« VorigeDoorgaan »
up this inaugural picture-so pompous from blazing altars and cloudy incense -so ceremonial from the known religious meaning of the attitudes-so beautiful from the loveliness of the youthful suppliants, rising tier above tier according to their ages, and the graduation of the altar steps-so moving in its picture of human calamity by the contrasting figure of the two grey-haired supporters-so complete and orbicular in its delineation of human frailty by the surmounting circumstances of its crest, the altar, the priestess, the temple, the serene Grecian sky-this impressive picture, having of itself appealed to every one of thirty thousand hearts, having already challenged universal attention, is now explained and unfolded through the entire first act. Iolaus, the noble old warrior, who had clung the closer to the fluttering dovecot of his buried friend from the unmerited persecution which had assaulted them, comments to the stranger prince upon the spectacle before him-a spectacle significant to Grecian eyes, intelligible at once to every body; but still rare, and witnessed in practice by nobody. The prince, Demophoon, is a ruler of Athens the scene is placed in the Attic territory, but not in Athens; about fifteen miles, in fact, from that city, and not far from the dread field of Marathon. To the prince, Iolaus explains the lost condition of his young flock. The ruler of Argos had driven them out of every asylum in the Peloponnesus. From city to city he had followed them at the heels, with his cruel heralds of persecution. They were a party of unhappy fugitives, (most of them proclaiming their innocence by their very age and helplessness,) that had run the circle of Greek hospitality: every where had been hunted out like wild beasts, or those common nuisances from which their illustrious father had liberated the earth: that the long circuit of their unhappy wanderings had brought them at the last to Athens, in which they had a final confidence, as knowing well not only the justice of that state, but that she only would not be moved from her purposes by fear of the aggressor. No finer opening can be imagined. The statuesque beauty of the group, and the unparalleled persecution which the first act exposes, (a sort of misery and an absolute hostility of the human race to
which our experience suggests no corresponding case, except that of a leper in the middle ages, or the case of a man under a papal interdict,) fix the attention of the spectators beyond any other situation in Grecian tragedy. And the compliment to Athens, not verbal but involved in the very situation, gave a depth of interest to this drama, for the very tutelary region of the drama; which ought to stamp it with a sort of prerogative as in some respects the ideal tragedy or model of the Greek theatre.
Now, this one dialogue, as filling one act of a particular drama, is quite sufficient to explain the view we take of the Greek tragic dialogue. It is allogether retrospective. It takes for its theme the visible group arranged on the stage before the spectators from the first. Looking back to this, the two interlocutors (supposed to come forward upon the stage) contrive between them, one by pertinent questions, the other by judicious management of his replies, to bring out those circumstances in the past fortunes and immediate circumstances of this interesting family, which may put the audience in possession of all which it is important for them to know. reader sees the dark legendary char acter which invests the whole tale; and in the following acts this darkness is made more emphatic from the fact that incidents are used, of which contradictory versions existed, some poets adopting one version, some another: so cloudy and uncertain were the facts. All this apocryphal gloom aids that sanctity and awe which belong to another and a higher mode of life; to that slumbering life of sculpture, as opposed to painting, which we have called a life within a life. Grecian taste would inevitably require that the dialogue should be adjusted to this starting-point and standard. Accordingly, in the first place, the dialogue is always (and in a degree quite unperceived by the translators up to this time) severe, massy, simple, yet solemnized intentionally by the use of a select vocabulary, corresponding (in point of archaism and remoteness from ordinary use) to our scriptural vocabulary. Secondly, the metre is of a kind never yet examined with suitable care. There were two objects aimed at in the Greek iambic of the tragic drama; and in some measure these objects were in collision with each
other, unless most artfully managed. One was, to exhibit a purified imitation of real human conversation. The other was, to impress upon this colloquial form, thus far by its very nature recalling ordinary human life, a character of solemnity and religious conversation. Partly this was effected by arts of omission and commission; by banishing certain words or forms of words; by recalling others of high antiquity particular tenses, for instance, were never used by the tragic poets; not even by Euripides, (the most Wordsworthian of the Athenian poets in the circumstance of having a peculiar theory of poetic diction, which lowered its tone of separation, and took it down from the cothurnus:) other verbal forms, again, were used nowhere but upon the stage. Partly, therefore, this consecration of the tragic style was effected by the antique cast, and the exclusive cast of its phraseology. But, partly also, it was effected by the metre. From whatever cause it may arise-chiefly, perhaps, from differences in the genius of the two languages-certain it is, that the Latin iambics of Seneca, &c., (in the tragedies ascribed to him,) cannot be so read by an English mouth as to produce any thing like the sonorous rhythmus, and the grand intonation of the Greek iambics.
a good reader) of the recitative in the Italian opera: as, indeed, in other points, the Italian opera is a much nearer representative of the Greek tragedy, than the direct modern tragedy-professing that title.
X. As to the Chorus, nothing needs to be said upon this element of the Athenian tragedy. Every body knows how solemn, and therefore how solemnizing, must have been the richest and most lyrical music, the most passionate of the ancient poetry, the most dithyrambic of tragic and religious raptures, supported to the eye by the most hieroglyphic and therefore mysterious of dances. For the dances of the chorus-the strophe and the antistrophe-were symbolic, and therefore full of mysterious meanings; and not the less impressive, because these meanings and these symbols had lost their significancy to the mob; since the very cause of that loss lay in the antiquity of their origin. One great error which remains to be removed, is the notion that the chorus either did support, or was meant to support the office of a moral teacher. The chorus simply stood on the level of a sympathizing spectator, detached from the business and interests of the action; and its office was to guide or to interpret the sympathies of the audi ence. Here was a great error of a curious fact, and as yet, we believe, Milton's: but it is not an error of unnoticed. But, over and above this this place or subject. At present, it original adaptation of the Greek lan- is sufficient to say, that the mysterious guage to the iambic metre, we have solemnity conferred by the chorus, no doubt whatever that the recitation presupposes, and is in perfect harmony of verse on the stage was of an arti-with, our theory of a life within a lifeficial and semi-musical character. It was undoubtedly much more sustained and intonated with a slow and measured stateliness,* which, whilst harmonizing it with the other circumstances of solemnity in Greek tragedy, would bring it nearer to music. Beyond a doubt, it had the effect (and might have the effect even now, managed by
a life sequestrated into some far off slumbering state, having the severe tranquillity of Hades-a life symbolized by the marble life of sculpture; but utterly out of all symmetry and proportion to the realities of that human life which we moderns take up as the basis of our tragic drama.
Any man, who has at all studied the Greek iambics, must well remember those forms of the metre which are used in a cadence, at the close of a resounding passage, meant to express a full pause, and the prodigious difference from such as were meant for weaker lines, or less impressive metrical effects. These cadences, with their full body of rhythmus, are never reproduced in the Latin imitations of the iambic hexameter: nor does it seem within the compass of Latin metre to reach such effects: though otherwise, and especially by the dactylic hexameter, the Latin language is more powerful than the Greek.
If a man were to write an account of a whale suddenly become human, and retaining in its new form the feelings and propensities of its former shape, with a multitude of such incidents heaped together as might be supposed to result from this absurd combination, he would probably write a very stupid book, but it would be intensely German.
All the admirers of that peculiar sort of originality to which our neighbours lay exclusive claim, would break out in a chorus of applause. The manfish or the fish-man would be the beau ideal of what can be produced by an exuberant imagination; his memory of northern seas, and the delight he used to experience in refreshing himself in hot weather, by rubbing his back against an iceberg, would furnish ample scope for the grotesque, by bringing the two modes of existence into juxtaposition; and, in fact, we venture to insure the most complete success to any one who will take this as a subject, and work it out with the necessary amount of horrors and incongruities. This would be a novel of active life, where our sympathies would be enlisted on the side of the living and moving personages of the drama: but if the author wished to Germanize in another manner,he would have nothing to do but to invest some inanimate object with thoughts and feelings, but without endowing it with visible life; say, for example, a milestone, and let it love, fear, hate, reason, poetize, or philosophize to the best of his ability. This style of writing appears to a great number of people, who have never taken the trouble to analyse the nature of it, to require a very high degree of fancy in the author.
never was such a mistake committed. It is from a want of imagination, and not from the excess of it, that our neighbours have betaken themselves to their mysticism and magic, to their doublegangers and Peter Schlemihls. A very natural anxiety to escape from the imputation which for centuries gods and columns had cast on German genius, that it was plodding, careful, mole-eyed, and unimaginative, has been the main inducement to the convulsive efforts they now make to astonish and perplex.
But they ought to be aware that no man has a right to imagine new worlds till he has exhausted the old ones. It is only in favour of Prospero and Miranda that we make allowance for Ariel and Caliban. See what effect those creations would have unless they were presented to us along with the deep human interests and delicate shadings of character which we trace in the other persona of "the Tem pest." Would a whole play of Cali bans and Ariels, or even a play in which they were the principal figures, and not the mere accessories and excrescences, impress us with such ideas of an author's imagination as if he had called Hamlet into being, or clothed the passion of innocent love in flesh and blood, and called it Juliet, or awakened the horrors of conscience in Macbeth? The mistake of our Gothic cousins in believing that whatever is not in nature must be a proof of fancy is much the same as the very common one among some of our youthful bards of considering that whatever is not prose must be poetry. A ring that makes its possessor invisible, a key that opens a terrestrial paradise filled with Mahommedan Houris, an enchan ter, a vampire, or a ghost-these ar the great instruments with which to concoct a national literature, unless, in deed, the author adopts the still easie expedient of filling his three volume with all manner of inexplicable inci dents, and then loosing the knot h has so artfully tied by exclaiming, lik good John Bunyan, at the end of all "and I awoke, and behold it was dream." For, depend on it, there is n deus ex machina equal to a nightcap But this striving after the new is no limited to the dealers in novels and ro mances. It is the characteristic at thi moment, and for several years past of every effort of the German mind Their scholars give new views of his tory, their theologians new views divinity, their philosophers new view of man, his faculties and final destiny But by new views, think not that ol things are merely put in a new posi tion, and fresh light poured on then from the naphtha lamps of those sages This would be a labour too low, to poor, for their ambition. The firs
step they take in their search for novelty, like the diggers for fairy treasures among their own old castles, is to shake down the whole fabric by removing the foundation on which it rested. Out of the ruins they contrive to build up some fantastic tower according to their own taste, and try to train the old ivy over it again, to give it the appearance of antiquity. But the ivy has been rooted up, and refuses to hide the modern masonry. Oh, Romulus! Oh, Remus!-Oh sacred Capitol! towards which had marched so many triumphant heroes, and over which hung such a glory that Rome was indeed the Eternal City while it rested under thy protection are ye all things that never were? or so different from what we have been taught to think you, that you are, in fact, mere fancy pieces woven into gossamer tapestry by Livy and the ancient chroniclers ?-or was Niebuhr a dull, dreamy, fusty, old pedant, de. nying all these, and fifty other things and incidents, which we had been ready to swear to for fifteen hundred years, merely to obtain a name for himself? The man was utterly unjus tifiable, even if his discoveries were true, in laying sacrilegious hands on what had been so long believed that it had grown a truth; in depriving of life and glory time-honoured Cincinnatus, treating great Camillus as an impostor, and slaughtering with a more intolerable slaughter the white-haired senate, seated on curule chairs, whose majesty had restrained for a season the enmity and ferocity of the Gauls. For our own part, we believe in all the early history of Rome; and have as yet had no sufficient proofs offered us of the existence of Niebuhr to convince us that he ever lived. We therefore are ready to make our solemn affirmation, that, to the best of our knowledge and belief, Remus leapt over the walls while they were yet only three feet high; and that the person or apparition assuming the name of Niebuhr was a phantom, and no man.
Theology is too sacred ground for us to tread upon, farther than to refuse to be guided first into labyrinths, (which are not to be found in the Bible,) and then out of them, by such misty guides as Tholuck, Baur, and even Neander. As to Strauss and the other infidels, we name them not without disgust; for if fancy can conjure
any image more revolting than another, it is that of a German Voltaire, with all his venom and audacity, and not a particle of his wit. Their philosophy, however, is protected by no such sanctities; and we repeat that the whole effort of their metaphysics has been to strike out some new path -to dazzle us with strange speculations, and puzzle us with unintelligible paradoxes. Let us not fall foul of Kant on this particular occasion; for that unpretending-looking syllable, whether spelt with k or c, has powerful patrons in these degenerate days, whose slumbering venom it might be dangerous to wake. Let us go to Herder himself, one of the greatest names in German literature-a poet, a scholar, a philosopher; yet tainted so deeply with the spirit of his class and country, that his design is evidently rather to astonish than to instruct. So irrepressible is genius, that it cannot continue hidden even under the mummy-like integuments in which a very undivine philosophy endeavours to envelope it-like light in a tomb, it flashes out amid the most gloomy and unpromising scenes, and beautifies, with its lustre, the uninviting objects on which it shines. Herder was undoubtedly a man of genius-he shows it in all his writings; but in them all there is no mistaking the great aim we have alluded to-to startle, to delight; but not to inform. We shall take notice of but one passage in his "Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind," because we propose to go at greater length into a work of a follower of Herder, (and no unworthy follower,) of which we think our readers will be glad to accompany us in the examination, as illustrative of the present tendencies of the German spe. culative philosophy; we mean "The Spirit of History" of Wolfgang Menzel.
The philosophers of Herder's day had kindly taken the other planets into their charge, and entered into laboured disquisitions on the state and prospects of our neighbours in the Milky Way. In his admirable "Ideas" he alludes to the vain dreams of Kircher and Schwedenborg on such subjects, and the utter groundlessness of all the guesses and suppositions of Hugens, Lambert, and Kant; but the temptation is too great. He guards himself, indeed, with the convenient go-between "perhaps," but propounds
the ingenious doctrine, "that the proportion that exists between the velocity and distance of the different planets, holds good also between the intellects and faculties of their inhabitants." The relation of our matter to our spirit may be regulated by the relative length of our days and nights -the rapidity of our thoughts is in the proportion which the revolution of our planet round itself and round the sun bears to the quickness or slowness of other stars-so that as Mercury performs his daily revolution in six hours, and his annual course in eighty-eight days, the inhabitants of that favoured planet must be clever beyond belief. On the other hand, it is pleasing to reflect how the dullest of men would be looked up to among the dunderheads of Saturn, who gropes his way almost in the dark round the sun, and takes no less than thirty years to perform the journey. Gods! what a poet would be M'Henry!-how inconceivably "quick in the uptak" the late Lord Newton, who used to find out at breakfast the point of Harry Erskine's witticism of the previous day! "I hae ye noo, Harry!" would be the proof of the most rapid compre hension, though uttered at the end of a month. This, however, is supposing the possibility of a Henry Erskine in such a world; which is only admissible in consideration of the extraordinary activity it displays in spinning round itself, a feat which it performs in about seven hours. Per haps, after all, this wonderful speed in one revolution may make up for its dilatoriness in the other; and there may be an Athens in Saturn as well as in Scotland.
This, however, is only one of many equally gratuitous exercises of the fancy contained in Herder's work, which, be it observed, having for its subject the philosophy of history, should have been strictly limited to an induction from facts. But inapplicable as such flights were in the midst of such a dissertation, what are we to think of Wolfgang Menzel, whose whole work is composed of nothing else? Now, Wolfgang Menzel is not a man to be passed lightly over in our estimate of German intellect. There is no higher name in the living literature of his country. His "History of the Germans " is
eloquent and popular at the same time; as a critic, he is distinguished for sound judgment and clear discrimination, joined to a fearlessness and true-hearted disdain of the hollowness and affectation that reigned in the most admired writings of the greatest authors of his land, that drew on him the unmitigated hatred of the followers of Göthe and Voss. His two excellent tales, "Rubezahl" and "Narcissus," are well known: and as a poet he has shown much talent and a great deal of wit. It was accordingly with no slight anticipation of enjoyment that we opened a little pamphlet, published at Stutgard in 1835, entitled "The Spirit of History." Here, then, we thought, we shall have admirable writing and extensive information. Here the great empires of the past will unfold their buried majesty, and point with warning finger to the present or the future. Here shall we see the footmarks of Providence traced amid the ruins of crumbled monarchies. Here we shall-but a truce to our expectations. We pulled the candles closer to us, fixed our feet more resolutely on the fender, and turned to the preface:
"The following sketch is intended merely to show the impression which, in a long-continued study of history, the powerful spirit that lies in it has made on one not insensible soul. In this I do not scruple to let my heart have its full play. The man whose feelings are unmoved when he considers the fortunes of his kind-whose inmost soul is not excited by the presence of the spirit that animates the world, will never be able to comprehend them. The calmest enquiry, the most dispassionate observation, enable us to discover truths, the knowledge of which, nevertheless, leaves the deepest impression upon our hearts. And is history, then, something unconnected with us, to which we can continue indifferent? Are we not in the midst of it?-do we not fight the great fight along with it? Is not each of us destined to take a part in its tremendous drama: as hero fighting for some holy object, or as base wight who helps to bring about the tragic catastrophe? No one is so inconsiderable that he cannot, by magnanimity or the reverse, add to the number of the good or the bad in the world; that he does not help to make the beautiful shine more clearly-or make the base more