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GEL.

Art. IV. Lectures on Dramatic Literature. By W. A. SCHLE

Translated from the German, by John Black, Esq. 2 vol. Baldwin & Co. 1815. TH This work is German; and is to be received with the allow

ances which that school of literature generally requires. With these, however, it will be found a good work : and as we should be sorry to begin our account of it with an unmeaning sneer, we will explain at once what appears to us to be the weak side of German literature. In all that they do, it is evident that they are much more influenced by a desire of distinction than by any impulse of the imagination, or the consciousness of extraordinary qualifications. They write, not because they are full of a subject, but because they think it is a subject upon which, with due pains and labour, something striking may be written. So they read and meditatc,—and having, at length, devised some strange and paradoxical view of the matter, they set about establishing it with all their might and main. The consequence is, that they have no shades of opinion, but are always straining at a grand systematic conclusion. They have done a great deal, no doubt, and in various departments; but their pretensions have always much exceeded their performance. They are universal undertakers, and complete encyclopedists, in all moral and critical science. No question can come before them but they have a large apparatus of logical and metaphysical principles ready to play off upon it; and the less they know of the subject, the more formidable is the use they make of their apparatus. In poetry, they have at one time gone to the utmost lengths of violent effect,--and then turned round, with equal extravagance, to the laborious production of no effect at all. The truth is, that they are naturally a slow, heavy people; and can only be put in motion by some violent and often repeated impulse, under the operation of which they lose all control over themselves—and nothing can stop them short of the last absurdity. Truth, in their view of it, is never what is, but what, according to their system, ought to be. Though they have dug deeply in the mine of knowledge, thay have too often confounded the dross and the ore, and counted their gains rather by their weight than their quality. They are a little apt, we suspect, literally to take the will for the deed, -and are not always capable of distinguishing between effort and success. They are most at home, accordingly, in matters of fact, and learned inquiries. In art they are hard, forced, and mechani, cal; and, generally, they may be said to have all that depends on strength of understanding and persevering exertion,—but to

er.

want case, quickness and flexibility. We should not have made these remarks, if the work before us lad formed an absolute exception to them.

William Schlegel has long becii celebrated on the Continent as a philosophical critic, and as the admirable translator of Shakespear and Calderon into his native tongue. Madame de Staël acknowledges her obligations to him, for the insight which he had given her into the discriminating features of German genius : And M. Sismondi, in his work on Southern literature, bears the most honourable testimony to his talents and learning. The present work contains a critical and historical account of the ancient and modern crama,-the Greek, the Latin, the Italian, the French, the English, the Spanish, and the German. The view which the author has taken of the standard productions, whether tragic or comic, in these different languages, is in general ingenious and just ; and his speculative reasonings on the principles of taste, are often as satisfactory as they are profound. But he sometimes carries the love of theory, and the spirit of partisanship, farther than is at all allowable. His account of Shakespear is admirably characteristic, and must be highly gratifying to the English read

It is indeed by far the best account which has been given of the plays of that great genius by any writer, either among ourselves, or abroad. It is only liable to one exception-he will allow Shakespear to have had no faults. Now, we think he had a great many, and that he could afford to have had as many

It shows a distrust of his genios, to be tenacious of his defects.

Our author thus explains the object of his work

. Before I proceed farther, I wish to say a few words respecting the spirit of my criticism—a study to which I have devoted a great part of

my life. We see numbers of men, and even whole nations, so much fettered by the habits of their education and modes of living, that nothing appears natural, proper, or beautiful, which is foreign to their language, their manners, and their social relations. In this exclusive mode of seeing and feeling, it is no doubt possible, by means of cultivation, to attain a great nicety of discrimination in the narrow circle within which they are circumscribed. man can be a true critic or connoisseur, who does not possess a universality of mind,—who does not possess that flexibility which, throwing aside all personal predilections and blind habits, enables him to transport himself into the peculiarities of other ages and nations,—to feel them as it were from their proper central point,--and to recognise and respect whatever is beautiful and grand under those external circumstances which are necessary to their existence, and which sometimes even seem to disguise them. There is no monopoly of poetry for certain ages and nations; and consequently, that

more.

But no

despotism in taste, by which it is attempted to make those rules liniversal, which were at first perhaps arbitrarily established, is a pre. tension which ought never to be allowed. Poetry, taken in its widest acceptation, as the power of creating what is beautiful, and representing it to the eye or ear, is a universal gift of Heaven ; which is even shared to a certain extent by those whom we call barbarians and savages. Internal excellence is alone decisive; and where this exists, we must not allow ourselves to be repelled by external circumstances.

It is well known, that three centuries and a half ago, the study, of ancient literature, by the diffusion of the Greek langnage (for the Latin was never extinct) received a new life: The classical authors were sought after with avidity, and made accessible by means of the press; and the monuments of ancient art were carefully dug up, and preserved. All this excited the human mind in a powerful manner, and formed a decided epoch in the history of our cu.-tivation: the fruits have extended to our times, and will extend to a period beyond the power of our calculation. But the study of the ancients was immediately carried to a most pernicious excess. The learned, who were chiefly in possession of this knowledge, and who were incapable of distinguishing themselves by their own productions, yielded an unlimited deference to the ancients,--and with great appearance of reason, as they are models in their kind. They maintained, that - nothing could be hoped for the human mind, but in the imitation of the ancients ; and they only esteemed, in the works of the moderns, whatever resembled, or seemed to bear a resemblance, to those of antiquity. Every thing else was rejected by them as barbarous and unnatural. It was quite otherwise with the great poets and artists. However strong their enthusiasm for the ancients, and however determined their purpose of entering into competition with them, they were compelled by the characteristic peculiarity of their minds to proceed in a track of their own,--and to impress upon their productions the stamp of their own genius. Such was the case with Dante

among

the Italians, the father of modern poetry: he acknowledged Virgil for his instructor; but produced a work, which of all others differs the most from the Æneid, and far excels it, in our epinion, in strength, truth, depth, and comprehension. It was the same afterwards with Ariosto, who has been most unaccountably compared to Homer ; for nothing can be more unlike. It was the same in the fine arts with Michael Angelo and Raphael, who were without doubt well acquainted with the antique. When we ground our judgment of modern painters merely on their resemblance to the ancients, we must necessarily be unjust towards them. As the poets for the most part acquiesced in the doctrines of the learned, we may observe a curious struggle in thein between their natural inclination and their imagined duty. When they sacrificed to the latter they were praised by the learned; but, by yielding to their own inclinations, they became the favourites of the people. What preserves the heroic poems of a Tasso or a Camoens to this day alive, in the hearts and

on the lips of their countrymen, is by no means their imperfect resemblance to Virgil or even to Homer,-but, in Tasso, the tender feeling of chivalrous love and honour, and in Camoens the glowing inspiration of patriotic heroism.'

The author next proceeds to unfold that which is the nucleus of the prevailing system of German criticism, and the foundation of his whole work, namely, the essential distinction between the peculiar spirit of the modern or romantic style of art, and the antique or classical. There

There is in this part of the work a singular mixture of learning, acuteness and mysticism. We have certain profound suggestions and distant openings to the light; but, every now and then, we are suddenly left in the dark, and obliged to grope our way by ourselves. We cannot promise to find a clue out of the labyrinth; but we will at least attempt it. The most obvious distinction between the two styles, the classical and the romantic, is, that the one is conversant with objects that are grand or beautiful in themselves, or in consequence of obvious and universal associations; the other, with those that are interesting only by the force of circumstances and imagination. A Grecian temple, for instance, is a classical object; it is beautiful in itself, and excites immediate admiration. But the ruins of a Gothic castle have no beauty or symmetry to attract the eye; and yet they excite a more powerful and romantic interest from the ideas with which they are habitually associated. If, in addition to this, we are told that this is Macbeth's castle, the scene of the murder of Duncan, the interest will be instantly heightened to a sort of pleasing horror. The classical idea or form of any thing, it may also be observed, remains always the same, and suggests nearly the same impressions; but the associations of ideas belonging to the romantic character, may vary infinitely, and take in the whole range of nature and accident. Antigone, in Sophocles, waiting near the grove of the FuriesElectra, in Æschylus, offering sacrifice at the tomb of Agamemnon-are classical subjects, because the circumstances and the characters have a correspondent dignity, and an immediate interest, from their mere designation. Florimel, in Spenser, where she is described sitting on the ground in the Witch's hut, is not classical, though in the highest degree poetical and romantic: for the incidents and situation are in themselves mean and disagreeable, till they are redeemed by the genius of the poet, and converted, by the very contrast, into a source of the utmost pathos and elevation of sentiment. Othello's handkerchief is not classical, though there was magic in the web;'-it is only a powerful instrument of passion and imagination. Even Lear is not classical: for he is a poor crazy old man, who has nothing sublime about him but his afflictions, and who dies of a broken heart.

Schlegel somewhere compares the Furies of Æschylus to the Witches of Shakespear--we think without much reason. Perhaps Shakespear has surrounded the Weird Sisters with associations as terrible, and even more mysterious, strange, and fantastic than the Furies of Æschylus; but the traditionary beings themselves are not so petrific. These are of marble,—their look alone must blast the beholder ;-those are of air, bubbles; and though“ so withered and so wild in their attire,' it is their spells alone which are fatal. They owe their power to metaphysical aid:' but the others contain all that is dreadful in their corporal figures. In this we see the distinct spirit of the classical and the romantic mythology. The serpents that twine round the head of the Furies are not to be trifled with, though they implied no preternatural power : The bearded Witches in Macbeth are in themselves grotesque and ludicrous, except as this strange deviation from nature staggers our imagination, and leads us to expect and to believe in all incredible things. They appal the faculties by what they say or do ;-the others are intolerable, even to sight.

Our author is right in affirming, that the true way to understand the plays of Sophocles and Æschylus, is to study them before the groupes of the Niobe or the Laocoon. If we can succeed in explaining this analogy, we shall have solved nearly the whole difficulty. For it is certain, that there are exactly the same powers of mind displayed in the poetry of the Greeks as in their statues. Their poetry is exactly what their sculptors might have written. Both are exquisite imitations of nature; the one in marble, the other in words. It is evident, that the Greek poets had the same perfect idea of the subjects they described, as the Greek sculptors had of the objects they represented; and they give as much of this absolute truth of imitation, as can be given by words. But, in this direct and simple imitation of nature, as in describing the form of a beautiful woman, the poet is greatly inferior to the sculptor: It is in the power of illustration, in comparing it to other things, and suggesting other ideas of beauty

or love, that he has an entirely new source of imagination opened to him; and of this power, the moderns have made at least a bolder and more frequent use than the ancients. The description of Helen in Homer, is a description of what might have happened and been seen, as that she moved with grace, and that the old men rose up with reverence as she passed;' the description of Belphabe in Spenser, is a description of what was only visible to the eye of the poet.

• Upon her eyelids many graces sat,

Under the shadow of her even brows.' The description of the soldiers going to battle in Shakespear,

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