« VorigeDoorgaan »
duced. The offence against the rules of art in bringing “ bloody Queen Mary” on the stage is, in not making “ bloody Queen Mary” bloody enough: the offence against the rules of art in bringing Darlington on the stage is, in making Darlington a much greater political profligate than he could possibly have been.
I do not, then, I confess, join in the usual cant which denounces as an abomination the mere bringing Lucrèce Borgia and Marguerite de Bourgogne on the stage. I see no reason, as a question of art, why any person, why any passion, why any subject, should be prohibited the author that his audience does not forbid; but I do see every reason, as a question of art, why the persons he creates should be in the image of the times in which he creates them ; why the persons for whom he is indebted to history should stand forth in their historical characters; why the countries of which he speaks should be spoken of with a knowledge of their manners; why the events that take place in the drama should not be wholly unnatural in their comparison with the events of real life.
It is in these, the finer parts of their pursuit, that the present dramatic writers of France are universally defective. If M. V.
Hugo and M. Dumas were schoolboys, and told to write about English history in the time of Mary Tudor, or English manners and laws at the present time, they would have been whipped for the ridiculous faults that they have both committed. These are not faults of genius; they are purely and entirely faults of negligence or ignorance.
I turn, then, from this first inquiry to the second, viz. how far these subjects offend, what every dramatist is most bound to protect-the laws and the interests of morality. King Lear is a horrid subject-Macbeth is a horrid subject : do they offend the morals of an audience ?
It is of the rules of morality as of the rules of art : it is not the horrid nature of a subject that offends either the one or the other; it is in the manner in which that subject is treated that its beauty as a piece of composition, or its value as a lesson of virtue, depends. The immorality of M. V. Hugo and of M. Dumas is not in having brought Marion de Lorme and Antony upon the stage, but in affecting to breathe a mawkish interest over the infamy of the prostitute, and attaching a romantic heroism to the adulterous seducer of female honour. The inverted philosophy of M. Hugo appears to me, as I have frankly said, a kind of unphilosophic
madness, with which I have no sympathy, for which I think there is no excuse; and what I say
of the intentional follies of M. V. Hugo, I say of the wild and whining vice of M. Dumas.
And why is this? Why, M. Dumas, instead of attempting to breathe a false poesy into the grovelling amours of a Parisian salon, or holding up for imitation a political profligacy — which, thank God, is yet untrue--in the public men and the parliament of Great Britain—why have you sought for no truer, no better, no brighter models for the emulation of those ardent youths who admire your talent and worship your career? -Are there no characters you can take from the heroes of July, or the enthusiasts of June? are there no models of female heroism and devotion you can draw from the revolution of 1789, and the restoration of 1815? Have Madame Roland and Madame Lavalette lived in vain ? Have you had no men in France who have been disinterested and brave? Have you had no women in France who have been noble and virtuous ? Must you fill your stage with sicklyfaced apothecaries in the frontispiece attitude of Lord Byron, and fourth-rate fine ladies vulgarly imitating the vices and the ton of M. de Mirepoix ? Why should you invent ima
ginary personages in the representation of
your age who are exceptions to your age? Why should you take as the heroes and heroines of your drama the creatures whom it would sicken you to meet in the commerce of daily life?
And you, M. V. Hugo ! - you, the promise of whose youth was so generous — in whose Odes breathed a spirit no less remarkable for its purity than its poesy-you, who seemed by instinct to have caught the chivalry and the grace of the old knightly time, with the popular language that goes to the heart of the present day-have you no better mode of elevating your countrywomen than by teaching them to be good mothers by the example of Lucrèce Borgia, or devoted mistresses by the example of Marion de Lorme? What! have you found no cleverer mode of elevating the people in their own esteem, than by telling every unwashed apprentice that a Countess wishes to marry him - not because he is a good man, and a steady apprentice-Oh, no! simply because he is an apprentice, because he is a working man?
Is not this stuff! is not this prostrate and dust-licking flattery! Can you talk of the cringing of a courtier to his monarch, when you bow thus slavishly before the meanest of your mob? Nor is my praise or censure indifferent to you-if I--a foreigner--far away from all your petty jealousies and rival cliques — if I --who not even as a man of letters-a title to which I have not the honour to pretend if I, who neither as a countryman, nor even as a literary man, can possibly have any rivalry with you—if I, who honour your talents, love your country, and approve of many of your principles_if I, who, if any wish were stirring in my mind, can only have the wish to propitiate your friends, to obtain and enjoy the pleasure and honour of your acquaintance-if I have allowed words to be wrung out from me-words of reproach-strong words--words expressive of more than my regret — at the manner in which you have allowed ignorance, and prejudice, and adulation, and negligence, and indifference, and immorality to obscure and to tarnish the lustre of talents for which such a country and such a time as that in which
you live opened so great, and so noble, and so heart-cheering a path to fame. If I have had language-such as that which I have used, unwillingly, I declare -- extorted from mem is it not possible that, far away from that feeble chorus of easily-enchanted friends, who, like the bird in the Arabian Nights, pass their