« AnteriorContinuar »
Greek drama, has nothing sententious or declamatory. Ajax, in a fit of insanity, has slain the flock of sheep, believing them to be his enemies. He soon discovers his error, and is overwhelmed with shame. He cannot reappear before the Greeks, and so resolves on death. His resolution is calm, but sad. He regrets life, though determined on quitting it.
nor experience has qualified them, they
Et de ses tristes vers, admirateur unique,
In the modern drama, suicide is also philosophical and passionate; but the philosophy differs from stoicism. It is directed against society; it is dreamy and melancholy, skeptical and revolutionary. In the monologues of Hamlet, Manfred, and Karl When, however, a génie incompris, exasvon Moor, we may see the northern tenden- perated by failure or desperate from povercy of probing the mysteries of existence, ty, sees that his calling in this world is not and the vague terrors of infinity. In Wer- acknowledged, he commits suicide, as Chatther and Chatterton, passion predominates terton did. Stobæus relates that a young over reflection; but in both suicide is a man, forced to attend to agricultural emmiserable weakness. Chatterton, in the play of M. Alfred de Vigny, kills himself because a journalist pretends that he is not the author of his own poems, and because the lord mayor humiliates him by the offer of a menial situation. Remark, also, that this trivial motive in this contemptible character appears so important to M. de Vigny, that he has not only made a play of it, but a novel also.
ployments, hanged himself, leaving a letter behind him, in which he said that agriculture was too monotonous; that it was necessary incessantly to sow and reap, and reap and sow, in one eternal circle, which made life insupportable. This idleness, affecting a disgust for labor, is a type of the suicides of the present day. Instead of there being any thing fine in this recklessness of life, it is to us unspeakably contemptible. Instead of As the love of life is a healthy feeling, so its being made the subject of dramas and is suicide a symptom of disease. If there tragic tales, it should be held up to pitiless are frequent examples of suicide daily re- ridicule or stern contempt. It enervates by curring, it is because our age is full of an- flattering the worst portions of our feeble archy and disease. It resembles Rome nature. It dignifies weakness with the under the emperors. It has the same wide- purple and fine linen of sentiment. 'For,' ly-spread skepticism, the same egotism, the as M. Girardin well says, what is both cusame ennui, the same social anarchy. In rious and sad to notice is, that in proporsuch times quacks flourish, and 'neglected tion as suicides become more numerous, geniuses' complain. Reverie has usurped the causes become less serious. People do the place of action. Pretension supplants not kill themselves now for the sake of honthe fixed and resolute ambition of great men. or, as Pamela wished to do, nor for love, as The age of great deeds gives place to the Werther did; but from vanity, caprice, age of great pretensions: Ote-toi que je ennui, imitation. By dint of tending and m'y pose,' is the general cry. The curse cultivating the sensibility of our hearts, we of the young men of the day is ava (Un-have contracted a temperament like that of muth, as the Germans say), the want of vital energy, the want of faith in energy. They have talents enough, but their progress is rendered impossible by the vastness of their pretensions. This renders them uneasy and fretful they fancy they belong to the great, because they have not the force of the vul- Connected with this subject is the regar. They have so profound a contempt mark of M. Girardin respecting the goût for any thing mechanical,' for any thing de la mort, which he finds characteristic of like 'drudgery,' that they easily persuade English literature. All that is profound themselves into regarding their idleness and and indefinite in the idea of death, all that weakness as signs of superiority. Under- it has of vague terrors, all the horribletaking subjects for which neither education | nay, disgusting associations which it ex
the sensitive plant: we shudder at the least touch, every movement is a shock, every scratch is a wound, every contradiction is a despair. The soul has become a Sybarite: it can no longer support the wrinkle of a rose-leaf.'
cites, seem to have a peculiar fascination (obvious, from the fact that Italy and Spain for our poets. Shakspeare forms an inter- are equally Christian countries, and they esting study in this respect. Not only the manifest no love of images of death and melancholy Hamlet, but the young and horror. He himself has said that in the south, passionate Julia, love to dwell on the idea of death. Juliet, about to drink the potion, does not dwell upon her love, upon her husband, or on the delight of once more being in his arms; she thinks only of the horrible tomb :
A vault, an ancient receptacle
So early waking-what with loathsome smells,
life and beauty are sacred things, from which men carefully shield the idea of death as a sort of profanation; in the north men willingly call up this idea, as if by force of contrast, to better enjoy the charm of life and beauty. Most true; but why did this truth not lead him further? why did he not see that this influence of climate and of race affected the whole constitution of the mind, making the one nation objective and the other subjective? For a refutation of this notion of the influence of Christianity, and a statement of the mode in which climate and race affect the national spirit, we beg to refer to our article on A. W. Schlegel.* Had M. Girardin seen the extent of his own admission respecting climate, he would hardly have attributed to Shakspeare that dégout de la vie, which In the novel by Luigi da Porta, when he says makes suicide more frequent in Friar Lawrence proposes the drug to Juli- England than elsewhere. It is not Shaket, he asks her if she will not be afraid of speare who has altered and perverted being placed in the same tomb with her Christianity' in this respect; not Shakcousin Tybalt; 'Oh, if it were necessary speare, but Shakspeare's nation had he to pass through hell to recover my Romeo, not uttered the voice of his nation, he I would not hesitate,' she replies. Here is would not have filled the world with the true Italian lover. This difference M. echoes of his name; but he was intensely Girardin has stated with much ingenuity; national because supremely great; he was but he has not understood the cause. He the greatest of Englishmen, and embalmed justly says that'un fils du génie d'Homère in immortal verse the spirit of his nation. ou de Sophocle, un amant Grec ou même Let us not forget this. There is a tenItalien,' would never think Juliet more dency, in these days, not only to the idolalovely in death, as Romeo does. Sophocles makes Hæmon kill himself by the tomb of Antigone, as Romeo kills himself by the tomb of Juliet; but Sophocles does not exhibit to the eyes of the audience this scene of love and death; the lugubrious vaults are antagonistic to the Greek ideas of love; while, on the contrary, their very horror seems to redouble the ardor of Romeo, who passionately talks of taking up his abode with Juliet and the worms. The English Romeo delights in contemplating Juliet in her tomb, beautiful though lifeless. The Italian Romeo thinks only of Juliet as she was, thinks of her beautiful and living. This difference is both curious and important, and M. Girardin deserves our thanks for having stated it; but, as we said, he does not appear to us to have quite comprehended the cause. He attributes it partly to Christianity, and partly to the influences of climate. That Christianity, in itself, has nothing to do with this matter, is
try of Shakspeare, but to the refining away of all his characteristics. The cant of criticism, not satisfied with proclaiming him the greatest of men, endeavors, by pompous formulas and abstractions, to make him more than man; unsusceptible of human imperfections, not influenced, as other men were, by the accidents of his time. A stupid attempt. It is because Shakspeare was a man that we admire him; had he been exempt from human imperfections, from human influences, where would be the miracle of his all-surpassing power? The Germans have absurdly wanted to prove that Shakspeare was a cosmopolitan, not a national poet; that he belonged to the whole world, and not alone to England. They fancy that by doing away with his nationality, they make him greater. It is from no ridiculous nationality that we deny this, and claim Shakspeare as an English
* No. LXIII. pp. 165-8.
man, it is because criticism suffers from represented men they had the same care of errors like the one we combat. Shak- beauty: their painters and sculptors only repspeare pleases in Germany; he is regarded thee,' says an ancient epigram, since no one resented handsome men. Who would paint there almost in the light of a national poet; would look at thee?" The Greeks abhorred but this is because the general character portraits, i. e. the resemblance of ordinary of the English and German spirit is the same. men. The victors at the Olympic games had Shakspeare is admired in France and Ita- each a right to a statue; but only he who had ly; admired for his unmistakable power, thrice been victorious obtained the honor of a not because he expresses their national portrait; so much did the Greeks dread ugliness in the fine arts. With this horror of uglispirit. He is not a household god, but a foreign divinity whom they admit into their ness, the painters and sculptors were careful never to represent the excess of passion; the Pantheon; for Shakspeare is not Italian in extremes of grief and rage border on contorspirit, nor French; but eminently English; tion, and contortion is ugly. Timanthes, in in his greatness, English; in his weakness, his picture of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, veilEnglish; in his very buffooneries and trivi-ed the head of Agamemnon; not that he dealities, his recklessness and want of polish; spaired of rendering such grief, but because in his careless prodigality and occasional he could not express it without disfigurement. perversity of dulness, he is English. Ho-Niobe, some dead, the others dying. But neiSculpture has represented the children of mer is not more intensely Greek; Racine not more characteristically French: Goethe not more German. If he is for all times and for all men, it is because intensely human, true, national; it is because his greatness is unparalleled; it is because his works contain food for all minds and for all ages; delight for the young and trivial, delight for the old and contemplative, boundless amusement and endless thought: but with all this, English in every fibre; and the English character in its purest form; before sour puritanism had banished music and painting, and lusty revelry and boisterous mirth; before the brand of sin had been stamped on the innocent joys of life. Whoever reads Shakspeare, and confounds his spirit with that of any foreign poet, has but dim perceptions of the great
boundaries of character.
ther the dying nor the supplicants are repre-
din has here done little more than adapt So far so good. M. Saint Marc Girarsome striking pages from Lessing's Laokoon;' and as long as he continued in the company of so safe a guide, he was safe To return from this digression. Shakhimself. But at this point he separated speare did not alter Christianity; he ac- from Lessing, and maintains an opinion cepted it as his nation had accepted it; if there is alteration, the causes must be the whole scope of Lessing's work was to common enough in Germany, but which sought in the national spirit. M. Girardin refute ; the limits of poetry and painting, has committed the error of attributing to the subjects which they could each treat, one man the formation of a national spirit, and the manner of their different treatment, when it is obvious that man must himself this was the object of the 'Laokoon,' and have partaken of the spirit, or the nation it was executed in such a style that we may would not have listened. The error is not express surprise at any one's ever blunderuncommon, but it bears no examination. There is another error, repeated from wri-ing after it. M. Girardin however says: ter to writer, and accepted by M. Girardin, respecting the love of beauty, and its influence on Greek art, which we may here combat. He thus states it:
"We admire beauty, but we do not adore it. The Greeks both admired and adored it. They had no gods but those that were beauti ful; Pluto himself was beautiful, although the god of the infernal regions. When the Greeks
"Do not fancy that the antique poetry was bolder than painting or sculpture, in representing the passions in excess. Thus when Niobe has arrived at the last degree of grief, poetry, instead of doing violence to art to represent the distraction of this desperate mother, changes her into a rock: it prefers the metamorphosis to the disfigurement of man. The ancient imagination believed that when the passion is excessive, the man disappears; a profound
idea, which lies at the bottom of the meta- Misled by this dogma of the adoration felt morphoses of Ovid. As soon as a passion ex- for beauty by the Greeks, M. Girardin is ceeds the force of endurance, the ancient poet led into inconsistency in his critique on has recourse to a prodigy: preferring a mira
"The art of the ancients, whether choosing with admirable tact the amount which precedes the excess of passion, or whether in passing beyond that and arriving at a prodigy which envelopes all in its shadow; this has greater effect on the imagination than modern art, which boldly endeavors to express passions in their excess. The pretension of modern art is to tell every thing: what then rests for the imagination to divine? Is it often well to trust to the spectator's completing the idea of the poet or sculptor?"
cle to exaggeration. He changes Biblis into the Philoctetes. Physical suffering was a fountain, because he despairs of expressing there too plainly represented to admit of the grief of a love at once incestuous and denial; how then to make it accord with scorned. the notion of universal beauty? Thus : The Greeks,' he says, 'did not fear expressing physical suffering; but they submitted it to the laws of the beautiful.' This is one of those metaphysical phrases in which Schlegel and his followers delight. What meaning can it have applied to the scene with Achilles above quoted? What are the 'lois du beau' to begin with? and where are they visible in that scene? M. Girardin has a few words in which he endeavors to analyze the impression made by There is much ingenuity and some truth Philoctetes: the pity which his sufferings in this, but it rests, we believe, on a con- inspire is never pushed too far, because it fusion of ideas. In the first place it is not is elevated and replaced in time by another true that the Greek poets refrained from pity, more gentle and more noble, the pity expressing passions in their excess; it is of the soul, inspired by his emotions of joy not true that they avoided the introduction and gratitude, and even by his anger and of moral and physical ugliness. Thersites, hatred. With this art of tempering the on the one hand, and Philoctetes or Edi- passions one by the other, excess, and conpus on the other, may be instanced to the sequently the moral or physical contortion, contrary. As to the expression of passion, we become impossible.' This is weak and will set the dramatists aside, and only refer sophistical; and it applies to the grief and to Homer, and Homer's greatest character, phrensy of Gudule (in the passage quoted Achilles, contenting ourselves with one from Nôtre Dame de Paris') quite as example. When (II. xviii. v. 22-35) the well as to Philoctetes, and not at all to news arrived of the death of Patroclus, the agony of Laokoon, when the serpents Achilles threw himself on the ground, enfold him: heaped dust and ashes on his head, tore out his hair by handsful, howled horribly (σμερδαλέον δ' ώμοξεν), and was so frantic, that Antilochus feared much lest he should commit suicide. If this is not passion in excess we know not where to find it. Facts, therefore, are against M. Girardin. But, as we said, his opinion rests on a confusion of ideas: unable to deny the physical ugliness of the disease of Philoctetes, he says, it would, however, be wrong to fancy that he chose the subject from that love of the deformed which has for some time been one of the manias of modern literature.' Granted: does it follow, however, that because Sophocles had not the modern 'goût du laid,' therefore the Greeks refused to represent the deformed? Clearly not. The Greeks were too poetical to prefer the deformed; too great artists not to see its occasional value as a contrast.*
*The fact alone that both Eschylus and Euripides had treated the subject of Philoctetes before Sophocles, is sufficient proof of what is advanced in the text. See Dio. Chrys. 52.
Perfusus sanie vittas atroque veneno;
There is no glimpse here either of 'les lois du beau,' nor of emotions which temper each other and prevent contortion: on the contrary, the pain is physical and the contortion violent. If the reader wishes to learn the reason why the ancients admitted deformity, contortions, and excess, in poetry and not in sculpture, let him consult the Laokoon' of Lessing: it is impossible to refuse assent to his reasoning.
The above errors are the only two of any consequence, which struck us in the whole of M. Girardin's work; the books are rare indeed of which we could say as much. Willingly would we accompany him in all
* 'Eneid,' ii. 221. Let us also remember the story current respecting the Furies of Eschylus having terrified women to death. The story is apochryphal; but that it was ever circulated is a proof that the Furies were terrible to look
his well-selected illustrations of the passions as treated by ancient and modern dramatists, but we have no space to do so. On the appearance of his second volume, we may perhaps find opportunity for resuming the subject. Meanwhile we cannot do better than close this notice with his reflections on literature as the expression of society.
"Is the alteration in the expression, a sign of the alteration in the generous sentiments of the heart? Do the men of our day love life with a more cowardly and effeminate love than their ancestors did, because Catarina is less resigned to death than Iphigenia? Are paternal and maternal love less ardent and less noble, because Goriot and Lucrèce Borgia love their children differently from Don Diègue and Mérope? Are there no simple and truthful sorrows in the world, because novels are full of false despairs? In a word, is literature now the expression of society?
"Shall we then say that society is a hypocrite? No: hypocrisy mimics virtue. Here, on the contrary, society seems to affect the vices which it has not. Its grimaces slander it; but it is absolved by its actions: for it acts better than it writes, better even than it thinks.
how to produce an effect is no longer scarcely guilty; his crime disappears in the curiosity inspired by the man; and if we condemn him at the assizes, we talk of him so much in our drawing-rooms, that his celebrity almost supplies the place of innocence.
"Thus, so far from modern literature being an image of society, one would believe it wished to present the reverse, so much does society belie, by its manners and deeds, the morality of its literature. Shall we, therefore, say that literature borrows nothing from society? No; these unchecked passions, these hideous characters, these insolent crimes, which compose the staple of modern literature, have been taken from the thoughts, if not from the actions of our age; from our imaginations, if not from our characters.
"I thus arrive at the second point of view. There are two sort of sentiments in literature, and these correspond with two different phases of the literary history of nations. There are the sentiments which man finds in his heart, and which compose the staple of every society; there are also the sentiments which he finds only in his imagination, and which are but the altered reflection of the former. Literature begins with one and ends with the other.
"Our age is certainly not the age of violent and disordered passions. Yet, to take our literature as a sign, never were great passions in such honor: our heroes all aim at wonderful energy; it is on that account they please us, for we adore ardent and passionate char- "When literature arrives at this second acters, we even deify vice if it has but a bold stage, when imagination, which formerly conappearance. In our novels the lovers are en- tented itself with painting natural affections, thusiastic and exaltés: the girls are dreamy endeavors to replace them by others, then and melancholy. Nevertheless, in the world, books no longer represent society: they only marriages are made more and more according represent the state of imagination. Imaginto convenance; interest usurps the place of ation loves and seeks above all things that passion. Society indeed writes and talks in which does not exist. When civil war agione manner and acts in another. The most tates society, the imagination willingly paints certain of misunderstanding it is to take idyls and preaches peace and virtue. way it at its word. on the contrary, society is in repose, the imagination delights in crimes. Like the merchant in Horace, celebrating the security of the shore when the tempest lowers; but when in the harbor delighting in storms and roaring seas. Add to this the remembrances still so vivid amongst us of the revolution and its wars, the taste for adventures, "This discrepancy between society in its the hope of renown and fortune, the contempt writings and in its acts is fruitful source of of living insignificantly, a contempt more biterror: for society laughs at the dupes, who, in ter in the hearts of the children of those who ordinary life, attempt to put in action that have done great things. It is these restless ardent and passionate morality which is good desires and confused emotions which imaginonly for circulating libraries. It treats moral-ation collects and places in literature. Hence ity as the abbés of the eighteenth century treated religion, lived by it and laughed at it: as the audience at the theatre laughs at marriage, and marries. If, indeed, any one commits any breach of morality, society has no hesitation in submitting him to the penal code: it punishes him for having believed in the paradoxes which it encouraged; and what is remarkable, it often punishes more than it disapproves, especially if the culprit has sufficient impudence. Effrontery, in our eyes, borders upon greatness; so completely do we, in losing the taste for truth, lose also the sentiment of greatness! A criminal who knows
the energy of novels, and the terror of the drames; hence that literature which pleases society more, the less it resembles it.
"Another cause aids this separation of society and literature, and that is, the imitation of foreign literatures. When a literature has become decrepit, it begins to imitate, hoping thereby to be re-invigorated. But there are times when this imitation only serves to augment the separation between art and society. What, indeed, can become of the French mind, accustomed, ever since the sixteenth century, to a distinctness of ideas and expressions, which has made the national character,