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without that general and universally striking likeness, which is demanded to the full exhibition of poetical truth.
But here an objection meets us, which must not be overlooked. It will be said, "that philosophic speculations are more likely to render men's views abstract and general than to confine them to individuals. This latter is a fault arising from the small number of objects men happen to contemplate: and may be removed not only by taking a view of many particulars, which is knowledge of the world; but also by reflecting on the general nature of men, as it appears in good books of morality. For the writers of such books form their general notion of human nature from an extensive experience (either their own, or that of others) without which their writings are of no value." The answer, I think, is this. By reflecting on the general nature of man the philosopher learns, what is the tenor of action arising from the predominancy of certain qualities or properties: i. e. in general, what that conduct is, which the imputed character requires. But to perceive clearly and certainly, how far, and with what degree of strength this or that character will, on particular occasions, most probably shew itself, this is the fruit only of a knowledge of the world. Instances of a want of this knowledge cannot be supposed frequent in such a writer, as Euripides; nor, when they occur, so glaring as to strike a common reader. They are niceties, which can only be
discerned by the true critic; and even to him, at this distance of time, from an ignorance of the Greek, manners, that may possibly appear a fault, which is a real beauty. It would therefore be dangerous to think of pointing out the places, which Aristotle might believe liable to this censure in Euripides. I will however presume to mention one, which, if not justly criticized, will, at least, serve to illustrate my meaning.
The story of his Electra is well known. The poet had to paint, in the character of this princess, a virtuous, but fierce, resentful woman; stung by a sense of personal ill treatment; and instigated to the revenge of a father's death, by still stronger motives. A disposition of this warm temperament, it might be concluded by the philosopher in his closet, would be prompt to shew itself. Electra would, on any proper occasion, be ready to avow her resentment, as well as to forward the execution of her purpose. But to what lengths would this resentment go? i. e. what degree of fierceness might Electra express, without affording occasion to a person widely skilled in mankind, and the operation of the passions, to say, "this is improbable ?" Here abstract theories will be of little service. Even a moderate acquaintance with real life will be unable to direct us. Many individuals may have fallen under observation, that will justify the poet in carrying the expression of such a resentment to any extreme. History would, perhaps, furnish exam
ples, in which a virtuous resentment hath been carried even farther than is here represented by the poet. What way then of determining the precise bounds and limits of it? Only by observing in numerous ínstances, i. e. from a large extensive knowledge of practical life, how far it usually, in such characters, and under such circumstances, prevails. Hence a difference of representation will arise in proportion to the extent of that knowledge. Let us now see, how the character before us, hath, in fact, been managed by Euripides.
In that fine scene, which between Electrą passes and Orestes, whom as yet she suspects not to be her brother, the conversation very naturally turns upon Electra's distresses, and the author of them, Clytemnestra, as well as on her hopes of deliverance from them by the means of Orestes. The dialogue upon this proceeds:
Or. What then of Orestès, were he to return to this Argos?
El. Ah! wherefore that question, when there is no prospect of his return at all?
Or. But supposing he should return, how would he go about to revenge the death of his father? El. In the same way, in which that father suffered from the daring attempts of his enemies.
Or. And could you then dare to undertake with him the murder of your mother?
El, Yes, with that very steel, with which she murdered my father.
Or. And am I at liberty to relate this to your brother, as your fixed resolution?
El. I desire only to live, till I have murdered my mother. The Greek is still stronger :
May I die, as soon as I have murdered my mother! Now that this last sentence is absolutely unnatural, will not be pretended. There have been doubtless many examples, under the like circumstances, of an expression of revenge carried thus far. Yet, I think, we can hardly help being a little shocked at the fierceness of this expression. At least Sophocles has not thought fit to carry it to that extreme. In him, Electra contents herself with saying to Orestes, on a similar occasion:
"The conduct of this affair now rests upon you. "Only let me observe this to you, that, had I been " left alone, I would not have failed in one of these "two purposés, either to deliver myself gloriously, or to perish gloriously."
Whether this representation of Sophocles be not more agreeable to truth, as collected from wide observation, i. e. from human nature at large, than that of Euripides, the capable reader will judge. If it be, the reason I suppose to have been, that Sophocles painted his characters, such, as, from attending to numerous instances of the same kind, he would conclude they ought to be; Euripides, such, as a narrower sphere of observation had persuaded him they were.
319. INTERDUM SPECIOSA LOCIS, &c.] The poet's science in ethics will principally shew itself in these two ways, 1. in furnishing proper matter for general reflexion on human life and conduct; and, 2. in a due adjustment of the manners. By the former of these two applications of moral knowledge a play becomes, what the poet calls, speciosa locis, i. e. (for the term is borrowed from the rhetoricians). striking in its moral topics: a merit of the highest importance on the ancient stage, and which, if prudently employed in subserviency to the latter more essential requisite of the drama, a just expression of the manners, will deserve to be so reputed at all times, and on every theatre. The danger is, lest a studied, declamatory moral, affectedly introduced, or indulged to excess, should prejudice the natural exhibition of the characters, and so convert the image of human life into an unaffecting, philosophical dialogue.
319. MORATAQUE RECTE FABULA, &c.] This judgment of the poet, in regard of the superior efficacy of manners, is generally thought to be contradicted by Aristotle; who in treating this subject, observes," that let a piece be never so perfect in the manners, sentiments, and style, it will not so "well answer the end and purpose of tragedy, as if "defective in these, and finished only in the fable “ and composition.” Εάν τις ἐφεξῆς τῇ ρήσεις ἠθικὰς καὶ λέξεις καὶ διανοίας εὖ πεποιημένας, ἐ ποιήσει