Imágenes de páginas

the realms of the Autocrat. Among other things, he asked him why he did not stay there, as he received a large salary, and was the head of the establishment. How could he abandon so eligible a situation, and come back to be a subordinate at home, with a comparatively small compensation. "Well," said he, "I did not like it; I had nobody to speak to, and besides, I could not get my newspapers." There spoke the American. He had rather forego wealth and station than his newspapers. And with such a nation of readers can we be long without a national literature? It is utterly impossible. At Athens eloquence reached the greatest perfection that it has ever attained in the world, because Athens was the freest and most intelligent community of all antiquity. All classes listened to the public harangues, and the most eloquent was the most powerful man in the state. The very fish women. were critics of a classical pronunciation. The same causes operate here in ten-fold intensity, to produce the most perfect literature that has ever existed,-ten millions of intelligent readers, ready to bestow applause, and power, and wealth on him who

will most thoroughly enlighten their understandings, and most deeply move their hearts. Some of the speeches of Mr. Webster were perused by more eyes, and thrilled more hearts within three weeks of their delivery, than any of the orations of Cicero in three centuries from their publication, though they had the whole range of the Roman empire. And I will add, that nothing he ever wrote was more worthy to be transmitted to the latest posterity than some of the productions of our most distinguished orator, advocate, jurist, and statesman.

What is the augury of the phenomenon which is here exhibited this evening, and which is seen in every lecture room in this country? What means the fact that the theatres are almost forsaken, and beauty and fashion, the man of business, and the man of pleasure, are seen to throng the halls of scientific and literary entertainment? There they patiently listen to what would once have been called a dry lecture, the very name of which would have filled them with unutterable disgust. What is it but the evidence of the onward progress of man and of the age? Theatres seem to have had their

day. They appear to be falling into hopeless neglect. But they have not been written down, nor preached down. They could not have been. The taste for them is outgrown. Bad as some things are about them, I have no doubt that they have providentially played their part in the progressive civilization of the world. In the age of Shakspeare they long struggled with, and finally superseded the coarser and brutalizing sports of bull fighting and bear baiting. Was not this an improvement, I would ask those who most severely censure the theatre, and call it, as it too often is, the vestibule of perdition, was it not a gain to collect the crowd which gathered around two fierce animals goring each other to death, or a brace of dogs tearing in pieces their chained and imprisoned victim, there to become excited themselves to blows and blasphemy, was it no gain to bring them within the walls of a theatre, to be subjected at least to the first lessons of order and decorum, to listen to some of the sublimest flights of human eloquence, instead of the growls and bellowings of the ring? It is in vain to expect mankind to step at one stride from barbarism to refinement, from

[ocr errors]

heathen debasement to Christian morality. All the intermediate stages must be passed through, each better than the last, but defective when compared with that which succeeds. The rude sports of the bear garden were moral and moralizing when compared with the horrible spectacles of the Roman Amphitheatre, where human beings instead of wild beasts were made to butcher each other for the amusement of the populace. When we complain, and justly complain of the theatre as falling so far below the standard of morality exhibited by Christianity, we ought to recollect that it has succeeded such scenes as that so admirably described by a modern poet.

"I see before me the Gladiator lie:He leans upon his hand-his manly brow Consents to death, but conquers agony, And his droop'd head sinks gradually lowAnd through his side the last drops, ebbing slow From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one, Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now The arena swims around him-he is gone, Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hail'd the wretch

who won.

He heard it, but he heeded not-his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away.

He reck'd not of the life he lost, nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
There were his young barbarians all at play,
There was their Dacian mother—he, their sire,
Butcher'd to make a Roman holiday-

All this rush'd with his blood-Shall he expire And unavenged?—Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire!”

The stage then, though comparatively an evil, and perhaps at this period of the world absolutely so, has been comparatively a good. It has contributed to intellectualize if not to moralize mankind. Such a mind as that of Shakspeare does not fall without the circle of Divine Providence. Such a fervid genius as his, showing up man to himself, has not failed to kindle thought in others, and to unlock secrets in the hearts of the unreflecting, which otherwise would have remained forever undisclosed.

There are at the present period strong indications that either the taste, or the moral sense of the age, is leaving the theatre behind. The mind in its progress from childhood to maturity ceases to seek for mere amusement, and asks to be instructed as well as entertained. As the mature man, who once delighted in toys and tales of the

« AnteriorContinuar »