Page images





125. Definition.-IN Representative Writing persons are represented as actually speaking, and generally addressing each other. Under this title come soliloquies, dialogues, and the literature of the theatre.

126. Dialogues.-Many of the finest literary productions in the world are in the form of dialogues. Among these are the writings of Plato, and some of the philosophical writings of Cicero. In dialogues designed to be read, and not recited or spoken, a style less colloquial, and in some passages entirely free from a colloquial character may be employed. The personages represented as speaking may be real or fictitious. If historical characters are selected, they should not be misrepresented, and the style of thought and expression should correspond with their known ability and habits. Socrates or Paul should not be made to speak as a clown, nor Nero as a Christian, nor Cleopatra as a diligent and prudent matron. It is a haz ardous experiment to represent well-known and marked historical personages as conversing with each other, and of the many who have attempted it, few have given to the world productions that have achieved popularity. If the characters are represented as liv

ing in this world, of course anachronisms must be avoided, as only those who lived at the same time and place could be supposed to hold conversation with each other. In order to bring together marked characters of different nations and ages, the scene is often laid in another world, as in Lord Lyttleton's “Dialogues of the Dead," an excellent book written in the eighteenth century. Some of the dialogues were between contemporaries who had lately died, and others between remarkable personages of past times, without regard to their nationality, language, or age, and yet each spoke on subjects in which he might reasonably be presumed to be interested, and in a style corresponding with his known character. A far superior work of the kind is "Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen," by Walter Savage Landor, In these, noted men speak of the subjects in which they were known to be adepts, and the dialogues are made the vehicle of much valuable thought and personal opinion of the author.

127. Dialogues intended to be Recited.-Dialogues intended to be committed to memory and recited, should be more spirited, and must not offend a sense of propriety by being unnatural or improbable. To this class belong all plays, comedies, and tragedies, constituting the literature of the theatre. From the earliest times, and in nearly all languages, this kind of writing has been common, and it includes much of the ripest thought and best literature in the world. To the dramatists of Greece and Rome we are indebted for the most vivid portraitures which we have of the ordinary

[blocks in formation]

life and thoughts of the people; and though undoubtedly the fictitious representations and conversations are exaggerated, still it is easy for the critic to make due allowance for this, and thus obtain much valuable information that otherwise would have been lost. In our own language we need but mention the many-sided Shakspeare, whose vast range of obser vation and thought, and keen analysis of passion, and portraiture of nearly all possible experience, seem almost superhuman.

128. Value of this Kind of Writings. Whatever may be thought of the moral effects of theatrical representations, that literature of this kind will always be written, and that much of it will be recited, can not be doubted. Even in the simplest forms of dialogues for school exhibitions much skill can be shown. When the speakers are fictitious, each character should be consistent with itself. Sentiments or passions incongruous with each other, or never found together in real life, should not be expressed by the same person.

There is room in such productions for the greatest possible variety of style, and for the widest and noblest range of thought. Care, however, should be exercised not to make the production tedious by too long speeches, and a stilted, artificial, and bombastic style should especially be avoided. The poet may draw from his own fancy; the scholar from his library; but the proper study of the dramatic writer, whether in verse or in prose, is man-man, as he exists in society.

129. Soliloquies.-Soliloquies are the vocal expression of thought and passion by persons alone, supposed

to be speaking aloud, unaware of a listener, and perhaps unconscious of speaking. These can not with propriety be introduced except either in dramatic or fictitious writings. None who read the English language can long remain unacquainted with some of the most noted soliloquies of Shakspeare, such as those of Henry IV., Cardinal Wolsey, and Hamlet's, on Death. Almost equally well known is that on Immortality, put into the mouth of Cato by Addison, commencing:

"It must be so. Plato, thou reasonest weli

Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality?"

130. The Three Unities.-It has passed into a canon of Rhetoric, that what are called the three Unities should, at least in spirit, be preserved in dramatic writings. These are the unity of subject, the unity of time, and the unity of place. One main leading subject should be presented; the time supposed to elapse in the course of the representation should neither be so long or short as to offend a sense of propriety, and the place should correspond with what could easily be conceived to be fact.

131. Dialogues in History.—In history, dialogues between the important personages whose lives and actions are portrayed are often introduced, and thus the narrative is greatly enlivened. Some historians have invented these dialogues, as well as addresses supposed to have been pronounced, always endeavoring to preserve a verisimilitude in such compositions, but in modern times it is considered improper thus to mingle history and fiction, and few writers introduce any



dialogues or addresses, except such as were actually uttered.

132. Fiction.-Works of fiction have a peculiar character. The larger number of the books now published are fictitious, and the larger part of the reading is of fiction. The word scarcely needs explanation. Works in the form of narration, of memoirs, biographies, travels or histories, not presenting facts, but the imaginations of the authors, are Fiction. From the earliest times such productions have been common.

Historical fictions are those in which characters that really lived are introduced as acting and speaking, and the author preserves just so much fidelity to fact as he pleases. Many of the novels of Walter Scott belong to this class.

Similar are the works of fiction which in the form of fancied travels or correspondence, describe places, customs, and religions, with more or less fidelity. "The Travels of Anacharsis" describe the ancient world and its customs. Bulwer's "Last days of Pompeii" professes to describe the customs of that city, and the volcanic eruption by which it was overwhelmed.

No wise man will depend upon works of fiction for his historical information. He will rather guard against allowing himself to be influenced in his historic beliefs by the representations of authors whose prime aim is to please and absorb the reader, rather than to present fact.

133. Fiction may convey Truth.-Fiction may be the vehicle of truth, but not largely of historic truth. It should rather aim to describe passion correctly, and

« PreviousContinue »