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Stran. An omission! Write what I shall dictate.
Stran. What, Mr. Secretary!-you refuse to write a name that I pronounce with the respect due to great talents ?
Rich. This overwhelming goodness
Stran. You will write-won't you? Be so good as to proceed with the other paper.
Rich. [Reads.] Patent of the Earldom of Carlston to-
Rich. [Reads.] Marriage contract between Miss Lucy Wilmor, daughter of the late Lord Wilmor, peer of the realm, grand-daughter of the Marquis de Sylva and the Right Hon. Richard Earl of Carlston· Stran. We know the parties : but the conditions, if you please ?
Rich. [Reads.] · Miss Wilmor (la jeune miss) brings her husband an hundred thousand pounds in land and Bank stock. The Marquis de Sylva adopts and recognizes Miss Wilmor as his sole heiress. The title of Wilmor, extinct by the death of the bride's father, is re-created in favour of the husband of his daughter, and their heirs-male.
Stran. 'Tis well. Don't you think that the word GEORGE, with the royal seal, would go well on this contract ?
Rich. So many favours on an individual, in so short a space !-but if the most unbounded devotion-the most
Stran. There is still another paper!
Rich. [After a moment's hesitation,] Yes. [He signs the blank paper and hands it to the Stranger.] That, sir, is yours. These are mine.
Stran. I shall let the king know that we have made each other's acquaintance.'-p. 99.
It has been sometimes reproached to Shakspeare that he made his Greeks and Romans Englishmen. M. Alexandre Dumas so far imitates him, as to make his Englishmen French. M. Dumas is, or rather was, a personal friend of Louis Philippe, and an habitué of the Palais Royal-of the arts, practices, and customs of which illustrious house we cannot presume to deny that he may in the foregoing scene have sketched a correct likeness': all we have to say is, that this representation of the court of St. James's is about as like any possible reality, as his description of the election for Darlington is like a real election for the county of Northumberland.
Mr. Richard (who, we must observe, en passant, though created Earl of Carlston, and having moreover the additional, and of course
higher, honour of being raised to the barony of Wilmor, is, with that knowledge of our customs which distinguishes M. Dumas, still called plain Sir Richard)—Mr. Richard, we say, is now fully engaged though the performance of the engagement seems as difficult as ever; but the interested ingenuity of our friend Tompsonwho, no doubt, expects to be at least Vice-President of the Board of Trade under the new minister— soon discovers a mode of arrangement. He proposes to carry off to France the troublesome wife (who, notwithstanding her marriage with Sir Richard, is still always called Mistress Jenny); and lest she should chance, at some future time, to return from that distant land to claim her rights, he offers to pass, on his return, from Paris to London, through Darlington, and to tear from the parish-register the record of the marriage, This plan is interupted, in the course of execution, by an unforeseen accident. There is, throughout the piece, one Mawbray, an old acquaintance of Doctor Grey, who has always taken a great interest in Richard and Jenny; he by accident meets Tompson while he is hurrying Jenny awayhe stops the carriage, rescues her, brings her back to Richard's house and presence—and then, after upbraiding him with his falsehood and treachery, announces himself as the father of Richard; and concludes the drama, by acquainting the new-made peer that he is the son of the HANGMAN !!!
Although the foregoing is an outline of the events of the play, we can honestly assure our readers that it is but a very faint image of the impudent immoralities on which the plot is founded, and the still more impudent and beyond their impudenceridiculous absurdities of the details by which it is carried on. Assuredly, we are not so unreasonable as to expect that a drama should be vrai, but we might at least expect that it should be vraisemblable. Assuredly, we do not require that a foreigner (even though born and bred in a city nearer to London than Darlington is) should be intimate with all the details of our manners and habits ; but we are surprised that any well-educated man should be so immeasurably ignorant of the broader principles of our political and social life; and, above all, we are astonished that any man of the most ordinary taste and talents (and M. Dumas is certainly a clever man) should go out of his way to select a topic and to treat it in a style which inevitably led to the exposure of such astonishing ignorance. Sterne says, that the French have always the good sense to take a doubtful phrase in its most complimentary sense; and we therefore hope that we shall not otfend either M. Dumas or his countrymen, by stating our opinion, that there is no man alive but a Frenchman who could have written · Richard Darlington.'
VOL. LI. NO. CI.
In the view we have taken of this mass of dramatic literature, we have dwelt little on the literary execution of the several works —for many reasons : first, that it is their moral, or rather immoral, tendency, which is the chief object of our notice; secondly, an examination of their literary merits would take more time and space than we can afford to the subject-each play would require an article to itself; and finally, because this class of plays does not affect poetry, and stands but little on the merits of the expression. The majority are in prose, and it is evident that the principal object of the writers has been the interest arising from situation. The old tragic ingredients of terror and pity are sacrificed to what the Italians call the imbroglio—which is, in truth, an expedient of comedy, or rather of farce. Beaumarchais gave, if not the first, at least the ablest examples of this style, and his two comedies are most able and amusing, though somewhat dissolute, specimens of the imbroglio ; he attempted it, also, in his tragic continuation of these dramas, La Mêre Coupable, using it in this instance with a more sparing hand, but it must be confessed with very pathetic effect. We look, indeed, on La Mêre Coupable as the very culpable parent of Hugo's and Dumas's extravagances; but Beaumarchais had a strong feeling of the pathetic in sentimenthis imitators have no notion but of the striking in situation. Beaumarchais affected—these only surprise. But even as mere works of art, these dramas have defects so striking, that we calinot pass them over wholly unobserved : the principal is the extraordinary paucity of invention, which drives the authors to such frequent repetitions of the same character and similar situations. Nothing can be less new than their novelties—nothing so servile as their freedoms—nothing so threadbare as their extravagances. Bastardy, seduction, rape, adultery, and incest as motives—the poniard, poison, and prostitution, as mcans—this is their whole gamut; and even these original notes they contrive to repeat in the same monotonous succession, borrowing from themselves, and from one another, with the least possible variety of combination.
Of the female characters, in the ten plays which we have specially noticed, we find that eight are adulteresses, five are prostitutes of various ranks, and six are victims of seduction, of whom two are brought to bed almost on the stage. Four mothers are in love with their own sons, or sons-in-law, and in three instances the crime is complete.
Eleven persons are murdered, directly or indirectly, by their paramours; and in six of these pieces the prominent male characters are bastards and foundlings; and all this accumulation of horrors is congregated in ten plays of two authors, produced within the last three years in the city of Paris.
We do not forget that crime, and the worst cause of crime, has been in all ages the domain of tragedy. We do not forget the families of Atreus and Laius—and the whole tribe of mythological and historical tragedies, in all languages—nor, in our own, the Fair Penitent, Jane Shore, George Barnwell, and many others; but most of these inculcate moral lessons-none of them offend decency-none of them inflame criminal passions. In the earlier periods of our drama, there were frequently coarse expressions, and occasionally a gross scene--but the taste of modern audiences has long since prohibited the exhibition of any such indelicacy. But, what excites our wonder and our sorrow, in the present appearance of the French stage, is to see, of a sudden, the rare exception becoming the general rule-to find nothing but turpitude every night, on every stage, of a great and civilized people-in every work of its most able and most popular writers—to witness the enthusiastic repetition of such pieces for forty, fifty, or sixty nights—in fact, until the author, urged by the double stimulus of profit and fame, has had time to sketch out another and higher-seasoned piece of the same, or of a worse character. It seems to us that all this must be the consequence, or must be the cause of a general lapse of morals—an universal dissolution of the principles of society—in the people who are fed nightly on such intoxicating and mortal poison; and when we again remind our readers, that all our examples have been taken, not from the mass of Parisian dramatists, but from the two who are universally admitted to be at the head of French literature, while hundreds and thousands of inferior hands are busy in producing execrable imitations, in which all the faults of their prototypes are extended and exaggerated —when we remind our readers of all this, they will, we are confident, agree with us, that the state of the public mind in France is now a phenomenon—a fearful phenomenon, such as the civilized world never before witnessed. The influence of the stage-while well conducted, may, perhaps, be sometimes salutary, or, at the most, innoxious; and the long period for which it was, both in England and France, conducted with decency and some degree of reserve, has rendered modern statesmen rather incredulous as to its influence, and of course, indifferent as to its effects ; but we are much mistaken if we shall not ere long see irresistible proofs that it is an implement of popular excitement which requires the most cautious attention of governments; and in France, we think, it will be very soon discovered, that the Government must control the stage, or the stage will overthrow the Government, and, ultimately, the whole frame of society. Messrs. Hugo and Dumas boast loudly that their genius has taken these high flights on the
mere abolition of the control of the government; and it is the fashion even in England to complain of the authority of the licenser -but, without some such authority, neither domestic peace nor public tranquillity could be for a moment secured. Against the libels or seditious provocations of the stage there can be no other antecedent preservative, as there can be no subsequent redress : the line that dishonours a private character or excites a public tumult, when once uttered, cannot be recalled-fugit irrevocabile verbum--and punishment is out of the question, for the offensive expression often is really, and may always be alleged to be innocent in itself: the danger is in the application which a heated audience may make of it. Take, for instance, the example which we have before noticed, from Le Roi s'amuse. There was a line in which the author protests he had no sinister meaning-a line suited to the character who uttered it-to the circumstances in which, and the persons to whom it was spoken; yet that line, it is confessed, branded, as with a red-hot iron, the domestic character of a whole family, and might have thrown a great city, perhaps a whole nation, into a bloody conflict ! Can any honest lover of literature-can any man, with any regard for the peace of private families, or the maintenance of public order, doubt that places of no abstract utility, but of mere popular amusement, should be saved by a precautionary authority from the risk of producinginadvertently on the parts, certainly, of the actors, and probably of the authors-such deplorable consequences ?
The French government, we see, even in the first fervour of their liberal professions and pledges, were obliged to interfere—but their interference, though it perhaps suspended or averted the public danger, could not obliterate the mark of the red-hot brand from an innocent family—innocent, we mean, of the peculiar crime alleged. We fear that in London the minor theatres, which are not subjected to the licenser, have already shown an alarming disregard of delicacy; and even in the larger theatres, the licenser is, we believe, very reluctant to use a power, the exercise of which subjects him to personal odium and public complaint. The matter is of more extent and importance than we can here develope; but we trust we have said enough to call public attention to what may become with ourselves a very important consideration, and which assuredly is already a subject of intense anxiety to every one who wishes for the establishment and continuance of a moral and orderly government in that great country, which, from its position and its power, must exercise so great and so exemplary an influence, either for good or for evil, over the rest of the European world.