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15. — Egmont ; a Tragedy in Five Acts. Translated from the
German of Goethe. Boston: James Munroe & Co. 1841. 8vo.
The Tragedy of Egmont has been much praised by the admirers of Goethe. It is an attempt to work up historical events and characters into the dramatic form, and is classed with productions of what has been called the Romantic school.
It is, moreover, a tragedy in prose. How far it is entitled to the applause it has received, may perhaps admit of a doubt. Has a poet the right to depart from historic truth in his delineations ? Is he justified in taking an historic personage, and materially changing his character, perverting the facts of his life, and placing him amidst circumstances which we know could never have existed? We think not, though the practice of Sir Walter Scott may be pleaded in justification. The poet's art is not lawless and omnipotent. With the creatures of his brain he may do what he pleases ; but, when he chooses to bring a real character into the circle of his airy beings, he cannot change him, by the touch of his wand, into an unsubstantial form, and extend over him the laws of his own poetical creation. He walks among them, an historical character still. The utmost the poet can do is to invent other actions and different situations from those in which the hero is known to have moved, but not opposite and contradictory ones. The poet has no right to claim for his work the advantage of his hero's historic fame, and at the same time load him with a fictitious infamy. He has no right to excite our interest by a great and brilliant name, and then to stain that name with vices, of which its possessor was never guilty ; to attribute to a real person acts which he never did, and never could have done, and to place him in situations which it is morally impossible he should ever have occupied. But what has Goethe done in the Romantic drama of Egmont ? Let us look at the leading facts in Count Egmont's life.
Lamoral, Count von Egmont, and Prince of Gavre, was a descendant of the warlike line of the Dukes of Gueldres. His ancestors had been distinguished in the history of the country ; one of them had been Stadtholder of Holland, as early as the reign of Maximilian. The Count was born in 1522, and entered the military service early in life under Charles the Fifth, who invested him, in 1546, with the dignity of a Knight of the Golden Fleece. Under that Emperor's successor, Philip the Second, he distinguished himself as a general of cavalry in the famous battles of St. Quentin, 1557,
and Gravelines, 1558. “These battles,” says Schiller, "made him the hero of his age.
Egmont was married to the Duchess Sabina of Bavaria, and by this brilliant connexion greatly increased the immense influence he already possessed. After the return of Philip to Spain, and while the Netherlands were under the regency of Margaret of Parma, an illegitimate daughter of Charles the Fifth, the troubles broke out in that country, which cost the Count his life. The beautiful and noble qualities of his character made him the object of the ardent love of his countrymen. He was generous, open-hearted, unsuspecting, and magnificent. He possessed in the highest degree the sense of honor, the courtesy, and the noble bearing of knighthood in its most brilliant days ; and his martial fame was a spell upon the hearts of all. “Every public appearance of Egmont was triumph ; at the chivalrous pastimes, mothers pointed him out to their children. His religion was gentle and humane, but little enlightened, because it received its light from his heart and not from his understanding. He looked upon men as either good or bad ; in his morality, there was no reconciliation between virtue and vice.” William, Prince of Orange, was the only man who rivalled Count Egmont in the hearts of his countrymen ; and when the violent encroachments of the gloomy tyranny of Spain upon their constitutional rights, and hereditary liberties, awakened the passions of the Netherlanders, all eyes were turned to these two illustrious persons. William saw deeper than his friend into the real state of affairs. He was a man of calmer temperament, and divined at once the peril that threatened when the ferocious Duke of Alva was sent by the Spanish despot to quell the restless spirit of the nobility of the Netherlands. He escaped the snare, but nothing could alarm the too confident spirit of Egmont. He, and Philip of Montmorency, Count von Hoorn, were treacherously seized by the Duke of Alva, brought to trial before a tribunal constituted of creatures of his own, and, notwithstanding the great influence of their family connexions, and their privileges as Knights of the Golden Fleece, were sentenced to be beheaded. The sentence was carried into execution at Brussels on the 5th of June, 1563, when Egmont was in the forty-sixth year of his age. All the details of this most tragical event are narrated by Schiller, in his usual interesting style, in the appendix to the “Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der. Spanischen Regierung.” (pp. 509 et seq. ed. 1818.)
Here are materials for a noble historical tragedy, without drawing largely upon the poet's invention. We have strongly contrasted characters, generous and mighty passions, honor, patriotism, and the charities of home, with a fearful tragical he had resisted the temptation to publish these, and had treated them as private communications, which they clearly were. The practice of publishing private letters is unfortunately too common in this country. It deserves the rebuke of Cicero ; “Quis enim unquam, qui paulum modo bonorum consuetudinem nôsset, literas ad, se ab amico missas, in medium protulit, palamque recitavit ? Quid est aliud, tollere e vitâ vitæ societatem, quam tollere amicorum colloquia absentium ? ”
18. — The Poems of John G. C. BRAINARD. A New and Au
thentic Collection ; with an Original Memoir of his Life.
Hartford : E. Hopkins. 1841. 12mo. pp. 191. Mr. BRAINARD was one of those poets, whose works gave promise of something better in the future than the performances of the past. Every thing he wrote was hastily written amidst the pressure
of editorial labors, and to serve a present purpose. Time and labor are
as necessary to the poet as to the painter, if he would produce finished works. There is no such thing as striking out a poem for immortality at a heat. Single thoughts of exquisite beauty, stanzas of ravishing melody, may spring from the poet's pen, (like sparks from the blacksmith's anvil,) while he is hammering out, with desperate speed, something to fill a corner in the daily or weekly sheet. well-proportioned work of poetic art, — the thoughts fully unfolded, and linked together by the golden chains of harmony;
each part well-proportioned, and nicely adjusted to the rest, -expressed in language fitly chosen, through which, as through a transparent medium, the thought shines undimmed and unrefracted, cannot be wrought by the finest genius without toil and care, and nice comparison and selection.
Mr. Brainard never had time to do full justice to his powers. But his works contain many passages that show a brilliant genius. Several of his shorter pieces, are marked throughout by very melodious rhythmical movement and felicitous imagery. His lines on Niagara Falls have often, but not very judiciously, been referred to as remarkable. They are what any one, who had never seen the Falls (as was the case with Brainard) might have written ; very commonplace and vague.
But " The Sea-Bird's Song,” and “ The Storm of War, ” shine with all the vividness of his genius. Some of his humorous pieces are excellent.
The present edition is very neatly and correctly printed. The “ original memoir,” is not a tasteful tribute to a poet's memory. The poetical character of Brainard is not drawn in it with any force, or finished with discriminating touches.
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