ePub 版

ART. XI.- Marino Faliero. Par M. CASIMIR DELAVIGNE.

8vo. Paris. 1829.

an estimate could be made of the arts, customs, and opini

ons for which England and France have been indebted to each other, we think it would be found, that the balance is considerably in our favour. We are not insensible of the benefits conferred upon us by the introduction of female fashions, and more enlarged and liberal principles of cookery; but we would humbly propose, that for these advantages, tilburies and horseracing may be accepted in part of repayment. To the refinements of social life, we will maintain that we have contributed as much as we have received; and if it should be urged, that we are notorious plagiarists in trifles, we may plead, that frivolous imitation has been no less prevalent in France, and that we have no word in our vocabulary that corresponds with Anglomanie. These grave matters being settled, we may ask, how stands the account between us with respect to science, literature, and political knowledge? Every part of this comprehensive question has, we believe, already been satisfactorily answered in the Edinburgh Review, with the exception of that which refers to a single department of literature-the Drama; to which, as it has not yet been noticed, we will now advert. Natio comædia est,' may be truly said of the French. There is no portion of their literature of which they are so proud, as of their Drama, -none on behalf of which they have so loudly claimed for themselves the attributes of superior taste,-none which they have so rigidly guarded against innovation, and protected from the influence of foreign models; and yet, that even in this department we have gained a victory, will scarcely now be contested. An almost literal translation of one of those farces monstrueuses qu'on appelle tragédies (to quote the language of Voltaire) has been received with applause at Paris; and Shakspeare, the saurage ivre, the gros fumier, installed with Racine and Corneille in the most pre-eminently classical of their theatres. After such a result, it may be not uninteresting to trace the progressive influence which the dramatic literature of England has exerted upon that of France.

It is now rather more than one hundred years since Voltaire first assumed the merit of having discovered England, and began to teach his countrymen that more notable things might be said of us than that we cut off the heads of our kings, and the tails of our horses; that we had many religions, and only one sauce. These characteristics, and a few others, -as, that we were hard drinkers, and good sailors; that the soldiers of Marlborough

VOL, LI. NO. ci.

were not to be despised ; and, alas ! that we had contrived, under the auspices of Charles II., to exhibit a coarse copy of the profligacies of Versailles,—were probably known to many; but few knew that we had a literature. The profound ignorance of the French on this subject extended even to those who professed to make literature the object of their enquiries. Bossu, Bouhours, and Rollin, wrote as if the English language were not in existence; and Moreri, in his bulky Biographical Dictionary, totally omits Dryden, dismisses Shakspeare with a few lines, observes of Milton that his poetry passes for good in England, but evidently considers the production of Paradise Lost one of his least claims to notice, and sees in him scarcely more than the secretary of Cromwell, and the adversary of Salmasius. Voltaire was the first who called the attention of France to the literature of England. He was the first adventurous traveller who ventured to pass that Chinese wall of ignorance and presumption which then circumscribed the intellects of his countrymen; and though he may not have comprehended the true use and beauty of all that he saw in the new region which lay before him, he will still have deserved from them the honours due to a discoverer. It is true, he neither fully demonstrated the fertility of the soil, nor detected many veins of hidden ore; but he made a respectable survey of the surface of the land, and encouraged others to follow him. He was, with some exceptions, well qualified for the office of an explorer. He had a keen perception of defects, and a shrewd worldly sense of the utility of much that met his eye,-but his was not the eye of a poet. He admired the freedom of our institutions, and was fully aware of the merits of Newton, Locke, and Berkeley. He could praise the correctness of Addison, the smoothness of Waller, and the vigour of Dryden; pronounce Pope to be a skilful satirist, and detect a mine of wit in Butler; but of the still higher portion of our literature, he had scarcely any comprehension. Milton perplexed him, and Shakspeare be did not understand.

Voltaire has been commonly classed among the admirers of Shakspeare. We have been pleased in regarding him as one who paid unwilling homage,-who, with batred at his heart, worshipped in secret, and strove, like a cunning burglar, first to purloin the treasure, and then burn down the fair mansion that contained it. Thus has Voltaire been regarded ; and, we think, erroneously. We believe that his ridicule of Shakspeare was more sincere than his admiration. We are inclined to acquit him of any envious desire to tarnish the glory of our poet; but we are unwilling to admit that he had the power to comprehend from whence that glory resulted. Why he should have professed to admire Shakspeare is easily explained. He admired England, and was disposed to view with favour any object of English preference. Moreover, it suited the liberalism of his opinions to applaud our daring dramatist who showed that kings are but men, and would pourtray without scruple the vices of a priest. He appears in the outset to have viewed him, rather mistakenly, as an esprit fort of his own complexion, and one whose sentiments might be turned to advantage in the crusade he was then meditating against the Church and State of France. Had there been any thing anti-Christian in the works of Shakspeare, his applause would probably have been still louder; but he found not the ingredients which he sought; and hence, perhaps, his subsequent regret at having, as he said, 'encouraged bad taste, by ' enshrining the monster by the side of Corneille. That he did not understand Shakspeare, will appear from this,—that he knew not either how to praise or to imitate him. He wished to exhibit to his countrymen a specimen of our dramatist, which might justify the praises he had expressed ; and what did he select ? what powerful and characteristic scene? Did he show them Lear awaking from sleep,--Macduff apprised of the murder of his family,—John half-uttering his commands to Hubert,or any one of those many other striking scenes which the recollection of our readers will readily supply? No; he presented to them a feeble paraphrase of Hamlet's soliloquy on death, which, though on some accounts deservedly admired, is perhaps less poetical, less eloquent, less imbued with the peculiar spirit of Shakspeare, than any other popular passage in the whole compass of his works. We will venture to confess, that we are rather heretically insensible to the merits of this celebrated monologue. Its want of poetical power does not seem to be compensated for by any peculiar excellences of an argumentative kind; and, unless the whole is intended for the mystification of Polonius, who is a not unsuspected listener, the doubts which are agitated respecting a future state will, we think, be allowed to have been placed rather inconsistently in the mouth of one who has lately conversed with a visitant from the tomb. But the soliloquy had the double advantage of being sceptical and popular; and Voltaire accordingly selected it as a specimen by which his countrymen might be enabled to judge of Shakspeare, --presenting them, not with a literal translation, but an imitation in verse, which is really a curiosity, inasmuch as some degree of patient attention is requisite, in order to discover the slightest resemblance. But it may be said, that Voltaire was malicious in his praise, and did not wish that his countrymen should be enabled to judge favourably of the English poet. We will not stay to argue against such a suggestion, but content ourselves with saying, that if he was insincere in his praise, he could not have been insincere in his attempts at imitation. He must have had a sincere wish to avail himself of such advantages as the study of Shakspeare could afford him, especially when, instead of assuming the false merit of originality, he did not disdain to profess himself an imitator. It will, therefore, assist us in our estimate of his real comprehension of Shakspeare, to enquire how he has acquitted himself in that capacity. It is needless to dwell on his feeble mimicry of the Ghost in Hamlet in his tra. gedy of Semiramis; nor is the resemblance of Zaire to Othello sufficiently marked to be of much use as an illustration. A better instance will be found in his Mort de Cesar ; one of his earliest works, written when he was fresh from the study of our poet,-professedly a copy, founded on some of the same events which form the subject of Shakspeare's Julius Cæsar and concluding with a scene, where, as in that play, Antony harangues the Roman people assembled round the body of Cæsar. That Voltaire would have imperfectly comprehended the more poetical and imaginative portions of the works of our dramatist; that the Tempest would find small favour in bis sight, and that he would be little impressed with the grandeur of Macbeth, will be readily anticipated; but he appeared much better qualified to appreciate the merits of a skilful and eloquent harangue. One should have supposed that he would have penetrated into the refinements of oratorical skill which are so prodigally displayed in the address of Shakspeare's Antony; the ability with which that orator excites the passions which he affects to soothe; the art with which his pretended apologies for the conspirators are converted into the bitterest censures ; and the nice gradation by which, seeming rather to follow than to lead, he adapts the increasing fervency of his expressions to the rising passions of the populace. It might bave been expected that such merits would have been appreciated by Voltaire, and that his imitation would have afforded a proof, that he had not regarded them in vain. And yet, look at this picture, and at


this'-at the English Antony and the French one. In each play the orator is placed in the disadvantageous position of having to address an audience hostile to the cause he intended to advocate. Shakspeare's Antony, therefore, artfully conciliates them, by a disavowal of his intention to influence their judgments.

. I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him.' The Antony of Voltaire, on the contrary, is made to exhibit in the outset a singular want of oratorical tact, irritating the popu


lace by proclaiming himself the advocate of Cæsar, and exposing himself to their derision by attributing to them feelings ridiculously at variance with those which they really entertained.

• Qui de vous en effet n'eût expiré pour lui ?' he exclaims to the very people who were expressing their satisfaction at Cæsar's death ;-upon which one Roman tells him, • Cesar fut un traitre;' and another adds

• Puisqu'il étoit tyran il n'eût point de vertus,

Et nous approuvons tous Cassius et Brutus.' An inauspicious beginning truly! But how does he proceed to conciliate these friends of Cassius and Brutus?

• Contre ses meurtriers je n'ai rien à vous dire ;
C'est à servir l'état que leur grand ceur aspire ;
De votre Dictateur ils ont percé le flanc,

Comblés de ses bienfaits, ils sont teints de son sang.' In the first line he uses an unnecessarily harsh expression, and in the fourth, taxes them with the basest ingratitude. But the weakness of this passage will be most evident if we compare it with what is said by the Antony of Sbakspeare

* Good friends-sweet friends - let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They, that have done this deed, are honourable.
What private griefs they have, alas ! I know not,
That made them do it. They are wise and honourable,

And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.' Without dwelling on the artful assumption of moderation, let us remark how, by one dexterous insinuation, the conduct of the conspirators is deprived of the only attribute which entitled it to the approbation of the public; and a deed which could seem excusable only when its object was patriotic, is made to spring from resentment for private injuries. Voltaire's Antony pursues a very different course. In the midst of his display of impotent anger against the conspirators, he studiously brings forward to notice their patriotic disregard of private ties, and, with strange impolicy, grounds his accusation upon those very points in their conduct which would most endear them to the people he was addressing. On the good taste and historical propriety of making Brutus the son of Cæsar, we will not comment; but it seems never to have occurred to Voltaire, that among the Romans, taught to admire the unnatural sacrifice of the elder Brutus, the relationship which he has imagined, instead of exciting feelings of horror and disgust, would probably have tended only to enhance the patriotism of Marcus Brutus in their estimation. If Voltaire is blameable for what he has inserted, he is equally so

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