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instanced in Dante, who first followed probably of older date than either the nature, and was persecuted by the critics Greek or Latin dactyl and spondee. The as long as he lived. Thus novelty, one Celtic, which is allowed to be the first of the greatest beauties in poetry, must language spoken in Europe, has ever prebe avoided, or the connoisseur be dis- served them, as we may find in the Edda pleased. It is one of the chief privileges, of Iceland and the Irish carols, still sung however, of genius, to fly from the herd among the original inhabitants of that of imitators by some happy singularity; island. Olaus Wormius gives us some for, should he stand still, his heavy pur- of the Teutonic poetry in this way; and suers will at length certainly come up, Pantoppidan, bishop of Bergen, some of and fairly dispute the victory.
the Norwegian. In short, this jingle of The ingenious Mr. Hogarth used to sounds is almost natural to mankind; at assert, that every one except the connois- least it is so to our language, if we may seur was a judge of painting. The same judge from many unsuccessful attempts may be asserted of writing. The public, to throw it off. in general, set the whole piece in the I should not have employed so much proper point of view; the critic lays his time in opposing this erroneous innovaeye close to all its minuteness, and con- tion, if it were not apt to introduce another demns or approves in detail. And this in its train,- I mean, a disgusting solemmay be the reason why so many writers nity of manner into our poetry; and, at present are apt to appeal from the as the prose writer has been ever found tribunal of criticism to that of the people. to follow the poet, it must consequently
From a desire in the critic of grafting banish in both all that agreeable trifling the spirit of ancient languages upon the which, if I may so express it, often deceives English have proceeded of late several dis- us into instruction. The finest sentiment agreeable instances of pedantry. Among and the most weighty truth may put on a the number I think we may reckon blank pleasant face, and it is even virtuous to verse. Nothing but the greatest sublimity jest when serious advice must be disgustof subject can render such a measure ing. But, instead of this, the most trifling pleasing; however, we now see it used performance among us now assumes all upon the most trivial occasions. It the didactic stiffness of wisdom. The has particularly found its way into our most diminutive son of fame or of famine didactic poetry, and is likely to bring has his we and his us, his firstlies and his that species of composition into disrepute, secondlies, as methodical as if bound in for which the English are deservedly cow-hide and closed with clasps of brass. famous.
Were these Monthly Reviews and MagaThose who are acquainted with writing zines frothy, pert, or absurd, they might know that our language runs almost natu- find some pardon ; but to be dull and rally into blank verse. The writers of dronish is an encroachment on the preour novels, romances, and all of this class rogative of a folio. These things should who have no notion of style, naturally be considered as pills to purge melancholy; hobble into this unharmonious measure. they should be made up in our splenetic If rhymes, therefore, be more difficult, for climate to be taken as physic, and not so that very reason I would have our poets as to be used when we take it. write in rhyme.
Such a restriction upon However, by the power of one single the thought of a good poet, often lifts and monosyllable our critics have almost got increases the vehemence of every senti- the victory over humour amongst us. ment; for fancy, like a fountain, plays Does the poet paint the absurdities of the highest by diminishing the aperture. But vulgar? then he is low. Does he exaggerate rhymes, it will be said, are a remnant of the features of folly to render it more monkish stupidity, an innovation upon thoroughly ridiculous? he is then very low. the poetry of the ancients. They are but In short, they have proscribed the comic indifferently acquainted with antiquity or satirical muse from every walk but high who make the assertion. Rhymes are life, which, though abounding in fools as well as the humblest station, is by no The solemnity worn by many of our means so fruitful in absurdity. Among modern writers is, I fear, often the mask well-bred fools we may despise much, but of dulness; for certain it is, it seems to fit have little to laugh at; nature seems to every author who pleases to put it on. present us with a universal blank of silk, By the complexion of many of our late ribbons, smiles, and whispers. Absurdity publications one might be apt to cry out is the poet's game, and good-breeding is with Cicero, Civen, mehercule, non puto the nice concealment of absurdities. The esse qui his temporibus ridere possit, On truth is, the critic generally mistakes my conscience, I believe we have all forgot humour for wit, which is a very different to laugh in these days.” Such writers excellence. Wit raises human nature above probably make no distinction between its level; humour acts a contrary part, and what is praised and what is pleasing; equally depresses it. To expect exalted between those commendations which the humour is a contradiction in terms; and reader pays his own discernment, and those the critic, by demanding an impossibility which are the genuine result of his sensafrom the comic poet, has, in effect, banished tions. It were to be wished, therefore, new comedy from the stage. But, to put that we no longer found pleasure with the same thought in a different light, when the inflated style that has for some years an unexpected similitude in two objects been looked upon as fine writing, and strikes the imagination—in other words, which every young writer is now obliged when a thing is wittily expressed--all our to adopt, if he chooses to be read. We pleasure turns into admiration of the artist should now dispense with loaded epithet who had fancy enough to draw the picture. and dressing up trifles with dignity. For, When a thing is humorously described, to use an obvious instance, it is not those our burst of laughter proceeds from a very who make the greatest noise with their different cause : we compare the absurdity wares in the streets that have most to of the character represented with our own, sell. Let us, instead of writing finely, try and triumph in our conscious superiority. to write naturally; not hunt after lofty No natural defect can be a cause of expressions to deliver mean ideas, nor be laughter, because it is a misfortune to for ever gaping, when we only mean to which ourselves are liable. A defect of deliver a whisper. this kind changes the passion into pity or horror. We only laugh at those instances
CHAPTER X. of moral absurdity, to which we are conscious we ourselves are not liable. For
Of the Stage. instance, should I describe a
Our theatre has been generally confessed wanting his nose, there is no humour in to share in this general decline, though this, as it is an accident to which human partaking of the show and decoration of nature is subject, and may be any man's the Italian opera, with the propriety and case; but should I represent this man declamation of French performance. The without his nose as extremely curious in stage also is more magnificent with us the choice of his snuff-box, we here see than any other in Europe, and the people him guilty of an absurdity of which we in general fonder of theatrical entertainimagine it impossible for ourselves to be ment. Yet still as our pleasures, as well guilty, and therefore applaud our own as more important concerns, are generally good sense on the comparison. Thus, managed by party, the stage has felt its then, the pleasure we receive from wit influence. The managers, and all who turns on the admiration of another; that espouse their side, are for decoration and which we feel from humour centres in ornament; the critic, and all who have the admiration of ourselves. The poet, studied French decorum, are for regularity therefore, must place the object he would and declamation. Thus it is almost imhave the subject of humour in a state of possible to please both parties: and the inferiority; in other words, the subject of poet, by attempting it, finds himself often humour must be low.
incapable of pleasing either. If he intro
duces stage pomp, the critic consigns his are again obliged to ruminate over those performance to the vulgar; if he indulges hashes of absurdity, which were disgusting in recital and simplicity, it is accused of to our ancestors even in an age of ignoinsipidity or dry affectation.
rance; and the stage, instead of serving From the nature, therefore, of our the people, is made subservient to the theatre, and the genius of our country, it interests of avarice. is extremely difficult for a dramatic poet We seem to be pretty much in the situ. to please his audience. But happy would ation of travellers at a Scotch inn: vile he be, were these the only difficulties he entertainment is served up, complained of, had to encounter; there are many other and sent down; up comes worse, and that more dangerous combinations against the also is changed; and every change makes little wit of the age. Our poet's perform- our wretched cheer more unsavoury. ance must undergo a process truly chemi. What must be done? only sit down concal before it is presented to the public. tented, cry up all that comes before us, It must be tried in the manager's fire, and admire even the absurdities of Shakestrained through a licenser, suffer from speare. repeated corrections, till it may be a mere Let the reader suspend his censure. I caput mortuum when it arrives before the admire the beauties of this great father of public.
our stage as much as they deserve, but The success, however, of pieces upon could wish, for the honour of our country, the stage would be of little moment, did and for his honour too, that many of his it not influence the success of the same scenes were forgotten. A man blind of piece in the closet. Nay, I think it would one eye should always be painted in pro. be more for the interests of virtue, if stage file. Let the spectator who assists at any performances were read, not acted; made of these new revived pieces only ask himrather our companions in the cabinet than self whether he would approve such a peron the theatre. While we are readers, formance if written by a modern poet. I every moral sentiment strikes us in all its fear he will find that much of his applause beauty, but the love scenes are frigid, proceeds merely from the sound of a name, tawdry, and disgusting. When we are and an empty veneration for antiquity, spectators, all the persuasives to vice re- In fact, the revival of those pieces of forced ceive an additional lustre. The love scene humour, far-fetched conceit, and unnatural is aggravated, the obscenity heightened, hyperbole, which have been ascribed to the best actors figure in the most de Shakespeare, is rather gibbeting than bauched characters, while the parts of raising a statue to his memory; it is rather morality, as they are called, are thrown a trick of the actor, who thinks it safest to some mouthing machine, who puts even acting in exaggerated characters, and who, virtue out of countenance by his wretched by outstepping nature, chooses to exhibit imitation.
the ridiculous outré of a harlequin under But whatever be the incentives to vice the sanction of that venerable name. which are found at the theatre, public What strange vamped comedies, farcical pleasures are generally less guilty than tragedies, or what shall I call them, speaksolitary ones. To make our solitary satis- ing pantomimes, have we not of late seen! faction truly innocent, the actor is useful, No matter what the play may be, it is the as by his means the poet's work makes its actor who draws an audience. He throws way from the stage to the closet; for all life into all; all are in spirits and merry, must allow, that the reader receives more in at one door and out at another : the benefit by perasing a well-written play spectator, in a fool's paradise, knows not than by seeing it acted.
what all this means, till the last act conBut how is this rule inverted on our cludes in matrimony. The piece pleases theatres at present! Old pieces are re- our critics, because it talks old English ; vived, and scarcely any new ones admitted. and it pleases the galleries, because it has The actor is ever in our eye, and the poet ribaldry. True taste, or even common seldom permitted to appear; the public sense, are out of the question.
But great art must be sometimes used fame or subsistence, when he must at once before they can thus impose upon the pub- flatter an actor and please an audience. lic. To this purpose a prologue written with some spirit generally precedes the
CHAPTER XI. piece, to inform us that it was composed
On Universities. by Shakespeare, or old Ben, or somebody else who took them for his model. A face INSTEAD of losing myself in a subject of of iron could not have the assurance to such extent, I shall only offer a few thoughts avow dislike; the theatre has its partisans as they occur, and leave their connexion who understand the force of combinations, to the reader. trained up to vociferation, clapping of We seem divided, whether an education hands and clattering of sticks: and though formed by travelling or by a sedentary life a man might have strength sufficient to be preferable. We see more of the world overcome a lion in single combat, he may by travel, but more of human nature by run the risk of being devoured by an army remaining at home; as, in an infirmary, of ants.
the student who only attends to the disI am not insensible that third nights are orders of a few patients is more likely to disagreeable drawbacks upon the annual understand his profession, than he who profits of the stage. I am confident it is indiscriminately examines them all. much more to the manager's advantage to A youth just landed at the Brille resemfurbish up all the lumber which the good bles a clown at a puppet-show; carries his sense of our ancestors, but for his care, had amazement from one miracle to another; consigned to oblivion. It is not with him, from this cabinet of curiosities to that therefore, but with the public, I would collection of pictures : but wondering is expostulate; they have a right to demand not the way to grow wise. respect, and surely those newly revived Whatever resolutions we set ourselves plays are no instances of the manager's not to keep company with our countrymen deference.
abroad, we shall find them broken when I have been informed that no new play once we leave home. Among strangers can be admitted upon our theatres unless we consider ourselves as in a solitude, and the author chooses to wait some years, or, it is but natural to desire society. to use the phrase in fashion, till it comes In all the great towns of Europe there to be played in turn. A poet thus can are to be found Englishmen residing, either never expect to contract a familiarity with from interest or choice. These generally the stage, by which alone he can hope to lead a life of continued debauchery. Such succeed; nor can the most signal success are the countrymen a traveller is likely to relieve immediate want. Our Saxon an
meet with. cestors had but one name for a wit and a This may be the reason why Englishmen witch. I will not dispute the propriety of are all thought to be mad or melancholy uniting those characters then ; but the man by, the vulgar abroad.
Their money is who, under the present discouragements, giddily and merrily spent among sharpers ventures to write for the stage, whatever of their own country; and when that is claim he may have to the appellation of a gone, of all nations the English bear worst wit, at least he has no right to be called a that disorder called the maladie du poche. conjurer.
Countries wear very different appear. From all that has been said upon the ances to travellers of different circumstate of our theatre we may easily foresee stances. A man who is whirled through whether it is likely to improve or decline; Europe in a post-chaise, and the pilgrim and whether the freeborn muse can bear who walks the grand tour on foot, will to submit to those restrictions which ava. form very different conclusions. rice or power would impose. For the To see Europe with advantage, a man future, it is somewhat unlikely that he should appear in various circumstances of whose labours are valuable, or who knows fortune; but the experiment would be too their value, will turn to the stage for either dangerous for young men,
There are many things relative to other and support every day syllogistical dispucountries which can be learned to more tations in school philosophy. Would not advantage at home; their laws and policies one be apt to imagine this was the proper are among the number.
education to make a man a fool ? Such The greatest advantages which result to are the universities of Prague, Louvain, youth from travel are an easy address, and Padua. The second is, where the the shaking off national prejudices, and pupils are under few restrictions, where the finding nothing ridiculous in national all scholastic jargon is banished, where peculiarities.
they take a degree when they think proper, The time spent in these acquisitions and live not in the college, but the city. could have been more usefully employed Such are Edinburgh, Leyden, Gottingen, at home. An education in a college seems Geneva. The third is a mixture of the two therefore preferable.
former, where the pupils are restrained, We attribute to universities either too but not confined; where many, though much or too little. Some assert that they not all, the absurdities of scholastic philoare the only proper places to advance sophy are suppressed, and where the first learning; while others deny even their degree is taken after four years' matricula. utility in forming an education. Both are tion. Such are Oxford, Cambridge, and
Dublin. Learning is most advanced in populous As for the first class, their absurdities cities, where chance often conspires with are too apparent to admit of a parallel. industry to promote it; where the members It is disputed which of the two last are of this large university, if I may so call it, more conducive to national improvement. catch manners as they rise; study life, not Skill in the professions is acquired more logic, and have the world for correspon- by practice than study; two or three years dents.
may be sufficient for learning their rudiThe greatest number of universities have ments. The universities of Edinburgh, &c. ever been founded in times of the greatest grant a licence for practising them when ignorance.
the student thinks proper, which our uniNew improvements in learning are sel-versities refuse till after à residence of dom adopted in colleges until admitted several years. everywhere else. And this is right: we The dignity of the professions may be should always be cautious of teaching the supported by this dilatory proceeding; but rising generation uncertainties for truth. many men of learning are thus too long Thus, though the professors in universities excluded from the lucrative advantages have been too frequently found to oppose which superior skill has a right to expect. the advancement of learning, yet, when Those universities must certainly be once established, they are the properest most frequented, which promise to give in persons to diffuse it.
two years the advantages which others There is more knowledge to be acquired will not under twelve. from one page of the volume of mankind, The man who has studied a profession if the scholar only knows how to read, than for three years, and practised it for nine in volumes of antiquity. Wegrow learned, more, will certainly know more of his not wise, by too long continuance at business than he who has only studied it college.
for twelve. This points out the time in which we The universities of Edinburgh, &c. must should leave the university. Perhaps the certainly be most proper for the study of age of twenty-one, when at our universities those professions in which men choose to the first degree is generally taken, is the turn their learning to profit as soon as proper period.
possible. The universities of Europe may be The universities of Oxford, &c. are imdivided into three classes. Those upon proper for this, since they keep the student the old scholastic establishment, where the from the world, which, after a certain time, pupils are immured, talk nothing but Latin, is the only true school of improvement.