« 上一頁繼續 »
With joy we hail a new poet. Star after star has been withdrawn from our firmament, and when that of Coleridge set, we seemed in danger of being left, at best to a gray and confounding twilight; but lo! a Sray of pure white light," darts across the obscured depths of æther, and allures our eyes and hearts towards the rising orb from which it emanates. Let us tremble no more, lest our suinmer pass away without its roses, but receive our present visitor as the harbinger of a harvest of delights.
The natural process of the mind in forming a judgment is comparison. The office of sound criticism is to teach that this comparison should be made, not between the productions of differently constituted minds, but between any one of these and a fixed standard of perfection. Nevertheless it is not contrary to the canon to take a survey of the labors of many artists with reference to one, if we value them, not according to the degree of pleasure we have experienced from them, which must always depend upon our then age, the state of the passions and relations with life, but according to the success of the artist in attaining the object he himself had in view. To illustrate.--In the same room hang two pictures, Raphael's Madonna, and Martin's Destruction of Nineveh. A person enters capable of admiring both, but young, excitable, he is delighted with the Madonna, but probably far more so with the other, because his imagination is at that time more developed than the pure love for beauty which is the characteristic of a taste in a higher state of cultivation. He prefers the Martin, because it excites in his mind a thousand images of sublimity and terror, recalls the brilliancy of oriental history, and the stern pomp of the old prophetic day, and rouses his mind to a high state of action, then as congenial with its wants as at a later day would be the feeling of contented absorption, of perfect satisfaction with a production of the human soul, which one of Raphael's calmly beautiful creations is fitted
Now, it would be very unfair for this person to pronounce the Martin superior to the Raphael, because it then gave him more pleasure. But if he said, the one is intended to excite the imagination, the other to gratify the taste; that which fulfils its object most completely must be the best, whether it give me most pleasure or no; he would be on the right ground, and might consider the two pictures relatively to one another, without danger of straying very far from the truth.
This is the ground we would assume in a hasty sketch, which will not, we hope, be deemed irrelevant, of the most
prominent essays to which the last sixty years have given rise in the department of the work now before us, previous to stating our opinion of its merits. Many, we are aware, ridicule the idea of filling reviews with long dissertations, and say they only want brief accounts of such books as are coming out, by way of saving time. With such we cannot agree. We think the office of the reviewer is, indeed, in part, to point out to the public attention, deserving works which might otherwise slumber too long unknown on the booksellers' shelves, but still more to present to the reader as large a cluster of objects round one point as possible, thus by suggestion, stimulating him to take a broader or more careful view of the subject than his indolence or his business would have permitted.
The terms Classical and Romantic, which have so long divided European critics, and exercised so powerful an influence upon their decisions, are not much known or heeded among us, as, indeed, belles lettres generally cannot, in our busy state of things be important or influential, as among a less free, and more luxurious people, to whom the most important truths are proffered through those indirect, but alluring mediums. Here, where everything may be spoken or vritten, and the powers
that be, abused without ceremony on the very highway, the Muse has nothing to do with dagger or bowl, hardly is the censor's wand permitted to her hand. Yet is her lyre by no means unheeded, and if it is rather by refining our tastes, than by modelling our opinions that she influences us, yet is that influence far from unimportant. And the time is coming, perhaps in our days, we may (if war do not untimely check the national progress) even see and temper its beginning, when the broad West shall swarm with an active, happy, and cultivated population, when the South, freed from the incubus which now oppresses her best energies, shall be able to do justice to the resources of her soil, and of her mind—when the East, gathering from every breeze the riches of the old world, shall be the unwearied and loving agent to those regions which lie far away from the great deep, our bulwark and our minister. Then will the division of labor be more complete—then will a surplus of talent be spared from the mart, the forum, and the pulpit—then will the fine arts assume their proper dignity, as the expression of what is highest and most etherial in the mind of a people. Then will our quar: ries be thoroughly explored, and furnish materials for stately fabrics to adorn the face of all the land, while our ports shall be crowded with foreign artists flocking to take lessons in the
school of American Architecture. Then will our floral treasures be arranged into harmonious gardens, which, environing tasteful homes, shall dimple all the landscape. Then will our Alstons and our Greenoughs preside over great academies, and raised far above any need, except of giving outward form to the beautiful ideas which animate them, ornament from the exhaustless stores of genius, the marble halls where the people meet to rejoice, or to mourn, or where dwell those wise and good, whom the people delight to honor. Then shall music answer to, and exalt the national spirit, and the poet's brows shall be graced with the civic, as well as the myrtle
Then shall we have an American mind, as well as an American system, and no longer under the sad necessity of exchanging money for thoughts, traffic on perfectly equal terms with the other hemisphere. Then, ah! not yet! shall our literature make its own laws, and give its own watchwords; till then we must learn and borrow from that of nations who possess a higher degree of cultivation, though a much lower one of happiness.
The term classical, used in its narrow sense, implies a servile adherence to the Unities, but in its wide and best sense, it means such a simplicity of plan, selection of actors and events, such judicious limitations on time and range of subject as may concentrate the interest, perfect the illusion, and make the impression most distinct and forcible. Although no advocates for the old French School, with its slavish obedience to rule, which introduces follies greater than those it would guard against, we lay the blame, not on their view of the drama, but on the then bigoted nationality of the French mind, which converted the Mussulman prophet into a De Retz, the Roman princess into a French grisette, and infected the clear and buoyant atmosphere of Greece with the vapours of the Seine. We speak of the old French drama; with the modern we do not profess to be acquainted, having met with scarcely any specimens in our own bookstores or libraries, but if it has revolutionized with the rest of their literature, it is probably as unlike as possible to the former models.
We shall speak of productions in the classical spirit first; because Mr. Taylor is a disciple of the other school, though otherwise, we should have adopted a contrary course.
The most perfect specimens of this style, with which we are acquainted are the Filippo, the Saul, and the Myrrha of Alfieri, the Wallenstein of Schiller, the Tasso and the Iphigenia of Goethe. England furnishes nothing of the sort. She is too thoroughly Shakspearianized.
There is no higher pleasure than to see a genius of a wild, impassioned, many-sided eagerness, restraining its exuberance by its sense of fitness, taming its extravagance beneath the rule its taste approves, exhibiting the soul within soul, and the force of the will over all that we inherit. The abandon of genius has its beauty-far more beautiful its voluntary submission to wise law.- A picture, a description has beauty, the beauty of life; these pictures, these descriptions arranged upon a plan, made subservient to a purpose, have a higher beauty, that of the mind of man acting upon life. Art is Nature, but nature, new modelled, condensed, and harmonized. We are not merely like mirrors to reflect our own times to those more distant. The mind has a light of its own, and by it illumines what it recreates.
This is the ground of our preference for the classical school, and for Alfieri beyond all pupils of the school. We hold that if a vagrant bud of poesy, here and there be blighted by conforming to its rules, our loss is more than made up to us by our enjoyment of plan, of symmetry, of the triumph of genius over multiplied obstacles.
It has been often said that the dramas of Alfieri contrast directly with his character. This is, perhaps, not true; we do but see the depths of that volcano which, in early days boiled over so fiercely. The wild, infatuated youth often becomes the stern, pitiless old man. Alfieri did but bend his surplus strength upon literature, and became a despot to his own haughty spirit, instead of domineering over those of others.
We have selected his three masterpieces, though he, to himself an inexorable critic, has shown no indulgence to his own works, and the least successful of those which remain to us, Maria Stuarda is marked by great excellence.
Filippo has been so ably depicted in a work now well known, Carlysle's Life of Schiller, that we need not dwell upon it. All the light of the picture, the softer feelings of the hapless Carlos and Elizabeth, is so cast as to make more visible the awing darkness of the tyrant's perverted mind, deadened to all virtue by a false religion, cold and hopeless as the dungeons of his own inquisition, and relentless as death. Forced by the magic wand of genius into the stifling precincts of this mind, horror-struck that we must sympathize with such a state as possible to humanity, we rush from the contemplation of the picture, and would gladly curtain it over in our hall of imagery forever. Yet stigmatize not our poet as a dark master, courting the shade, and hating the glad lights which love and hope cast upon human nature. The drama has a holy meaning, a patriot moral, and we, above all, should reverence him, the aristocrat by birth, by education, and by tastes, whose love of liberty could lead him to such conclusions.
In Saul, a bright rainbow rises by the aid of the sun of Righteousness above the commotion of the tempest. David, the faithful, the hopeful, combining the aesthetick culture, the winged inspiration of the poet with the noble pride of Israel's chosen warrior, contrasts finely with the unfortunate Saul, his mind darkened and convulsed by jealousy, vain regrets and fear of the God he has forgotten how to love. The other three actors shade in the picture without attracting our attention from the two principal personages. The Hebrew spirit breathes through the whole. The beauty of the lyric effusions is so generally felt, that encomium is needless; we shall only observe, that in them Alfieri's style, usually so severe, becomes flexible, melodious, and glowing; thus we may easily perceive what he might have done, had not the simplicity of his genius disdained the foreign aid of ornament upon its Doric proportions.
Myrrha is, however, the highest exertion of his genius. The remoteness of time and manners, the subject, at once so hackneyed, and so revolting, these great obstacles he seizes with giant grasp, and moulds them to his purpose. Cur souls are shaken to the foundation, all every-day barriers fall with the great convulsion of passion. We sorrow, we sicken, we die with the miserable girl, so pure under her involuntary crime of feeling, pursued by a malignant deity in her soul's most sacred recesses, torn from all communion with humanity, and the virtue she was framed to adore. The perfection of plan!—the matchless skill with which every circumstance is brought out. The agonizing rapidity with which her misery “va camminando al fine!”-no! never was higher tragic power exhibited, never were love, terror, pity fused into a more penetrating draught!—Myrrha is a favorite acting play in Italy, a fact inconceivable to an English or American mind, for (to say nothing of other objections,) we should think such excess of emotion unbearable. But in those meridian climes, they drink deep draughts of passion too frequently to taste them as we do.
We pass to works of far inferior power, but greater beauty. We have selected Iphigenia and Tasso as the most finished results of their author's mature views of art. On his plays in the Romantic style, we shall touch in another place. If any one ask why we do not class Faust with either, we reply, that