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"A mace he wields,
Whose sway resistless breaks both shield and arm,
"Has this youth no name? Hast thou not heard
"You start and shudder like a man
"He did not deign to look upon the present,
But stretch'd his sun-burnt hands straight out before
Like a blind man, and would have stood so still,
"Why should I fear to see a grave-clad ghost,
"Then forward sprung, and on the mighty shield
"The years, the months, the weeks, the very days,
Are reckon'd, register'd, recorded there.
And of that period I could cite such times,
So dolorous, distressful, melancholy,
That the bare mention of them would excite
Amazement how I live to tell the tale."
* Our national vanity must confess the same wretched quibble in one of the most interesting scenes of Shakespeare's Hamlet:
"Unhand me, gentlemen!
Lines which (with reverence to Shakespeare be it said) I think it might be judicious to leave out in the acting.
And in that well known defiance of Alonzo, conceived in the very slang of a bruiser.
"I'll fight you both,* father and son at once."
Nor is there less a want of propriety and goodtaste in the allusion to the hackneyed story in Ovid, in the midst of a mother's anguish:—
"You know not what you do, unhappy both!
This combat must not, nor it shall not be;
The sun in heaven would backward turn his course,
And shrink from such a spectacle as this,
More horrid than the banquet of Thyestes."
With all its imperfections, however, this tragedy had much greater success in the representation than any of Mr Home's other plays, Douglas excepted. It owed, perhaps, great part of that success to the exertions of Mrs Barry, then in the very zenith of her theatrical fame, for whom Mr Home, in a preface which sufficiently speaks his exultation at the applause which his play received, says he wrote the part of Ormisinda, a confession which speaks more of policy than dignity in the poet.
* When Mr Woods, a favourite actor on our Edinburgh stage, brought out this tragedy for his benefit, I suggested a slight transposition of the words, that took off something from.' the vulgarity of expression—
"Both will I fight,
Of his latest tragedy, Alfred, I am unwilling to speak. His friend, our venerable associate, Dr Adam Ferguson, thus accounts for its failure:
"Edinburgh, February 7,1778. "My Dear. John,
"Damn the actors that have damned the play, and think no more of it till you have time to do what may be necessary for the press, and then consider what is to be done with it. Besides the accidents you mention, I can conceive that the substitution of a love-interest for an interest of state, which the audience expected from the name of Alfred, may have baulked them; when they appeared
to languish, you certainly did right to withdraw it.
"Most affectionately yours,
But in truth, its own want of interest in the plot, and of poetry in the dialogue, are quite sufficient, without any other cause, to account for the unfavourable reception it met with. There was an uniform mediocrity in the language, an uniform tameness and want of discrimination in the characters, sufficient, without the national feeling of the debasement of the great Alfred into the hero of a love-plot, to tire, if not to disgust an audience.
Another tragedy I find among his papers, of the composition of which I am unable to fix the date, but I presume it was at a later period than that of Alfred; its title is Alina, or the Maid of Yarrow, and it is founded on a fabulous story, of which the time is supposed to be that of the Crusade of St Louis ; but the persons are Scots, and the scene is laid on the Borders of Scotland. This story, being of a sort adapted to kindle those national and heroic feelings of which Mr Home was so susceptible, one would have thought might have roused his genius to something of the same excellence which his Douglas possesses; but it is very deficient in all the qualities which give force or interest to dramatic composition, and the principal female character, Alina, marked with nothing to distinguish or to adorn it, and not placed in any situation in which the ablest actress could make it attractive. Yet the author seems to have been fond of it, for he has made a number of corrections and alterations. An anonymous friend, to whose judgment he appears to have submitted this play, has written an elaborate criticism (as far as can be judged by the fragment of that criticism which exists among Mr Home's papers,) upon every scene of it. But no amendment which criticism could suggest, could possibly give it interest with the reader or with an audience; it has the most irremediable of all faults, a want of that vigour and creative force of genius for which a number of faults is easily forgiven. By the author's partiality, two fair copies of it were made by two different amanuenses; but it was never acted, and will probably never be published.
1 found, in a more imperfect form, two acts of an unfinished play, to which the author has affixed no title, but which is founded on an East-Indian story, and turns on the invasion of Hindoostan, by a Tartar Prince, who is in love with the daughter of a Rajah, whose hand her father, as well as her own affections, had bestowed upon another. From the two acts which were written, it does not seem to promise any excellence that should make one regret its not being finished. It is probable the story was suggested by Mr Home's intimacy with the author of Zingis, for which tragedy Mr Home wrote the prologue. Zingis was brought out, 1 think, about the year 1780.
If I am right in supposing the time of writing these two tragedies to have been as late as that year, it was after Mr Home had met with the very serious accident of a fall from his hprse, which had nearly cost him his life, and which certainly, though it did not affect his intellect, impaired both the power of his genius and the discrimination of his taste; and this circumstance may easily account