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ART. VIII. - Ion ; a Tragedy, in Five Acts. By THOMAS

Noon TalFOURD. New York ; George Dearborn &
Co. 12mo. pp. 109.

This remarkable poem has justly called to itself more attention than any other work of the times. Mr. Sergeant Talfourd, its author, is an eminent lawyer, and a member of the British House of Commons. He was, previously to the publication of this poem, well known among the members of his profession, as a gentleman of distinguished ability and literary taste; but out of his profession, and particularly on this side of the water, he was unknown to fame, until his " Ion " set him at once on the very pinnacle. He was trained in classical studies by the celebrated Dr. Valpy, perhaps the ablest teacher of his day in England, and the first edition is dedicated, in terms of almost filial affection, to that excellent man. There are few things more gratifying in human life than such testimonies of respect from a pupil to the instructer of his youth. We can easily imagine the emotions of pride and delight with which the veteran scholar welcomed this beautiful memorial of the genius and taste which he had himself done so much to foster.

“ Ion” is evidently the work of many years. It is constructed on the principles of the Grecian drama, and is, on the whole, the most successful reproduction of the antique spirit with which we are acquainted. The simplicity of the Attic drama, by which great and impressive results are wrought out with few means, is very hard to imitate. The heroic elevation of sentiment, which gives a solemn grandeur to the best pieces of Æschylus and Sophocles, belonged to the patriotic and mythical subjects, to which the national mind turned with fondness and enthusiasın ; but to create anew an interest in those venerable themes, is a work to task the mightiest and most comprehensive genius. Modern attempts have accordingly been for the most part unsuccessful. They have been either stiff and pedantic imitations, painfully elaborated from a learned brain, or, like the French drama, under the ancient order, have veiled, beneath a strict adherence to unessential forms, essential departures from the genuine aim and spirit of the classic theatre. VOL. XLIV. - NO. 95.


Mr. Talfourd has been remarkably successful in two respects. His tragedy is at once true to the antique models, and deeply interesting to the mere modern reader. The classical scholar, as he reads its exquisite pages, can hardly escape the delusive impression that he has found a long-lost work of Sophocles. Its barmonious lines, to his ear, sound like the old Greek iambics, into which they fall so readily that at times he hardly knows whether he is reading Greek or English. The reader, whose knowledge is bounded by the literature of his mother tongue, finds in it such clear conceptions of character, such a polished and melodious versification, such rich and enchanting imagery, that he yields his spirit to the master's spell, “ he knows not why, and cares not wherefore.” He rises from its perusal with a pervading sense of beauty, which no other late poem can give him. It is all high thought nobly expressed. It is heroic sentiment and sublime action, tempered and subdued with the softest and most delicate humanity.

“ Ion,"we have said, is an imitation of antique models ; but in no sense that can derogate from its merits as a noble original. The author shows himself, not simply familiar with

" what the lofty, grave tragedians taught
In chorus or iambic, teachers best
Of moral prudence, with delight received,
In brief, sententious precepts, while they treat
Of fate and chance, and change in human life;

High actions and high passions best describing," but, what is far more uncommon, deeply imbued with their spirit. He has written as if he had lived in a classic land and grown up in the nurture of heroic traditions ; as if he felt, like a countryman, the woes of the house of Pelops and Thyestes, and the doom of an inexorable fate. He is true to the antique, not only in spirit, but in the accessories. The circumstances with which he surrounds the personages in the play, are thoroughly Greek; and the natural scenery, in the midst of which we are placed, brings up in memory many an exquisite scene in Sophocles.

The leading idea of the hero's character, as Mr. Talfourd observes in the Preface to his first edition, is borrowed from the "Ion ” of Euripides; but nothing more. Ion, in the Greek play, is a foundling educated in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and proves to be the son of Apollo and Creusa, an Athenian princess. The princess, after the birth of Ion, is married to Xuthus, by the command of her father Erectheus. Having remained long childless, they resolve to consult the oracle, and there Creusa discovers that Ion is her own son. It would be doing gross injustice to Mr. Talfourd to say, that the play of Euripides is equal in any respect to his. With the exception of the beautiful song of Ion, at the opening of the piece, the Grecian drama has but little to recommend it. The dialogues are slovenly and tedious. The characters are low, and the moral feeling is vulgar throughout. But it must be remembered that the play was written after the pure and simple taste of the Athenian stage had begun to decline; and that even Euripides had produced several tragedies of the loftiest tone. It must have been the impression made by a few pieces like the Alcestis, on the mind of Mr. Talfourd, that dictated the eulogy he has pronounced on the “Ion" of Euripides.

The plot of Mr. Talfourd's “ Ion,” though Greek in character, is entirely of his own invention. The birth of a prince of Argos is accompanied by a terrific announcement, that

Against the life which now begins shall life
Lighted from thence be armed, and, both soon quenched,
End this great line in sorrow.”

Doomed thus from the moment of his birth, the unhappy prince is regarded with dread and suspicion by the courtiers, and even by his own parents. Meantime a second son is born, on whom the favor due the first is lavished. He is accidentally killed, and his elder brother is suspected of having murdered him. In despair at the harsh treatment and cruel suspicions of which he is the innocent object, Adrastus flies from the society of his companions, and roves the woods, or plunges into the deep. He meets by accident a lovely maiden, engaged in the pious duty of bestowing the rites of sepulture on her father,

And soon two lovely ones by holy rites

Became one happy being." His sylvan home is tracked by his father's spies, just as a son is given him, and the infant is seized by ruffians, to avert the foretold catastrophe of the royal house. He is borne to a rock that beetled over the deep; but one of the murderers, stepping upon a loosened crag, falls headlong, and perishes in the waters. The other, in whose arms the child is carried, terrified at his companion's fate, lays the infant in the sacred grove, where he is found by attendants of the temple. He is brought up under the fostering care of the aged priest. These are the few circumstances in the history of the leading characters which the progress of the action brings to light.

At the opening of the play, Adrastus is already king of Argos, and the city is afflicted with the pestilence. The first scene is in the temple of Apollo, placed on a rocky height, above the city. The foundling has become a youth of gracious promise, a favorite inmate of the temple. Agenor, one of the sages of Argos, in the scene just referred to, thus describes Ion, who has been permitted by Medon,

To visit the sad city at his will :
And freely does he use the dangerous boon,
Which, in my thought, the love that cherished him,
Since he was found within the sacred

Smiling amidst the storm, a most rare infant,
Should have had sternness to deny.


What, Ion
The only inmate of this fane allowed
To seek the mournful walks where death is busy !
lon, our sometime darling, whom we prized
As a stray gift, by bounteous Heaven dismissed
From some bright sphere which sorrow may not cloud,
To make the happy happier! Is he sent
To grapple with the miseries of this time,
Whose nature such ethereal aspect wears
As it would perish at the touch of wrong?
By no internal contest is he trained
For such hard duty; no emotions rude
Have his clear spirit vanquished; — Love, the germ
Of his mild nature, hath spread graces forth,
Expanding with its progress, as the store
Of rainbow color which the seed conceals
Sheds out its tints from its dim treasury,
To Aush and circle in the flower. No tear
Hath filled his eye, save that of thoughtful joy
When, in the evening stillness, lovely things
Pressed on his soul too busily ; his voice,
If, in the earnestness of childish sports,
Raised to the tone of anger, checked its force,

- ,
- pp. 5, 6.

As if it feared to break its being's law,
And faltered into music; when the forms
Of guilty passion have been made to live
In pictured speech, and others have waxed loud
In righteous indignation, he hath heard
With skeptic smile, or from some slender vein
Of goodness, which surrounding gloom concealed,
Struck sunlight o'er it. So his life hath flowed
From its mysterious urn a sacred stream,
In whose calm depth the beautiful and pure
Alone are mirrored; which, though shapes of ill
May hover round its surface, glides in light,

And takes no shadow from them." Adrastus, urged by Medon the high priest, has sent Phocion to consult the Delphic oracle. Impatient at his long delay, and driven to desperation by the raging of the pestilence, the king has shut himself up in his palace, accompanied by a few courtiers, and surrounded by the soldiers of the royal guard, to drown in mad revelry all sense of present ill, and all foreboding of coming destruction. The Sages have already sent him an humble entreaty that he would meet them in council. The messenger has been driven back in disgrace, and the king has decreed that whoever next appears unbidden before his presence shall die. Ion already feels the great task of his life pressing supernaturally upon his spirit, and thus pleads to be sent on this dangerous mission.

“O Sages, do not think my prayer
Bespeaks unseeming forwardness, — send me!
The coarsest reed that trembles in the marsh,
If Heaven select it for its instrument,
May shed celestial music on the breeze
As clearly as the pipe whose virgin gold
Befits the lip of Phæbus ; ye are wise,
And needed by your country; ye are fathers;
I am a lone, stray thing, whose little life
By strangers' bounty cherished, like a wave
That from the summer sea a wanton breeze
Lifts for a moment's sparkle, will subside
Light as it rose, nor leave a sigh in breaking.

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Ion, no sigh!

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