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ing; while, in the dim back ground, appear the shapes of eldest gods, and the solemn abstractions of life, fearfully embodied—" Death the skeleton, and time the shadow!"— Surely there is something more in all this, than a vivid picture of the sad realities of our human existence.
The Romans failed in tragedy, because their love of mere excitement was too keen to permit them to enjoy it. They had " supped full of horrors." Familiar with the thoughts of real slaughter, they could not endure the philosophic and poetic view of distress in which it is softened and made sacred. Their imaginations were too practical for a genuine poet to affect . Hence, in the plays which bear the name of Seneca, horrors are heaped on horrors—the most unpleasing of the Greek fictions (as that of Medea) are re-written and made ghastly—and every touch that might redeem is carefully effaced by the poet. Still the grandeur of old tragedy is there—still "the gorgeous pall comes sweeping by"—still the dignity survives, though the beauty has faded.
In the productions of Shakspeare, doubtless tragedy was divested of something of its external grandeur. The mythology of the ancient world had lost its living charm. Its heroic forms remained, indeed, unimpaired in beauty or grace, in the distant regions of the imagination, but they could no longer occupy the foreground of poetry. Men required forms of flesh and blood, animated by human passion, and awakening human sympathy. Shakspeare, therefore, sought for his materials nearer to common humanity than the elder bards. He took also, in each play, a far wider range than they had dared to occupy. He does not, therefore, convey so completely as they did one grand harmonious feeling, by each of his works. But who shall affirm, that the tragedy of Shakspeare has not an elevation of its own, or that it produces pleasure only by exhibiting spectacles of varied anguish 1 The reconciling power of his imagination, and the genial influences of his philosophy, are ever softening and consecrating sorrow. He scatters the rainbow hues of fancy over objects in themselves repulsive. He nicely developes the " soul of goodness in things evil" to console and delight us. He blends all the most glorious imagery of nature with the passionate expressions of affliction. He sometimes in a single image expresses an intense sentiment in all its depth, yet identifies it with the widest and the grandest objects of creation. Thus he makes Timon, in the bitterness of his soul, set up his tomb on the beached shore, that the wave of the ocean may once a day cover him with its embossed foam—expanding an individual feeling into the extent of the vast and eternal sea; yet making us feel it as more intense, from the very sublimity of the image. The mind can always rest without anguish on his catastrophes, however, mournful. Sad as the story of Romeo and Juliet is, it does not lacerate or tear the heart, but relieves it of its weight by awakening sweet tears. We shriek not at their tomb, which we feel has set a seal on their loves and virtues, but almost long with them there "to set up our everlasting rest." We do not feel unmingled agony at the death of Lear;—when his aged heart, which has been beaten so fearfully, is at rest—and his withered frame, late o'er-informed with terrific energy, reposes with his pious child. We are not shocked and harrowed even when Hamlet falls; for we feel that he is unfit for the bustle of this world, and his own gentle contemplations on death have deprived it of its terrors. In Shakspeare, the passionate is always steeped in the beautiful . Sometimes he diverts sorrow with tender conceits, which, like little fantastic rocks, break its streams into sparkling cascades and circling eddies. And when it must flow on, deep and still, he bends over it branching foliage and graceful flowers—whose leaves are seen in its dark bosom, all of one sober and harmonious hue—but in their clearest form and most delicate proportions.
The other dramatists of Shakspeare's age, deprived like him of classical resources, and far inferior to him in imagination and wisdom, strove to excite a deep interest by the wildness of their plots, and the strangeness of the incidents with which their scenes were crowded. Their bloody tragedies are, however, often relieved by passages of exquisite sweetness. Their terrors, not humanized like those of Shakspeare, are yet far removed from the vulgar or disgusting. Sometimes, amidst the gloom of continued crimes, which often follow each other in stern and awful succession, are fair pictures of more than earthly virtue, tinted with the dews of heaven, and encircled with celestial glories. The scene in The Broken Heart, where Calantha amidst the festal crowd, receives the news of the successive deaths of those dearest to her in the world, yet dances on—and that in which she composedly settles all the affairs of her empire, and then dies smiling by the body of her contracted lord— are in the loftiest spirit of tragedy. They combine the dignity and majestic suffering of the ancient drama, with the intenseness of the modern. The last scene unites beauty, tenderness, and grandeur, in one harmonious and stately picture—as sublime as any single scene in the tragedies of ^Eschylus or Shakspeare.
Of the succeeding tragedians of England, the frigid imitators of the French Drama, it is necessary to say but little. The elevation of their plays is only on the stilts of declamatory language. The proportions and symmetry of their plots are but an accordance with arbitrary rules. Yet was there no reason to fear that the sensibilities of their audience should be too strongly excited, without the alleviations of fancy or of grandeur, because their sorrows are unreal, turgid, and fantastic. Calo is a classical petrifaction. Its tenderest expression is, "Be sure you place his urn near mine," which comes over us like a sentiment frozen in the utterance. Congreve's Mourning Bride has a greater air of magnificence than most tragedies of his or of the succeeding time; but its declamations fatigue, and its labyrinthine plot perplexes. Venice Preserved is cast in the mould of dignity and of grandeur; but the characters want nobleness, the poetry coherence, and the sentiments truth.
The plays of Hill, Hughes, Philips, Murphy, and Rowe, are dialogues, sometimes ill and sometimes well written— occasionally stately in numbers, but never touching the soul. It would be unjust to mention Young and Thomson as the writers of tragedies.
The old English feeling of tender beauty has at last begun to revive. Lamb's John Woodvil, despised by the critics, and for a while neglected by the people, awakened those gentle pulses of deep joy which had long forgotten to beat. Here first, after a long interval, instead of the pompous swelling of inane declamation, the music of humanity was heard in its sweetest tones. The air of freshness breathed over its forest scenes, the delicate grace of its images, its nice disclosure of consolations and venerablenesses in the nature of man, and the exquisite beauty of its catastrophe, where the stony remorse of the hero is melted into child-like tears, as he kneels on the little hassock where he had often kneeled in infancy, are truly Shakspearian. Yet this piece, with all its delicacies in the reading, wants that striking scenic effect, without which a tragedy cannot succeed on the stage. The Remorse of Coleridge, is a noble poem; but its metaphysical clouds, though fringed with golden imaginations, brood too heavily over it. In the detached scenes of Barry Cornwall, passages of the daintiest beauty abound—the passion is every where breathed tenderly forth, in strains which are "silver sweet"—and the sorrow is relieved by tenderness the most endearing. Here may be enjoyed "a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets, where no crude surfeit reigns."—In these—and in the works of Shiel, and even of Maturin—are the elements whence a tragedy more noble and complete might be moulded, than any which has astonished the world since Macbeth and Lear. We long to see a stately subject for / . \ tragedy chosen by some living aspirant—the sublime struggle of high passions for the mastery, displayed—the sufferings relieved by glorious imaginations, yet brought home to our souls—and the whole conveying one grand and harmonious impression to the general heart. Let us hope that this triumph will not long be wanting, to complete the intellectual glories of our age.
REVIEW OF CIBBER'S APOLOGY FOR HIS LIFE.
[Retrospective Review, No. 2.]
There are, perhaps few individuals, of intense persona) conciseness, whose lives, written by themselves, would be destitute of interest or of value. Works of this description enlarge the number of our intimacies without inconvenience; awaken, with a peculiar vivedness, pleasant recollections of our own past career; and excite that sympathy with the little sorrows, cares, hopes, and enjoyments of others, which infuses new tenderness into all the pulses of individual joy. The qualification which is most indispensable to the writer of such auto-biographies, is vanity. If he does not dwell with gusto on his own theme, he will communicate no gratification to his reader. He must not, indeed, fancy himself too outrageously what he is not, but should have the highest sense of what he is, the happiest relish for his own peculiarities, and the most confident assurance that they are matters of great interest to the world. He who feels thus, will not chill us by cold generalities, but trace with an exquisite minuteness all the felicities of his life, all the well remembered moments of gratified vanity, from the first beatings of hope and first taste of delight, to the time when age is gladdened by the reflected tints of young enterprize and victory. Thus it was with Colley Cibber; and, therefore, his Apology for his own life is one of the most amusing books that have ever been written. He was not, indeed, a very wise or lofty character—nor did he affect great virtue or wisdom—but openly derided gravity, bade defiance to the serious pursuits of life, and honestly preferred his own lightness of heart and