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whole, will be insipid, through want of grace and deli J. A painter, in order to represent the various attitudes of the b ought to be intimately acquainted with muscular motion: no less intimately acquainted with emotions and characters ought a writer to be, in order to represent the various attitudes of the mind. A general notion of the passions, in their grosser differences of strong and weak, elevated and humble, severe and gay, is far from being sufficient pictures formed so superficially have little resemblance, and no expression; yet it will hereafter appear, that in many instances our artists are deficient, even in that superficial knowledge.
In handling the present subject, it would be endless to trace even the ordinary passions through their nice and minute differences. Mine shall be an humbler task; which is, to select from the best writers instances of faulty sentiments, after paving the way by some general observations.
To talk in the language of music, each passion has a certain tone, to which every sentiment proceeding from it ought to be tuned with the greatest accuracy: which is no easy work, especially where such harmony ought to be supported during the course of a long theatrical representation. In order to reach such delicacy of execution, it is necessary that a writer assume the precise character and passion of the personage represented; which requires an uncommon genius. But it is the only difficulty; for the writer, who, annihilating himself, can thus become another person, need be in no pain about the sentiments that belong to the assumed character: these will flow without the least study, or even preconception; and will frequently be as delightfully new to himself as to his reader. But if a lively picture even of a single emotion requires an effort of genius, how much greater the effort to compose a passionate dialogue with as many different tones of passion as there are speakers? With what ductility of feeling must that writer be endowed, who approaches perfection in such a work; when it is necessary to assume different and even opposite characters and passions, in the quickest succes sion? Yet this work, difficult as it is, yields to that of composing a dialogue in genteel comedy, exhibiting characters without passion. The reason is, that the different tones of character are more delicate and less in sight, than those of passion; and, accordingly, many writers, who have no genius for drawing characters, make a shift to represent, tolerably well, an ordinary passion in its simple movements. But of all works of this kind, what is truly the most diffi cult, is a characteristical dialogue upon any philosophical subject. to interweave characters with reasoning, by suiting to the character of each speaker, a peculiarity not only of thought, but of expres sion, requires the perfection of genius, taste, and judgment.
How nice dialogue-writing is, will be evident, even without reasoning, from the miserable compositions of that kind found without number in all languages. The art of mimicking any singularity in gesture or in voice, is a rare talent, though directed by sight and hearing the acutest and most lively of our external senses: how much more rare must the talent be, of imitating characters and interna
emotions, tracing all their different tints, and representing them in a lively manner by natural sentiments properly expressed? The truth is, such execution is too delicate for an ordinary genius; and for that reason, the bulk of writers, instead of expressing a passion as one does who feels it, content themselves with describing it in the language of a spectator. To awaken passion by an internal effort merely, without any external cause, requires great sensibility and yet that operation is necessary, no less to the writer than to the actor; because none but those who actually feel a passion, can represent it to the life. The writer's part is the more complicated: he must add composition to passion; and must, in the quickest succession, adopt every different character. But a very humble flight of imagination, may serve to convert a writer into a spectator; so as to figure, in some obscure manner, an action as passing in his sight and hearing. In that figured situation, being led naturally to write like a spectator, he entertains his readers with his own reflections, with cool description, and florid declamation; instead of making them eye-witnesses, as it were, to a real event, and to every move ment of genuine passion. Thus most of our plays appear to be cast in the same mould; personages without character, the mere outlines of passion, a tiresome monotony, and a pompous declamatory style.t
This descriptive manner of representing passion, is a very cold entertainment our sympathy is not raised by description; we must first be lulled into a dream of reality, and every thing must appear as passing in our sight. Unhappy is the player of genius who acts a capital part in what may be termed a descriptive tragedy; after assuming the very passion that is be represented, how is he cramped in action, when he must utter, not the sentiments of the passion he feels, but a cold description in the language of a bystander? It is that imperfection, I am persuaded, in the bulk of our plays, which confines our stage almost entirely to Shakspeare, notwithstanding his many irregularities. In our late English tragedies, we sometimes find sentiments tolerably well adapted to a plain passion: but we must not, in any of them, expect a sentiment expressive of character; and, upon that very account, our late performances of the dramatic kind are, for the most part, intolerably insipid.
In the Enerd, the hero is made to describe himself in the following words: Sum pius Eneas, fama super athera notus. Virgil could never have been guilty of an impropriety so gross, had he assumed the personage of his hero, instead of uttering the sentiments of a spectator. Nor would Xenophon have made the following speech for Cyrus the younger, to his Grecian auxiliaries, whom he was leading against his brother Artaxerxes: "I have chosen you, O Greeks! my auxiliaries, not to enlarge my army, for I have Barbarians without number; but because you surpass all the Barbarians in valor and military discipline." This sentiment is Xenophon's: for surely Cyrus did not reckon his countrymen Bar
+ "Chez Racine tout est sentiment; il a su faire parler chacun pour soi, et c'est en cela qu'il est vraiment unique parmi les auteurs dramatiques de sa nation." -Rousseau.
* See Chap. 2. Part 1. sect. 7.
Looking back upon what is said, I am in some apprehension of not being perfectly understood; for it is not easy to avoid obscurity in handling a matter so complicated: but I promise to set it in the clearest light, by adding example to precept. The first examples shall be of sentiments that appear the legitimate offspring of passion; to which shall be opposed what are descriptive only, and illegitimate and in making this comparison, I borrow my instances from Shakspeare and Corneille, who for genius in dramatic composition stand uppermost in the rolls of fame.
Shakspeare shall furnish the first example, being of sentiments dictated by a violent and perturbed passion:
Kent. Good, my lord, enter here.
Lear. Pr'ythee, go in thyself, seek thine own ease.
King Lear, Act III. Sc. 4. I give another example of the same kind, expressing sentiments arising from remorse and despair :
Othello. Lo! I have a weapon:
Upon a soldier's thigh. I've seen the day,
From the possession of this heav'nly sight;
Blow me about in winds, roast me in sulphur,
Othello, Act V. Sc. 2.
The sentiments here displayed flow so naturally from the passions represented, that we cannot conceive any imitation more perfect.
With regard to the French author, truth obliges me to acknowledge, that he describes in the style of a spectator, instead of expressing passion like one who feels it; which naturally betrays him into a tiresome monotony, and a pompous declamatory style. It is scarcely necessary to gives examples, for he never varies from that tone. I shall, however, take two passages at a venture, in order to be confronted with those transcribed above. In the tragedy of Cinna, Æmilia, after the conspiracy was discovered, having nothing in view but racks and death to herself and her lover, receives a pardon from Augustus, attended with the brightest circumstances of magnanimity and tenderness. This is a lucky situation for representing the passions of surprise and gratitude in their different stages, which seem naturally to be what follow. These passions, raised at once to the utmost pitch, and being at first too big for utterance, must, for some moments be expressed by violent gestures only as soon as there is
This criticism reaches the French dramatic writers in general, with very few exceptions: their tragedies, excepting those of Racine, are mostly, if not totally, descriptive. Corneille led the way; and later writers, imitating his manner, have accustomed the French ear to a style, formal, pompous, declamatory, which suits not with any passion. Hence, to burlesque a French tragedy, is not more difficult than to burlesque a stiff solemn fop. The facility of the operation has in Paris introduced a singular amusement, which is, to burlesque the more successful tragedies in a sort of farce, called a parody. La Motte, who himself appears to have been sorely galled by some of these productions, acknowledges that no more is necessary to give them currency but barely to vary the dramatis persona, and instead of kings and heroes, queens and princesses, to substitute tinkers and tailors, milkmaids and seamstresses. The declamatory style, so different from the genuine expression of passion, passes in some measure unobserved, when great personages are the speakers; but in the mouths of the vulgar the impropriety with regard to the speaker as well as to the passion represented, is so remarkable as to become ridiculous. A tragedy, where every passion is made to speak in its natural tone, is not liable to be thus burlesqued: the same passion is by all men expressed nearly in the same manner; and, therefore, the genuine expressions of a passion cannot be ridiculous in the mouth of any man who is susceptible of the passion.
It is a well known fact, that to an English ear, the French actors appear to pronounce with too great rapidity; a complaint much insisted on by Cibber in particular, who had frequently heard the famous Baron upon the French stage. This may in some measure be attributed to our want of facility in the French tongue; as foreigners generally imagine that every language is pronounced too quick by natives. But that it is not the sole cause, will be probable from a fact directly opposite, that the French are not a little disgusted with the languidness, as they term it, of the English pronunciation. May not this difference of taste be derived from what is observed above? The pronunciation of the genuine language of a passion is necessarily directed by the nature of the passion, particularly by the slowness or celerity of its progress: plaintive passions, which are the most frequent in tragedy, having a slow motion, dictate a slow pronunciation; in declamation, on the contrary, the speaker warms gradually; and, as he warms, he naturally accelerates his pronunciation. But, as the French have formed their tone of pronunciation upon Corneille's declamatory tragedies, and the English upon the more natural language of Shakspeare, it is not surprising that custom should produce such difference of taste in the two nations
vent for words, the first expressions are broken and interrupted: at last we ought to expect a tide of intermingled sentiments, occasioned by the fluctuation of the mind between the two passions. Emilia is made to behave in a very different manner: with extreme coolness she describes her own situation, as if she were merely a spectator, or rather the poet takes the task off her hands:
Et je me rens, Seigneur, à ces hautes bontés:
Je sens naître en mon ame un repentir puissant,
Et pour preuve, Seigneur, je n'en veux que moi-même.
Act V. Sc. 3.
In the tragedy of Sertorius, the queen, surprised with the news that her lover was assassinated, instead of venting any passion, degenerates into a cool spectator, and undertakes to instruct the bystanders how a queen ought to behave on such an occasion:
Viriate. Il m'en fait voir ensemble, et l'auteur, et la cause.
So much in general upon the genuine sentiments of passion. I proceed to particular observations. And, first, passions seldom continue uniform any considerable time: they generally fluctuate, swelling and subsiding by turns, often in a quick succession; and the sentiments cannot be just unless they correspond to such fluctuation. Accordingly, climax never shows better than in expressing a swelling passion the following passages may suffice for an illustration.
-Can you raise the dead?
Oroonoko, Act II. Sc. 2.
Mourning Bride, Act I. Sc. 7. * See Chap. 2. Part 3.