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that we can derive in an independent manner from experience, it furnishes suitable examples in the most archetypal form.
It is remarkable that in epic and lyric poetry no such divergence into two contrasted species has taken place as in the Drama. It is true the ludicrous epopee (as it is called) has been erected by some into a proper species; but it is in fact an accidental variety, a mere parody of the epos, and consists in applying to petty and insignificant circumstances that solemn staidness of development which prevails in the proper epopee, and which seems to be appropriate only to grand subjects. In lyric poetry there are gradations, as the song, the ode, the elegy, but no proper contrast.
The spirit of the epic poem, as we recognise it in its father Homer, is clear, transparent collectedness of mind. The epos is a quiet representation of a march of events. narrates either serious or cheerful incidents; but he narrates them with equanimity and imperturbedness of spirit, and withholds them, as already past, at a certain remoteness from the view.
The lyric poem is the musical expression of mental emotions by means of speech. The essence of the musical tone or affection of mind is when we seek to retain an excitement, be it in itself joyful or sorrowful, with complacency, nay, to perpetuate it in the soul. The feeling therefore must be previously mitigated so far as not to hurry us beyond itself in exertion to attain the pleasure or escape the sorrow; but unconcerned about the ups and downs of pleasure and pain which the future may bring, we seek to establish our permanent abode in an individual moment of our existence.
The dramatic poet, in common with the epic, deals with exterior incidents, but then he exhibits them as actual and present. In so doing he lays claim to our sympathy, in common with the lyric poet, but he is not so easily satisfied as the latter, and insists upon affecting us with joy or sorrow in a far more immediate degree and manner. He evokes all emotions which are called into exercise by the sight of the doings and fortunes of real men, but he waits until we have expended the total sum of the impressions he desires to produce, before he will harmonise those emotions into a satisfactory tone of feeling. Standing in such close proximity, as he does, to real life, and seeking to
transform his figments into its realities, the equanimity of the epic poet would in him be indifference; he must decidedly avouch himself a partisan of one or other of the leading views of human life, and must constrain his hearers also to come over to his party.
To reduce it to the simplest and most intelligible expression, tragic and comic are related to each other as earnest and sport. Everybody is acquainted with these two directions of feeling from his own experience. But what their essence is, and whence their origin, it would require profound philosophic investigation to declare. Both, indeed, bear the stamp of our total nature,
. but earnest belongs more to its moral, sport to its animal part. The irrational beings are, properly speaking, capable neither of earnest nor of sport. They seem indeed sometimes to labour, as if they had seriously an object in view, and were consequently subordinating the present moment to one that is to succeed; at other times they play, that is to say, resign themselves in a purposeless manner to the pleasure of existence; but they have not in either case that consciousness of purpose which alone entitles the two conditions to the denomination of earnest and sport. Man alone, of all the creatures we are acquainted with, is gifted with the retrospective and prospective faculty; and this high privilege he has to purchase dearly. Earnest, in its most extended sense, is the direction of the mental powers to an object or purpose. But so soon as we take account of ourselves concerning our own doings, reason constrains us to refer this purpose to others still higher, and so on continually up to the supreme universal end and purpose of our existence: and here the Infinite, the demands of which are inherent and indefeasible in our very being, breaks in upon
the view at the barriers of our finite brief existence. All that we do and work is transitory and nothinglike; still there is death in the distance, and thitherward every well or ill spent moment is conducting us. In the most fortunate case, if a person reaches the natural term of existence without calamity, still it remains that he must quit or be quitted by all that was dear to him in this world. There exists no bond of love without a separation, no enjoyment without the grief of losing it. But when we carry our eye along the relations of our existence to the very uttermost verge of possibilities, when we ponder its absolute dependence on a chain of causes and effects stretching beyond our ken, how, weak and helpless against the assaults of the enormous powers of nature and of conflicting appetites, we are cast upon the shore of an unknown world, shipwrecked, as it were, at our very birth; how we are exposed to all kinds of errors, all kinds of deceptions, any one of which may be our ruin; how, in our passions, we bear an enemy in our own bosoms; how any moment may demand of us, in the name of the most sacred duties, the sacrifice of our sweetest inclinations, and at one unexpected blow deprive us of all we have so hardly earned; how with every accession to our stores the risk of loss is multiplied, and we do but stand exposed in more parts to the malice of hostile fortune: under such contemplations there cannot but sink upon every heart that is not closed to feeling, a weight of inexpressible melancholy, to which there exists but one counterpoise, the consciousness of a destination that transcends this limitary scene of being. This is the tragic tone of mind; and when the contemplation of the possible issues from the spirit as living reality, when that tone interpenetrates and puts life and soul into a visible representation of the most striking instances of violent revolutions in man's destinies, the subjugation of the will beneath them, or of fortitude in bearing up against them, then the result is Tragic Poetry. Hence we are already in a capacity to explain in part, how this kind of poetry is founded in our nature, and to answer the question, how it is that we can like such melancholy representations, nay, find in them a something elevating and consolatory. Namely, it is because that tone of mind inevitably arises in all deep feeling, and Poetry, as she cannot obviate these dissonances of the inward man, must at least endeavour to present an ideal solution of them.
As earnest, carried to the highest degree, is the essence of Tragedy, so sport of Comedy. The sportive tone of mind is when in the comfortable feeling of present well-being we are fain to forget all those melancholy considerations aforesaid. In such a state of feeling, one is disposed to take all things as in play, and let them glide away lightly over the mind. Men's infirmities and perversities are then no longer a theme of discomfort and lamentation, but these strange contrasts entertain
the understanding and amuse the fancy. The comic poet, therefore, must keep at a distance whatever is calculated to excite moral indignation at the actions, true sympathy in the situations, of his personages, otherwise we inevitably get into the tone of earnest. Their perverse actions he must exhibit as occasioned by the animal nature getting the upper hand in their constitution, and the incidents which befall them, as merely laughable distresses upon which no pernicious consequences will
This is still the case in what we call Comedy, though there is some touch of earnest in it too. But the elder Comedy of the Greeks was altogether sportive, and thereby formed the most complete contrast to their Tragedy. Not only were the characters and situations of men conceived after a comic fashion in a picture of real life, but the whole frame of society, the government, Nature, and the world of gods, were fantastically pourtrayed with sportive freakishness of caprice.
In the history of poetry and the fine arts among the Greeks, the prevailing and pervading law of their development is found to be, first, rigid exclusion of all heterogeneous elements; and then, strict combination of the homogeneous elements, and elevation thereof into independent harmonious oneness by interior finish. Hence it is that among them we find each species confining itself within its natural limits, and that it is so easy to discriminate the several styles. It is not only chronologically but intrinsically suitable to begin a history of art and poetry with those of the Greeks.
In the case of most of my hearers I cannot presume upon an acquaintance with the Greeks derived from study of their literature in the original language. Translations in prose, or even in verse, which, however, are no better than travesties into the modern taste, cannot possibly afford a true conception of the Grecian Drama. Truly faithful versions, aiming at a like elevation with the originals in expression and metre, have perhaps hitherto been nowhere attempted but in Germany. But though our language is extremely flexible, and in many respects like the Greek, it is like fighting with unequal weapons after all, and not unfrequently stiffness and harshness take place of the easy gracefulness of the Greek.
Besides, we are still far from having effected all that perhaps might be achieved; I know not yet of any altogether commendable translation of a Greek tragedian. But suppose the translation were ever so perfect, the discrepancy between the original and the copy as slight as possible, still the reader, from want of acquaintance with the other works of the Greeks, is disturbed by the foreignness of the subject matter, the national peculiarities, and the numberless allusions which it requires some scholarship to apprehend; and thus distracted by the details, he cannot arrive at a pure impression of the work as a whole. So long as there are difficulties to contend with, there can be no true enjoyment of a work of art. To feel the ancients in their own way, one needs to have become naturalized and domesticated amnog them; to have, as it were, breathed Grecian air.
What, then, is the best means of winning one's way into the spirit of the Greeks, without acquaintance with their language? I say it without hesitation : the study of the antiques,
I which, if not in the originals, at least in the casts, now so common, are in some degree accessible to all. The archetypes of the human form need no commentator; their sublime meaning is imperishable, and cannot fail of being recognized through all vicissitudes of time, and in every region under heaven, wherever there exists a noble race of mankind akin to the Grecian race (as the Europeans unquestionably are); in short, wherever unkind nature has not depressed the human features too much below the pure standard, so that, habituated to their own deformity, men have become unsusceptible to genuine beauty of person. Concerning the unattainable excellence of the antiques, in the few extant remains of the first rank, there is but one voice in all civilized Europe; if ever it was not recognized, it was in times when the modern arts of design had sunk to the lowest grade of mannerism. All intelligent artists, nay, all men of feeling, bow with entranced veneration to the master-works of ancient sculpture.
The best key to open to us into this sanctuary of the beautiful, in a way of profound abstracted contemplation, is our immortal Winckelmann's History of Art. In the details, indeed, it leaves much to be desired, nay, is full of material errors ; but the inmost spirit of Grecian art none ever fathomed