« PreviousContinue »
never could have enough of eulogy), is man has children-he has a wife at a critical history of the panegyrical home; and neither weakness of heart, effusions of antiquity, in which he has nor pity for these dear pledges, could omitted precisely that branch of the withdraw him from the sacrifice: we subject in which novelty and origin- must learn to know this religion, and ality might be found, namely, the pro- to penetrate into its virtue. That is ductions of this class which may be no light confession to make, for which found among the writings of the fathers a man must be ready to die.' These of the Christian Church. “ If any simple words, which I translate im. thing," says Villemain, “could make perfectly and from memory, have a us feel anew the impression of that native strength of eloquence which eloquence
which animated the brightest you will not find in all the panegyrics days of Greece—if any thing could of the empire." present to us the public square of A much more just estimate of the Athens under another form-it was requisites of oratory had been formed a catacomb of a Christian church. by Marmontel, whose testimony to the There the orators were free and en- stoical virtue of Thomas' character we thusiastic spirits, celebrating the great have already noticed. Indeed, as a example of some one of their body who critic generally, we should be inclined had died for the common cause. What to rank him next to Voltaire. His Eleinterest can I experience in the peru- mens de la Littérature, are full of just sal of the compliments which Libanius and ingenious observations; and he has addressed to the Emperor Valens, and a peculiar talent of illustrating his afterwards to Theodosius, or any other precepts by well-selected examples. emperor? At a period more favour- Tomost of his observations on oratory able for letters, what lively curiosity can we cordially subscribe ; they are calI feel for the analysis of the long eu. 'culated to form a sound, masculine, logies which Pliny addressed, face to business-like style of speaking ;-—the face, to the Emperor Trajan? But very style in which French oratory when, following the steps of some of was at this time, and up to the appearthose obscure and vehement orators ance of Mirabeau, lamentably defiwho were formed in the school of cient. The general popularity which his Christianity, we descend into some Moral Tales retain, even at the present meeting of that persecuted sect; and day, sufficiently proves his talent as an there some one rises, commences by agreeable narrator ; a requisite in prayer, and afterwards, in terms ener- which, indeed, few of the eminent geticand familiar, with enthusiasm, and French writers of the time were defiwith the presentiment of martyrdom cient. In fact, they transferred to before him, describes the sorrows and their written compositions the style the constancy of him whose death the which was found effective in conversaChristian body is lamenting, can we nottion, avoiding longueurs, and mingling conceive with what a vivid life these pa- a dash of irony even with the sentimennegyrics were animated, which might tal. Whatever we may think of their be interrupted every instant by the morality, the grace and naiveté of such satellites of the Emperor, and the tales as Annette and Lubin, and Heurenewal of persecution? There is, for reusement, will always find them readinstance, in the works of St Cyprian, ers, when more ambitious productions a composition entitled In Laudes are forgotten. Martyrum :' it boasts not the pure On the other hand, we cannot help and correct eloquence of Greece; it is thinking that his Belisarius has been an eloquence which approaches more egregiously overpraised. No doubt, nearly to the vehement energy of some
at the time of its appearance, its disof the orators of the sixteenth century. sertations on philanthropy and toleraThere there are no' pompous praises, no tion were somewhat newer than they elegantly rounded phrases : the ora. now-a-days appear.
But granting tor tells you, · When the executioners this, it is still difficult to account for were torturing the victims of our faith, the exaggeration of praise upon the I have perceived by the words of the one hand, and the alarm and opposi. spectators how deeply they were tion on the other, with which the work struck by that greatness of mind which was received. 66 Taste was lost," says enabled them to triumph over suffer- Voltaire,—“we were falling into baring. I have heard them say, This barism ; the eighteenth century would
NO, CCLXXXVII. VOL. XLVI.
have been irrecoverably sunk in the author.” The exception, however, it mire, if it had not been for,”—what must be admitted, is rather an importthink ye, gentle readers ? -_" for the
ant one. fifteenth chapter of Belisarius!” Read “ Shall I add,” continues Villemain, this wonder-working chapter at your 'sa thousand errors of detail which leisure, and see if you recognise in it have been pointed out by learned fo. the instrument of national regenera- reigners or Frenchmen ? Shall I mention,
tion that, in speaking of Aristotle, La But if we are at a loss to perceive Harpe forgets to mention that he has the stupendous importance of the fifth- composed a sublime hymn ?-that he teenth chapter of Belisarius, we are has said nothing of a crowd of precious scarcely less tempted to smile at the fragments of Greek poetry ?--that he alarm of the Sorbonne, who probably judges of Aristophanes, Pindar, Thuapplying the maxim noscitur a sociis, cydides, Xenophon, Terence, Livy, and not liking the school in which Mar- with a levity and brevity which are montel had formed his views, took it for remarkable ? Shall I say, in short, granted that the whole work was of a that the author of the Cours de Lit. very pestilent and dangerous complex. térature, who, in the analyses of the ion, and accordingly pronounced a se- principal productions of the sevenvere censure against Belisarius ; and teenth century, and particularly in his having selected from it thirty-two pro- estimate of our tragic theatre, is full positions, which they declared heretical, of sympathy for genius, and happily printed their anathema for the benefit animated by a sincere and persuasive of the author and the public. The admiration, seems a faithless and degeneral drift of the censure may be ceitful guide the moment he has to do gathered from one of the propositions with ancient literature?" thus denounced. Marmontel had said, Notwithstanding this partial acquain. “ It is not by the light of the stake tance with the language and the spirit that we must enlighten the mind." of Greece, La Harpe attempted the reThe celebrated Turgot, who appeared vival of one of the pieces of Sophoclesas the defender of Marmontel, con- the Philoctetes, upon the French stage. cluded logically enough, that, as the Racine had avoided the dramas of So. Sorbonne had selected this proposi. phocles, because, while he felt their tion for censure, they meant to advo- perfection in the original, he conceived cate its opposite ;-that it was by the it impossible to present them in a light of the stake that the mind must faithful translation on the French thea. be enlightened.
tre. La Harpe, however, tried the ex. Two other critical writers of this periment in Philoctetes, so far as the period deserve notice, La Harpe, the preservation of all the situations and author of the Cours de Littérature, the whole substance of the dialogue and the learned author of the Travels was concerned; but he could not reof Anacharsis, Barthelenıy.
sist the temptation of pointing occaIt would be very unjust to deny to sionally the feeble lines of Sophocles, the former the conscientious study of by those antitheses for which the Pa. the literatures to which he has chiefly risian public invariably looked in dra. devoted his attention-we mean the matic verse, till, in truth, he changed classic literatures and that of his own the character of the original nearly as nation—for of English and Spanish much as if, upon Racine's principle, he he appears to have known nothing. had recast the whole in a French mould. But, though more pains-taking and Barthelemy appears to be a favourite conscientious than Voltaire, he was, with M. Villemain, for he has devoted after all, but very indifferently ac. more than a whole lecture to the subject quainted with Greek ; and the strange of his Anacharsis, a space which is errors into which he has fallen in
surely somewhat disproportioned to his translations of Sophocles have its importance. His learning is unbeen severely exposed by Brunck. deniable; the modesty and simplicity « The Latin writers,” says Villemain, of his character are worthy of all re“ Cicero and Livy, were more familiar spect; but except as a piece of learned, to him. He analyzes them with talent and in the main just, criticism on the and vivacity; frequently nothing is literature and manners of antiquity, wanting to his eulogiums except having the work has no high merit; the imafailed to catch the true meaning of the ginative framework in which Bar
thelemy has inclosed his museum of nature which he loved, and which he fragments from antiquity, is common- resembled. place enough; the characters scarcely “Another distinctive traitin the chasupported at all; and the whole at- racter of the man, was something tempt to revive in a fictitious form the proud, free, and indomitable in the na. character of ancient society, appears to "ture of his mind. He would submit great disadvantage beside those lifelike to no yoke, not even that of his age ; pictures of Greece which Wieland has for even in that age he was constantly exhibited in his Agathon, Aristippus, 'religious. He lived in the society of and Agathodämon. Villemain admits several persons of philosophic opinthat his fictitious personages are the ions, particularly with Thomas, who mere spectators of events. “ Philotas, was his most intimate friend. His Timagenes, Apollodorus, Lysis, are ' tragedies bear the impression of those pallid figures, which attract no atten- . liberal maxims and abstract exprestion : Philotas is killed at the battle sions which formed the currency of the of Chæronea; and the author bestows literature of his time, but his taste, on him regrets in which the reader does his study, his solitary preference, was not participate.
for the reading of the Bible and of Another writer of this period who Homer." occupies a large portion of M. Ville. So far well: an originally minded main's attention is the dramatist Ducis. man like this, formed in the school of He may, like most of his brethren, be Homer and the Bible, preserving his considered as more a critic than an religious impressions amidst an age inventor, since his efforts were directed ' of scepticism, alive to the language rather to infuse into the French dra. of nature and simple feeling, and matic literature the spirit of foreign more occupied with the solid value of productions than to attempt original thought than the graces of exprescreation. Indeed, with one exception, sion, was exactly the person we should viz. his tragedy of Abufar, his whole · have held to comprehend the spirit of dramatic works are taken either from the romantic drama, and to be qualified the Greek or from Shakspeare, whose to make his countrymen really acquaintHamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, ed with the genius of Shakspeare, of Othello, King John, and King Lear, which the translation of Letourneurhad he has introduced-certainly in a suf- conveyed so inadequate an idea. Alas! ficiently strange disguise—upon the the Shakspearian tragedies of Ducis French stage. The portrait which are among the most cruel mutilations Villemain presents of Ducis, whom he to which the prince of dramatic poets had seen in old age, is quite flattering: has ever been subjected.
“ Amidst that species of uniformity M. Villemain conceives Macbeth to which brings together and confounds be the chef-d'auvre of his friend ; the secondary talents of an age, Ducis but, on the whole, we think English had preserved something striking and readers will form a better notion of original. His appearance, singularly Shakspeare à la Ducis, by a few spegrave and majestic, had an air of naiveté
cimens from our old favourite Hamlet. and inspiration: you would have thought It must be admitted, in the first you siw-I will not say a descendant place, that Ducis takes some liberof Ossian -(that genealogy is rather ties with his original, as regards the doubtful), but of Homer himself. You arrangement of the plot and position saw at a glance that he was not a man of the characters. The Claudius of of his time-a man such as is common Ducis is not the brother of the de enough even among poets. He pos- ceased monarch, but simply a noblesessed nothing in the world : he man of the court to whom the Queen troubled himself not about its little had formed a guilty attachment; he is affairs and petty ambitions; wild, not married to the Queen, who, on the and yet gentle-a poet in the highest contrary, tormented by remorse for the degree-requiring nothing but to be crime of which she has been guilty, a poet; he sang the pleasures of the loathes the idea of a union with him ; country while shut up in his modest he is not King of Denmark, or an retreat at Versailles : it was there that usurper standing between Hamlet and in his unpolished verses he brooded the throne; for Hamlet is the admitover that picturesque and neglected ted heir to the throne, and nothing
seems to impede his coronation but his good old nursery opinion seemed to own waywardness or doubtful health. prevail, that kings and queens always The additional probability imparted slept with their crowns on. Claudius to the melancholy and sceptical cha- had come to press his suit to the racter of Hamlet by these alterations Queen for an immediate union, and of Ducis, will be obvious.
congratulates himself on having found On the other hand, if Ducis has so fit an occasion. denied to Polonius a throne and a wife,
“ Voici de jour, Madame, oú libre de he has bestowed upon him a daughter.
contrainte, Ophelia is the daughter of Claudius ; Mon amour plus hardi peut s'expliquer sans an arrangement absolutely necessary,
crainte." of course, to bring out that opposition of feelings and duties which the French “ Libre de contrainte,"_with a dozen stage demands; Hamlet's hatred of rank and file listening in the back. the father being counterbalanced in ground! the dramatic scale by his love for the There is no accounting, however, daughter.
for tastes. Gertrude and Claudius The murdered monarch had been a
feel so much at their ease. with this man, take him for all and all, one accompaniment, that they actually diswould not look upon his like again. cuss the subject of their mutual guilt In Ducis' version he seems to have in their presence. been no better than he should be. He The first introduction of Hamlet on had treated, it appears, with injustice the scene is considered a great coup de and neglect, the merits and ser
théatre in France; and undoubtedly it vices of Claudius ; had selfishly and has all the merit of originality, and of perseveringly opposed the marriage presenting a strong contrast to the of Hamlet and Ophelia ; nay more, we
calmness with which he is presented fear, had finally taken to strong li. on the stage by Shakspeare. Nora
ceste (Horatio) has just arrived from In Shakspeare, the participation of England. He is stopped by Voltithe Queen in the murder of her hus. mand, as he is about to enter Hamlet's band is left doubtful. The crime is apartment, with the warningperformed by Claudius, in a strange “ N'avancez pas, seigneur, le prince fashion no doubt, though we believe fureux, the leprous distilment has been oc
cris effrayans fait retentir les casionally administered in that man- lieux! ner. But by a conspicuous refinement Jamais dans ses transports il ne fût plus of taste, Ducis makes the Queen the terrible.” actual perpetrator of the crime. She places beside her husband, who was howling at such a rate, that it is not
The poor melancholy prince is expecting his allowance of strong safe to go near him, and what is worse, waters, the cup which Claudius had these sallies seem to be usual with him. drugged for the purpose ; in short, to borrow a phrase from the police re
Norceste, however, insists on entering;
when-enter Hamlet himself, pursuports, “ hocusses ” her husband. So stand matters at the commence
ing the visionary spectre of his father,
which has excited all these hideous ment of the piece, and certainly Ducis
cries. cannot hitherto be accused of
any sla. vish adherence to his original. Let
“ Hamlet. Fuis, spectre epouvantable, us now take a few instances of his Porte au fond des tombeaux ton aspect improvements on Shakspeare, in the
redoubtable. conduct of the play itself.
Voltemand. Vous l'entendez. In the second scene, we are intro.
Hamlet. Eh quoi ! vous ne le voyez pas. duced to “ Claudius, Gertrude, and Il vole sur ma tête, il s'attache à mes pas,
Je me meurs !" Guards." Guards, by-the-by, are the indispensable accompaniments of roy- There is something more than usu. al on the French stage, where the ally striking, in this image of the buried
majesty of Denmark buzzing round answer to this enquiry, that Hamlet his son's head in the manner here de. thinks of asking what is the purpose scribed.
of his visit, when the true state of the The presence of Norceste having case is disclosed. He comes to deforth with restored Hamlet's compo- mand vengeance against his mur. sure, the friends enter into conversa. derers. tion. It appears that precisely at the “ Ta mère que l'eut dit, ta mère perfide, same time that the King of Denmark Osa me presenter un poison parricide ; had been taken off by poison adminis- L'infame Claudius du crime instigateur, tered by his wife, the King of Eng. Put de ma mort sur tout le complice et l'auland had been murdered in bed in teur. London by his son.
This very pro:
“ Il dit, et disparait. bable coincidence (which Hamlet had Noreste. Un tel discours, sans doute, learned by a letter from Norceste), in
A dů troubler votre ame, et je conçois”stantly flashed conviction on his mind
Rather a cool reply this of Norceste that his own father had not met with considering the nature of the commufair play.
nication. Could not the French dra. “ Je le vis succombant sous de pareil · matic commonplace-book supply even complots.”
an Oh, ciell or an Oh, prodige! after His suspicions had been confirmed
a disclosure of this kind ? by the appearance of his father's spirit:
But let us see what the ghost debut since Voltaire's unsuccessful début mands on his second visit ; for the first, with his ghost of Ninus parading the it appears, had produced no effect. In stage in broad day amidst an assembled Shakspeare, Claudius is to be the sole multitude, it had become a dramatic victim. rulein France, that the presence of a real “ Taint not thy soul, nor let thy mind ghost could not be permitted; and that
contrive any communications from the world of Against thy mother aught: leave her to spirits must be presented under the dis
heaven.” guise of a dream; it being always un- Ducis' ghost has no such scruples derstood, at the same time, that the in his vengeance. dream was to embody a coherent con
s Mon fils, m'a dit ce spectre; es tu donc versation between the spectre and the
insensible ? individual whom he might choose con
Aux douceurs du sommeil ton oeil a pû fidentially to honour with his commu
ceder, nications. Accordingly, Hamlet sees Et ton père en ces lieux est encore à venger. his father twice in a dream-and, Prends un poignard: prends l'urne où ma strange to say, the firm old warrior, who smote the sledded Polack on the Par les pleurs impuissans suffit il qu'on ice, and talks calmly, in Shakspeare, l'arrose ? of his return to penal fires, is weeping Tire la de sa tombe et courant m'apaiser, bitterly.
Frappe et fumante encore reviens l’y de" Devorant des pleurs
poser." Qu'arrachait de ses yeux l'excés de ses dou.
Frappel with which ?--the dagger leurs.”
or the urn? Either, to be sure, would Without pretending to know much make a tolerable lethal weapon; and of the etiquette of these ghostly con- as we read the passage, it seems plain, versations, it does appear to us, that a from the connexion of the words, that man who found his father's spirit in the latter was intended to be the inarms, instead of entering upon the ge. strument which Hamlet was to emneral question of the state of departed ploy. And so, in point of fact, it souls after death, would come to the
proves. point at once, and ask his business. Hamlet accordingly proposes to NorNot so Hamlet, however, in Ducis' ceste to take down the urn from its version. The first question is, resting-place, and place it in the pa“ Quel est son sort, lui dis je. Apprends lace. moi quel tableau
“ Je veux qu'à chaque instant cette cendre S'offre à l'homme etonne dans ce monde
en ces lieux, nouveau ?"
De ses empoisonneurs fatigue au moins les It is only after the ghost declines any