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TO THE ILLUSTRIOUS GOETHE
PRESUMES TO OFFER THE HOMAGE OF A LITERARY VASSAL TO HIS LIEGE LORD,
THE FIRST OF EXISTING WRITERS,
AND ILLUSTRATED THAT OF EUROTE.
THE UNWORTHY PRODUCTION WHICH THE AUTHOR VENTURES TO IXSCRIBE TO HIM IS ENTITLED
He is aware of the unpopularity of this notion in
present English literature; but it is not a system of In publishing the following Tragedies (3) I bave his own, being merely an opinion which, not very only to repeat, that they were not composed with the long ago, was the law of literature throughout the most remote view to the stage. On the attempt world, and is still so in the more civilised parts of it. made by the Managers in a former instance, the But "nous avons changé tout cela," and are reaping public opinion has been already expressed. With the advantages of the change. The writer is far from regard to my own private feelings, as it seems that conceiving that any thing he can adduce by perthey are to stand for nothing, I shall say nothing. sonal preceptor example can at all approach his
For the historical foundation of the following com- | regular, or even irregular, predecessors: he is merely positions, the reader is referred to the Notes. giving a reason why he preferred the more regular
The Author has in one instance attempted to pre formation of a structure, however feeble, to an entire serve, and in the other to approach, the “unities ;) abandonment of all rules whatsoever. Where he conceiving that with any very distant departure from has failed, the failure is in the architect,—and not in them, there may be poetry, but can be no drama. the art.(4)
(1) On the original MS. Lord Byron has written :-"Mem. Ravenna, May 27, 1821.- I began this drama on the 13th of January, 1821; and continued the two first acts, very slowly and by intervals. The three last acts were written since the 13th of May, 1821 (this present month); that is to say, in a fortnight." The following are extracts from Lord B.'s diary and letters:
* January 13, 1821. Sketched the outline and Dram. Pers. of an intended tragedy of Sardanapalus, which I have for some time me. ditated. Took the names from Diodorus Siculus (I know the his. lory of Sardanapalus, and have known it since I was twelve years old), and read over a passage in the ninth volume of Mitford's Greece, where he rather vindicates the memory of this last of the Assyrians. Carried Teresa the Italian translation of Grillparzer's Sappho. She quarrelled with me, because I said that love was not the loftiest theme for a tragedy; and, having the advantage of her native language, and natural female eloquence, she overcame my fewer arguments. I believe she was right. I must put more love into Sardanapalus than I intended."
"July 22. Print away, and publish. I think they must own that I have more styles than one. Sardanapalus is, however, almost a comie character: but, for that matter, so is Richard the Third. Mind the unities, which are my great object of research. I am glad Gifford likes it: as for the million, you see I have carefully consulted any thing but the taste of the day for extravagant coups-dethéâtre.'"
Sardanapalus was published in December, 1821, and was received with very great approbation.-L.E.
(2) “Well knowing myself and my labours, in my old age, I could not but reflect witb gratitude and diffidence on the expressions contained in this dedication, nor interpret them but as the generous tribute of a superior genius, no less original in the choice than inexhaustible in the materials of his subjects." Goethe.--L.E.
(3) Sardanapalus originally appeared in the same volume with The Foscari and Cain.-L.E
(4) "In this preface,” says Mr. Jeffrey) “Lord Byron renews his protest against looking upon any of his plays as having been composed with the most remote view to the stage;' and, at the same time, testifies in behalf of the unities, as essential to the existence of the drama-according to what 'was, till lately, the law of literature throughout the world, and is still so in the more civilised parts of it.' We do not think these opinions very consistent; and we think that neither of them could possibly find favour with a person whose genius had a truly dramatic character. We should as soon expect an orator to compose a speech altogether unfit to be spoken. A drama is not merely a dia. logue, but an action, and necessarily supposes that something is to pass before the eyes of assembled spectators. Whatever is peculiar to its written part should derive its
“ May 28. I have completed four acts. I have made SardanapaIus brave (though voluptuous, as history represents him), and also as arniable as my poor powers could render him. I have strictly preserved all the unities hitherto, and mean to continue them in the fifth, if possible; but not for the stage."
"May 30. By this post I send you the tragedy. You will remark that the unities are all strictly preserved. The scene passes in the same hall always the time, a summer's night, about nine hours or less; though it begins before sunset, and ends after sunrise. It is not for the stage, any more than the other was intended for it; and I shall take better care this time that they don't get hold on't.”
* July 14. I trust that Sardanapalus will not be mistaken for a political play; which was so far from my intention, that I thought of nothing but Asiatie bistory. My object has been to dramatise, like the Greeks (a modest phrase), striking passages of history and mythology. You will find all this very unlike Sbakspeare; and so much the better in one sense, for I look upon him to be the worst of models, though the most extraordinary of writers. It has been my objeet to be as simple and severe as Alfieri, and I have broken dwn the poetry as nearly as I could to common langy" ge The bardsbip is that, in these times, one can neither speak 'kings mor queens without suspicion of politics or personaliti. I intended meithier."
The following is an extract from The Life of Dr. Part :-" In the course of the evening the Doctor cried out-Have you read Sar. danapalus? Yes, Sir. Right; and you couldn't sleep a wink aftur it'_'No.' Right, right-now don't say a word more about it to night.'The memory of that fine pocm seemed to act like a spell or horrible fascination upon him."
In this tragedy it has been my intention to follow
ACT I. the account of Diodorus Siculus; (1) reducing it, however, to such dramatic regularity as I best could,
SCENE I. and trying to approach the unities. I therefore sup
A Hall in the Palace. pose the rebellion to explode and succeed in one day by a sudden conspiracy, instead of the long war of Salemenes (solus). He hath wrong'd his queen, but the history.
still he is her lord;
He hath wrong'd my sister, still he is my brother;
He bath wrong'd his people, still he is their sovereign,
He must not perish thus. I will not see
The blood of Nimrod and Semiramis
He must be roused. In his effeminate heart
There is a careless courage which corruption Altada, an Assyrian Officer of the Palace.
Has not all quench'd, and latent energies, Pania.
Repress'd by circumstance, but not destroy'dZAMES.
Steep'd, but not drown'd, in deep voluptuousness. SFERO.
If born a peasant, he had been a man Balea.
To have reach'd an empire: to an empire born, WOMEN.
He will bequeath none; nothing but a name, ZARINA, the Queen.
Which his sons will not prize in heritage:MYRrua, an Ionian female Slave, and the Favourite | Yet, not all lost, even yet he may redeem of SARDAXAPALUS.
His sloth and shame, by only being that
Which he should be, as easily as the thing
He should not be and is. Were it less toil
To sway his nations than consume his life? Scene-a Hall in the Royal Palace of Nineveh. To head an army than to rule a harem?
ties of time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, and, by circumscribing the extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot think it much to be lamented that they were not known by him, or not observed: nor, if such an. other poet could arise, should I very vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely positive become the comprehensive genius of Shakspeare, and such censures are suitable to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire :
peculiarity from this consideration. Its style should be an accompaniment to action, and should be calculated to excite the emotions, and keep alive the attention of gazing multitudes. If an author does not bear this continually in his mind, and does not write in the ideal presence of an eager and diversified assemblage, he may be a poet perhaps, but assuredly be will never be a dramatist. If Lord Byron really does not wish to impregnate his elaborate scenes with the living part of the drama-if he has no hankering after stage effectif he is not haunted with the visible presenti ment of the persons he has created-if, in setting down a vehement invective, he does not fancy the tone in which Mr. Kean would deliver it, and anticipate the long applauses of the pit, then he may be sure that neither his feelings nor his genius are in unison with the stage at all. Why, then, should he affect the form without the power of tru. gedy? Didactic reasoning and eloquent description will not compensate, in a play, for a dearth of dramatic spirit and invention : and, besides, sterling sense and poetry, as such, ought to stand by themselves, without the unmeaning mock. ery of a dramatis personæ. As to Lord Byron pretending to set up the unities, at this time of day, as the law of literature throughout the world,' it is mere caprice and contradiction. He, if ever man was, is a law to himself-'a chartered libertine;'-and now, when he is tired of this unbridled license, he wants to do penance within the unities! English dramatic poetry soars above the unities, just as the imagination does. The only pretence for insisting on them is, that we suppose the stage itself to be, actually and really, the very spot on which a given action is performed ; and, if so, this space cannot be removed to another. But the supposition is manifestly quite contrary to truth and experience."--Edin. Rev. vol. xxxvi.
Non usque adeo permiscuit imis
Serventur leges, malint a Cæsare tolli.'
(1) “This prince surpassed all his predecessors in effeminacy, luxury, and cowardice. He never went out of his palace, but spent all his time among a company of women, dressed and painted like them, and employed like them at the distaff. He placed all his happiness and glory in the possession of immense treasures, in feasting and rioting, and indulging himself in all the most infamous and criminal
The reader may be pleased to compare the above with the following passage from Dr. Johnson :
" Whether Shakspeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think impossible to decide, and useless to inquire. We may reasonably suppose, that when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics; and that he at last deliberately persisted im a practice which he might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential to the fable but unity of action, and as the uni
He sweats in palling pleasures, dulls his soul, (1) The grandson of Semiramis, the man-queen.-
And tell him what all good men tell each other, He must be roused. Alas! there is no sound Speaking of him and his. They come, the slaves!
[Sound of soft music heard from within. Led by the monarch subject to his slaves.(3)
| Enter SARDANAPALus effeminately dressed, his Head Must chime in to the echo of his revel;
crowned with Flowers, and his Robe negligently While the great king of all we know of earth
flowing, attended by a Train of Women and young Lolls crown'd with roses, and his diadem Lies negligently by, to be caught up By the first manly hand which dares to snatch it. Sar. (speaking to some of his attendants. Let the Lo, where they come! already I perceive
pavilion over the Euphrates The reeking odours of the perfumed trains,
Be garlanded, and lit, and furnish'd forth
Of midnight we will sup there: see nought wanting, Along the gallery, and amidst the damsels,
And bid the galley be prepared. There is As femininely garb'd, and scarce less female,
A cooling breeze which crisps the broad clear river:
pleasures. He ordered two verses to be put upon his tomb, signifying that he carried away with him all he had eaten, and all the pleasures he had enjoyed, but left every thing else behind him :
Κείν' έχω όσσ’ έφαγον και εφύβρισα, και μετ' έρωτος
Τέρπι' έπαθον, τα δε πολλά και όλβια πάντα λέλειπταιan epitaph, says Aristotle, fit for a hog. Arbaces, governor of Media, having found means to get into the palace, and having with his own eyes seen Sardanapalus in the midst of his infamous seraglio, enraged at such a spectacle, and not able to endure that so many brave men should be subject to a prince more soft and effeminate than the women themselves, immediately formed a conspiracy against him. Releses, governor of Babylon, and several others, entered into it. On the first rumour of this revolt, the king hid bimself in the inmost part of his palace. Being afterwards obliged to take the field with some forces which he had assembled, he at first gained three successive victories over the enemy, but was afterwards overcome, and pursued to the gates of Nineveb; wherein he shut himself, in hopes the rebels would never be able to take a city so well fortified, and stored with provisions for a considerable time. The siege proved, indeed, of very great length. It had been de. clared by an ancient oracle that Nineveh could never be taken, unless the river became an enemy to the city. These words buoyed up Sardanapalus, becanse be looked upon the thing as impossible. But when he saw that the Tigris, by a violent inundation, had thrown down twenty stadia (two miles and a half) of the city wall, and by that means opened a passage to the enemy, he understood the meaning of the oracle, and thought himself lost. He resolved, however, to die in such a manner as, according to bis opinion, should cover the infamy of his scandalous and effeminate life. He ordered a pile of wood to be made in his palace, and setting fire to it, burnt himself, his eunuchs, his women, and his treasures." ---Diod. Sic. I. ii. p. 109.
Sardanapalus is, beyond all doubt, a work of great beauty and power; and though the heroine has many traits in common with the Medoras and Gulnares of Lord Byron's undramatic poetry, the hero must be allowed to be a new character in his hands. He has, indeed, the scorn of war, and glory, and priestcraft, and regular morality, which dis. tinguishes the rest of his lordship's favourites; but he has no misanthropy, and very little pride--and may be regarded, on the whole, as one of the most truly good humoured, amiable, and respectable voluptuaries to whom we have ever been presented. In this conception of his character, the anthor has very wisely followed nature and fancy rather than history. His Sardanapalus is not an effeminate wornout debauchee, with shattered nerves and exbausted senses, the slave of indolence and vicious habits; but a sanguine votary of pleasure, a princely epicure, indulging, revelling in boundless luxury while he can, but with a soul so inured to volaptuousness, so saturated with delights, that pain and danger, when they come uncalled for, give him neither con. cern por dread; and he goes forth from the banquet to the battle, as to a dance or measure, attired by the Graces, and with youth, joy, and love for his guides. He dallies with
Bellona as her bridegroom-for his sport and pastime; and the spear or fan, the shield or shining mirror, become his bands equally well. He enjoys life, in short, and triumphs in death; and whether in prosperous or adverse circumstances, his soul smiles out superior to evil." Jeffrey.
“The Sardanapalus of Lord Byron is pretty uearly such a person as the Sardanapalus of history may be supposed to have been. Young, thoughtless, spoiled by flattery and unbounded self-indulgence, but with a temper naturally ami. able, and abilities of a superior order, he affects to undervalue the sanguinary renown of his ancestors, as an excuse for inattention to the most necessary duties of his rank; and flatters himself, while he is indulging his own sloth, that he is making his people happy. Yet, even in his fondness for pleasure, there lurks a love of contradiction. Of the whole picture, selfishness is the prevailing feature--selfishness admirably drawn, indeed; apologised for by every palliating circumstance of education and habit, and clothed in the brightest colours of which it is susceptible, from youth, talents, and placability. But it is selfishness still: and we should have been tempted to quarrel with the art which made vice and frivolity thus amiable, if Lord Byron had not at the same time pointed out, with much skill, the bitterness and weariness of spirit which inevitably wait on such a character; and if he bad not given a fine contrast to the picture in the accompanying portraits of Salemencs and of Myrrba.” Heber.-L. E. (1) In the MS.
"He sweats in dreary dull'd effeminacy."-L. E. (2) In the MS.
"And see the gewgaws of the glittering girls."-L. E. (3) Salemenes is the direct opposite to selfishness; and the character, though sligbtly sketched, displays little less ability than that of Sardanapalus. He is a stern, loyal, plain-spoken soldier and subject; clear-sighted, just and honourable in his ultimate views, though not more puncti. lious about the means of obtaining them than might be ex. pected from a respectable satrap of ancient Nineveh, or a respectable vizier of the modern Turkish empire. To bis king, in spite of personal neglect and family injuries, he is, throughout, pertinaciously attached and punctiliously faith. ful. To the king's rebels he is inclined to be severe, bloody, and even treacherous; an imperfection, however, in his character to want wbich would, in bis situation, be almost unpatural, and which is skilfully introduced as a contrast to the instinctive perception of virtue and honour which flashes out from the indolence of his master. Of the satrap, however, the faults as well as the virtues are alike the offspring of disinterested loyalty and patriotism. It is for his country and king that he is patient of injury; for them he is valiant; for them cruel. He has no ambition of personal power, no thirst of individual fame. In battle and in victory, "Assyrial' is his only war-cry. When he sends off the queen and princes, he is less anxious for his nephews and sister than for the preservation of the line of Nimrod ; and, in his last moments, it is the supposed flight of his sove reign which alone distresses and overcomes him.” Heber. -LE.