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When the wind-god frowns in the murky skies,
The purple mullet and gold-fish rove,
Through the bending twigs of the coral grove.
pp. 64, 65. Could the published poetry of Mr Percival be reduced to a moderately sized single volume, and printed in a style worthy of the contents, it would, we have thought, be an acceptable present to the world, honorable to our country, and valued by posterity. But already, we understand, another volume is announced from the same prolific pen; and as long as Mr Percival will continue to write, our experience of the past raises so high our hopes of the future, that we do not ask him at present to divert his energies from composition to revision and reduction. By and by, in the calm and leisure of his days, he will, we presume, take pleasure in revising his works sternly and impartially, and fastidiously select from them fewer perhaps than the world would do, on which to fix his seal of immortality. In the mean time, may we entreat him to let no false sense of independence, or inordinate admiration of lord Byron, tempt him any more to flout the cross, or to throw doubts on the soul's immortality. Religion may not be wanted by so ethereal a race as the poets. But reviewers and other common men very much need it in the course of their numerous temptations. What would become of the wretched herd of authors, if reviewers were freed from some higher motives and restraints than are to be found among the miserable elements of this world? Let poets be careful, then, how by the acuteness and philosophy lent them in some inspired moment of disappointment and hypocondriasis, they overthrow the labors of the Lardners and Paleys, falsify the demonstrations of the metaphysicians, and disappoint the dearest and most universal sentiment of mankind.
He must not complain of the severity of these sarcasms, who, besides throwing suspicion on the beautiful enthusiasm for virtue, the perfect purity of sentiment, and even the occasional eulogiums on religion which adorn the other portions of his works, has deliberately, in two or three treacherous stanzas, cut more than one humble believer to the heart.
ART. VII.-1. Sylla. Tragedie en Cinq Actes. Par E. Jouy, Membre de l'Institut. (Academie Française.) Paris, 1822. 2. Catiline. A Tragedy in Five Acts. By the Rev. George Croly, A. M. London, 1822.
We have selected these two tragedies, the Sylla of Jouy, (the well known Hermite de la Chaussé d'Antin,) and the Catiline of Croly, (the poet of Paris in 1815,') not only as the dramatic productions of two distinguished writers, but as affording each a characteristic, and we may add a favorable specimen of the present state of the art, both in France and in England.
It is a question of some interest, why the present century, which teems, especially in Great Britain, with literary talent in every department, and in none more than in serious poetry, should have done so little for the tragic drama; an age in which even prose may be said to be warm with the spirit of poetry; when fiction, rich with living pictures of man and nature, in all the varied extremities of wordly fortune, is daily, nay hourly, poured upon us in which Scott, in strains of national enthusiasm, has so well recorded the superstitions, the feuds, the chivalrous character of his ancestors, and Byron has agitated the depths of the heart, with the most intense passion; whence is it that this age, in many other examples, so fruitful in nice yet fearless delineation of character and feeling, (the very elements of dramatic excellence,) can hardly produce one good tragedy-one, to which the present generation would willingly refer as a fair representative of their poetical merit, or to which they could refer with confidence, as likely to endure through all the caprices of literary and popular taste?
To whatever we are to attribute this deficiency, (the more remarkable as existing in that department of literature, which has been more successfully cultivated than any other,) the fact is certain, that in speaking of the English theatre, the thought turns to, and almost exclusively rests, on the glorious age of Elizabeth and James: while in the French drama, it ranges over a long reach of time, and the student is equally attracted by the chef d'œuvres of their three great dramatists, a period of a century and a half. Indeed the critics of their own nation are not yet agreed as to their relative merits; but it is
certain that in Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire is comprised all that is of great estimation in French tragedy, notwithstanding the volumes, the 'magasin enorme d'ennui,' which have issued from the press since the publication of the Cid. During this period, while the English drama has taken the passing impression of the times, more than any other species of their literature, as may be easily seen from the characteristics of its different epochs, the French has exhibited the same general invariable physiognomy, somewhat affected, it is true, by the existing state of society and the genius of the individual writer, but so little, in all its essential principles, that it may be truly regarded as the only thing in France, which still retains the features that it bore two centuries ago. We still find the same bigotted deference to their own unities, to proprieties of situation, to nice adjustment of plot, to all but development of character; to rules so multiplied and refined, that, as La Harpe and Voltaire repeatedly declare, the great triumph of a successful tragedy is in overcoming the toils thus woven about the genius of the poet, by the fastidiousness of their own critics.
In estimating the defects of the French theatre, and explaining their origin, too much stress, we think, is laid by some modern critics on their imitation of the Greek. We do not mean that they have not adopted the Greek tragedians as their models, which is incontestable, but that they have constructed their drama much more out of the elements of their own national character; the great pervading defect of which, at least as regards dramatic excellence, is a want of deep and genuine sensibility. However they may exhibit it in external form, they evidently have it not at heart: their whole history shows this. Of a lively, acute turn of mind, they have ever excelled in superficial portrait painting, memoirs, letter writing, and fashionable gossip; active and subtle in their perceptions of physical science; in the science of mind, ingenious, but speculative and sceptical; light, brilliant, and captivating-no where true to nature, no honest warmth, no tenderness of feeling. Hence they have no class of compositions, like the old English or Scottish ballads, breathing the devotedness of feudal heroism, or mourning over the disappointments of blighted love, or in deep sympathy with the secret beauties of nature. Hence the English poets generally most admired by them are
those abounding in dazzling and ostentatious periods, as Young, Thomson, &c. They have no sympathy for the sweet pastoral images so prodigally scattered throughout the minor poems of Spenser and Shakspeare, of Milton, or of Cowper. Hence in their drama, rhetoric takes place of action, style is more cultivated than thought, and the pomp of declamation is substituted for the vehement workings of passion. In short, all is artificial, yet all is French, and were it not too free a paradox, one might say, that art is natural to a Frenchman. Hence they have recourse to 'Rules' for want of an internal sense to regulate the measure of their sensibility. cannot be touched, blood cannot be shed upon the French stage: it would offend not their feeling, but their taste: of course the greatest opportunity for the display of the power of the Dramatist, the conflict of the last mortal agony, in short the most impressive exhibitions of passion, are sacrificed to theatrical squeamishness.* Hence instead of studying men, their poets study the 'rules;' the question, with them, is not what is natural, but what is agreeable; and things are not painted in the eloquent colors of actual life, the alternations of joy and sorrow, the contradiction of tumultuous passion, the bustle of jarring interests; but every thing is squared and levelled by the arbitrary code of critical etiquette.
A keen perception of the ridiculous is justly esteemed another source of their dramatic inferiority. We do not mean that satirical humor, so powerful an element in the English character, but that frivolous heartless disposition to turn every thing into a jest, which is the natural growth of a state of society where manners are the chief object of solicitude, and all is regulated by the ceremonies of courtly breeding. Nothing can be more fatal to high poetical enthusiasm. It is hardly credible to what extent this feeling prevails on the French theatre, and how much it has constrained their greatest masters, not only in the delineation of powerful excitement, but in the most insignificant particulars. Voltaire tells us that were the corpse of Cæsar, or of the son of Cato to be exhibited to the eye of the spectator as in the English tragedies,† where
* It is however considered within the rules, for one of the French dramatis personæ to kill himself; a species of denoument of which their poets often avail themselves. This dispensation in favor of suicide shows a very curious state of sensibility.-See Voltaire's Discours sur la Tragedie.
+ Since the time of Voltaire however they have grown to be less nice in the observance of this, and a few other inconsequential forms.
they give occasion to the most splendid effusion of the poet's eloquence, the pit would cry out, and the ladies turn away their heads in disgust;' and he adds, 'that the grotesque names of Pierre and Jaffier in Otway's Venice Preserved, (a play founded on the same historical facts with the Manlius Capitolinus of La Fosse,) would have been sufficient to have damned it with the polite audience of Paris!'
L'Anglais dit tout ce qu'il veut, le Français ne dit que ce qu'il peut. L'un court dans une carrière vaste, et l'autre marche avec des entraves dans un chemin glissant et étroit.'
The French poet does indeed walk in fetters!
But although the French drama owes so much more, both of its excellencies and defects, to the national character than to any classical derivation, much of its permanent form must be attributed to the influence of the period and still more of the vigorous intellect, under which it was developed. French tragedy feels even to this day the impulse first given to it by the lofty genius of Corneille. Here we would observe, that we think too much account has been made of the romantic (in opposition to the classical) tendencies of his mind; and hence critics lament exceedingly the insurmountable opposition, which he experienced in communicating this free spirit to the national drama. But if, by romantic, be meant the exhibition of the manners, the sentiment, and character, growing out of the social relations, the religious and military institutions of the moderns, in contradistinction to those of the ancients; if this be intended by the epithet romantic, we have little reason to think it was his talent. That he was an admirer of the Spanish literature; that his first great tragedy was modelled upon the Spanish,-that he preferred the irregular sallies of Lucan and of Seneca, to the purer classics of the Augustan age: in fine, that he would have given greater scope to the limits of time and place, than suited the tyrannic genius of Richelieu and the academy, no one will deny, for all his 'compositions, both in prose and poetry, bear ample testimony to it. But here all tendency to the romantic ceases. His characters and his situations are not fashioned after any thing existing in his own time, but after the boldest ideal of Roman heroism. His women have none of the tenderness of female delicacy, none of the sweet courtesies of modern gallantry, or social refinement. We have nothing in detail, all is general and undefined,-sub