Page images

Semiramis cries out once only “O heaven, I die!" and the other assistants are very little more affected by the shade of Ninus than they would be by the unexpected appearance of a friend whom they believed to be at a distance.

I observe also another difference between the French and English spectre. The first is only a poetical machine solely employed to unravel the plot ;* we take no interest in him. On the contrary, the other is really an efficient person of the drama, in whose fate we are interested; he excites not only terror, but compassion also.

This has probably arisen from the different manner in which these two authors have considered the general notion of apparitions. Voltaire has regarded the appearance of a dead person as a miracle, and Shakspeare as a natural event. Which

* “ This intention, however, is expressly disavowed by Voltaire, and what is rather surprising, in a paragraph in which he quotes, with approbation, the celebrated rule of Horace,

Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus. • I would have,' he says,' these bold attempts never employed except when they serve at the same time to add to the intrigue and the terror of the piece; and I would wish by all means that the intervention of these supernatural beings should not appear absolutely necessary. I will explain myself: if the plot of a tragic poem is so involved in difficulty, that the poet can only free himself from the embarrassment by the aid of a prodigy, the spectator will perceive the distress of the author, and the weakness of the resource.'--Dissertation on Tragedy, prefixed to Semiramis."--Pye.

of the two thought most as a philosopher, is a question that we have nothing at all to do with ; but the Englishman thought most as a poet.



Dramaturgie, Part I. p. 39 et seq. Vide Pye's Commentary on the Poetic of Aristotle, p. 275 et seq.

No. XXV.




Of all the English play-writers, Chapman perhaps approaches nearest to Shakspeare in the descriptive and didactic, in passages which are less purely dramatic. Dramatic imitation was not his talent. He could not go out of himself, as Shakspeare could shift at pleasure, to inform and animate other existences; but in himself he had an eye to perceive, and a soul to embrace, all forms. He would have made a great epic poet, if indeed he has not abundantly shown himself to be one ; for his Homer is not so properly a translation as the stories of Achilles and Ulysses re-written. The earnestness and passion which he has put into every part of these poems, would be incredible to a reader of mere modern translations. His almost Greek zeal for the honor of his heroes is only paralleled by that fierce spirit of Hebrew bigotry, with which Milton, as if personating one of the zealots of the old law, clothed himself when he sate down to paint the acts of Sampson against the uncircumcised. The great obstacle to Chapman's translations being read is their unconquerable quaintness. He pours out in the same breath the most just and natural and the most violent and forced expressions. He seems to grasp whatever words come first to hand during the impetus of inspiration, as if all other must be inadequate to the divine meaning. But passion (the all in all in poetry) is everywhere present, raising the low, dignifying the mean, and putting sense into the absurd. He makes his readers glow, weep, tremble, take any affection which he pleases, be moved by words or in spite of them, be disgusted and overcome their disgust. I have often thought that the vulgar misconception of Shakspeare, as of a wild irregular genius, “in whom great faults are compensated by great beauties,” would be really true, applied to Chapman. But there is no scale by which to balance such disproportionate subjects as the faults and beauties of a great genius. To set off the former with any fairness against the latter, the pain which they give us should be in some proportion to the pleasure which we receive from the other. As these transport us to the highest heaven, those should steep us in agonies infernal."

• This critique on Chapman will add no little strength to the supposition of Mr. Boaden, that the magnificent eulogy on Shakspeare, commencing

A mind reflecting ages past, &c.

was the production of this fervid and energetic translator of


Heywood is a sort of prose Shakspeare. His scenes are to the full as natural and affecting. But we miss the poet, that which in Shakspeare always appears out and above the surface of the nature. Heywood's characters, his country gentlemen, &c., are exactly what we see (but of the best kind of what we see) in life. Shakspeare makes us believe, while we are among his lovely creations, that they are nothing but what we are familiar with, as in dreams new things seem old; but we awake, and sigh for the difference.

Homer, especially if we recollect that the quaintness here justly complained of, is by no means constantly found in the minor pieces of Chapman.

• Of the astonishing fertility of some of the dramatic poets at this period, and of their equally astonishing indifference about the preservation of their works, the following preface of Heywood to his play, entitled “ The English Traveller," will afford a most remarkable example, more peculiarly so when the reader learns that, out of the extraordinary number of pieces mentioned in this preface, only twenty-five have descended to posterity, the remainder having been in a great measure lost through the negligence of their parent.

“ If, reader, thou hast of this play been an auditor, there is less apology to be used by entreating thy patience. This tragicomedy (being one reserved amongst two hundred and twenty in which I bad either an entire hand, or at the least a main finger) coming accidentally to the press, and I having intelligence thereof, thought it not fit that it should pass as filius populi, a bastard without a father to acknowledge it: true it is

« PreviousContinue »