Page images
PDF
EPUB

fons celebrated, with the wit, good tafte, and found criticism of the author, who, though a great geometrician, did not despise and reject the affiftance of grace and elegance, have seduced us into an article of an unufual length, for which we shall make no apology; for as Garth faid of his Preface to Ovid's Metamorphofes, "It is in every reader's power to make it as short as he pleases."

ART. XVI.

Aesthetische Gefpraeche, &c. i. e. An Enquiry into the great Poetical Prejudices, Rhyme, Metre, and Machinery. In Four Dialogues. 12mo. Breflaw and Leipzig.

THE

HE preface to this work points out its importance, and the author's fatisfaction in having accomplished it; as he expects nothing lefs from its influence than a total revolution in poetry.

In the firft Dialogue, he endeavours to fhew the abfurdity of introducing Beings into Poetry whofe exiftence is neither be lieved by the reader nor the writer. It is time, he thinks, to diveft ourselves of the ancient prejudice of Greek mythology, which is now fo worn-out, and childish, that even school-boys fhould be no longer plagued with it. The machinery of the Chriftian fyftem, of angels, and devils, is but feldom applicable; nor can ghofts be often introduced, or long remain as agents in the bufinefs of a poem. But the chief part of what he fays on this fubject is borrowed from chap. I. vol. 8. of Tom Fones; however, he is fo candid as to allow, that "Fielding' defends his opinion very ably." It is pity that Fielding did not know, when he was writing this chapter, the fervice he was rendering to a German author, and the honour that would accrue to him for it, forty years after!

In the IId Dialogue, the author points all his artillery againft Rhyme. His ammunition is chiefly furnished by Milton in the preface to his Paradife Loft. One argument in favour of his doctrine, he draws from the difficulty which a good actor finds in concealing the rhymes in which French, and many German plays are ftill written; and he fancies that our Garrick was equally embarrassed by them.

La Motte vainly tried in France to get rid of rhyme in tragedy; but either habit, or the want of dignity in the language, makes the French regard a tragedy in profe not only as unpleafing, but unnatural. If our Teutonic author had known how difrefpectfully Pope has treated rhyme, in a letter to one of his friends, he would have thought his triumph complete. "I fhould be forry and afhamed (fays our admirable countryman) to go on jingling to the laft ftep, like a waggoner's horse, in the U u 4 fame

fame road, and fo leave my bells to the next filly animal that will be proud of them. A man makes but a mean figure, in the eyes of reafon, who is measuring fyllables and coupling rhymes.” But this was written in an ungrateful and fplenetic fit, in 1714, before the bard had been fo completely abfurd as to produce his beft works.

In the IIid Dialogue, the writer having, as he thinks, difpatched the rhyming throng, and left them fprawling, proceeds to attack the metrical tribe. We have often met with rhyme without reafon, and reafon without rhyme, but never with nominal poetry, without measure. In a drama he thinks blank verle as great an enemy to probability, and good declamation, as rhyme. Dr. Johnfon bas faid, in his Lives of the Poets, that "the variety of paufes fo much boafted by the lovers of blank verfe, changes the measure of an English poet to the periods of declamation." And on this text our author feems to preach. He allows, however, that rhythm-may have its ufe in mufic, in phrafing the melody, and rendering it more fymmetric.

In the IVth Dialogue, he pretends to have difcovered that the English language is totally unfit for metrical verfe; and he builds his opinion on the following paffage of Dr. Johnson ; "Poetry may fubfift without rhyme, but will not often please; nor can rhyme be fafely fpared except when the fubject is able to fupport itself. Blank verfe makes fome approach to that ftyle which is called the Lapidary Style, but has neither the ease of profe nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires_by_long continuance." This teftimony, and the ill fuccefs of Sir Philip Sidney in endeavouring to render English verfe fubfervient to the feet and metrical laws of the ancient Greek and Latin poetry, convince him that his new fpecies of poetry will be particularly applicable to the Englifh language.

Befide the want of novelty in treating thefe fubje&s, the author's perfect felf-complacence in the midft of pedantry and an affected ftyle, place this work in that numerous clafs which, for our many-fold fins, we are obliged to read, and in which we derive our chief pleasure from the final period.

At the end of the book we are prefented with fpecimens of the author's new-invented poetry, which is literally profe run mad. We will endeavour to tranflate a part, to fhew our readers bow well it fuits the English language.

• Ode to the High Priests of the German Lyre.

Powerful finging magicians!
Another name I do not give ye,
Ye high priests of German harps!
Ye, whofe words of thunder,
Singing of battles,
Sounding jubilees,

Shake

Shake the hearts of men more.

More

Than the ruinous rage of furious tempefts,
More

More than the rocky noife of tumbling cataracts!
Ye whofe tuneful filver throat

In bridal fongs, and vernal hymns
Diffolves each human ear
Till liquid it becomes,
And thawed and melted
In tender fympathy
Like the virgin's bofom
Heated by a lover's fcalding tear
Ye powerful finging forcerers!
Oh fweep new harps!
The finger of holy Nature
Confecrated them for you.

Glorious they are, and full of found,

Not yet debafed by vulgar hands,

Nor hung with ivy branches, or with rhyming bells.----

Strange as this may feem to fober readers, we will venture to fay that it is lefs nonfenfical than the original.

ART.

XVII.

Le Revoluzioni del Teatro muficale Italiano, &c. i. e. The Revolutions of the Italian Opera, from its Origin to the prefent Time; by STEFANO ARTEAGA. Concluded.

I'

N conformity to a promife which we made to our readers laft year*, we return to this work; of which we then had only room for the fkeleton, or table of contents. Though this hiftory of the Mufical Drama has been much read in Italy, we find, by feveral pofterior publications, that neither the Literati nor the Muficians of that country are quite fatisfied with the Author's decifions, or his manner of treating the fubject. In the first place, he is a Spaniard, and partial to the poetry of his own country; and in the next, he is not allowed to be either a practical mufician fufficient to judge of the compofers whom he mentions, except by tradition, or deeply read in the hiftory of the art, or the profeffional talents of individuals. He writes, however, with elegance and fire, particularly in fpeaking of Lyric Poetry, which he feems to feel with much more enthu fiasm than mufic. But difdaining all difcuffion of the theory or practice of the art, he confines himfelf chiefly to what he calls its Rhetoric and Philofophy.

In his preliminary difcourfe, Sig. ARTEAGA has characterized his predeceffors in a fummary way. He allows but four

* See App. to Rev. vol. lxxvii. p. 547.

who

who have written exprefsly on the mufical drama: Quadris, Algarotti, Planelli, and Napoli Signorelli. He calls the former,

A man of immenfe reading, but on whofe learning, tafte, or criticism, no dependence can be placed. He has filled half an huge volume of his Storia e ragione d'ogna Poefia with titles, dates, and names of authors, heaped promifcuously one on the other, in (uch a way as to frighten memory, and destroy the most determined patience. The celebrated Count Algarotti, in his Saggio dell' Opera in Mufica, has manifefted taste in his ufual flowery style, enriched with all the embellishments of his own language, and of that of foreign countries. His reflections on the conduct of modern dramas are generally elegant and judicious; but he has not fufficiently mounted to the fource and principles of the mufical drama, to deferve the name of a complete critic. The Cavalier Planelli, in his Trattato dell Opera in Mufica, is more profound, learned, fyftematic, and confequently more ufeful; embracing the object of his work in its whole extent. Yet, notwithstanding it is the best didactic book on the fubject, it feems as if his reflections on lyric poetry were neither fo juft nor deep as the reft of his performance, nor has he fufficiently diffinguished opera from tragedy; and he fails ftill more in the histo rical than in the critical part.

• Il Dottor Pietro Napoli-Signorelli, in his Storia critica de' Teatri, difappoints his readers in fpeaking fo little of modern times, after being fo diffufe on the ancient. This brevity has led him into hafty and ill-founded decifions on national merit, and inaccurate ftatements of facts. All these defects, however, have not prevented the Author from producing a learned and captivating book, nor his readers from hoping that he will foon publifh his Sistema dramarice, which he has promifed, and which will perhaps furnish, thofe lights for which we vainly feek in his Hiftory.

This laft period and character are wholly omitted in the fecond edition; previously to the publication of which, a controverfy broke out, and was carried on with fome afperity, between the Spaniards and Italians, concerning the antiquity and comparative excellence of the dramatic productions of their feveral countries. Napoli Signorelli, who had spoken irreverently of the Spanish dramatifts, in his Critical History of ancient and medern Theatres, awakened Spanish patriotifm, and gave birth to a work entitled Saggio Apologetico, or an Effay in defence of the Spanish Drama. This was immediately anfwered, with confiderable abilities, by Napoli Signorelli, in his Difcorfo StoricoCritico, of which the reasoning and facts are enlivened with fo much wit and farcafm, that the Spaniards are lefs likely to forgive the author for being right than wrong. This fee as to account for the fuppreffion of Arteaga's eloge on Signorelli.

The first chapter contains a well-digefted analytis of the MuEcal Dramas, pointing out the fpecific difference between them and other kinds of dramatic compofitions. The author fays truly, that the word OPERA cannot be heard without remind

"

ing us, not of a fingle uncompounded production, but an aggregate of poetry, mufic, and decoration. He has not admitted, among the conftituent parts abfolutely effential to a mufical drama, Dancing, which many fpectators regard as the firft requifite: but ballets being feldom analogous or incorporated in the texture of a drama, he regards them in no other light than farces or intermezzi. In every other dramatic compofition, Poetry is the abfolute miftrefs and fovereign, to whom all things elfe are fubfervient; but in the Opera fhe is not the queen, but the companion of music and decoration, partaking of their fate, whether profperous or unfortunate. So that all fubjects of poetry, which do not contribute to please the ear and eye, are banished from the Opera. But mufic being generally regarded as the moft effential part of this kind of drama, poetry must be subordinate to its powers and effects.

The union, therefore, of mufic with poetry, is the characteriftic difference between an opera and a tragedy or comedy; nor is the union fo abfurd as is often pretended, on account of the neceffity of heroes and heroines rejoicing, grieving, converfing, and reasoning, in fong. It is but transferring the fen timents of the poet from fpeech to melody, a more sweet and fonorous language.

What the author fays concerning the neceffity of avoiding long difcuffions, moral fentences, or fubtil arguments, in a mufical drama, is reafonable and convincing. The progress of the piece fhould be rapid; for if the poet becomes circumftantial, both the compofer and performer will find it extremely difficult to excite in the audience that degree of intereft and paffion which amounts to rapture; there should be an eafy and quick tranfi tion from one fituation to another, unincumbered with trivial circumftances; and an artificial combination of lively and pathetic fcenes, in which the few words that are used, want no other comment or illuftration than what is in the power of mufic to furnish. It is for declamation in tragedy to multiply words and embellish circumstances, and for the mufical dramatift to aim at precision in fentiments and rapidity of plot. Merope, in the French tragedy, makes a long and eloquent speech to Polyphontes, in calling for her fon; but Metaftafio makes a mother, in fimilar circumftances, explain herself in four lines: Rendi mi il Figlio mio, &c.*

It is the painter's bufinefs to feize one interefting moment for the fubject of an hiftorical picture; and the poet and com

* When Mattei fung this air on our ftage, in the opera of Ciro riconozciuto, it had an effect which it would be difficult to produce by 400 lines of declamation.

pofer

« PreviousContinue »