Графични страници
PDF файл

At the beginning of the year 1779 Garrick died, and Sheridan, as chief mourner, followed him to the grave. He also wrote a Monody to his memory, which was delivered by Mrs. Yates, after the play of the West Indian, in the month of March following. During the interment of Garrick in Poets' Corner, Mr. Burke had remarked that the statue of Shakspeare seemed to point to the grave where the great actor of his works was laid. This hint did not fall idly on the ear of Sheridan, as the following fixation of the thought, in the verses which he afterwards wrote, proved :

"The throng that mourn'd, as their dead favourite pass'd,

The grac'd respect that claim'd him to the last; While Shakspeare's image, from its hallow'd base, Seem'd to prescribe the grave and point the place."

This Monody, which was the longest flight ever sustained by its author in verse, is more remarkable, perhaps, for refinement and elegance, than for either novelty of thought or depth of sentiment. There is, however, a fine burst of poetical eloquence in the lines beginning "Superior hopes the poet's bosom fire;" and this passage, accordingly, as being the best in the poem, was, by the gossiping critics of the day, attributed to Tickell,-from the same laudable motives that had induced them to attribute Tickell's bad farce to Sheridan. There is no end to the variety of

these small missiles of malice, with which the Gullivers of the world of literature are assailed by the Lilliputians around them.

The chief thought which pervades this poem, -namely, the fleeting nature of the actor's art and fame,—had already been more simply expressed by Garrick himself in his Prologue to The Clandestine Marriage :

"The painter's dead, yet still he charms the eye,
While England lives, his fame can never die;
But he, who struts his hour upon the stage,
Can scarce protract his fame through half an age;
Nor pen nor pencil can the actor save;

The art and artist have one common grave."

Colley Cibber, too, in his portrait (if I remember right) of Betterton, breaks off into the same reflection, in the following graceful passage, which is one of those instances, where prose could not be exchanged for poetry without loss :-" Pity it is that the momentary beauties, flowing from an harmonious elocution, cannot, like those of poetry, be their own record; that the animated graces of the player can live no longer than the instant breath and motion that presents them, or, at best, can but faintly glimmer through the memory of a few surviving spectators."

With respect to the style and versification of the Monody, the heroic couplet in which it is written has long been a sort of Ulysses' bow, at which Poetry tries her suitors, and at which they



almost all fail. Redundancy of epithet and monotony of cadence are the inseparable companions of this metre in ordinary hands; nor could all the taste and skill of Sheridan keep it wholly free from these defects in his own. To the subject of metre, he had, nevertheless, paid great attention. There are among his papers some fragments of an Essay which he had commenced

* Or rather memorandums collected, as was his custom, with a view to the composition of such an Essay. He had been reading the writings of Dr. Foster, Webb, etc. on this subject, with the intention, apparently, of publishing an answer to them. The following (which is one of the few consecutive passages I can find in these notes) will show how little reverence he entertained for that ancient prosody, upon which, in the system of English education, so large and precious a portion of human life is wasted:-"I never desire a stronger proof that an author is on a wrong scent on these subjects, than to see Quintilian, Aristotle, etc. quoted on a point where they have not the least business. All poetry is made by the ear, which must be the sole judge-it is a sort of musical rhythmus. If then we want to reduce our practical harmony to rules, every man, with a knowledge of his own language and a good ear, is at once competent to the undertaking. Let him trace it to music-if he has no knowledge, let him inquire.

"We have lost all notion of the ancient accent;—we have lost their pronunciation;-all puzzling about it is ridiculous, and trying to find out the melody of our own verse by theirs is still worse. We should have had all our own metres, if we never had heard a word of their language,—this I affirm. Every nation finds out for itself a national melody; and we may say of it, 'as of religion, no place has been discovered without music. A people, likewise, as their language improves, will introduce a music into their poetry, which is simply (that is to say, the numerical part of poetry, which must be distinguished from the imaginary) the transferring

on the nature of poetical accent and emphasis; and the adaptation of his verses to the airs in the Duenna-even allowing for the aid which he received from Mrs. Sheridan-shows a degree of musical feeling, from which a much greater variety of cadence might be expected, than we find throughout the versification of this poem. The taste of the time, however, was not prepared for any great variations in the music of the couplet. The re

the time of melody into speaking. What then have the Greeks or Romans to do with our music? It is plain that our admiration of their verse is mere pedantry, because we could not adopt it. Sir Philip Sidney failed. If it had been melody we should have had it; our language is just as well calculated for it.

"It is astonishing that the excessive ridiculousness of a Gradus or Prosodial Dictionary has never struck our scholars The idea of looking into a book to see whether the sound of a syllable be short or long, is absolutely as much a bull of Boeotian pedantry as ever disgraced Ireland." He then adds, with reference to some mistakes which Dr. Foster had appeared to him to have committed in his accentuation of English words:-" What strange effects has this system brought about! It has so corrupted the ear that absolutely our scholars cannot tell an English long syllable from a short If a boy were to make the a in " long, Dr. Foster would no doubt feel his ear hurt, and yet





[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Of the style in which some of his observations are committed to paper, the following is a curious specimen :"Dr. Foster says that short syllables, when inflated with that emphasis which the sense demands, swell in height, length and breadth beyond their natural size.-The devil they do! Here is a most omnipotent power in emphasis. Quantity and accent may in vain toil to produce a little effect, but emphasis comes at once and monopolizes the power of them both.”

gular foot-fall, established so long, had yet been but little disturbed; and the only licence of this kind hazarded through the poem—“ All perishable"-was objected to by some of the author's critical friends, who suggested, that it would be better thus: "All doom'd to perish."

Whatever, in more important points, may be the inferiority of the present school of poetry to that which preceded it, in the music of versification there can be but little doubt of its improvement; nor has criticism, perhaps, ever rendered a greater service to the art, than in helping to unseal the ears of its worshippers to that true spheric harmony of the elders of song, which, during a long period of our literature, was as unheard as if it never existed.

The Monody does not seem to have kept the stage more than five or six nights :-nor is this surprising. The recitation of a long, serious address must always be, to a certain degree, ineffective on the stage; and though this subject contained within it many strong sources of interest, as well personal as dramatic, they were not, perhaps, turned to account by the poet with sufficient warmth and earnestness on his own part, to excite a very ready response of sympathy in others. Feeling never wanders into generalities -it is only by concentrating his rays upon one point that even Genius can kindle strong emotion; and, in order to produce any such effect in the

« ПредишнаНапред »