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originally by a desire to excite surprise and wonderment at his own superiority to other men,instead of having felt so deeply on certain subjects, linterli or in consequence of certain imaginations, as to make it almost a necessity of his nature to seek for sympathy, - no doubt, with that honourable desire of permanent action which distinguishes genius. Where then is the difference? - In this that each part should be proportionate, though the whole may be perhaps impossible. At all events, it should be compatible with sound sense and logic in the mind of the poet himself.
It is to be lamented that we judge of books by books, instead of referring what we read to our own experience. One great use of books is to make their contents a motive for observation. The German tragedies have in some respects been justly ridiculed. In them the dramatist often becomes a novelist in his directions to the actors, and thus degrades tragedy into pantomime. Yet still the consciousness of the poet's mind must be diffused over that of the reader or spectator; but he himself, according to his genius, elevates us, and by being always in keeping, prevents us from perceive ing any strangeness, though we feel great exultation. Many different kinds of style may be admirable, both in different men, and in different parts of the, same poeni.
See the different language which strong feelings may justify in Shylock, and learn from Shaks
peare's conduct of that character the terrible force of every plain and calm diction, when known to proceed from a resolved and impassioned man.
It is especially with reference to the drama, and its characteristics in any given nation, or at ang particular period, that the dependence of genius on the public taste becomes a matter of the deepest importance. I do not mean that taste which springs merely from caprice or fashionable imitation, and which, in fact, genius can, and by degrees will, create for itself; but that which arises out of wide-grasping and heart-enrooted causes, which is epidemic, and in the very air that all breathe. This it is which kills, or withers, or corrupts. Socrates, indeed, might walk arm and arm with Hygeia, whilst pestilence, with a thousand furies running to and fro, and clashing against each other in a complexity and agglomeration of horrors, was shooting her darts of tire and venom all around him. Even such was Milton ; yea, and such, in spite of all that has been babbled by his critics in pretended excuse for his damning, because for them too profound, excellencies,—such was Shakspeare. But alas ! the exceptions prove the rule. For who will dare to force his way out of the crowd, -not of the mere vulgar,—but of the vain and banded aristocracy of intellect, and presume to join the almost supernatural beings that stand by themselves aloof?
Of this diseased epidemic influence there are two forms especially preclusive of tragic worth. The
first is the necessary growth of a sense and love of the ludicrous, and a morbid sensibility of the assi
- an inflammation produced by cold and weakness, which in the boldest bursts of passion will lie in wait for a jeer at any phrase, that may have an accidental coincidence in the mere words with something base or trivial. For instance, -to express woods, not on a plain, but clothing a hill, which overlooks a valley, or dell, or river, or the sea,—the trees rising one above another, as the spectators in an ancient theatre,- I know no other word in our language, (bookish and pedantic terms out of the question, but hanging woods, the sylvie superimpendentes of Catullus ;* yet let some wit call out in a slang tone,—“ the gallows !” and a peal of laughter would danın the play. Hence it is that so many dull pieces have had a decent run, only because nothing unusual above, or absurd below, mediocrity furnished an occasion,--a spark for the explosive materials collected behind the orchestra. But it would take a volume of no ordinary size, however laconically the sense were expressed, if it were meant to instance the effects, and unfold all the causes, of this disposition upon the moral, intellectual, and even physical character of a people, with its influences on domestic life and individual
* Confestim Peneos adest, viridautia Tempe,
Epith. Pel. et Th. 286.
deportment. A good document upon this subject would be the history of Paris society and of French, that is, Parisian, literature from the commencement of the latter half of the reign of Louis XIV. to that of Buonaparte, compared with the preceding philosophy and poetry even of Frenchmen themselves.
The second form, or more properly, perhaps, another distinct cause, of this diseased disposition is matter of exultation to the philanthropist and philosopher, and of regret to the poet, the painter, and the statuary alone, and to them only as poets, . painters, and statuaries ;-namely, the security, the comparative equability, and ever increasing sameness of human life. Men are now so seldom thrown into wild circumstances, and violences of excitement, that the language of such states, the laws of association of feeling with thought, the starts and strange far-flights of the assimilative power on the slightest and least obvious likeness presented by thoughts, words, or objects,—these are all judged of by authority, not by actual experience,—by what men have been accustomed to regard as symbols of these states, and not the natural symbols, or self-manifestations of them.
Even so it is in the language of man, and in that of nature. The sound sun, or the figures s, u, n, are purely arbitrary modes of recalling the object, and for visual mere objects they are not only sufficient, but have infinite advantages from their very nothingness per se. But the language
of nature is a subordinate Logos, that was in the beginning, and was with the thing it represented, and was the thing it represented.
Now the language of Shakspeare, in his Lear for instance, is a something intermediate between these two; or rather it is the former blended with the latter,--the arbitrary, not merely recalling the cold notion of the thing, but expressing the reality of it, and, as arbitrary language is an heir-loom of the human race, being itself a part of that which it manifests. What shall I deduce from the preceding positions ? Even this,—the appropriate, the never to be too much valued advantage of the theatre, if only the actors were what we know they have been,-a delightful, yet most effectual remedy for this dead palsy of the public mind. What would appear mad or ludicrous in a book, when presented to the senses under the form of reality, and with the truth of nature, supplies a species of actual experience. This is indeed the special privilege of a great actor over a great poet. No part was ever played in perfection, but nature justified herself in the hearts of all her children, in what state soever they were, short of absolute moral exhaustion, or downright stupidity. There is no time given to ask? questions, or to pass judgments; we are taken by storm, and, though in the histrionic art many a clumsy counterfeit, by caricature of one or two features, may gain applause as a fine likeness, yet never was the very thing rejected as a counterfeit.