« السابقةمتابعة »
nate characters that are not their own; and thus become altogether sophisticated in their looks, words and actions, which is contrary to the simplicity and truth required by Christianity.' The Edinburgh Reviews make the fol-lowing observations on this statement. We scarcely think the Quakers will be much obliged to Mr. Clarkson for iin puting this kind of reasoning to them. We would rather hear at once that the play-house was the Devil's drawing-room, and that actors paint their faces, and deserve the fate of Jezebel. As to the sin of personating characters not their own, and sophisticating their looks and words, it is necessarily committed by every man who reads aloud a dialogue from the New Testament, or who adopts, from the highest authority, a dramatic form in his preaching. As to the other objection, that theatrical amusements produce too high a degree of excitement for the necessary sedateness of a good Christian, we answer, in the first place, that we do not see why a good Christian should be more still and sedate than his innocence and natural gaiety incline him to be; and, in the second place, that the objection proves Mr. Clarkson to be laudably ignorant of the state of the modern drama, which, we are credibly informed, is by no means so extremely interesting, as to make men neglect their business and their duties to run after it.
EXTRACT FROM AN ACCOUNT OF THE
GERMAN THEATRE. In examining these pieces in detail, and appropriating them to their respective authors, one is immediately
struck with the name of Lessing, whom Germany so . much reveres as one of the founders of her drama. He is the author of the first piece in Friedel's collection, Emilie de Galotti, another tragedy in one act called Philotas, a third called Sara Samson, and a drame entitled Nathan le Sage. He is author also of several other plays contained in the Theatre Allemand of Junker, one of which, Minna de Barnhelm, is reckoned the chef d'ou'vre of German comedy. I have perused it with all the attention to which its high character entitled it, and indeed with a great degree of the pleasure, though not with all the admiration which that high character led me to expect. It is of the graver or sentimental kind of coinedy, where the characters maintain a war of generosity, from which the embarrassments and implications of the plot, not very intricate nor artificial ones, result.
The principal person is Major Telheim, a disbanded officer, whose merits his country had ill-rewarded ; a man of the most consummate bravery, generosity and virtue, for whom these qualities have gained the love of every soldier and domestic around him. They have procured him a still more valuable attachment, the love of the heroine of the piece, Minna of Barnhelin, who, on hearing of the Major's regiment being disbanded, comes to Berlin to seek him, and to make him happy. The rival nobleness of mind of these two characters produces · the principal incidents of the piece, which however are not always natural, nor very happily imagined ; and besides, as Fielding jocularly says, when comparing a shallow book to a shallow man, may be easily seen through. But, with all these defects, and that want of comic force which the turn and situation of the principal characters naturally occasions, the play must please and interest every reader. There is something in the constitution of the human mind so congenial to disinterestedness, generosity and magnanimity, that it never fails to be pleased with such characters, after all the deductions which critical discernment can make from them. Amidst the want of comic humour which I have observed in this play, I must not omit, however, doing justice to a serjeant-major of Telheim's regiment, and to Justin his valet, who are drawn with a strong and natu, ral pencil. The story of the spaniel, told by the latter, when his master's poverty makes him wish to disiniss him from his service, is one of the best imagined, and best told, I remember to have met with. There is a good deal of comic character and lively dialogue in some of Lessing's less celebrated pieces in the collection of Junker; but the plots are in general extravagant and farcical.
In judging of Lessing as a tragic writer, one will do him no injustice by making the tragedy of Emilie de Galotti the criterion of that judgment. The others in these volumes are very inferior to this, which is certainly, in point of composition, character and passion, a perfora mance of no ordinary kind. Lessing was well acquainted with the ancient drama, and wished to bring the theatre of his country to a point of regularity nearer to that of the ancients. He published, for some time, a periodical criticism on theatrical composition, called, “Le Dramaturgie de Hambourg." His plays, accorda ingly, though not exactly couformnable to the Aristotelian
standard, approach pretty near to it, in the observation of the unities. He is said to have got into a dispute with Goethé on this subject, in which, from a degree of timi. dity in his nature, he rather yielded to his antagonist. I am not sure if he has profited by confining himself more than some other of his countrymen within the bounds of the regular drama. The fable of Emilie de Galotti, as well as of his other tragedies, is more regular than happy, and the denouement neither natural nor pleasing. It is founded on circumstances somewhat similar to those in the story of Virginia. A prince of Guastalla is des. perately enamoured of Emilie de Galotti, who is just about to be inarried to a man of rank and fortune, the Count Appiani. On the day of his marriage, he is waylaid by order of a wicked minister of the prince, and murdered. His bride is brought to the prince's countryseat, where, to prevent any chance of her dishononr, her father kills her.
After the first reading of Emilie, I was disposed to wonder at the reputation it had acquired; but a second placed it higher in my estimation. This was naturally the case in a performance where the whole was neither so perfect nor so interesting as some of the scenes in detail were forcible and striking. The heroine Emilie de Galotti is but imperfectly drawn, and not very well supported. Indeed, it may in general be observed in these pieces, that the characters of the female personages are by much the most defective, both in beauty and in force. 'This may perhaps be ascribed to the state of society in Germany, where the sex is less an object of consideration and respect than in France, and some other parts of the Continent. But there is another lady in this tragedy, the Countess d'Orsina, the last betrayed and abandoned mistress of the prince, whose character the poet has delineated with great ability; and one scene, in which she is introduced along with the father of Emilie, in genuine expression of passion, and pointed force of dialogue, may be compared to some of the best which the modern stage can boast.
In the developement of the secret foldings of the heart, Lessing seems deeply skilled, and the opening scenes of this tragedy contain some of those little incidents that mark an intimacy with human nature, which genius alone can claim. But in its progress we find, in some degree, a want of that strong and just delineation and support of character, but chiefly of that probable conduct and in
teresting situation, which are the great and peculiar re, quisites of dramatic excellence. It seems also defective in the pathetic, for which certainly the subject afforded very great room, and which, in a similar situation, our countryman Rowe has contrived so strongly to excite.
Of Lessing's performances in these volumes, the next in merit, though in my opinion, at a considerable distance, is Sara Samson, an English story, of which the idea seems chiefly taken from Clarissa ; though one character in it, that of a violent and profligate woman, is evią dently borrowed from Millwood in George Barnwell. There is a degree of infamy in the vice of such a person, that is scarcely suitable to the dignity of the higher drama, and which disgusts us with its appearance. The Marwood of Lessing is introduced in such a manner as to heighten that disgust. The amiable female of the piece, Sara Samson, is no exception from the general defect of female character in this collection. And her father, who is placed in the tenderest situation, of which several authors have made so affecting a use, the parent of a child seduced from honour, though still alive to virtue, is insipidly drawn, and awkwardly introduced. In this tragedy, is an incident, of which Lessing seems to be fond, as he has repeated it with very little variation in another tragedy, called L'Esprit Fort, a dream, related by the heroine, predictive of the catastrophe. This, as it anticipates the conclusion, is always faulty. No part of the conduct of a play is more nice and difficult than that degree of information which the author is to give the audience in the course of it. In general, he should certainly not forestal their expectations, by opening his plot too soon. But there is an admirable theatrical effect which often results from letting the audience know what the persons of the drama are ignorant of, which stretches, if I may use the expression, the cords of fear, anxiety and hope in the spectators to the highest pitch, through scenes which otherwise would produce these feelings in an inferior, as well as in a momentary degree. This knowledge in the audience of Merope's son, while she, in ignorance of his person, is on the point of putting him to death, is one of the most interesting situations which drainatic invention has ever produced; and there is nothing on the French stage which equals the horror of that scene of Crebillon's Atree et Thyeste, where the devoted brother attempts to disguise himself from Atreus, while the terrified spectators know him all the while, and tremble at
every look and word which they think will discover him.
Next to Lessing, in point of name, is Goethé, the author of two tragedies in this collection, Goetz de Berli. ching and Clavidgo, and of a drame entitled Stella. The first I have already mentioned as highly irregular in its plan, being a life thrown into a dialogue rather than tragedy. The simple manners, the fidelity, the valour and the generosity of a German knight, are pourtrayed in a variety of natural scenes. This national quality, I presume, has been the cause of its high fame in Germany, to which it seems to me to have otherwise not a perfectly adequate claim. His Clavidgo is founded on an incident which happened to the celebrated Caron de Beaumarchais in Spain, who is introduced as a person of the drama, under the name of Ronac, an anagram of Caron, with the letters a little transposed. The distress of the play arises from the falsehood of a lover, who leaves his mistress after being engaged to marry her. Neither the delineation of the characters, nor the management of the plot in the first two acts, is entitled to much applause; but the last act, which passes in the sight of the corpse of Maria, is wrought up with uncommon force, and must, on the stage, be productive of high effect. His third performance, Stella, is strongly marked with that enthusiastic sentiment and refined sensibility, which, in the Sorrows of Werter, he has so warmly indulged; and in point of immoral effect, the drama is equally reprehensible with the novel. Ils conclusion is in the boldest style of this sentimental refinement; since it gives to the hero two wives, with whom he is to share that heart, to which the incidents of the play have shewn the claims of both.
COUNTESS OF CARLISLE'S OPINION OF THE DRAMA,
FROM HER MAXIMS TO YOUNG LADIES. When you can fix your inind on the scenes before you, when the eye shall not wander to, nor the heart flutter at, the surrounding objects of the spectacle, you will return home instructed and improved.
The great utilities you may reap from well-acted tragedy are, the exciting your compassion to real sufferings, the suppression of your vanity in prosperity, and the inspiring you with heroic patience in adversity.
* In comedy, you will receive continual correction, delicately applied to your errors and foibles; be impartial in the application, and divide it humbly with your ac, quaintance and friends, and even with your enemies.