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of the middle age, by Sismondi, varying from the first in some circumstantial particulars.
The facts of the above story are, without doubt, peculiarly touching, but we question whether they supply the proper materials for tragedy. One thing is clear, that if Lord Byron feels any attachment to the unities which he professes a desire to 'approach, he has chosen his subject ill. Unity of action,' which might perhaps with more fitness of phrase be called 'continuity of action, is violated in the very choice of the subject, where that subject expands into two distinct successive narratives, each having its hero, and separate catastrophe: and such is undoubtedly the case in this drama of the "Two Foscari." We apprehend it to be a simple and obvious rule, appertaining to this species of composition, that it should have but one principal subject, composed of a beginning, middle, and end, to which every interest and every incident should be subordinate; and we can scarcely conceive a more extravagant departure from this sensible limitation, than that which is exhibited in the instance before us, in which, after the principal interest is at an end, the piece throws out a sort of excrescence, or new germination, with an imbecile and superfluous effort. After the son is dead and disposed of, the piece proceeds with the corollary of the father's deposition, forming a separate and distinct story, and scarcely to be. said to have any necessary connection with the account which precedes it...
The Two Foscari," besides its defect of unity of action, is very deficient in dramatic requisites. To scenic effect it makes no pretensions. Respecting his competency to compose a tragedy that is to be acted, Lord Byron has practically decided the public judgment; which, but for his unsuccessful attempts, might have regretted his neglect of the tragic muse. The transactions, on which the play is founded have very little capability. Of suffering there is enough; but those transitions of fortune, those trials of the heart, those conflicts of passion, which transmit their impressions to the bosoms of the spectator or the reader, and keep the sympathies in constant vibration, are not produced by the incidents of this calamitous tale. Judicial torture inflicted on a son with all its aggravations, in the presence of a father, who determines as the administrator of the states' decrees to sacrifice his affections, and even to suppress his emotions, forms the central and commanding interest of the play; and yet this predominant part can never be represented: the stern attitude of the parent triumphing over struggling nature, must be notified only through the medium of description; as it is evidently forbidden by the laws and constitution of the drama, founded upon humanity and right sentiment, to display before the eyes of the
spectator a detailed exhibition of bodily torture. The ancient tragedy was principally concerned in the development of some great event, influencing the fortunes of a dynasty, or involving the fate of a nation. Exalted personages, the sport of a luckless destiny, hurled by the gods, or something above the gods, from the pinnacle of their greatness to the depths of wretchedness, gave to the representation a dark and gigantic interest, hurrying the mind irresistibly on through the widest extremes of mortal condition, and surprising the soul with fearful examples of instability in the things on which man relies with the proudest confidence. The modern drama, with more artificial contrivance and intricacy of plot, shakes the mind with quicker alternations of feeling, sustaining and perpetuating its emotions by the anxiety of suspence, the flutter of expectation, and the shock of discovery: and in both of these methods the passions are posterior to the events, being the effects rather than the causes of the vieissitudes of fortune. There is also another species of drama, which is entirely of modern date, in which the incidents are framed in subserviency to the display of some one master passion, in its unmixed and specific operation, urging on the catastrophe by its own imperious agency, and leading rather than following the events of the story. This ethical delineation of a solitary passion, drawing its nutriment from the recesses of the heart, rather than from the transactions of the scenes in which it is displayed, has placed the name of Joanna Baillie deservedly high among the original writers of our own time: who, to fix the mind of the reader (for her plays are only for the closet) more intensely on the dreadful phenomena of the victorious passion, has been sparing of incident, further than might be necessary to carry such passion to its accomplishment, and to give it its practical display.
In the exhibition even of those transient passions or affections, such as terror, anger, joy, or grief, Lord Byron has not, in our judgment, the talent of a master-genius; but in respect to the more prominent passions, such as love, hatred, jealousy, and revenge, which occupy and engross the soul,-which condemn it to lasting inquietude, and determine it to fatal purposes, and which require to be kept singly in view, from their elementary beginnings through all the stages of their increase, from the first spark that sets the bosom on fire, to the conflagration that desolates the scene of its fury, he is singularly defective. His great excellence lies in the picturesque part of poetry ;-in a luxuriant display of sensible forms, and a tonic description of natural scenery. To the sentiments that float on the surface of sensibility, Lord Byron has occasional pretensions; but, with the deep and central pathos of the passions, his bosom holds no communion.
The elder Foscari is painted as a person of weak intellects, in spite of all the pains in the world to give an ascendancy to his character. There is nothing either in the mental constitution of the man, or of excitement from without, to account for his unnatural composure during the agonies of his tortured son. The poet seems indeed to contemplate a character far distant from apathy; but his own defect of energy appears in every personage he represents, and we scarcely know the instance where occurrences so distressing have lost so much of their power of affecting us, by the dulness and coldness of the medium through which they have been conveyed. After the son has been cruelly lacerated by torture for the third time, and while he lies in one of the dungeons of the city, Marina, his wife, has an interview with his father, the aged Doge, whom she endeavours to persuade to interest himself to procure leave for her to accompany her husband to his place of exile. As soon as the decree of the Council for the final banishment of his son has been notified to the Doge, the dialogue between the father and daughter-in-law proceeds as follows:
And that's a mystery.
Doge. All things are so to mortals; who can read them
And gifted spirits, who have studied long
That loathsome volume-man, and pored upon
Those black and bloody leaves his heart and brain,
Birth, wealth, health, beauty, are her accidents,
With as we may, and least in humblest stations,
Must sweat for his poor pittance, keeps all passions
And false, and hollow-clay from first to last,
The greatest as the meanest nothing rests
And when we think we lead, we are most led,
And still towards death, a thing which comes as much
Mar. These are things we cannot judge
Doge. And how then shall we judge each other,
My country faithfully-victoriously
I dare them to the proof, the chart of what
She was and is my reign has doubled realms;
Has left, or is about to leave, me single.
Mar. And Foscari? I do not think of such things,
You shall be so;
Thus much they cannot well deny.
They should, I will fly with him.
And whither would you fly?
That can ne'er be.
I know not, reck not
To Syria, Egypt, to the Ottoman
Any where, where we might respire unfetter'd,
And live nor girt by spies, nor liable
To edicts of inquisitors of state.
Doge. What, wouldst thou have a renegade for husband,
The country is the traitress, which thrusts forth
Her best and bravest from her.
Is far the worst of treasons. Dost thou deem
A brigand than the robber-chief.
Charge me with such a breach of faith.
Observ'st, obey'st, such laws as make old Draco's
A code of mercy by comparison." (P. 223—225.)
The above is an average specimen of the character and quality of this languid performance. A more prating attempt at moralizing, more sententious drivelling, than that which the poet has
put into the mouth of the Old Doge, never brought reproach upon the proverbial garrulity of grey hairs. That nature has given to poor human beings "lusts, appetites, and vanities--the universal heritage, to battle with as we may," seems to be a reflection upon man's condition so little to belong to the dramatic character of the Doge, and so little suggested by the situation in which he is placed, that it looks very much as if the author had made him the promulgator of his own special views of God's appointments. We consider, with this writer's leave, that we are not left to battle with these gross propensities of our nature as we may, but that we may engage with a good ally on our side if we will.
The incident of James Foscari's writing his name on the wall of his dungeon, and the soliloquy accompanying the act, are in the poorest style of common place; but it is like every other conception in the piece, of a character singularly below the tragic standard. This soliloquy is interrupted by the sudden entrance of Marina, the wife of the unhappy prisoner, who holds with him an insufferably dull and tedious talk till the miserable man thus tranquilly terminates it by saying, "Let us address us then, since so it must be, to our departure." A most lamentably deficient scene then takes place in the dungeon between James Foscari and Marina, and Loredano, the author of their misfortunes; by the perusal of which, if the reader is not convinced of this poet's total incompetency to the task of dramatic composition, he must be a man who never need go beyond sixpence in purchasing intellectual gratification. We do not exactly know what Venetian senators might be in the fifteenth century; they were doubtless, however, much addicted to torturing and incarcerating state offenders; but if their style of conversation was no better than it appears in the language in which this poet has dressed the dialogue of this play, we should deem it not the least of their inflictions to be compulsorily engaged in talk with any of them for an hour. One of these "potent, grave, and reverend seniors," thus concludes a long discussion with Loredano, in which he prosingly declares his disapprobation of his measures against the family of the Doge.
"Barb. And not less, I must needs think, for the sake Of humbling me for my vain opposition.
You are ingenious, Loredano, in
Your modes of vengeance, nay, poetical,
A very Ovid in the art of hating;
Your Giunta's duties." (P. $286.)