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The Three Clerks: a Novel. By A. Trollope. 3 vols. Richard Bentley.
[Very clever; but containing not a little patchwork. The characters
are sometimes not consistent with themselves; and adventitious
copy” is used as padding to fill up the volumes.] Orphans. By Mrs. Oliphant. 1 vol. Hurst and Blackett. The White House by the Sea: a Love Story. By M. Betham Edwards. 2 vols. Smith, Elder, and Co.
[A freshly written tale, with no false sentiment, and much power
of the feminine kind.) White Lies. By Charles Reade. 3 vols. Trübner.
Great New Street and Fetter Lane,
THE NATIONAL REVIEW.
Art. I.-MEROPE: A TRAGEDY.
Merope : a Trugedy. By Matthew Arnold. London: Longmans,
1858. MR. ARNOLD is no doubt following his own true bent when he devotes himself to what is called the classical school of literature. Certainly no living poet is so well qualified to familiarise the English mind (if that be possible) with the forms and substance of the Greek drama. The limits, as well as the quality, of his genius give him more than common facilities for such a task. His love of beauty is profound, and he loves best, perhaps by nature, and certainly from study, its more abstract manifestations, especially those of form. He uses the emotions as a field for the intellect, not the mind to subserve the heart, and his imagination is bound up with the former rather than the latter; it is a lamp that shines, not a fire that glows. He lays a cold hand on sensuous imagery; and there is a keen clear atmosphere about his pictures from nature, as if his muse had steeped his eyes in Attic air and sunshine. Thus gifted, he devotes himself to reproducing Greek poetry in an English dress, and presents us with an Athenian tragedy in our own language. We are not ungrateful for the gift. But Mr. Arnold is not content that we should accept it as a beautiful curiosity, or treat it as a rare exotic: he has written a preface to urge that such plants should be acclimatised; he boldly demands place in English literature for the forms of poetry which took their rise in Greek sacrificial observances, adapted themselves to Greek social habits, were limited by Greek ideas, and embodied Greek religion, Greek patriotism, and, above all, that which is most characteristic of a people, —the feelings with which it looks at the hidden arbiters
No. XII. APRIL 1858.
of life, the controlling destinies of the world. That drama, which held these things as a wine holds its flavour and spirit, Mr. Arnold thinks should be studied in England; not studied to know it, that we may rejoice in it and the knowledge it brings with it, but studied to reproduce it, that we may make the same kind of thing for ourselves. He thinks he can dig up the dusky olive from the plains of Attica, and plant it in our English wheat-fields; that he can take in its fullest development the most purely indigenous and the most intensely and narrowly national literature the world ever saw, and bid it find new springs of life some two thousand years later in a nation which has already found its expression in a dramatic literature evolved by itself. Did such an attempt ever succeed? A native literature in its infancy may take the impression of a foreign one; though even then, if it have strength to grow at all, it soon throws off, or carries only as a superficies, the marks of its early tutoring: but when did a foreign growth ever share the field with an indigenous one? A nation whose habits of thought were sufficiently congruous with those of some other, has plagiarised and adapted its literary productions : Terence went to Greece as Planche goes to Paris. But in these cases it is not a foreign form and spirit which is transferred, but the adapter merely studies his own idleness, or the poverty of his own resources, by borrowing a plot and a certain stock of wit and ideas; and his effort is to oust all that is specially foreign, or to transform it into a more familiar shape. Is the epic a Greek form naturalised ? It may
the particular form of the Iliad has been adopted in great measure as the model of all epics : but it is a form so broad and simple, has in it so little that is special or national, that it may be said to be a mode of embodying imaginative ideas common to all mankind. It is a form which is easily separable from the matter, and it is the form alone which has been borrowed. No great poet has ever written another Greek epic. We shall not be confuted by Glover's Leonidas. Every one has emptied out the old form, and filled it with his own native ideas. The Eneid is Roman; the Inferno is Florentine; the Paradise Lost is English. In the same way, Jonson in England and Molière in France adhered more or less strictly to the rules deduced by the critics as the true conditions of comedy; but applied them to modern manners, modern character, and all the wider range and greater richness, intricacy, and variety of modern ideas. When we speak of form, we are apt to confound two things. There is a form which is one with its spirit, and is its outer manifestation; there is another which is merely a sort of outside shell. It is this alone perhaps which in art one century or one nation can
borrow from another; certainly it is this alone which we have taken in the epic, and in some of the broad rules which govern our dramatic constructions.
But there is what is called the classical school of tragedy. Is this what we have professed to think impossible,-a new birth of an art which rose like a star so many centuries ago, and after its brief but imperishable shining, fell headlong again into silence? Have France and Italy revived the Athenian stage? Mr. Arnold claims, and claims justly, for the tragedy of Athens, that though wanting in the richness of that of England, it has not only power and intensity, but speaks strongly to the highest artistic feelings in our nature, because it is steeped as it were, thoroughly interpenetrated, by a rhythmic proportion and correspondence which governs its spirit as well as its outer form. Has either the greatness of its matter, or the beauty of its forms, been preserved by Alfieri, or Racine, or Addison, men of no despicable genius? The Greek tragedy is not narrow for ancient Greece; that is to say, it occupies itself with the full field of Greek tragic thought: but the modern classical school is narrow. It has sought intensity by exclusion and limitation; it deepens the river, not by an abundance of waters, but by narrowing in the banks. Æschylus rolls along with a sound of great waters. Racine lashes a canal into foam. The peculiarities of form and the choice of subjects, which were natural and indispensable to Greek art, serve only as devices to countenance the poverty of that of France. The ancient tales are stripped bare, necessarily so, of the hallowed associations of religion and patriotism and ancestral piety which clung to them in Greece, and remain naked exhibitions of human passion. Sophocles gives us the deep-seated workings of the hearts of men, and the terrible and inscrutable mysteries of mortal destiny, set to solemn music, clear and penetrating in its tones, if not rich in its harmony; like Milton's scathed angels, moving
“In perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood
Of flutes and soft recorders." But his field embraces more than this. It is not the vagaries and struggling passions of the simple human heart that inspire his tragedies, but of hearts which are the field of action for the dread supernatural powers,-hearts which are swayed from their nature by divine wills, which bear the burden of ancestral crimes, and embody the destinies of nations. But you cannot have this in modern plays. When Racine's Phèdre ascribes the fierce flames of her unlawful desires to the anger of Venus, and tells of her vain sacrifices on the altar of the goddess, the extenuation, which must have raised something of sublime pity in a
Greek heart, falls dead and unmeaning on our ears; it seems trivial, a sort of classical decoration, which interferes with our interest, if it affects us at all. Phèdre does indeed agitate us powerfully, because our attention undistracted is tied down to the contemplation of a single frantic passion and a woman writhing under its torturing influence: it is not a play to be seen from a distance, or that could be acted in mask or buskin; but it needs an audience who can catch each altered tone and every change of feature, and calls for the heart-piercing cries, the working features, the pale flashes and spasmodic action of Rachel. French tragedy screams through all its monotonous cadence, its stilted diction, and its formal limitations of time and place and persons. The same in great measure is true of Alfieri, in whom, however, speaks, if not a higher genius, a stronger and more ardent nature. “Narrow elevation,” says Mr. Arnold, “is the characteristic of Alfieri.” Perhaps we should rather say narrow intensity; and one or the other is the highest tragic characteristic of the modern classical drama. Nor is the form of the Greek drama more clearly reproduced than its matter. Mr. Arnold well describes the influence and beauties of the Athenian choruses; their interpretive and enforcing functions; the repose that lyric song affords to the strained emotions; and the balanced rhythmic symmetry which their answering parts give to the whole play. But the French school dispenses with this characteristic feature; or uses it, if at all, stripped of what makes it most characteristic. In brief, the modern classical drama has borrowed not the form but the mere shell of that of Greece, and even that narrowed and angularised ; and though it has preserved a set of classical ideas to which it appeals, and a sort of classical phrascology which it uses, these are conventional and external only. There is this marked difference between the influence of ancient literature on the modern literature of England and of France, that in the former, ideas and forms, so far as they were adopted at all, were digested and assimilated; in the latter they were simply employed to overlay and varnish: there was no native growth to swallow them up and be enriched by them; they were greater in every way than that with which they came in contact, and were cruelly hacked and compressed to meet its meaner requirements. Mr. Arnold is fully aware of this; but he makes some confusion : he uses the term 'classical school, but what he really means by the term is the school of ancient Greece itself. He sees, or feels rather, that you cannot adopt its special and intricate beauty of form without adopting something of its inner essence; and when he enters the lists as a writer in this school, he writes something not like the Cato of Addison, or the Irene of Johnson, but as like as he can to