Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

passions may silence the voice of humanity; but it is, I think, equally against probability and decorum, to make both the passions and the voice of humanity give way (as in the example of Calantha) to a mere form of outward behaviour. Such a suppression of the strongest and most uncontrollable feelings, can only be justified from necessity, for some great purpose,--which is not the case in Ford's play; or it must be done for the effect and eclat of the thing, which is not fortitude but affectation.' The fallacy of this criticism appears to us to lie in the assumption, that the violent suppression of her feelings by the heroine was a mere piece of court etiquette-a compliment to the ceremonies of a festival. Surely the object was noble, and the effort sublime. While the deadly force of sorrow oppressed her heart, she felt that she had solemn duties to discharge, and that, if she did not arm herself against afHiction till they were finished, she could never perform them. She could seek temporary strength only by refusing to pause-by hurrying on to the final scene; and dared not to give the least vent to the tide of grief, which would at once have relieved her overcharged heart, and left her, exhausted, to die. Nothing less than the appearance of gaiety could hide or suppress the deep anguish of her soul. We agree with Mr Lamb, whose opinion is referred to by our author, that there is scarcely in any other play ' a catastrophe so grand, so solemn, and so surprising as this !!

The Fifth Lecture, on Single Plays and Poems, brings into view many curious specimens of old humour, hitherto little known, and which sparkle brightly in their new setting. The Sixth, on Miscellaneous Poems and Works, is chiefly remarkable for the admirable criticism on the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney, with which it closes. Here the critic separates with great skill the wheat from the chaff, showing at once the power of his author, and its perversion, and how images of touching beauty and everlasting truth are marred by the spirit of Gothic quaintness, criticism, and conceit.' The passage, which is far too long for quotation, makes us desire more earnestly than ever that an author, capable of so lucid and convincing a development of his critical doctrines, would less frequently content himself with giving the mere results of his thought, and even conveying these in the most abrupt and startling language. A remark uttered in the parenthesis of a sarcasm, or an image thrown in to heighten a piece of irony, might often furnish extended matter for the delight of those whom it now only disgusts or bewilders.

The Seventh Lecture, on the works of Lord Bacon, compared as to style with those of Sir Thomas Browne and of Jeremy Taylor, is very unequala The character of Lord Bacon is elo

quent, and the praise sufficiently lavish ; but it does not show any proper knowledge of his works. That of Jeremy Taylor is somewhat more appropriate, but too full of gaudy images and mere pomp of words. The style of that delicious writer is ingeniously described as prismatic;' though there is too much of shadowy chillness in the phrase, adequately to represent the warm and tender bloom which he casts on all that he touches. And when we are afterwards told that it unfolds the colours of the rainbow ; floats like a bubble through the air; or is like innumerable dew drops, that glitter on the face of morning, and twinkle as they glitter;'-we can only understand that the Critic means to represent it as variegated, light and sparkling: But it appears to us that the style of Jeremy Taylor is like nothing unsubstantial or airy. The blossoms put forth in his works spring from a deep and eternal stock, and have no similitude to any thing wavering or unstable. His account of Sir Thomas Browne, however, seems to us very characteristic, both of himself and of that most extraordinary of English writers. We can make room only for a part of it.

As Bacon seemed to bend all his thoughts to the practice of life, and to bring home the light of science “ to the bosoms and businesses of men, ” Sir Thomas Browne seemed to be of opinion, that the only business of life was to think ; and that the proper object of speculation was, by darkening knowledge, to breed more speculation, and “ find no end in wandering mazes lost.” He chose the incomprehensible and the impracticable, as almost the only subjects fit for a lofty and lasting contemplation, or for the exercise of a solid faith. He cried out for an “oh aliitudobeyond the heights of revelation; and posed himself with apocryphal mysteries as the pastime of his leisure hours. He pushes a question to the utmost verge of conjecture, that he may repose on the certainty of doubt; and he removes an object to the greatest distance from him, that he may take a high and abstracted interest in it, consider it in relation to the sum of things, not to himself, and bewilder his understanding in the universality of its nature, and the inscrutableness of its origin. His is the sublime of indifference; a passion for the abstruse and imaginary. He turns the world round for his amusement, as if it was a globe of pasteboard. He looks down on sublunary affairs as if he had taken his station in one of the planets. The Antipodes are next door neighbours to him ; and Doomsday is not far off. With a thought he embraces both the Poles ; the march of his pen is over the great divisions of geography and chronology. Nothing touches him nearer than humanity. He feels that he is mortal only in the decay of Nature, and the dust of long-forgotten tombs. The finite is lost in the infinite. The orbits of the heavenly bodies, or the history of empires, are to him but a point in time, or a speck in the VOL. Xxxiv. ŅO. 68.

Ff

universe. The great Platonic year revolves in one of his periods. Nature is too little for the grasp of his style. He scoops an antithesis out of fabulous antiquity, and rakes up an epithet from the sweepings of chaos. It is as if his books had dropped from the clouds, or as if Friar Bacon's head could speak. He stands on the edge of the world of sense and reason, and gets a vertigo by looking down at impossibilities and chimeras. Or he busies himself with the mysteries of the Cabbala, or the enclosed secrets of the heavenly quincunxes, as children are amused with tales of the nursery. The passion of curiosity (the only passion of childhood) had in him survived to old age, and had superannuated his other faculties. He moralizes and grows pathetic on a mere idle fancy of his own, as if thought and being were the same, or as if “ all this world were one glorious lie.” He had the most intense consciousness of contradic. tions and nonentities; and he decks them out in the pride and pedantry of words, as if they were the attire of his proper person. The categories hang about his neck like the gold chain of knighthood; and he “ walks gowned” in the intricate folds and swelling drapery of dark sayings and impenetrable riddles.' pp. 292–295.

The Eighth and Last Lecture begins with a few words on the merits of Sheil, Tobin, Lamb, and Cornwall, who, in our own time, have written in the spirit of the elder dramatists. The observations in this Lecture, on the spirit of the romantic and classic literature, are followed by a striking development of the materials, and an examination of the success of the German Drama. Mr Hazlitt attributes the triumph of its monstrous paradoxes to those abuses and hypocrisies of society, those incoherences between its professions and its motives, which excite enthusiastic minds to seek for the opposite, at once, of its defects and blessings. His account of his own sensations on the first perusal of the Robbers, is one of the most striking passages in the work.

"I have half trifled with this subject; and I believe I have done so because I despaired of finding language for some old-rooted feelings I have about it, which a theory could neither give, nor can it take away. The Robbers was the first play I ever read ; and the effect it produced upon me was the greatest. It stunned me like a blow; and I have not recovered enough from it to tell how it was.

There are impressions which neither time nor circumstances can efface. Were I to live much longer than I have any chance of doing, the books I have read when I was young, I can never forget. Fiveand-twenty years have elapsed since I first read the translation of the Robbers, but they have not blotted the impression from my mind ; it is here still-an old dweller in the chambers of the brain. The scene, in particular, in which Moor looks through his tears at the evening sun from the mountain's brow, and says in his despair, “ It was my wish like him to live, like him to die : it was an idle thought, a boy's conceit,” took first hold of my imagination,—and that sun has to me never set !'. to soothe and melt and delight: to make us kind and thoughtful and imaginative-to purge away the dregs of our earthly passions, by the refining fires of a pure imagination, and to lap us up from the eating cares of life, in visions so soft and bright, as to sink like morning dreams on our senses, and at the same time so distinct and truly fashioned upon the eternal patterns of nature, as to hold their place before our eyes long after they have again been opened on the dimmer scenes of the world.

While we sympathise in all Mr Hazlitt's sentiments of reverence for the mighty works of the older time, we must guard against that exclusive admiration of antiquity, rendered fashionable by some great critics, which would induce the belief that the age of genius is past, and the world grown too old to be romantic. We can observe in these Lectures, and in other works of their author, a jealousy of the advances of civilization as lessening the dominion of fancy. But this is, we think, a dangerous error; tending to chill the earliest aspirations after excellence, and to roll its rising energies back on the kindling soul. There remains yet abundant space for genius to possess; and science is rather the pioneer than the impeder of its progress. The level roads, indeed, which it cuts through unexplored regions, are, in themselves, less fitted for its wanderings, than the tangled ways through which it delights to stray; but they afford it new glimpses into the wild scenes and noble vistas which open near them, and enable it to deviate into fresh scenes of beauty, and hitherto unexplored fastnesses. The face of Nature changes not with the variations of fashion. One state of society may be somewhat more favourable to the development of genius than another; but wherever its divine seed is cast, there will it strike its roots far beneath the surface of artificial life, and rear its branches into the heavens, far above the busy haunts of common mortals.

[graphic]

Why this should not be thought the highest kind of poetry, we profess ourselves rather at a loss to explain ;-and certainly are ourselves often in a mood to think that it is so; and to believe that the more tremendous agitations of the breast to which the art has so often been made subservient, have attracted more admiration, and engrossed more talent, than ought in justice to have been assigned them. The real lovers of poetry, we suspect, will generally incline their ears most willingly to its softer and more winning strains-nor can we believe that it was for them that its more tumultuous measures were invented. Men of delicate sensibility and inflammable imaginations, do not require the stronger excitement of those boisterous and agonizing emotions, without which it may be difficult to rouse the sympathies of more tardy and rugged natures. The poetical temperament is intrinsically dreamy and contemplative; and subsists in passionate imaginings, and beautiful presentments of the fancy. Wrath and scorn and misanthropy, are scarcely among its natural elements.

It has but little legitimate affinity with horror and agony, and - none at all with aversion and disgust; nor is it easy to conceive

that it should very long maintain its attraction where the predominating feelings it excites are those of dread, astonishment, and disdain. Some strong and gloomy spirits there may be, that really enjoy the stormy trouble of the elements; but the greater and the better part of the lovers of poetry will always be happy to escape to milder and more temperate regions, and to pursue their meditations among enchantments of a more engaging character, and forms of a gentler aspect.

Of such enchantments Mr Cornwall is a great master; and we are happy to meet him again, with his train of attendant spirits. This volume is very like the two former; and we need not here repeat what we have so lately said of their general character. There is the same pervading sweetness--the same gentle pathos—the same delicacy of fancy, and the same fine finishing of verse and of diction--together with something of the same mannerism, and the same occasional weakness.

• Marcian Colonna,' which stands so conspicuously in the title-page, is the longest poem which the author has yet attempt

« AnteriorContinuar »