« VorigeDoorgaan »
isation is tempered and action held in check; there is
And again later : 'On ne comprend que trop la révolte de l'esprit français, au nom du naturel et du goût, contre toutes les exagérations et les outrances de la passion-vraie ou fausse. “Pelléas et Mélisande" fut comme le manifeste de la révolte. Il réagit avec intransigeance contre toute emphase, contre tout excès, contre toute expression qui dépasse la pensée. Cette répugnance à l'égard des paroles et des sentiments exagérés va même jusqu'à la peur de livrer ce qu'on sent quand on est le plus ému. Les passions se disent à mi-voix.' *
There could be no better indication of the standpoint from which Pelléas et Mélisande' is written.
It is in no sense undramatic, but it is drama seen through a veil, now grey, now faintly iridescent, behind which the characters move almost as unconsciously as the figures of a dream. The plot unfolds in due sequence and proportion; there is not a line wasted or a gesture misplaced ; but it is all very far away, and its remoteness gives it a subtle and indefinable charm. The music is soft and caressing; the voices rarely move beyond a narrow compass of notes ; the orchestra is kept within a scheme of low values and delicate shades. Instead of the leit-motif we have fugitive points of colour, touching each sentiment as it
* 'Musiciens d'Aujourd'hui,' pp. 198, 199.
passes ; instead of Wagner's complex polyphony, we have harmonies which are chosen for their hue, not for their texture; instead of a declamation which enforces and emphasises, there is a whisper which breathes into the poet's lines a more ethereal spirit of poetry.
Such an art cannot be wholly representative of the nation that has given us Berlioz and Hugo, the luxuriance of Les Trois Mousquetaires' and the warm vivid colouring of Carmen.' But it represents one side of the French artistic temper—its measure, its clarity, its chastity of honour which feels a stain like a wound. Debussy's music is too fragile for insistence; it is woven of dew and gossamer, the fabric of a vision which would be destroyed by a clumsy grasp. It is not made for heroism, for the stress of conflict and the large air and the epic majesty of outline; it has not the splendour of romance which will risk everything upon a single throw; it calls the drama back to the service of pure beauty, and in that service it finds its justification and its reward.
The problem, like all artistic problems, remains therefore unsolved ; indeed, if it could be solved, it would prove itself valueless. All that we can do is to state for our own time the manner in which the great artists have approached it, and to appraise them by the canons which they have themselves supplied. It is clear that no common measure can at present be set to the ideals of Strauss and Debussy, to the music of • Pelléas' and that of Elektra '; they stand poles asunder; they admit, so far as we can see, no point of union. But each has in its own way shown how the music-drama can enrich its theme; and it is possible that the ways may after all converge. The day may come when men will regard Strauss as we regard Gluck, and see in Debussy the lineal heir of Mozart. The day may come when a greater than either shall arise and show us that these ideals are not incompatible; that the poignancy of the one and the exquisiteness of the other may be resolved into a fuller and nobler art that shall absorb them both. The dream perhaps was realised by Greek Tragedy ; it may be realised again.
W. H. HADOW.
Art. 6.—THE EPISTOLÆ OBSCURORUM VIRORUM. 1. Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum : The Latin Text with
an English Rendering, Notes, and an Historical Introduction. By Francis Griffin Stokes. London : Chatto
and Windus, 1909. 2. Die Verfasser der Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum
(Quellen und Forschungen zur Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte der Germanischen Völker, xciii). By Walther
Brecht. Strassburg: Trübner, 1904. 3. Ulrichi Hutteni Eq. Operum Supplementum. Epistola
Obscurorum Virorum cum inlustrantibus adversariisque scriptis. Coll. rec. adnot. Edvardus Böcking. Two vols.
Leipzig : Teubner, 1864-9. WHAT, we wonder, would the writers—both the real and the pretended--of the Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum' have said to the publication of an English version of these famous productions ? The sapient monks and theologians who figured as the signatories of the original letters, the unlearned scribes who wrote down Sallust a poet and believed that Suetonius composed Cæsar's Commentaries,' since Caesar himself could not have found time to learn Latin, would hardly have credited such a linguistic achievement, or, like one of them, Petrus de Wormatia, who did not wish, in addition to the Latin Homer, to see the other Homer in Greek of which he had remotely heard, would have preferred not to be troubled with it. The real authors of the . Epistolæ,' the scholars militant whose ruthless satire raised such a pother over the heads of the anti-Reuchlinists that this charge of light horse virtually, though not actually, closed the battle, could not but have been pleased by such a mark of recognition, especially as the very first edition of the first volume of the Letters had (probably through Richard Croke, then lecturing on Greek at Leipzig) been received with applause in England. But it may be questioned whether they would have thought the compliment as happy as it was well meant. Mr Stokes, an accomplished scholar, has (as his preface shows) insight and sense of humour enough to have made him fully aware of the difficulties of the task which he imposed upon himself. But he was determined to face
Vol. 216.-No. 430.
them on the strength of his belief that, far from the humour and satiric force of the Epistolæ' depending 'mainly on the droll vileness of their Latinity'... 'the edge of the satire could not wholly be blunted even by the crudest translation.' Even, however, if this were so, the shallowness, the density, and the vindictive insolence which were the real subject of the satire cannot, without a deplorable loss of effect, be separated from the pedantry, the banality, and the gross rudeness of the form in which they were intentionally clothed.
The genius of translation, and not the least of English translation, is protean, and has exercised itself, not without some success, upon the genial extravagance of Rabelais and the subtle irony of Montaigne. But we doubt whether it could in any case succeed in assimilating to the texture of any modern language but the German vernacular of the Obscure Ones the blend' between this and culinary' Latin that makes up much of their unconscious fun. In a German version (though we believe such an attempt has been made) the joke would be spoilt in a different way. It may be possible to translate their expletives and their queer asseverations and phrases; * but how reproduce in our tongue the laughable effect of the use of unus as an indefinite article ('et dedit ei unum Knipp,'i, 5); or the use of semel in the vague fashion of the German mal (einmal); or the rendering of dass, in whatever way the conjunction is employed, by quod ; or the employment of mittere as a quasi-auxiliary like the German lassen or the Anglo-Irish let? The formulas of academical speech, of logical disputation in particular, are more easily transferred, and are, for instance, so introduced, in ridicule of themselves, in the Elizabethan drama. On the other hand, the element of obscenity is almost an integral one in the comic literature of the Renaissance, as it had been in that of the Middle Ages; and in the Epistolæ it asserts itself with the cynical relish of monastic whisperings and the boisterous unconcern of students' talk. Mr Stokes, who professes himself unable to be very angry with his 'saucy simpletons,' is at pains to paraphrase or otherwise water down instances of
* Vel est damnum quod vivo' (i, 26); 'vel non sum ex legittimo thoro natus' (i, 42); ‘valeatis per tot annos quot vixit Matusalem' (ii, 14).
this description, with the result of utterly puzzling the reader who refrains from turning to the original.
Finally, he should have remembered that the Obscure Ones, though in one sense, no doubt, they are innocent of style, yet, in another, have a style of their own. It consisted of a conjunction of what he calls the 'pseudovernacular' Latin of their day with the pedantic usage of the Schools, the facetiously-coloured Latinity of the academical . quodlibets' and of other comic literature of the age, and the sober but inelegant Latin of the Vulgate. All this is flavoured with an extra dose of bad grammar ( istæ poetæ ') and impossible syntax (* dedi unum carlinum pro'), and soused in the flat pedestrianism of speech common to the vulgar of all times and tongues, especially when they write letters. Mr Stokes renders this peculiar compound in what may be described as the English of our own day, interspersed at random with Elizabethan or other earlier fragments of speech, with a word or two of Latin or German and (as of course was in the circumstances unavoidable) with passages from our English Bible, which by their nobility contrast strangely with their nondescript surroundings. On the other hand, we should be sorry not to acknowledge that these letters are throughout translated with a clear insight into the significance of every part of the text, while some of them are reproduced with much spirit; as, for instance, the well-known exordium which contains a protracted play on the word scribere.* Even among the verse translations, which with their macaronic mixture generally fail to convey much notion of the formless Knittelverse of the originals—what have I to do with feet,' asks Wilhelmus Storch of Deventer (ii, 27); “I am not a heathen poet but a theological'—the elegy beginning Old Finck is dead' (ii, 54) deserves some praise, albeit right Corsic' is a rather dark rendering of Corsica vina.'
Mr Stokes has added to the original text, which precedes in this handsome volume his English version of the
Epistolæ,' a series of notes 'mainly intended for readers who have made no special study of the period involved,' and taken largely from the extra volumes of what he rightly describes as Böcking's 'monumental edition of
* i, 15. The device is repeated with the catchword ‘stimulus' in i, 32,