Page images
PDF
EPUB

trayed, while the Dramatist must wade through the jungles of humanity, and

“ Make Vice himself his dirty face display." The characters of an Epic may excite our hatred, but it is mingled with fear and admiration, such as we feel for Milton's Arch-fiend. The Dramatist holds a microscope to the heart, and detects all its covert sores. Buonaparte might be the hero of a Tragedy-never of an Epic. His vast nature possessed, it is true, all those vaulting characteristics essential,—the firm resolve, the prompt action, and, to a degree, the military integrity,--but the aim of his wonderful plans, the intrigue and chicane which their execution required, would degrade the hero of an Epic. Its design is as a whole to act upon the whole man, and there must of consequence be nothing admitted to detract from the single intention. The Drama appeals to our passions as individuals, and strains them singly to their highest tension. The materials of the Epic poet are obvious. He seizes only upon the salient points of character, while the Dramatist's realm is universal nature; the good and bad, the mighty and the mean are his; even the spirits of the air and water “nod to him and do him courtesies.” It is his by a mighty intuition to feel every passion, and, like the chameleon, to take the hue and shade of every thing he touches. At his command too,

Time yields his trophies up, and Death restores
The mouldered victims of his voiceless shores,

The fireside legend and the faded page,
The crime that curs’d, the deed that bless'd an age,
All, all come forth, the good to charm or cheer,
To scourge bold Vice and start the generous tear;

With pictured folly gazing fools to shame,

And guide young Glory's foot along the path of Fame." We have thus attempted a parallel between the two highest kinds of poetry ; but, as our subject concerns the Drama, we shall glance hastily at the history of the English Drama, and conclude with some thoughts in defence of theatrical representations, particularly as they appear in our own country.

One of the first principles of our nature is imitation. The child apes his father; the youth his senior, and the man his fellow. Consequent to this imitative trait, the rudest ages of every people witness dramatic exhibitions. Some current superstition or dark legend becomes a source of amusement to the popular mind.

When community of interests gives birth to organized society, these exhibitions take a caste adapted to the improved manners. In this way these rude exhibitions gradually assume the form of finished compositions, and become a means to chastise and instruct, as well as amuse. This is the origin of the Drama. The birth of the English Drama, however, has been a theme of much and unsatisfactory dispute. Some derive it immediately from the Greek Tragedies; others say that it originated in the

exhibitions of the Jews and early Christians ; while another party claim it to be a native growth. There seems little ground, we think, for the supposition that the English Drama is derived from the Greek tragedies, although some of the old “moralities” do resemble them in the choice of dramatis persone. They were (if we may credit the descriptions which have reached us of these exhibitions) too characteristic of the age and religion to own a foreign birth. They were accessories of the Church, instituted in place of the more indecent sports in vogue, and, as many of their subjects imply, to enforce some religious dogma. The settlement of such questions, however, requires more research and ability than we could bring to the task. We shall therefore pass over these dark ayes of literature, and indulge ourselves with a glance at the brilliant period of its resurrection in the “ Age of Elizabeth.” This age is the Ararat of English mind; the era to which we refer for some of the brightest names in the Republic of letters. Indeed, it is the only period which has left relics purely and entirely English. It presents a literature homemade, without tincture of foreign caste or manners ;-the gigantic efforts of English mind before its peculiarity had been lost by fusion with the German and French ; before union also, to any extent, with the classics. Those stout old Saxon thoughts, clothed in Saxon words, speak with a far more stirring force than when laden with the cumbrous riches of classical literature. The Saxon must be natural, must be truthful. Almost every word is the symbol of a thought, the type of an impression. Consequently, those writers who imbibed less of the soul than the body of ancient literature, want that intense and burning simplicity which goes to the heart. Ben Jonson is an illustration of this. His tragedies, although garnished with all the wealth of Grecian and Roman letters, are dumb, compared with the efforts of many who were far his inferiors in reach or depth of mind. The march of his tragedy is fettered by the pedantry of the schools, and for the warm glow of fancy and the stately enthusiasm of genius, we have the dead-level of tragical pedagogueism. Comedy will not brook such shackles to the same degree, and his comedies do not savor so much of the same leaven, but appear in the broad grin of genuine humor. Shakspeare might be cited as an example of the opposite kind. Although he too sometimes forgets nature and simplicity in the grossest pedantry, he yet seems to have worshiped Antiquity more as an idea than an idol. We are, however, anticipating, and have neglected to consider some of the causes which gave birth to this day-spring in the sixteenth century. The Reformation was the first great cause. This placed the light which had shone only in the cells of Monks, where it could be seen by all; crushed the hoary errors which had smothered a pure religion, and gave men the right to think and worship as they chose. The translation of the Bible opened to the Poet all the rapt visions of the Prophets, and poured into his ear the music of the s

sweet singers” of Israel. The story of a Redeemer too, the manger, the life of tears, the bloody mount, the wounded side, the place of the skull, and the blessed promises they sealed; all shed a purifying influence upon the men of those times. The literature and arts of other countries, particularly of Italy, were unlocked, and although they made no essential part, served to reveal the intellectual riches of that age. Added to these, were other influences, which acted equally, though differently. Chivalry was not extinct. Those days were gone indeed when “worlds were lost for ladies' eyes,” but their nobler features still remained. The poet's description embodied not only “all he saw,” but “part of what he was.” He was not, like his posterity, placed upon a stand-point above mankind, where he could take in at a glance the whole range of human affairs, but mixed with them, and was of them. Hence the strength and truthfulness of his descriptions.

It were a bootless, and for us a dangerous task, to essay a minute critique upon any of the men who made the reign of Elizabeth great. The names of Shakspeare, Ben Jonson, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher, have become household words ;-—and even the less familiar, such as Lyly, Marlowe, Marston, Webster Decker, &c., we will not abuse by criticism. Let them sleep—the dead who live. Our limits also forbid a close review of the English Drama down to our own day. The present dramatic literature of England and our own country is not the legitimate offspring of that which we have noticed. It claims no greater antiquity than the reign of Charles II. With the simple remark, then, that although Comedy may, high poetry cannot keep pace with the progress of civilization, we will hasten to consider the means by which these old days have been made familiar to us. And why is it that we no longer look upon this age as a vast Sahara of mind ? Why do we bring fond and zealous minds to converse with those great old days? It is not that, stripped of their quaint old-fashioned guise, they have put on the mottled cloth of modern wear. No ;-they are not changed; but we are.

A second Reformation has taken place, different in kind, it is true, but equally marked with the first. That learning which until within a sew years was banned to all except the acute and drudging student, is now our common, our cherished property. Resultant to this, our authors in prose as well as verse have learned that the chastest models may be found in their mother-tongue, and that to write well is not to write fashionably, but from the “ red-leaved tables of the heart.” This end is the work of legitimate means, the Stage. It is impossible for the mind to understand a play without aid from the senses, the eye

and ear. True, in the most simple, this is doubly so when a play is involved and introduces a wide range of character; above all, when it abounds in such anachronisms as we meet in Shakspeare. A Dramatist's object and excellence lie in so managing a variety of characters that they shall bear a distinct part in the action, and yet tend unitedly to the denouement. Notwithstanding our own emotions answer to the passions portrayed, they are indefinite, unless these passions be seen acting through flesh and blood. We cannot shift the scenes ; at one moment in a field of blood, thrilled with the hot enthusiasm of battle, and at the next, dazed with the pomp and glitter of a court; the mind cannot make these quick transitions so as to realize its change of situation—there must be a bridge between our emotions. If such be the necessity where real existences are introduced, how far more feeble is our attempt to follow the Dramatist when he enters the invisible; when he brings before us in all their airy and spirit-array the shapes of Elves and Fairies! We make a more stupid figure in lands of such enchantment, than did the doughty Falstaff among his “moonshine revelers.”

And in this we may remark, the Epic poet has an advantage over the Dramatist. His spirit-machinery (if we may so speak) is of a less subtle kind. We can soar with Milton into the unknown, and tread with him the “sapphire walls of Heaven;" we can descend with Dante, and thrill while the shapes of " ugly hell" gape at us ; but we may not follow Shakspeare in his flight to the enchanted Island; we may not mix with Prospero in the spirit-conclave, or couch with the Court of Titania, reveling in the golden bells of flowers. Into these gorgeous privacies of the imagination no unaided eye can pierce. The mimic circumstance of the Stage must introduce us to these “little ethereal people,"

"as on the sands with printless feet,

They chase the ebbing Neptune." Such, however, are lessons to the mind—that great mission to the heart which Nature has given the Poet is his nobler calling. And shall we ban him from the Stage because immoralities attend its representations ? because low, debauched humanity trails its slime and venom into the place where Manliness and Beauty wait upon mind? The same justice would discard a play because vicious characters are admitted. Away with this uneasy virtue, which sits starched and puckered like a ruff on the cold neck of an old maid. Give us your stout, bold-fronted virtue, which fears no evil, because it knows none. Immoralities are not, however, necessary attendants

theatrical representations. When the good and pure give that patronage to the Stage which it deserves, the Theatre will cease to be the resort of the low. The truth of this was shown, to a degree, in the recent representation of Richard III. at the Park. Wit and fashion there usurped the places of ignorance and vulgarity. Similar testimony is given by the better class of English Theatres. Still, even granting that they are unavoidably the haunts of vice, we should contend none the less strenuously for their encouragement. Every large city is full of vice, in all its multifaced deformity. It does not walk the streets alone. It does not fester and rot only in the brothel. It crowds the gay and costly saloon, and lists to the rich lures of feasting and song. Every corner and nook holds out some snare to the unwary. Every window sparkles with some gay iniquity. Those then who would close the Theatre, from benevolence to the young and inexperienced, yield them either to scenes of more gairish wickedness, or to the cells of drunken and slimy vice. Let then the American public give that patronage to the Stage which it so eminently deserves. Let it foster dramatic genius, and some of our own glorious history may yet be “wedded to immortal verse.”

upon

ORIGIN OF THE ROBIN-REDBREAST.

(AN INDIAN FABLE.)

[The following Indian tradition will be found in Mrs. Jamieson's "Winter Studies and Summer Rambles," for whom it was expressly translated from the Chippeway language. It is here done into rhyme, and all its allusions to the customs of the Aborigines of our country, are in the main correct.)

I.

II.

|But on faithful observance given Long time since, ere the white man came To these rubrics derived from heavenIn western wilds a seat to claim,

The son in wisdom's ways to make Far inland towards the closing day,

Far better than all others, Where straits of Mackinaw display

Persuaded was more pains to take Their smooth-worn, bleak and rugged sides,

Than all his magi brothers. Washed by three lakes' copious tides,

With more form was the water boiled, 'Mid the Chippeway's tawny clan,

In steam his body longer toiled: Once there dwelt a medicine man.

Full many times the bath was tried, Far-famed was he for knowledge vast

And many times the cloth applied ; Of magic rites and annals past ;

A husky mat was smoothly spread, No one was thought so skilled to call

To form for him the dreaming bed; Demons dark from their spirit hall

And it upon the youth was laid, No one was thought so skilled to heal,

Assured his grief should be repaid-
By charms that roots and herbs reveal.

In mystic lore he should excel,
And prophecy extremely well,

If he bore all as did become
And now his son, of robust form, The Magician's true-born son.
Manly limbs and manly arts,

He was to fast more than was deemed His heart with courage thrilling warm,

Enough by those who erst had dreamed: Nears the bound whence manhood starts; Not till twice six suns rose and set, At which time there a practice was,

And twice six nights their course had met, 'Mong the red men's accustomed laws, On grain or flesh or fruit was he In a lone lodge, with patience brave,

His famished frame regaled to see.
Their strengthened limbs to wash and lave,
And by long fasts and mien sedate,
Compose their minds to meditate ;

And at each morn the old man came That when Wee-ny, the god of sleep,

Where his sou in silence lay, Softly should their eyelids close- To practice rites by which to gain In slumber wearied nature keep,

Such gifts as magicians may. Seeking vigor in repose,

And now he shakes his magic wand, Their guardian spirit might appear And now employs his sleights of hand, As sun or moon or bat or deer,

And brings the tools that a rude age Or whate’er shape the dream might show, Thought fit and useful for the sage, 'T was said to guide their life below. That their presence might inspire

Powers which their feats requirem

Endurance in scorching rage, And since 't was thought this magic power And courage in battlo's iro. Depended not on chance or hour,

IV.

4

III.

« PreviousContinue »