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lives in repeating “ There is but one Poesy, and Dumas and Victor Hugo are its true prophets !"—is it not possible, I say, that, far away from these sicklied sounds, there is an opinion rising, gathering, swelling-an opinion which shall be the opinion of Europe, the opinion of posterity-an opinion which might have raised you in a new time to such pedestals as those of the old time occupy-an opinion which shall break as busts of clay what you might have made statues of stone and of marble-an opinion which shall leave you the lions of a drawing-room, and which might have made you the land-marks of an epoch?
But I pass from this. And now, having expressed an opinion in respect to the present French drama, let me come to a yet more interesting consideration, and inquire what the present French drama proves in respect to the present French public.
Does it follow as a matter of course, that, if greater atrocities than formerly were exhibited on the French stage, the French people would be more atrocious ? Does it follow as a matter of course, that, because there is less delicacy than formerly used in mentioning, and less ceremony than formerly used in manifesting on the stage, all the possible circumstances connected with adultery and seduction, there are in real life more cases of adultery and seduction ?
At first sight there is, I admit, a strong coincidence between the number of murders, the number of rapes, the number of suicides, the number of natural children in France, and various scenes which are represented on the stage. But the connection is not so easily established, or so easily traced, as we may at once be induced to imagine; for the representations of the stage are far less influenced by the morals of a people than by their manners.
A refined audience will do many things that it will not bear to see represented ; a vulgar audience will see a great many things represented that it would not do.
The people of Athens, who were a dissolute people, would have been shocked at the spectacles of the Lacedæmonian people, who were a sober people.
The courtier of Louis XV. who would have shuddered at poor Mademoiselle Angèle's being brought to bed upon the stage, would have been far more likely to seduce her than the 'bourgeois' of Louis-Philippe, who smiles in very decent complacency at this interesting spectacle. The English, who tolerated all the stabbings and
the poison-takings of Shakspeare on their stage, committed hardly any crimes during the fervor of that civil war which let loose all the political and religious passions of two hostile parties. The French would have been horror-struck at a drop of blood theatrically spilt, at the moment that they were sending fifty of their. fellow-citizens every day to the guillotine.
We should be the more cautious in forming wrong and hasty conclusions upon this subject, since it was from conclusions exactly similar that the French did us for many years the honour very seriously to believe that we were little better than a set of barbarians, whose nature, as Fielding says, rendered acts of blood and murder-duels and assassinations-a sort of necessary amusement.
That, however, which renders it more clear than anything I might yet continue to say, that the scenes of the present French stage do not prove a great actual increase of atrocious crimes, is the fact, which every public document gives us-viz. that crimes of this nature, in France, are very much on the decrease*.
But, indeed, notwithstanding all that has been * There are some curious documents that prove how long even suicides have been prevalent among the French people, contrary to the vulgar belief.
said, it is not in their subjects themselves that the great difference between the old and the new drama exists. We shall find, on referring to the old and classic French theatre, that at times it represented the same things, or things even more shocking than any represented now—the great difference being in the manner—the more delicate and less shocking manner in which these things were represented. What was the subject of Phèdre and of Edipe, that the chaste imagination of the critic should repudiate the loves, where, by the way, the incest is unintentional, of Queen Marguerite and her sons ? “Our tragedy,” says Rousseau,“ presents us with such monstrous characters, that neither is the example of their vices contagious, nor that of their virtues instructive." * This is what Rousseau said of the stage in his time, and so far I agree with Rousseau, that the exhibition of those terrible passions which seldom visit us is less likely to have an influence upon our character, because they enter less into the relations of our life than others of a more ordinary and household nature. But mark! The very subjects which Rousseau condemns, because they do not affect human actions, are those very subjects which modern critics have condemned
* Rousseau, Lettre à d'Alembert.
with the greatest fury, as most likely to affect national mórals.
From what we see of the French stage, and what succeeds on the French stage, we are fairly justified in saying that the audience has become less refined than formerly, but there is nothing that can induce us to say that it is more immoral; in fact, the same causes that have given more energy and life to history have given more force, and extravagance, and coarseness, to the stage. The same mass that go to history for information, go to the theatre for amusement; but to one they go singly, to the other collectively.
The historian speaks to each, the dramatist speaks to all.*
66 There are a thousand images of the grotesque, and only one of the beautiful,” says an author I have largely quoted from.t
* The same man who is merely animated and picturesque in conversation, is apt to become bombastic and extravagant before a popular assembly.
+ M. Victor Hugo says this, when he prefers the first to the last : i.e. the grotesque to the beautiful. The beautiful — regular, chaste, symmetrical in its proportions, growing into magnificence as you gaze upon it, rather than startling you into admiration at a first glance
the beautiful, such as the classic and dreamy days of antiquity have bequeathed it to us, and which always wanted for its admiration a quiet and a repose of dispo- ;