« ПредишнаНапред »
hearted Englishman—with the legitimate prejudices of his country—warmly attached to the principles of the revolution, detesting the French, abominating the Italian opera, and deprecating as heartily the triumph of the Pretender, as the success of a rival's tragedy. His political treatises, though not very elegantly finished, are made of sturdy materials. He appears, from some passages in his letters, to have cherished a genuine love of nature, and to have turned, with eager delight, to deep and quiet solitudes, for refreshment from the feverish excitements, the vexatious defeats, and the barren triumphs, of his critical career. He admired Shakspeare, after the fashion of his age, as a wild irregular genius, who would have been inconceivably greater, had he known and copied the ancients. The following is a part of his general criticism on this subject, and a fair specimen of his best style:
"Shakspeare was one of the greatest geniuses that the world ever saw, for the tragic stage. Though he lay under greater disadvantages than any of his successors, yet had he greater and more genuine beauties than the best and greatest of them. And what makes the brightest glory of his character, those beauties were entirely his own, and owing to the force of his own nature; whereas, his faults were owing to his education, and to the ago he lived in. One may say of him as they did of Homer, that he had none to imitate, and is himself inimitable. His imaginations were often as just, as they were bold and strong. He had a natural discretion which never could have been taught him, and his judgment was strong and penetrating. He seems to have wanted nothing but time and leisure for thought, to have found out those rules of which he appears so ignorant . His characters are always drawn justly, exactly, graphically, except where he failed by not knowing history or the poetical art . He had, for the most part, more fairly distinguished them than any of his successors have done, who have falsified them, or confounded them, by making love the predominant quality in all. He had so fine a talent for touching the passions, and they are so lively in him, and so truly in nature, that they often touch us more, without their due preparations, than those of other tragic poets, who have all the beauty of design and all the advantage of incidents. His master passion was terror, which he has often moved so powerfully and so wonderfully, that we may justly conclude, that if he had had the advantage of art and learning, he would have surpassed the very best and strongest of the ancients. His paintings are often so beautiful and so lively, so graceful and so powerful, especially where he uses them in order to move terror, that there is nothing, perhaps, more accomplished in our English poetry. His sentiments, for the most part, in his best tragedies, are noble, generous, easy, and natural, and adapted to the persons who use them. His expression is, in many places, good and pure, after a hundred years; simple though elevated, graceful though bold, easy though strong. He seems to have been the very original of our English tragical harmony; that is, the harmony of blank verse, diversified often by dissyllable and trissyllable terminations. For that diversity distinguishes it from heroic harmony, and, bringing it nearer to common use, makes it more proper to gain attention, and more fit for action and dialogue. Such verse we make when we are writing prose; we make such verse in common conversation.
"If Shakspeare had these great qualities by nature, what would he not have been, if he had joined to so happy a genius learning and the poetical art. For want of the latter, our author has sometimes made gross mistakes in the characters which, he has drawn from history, against the equality and conveniency of manners of his dramatical persons. Witness Menenius in the following tragedy, whom he has made an arrant buffoon, which is a great absurdity. For he might as well have imagined a grave majestic Jack Pudding, as a buffoon in a Roman senator. Aufidius, the general of the Volscians, is shown a base and a profligate villain. He has offended against the equality of the manners even in the hero himself For Coriolanus, who in the first part of the tragedy is shown so open, so frank, so violent, and so magnanimous, is represented in the latter part by Aufidius, which is contradicted by no one, a flattering, fawning, cringing, insinuating traitor."
Mr. Dennis proceeds very generously to apologize for Shakspeare's faults, by observing that he had neither friends to consult, nor time to make corrections. He, also, attributes his lines " utterly void of celestial fire," and passages " harsh and unmusical," to the want of leisure to wait for felicitous hours and moments of choicest inspiration. To remedy these defects—to mend the harmony and to put life into the dulness of Shakspeare—Mr. Dennis has assayed, and brought his own genius to the alteration of Coriolanus for the stage, under the lofty title of the " Invader of his Country, or the Fatal Resentment." In the catastrophe, Coriolanus kills Aufidius, and is himself afterwards slain, to satisfy the requisitions of poetical justice; which, to Mr. Dennis's great distress, Shakspeare so often violates. It is quite amusing to observe, with how perverted an ingenuity all the gaps in Shakspeare's verses are filled up, the irregularities smoothed away, and the colloquial expressions changed for stately phrases. Thus, for example, the noble wish of Coriolanus on entering the forum—
"The honoured gods
is thus elegantly translated into classical language:
"The great and tutelary gods of Rome
The conclusion of the hero's last speech on leaving Rome— "Thus T turn my back: there is a world elsewhere,"
is elevated into the following heroic lines:
"For me, thus, thus, I turn my back upon you,
His fond expression of constancy to his wife—
is thus refined:
«' That kiss
The icicle, which was wont to "hang on Dian's temple," here more gracefully "hangs upon the temple of Diana." The burst of mingled pride, and triumph of Coriolanus, when, taunted with the word "boy," is here exalted to tragic dignity. Our readers have, doubtless, ignorantly admired the original.
"Boy! False hound!.
The following is the improved version:
"This boy, that, like an eagle in a dove court,
Who does not now appreciate the sad lot of Shakspeare— so feelingly bewailed by Mr. Dennis—that he had not a critic, of the age of King William by his side, to refine his style and elevate his conceptions 1
It is edifying to observe, how the canons of Mr. Dennis's criticism, which he regarded as the imperishable laws of genius, are now either exploded, or considered as matters of subordinate importance, wholly unaffecting the inward soul of poetry. No one now regards the merits of an Epic poem, as decided by the subservience of the fable and the action to the moral—by the presence or the absence of an allegory —by the fortunate or unfortunate fate of the hero—or by any other rules of artificial decorum, which the critics of former times thought fit to inculcate. We learn from their essays, whether the works which they examine are constructed, in externals, according to certain fantastic rules; but, whether they are frigid or impassioned, harmonious or prosaic, filled with glorious imaginations, or replete with low commonplaces ;—whether, in short, they are works of genius or of mere toil—are questions entirely beneath their concern. The critic on the tragedy of Cato, ingenious and just as it is, omits one material objection to that celebrated piece—that it is good for nothing, and would be so if all the faults selected for censure could be, in an instant, corrected. There is a French essay on Telemachus, framed on the same superficial principles of criticism, which, after a minute examination of the moral, fable, characters, allegory, and other like requisites of excellence, triumphantly proves its claim to be ranked with, if not above, the great poems of Homer and of Virgil. Mr. Dennis seems, in general, to have applied the rules of criticism, extant in his day, to the compositions on which he passed judgment; but there was one position respecting which his contemporaries were not agreed, and on which he combated with the spirit of a martyr. This disputed point, the necessity of observing poetical justice in works of fiction, we shall briefly examine, because we think that it involves one of those mistakes in humanity, which it is always desirable to expose. But first we must, in fairness, lay one of our author's many arguments, on this subject, before our readers.
"The principal character of an epic poem must be either morally good or morally vicious; if he is morally good, the making him end unfortunately will destroy all poetical justice, and, consequently, all instruction: such a poem can have no moral, and, consequently, no fable, no just and regular poetical action, but must be a vain fiction and an empty amusement. Oh, but there is a retribution in futurity! But I thought that the reader of an epic poem was to owe his instruction to the poet, and not to himself: well then, the poet may tell him so at the latter end of his poem: ay, would to God I could see such a latter end of an epic poem, where the poet should tell the reader, that he has cut an honest man's throat, only that he may have an opportunity to send him to heaven; and that, though this would be but an indif