Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

while that of Lucan must have been lighted at the flash of the thunder-bolt. Such are the effects of servility. Virgil, become a courtier, was fitted only to burn incense at the shrine of

power; for

Jove fix'd it certain, that whatever day
Makes man a slave, takes half his worth away.”

311

CHAPTER XIX.

HIGHER SPECIES OF POETRY-continued.

The adjective Epic is derived from the Greek epo, I relate, and when used as a substantive, signifies literally nothing more than a tale. It is, however, a tale concerning a hero or heroes, and hence that sort of writing has also the denomination of Heroic. Epopea, or Epopeia, is merely a learned name for Epic poem, being a compound from epo and poieo, I make, that is, invent. Such are the literal significations, but custom, as we have shown, has given a more determinate meaning to the words. An Epic Poem:' which by the regularity of its construction, its extent, episodes, machinery, and the complicacy of means all directed so as to produce one momentous result, has come at last to occupy a splendid palace, instead of the humble roof of the simple heroic Ballad in which it was first reared.

A Drama, on the other hand (Greek drao, I act) is a poem of the Epic kind; but so compressed and adapted that the whole tale, instead of requiring to be read or recited at intervals, by an individual, may be exhibited as actually passing before our eyes. Every actor in the poem has his representative on the stage, who speaks the language of the poet as if it were his own; and every action is literally performed (or rather imitated) as if it were of natural occurrence, and as if there had been no poet to prompt the persons of the drama.

History is a record of transactions that are supposed to have existed; and, in the early times, was often written in verse. Those records were, then, intermingled with traditional tales of miraculous events and supernatural agents, which we, of a less credulous age, have termed superstitions. Such superstitions, however, constituted the creed of our ancestors; and in newmodelling the accounts of the olden time, it costs the modern historian no little trouble to separate the false from the true; or, in other words, the portions which he disbelieves from those to which he grants his faith. Nevertheless, it is of no consequence to the present race of mankind, whether the tales that are dignified by the name of History are real, or imaginary. Milton compared them to the narratives of the battles of the

crows and kites; and either are equally fitted for that species of amusement which is calculated to enable the idle and the mindless to glide to the grave in peace, by beguiling the tædium of life.

Seizing the prominent parts of traditional story as a foundation, the poet built his Epic, in which he introduced the divinities of the age in which he lived, as well as imaginary human beings, whose actions, as he judged, would give additional interest to the tale. Amusement (neither instruction nor any other moral motive) was the sole object of the bard. He wrote for the sake of nobles and of princes; because they only could enable him to spend his life in greater comfort than that of “the hewers of wood and drawers of water." It is probable that such tales wererecited before writing was invented; but, even when the latter mode of communication was resorted to, the work could only be read (or at any rate purchased) by the rich and powerful. Hence, arose the trade of an author; and hence, his almost proverbial subservience to the great.

As the Epic tale is a chosen fabulous history, so the Dramatic (which is a practical Epic) is a representation of an interesting series of events which, we are led to suppose, is passing before

“ All the world's a stage,” says Shakspeare,

us.

Р

" and all the men and women merely players" ; but there are many things in the world which few would like to see, and he who caters for the mimic scene chuses only what he believes will be interesting to the spectators; these, however, have eyes as well as ears, and of this many writers are not sufficiently aware. It should never be forgotten that a play is a show; and that the audience, of whatever class they may be composed, have their attention often necessarily diverted from the thoughts of the poet, by the manner in which those thoughts are delivered, and by the attraction of the scenery with which the actor is surrounded. Inattention to these circumstances is the chief cause of the failure of many, otherwise excellent, authors, when they attempt to write for the stage. Of this, Addison's Cato is a splendid example. Notwithstanding its first extraordinary success (an uninterrupted run of thirty-five nights, besides being extolled by the learned, and translated into most of the languages of Europe) it soon ceased to be a Stock-play; and, though attempts have been made, it has never recovered its former rank in the theatre. Still it is a favourite in the closet, and preserves, undisputedly, an enviable station among English Tragedies.

The object of the poet is to please his readers,

« ПредишнаНапред »