« PreviousContinue »
And Medon! cherish him as thou hast one
[ The curtain falls.] The history of the play, as well as its peculiar beauties of language and simplicity of plot, certainly indicate rare powers in the author, and abilities to form a school of English tragedy which, if it shall not obtain complete possession of the stage, will always address itself successfully to the mind of almost all classes of readers. The author of Ion, it is true, exercised uncommon forbearance and modesty in doubling, to the delay of his own fame, the nonum prematur in annum of Horace. Не kept his play twenty years instead of nine, and every line exhibits the result of that careful and assiduous detail which only can produce a finished work of art. The gratification with which we contemplate such a work is akin to that with which the mind retires satisfied and filled with the proportions of the Apollo. Ancient criticism might require the sacrifice of Clemanthe to the unity of the action, but to modern tastes, at least to modern affections, she seems a necessary adjunct. Were we strictly to scan the development of the action we might condemn her as unnecessary, yet she is a being so pure and gentle, so trụstful and confiding, that for woman's sake we could not cast her off. If the character be false to Greece it is not false to nature; nor do we know why the softest passion of the heart might not flourish in that same Argos where friendship and filial affection were found or fabled to have dwelt, and whose local charms embittered by the very recollection of their loss the last moments of Virgil's dying soldier :
Sternitur infelix alieno vulnere, cælumque
Aspicit, et dulces moriens reminiscitur Argos." If Clemanthe is superfluous, she is the only superfluity of the piece, the principal person in which is developed with uncommon skill and success. The purity of Ion's original character, the entire transparency of his nature, and the gentleness of his feelings, are felt by the reader intuitively the instant he hears of his ministering unhurt to the plague-struck Argives. The power of innocence to confront danger is no fable, for it arises from a perfect unconsciousness of its presence. The spotless virgin wandering in the enchanted wood is but an emblem of an untainted moral nature, safe in its own purity:
“ She feared no danger for she knew no sin," is Dryden's beautiful expression. This characteristic of lon is an exquisite introduction to the subsequent phases under
which he is presented. There would have been something too shocking to the moral sense in imposing the solemn task of regicide and parricide, even in compliance with religious duty, on any. but unstained and pure hands. This is one reason (the passion to be gratified is another,) why the tragic duty executed by Orestes seems. so, atrocious to us, and was so abhorrent to the ancients themselves, though actually performed under divine command, that' the tragic writers were compelled to subject him to that horrible punishment, which, even in the mimicry of the stage, excited the lively imaginations of the Athenians almost to frenzy. But Ion's natural characteristics and his religious training admirably qualify him for the high action for which he is destined. In this he may be cited to illustrate the opposite of Hamlet's character, of whom Goethe, in a celebrated simile, so finely speaks, as of a person on whom a duty too great for his powers was laid by means of an awful behest. Born in the purple, nurtured in a luxurious court, educated amid the foolish and empty disputations of Wittemberg, the friend of Horatio, the lover of Ophelia, sporting away his time between jests upon Polonius and the society of a company of players, the playfellow of Yorick, and the idol of the commonalty, no wonder Hamlet's amiable but somewhat unschooled nature vibrated and quailed under the dread mandate of his dead father. It was not courage he wanted, for he followed the ghostly visitant whithersoever he led, but
" the native hue of resolution
Was sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought;" the enterprise took new shapes and colours under the application of his Wittemberg logic. It grew upon him like some monstrous and distorted vision; he procrastinated, he dallied with the time, he went about the court like a soul awry, casting himself in mockery upon every object whose vice, whose fatuity, or even whose affection, enabled him to forget for an instant the incubus that overweighed his spirit. We say that in this respect Ion is in beautiful contrast with Hamlet. Prepared by an education mysteriously secluded, free from those selfish passions which intercourse with the world fosters and strengthens, shackled but by a single tie, and that scarce known to himself, he enters modestly, but with perfect consciousness of the peril of his mission, on his errand to the king. Fortified by the result of that errand in his conviction of a high destiny, he claims the honour of the more dangerous enterprise almost before the lot is decided. Saved from the conflict between filial affection and patriotic duty, he advances to the final scene of his fate with a high port and descends to the altar a perfectly voļuntary, self-possessed, and conscious sacrifice, on the holiday
of his enthronement. So admirably has the author sustained the destiny of the piece, that the conclusion seems but the inevitable and quiet close of an actual event, so free is the sacrifice of Ion from all the turgid commonplaces usual on such occasions. It is but the necessary end of a career in which self has had no share; in which a being, born for others, lays down his life in one great act of devotion, which at once crowns and consummates its purposes. We know of but a single instance of self-sacrifice which is more adequately conducted than this of Ion, and that (it is no disparagement to Mr. Sergeant Talfourd to say) is the Departure of Regulus, in Horace, a picture wonderfully sublime, unequaled for the condensation of its images and for the simplicity with which its great elements are brought before the eye. The morale of the Roman subject is to moderns higher than that of the Grecian, the act of Regulus being strictly consonant to the injunctions of the Christian code.
With all the beauties of " Ion," however, we fear that Mr. Talfourd has not done any thing to invalidate the theory, that in its operation on the general mind by means of the stage tragedy has lost its day. The uniform delicacy and polish of his language, the judgment with which his principal character is elaborated, the purity of taste and purity of moral by which the play is distinguished, and the total absence of the larmoyante women and fustian men, which have never been superseded from Otway to Home and from Home to the present time, save, perhaps, in the extremely clever play by Milman, to which we have already alluded, leave his tragedy without points for the grasp or contact of the general mind. We have heard it said, and experience seems to countenance the observation, that no man can write a successful tragedy who is not practically familiar with the stage. If the opinion be correct, it is so more because the stage is pregnant with the reflected sentiments of miscellaneous audiences, and catches intuitively the tastes of those who form the mass of theatre-goers, than from any necessity an author is under of learning mere points of stage business. A man of genius finds his mind imbued with traditional maxims there, he learns the calibre of his audiences, and finds out how to modify his own rules and reduce his own standard of dramatic construction. What a strangely different play would Mr. Sheridan Knowles have made of the conception of Ionhow uneven, how occasionally unworthy would it have proved, and yet it might have contained situations of great force, and have told with strong effect in the hands of the actors.
It has been recently stated in the newspapers, that an accomplished lady, forinerly attached to the theatrical profession, has in preparation a tragedy from an incident of Spanish romance,
to be called “The Star of Seville.” If such an undertaking has been projected, it is doubtless founded on Lope de Vega's Estrella de Sevilla-a beautiful work, replete with all the best and most attractive characteristics of the Spanish stage, wherein the extremes of loyalty, love and honour, are depicted with a variety of incident and passion, and yet with a degree of truth and eloquence, which Shakspeare alone could surpass. The characters of Bustos Tabera, Ortiz, and Estrella, and the relations which they bear to each other, as developed in the course of the play, furnish materials for a drama of great force and beauty. Such a production, (if it followed the original,) matured under the active mind and ardent imagination of a highly gifted woman, with all the advantages of protracted stage experience, would form a fine specimen of a school in direct contrast to that in which Mr. Talfourd has practised. The preparatory studies, the course of life, and the maxims of composition of the respective authors, as well as the diverse models they may be supposed to consult, would result in qualities of excellence very widely distinguished. We doubt not that the romantic play (we use the term for want of a better, in reference to Mad. de Stael's somewhat fanciful division) would find a more permanent place on the stage than its classic (classical in spirit at least) rival, precisely as the unpractised eye prefers Gothic to Grecian architecture, because it appreciates detail better than proportion. There is, moreover, an affinity between the early Spanish and English theatres, of which the writers of comedy have largely availed themselves, but which has been neglected by tragic authors. If the play we speak of works that vein to advantage, it will do much for its popularity. It will address sympathies and feelings which a subject from the antique, treated almost with the simplicity of the antique, can never touch. The principles of the latter; and the mode of their development, are too refined and abstract.
We had prepared an analysis of Lope's play, with a view to the illustration, to some extent, of the contrast to which we have alluded, but we suppress it, feeling that, if we are right in our conjecture that the Estrella is the basis of the projected tragedy, it would hardly be courteous to the fair authoress to anticipate her in any use which she may make of its plot. At all events we anticipate the appearance of the play with much pleasure ; for we entertain a fervent conviction that she has but to exert her fine talents with vigour and earnestness, in order to sustain as a writer the art she has so much adorned in another capacity.
Art. X.-— Report of the Select Committee of the Senate of the
United States; to whom were referred the address of certain
A revision of the law of copyright is demanded alike by public opinion, the sound interests of learning, and a due regard to the rights of property. The United States and Great Britain present the singular spectacle of two enlightened nations, speaking the same language and cherishing the same great names in a common literature. The works of British writers form a part-how large and how valuable !-of the rich treasures to which the American student and man of letters resort, as to their own domestic store; and which they regard as the never fading ornaments of their mother tongue. To us, the strains of the English poet sound as sweetly and as familiarly as to the inhabitants of his native isle; and the voice of the English orator reaches the ears of auditors on the shores of a new world, who recognize no foreign idiom in the spiritstirring accents.
This community or rather identity of literary treasures has been overlooked in the formation of regulations for the government of literary property in our country, and British authors have been, we think, most improperly placed upon the same footing with those who speak a language unintelligible to the great mass of our population. The effects of the present law of copyright have been eminently injurious to the interests of those very authors whose works we are so exceedingly eager, and justly, too, to claim as honourable to our own tongue; and this result, we are persuaded, was not at all contemplated by congress, when the laws were passed professing to secure to authors the fruits of the labours of their heads.
This subject has for some time past engaged public attention, but has lately assumed a rnore imposing appearance, by the presentation to congress of an address, couched in respectful but decided language, and signed by most of the distinguished living writers of Great Britain. The appeal of such a body, who have contributed so largely to our instruction and amusement, should certainly not pass unheeded ; and as the document is somewhat of a literary curiosity, and worthy of permanent preservation, we give it entire. Address of certain Authors of Great Britain to the Senate of
the United States, in congress assembled, respectfully showing :
“ That authors of Great Britain have long been exposed to injury, in their reputation and property, from the want of a law