune; that the English are so fond of drinking, that they get drunk with a certain air called the gas of Paradise ; that the privilege of electing members of Parliament is so burthensome, that cities sometimes petition to be exempted from it; that the great obstacle to Parliamentary reform is the mob; that women sometimes have titles distinct from those of their husbands, although, in England, any body can sell his wife at market, with a rope about her neck. To these complaints he adds—that the English are so far from enjoying that equality of which their partisans boast, that none but the servants of the higher nobility can carry canes behind a carriage; that the power which the French Kings had of pardoning before a trial, is much the same thing as the English mode of pardoning after trial ; that he should conceive it to be a good reason for rejecting any measure in France, that it was imitated from the English, who have no family affections, and who love money so much, that their first question, in an inquiry concerning the character of any man is, as to his degree of fortune. Lastly, Mr. Fievée alleges against the English, that they have great pleasure in contemplating the spectacle of men deprived of their reason. And indeed we must have the candour to allow, that the hospitality which Mr. Fievée experienced seems to afford some pretext for this assertion.

One of the principal objects of Mr. Fievée's book, is to combat the Anglomania, which has raged so long among his countrymen, and which prevailed at Paris to such an extent, that even Mr. Necker, a foreigner (incredible as it may seem), after having been twice minister

« PreviousContinue »