« הקודםהמשך »
hour of night.” “How ill this taper burns !" says he ; thus recalling to the mind the terrors of our childhood, when we were taught that the blueness of the flame indicated the “nearing of unearthly steps.” And then the ghost of Cæsar enters. “But the situation," observes our author, “ in which terror is carried to the utmost height which the case will admit, is a state of suspense, when we know that some dreadful evil is every moment ready to fall on us, but at the same time have no distinct knowledge of its nature or degree; while our apprehensions are always kept alive by some new alarm, which seems to indicate the instant approach of the evil in all its horrors.” Who can imagine the terrors of a spirit, which, already weakened by a consciousness of its guilt, and a remembrance of its bloody actions, should receive the full impression of a letter like the following ?
“Of the troubles which surrounded Robespierre in this asylum," says an anonymous historian of the reign of our present king, the papers, which were found in it after his death, sufficiently inform us. He received a number of letters in which the most extravagant adoration was lavished upon him ; but others contained menaces and imprecations which must have frozen his blood. Among others, a letter was found which contained these terrible words: “This hand, which traces thy sentence ; this hand, which thy embarrassed eyes search in vain to discover; this hand, which presses thine with horror, shall pierce thine inbuman heart. Every day I am with thee; I see thee every day; and every hour my lifted arm seeks for thy breast. O, most accursed of men, live yet a little while to think of me. Sleep to dream of me, that my remembrance and their affright may be the first preparation of thy punishment. Adieu. This very day, in looking in thy face, I shall enjoy thy terror.”
We have thus taken a very brief notice of what appear to us the three sources of the sublime. It cannot be expected that in our narrow limits we should find room to take “a survey of the different qualities which are regarded as sublime," and to point out the class to which they belong, or the associations by means of which they acquire their sublimity. We shall content ourselves with just noticing the sublimity of sounds and colours. Of sounds our readers have already seen the essayist's account. Surely it would have been a more natural account of the matter, to say, that, in childhood, we dread thunder as something which imperiously calls our attention, but the cause, and nature, and effects of which, are utterly unknown and incomprehensible to us. The impression remains when the ignorance is in part removed. From their resemblance to thunder arises the sublimity of other sounds; as the groaning of the sea, or of a cataract, or of a forest in a storm--the shouting of a large assembly-the roaring of can
non--the pealing of a gong or of a kettle-drum.-With regard to colours,
“It is perhaps more difficult to account for the effects of those which are favourable to the sublime. These, Mr. Burke reckons to be black, and all the fuscous colours, such as brown or deep purple, and likewise strong red. Now, we can scarcely say that such colours either exhibit power, or render us conscious of it, or any how suggest its idea. Perhaps we shall go no farther than to say, that they somehow predispose the mind to be more deeply affected with either the sublime or the terrible.”
That there are colours which please more than others, independently of any association, appears both from the case mentioned by the essayist, p. 65. and that lately made public by Professor Stewart, and Mr. Wardrop: but that any particular colour should
predispose” the mind to any particular emotion, there seems no reason to believe. It appears to us, that without any hypothesis of their somehow “predisposing the mind,” it is sufficient to say, in general, that these colours are in nature united to sublime objects, to some or other of which every one is accustomed even from childhood. The lowering sky, the thunder-cloud, the sea in a storm, the heavens in a dark night lighted up with the reflection of a conflagration—all these exhibit the fuscous colours ; and hence the fuscous colours acquire a sublinity, even when united to other objects. On the contrary, green, blue, pink, yellow, are the colours in which the gayest and most beautiful objects in nature are drest.
The subject of the fifth essay is Pity. With regard to its proving a source of pleasure our author's principle is, that the great charm of pity is the extraordinary height to which it raises the tender affections. If our readers think it worth the trouble of consideration, they will find that this account of the thing is not different from that given by ourselves in a late number.
We pass by several good observations on the characters which are the properest to excite our pity; that we may have room for some remarks which tragedians would do well to keep constantly in view.
“In order that we may be prepared for pathetic impressions, we should not only be brought into a serious, and even melancholy frame, but also interested for the person who is to be the object of our pity. Our attention, therefore, ought to be gradually turned from gayer scenes, and directed to those things which calm the soul, which inspire the graver emotions of love, respect, or admiration, and the gentler degrees of awe or sorrow. Not that gay objects should be excluded, but only that they should not be the principal objects; that
they should be admitted only to heighten, by contrast, the effect of those which inspire or lead to melancholy. By our being interested for the person, I understand not only affection and attachment, but likewise curiosity to be informed of his fortune." P. 156.
“But let the object of our pity be ever so engaging, yet, as pity is a painful emotion, we must remark here, as in the case of terror, that an author should not endeavour to prolong it without interruption in its higher degrees : for, either our state of mind will become too distressing, or the attempt will be abortive, from the languor and insensibility which are the consequence of violent agitation. We should be relieved, however, not by objects of drollery, which are unfavourable to the repetition of the pathetic; but by amiable views of human life, by the display of the tender affections, which will not only sooth our distress, but likewise soften our hearts, and render us easily subdued when the violence of sorrow returns. What is sublime and beautiful in external objects, may also be employed with the best effect. From the dismay and anguish of our fellow creatures we gladly pass to those views of inanimate nature which sooth to complacency, or inspire a greater melancholy: and such representations, on the other hand, form an excellent preparation, and an excellent scenery, for whatever is most violent in the pathetic.” P. 166, 167.
In the observance of these two rules of nature, rather than of criticism, consist two great excellencies of our old dramatists. They took sufficient materials and sufficient time to interest us for their heroes; and they relieved our sorrow by the admixture of lighter scenes, and the charms of the most exquisite poetry. Shakspeare, and his cotemporaries and immediate successors, had no dread of what, at the present day, would be called extraneous matter. Their test, indeed, of its pertinency seems to have been different from ours :-not, can it be taken away without leaving a gap in the story? but, can it be taken away without diminishing our interest for the characters? The former is the criterion of him who writes according to the inflexible canons of criticism; the latter of him who writes by his own feelings. The different methods of the two schools of dramatists in conducting a fable has been well shown by Cumberland, in his comparison of the Fatal Dowry, and the Fair Penitent. The stories are the same: but Rowe was afraid of introducing all the circumstances which Massinger had used. Massinger brought them in, not only to keep alive the attention of his readers, (a circumstance which at present we have nothing to do with,) but to inspire them with a high admiration and affection for his hero. Rowe abstained from them, because they would have broken into the unity of his plot. Accordingly, the whole business of the two first acts of the Fatal
Dowry, is thrown into a very short narrative in the Fair Penitent. With what different feelings Altamont and Charalois are accompanied through the play, let the reader judge. Let us not be understood as speaking against the unity of subject. But then we consider that subject as one-not where all the parts, by some artificial management, are rendered necessary to the main story but, where they all conduce to one grand end, one strong impression upon the feelings. The former will be perceived, and spoken of, and approved by the understanding; the latter may pags altogether unnoticed, but does not, therefore, produce its effect less surely.
With the unity of subject the critics, however, were not satisfied; they required also a unity of time. It is necessary, it seems, in order that we should be deeply affected in the fate of any one, that all we know about him should be comprised in the compass of a single day. Why one day should be chosen in preference to half a day, or two days, we are not sufficiently skilled in the science of criticism to be able to inform our readers. Had the time of the action been limited to the time of the performance, there would have been some pretence of reason for ihe rules. But surely if the imagination of the audience can extend three hours into twenty-four, the poor poet may venture to trespass a little further upon their indulgence. “Addo unam atque etiam unam.” But can any thing be more absurd than this?
it likely that, without violating all probability, the poet should be able continually to feign a train of events such, that we should become acquainted with a man in the morning, and be strongly interested in his fortunes before night? Is it likely that a day should comprise a sufficient number of events to fill five acts, in such a manner as to keep awake the interest of the audience? Is it not rather to be expected, either that a little business should be eked out with a great deal of speechifying, or that circumstances should be crowded together without the slightest attention to nature and probability? We are not acquainted with any tragedy more interesting than Othello. We have time to become perfectly familiar with every one of the dramatis personæ. We are privy to Othello's marriage, made familiar with his courtship. --see him “shut up in measureless content" at Cyprus—watch him falling gradually and reluctantly by the skilful and matured arts of lago-and at length follow him with pity to the bedchamber of his wife. We have seen him in many situations, and had occasion to respect and love him in all. The same may be said of Desdemona--the young, the beautiful, the artless, the innocent, the warm-hearted. Is it to be wondered at that we feel interested in their end ?-But the action was not comprised in four
Vol. II. New Scries.
and twenty hours; and what critic should approve the play. Young takes the same story, and the unity of time is most diligently observed in the drama. Let us see at the expense of what ab. surdities. The morning introduces us to Leonora, about to be married, against her own consent, to Don Carlos. Don Carlos obtains intelligence of the loss of his whole fortune, and with it he loses the good will of his mistress's father. Here is one marriage most precipitately broken off. Don Alonzo now makes up to Leonora —the man whom she had long loved. This marriage was concluded as precipitately as the other was broken off. This may seem a pretty good day's work; but we are not at the end yet. Alonzo, by the arts of his Moorish slave, Zanga, is inspired with a jealousy of his wife, and gives orders to Zanga for the murder of Don Carlos. These orders are faithfully executedall within the day. At evening Alonzo and his wife meet in a bower; and, after a long altercation, most heroically kill themselves.—And this is unity of time!
The other excellency of our old dramatists which we mentioned, was their mingling of lighter and gayer scenes with their most heart-breaking tragedies. Not to mention here (what we have insisted upon elsewhere) the air of probability which is given to their stories, when the characters are thus brought down to our own level, it is pretty evident that strong feeling cannot be sustained for any length of time. It is so in real life; and in the midst of the heaviest misfortunes it is surprising how the mind soinetimes slips from under its load. It must be so in fictitious distresses; and if an author endeavours to keep our sympathy on the full stretch through five acts, we must infallibly laugh or fall asleep before the end of the fifth. As to the common objection that, by the introduction of levity, the source of sorrow is interrupted, and that the mind cannot take up at will the proper train of feeling, we can only say that we have not found it so in fact. The absurdities of the grave-diggers by no means lessen the feelings produced by the meditations of Hamlet among the graves; por do the whimsicalities and downright nonsense of Sterne fortify the heart against his pathos.