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Photograph by Charlotte Fairchild. GENERAL STAGE-SETTING FOR THE "ELECTRA” OF SOPHOCLES, DESIGNED BY LIVINGSTON PLATT.
THIS PICTURE SHOWS THE ARCHITECTURAL ASPECT OF THE ENTIRE STAGE AND THE SCULP-
BY CLAYTON HAMILTON
trivial words to die,unknell’d, unBEFORE the invention of printing, coffin'd, and unknown; and they rethere were few books in the world; corded in their libraries only those but all of these were worth reading. more memorable words that were luSo long as every extra copy of a
minous with intimations of immorliterary work had to be written out tality. by hand on parchment, a certain The library of Alexandria was care was exercised lest this lengthy burned; Herculaneum was buried belabour should be wasted over words neath an overwhelming flood of lava; that were ephemeral. The Romans, and comparatively little now remains Greeks, and Hebrews were human to us of ancient literature. But like ourselves, and liable to human what remains is not "ancient,” in the error; they must have uttered, every narrow sense; and nearly all of it is day, the usual amount of trash, and really "literature,"—that is to say this trash must have been passed [in the noble phrase of Emerson] a about, from mouth to mouth, among record of “man thinking” and exthe masses; but the ancients did not pressing his thoughts in unwitherwrite it down. They allowed their able words. The invention of print
ing, and the enactment of that mod authentic voice of God. The Heern law which compels everybody, brews accepted Isaiah not only as a willy-nilly, to go to school and learn poet but also as
poet but also as a prophet, and to read, has led to a widespread cir claimed that he wrote better than he culation of recorded utterances; but knew. The Romans believed that how many of these documents are Virgil was not merely a perfect "literature”? And those of us who artist, but also unconscious ply the pen so busily in these days mouthpiece for the deity of deities; of rapid printing might profitably and, after the slow passage of a pause, every now and then, to ask thousand years, the greatest compoourselves whether we have ever writ sition of the greatest man that ever ten a single sentence that deserves to lived was immediately called, not by be engraved on granite and pre- himself, but by his readers, The served from the erosion of innum Divine Comedy. There was no real erable future centuries. How much reason-on the other hand—why of our contemporary writing will be this title should not have been seaccepted finally as "literature," in lected by Dante himself; since he has the leisure of all time?
more than once, with the The ancients felt a more reverent serenity of perfect confidence, that respect for books and authors than the things he had to say were sugwe entertain to-day; but they had gested not by his own mind, but by more reason for this feeling. They the irresistible and overwhelming inwere not poisoned by a state of spiration of all the things that are. things that accords a million readers We are living now in an age of every morning to the hirelings of Mr. infidelity, when it is popular to laugh William Randolph Hearst, and re at high and far-off images of holy duces John Milton to what-in the things; but we have no reason to disprofane vocabulary of our friends, miss as merely credulous the belief the French—is eloquently called
called of our forefathers that their great“the name of a name.”
est poets were inspired from above. cients saw things in perspective and Without departing from the region proportion. They never pretended of the intellect, it would be easy --not even on the eve of a popular enough to prove that Dante is inelection—that "all men are created deed, in a certain sense, “divine”; equal”: they announced, instead, and there is also a reasonable motive that certain men were nobler than for accepting several of the Hebrew their fellows and were worthy, by writings, which have been gathered inherent right, of being listened to helter-skelter after many accidents attentively. The Greeks gave prizes of time into the canonical fold of for literary prowess; and, when a the Old Testament, as authentic utman had won a public prize for au terances of some power that is thorship, he was erected to the aris- greater than ourselves. tocracy and considered as a leading
The Romans held a "supersticitizen.
tion”—to repeat a word that has The ancients regarded their great- grown current in our present period est authors as divine, and spread of cynicism—that Virgil was so wise abroad the legend that these super- that he had hidden away an answer men had spoken to mankind with the to every imaginable human problem
Photograph by Charlotte Fairchild. CLIMAX OF THE "ELECTRA” OF SOPHOCLES. ORESTES CHALLENGES ÆGISTH OS TO MORTAL COMBAT; THE OTHER CHARACTERS ARE ELECTRA AND PYLADES.
THIS PICTURE SHOWS HOW WELL THE STAGE-SETTING, DESIGNED BY LIVINGSTON PLATT, IS ADAPTED TO MOMENTS OF RAPID AND EXCITING ACTION. GREAT ADVANTAGE IS DERIVED FROM PLAYING THE SCENE ON SEVERAL DIF FERENT LEVELS
in some passage of his Æneid; and fight on—for twenty years if need common men in need of guidance be—against a foe apparently vicwere advised to open his heroic poem
torious ? Not because of any facts blindfold, to place a finger on an ac or figures; but solely by virtue of cidental passage, and to read this our faith in what Matthew Arnold passage as a mystical, oracular re called "that eternal not-ourselves sponse to their imaginative inquisi that makes for righteousness.” We tion.
have a feeling that the members of This pagan incantation is not yet the Potsdam gang, and all their folout-moded. It is still possible to lowers in Germany and out of it, trust the ancient writers for an an shall not finally escape the conseswer to our modern questionings. quences of their crimes: for otherAnd, in these times of trouble, we wise there is no God,-a thing unmay profitably turn to the tragic thinkable.. poets of the period of Pericles.
But, since so eminent a-statesman
as Lord Landsdowne has become II
faint-hearted and has begun to talk For these, indeed, are times that of bartering with the burglar for a try men's souls; and hundreds of portion of his swag, since even our millions of living men and women are own President, in a now regretted troubled by an instant and tremen moment of "diplomatic" aberration, dous problem of eternal justice. Let spoke once of a peace without punus state this problem very simply. ishment,--let us become again like We, who are civilised, have taught little children, and re-adopt the anourselves, through twenty centuries cient incantation, and turn to of Christianity, to believe that a war Sophocles for an answer to the of aggression is a crime. We believe moral problem that is bothering the that this German war, launched de world. liberately after forty years of prepa Let us turn, by choice, to his ration, is the greatest crime of his Electra; because, in that play, the tory. Yet the armies that sacked ancient fiction parallels our modern Serbia and butchered Belgium seem facts. Heroic Agamemnon has been stronger now than when they were foully murdered by his wicked wife, unleashed four years ago. The vic Clytemnestra, and by her lustful tims of the Lusitania, still un paramour, Ægisthos. His only son, avenged, are visiting the bottom of Orestes, has escaped to a far counthe monstrous world; and ruined try; but many years have lapsed Rheims lifts up her splintered tow away, and nobody now knows whether ers to a heaven that seems not to he is dead or living. Meanwhile see. The aggressors have annexed Ægisthos sits easily upon the throne great tracts of territory; they have he has usurped and luxuriates in the extracted millions of dollars of trib caresses of his partner in crime. ute from their helpless neighbours; Two daughters of the ancient stock they have ruined Russia; and there remain in the house of Agamemnon. seems to be no reason for refusing to The one, Electra, reveres her father's admit that—thus far—they have memory; and, for this reverence, she won the war. Why then do we fight is relegated to the quarters of the on? And why shall we continue to slaves and doomed to dress in rags.
The other—a fluffy and light-minded original Greek—might well be flung girl, Chrysothemis — may be re back by our President in answer to garded as the very pattern of a the next appeal for peace from pacifist. She admits that her Chancellor von Hertling. Sophocles mother is a murderess, and that her —in the inspired phrase of William step-father is a traitor, an adulterer, Blake"saw eternity in an hour," and an usurper; but she has discov and told us, in the tiny compass of ered that the quickest way to her less than fifty words, "all we need to own comfort is to forget their crimes know” about the most tremendous and to accept the largesse of their moral problem of the present time. hospitality. Her philosophy is quite The theme of the Electra is not-as as simple as that of Nikolai Lenine: certain students have surmised-the —to the victor belongs the spoils; satisfaction of so primitive a pasand Chrysothemis is not impeded; by sion as the lust for blood: it is, inany twinge of conscience, from being stead, the vindication of a necessary spoiled. But lone Electra looms, , faith in "that eternal not-ourselves and anguishes, and waits,-hoping that makes for righteousness." without hope, against a future day of final judgment. Even the Chorus
III argues with Electra, and asks her Another topic that demands the why—in default of the longed for re immediate attention of that emphatiappearance of Orestes—she con cally modern person who is collotinues to rebel against a pair of quially called "the man in the street” criminals whose power is apparently is the subject of the new enfranchiseimpregnable. And then Electra an ment of women after many centuries swers, in these lines :
of servitude. Precisely forty years
ago, Henrik Ibsen wrote, in the For if the dead, as dust and nothing found, Shall lie there in his woe,
course of his preparatory notes for And they shall fail to pay
A Doll's House :-“There are two The penalty of blood,
kinds of spiritual law, two kinds of Then should all fear of Gods from earth
conscience, one in man, and andecay,
other, altogether different, in woman. And all men's worship prove a thing of naught.
They do not understand each other;
but in practical life the woman is In other words, the murderers can- judged by man's law, as though she not ultimately 'go unpunished for were not a woman but a man. their crimes : for else there is no God, A woman cannot be herself in the so-a thing unthinkable. .. This
This ciety of the present day, which is an reductio ad absurdam—which may exclusively masculine society, with serve to send us back, with hearts laws framed by men and with a juuplifted, to our task of building dicial system that judges feminine ships and raising armies—was enun conduct from a masculine point of ciated by the apostolic Sophocles view.” more than three and twenty cen Two thousand three hundred and
.. And these lines— fifty years ago, Euripides of Athens not paraphrased, as in the foregoing expressed himself upon this self-same quotation, by the pedestrian Profes- subject, in a Chorus of Women that sor Plumptre, but eloquent in the has been translated by Professor