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wall of his old ancestral castle, is not the kind of gentleman whom you expect to shake hands with at a banker's ball ;* nor can you think that the footman who announced you at the door has got a dagger in one pocket, and a bowl of poison in the other.f
M. Dumas, having divined the costume of the dark and gloomy times of Louis X., and the gay and chivalric and superstitious times of Henry III., appears (to me at all events) to have mistaken or misrepresented that of his own. As M. V. Hugo claps a republican cap on the sixteenth century, so M. Dumas dresses up the nineteenth century in a livery of heroism, turned up with assassination and incest. He parades before you a parcel of doctors, and adventurers, and fine gentlemen, all scowling, and plotting, and folding their arms.
The stage is Burlington Arcade, on an August evening, crowded with those mysterious shopkeepers, who wear moustaches when their customers are out of town, and fold a mantle about their shoulders to keep out the heat, and look at every lady of Covent Garden saloon as if they expected to find a nouvelle Heloise. I
But let us now pass from the authors of the new drama to that drama itself.
* As Antony.
Teresa. Paulo, when we left Italy, you must have thought that you would fall into some misfortune you would not survive ?
| Such gentlemen are capital characters for a comedy ; no author need seek a better ; but it is too bad to give them as heroes, and models of heroism, in sober earnest.
The modern French drama naturally changed from the ancient one
- The person you meet in the streets of Paris not dressed as he was in the time of Louis XIV.-How expect the drama to remain the same-What you should allow for-What you should expect.
For years England disputed with France, and France with herself, the true principles of the dramatic art; for there were some to contend that, though the governments and the feelings of mankind are for ever changing, the rules which govern the expression of those feelings were not to change.
These critics would have declared that the gorgeous and kingly verse of Virgil ought to have been the model on which the abrupt, the stern, and supernatural genius of Milton should have framed its periods.
They would have said that the spirit of the bold age which solemnly adjudged a monarch to the death in the full gaze of Europe was not to vary in its style from that of the time in which one man had gathered to himself the ancient majesty of free Rome.
Is the person you meet in the streets of Paris dressed as you would have found him in the reign of Louis XIV., and can you expect the stage to appear in the old costume ?
When a rigid order reigned over the arts, it reigned also over the world of action; and the stage was only subject to the same spirit which regulated real life. Society was a machine, in which every thing had a certain place, and moved in a certain way, by a certain law. The smallest atom had its appropriate sphere, beyond which it was impossible to soar. But when men rose daily to the highest ranks from the lowest, rapid and extraordinary in their own career, they soon lost all sympathy with the stiff-jointed transitions of the poet. The slow proprieties of the world were broken through. What, then, were these proprieties on the stage? The events which had created a new public created necessarily a new theatre. A change in the one, tardy in following, was still sure to follow the other. The movement which had taken place in the material world passed to the intellectual—the arts were subjected to the influences which had remoulded society.
A perfectly new style arose. ...
Racine over-purified and polished his language, as Pope too symmetrically modulated ours. In England, the steril but bold and hardy genius of Gray founded a new, a more daring and energetic style of composition ; but the author of “Ruin seize thee, ruthless king !" burst from the chains of the sing-song heroic with no less dignity than courage.
There was as much elegance as force in the rhythm of his couplets, and to the old expressions, and to the rich and glowing epithets which he revived and coined, a purity was breathed which set the accusation of quaintness or extravagance at defiance. It is almost curious indeed to find in Gray's correspondence with Mr. West the trembling foot which he put forward to new regions, and the anxiety which he showed to give each more daring syllable the authority of a forgotten usage. But Gray lived under the same government, in the same state of society as Pope. No vast deluge had swept over England during his time, destroying one set of things, quickening and producing another. The parent of our modern style, it was rather by the musings over a by-gone day, than by any inspiration drawn from what was passing around him, that he refreshed and invigorated his language, and caught a tone of simplicity and chivalry which was not that of the society in which he lived.
In France, on the contrary, though the stir and rush of later times have been in sympathy with the stern and active genius of the middle ages, it has been the feelings of the present that have inspired a passion for the past, and not a study of the past that has breathed its influence over the present. The literature of the moment is native to the moment.
But the different English articles that I have seen on the state of the French drama have been written without notice of the circumstances which have produced its peculiarities; and while the absurdities and the atrocities of the French dramatists have been ridiculed and condemned, their merits have not been seen nor their faults accounted for. The difficulty is in separating what is peculiar to the author himself from the time and the public for which he writes.
I don't blame an author for suiting himself to the period and to the people he addresses ; he must be understood by his audience ; but then he should elevate his audience. If he live in a time when exaggeration is to be expected, you hope to see that exaggeration softened by his skill and ennobled by his art. You hope to see him true to nature, though you know it must be the nature of his particular period. You hope to see him keeping to the ancient costume of history, though you know that that costume will be coloured by the spirit of a new time. You hope to see him seize and concentrate the vaguer sentiments that are abroad, and deduce from them some kind of order which will give a character to his epoch. You hope to see him give force and clearness, rather than add pomp and paradox to what he finds. This you hope ; and above all, you hope that he will awake and excite the better feelings, and make you forget or loathe the more mean and pernicious passions of your soul.
How has the modern French dramatists satisfied the hopes and the expectations that we had a right to form?
How far the horrid subjects chosen for the French stage are allow
able, and in what their offence consists.
The first consideration which opens upon us in relation with the present French drama is, the horrid nature of its subjects, and the manner in which those subjects are handled and introduced.
I shall now, therefore, proceed to inquire, How far those subjects are in themselves allowable, or how much they depend on the manner in which they are treated
A subject is not allowable on the stage either because it offends the rules of art, or because it offends the still more important rules of morality.
Now, I say here, as I said in speaking of the Tour de Nesle, no subject, as it appears to me, offends the rules of art which is in harmony with the character, or with our general ideas of the character, of the time in which it is introduced. The offence against the rules of art in bringing "bloody Queen Mary" on the stage is in not making a 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 of Burgoyne 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