« PreviousContinue »
Supporter ou finir mon malheur et mon sort?
These, and more especially the lines in italics, are fine, terse, flowing, forcible verses, possessing the greatest merit when interpreted according to the rules of the school of Idea; and although, as we remarked before, the original is, by no means, the kind of example we should have selected, as a striking specimen of the poetry of Emotion, both the French and English versions square exactly with our theory. Shakspeare has uttered a series of unconnected exclamations, which move and harrow the feelings, on the subject of the unknown hereafter. Voltaire has shewn why it is that our feelings are so moved, by a succession of logical proofs. He has been compelled, therefore, to omit the terms of Emotion, which lie thickly strewn in the original, and to adhere simply to the argument of the speech. Hence the beauties of the two versions are totally distinct; and we have no doubt, that in spite of the extraordinary vigour and felicity of the last two lines of the translation, the Shaksperian will persist in finding it not endurable-just as the school of Idea would be apt to decide of the original.
Having satisfied ourselves, however we may have failed with the reader, in accounting for the great diversity between the tastes for French and English poetry, we may now be permitted to give directions for the application of our theory. Like many other mis-called general rules, the exceptions to its application are far more numerous than the instances in which it may safely be adopted. If the reader, however, has gone with
us in our observations, we trust we shall find no difficulty in pointing out the mode of using it. The principles of Emotion and Idea are merely the most highly distinctive, and not universally characteristic of the two schools of poetry. Hence, much poetry of Idea in the English, much poetry of Emotion in the French school. Witness Shakspeare, passim; witness also Phèdre, Zaire, Tancrède, the Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady, and the Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard. But as the leading character of each school is what we have described, the taste of the two parties is in effect decided by that circumstance. Still, however, it seems likely from the admixture of Idea and Emotion in both schools, that although the sectaries of each should respectively reserve their highest approbation for that leading excellence which distinguishes their particular sect from its opposite in the highest degree-still, we say, it seems likely they may attach some, however inferior a value, to the peculiar merits of the party to which they do not belong. In effect, we have numerous examples of Shaksperians, who take a certain pleasure in Pope and Racine; and of partizans of Pope and Racine, who are no small admirers of Shakspeare. If we thought otherwise, we should not have begun those critiques on the Minor French Poets, which we commenced in our sixteenth number, and propose, from time to time, to continue. We believe that some degree of pleasure, however small, is derived from the perusal of these authors; and acting on the principle, that the least possible pleasure is better than none at all, we shall proceed in our undertaking, without any apprehension of so seriously annoying the zealots of the school of Emotion, as to counterbalance the satisfaction we may be so fortunate as to contribute to the disciples of the sect of Ïdea.
We began with Bernard. Our present dish is of equal lightness, and of much the same goût and flavour-Dorat, a man of many volumes, but who will occupy our pages not much the more for his prolixity. A page a volume is all we shall allot to him; and as we have filled several already, by propitiating the ultra English reader, the only mode we can hit upon for keeping within our proposed limits, will be by omitting whatever has been written by our author in the shape of plays. This, as will be seen hereafter, is no very considerable sacrifice. It has been said, somewhat too harshly, of Dorat, as the reader will presently, we think, admit,
Qu'il eut des mots, des riens charmans,
We certainly have found no such difficulty, although we somewhat incline to acquiesce in the rest of the portrait. His copiousness no man can deny. Fourteen or more volumes are, we were about to say, a living proof of his talent for words. His frivolity was the effect of his French temperament and education; his good temper he owed to the same causes. As to his defeat in the tender sentimentalism of love, however little we may be inclined to sympathise with the critic in his complaints of its deficiency in Dorat-the fact is undoubtedly true. It cannot be denied, that disgusted with the over-scrupulousness of the rigorists of his day-for such were not wanting in Paris, however the contrary opinion may prevail-he rather slid into the opposite extreme, and felt inclined to declare with Helvétius, "qu'il n'y avait de bon en amour que le physique." His poems of gallantry are very much like running comments on that text; and there is no more frequent object of his censure and ridicule, than the system of feminine morals which then prevailed. Of the "riens charmans"-which mean, in fact, the author's works-we shall take the liberty of speaking at some length.
Our business, however, even here, shall be rather confined to making a very few of the best extracts from the best of his writings, than to the criticism of their merits. That may be safely left to the reader, who will, perhaps, be more candid, and whose observations are sure to possess the recommendation of pleasing himself.
The principal work of Dorat is a poem on Theatrical Declamation;—a term to which our readers must give a little more latitude than usual, and which in fact is made, in this instance, to include the whole of dramatic exhibition. It is by far the most elaborate, as well as the most polished, of our author's numerous productions. The poem is divided into four cantos: the first comprising rules for tragic; the second, for comic acting; the third, embracing the operatic; and the fourth, the choric, or the art of dancing. We shall not follow our author through his numerous rules for the conduct of the head, voice, arms, and feet, in their different departments; our selections will be made rather with a view to their poetic, than their didactic merits.
The opening conceit-for there is much of the conceit about it, in spite of its ingenuity-is marked by great force and vivacity:
"Dans ses jeux instructifs la Fable respectée
Tantôt, aigle superbe, affrontoit le tonnerre ;
The description of the trickery of Proteus is old; but we do not remember any similar use of it in the way of metaphor.
The following is both judicious advice and fine writing:
"Le jeu muet encore veut une étude à part:
Il faut, pour le saisir, savoir l'ouvrage entier,
Laissez donc la routine aux actrices frivoles ;
This shews considerable study of the theatric art, which, indeed, the author exhibits upon all occasions; and on none more than in the detection of those very minute defects which so frequently destroy the illusion of good acting; as, for instance, in the following advice to a popular actress :
"Que jamais vos regards n'aillent furtivement
We could mention a striking example of this defect, in a deservedly favourite actress of the present day; but so difficult is it to look our own vices in the face, that she would probably not recognize the portrait if we should run the risk of holding it before her.
The following might be mistaken for a picture of the incomparable Siddons:
"Contemplez de Macbeth l'épouse criminelle,
J'admire en frissonnant; ô muette éloquence !
Quel mouvement! quel geste! et sur-tout quel silence!"
Indeed, the poet's talent is peculiarly adapted to description. Take, for instance, the happy picture of Tartuffe.
"Jouez-vous le Tartuffe? observez d'autres loix;
Et veut, au nom de Dieu, déshonorer son frère.”
Or the following portrait of (we believe) Gaussin :
"Ah! si la scène encore offroit à notre vue
Il me semble la voir, l'œil brillant de gaîté,