ePub 版

Phænician handmaids. And yet, with all its faults, there is, even at this distance of time, a spirit living in the Grecian Tragedy, which claims the reverence of us moderns, as it might be claimed by some gigantic building of elder days, with whose rude magnificence our refined taste in vain attempts to compete.

One source of this charm is the idea of destiny, which is throughout, not only Grecian Tragedy, but Grecian poetry in general, the pervading power. The ancient Poets attained a conception of unseen things far more sublime, and far more true, than that which was embodied in the Gods of Olympus. They perceived the great mystery of nature, the presence of a Providence, a superior will controlling the affairs of men, working out its own desigins, not merely in opposition to human efforts, but through the means of those very efforts which are intended to counteract it. They understood this great truth but imperfectly, they saw not that infinite goodness was the ruling power. Yet the fate which, in their con. ceptions, ruled over gods as well as men, was no blind principle. It had its own principles of retributive justice, and these involving descendants in the punishment of their parents' sins, corresponded better with the experience we have of the true Providence, and with the natural impulses of man, than with the strict equity which requires that the guilty person alone shall suffer for his own guilt.

In Sergeant Talfourd's "Ion” we have the idea of destiny, the leading principle of the ancient Poets, again before us, giving its tragic interest to one of the noblest, and most highly finished poems which have for many years appeared. The work is on the Grecian model, but that model has not been followed with blind servility, in its faults as well as in it excellencies. The chorus, which if we must not call it the grand defect of the ancient drama, is at least a portion of it which has proved utterly unmanageable in the hands of modern writers, has been wisely dispensed with. The subject is Grecian, and the connecting incidents are in part adapted from the Ion of Euripedes, and the Edipus of Sophocles. As in the former, the hero is named Ion, and first appears as a foundling, engaged in the service of Apollo's temple. As in the latter, there is a pestilence occasioned by the wrath of the godsan oracle denouncing wo-a discovery of the hero's royal birth under such circumstances as to be an announcement of evil instead of joy. But these arrangements, this machinery of the poem, is borrowed only as Shakspeare borrowed, with a power which forbears to exert its strength in new creations,

because that strength is unquestionable. The poem, in all that is vital to it, is original. The character of Ion is original. Pure, lofty, humane, self-devoted; one of those characters which seem, in their calm and sinless beauty, the most unfit for any great occassion, until some great occasion calls them forth, and shows that purity is strength. Ion is inspired by a lofty purpose; but his inspiration is as lofty as it is profound. In this alone, it has appeared to us, the poem fails to be Gré. cian, that the morality of Ion's principles is beyond the range of Grecian fancy. His character is such as could be formed on no piecepts less pure, less self-sacrificing, than those of christianity. Such a fault we can indeed readily forgive; but it produces an inconsistency. The ministry to which Ion is called is one of blood; we could well endure this, and admire him as a Grecian hero, had bis spirit been less pure-had a thrill of even the loftiest ambition shown that he was of aught akin to common mould; but as it is, Ion is made too compassionate for tyrannicide, too nobly devoted for the inferior selfdevotion of suicide.

We do not suppose that others will coincide with us in this criticism. But let us pass to an outline of the drama. The royal race of Argos have incurred the anger of the Gods; or, to refer the judgment to that higher power to whose acknow. ledged existence we have already adverted; the decree of Fate, inexorable, incomprehensible, but not unjust, has gone forth against them. It is uttered in awful tones at the birth of Adrastus.

“ Wo unto thee babe !
Against the life which now begins shall life
Lighted from thence be armed, and, both soon quenched,

End this great line in sorrow. Adrastus, though a prince, feels the blighting influence of the prediction. He perceives himself regarded by all as one devoted to misery, and therefore to be abhorred. He wanders far away from parental and from general injustice. He loves, and under a feigned name, enjoys in obscurity the bliss of wedded love. But he is sought out.

His child is wrested from him, and as he supposes, destroyed. The mother dies; and Adrastus is fitted by his misfortunes, to be what he appears in the Drama, the proud opposer of the Gods, and the stern, though not all unfeeling tyrant of men.

These events have occured before the period at which the play commences. In the beginning of the tragedy, we find the

sages of Argos, who are enjoying unwillingly the refuge

p. 1.

afforded, them by the temple of Apollo, from the pestilence which rages through the city, Medon, the priest, detains them there, reluctant, but yielding. One inmate of the temple alone, is permitted to pass and repass between the city and his home. This is Ion, the foundling.

While the pestilence is devastating Argos, Adrastus, its king, whose crimes are supposed to have brought this curse upon his people, withdraws into his palace, and surrounded by mercenary guards, spends the hours in revelry, refusing all solicitation to hold council with his sages for the public good. He has even threatened to put to death the next messenger who shall bring to him such a proposal. Ion, for the public good, incurs the danger; and perseveres in delivering his message, though warned first by the attendants, and afterwards in compassion by Adrastus himself. The undaunted youth has undertaken his task, confident that the despot still has human feelings, and trusting that he may be able to call them forth. He appeals to him as a son, a brother, a friend-still the king remains unmoved and stern. At length he tries another chord, and succeeds.

The king pours forth to the youth whose voice had reminded him of the past, the tale of his dark fate, his wrongs, and of his passions. The messenger departs, un harmed, and successful. The king has consented once more to meet his sages.

Clemanthe, the daughter of Medon, has discovered that she loves her foster-brother with other than a sister's love, when he went forth to such imminent peril. She now awaits the tidings of his fate in motionless silence. She seems to hear no word, to heed no token, till at length her ear catches the sound of her lovers tread approaching, long before it is perceptible to others. The sages, at Ion's intelligence, meet the king. They remonstrate with him on those reckless banquetings which seem to defy beaven; but they remonstrate in vain. He knows himself fated, and resolves to meet his ruin with pride, and to fall in grandeur, though it shall cost the lives of thousands. A tumult is heard without, and Phocion, the son of the priest Medon, enters the assembly. He has brought the answer of the oracle to the enquiries of the king and people.

Argos ne'er shall find release,

'Till her monarch's race shall cease.” He delivers the message with insulting exultation-is seized by the guards, but released by Adrastus, at Ion's intercession. But the king repels the prayer of Ion, that he would yield to the advice of the sages, and humble limself before the Gods.

[ocr errors]

The assembly is broken up; a few youths remain, and resolve to deliver their country in the way indicated by the oracle. Phocion is impelled by the love of freedom, Ctesiphon by the desire of vengeance for a personal wrong.

Ion's reflections are loftier than either. The conspirators assemble in the wood, where Ion was first found in infancy, and where he has now retired to meditate.

The appointed slayer is enabled by the conspirators to make his way to the chamber of the king. He awakens him, and Adrastus, recognising in him the minister of Jove, submits his bosom to the knife, when Medon, who has in the interval recieved the information of Ion's birth, and has heard Clemanthe's suspicions of his present awful errand, interrupts him, and prevents the parricide ; for, as the reader must have anticipated, Ion is the long lost son of Adrastus. But the father and child have little time for mutual forgiveness and caresses. The conspirators burst upon them; Adrastus falls by the hand of Ctesiphon, and dies, blessing his recovered son, from whom he has exacted a promise of assuming his paternal crown.

But Ion feels that his task is not yet ended. The oracle has denounced not only Adrastus but his race; and though his own accession is hailed with transport, the pestilence continues. He knows that his own death alone can terminate it, He gives orders for his own immediate consecration as sovereign. Phocion, his bosom friend, urged by the vindictive Ctesiphon to the fulfilment of their vow, attempts to assasinate Ion. Here beams forth the beauty of the hero's character. To forgive Phocion might be enough for ordinary magnanimity. Ion endeavors to reconcile him with himself, The whole beautiful scene we must pass over,

6. The pathway of his duty lies in sunlight ;


but his own feelings of heroic self-devotion must for a while be unexpressed, and he must endure the congratulations of friends, and the care of appointing ceremonies which will never take place. And these come upon him at the moment which he would give, in conversation with his friend, to the thought of her he loves.

The parting from Clemanthe follows; and Ion strives to break the shock that she must endure, by leading her to fancy him estranged; he is but half successful. How noble is his allusion to the best hope afforded to us by that faith, some of whose loftiest features gleam forth through the classic drapery of this remarkable production.

There remains but the consummation, Ion is enthroned ; dismisses the armed bands who had formed the guard of Adrastus; obliges the wondering people to swear, that in case of his own death without issue, they will govern themselves as a republic; commits provisional authority to Agenor; and approaching the altar, commends himself to the eternal powers as a sacrifice to his couutry, and stabs himself. Clemanthe rushes to support him, and her dying lover acknowledges that his attempted kind deception was unworthy of them both. The sacrifice has not been made in vain.

Such is this noble poem. If we can find out any fault, it is the noble inconsistency we have already referred to; an inconsistency only in this, that it is not enough coldly classic, that there is something in Ion far beyond what Greece ever fancied of moral beauty, and that the intended slaughter of Adrastus, and the final suicide of Ion, more consistent with the Grecian spirit, appear in painful contrast to this higher portion.


In former days, as many of our readers are aware, money was left in trust by Lady Hewley, for the use of certain Presbyterian churches in England. In the progress of time, these societies become Unitarian in sentiment, though still retaining the Presbyterian form of church government. Whereupon, certain Independent societies thought that they might get possession of this money, on the ground of the churches holding a different faith from that of the donor. After a long and tedious suit, it was decided by Lord Lyndhurst, in February, 1835, in favor of these Independent petitioners. On theological grounds he formed his judgment, that is to say, he decided that the Unitarian faith was essentially different from that of Lady Hewley, and therefore she could not have intended the funds to be applied to their use. We were somewhat surprised at this decision, as it seemed to us to be introducing a new feature into legal judgments, and making it necessary for the judge to assume authority to determine the great theological questions—“What are essential doctrines in christianity ?" "Where does an unessential difference run into an essential one?" &c. And accordingly we find that he is already called on to decide, in this same case, some farther theological minutiæ. The history of the matter is rather amusing.

« 上一頁繼續 »