Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

"The new tragedy of Bertram, at Drury-lane, has entirely succeeded, and it has sufficient merit to deserve the success it has met with. We had read it before we saw it, and were on the whole disappointed with the representation. Its beauties are rather those of language and sentiment than of action and situation. The interest flags very much during the last act, when the whole plot is known and inevitable. What it has of stage effect is scenic and extraneous, as the view of the sea in a storm, the chorus of knights, &c., instead of arising necessarily out of the business of the play. We also object to the trick of introducing the little child twice to untie the knot of the catastrophe. One of these fantoccini exhibitions in the course of a tragedy is quite enough.

"The general fault of this tragedy, and of other modern tragedies that we could mention, is, that it is a tragedy without business. Aristotle, we believe, defines tragedy to be the representation of a serious action. Now, here there is no action: there is neither cause nor effect. There is a want of that necessary connexion between what happens, what is said, and what is done, in which we take the essence of dramatic inventions to consist. It is a sentimental drama -it is a romantic drama, if you like; but it is not a tragedy, in the best sense of the word. That is to say, the passion described does not arise naturally out of the previous circumstances, nor lead necessarily to the consequences that follow. Mere sentiment is voluntary, fantastic, self-created, beginning and ending in itself; true passion is natural, irresistible, produced by powerful causes, and impelling the will to determine actions. The old tragedy, if we understand it, is a display of the affections of the heart and the energies of the will; the modern romantic tragedy is a mixture of fanciful exaggeration and indolent sensibility; the former is founded on real calamities and real purposes; the latter courts distress, affects horror, indulges in all the luxury of woe, and nurses its languid thoughts and dainty sympathies to fill up the void of action. As the opera is filled with a sort of singing people, who translate everything into music, the modern drama is filled with poets and their mistresses, who translate everything into metaphor and sentiment. Bertram falls under this censure. It is a Winter's Tule, a Midsummer Night's Dream; but it is not Lear or Macbeth. The poet does not describe what his characters would feel in given circumstances; but lends them his own thoughts and feelings out of his general reflections on human nature, or general observations of certain objects. In a word, we hold for a truth that a thoroughly good tragedy is an impossibility in a state of man

ners and literature where the poet and philosopher have got the better of the man; where the reality does not mould the imagination, but the imagination glosses over the reality; and where the unexpected stroke of true calamity, the biting edge of true passion, is blunted, sheathed, and lost, amidst the flowers of poetry strewed over unreal, unfelt distress, and the flimsy topics of artificial humanity prepared beforehand for all occasions."*

These sentences are elaborately turned, and we do not feel by any means sure that we perfectly understand what is meant to be conveyed; but they furnish a good sample of the work from which they are quoted. Hazlett's volume deserves a corner in every dramatic library, less for the value of the critical opinions, than for the importance of the theatrical events which are therein recorded and commented on-the first appearance in London of Miss Stephens, Miss Foote, Mrs. Mardyn, Miss O'Neill, Mr. Macready, and Edmund Kean; the return of Mrs. Siddons, after her retirement, to gratify the Princess Charlotte, and the farewells of John Bannister and John Kemble. But let us leave Hazlitt and return to Bertram.

The opening speech of Imogine contains very musical and affecting poetry; the numbers glide in liquid harmony, the images and reflections flow with mingled grace and beauty. The wedded dame, whose heart is not given to her husband, is discovered in soliloquy over the miniature of an earlier lover:

"Yea

The limner's art may trace the absent feature,
And give the eye of distant weeping faith
To view the form of its idolatry:

But, oh! the scenes 'mid which they met and parted

The thoughts, the recollections sweet and bitterTh' elysian dreams of lovers, when they lovedWho shall restore them?

"Less lovely are the fugitive clouds of eve,
And not more vanishing. If thou couldst speak,
Dumb witness of the secret soul of Imogine,
Thou might'st acquit the faith of womankind!
Since thou wert on my midnight pillow laid,
Friend hath forsaken friend-the brotherly tie
Been lightly loosed-the parted coldly met-
Yea, mothers have with desperate hands wrought

harm

To little lives which their own bosoms lent. But woman still hath loved-if that indeed Woman e'er loved like me."

Bertram's description of the mono

• "View of the English Stage," pp. 287, 288.

VOL. XLVI.-NO. CCLXXIV.

2 н

[blocks in formation]

"The wretched have no country! That dear name
Comprises home, kind kindred, fostering friends,
Protecting laws-all that binds man to man;
But none of these are mine! I have no country!"

And finally, when left alone, he is about to pray, and the prior interrupts him by his presence

"Why art thou here? There was a hovering angel Just lighting on my heart, and thou hast scared it."

We cannot readily point to any extracts from any other modern play that surpass or even stand in fair competition with those. Kean was well supported by Miss Somerville; but her tall, commanding figure rather overshadowed him, and naturally enough he would have preferred a heroine of less majestic proportions.

Walter Scott had originally recommended Bertram to John Kemble, but failed to draw his attention to it. He was thinking of retirement, preparing to adjust his cloak for a last farewell, and cared not to undertake a new character, after the eleventh hour of his theatrical life had sounded. In the original manuscript, the arch-fiend in person figured amongst the dramatis persona; but this extravagance was judiciously excised. There was a dashing novelty, a vigour, and freshness about Bertram which, on the first night, took the professed critics who were present by surprise, and forced them to join involuntarily in the applause of the public. Coleridge formed a solitary exception. In his

[ocr errors]

Biographia Literaria," he has indulged in a most truculent and deliberately-weighed attack on the new

tragedy, condemning the whole as a tissue of disgraceful and unnatural immorality. He would not even allow it the redeeming quality of poetical language or imagery. Unequal it certainly is; there are lofty flights and occasional descents, but it would be impossible, by the most minute dissection, to cull from Bertram such a specimen of purely contemptible ba thos as is contained in the following line of the critic's own tragedy of Remorse :

"A ceascless sound of dripping water, drips.”

That the plot of Bertram is morally defective no one can deny; but the objection applies even more strongly to other plays that still hold possession of the stage. The writer of this article happened to be seated in the pit on the first night. Those were the good, old, wholesome dramatic days, when you stationed yourself at the doors two or three hours before they opened, and immolated the tails of your coat with the stoicism of a martyr. The audience were so carried away by the acting, and the nerve of the dialogue, that they lost sight of the details. The positive criminality of Imogine was obscurely covered, or it might have been a dangerous stumbling-block. She says merely to her confidant, speaking of her interview with Bertram

"We met in madness and in guilt we parted;" and Bertram observes that his revenge on St. Aldobrand ought to have assumed a bolder character:

"I should have bearded him in halls of pride!
I should have mated him in fields of death 1
Not stolen upon his secret bower of peace,
And breathed a serpent's venom on his flower !"

All this is less explicit than the usual evidence in a criminal court. When after four or five repetitions, and a reading of the printed play, the plot began to be thoroughly understood, it was too late to recall the fiat of approbation by which the tragedy had been stamped.

The animosity of Coleridge may be accounted for thus. Animated by the success of Remorse, he sent a second tragedy to the Drury-lane Committee. Bertram was brought before them at the same time, and appeared the morë eligible of the two. To prevent pretenders claiming it as their own, which many were inclined to do, Maturin

abandoned his incognito, and boldly avowed the authorship. By this step he opened the doors of fashion to his approach, but those of church preferment added an additional bolt or two to the impediments by which he had hitherto found them closed against him. His pecuniary profits in the meantime exceeded one thousand pounds, and conjured up a perspective vision of relays of tragedies in embryo, to be embodied at will, from which should spring up exhaustless supplies. From this dream he was rudely awakened by the total failure of Manuel, which was produced on the 8th of March, 1817, within ten months after the birth of Bertram. Kean expected to do wonders with the hero, who had a mad scene written expressly for him. He had long been anxious to show his powers in the delineation of insanity, and Lear at that time was interdicted, in consequence of the mental aberration of the venerable old sovereign George III. The great success of Bertram caused undue expectations to be excited by the promise of a second play from the same pen, and the result was attended by corresponding disappointment. The play was evidently written in a hurry, for a purpose, and although there are passages of fine imaginative writing, the plot is too confused, and the interest not well concentrated. Kean was dissatisfied with the little effect he produced, and complained that De Zelos, a villain, acted by Rae, was the better part of the two. Five repetitions closed the short existence of this ill-fated tragedy. Lord Byron at the time was absent in Italy, and expressed much regret for the misfortune of his protege. "Let him try again," he said, in a letter to Murray, who had sent him a copy of the play, which he published, notwithstanding its failure, he has talent, but not much taste." It has been said that the noble bard sent Maturin a cheque for £500 to solace him under this or some similar disappointment. Nothing daunted, the "wild Irish parson," as Constable called him, tried his hand once more on a third tragedy, called Fredolfo, but this time he shifted his ground, and went over to the camp of the enemy at Covent Garden. Fredolfo was acted there on the 12th of May, 1819. The characters were represented by Miss O'Neill, Young, Yates,

Charles Kemble, and Macready. Such a combination of talent, it might be supposed, would command success for anything, even the veriest commonplace trash that could be consigned to memory; and yet Fredolfo, despite the reputation of the author, the admitted vigour of some of the scenes, the poetic beauty of detached passages, and the most loyal efforts of these great performers, was unequivocally condemed by a full house, and withdrawn after the first representation. It was impossible to excite interest for Fredolfo, the hero, who is known to be a murderer from the beginning. Berthold (a deformed miscreant), admirably acted by Yates (according to the criticisms on the following morning), takes the lead throughout the two first acts. Then comes Wallenburg, with an increase of villainy too painful to bear. Berthold gives place to a dæmon of superior rank to himself; Wallenburg kills Adelmar ; Fredolfo kills Wallenburg; Urilda dies between grief and terror, on the body of her lover; and the guilty Fredolfo is left alone in his misery to bury the dead. The whole partakes too much of the wholesale murder ridiculed in Tom Thumb, and reminds us forcibly of the exclamation of Merlin, when he comes in to alter the state of affairs at the end of that renowned tragedy, "S'blood! what a scene of slaughter's here!" It would have been well for the literary fame of Maturin if Fredolfo had never been written, and better if Walter Scott had not seduced the obsequious Constable to publish it, on the chance of putting a few pounds into the pockets of the author. Many years have elapsed since we read the play, but we remember being much struck by the singular extravagance of the speech, in which Fredolfo says

"Let us lie down on beds of firé together,
And wallow in fierce ease."

So unequal is genius, and so strangely may the most profound experience be deceived, when a question is submitted to the decision of a mixed audience.

Maturin felt bitterly, both in heart and purse, the failure of all his dramatic hopes. He had launched into expenses on prospects that were never realised; and the remainder of his life became a struggle for subsistence, and

a constant effort to keep himself without the walls of a prison. The pen was seldom out of his hand. Within the last seven years of his life, he wrote "Woman, or, Pour et Contre," in three volumes; "Melmoth the Wan. derer," in three volumes; "The Universe," a poem in blank verse; "The Albigenses," in four volumes; and in the Lent of 1824, preached and published six controversial sermons. In enumerating his works, it must not be forgotten that in 1815 he produced a successful prize poem on the Battle of Waterloo. Maturin died of a lingering illness, exhausted in body and wearied in mind, at his house in Yorkstreet, Dublin, on the 30th of October, 1824, in the forty-fourth year of his age. He was eccentric in his habits, almost to insanity, and compounded of opposites; an insatiable reader of novels; an elegant preacher; an incessant dancer, which propensity he carried to such an extent, that he darkened his drawing-room windows, and indulged during the daytime; a coxcomb in dress and manner; an extensive reader; vain of his person and reputation; well versed in theology; and withal, a warm and kind-hearted man. Amongst other peculiarities, he was accustomed to paste a wafer on his forehead, whenever he felt the estro of composition coming on him, as a warning to the members of his family, that if they entered his study they were not to interrupt his ideas by questions or conversation. Amongst his manuscripts was found a fourth tragedy in a complete state, entitled, Osmyn the Renegade, or the Siege of Salerno. It contains passages of great poetic beauty, superior to the best that could be selected from Bertram, Manuel, or Fredolfo. The subject bears some resemblance to Lord Byron's "Siege of Corinth," and is founded on historical incidents. The action passes in the fifteenth century, soon after the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, in the reign of Mahomet II. An elaborate review of this work, written by Lockhart, appeared in the Quarterly, and another, at a later period, in the DUBLIN UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE. The manuscript was placed in the hands of Mr. Macready, with a view of benefiting the widow and family of the de

ceased author. He enlisted Sheil in the cause, and they worked together with infinite zeal to promote their object. On Tuesday, the 30th of March, 1830, the play was announced for representation, being for the first time on any stage, at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, under the immediate patronage of the Duke of Northumberland, at that time Lord Lieutenant. The cast was as follows: Christians-Guiscard, Prince of Salerno, Mr. H. Cooke; Romoald, Mr. Cunningham; Flodoard, Mr. King; Sismondi, Mr. Shuter; Arnulf, Mr. H. Williams; Matilda, Princess of Salerno, Mother of Guiscard, Miss Huddart; Volonia, Miss Chalmers. Turks: Osmyn the Renegade, Mr. Macready; Ben Taleb, Mr. Calcraft; Syndarac, Mr. Barry; Murad, Mr. F. Cooke; Abdallah, Mr. O'Rourke ; Omar, Mr. Sutcliffe. Turn we now the hour-glass of time, and what shall we discover in the revolving mutations of twenty-five years? From the list of sixteen names here enumerated, nine must be deducted, who sleep the sleep that wakes not in this world; and three who have retired from the mimic scene, leaving only four who still toil on in the same monotonous round of service, which has become to them a second nature, and to the continuance of which their hopes are limited.

The trumpet of preparation had been well sounded in the papers; and on the production of Osmyn the theatre was filled to overflowing, and the applause incessant. The scene in which Osmyn relates the story of his life, and how he became a renegade, with the manner in which his wife was torn from him, and he himself plunged into a dungeon, produced the most powerful effect. The following passage in particular was greatly admired, and quoted in all the criticisms:

"OSMYN.

"I cannot tell my dungeon agonies;

Nor time, nor space was there, nor day, nor midnight.

I knew not that I lived, but felt I suffered.

"SYNDARAC.

"Didst thou not live for vengeance ? "OSMYN.

"I lived for her! She was the moonbeam of my maniac cell, That, lighting me to madness, still was light."

* Then managed by Mr. Bunn.

But with the first performance the success ended. On the second night the house was thin, and on the third it was literally empty. The tragedy has never, we believe, been attempted elsewhere; and there was little temptation to print what had failed to at

tract. Great pains had been taken by Mr. Macready to fit it for the stage, and his performance of the leading character was marked by all the strong conceptions and fiery energy which ever proved the distinguishing characteristics of his peculiar style.

SIR AUBREY DE VERE, BART.

SIR AUBREY DE VERE, a baronet of an ancient family, seated at Curragh Chase, near Adare, in the county of Limerick, is the author of four dramas, and a number of miscellaneous poems. Amongst the latter are two of greater length and importance than the rest; "The Song of Faith," and "The Lamentations of Ireland." They are written with the inspiration of a poet, and the taste of a scholar and a gentleman. Amongst Sir Aubrey's minor effusions, the "Sonnets" were pronounced by Wordsworth to rank with the best of modern times. The dramas, which are all historical, are, Julian the Apostate, first published in Dublin, about the year 1820; The Duke of Mercia, printed in London, 1823; and Mary Tudor, in two parts, which appeared in 1847, after the death of the author. From the construction and length of these plays, it is evident that they were never intended for the stage, and must be viewed as lucubrations for the closet only. So much so, that Julian, in particular, is called merely a dramatic poem. The subject is the least suited of the three for dramatic purposes, and involves matter which would be scarcely palatable to a mixed audience. It has too much of the metaphysical, and too little of the real, to be felt and understood, except after much study and reflection. There seems, at first sight, to be nothing gained by writing a play which cannot be acted, or investing a poem with the dramatic form while the dramatic essence is absent. Yet many authors have done this, and in recent times Lord Byron furnishes a remarkable instance. He complained with unavailing bitterness, when Marino Faliero was dragged on the stage without his consent or knowledge, and declared haughtily, that he had no idea of ever submitting to the ignorance of managers, the humours of overgrown actors, or the capricious taste of the public. Perhaps there was, at least, as much

affectation as sincerity in his expressed anger, which might have evaporated into air if his play had been received with rapturous warmth, instead of cold toleration. But he felt that it must break down under the hopeless conditions which attended its production, and was ready with a protest to salve his wounded pride. This same Marino Faliero was subsequently resuscitated under better auspicies, with marked applause, while Werner and Sardanapalus have proved eminently attractive. The success or failure of any play is a perfect lottery, the chances of which no experience can direct with certainty; and in nine cases out of ten the result depends less on intrinsic merit than on a clever calculation of "time and tide." It was little to be expected that theatrical speculation, in the nineteenth century, would, in the search after novelty, go back to first principles, and attempt to bring on the modern boards the severe but sublime simplicity of Sophocles and Euripides. It was still less likely that the experiment would be well received; yet we have seen that such has been the result, both in London and Dublin, with the Antigone and Iphigenia in Aulis of the two great Greek dramatists.

The story of the Duke of Mercia carries us back to the early Saxon times, when Edmund Ironside and Canute the Dane struggled in proud competitorship for the throne of England. There is an old novel on the subject which the author may have seen. In the play, fiction is blended with history, to bring about the catastrophe. The following passages will convey an idea of the general style and poetical imagery. The king thus describes the elected lady of his love :—

"Nay, 'tis not
The grace of her meek, bending, snowy neck;
The delicate budding of her tender bosom,
Above a waist a stripling's hand might compass;
The flowing outline of proportion'd limbe,
Moving with health's elastic lightness, blent

« ПредишнаНапред »