Page images

C'eft elle qu'on adore, et non pas ta perfonne,
Tu n'as crèdit ni rang qu'autant qu'elle t'en donne;
Et pour te faire choir je n'aurais aujourd'hui
Qu'à retirer la main qui feule eft ton appui.

Emilia enters, and behaves with the most infolent pride, undaunted affurance, and unfeeling ingratitude; and declares to Auguftus, that fo long as fhe is handfome enough to get lovers, he fhall never want enemies. Auguftus ftill adheres to his plan of clemency, (for that too is plan, and the refult of prudent deliberation, not of generous magnanimity) he pardons Maximus, forgives Cinna in fpite of his unworthiness, and bestows upon him Emilia and the confulfhip. Emilia is at last mitigated, and modeftly tells Auguftus, that Heaven has ordained a change in the Commonwealth, fince it has changed her Heart. What is there in all this that can move either Pity or Terror? In what is it moral, in what is it interefting, where is it pathetic?


It is a common error, in the plan of Corneille's tragedies, that the interest of the piece turns upon fome unknown person, generally a haughty princess; fo that instead of the representation of an important event, and the characters of illuftrious perfons, the bufinefs of the drama is the love-intrigue of a termagant Lady, who, if she is a Roman, infults the Barbarians, if she is a Barbarian, braves the Romans, and even to her Lover is infolent and fierce. Were fuch a person to be produced on our theatre, fhe would be taken for a mad Poetess escaped from her keepers in Bedlam, who, fancying herself a Queen, was ranting, and delivering her mandates in rhyme upon the ftage. All the excufe that can be made for Corneille in such representations is, that characters like thefe, dignified indeed with nobler fentiments, were admired in the Romances, where the manners of chivalry are exaggerated. By the inftitutions of chivalry, every valiant knight profeffed a peculiar



devotion to the fair fex, in whose cause, as the Champion of the defencelefs, and Protector of the oppreffed, he was always ready to take arms. A lady's interest being often the object, and fometimes her person the prize of a combat, she was supposed to infpire his courage; and, as he was to be not lefs diftinguished for Politeness than Valour, he affected an air of fubmiffive obedience, while fhe, by the courtesy of Knighthood, was allowed to affume a ftile of fuperiority and command. To carry thefe manners into ancient Greece and Rome, and weave them into a confpiracy there, betrays want of judgment. This drama is carried on in the ftrain of Romance. The lady enjoins her Lover to kill Auguftus; that adventure atchieved, he is to hope for her hand; his glory is to be derived from her acknowledging him worthy of it; fhe is continually exhorting him to deferve, the honour of being beloved by her. The fate of Augustus, of the Roman empire, all the duties of the citizen and the friend, are to depend on her


decifion. She fays to Auguftus, when he
has discovered the confpiracy, as a fufficient
vindication of her lover,

Oui, tout ce qu'il a fait, il l'a fait pour me plaire,
Et j'en etois, feigneur, la caufe et le falaire.

The author certainly intended to recom-
mend Cinna to his fpectators merely as a
loyal lover, according to the phrase of ro-
mance in every other light he appears con-
temptible, and indeed fuffers himself to be
used with the greatest contempt and indig-
nity. As Shakespear laboured to shew that
the motives of Brutus were untinctured by
any bad paffion; every movement in the
mind of Cinna has on the contrary the cha-
racter of baseness, and whether he conspires
or whether he repents of it, he is still, as he
acknowledges himself to be,

Un efprit malheureux,

Qui ne forme qu'en lache un deffein genereux.

From this unhappy Wretch, who bafely conceives a generous defign, let us turn to Brutus. There we fhall fee the different

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

judgment and genius of the artists. Brutus and Cinna are drawn in the fame fituation, confpiring against the foremost man of all this world: in the one we have the features and complexion of a Villain, in the other the high-finished form of a noble Patriot.


« PreviousContinue »