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by the most delicate propriety of sentiment and expression *.
I return to my subject from a digression I cannot repent of. That perfect harmony which ought to subsist among all the constituent parts of a dialogue, is a beauty, no less rare than conspicuous: as to expression in particular, were I to give instances, where, in one or other of the refpects above mentioned, it corresponds not precisely to the characters, passions, and sentiments, I might from different authors collect volumes. Following therefore the method laid down in the chapter of sentiments, I shall confine my quotations to the grosser errors, which every writer ought to avoid.
And, first, of passion expressed in words flowing in an equal course without interruption.
In the chapter above cited, Corneille is censured for the impropriety of his sentiments; and here, for the sake of truth, I am obliged to attack
* The critics seem not perfectly to comprehend the genius of Shakespeare. His plays are defective in the mechanical part; which is less the work of genius than of experience, and is not otherwise brought to perfection but by diligently observing the errors of former com pofitions. Shakespeare excels all the ancients and moderns in knowledge of human nature, and in unfolding even the most obscure and refined emotions. This is a rare faculty, and of the greatest importance in a dramatic author; and it is that faculty which makes him surpass all other writers in the comic as well as tragic vein.
him a second time. Were I to give instances from that author of the fault under consideration, I might transcribe whole tragedies; for he is no less faulty in this particular, than in passing upon us his own thoughts as a spectator, instead of the genuine sentiments of passion. Nor would a comparison between him and Shakespeare, upon the present article, redound more to his honour, than the former upon the sentiments. Racine is here less incorrect than Corneille ; and from him therefore I shall gather a few instances. The first shall be the description of the sea-monster in his Phædra, given by Theramene, the com-. panion of Hippolytus. Theramene is represented in terrible agitation, which appears from the following passage, so boldly figurative as not to be excused but by violent perturbation of mind:
Le ciel avec horreur voit ce monstre sauvage,
Yet Theramene gives a long pompous connected description of that event, dwelling upon every minute circumstance, as if he had been only a cool spectator :
A peine nous sortions des portes de Trézéne,
Ses fuperbs coursiers qu'on voyoit autrefois
A&t v. Sc. 6.
The last speech of Atalide, in the tragedy of Br. jazet, of the same author, is a continued discourse; and but a faint representation of the violent passion which forced her to put an end to her own life :
Enfin, c'en est donc fait. Et par mes artifices, Mes injustes soupçons, mes funestes caprices, Je suis donc arrivée au doloureux moment, Où je vois, par mon crime, expirer mon amant. N'étoit-ce pas assez, cruelle destinée, Qu'à lui survivre, hélas ! je fusse condamnée ? Et fallot-il encore que, pour comble d'horreurs, Je ne pusse imputer sa mort qu'à mes fureurs ! Oui, c'est moi, cher amant, qui t'arrache la vie ; Roxane, ou le Sultan, ne te l'ont ravie. Moi seule, j'ai tissu le lien malheureux Dont tu viens d'éprouver les detestables næuds. Et je puis, sans mourir, en souffrir la pensée? Moi, qui n'ai pû tantôt, de ta mort menacée, Retentir mes esprits, prompts à m'abandonner ! Ah! n'ai-je eu de l'amour que pour t'assassiner? Mais c'en est trop. Il faut par un prompt sacrifice, Que ma fidelle main te venge, et me puniffe. Vous, de qui j'ai troublé la gloire et le repos, Héros, qui deviez tous revivre en ce héros, Toi, mere malheureuse, et qui dès notre enfance, Me confias son cæur dans une autre esperance,
Infortuné Vifir, amis déserpérés,
A&t v. Sc. last.
Though works, not authors, are the professed subject of this critical undertaking, I am tempted by the present fpeculation to tranfgreis once again the limits prescribed, and to venture a cursory reflection upon that juftly celebrated author, That he is always sensible, generally correct, never falls low, maintains a moderate degree of dignity, without reaching the sublime, paints delicately the tender affections, but is a stranger to the genuine language of enthusiastic or fervid passion.
If, in general, the language of violent passion ought to be broken and interrupted, soliloquies ought to be so in a peculiar manner: language is intended by nature for society; and a man when alone, though he always clothes his thoughts in words, seldom gives his words utterance, unless when prompted by some strong emotion; and even then by starts and intervals only * Shakespeare's soliloquies may be juftly established as a model; for it is not easy to conceive any model more perfect : of his many incomparable soliloquies, I confine myself to the two following, being different in their manner.
* Soliloquies accounted for, Chap. 15.
Hamlet. Oh, that this too too folid flesh would melt, Thaw; and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd His canon 'gainst self.laughter! O God! O God! How weary, ftale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world ! Fie on't ! O fie ! 'tis an unweeded garden, That grows to feed : things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. That it should come to this! But two months dead! nay, not so much ; not two; So excellent a king, that was, to this, . Hyperion to a satyr: so loving to my mother, That he permitted not the winds of heav'n Visit her face too roughly. Heav'n and earth! Must I remember—why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown . By what it fed on; yet, within a month Let me not think-Frailty, thy name is Woman! A little month! or ere those shoes were old, With which she followed my poor father's body, Like Niobe, all tears W hy she, ev’n she (O heav'n! a beast that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourn'd longer-) married with mine
Than I to Hercules. Within a month!
Hamlet, A&t 1. Sc. 3.