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THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW,

FEBRUARY, 1812,

No. XXXVIII.

Art. I. A Series of Plays : In which it is atiempted to delines

ate the stronger Passions of the Mind. By Joanna Baillie. Vol. III. 8vo. pp. 314. London, 1812.

It is now, we think,

something more than nine years since we first ventured to express our opinion of Miss Baillie's earlier productions, and to raise our warning voice against those narrow and peculiar views of dramatic excellence, by which, it appeared to us, that she had imprudently increased the dif ficulties of a very difficult undertaking. Notwithstanding this admonition, Miss Baillie has gone on (as we expected) in her own way; and has become (as we expected) both less popular, and less deserving of popularity, in every successive publication. The volume before us, we are afraid, is decidedly inferior to any of her former volumes ; (for we have too much forbearance, or nationality, to say any thing of her single play); at the same time that it contains indications of talent that ought not to be overlooked, and specimens of excellence, which make it a duty to examine into the causes of its general failure.

We have formerly said almost enough, we believe, of her extraordinary determination to write a tragedy and a comedy upon each of the stronger passions of the mind ;-a scheme so singularly perverse and fantastic, that we rather wonder at its having escaped the patronage of the learned professors in the academy of Lagoda; and in favour of which it would not be easy to say any thing but that, by good luck, it is utterly impracticable. For, even passing over the captivating originality of comedies on Hatred and Revenge, and tragedies on Hope and Joy, it seems plain enough, that the interest of a play can no more be maintained by the delineation of one passion, than its dialogue and action can be supported by the exertions of one VOL. XIX. NO. 38,

S

character, must say

character. It is of the very essence of dramatic composition, to exhibit the play and contention of many and of opposite affections, not only in the different persons it represents, but in the single bosom of its hero; and its chief beauty and excellence consist in the variety of the forms and colours that thus move over its living scenes—in the harmonies and contrasts of the emotions which it successively displays—and in the very multitude and diversity of the impressions to which it gives birth. To substitute, for this, even the most careful and masterly delineation of any one emotion, would not only be to substitute something that was not dramatic, for that which is the essence and the excellence of the drama ;-but to replace this excellence by something most conspicuously inferior-to set before us the studied postures and ostentatious anatomy of one unchanging academy figure, instead of the free action and complicated exertions of groupes engaged in athletic contention--or, rather, to turn our eyes from the innumerable shades of expression that animate the greater compositions of Raphael or the Caracci, to rivet them on the fantastic and exaggerated features of one of the Passions of Le Brun. If it be not this, however, that Miss Baillie aims at, then we

that we cannot discover that there is any thing in the least degree peculiar or original in her system. The chief persons in every play must be actuated by certain passions; and by their influence the catastrophe must necessarily be brought about. In this sense, therefore, every play is a play on the passions, as much as any of those in the series before us; and all dramatic writers have proceeded upon the very system for which Miss Baillie here claims the honours of a discovery. It depends, indeed, entirely on the degree of simplicity in the plot, and of unity in the action, as well as on the number of the persons represented, whether the ruling passion of the principal characters shall be brought very conspicuously forward or not. Shakespeare, we believe, will be readily acquitted of the petty-larceny of stealing Miss Baillie's system of dramatising the passions: and yet, the Ambition of Macbeth, the Jealousy of Othello, and the Melancholy of Hamlet, contribute much more exclusively to the interest of those plays, than any of the passions represented by the writer before us can be said to do to the interest of the pieces she has produced as the first-fruits of that system. It may not be so easy, indeed, to specify the affections that are exhibited in many of the other plays of our great dramatist-in the Tempest, for example-in King Lear-in Julius Cæsar-in Cymbeline, or in Henry IV. ; because the plot in all these pieces is more complicated, and the interest more divided. But there seems to be no reasonable ground for doubting that they were composed upon the very same system with the others; and that the interest which they excite depends upon the same general principles. The truth is, however, that common sense and vulgar possibility always appear tame and inglorious, when compared with the splendid pretensions of theorists; and if Miss Baillie meant merely to announce, that she proposed to write plays that should be more like Macbeth and Othello than Cymbeline or the Tempest, the project must be allowed to be both innocent and laudable; and no blame can attach to her, except for the faults of the execution. In considering what are the chief of those faults, we are afraid, however, that it will be found that her system has had a worse effect than that of merely narrowing the field of her'exertions.

Hore

There are two sorts of dramatic composition, or at least of tragedy, known in this country :-one, the old classical tragedy of the Grecian stage, modernized according to the French or Continental model; the other, the bold, free, irregular and miscellaneous drama of our own older writers,--or, to speak it more shortly and intelligibly, of Shakespeare. Miss Baillie, it appears to us, has attempted to unite the excellences of both of these styles ;-and has produced a combination of their defects.

The old Greek tragedy consisted of the representation of some one great, simple, and touching event, brought about by the agency of a very few persons, and detailed in grave, stately, and measured language, interspersed with choral songs and movements to music. In this primitive form of the drama, the story was commonly unfolded by means of a good deal of plain statement, direct inquiry, and detailed narration ;--while the business was helped forward by means of short and pointed, though frequently very simple and obvious argumentation,---and the interest maintained by pathetic exclamations, and reflections apparently artless and unoştentatious. Such, we conceive, was the character of the antient drama; upon the foundation of which, the French, or Continental school, appears obviously to have been built. The chief variations (besides the extinction of the Chorus) seem to be, first, that love has been made to supplant almost all the other passions--and the tone, accordingly, has become less solemn and severe; secondly, that there is less simple narrative and inquiry, and a great deal more argument or debate--every considerable scene, in fact, being now required! to contain a complete and elaborate discussion, to which all the parties must come fully prepared to maintain their respective theses; and, thirdly, that the topics are drawn, in general, from more extended and philosophical vices of human natus ;

must say

character. It is of the very essence of dramatic exhibit the play and contention of many and of tions, not only in the different persons it represe single bosom of its hero ; and its chief beauty consist in the variety of the forms and colours over its living scenes-in the harmonies and co motions which it successively displays—and in tude and diversity of the impressions to whi To substitute, for this, even the most careful. neation of any one emotion, would not only something that was not dramatic, for that wi and the excellence of the drama ;-but to re by something most conspicuously inferior--to studied postures and ostentatious anatomy 1 academy figure, instead of the free action : ertions of groupes engaged in athletic ce: to turn our eyes from the innumerable sh animate the greater compositions of R: to rivet them on the fantastic and exas of the Passions of Le Brun. If it be not this, however, that Miss

that we cannot discover that least degree peculiar or original in he sons in cvery play must be actuated !: their influence the catastrophe must bout. In this sense, therefore, evo sions, as much as any of those in dramatic writers have proceeded ??' Miss Baillie here claims the ho pends, indeed, entirely on the c! and of unity in the action, as it. sons represented, whether the characters shall be brought 13 Shakespeare, we believe, i petty-larceny of stealing 1 the passions: and yet, the A of Othello, and the Mele. more exclusively to the in: passions represented by th to the interest of the pier of that system. It may affections that are exhibi: great dramatist-in the in Julius Cæsar-in Cy. plot in all these pieces

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