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excite the smallest interest :' .“ they are machines, whose indispensable need alone make us overlook their improbability.”
This view of French tragedy strongly corroborates the uxorious Frenchman's definition of opera. Ma femme et cinq ou six poupettes-voilà un opéra!” A hero or heroine, and five or six machines—violà une tragédie! we should paraphrase it. “C'est nous qui faisons l'histoire!” said Napoleon to Talma, on witnessing his performance of Nero. If the tragedian can so mar and mutilate history as to make nonentities of all but his kings and heroes, and to make them what he pleases, then the vaunt would be more superb if Napoleon had said, “ Talma, it is we who make Nature!”
“ In German tragedies, independently of the heroes and their confidants, there is, upon a second plan, another cast of actors, who are themselves, in some sort, spectators of the principal action, which has a very indirect influence upon them. The impression made upon these by the situation of the principal personæ has often appeared to me to add to the effect made by that situation on the public. The opinion of the spectators is, as it were, anticipated and directed by an intermediate public, nearer to the scene of action, and not less impartial than themselves.”
In this capacity, he thinks, the chorus of the ancients stood,
“ Judging the sentiments and actions of kings and heroes whose crimes and miseries were set before them. By this judgment they established a moral correspondence between the scene and the public; and the public must have tasted some satisfaction in hearing its emotions defined and enounced in harmonious language.”
Of course, but for this “ harmonious language,” our feelings would remain stagnant. Like the sages of the Flying Island, the public require some brain-bearer to tell them when to feel, and what to feel; and it is the perception we have of the acuteness of that slave who puts our thoughts into good wording for us that forms the greatest gratification of the drama! But M. Constant is enamoured of these “ harmonious” puffs — these mimes who played “ secundas partes,” or second fiddle; to whom Aristophanes had but one objection, insuperable however,—the difficulty of finding a space for beings who belonged neither to the real nor the represented world. When pushed to extremities on this point, he made them articulating birds, croaking frogs, and even grumbling clouds.
Their advocate continues
“ I have once only seen a play, in which a modern had attempted to introduce the chorus. It was from Schiller's · Betrothed of Messina. I had gone to it with strong prejudices against this imitation of the ancients: nevertheless, those general maxims in the mouths of the people, that caught so much more truth and spirit from their ap
pearing to be suggested by the conduct of the chiefs, and by the misfortunes which that conduct heaped upon the speakers--this public sensation, personified in a manner which dived into my heart, to bring up my inmost thoughts, and to present them to me with greater precision, elegance, and force—this penetration of the poet, who guessed all that I must feel, and bodied forth what, in me, was but an unshaped dream, ( an airy nothing,') taught me to feel a new enjoyment, of which, till then, I had no conception."
It is surprising to hear this avowal from an individual of that nation which accused the English (teste Sterne) of appealing from the heart to the head, before they gave way to a soft or benevolent impulse. How much more justly would the charge be against those who require big words and lofty style to heighten the distress of a tragic scene; who feel not the accents wrung from grief or despair till a by-stander has set them off in figurative speech! To do this is, in fact, the great effort of French tragedy; and M. Constant had at least one good reason for his admiration of the chorus—the identity of its office with that of the characters of his native tragedy. These characters are not so virtually actors as lookers-on, who describe, rather than exhibit, passions; as if they stood aloof from themselves, and only felt what a witness of suffering, not a sufferer, feels.
The truth is, the French possess but little sympathy with personal sorrow, on or off the stage. The wrongs of an individual must be in a measure national before they can inflame that people. It is for orders and tribes they reserve their affections or antipathies. Theirs is a sort of generalizing fervour, that causes systems, and other creations of the intellect, to engross their enthusiasm, to the weakening of the ties of private life. With them, the pieties and charities are ethical duties, rather than heartfelt yearnings. They could regulate the mass of social and domestic relations by a system of bienséances and artificial sentiments, without once recurring to the throne of the genuine affections. A scène, or burst of nature, is a horror to their notions of decorum; and whatever resembles it, even on the stage, is shocking to their sense of propriety. As a substitute for such unruly explosions, their heroes twist and analyze common-place sentiments in their long soliloquies: or if they condescend to dialogue, it is only to bandy phrases and conventional maxims. To moralize well is the paramount perfection of their tragic hero; and in this he is admirably seconded by the strict interdiction of free speech to all the other persona. To the same dearth of private sympathy, and exuberant love of display, we refer their flaunting eulogies of popular authors, which caused so much more sensation than the death of the subjects themselves. The loss of the man was unfelt till a La
Harpe had summed up his perfections in a vapouring panegyric; and then the whole nation was inconsolable.
M. Constant is so much in love with this by-play effect, that he thinks Schiller would have succeeded with his chorus but for two reasons: the first, that a number of actors, all speaking and gesticulating at the same time, would be likely, without good training, to produce a confusion bordering on the ridiculous. With us, the objections were insurmountable; but he has rested the failure of Schiller's renovation on another cause :
“ In The Betrothed of Messina,' Schiller had denaturalized the chorus of antiquity, by dividing it into two factions, each composed of the partisans of a distinct hero; by which means he divested the chorus of that impartiality which gives weight and solemnity to its words."
And he very gravely assumes that
“ The chorus ought to be the organ and representative of the whole people; all that it says should be a sombre and imposing repetition of the public sentiment. Nothing impassioned can become it: the moment it begins to act a part in the piece it is robbed of its nature, and loses its effect.”
The Germans, he thinks, may dispense with these echoes ; or rather, they have all the essence of such duplicate exciters, without the “ confusion bordering on the ridiculous.”
“ Let us only compare what Schiller has done in his · William Tell,' with what a Grecian would have done in like circumstances. Tell, escaped from the pursuit of Gessler, has scaled a wild rock, commanding the road along which the tyrant must pass. There the Swiss peasant awaits his enemy, holding the bow and arrow that must serve his vengeance, after having so well served his paternal love. He retraces, in a soliloquy, the ease and innocence of his past life, and gives way to wonder at finding himself so suddenly thrust by tyranny out of the peaceable and obscure condition to which fate seemed to have ordained him. He recoils from the act that he is about to commit. His yet unsullied hands shrink to die themselves in the blood even of the guilty. It must be done, however, if he would save his own life, that of his son, that of all the objects of his love. Doubtless, in a Grecian tragedy, the chorus would here have lifted up its voice, to reduce into general maxims the feelings that crowd upon the soul of the spectator. Schiller, not having this resource, supplies the defect by the introduction of a rustic wedding, that winds along the base of the rock to the sound of instruments. The contrast between the gayety of this laughing troop and the sadness of Tell suggests at once to the spectator all the reflections which the chorus could have expressed. Tell is of the same class as these careless villagers; like them, he was poor, unknown, bred to labour ; his obscurity ought to have shielded him from a power so much above him, yet it has proved no defence. The Grecian Chorus would have expanded these truths in smooth sententious phrases.
German tragedy has displayed them with no less force, by the introduction of a number of persons unnecessary to the action, and having no ulterior connexion with it.”
We are only surprised that M. Constant should trace any parallel between these true dramatic personages and beings that exist nowhere-neither in imagination nor reality. This nullibi oppresses the mind so painfully, that we would rather that some one from the side-boxes or pit should start up and comment upon the situations, than listen to the most specious chorus that was ever yet devised. It could only be his zeal in favour of a flimsy hypothesis, that forced the similitude on M. Constant: as his faith waxes stronger he sees types and archetypes of the chorus in the most integral components of the drama.
“ These secondary personages serve to unfold thoroughly the chief characters. Werner, who unites two qualities apparently incompatible—the playful and witty observation of the human heart, with a deep and enthusiastic melancholy-presents to us in his · Attila' the crowded court of Valentinian, yielding themselves up to balls, concerts, and all the giddy round of pleasure, while the Aail of the gods is at the gates of Rome. We see the young emperor and his favourites solicitous only to repel the vexatious tidings that threaten to suspend their amusement; taking the truth for a symptom of disaffection, and forethought for an act of sedition ; regarding as faithful subjects those only who disbelieve the facts, the knowledge of which would annoy them; and fancying to retard these events by doubting those who announce them. This heedlessness, laid before the spectator, impresses him more than a simple recital would have done."
Why, this is the very substance and spirit of the drama! Here are no superfluous intruders that needed apology or explanation; yet the French critic thinks it necessary to deprecate any intention of foisting such secondary characters upon his native boards.
“ I am far from recommending the introduction of such means in our tragedies. The more the dramatists of any nation aspire to produce effect, the more should they be amenable to severe laws. Without these they would, to attain their end, but multiply the number of temptations to deviate from truth, nature, and good taste.” “ As often as the French poets have sought to import on our stage expedients borrowed from abroad, they have invariably been more prodigal of their use, more exaggerative and extravagant, than the foreign nations which they imitated.
“ I think, therefore, that with reason we refuse to our writers the liberty which the Germans and English concede to theirs, of producing diversified effects by music, accidental meetings, multitude of actors, changes of scene, spectres, prodigies, and scaffolds. As it is easier to make effect by such resources than by situation, sentiment, and characters, there would be danger, if we suffered their admission, of our soon seeing on our boards nothing but scaffolds, combats, feasts, apparitions, and decorative changes."
We must allow a Frenchman to know the faults of his countrymen better than we do: nor may we contradict his testimony of German writers; and we leave others to reconcile its apparent inconsistency with such works as “Faust” and “Der Freyschütz.”
« There is in the character of the Germans a fidelity, a candour, a scrupulousness, that confines their imagination within certain bounds. Their writers have a literary conscience, that makes historical accuracy and moral probability as necessary to them as public applause. They have a deep and earnest sensibility, that dotes upon the detail of natural feelings. So dear is this task to them, that they dwell infinitely more upon their own sensations than upon the effect they want to produce. In consequence, the external means which they employ, however multiplied, are still but accessaries. But in France, where we never lose sight of the public--in France, where we speak, write, act, only with a view of impressing others—accessaries, if admitted, might soon become principals. By interdicting such overeasy means of success to our poets, we force them to extract more from the resources left to them; and these are far superior—the display of character, the jar of the passions, and, in a word, the development of the human heart.”
After this digression, M. Constant reverts to the tragedy of Wallenstein, and gives his reasons, founded on national prejudices, for the suppression of whole scenes and passages. Those where the belief in prediction is brought into play are softened down to soothe the esprits forts of his nation; though he is latitudinarian enough to admit, that
“ This species of effect is founded in the nature of the human heart, which, in all its emotions of fear, pity, or tenderness, is brought back by a mysterious spell to what we call superstition. This may appear puerile weakness, but I confess I am tempted to respect whatever has its source in our nature.”
Some scenes he omits for no better reason than that they contain a mob:
“ The scenes of the assassins of Banquo, in Macbeth,' are striking by their laconic energy. That of the murderers of Wallenstein has another kind of merit. The manner in which Schiller unfolds the motives presented to them, and graduates the effect of those motives : the struggle between attachment and cupidity, in those ferocious bosoms: the address with which their suborner metes out his arguments to their gross intellect-painting crime as a duty and gratitude as a crime: their eagerness to snatch at every thing that can excuse them to themselves, after their resolve to shed the blood of their neral: the necessity which even these corrupted bosoms feel, to delude themselves and to cheat their conscience, by covering with a speciousness of justice the crime which they are about to perpetrate: lastly, the reasoning that decides them, and that decides so many others to commit actions which their internal sentiment condemns-that, in case of their refusal, other instruments will be found-all this is of