« AnteriorContinuar »
should be exalted as the apostle of humanity. The theatre must, under pain of violating probability as well as truth, represent him such as he really was, and is described in history ; because he appears there such as he must naturally have been. It could not be with morality that a Thracian slave, a Gladiator, was able to assemble an army of 12,000 men, put whole Roman legions to fight, defeat Consuls, and make all Italy tremble: it was with ferocious energy, with the enthusiasm of Liberty and vengeance, that he must necessarily animate slaves, and render them warriors. The real character of Spartacus is not io be found in this ideal tragedy. He speaks the language of Cato, more than that of a chief of brigands, and the des vastator of Italy.'
M. LA HARPE bestows many more pages on his analysis of this play; which seems not to merit such attention by its plan, its execution, or its success.
The next tragic writer, whose merits are here discussed, is Dubelloys author of the Siege of Colais; a writer once very po. pular, but now almost forgotten. “He owed his reputation so much to circumstances, that it could not be durable ; and roc one of his plays is now allowed by the connoisseurs to possess sufficient merit to be revivedl,' His Titus, from Metastas sio's Clemenza di Tito, is very severely criticized by the Lecturer; and his Zelmiri, another tragedy from Metastasio's Issipile, is not much beiter created.
• It was the Siege of Calais that elevated him so high in the favour of his countrymeni, by exciting an enthusiastic spirit of patriotism which pervaded the whole nation. By taking its fable from the do: mestica facta, after nine years of an unfortunate war in the four quartess of the globe, this play, in 1765, awakened a spirit of national love, which amounted io fanaticism. Alier having been coldly re. ceived at the first representation, it was acted only three days subsequently at Versailles, and excited the most lively sensations ; ruined within, and humbled without, the peace to which France had been obliged to submit produced nothing but complaints and re. proaches, and this drama, which exalted the Frencli name at each line, scemed to heal every wound. Its reception at court decided its fasbion, and the opinion of the Siege of Calais was no longer a matter of taste, but an affair of state. The idea of a drama wholly national was happy and new: but more was afterward expected from the author of so renownci a composition, than he could fulfil. The clioice of subject, and the peculiar time of its representation, placed it at a height which none of his subsequent works could ever ate tain.'
Part 11. Vol. xi. Chap: 5: Of the Comedies produced during the xvilith Century. Sect. 1. - This subject is prefaced by a discussion of the question whether comedy of tragedy be the most difficult to write. The author observes that comedy, during the last century, has certainly been less successful than tragedy.
* Thanks to the genius of Voltaire, Tragedy has been enriched by a succession of master-pieces, which will bear a parallel with those of the preceding century; but Comedy has had no Vola taire. The united efforts of three or four writers have been necessary to perform, in comedy, that which has been atchieved in tragedy by a single individual. Le Glorieux, La Métromanic, and Le Mechant, all inferior to the Tartuffe and Misanthrope of Moliere, compose the whole honours that have been conferred on Thalia during a hundred years.'-- This subject is very ingeniously treated : but the result is such as may be expected from a tragic poet; who, as comedy does not include his own peculiar talent, naturally wishes it to be considered as more easy to write, and as having a greater choice of resources than tragedy.
The first comic poet of the last century, whose merits are here examined, is Destouches, author of 16 or 18 comedies; which M. LA HARPE, with too much contempt, (we had almost said, with too much arrogance and severity,) calls a wretched collection. He owns that the change of manners daily diminishes comic force ; and certainly the humours which prevailed so years ago are unintelligible to the present race: but strong passions and historical events remain stationary, and may be repeated by different writers. To imagine that a comedy, which delighted the age in which it was written, and had safely passed the ordeal of criticism, is worthless, because it delineates manners no longer subsisting, is to regard our forefathers as fools, and ourselves as in possession of all the wisdom and taste that ever enlightened and embellished the earth. –There scarrely eyer was a successful comedy at Paris, which our dramatic dabblers did not translate or imitate : but, so different are the taste and manners of the two pations, that the second-hand piece seldom succeeds; and therefore, though many of the scenes, if not whole plays, of Destouches, have been imported into this country, they have not become current, M. DE LA HARPE condemns all his pieces in the aggregate, though he quotes a line from another satirist,
« Si j'en connois pas un, je veux être étranglé."
“ Hang me if I know one of them.” In spite of his ignorance, however, he pronounces that none of the 18 comedies have any merit, but Le Glorieux and Le Pbilosophe marié.
In Sect. III. Piron and Gresset are examined, of whose writing, only one comedy of each survives : La Métromanie of the former, and Le Méchant of the latter. These two admirable dramas are minutely analyzed, and justly praised.
· Sect. iv. Boissi and Le Sage. Of the numerous dramas by Boissi, the lecturer allows merit only to two farcical pieces,' le Babillard and le François à Londres, and two others of a superior kind:-? Homme du jour (the Man of the World), and les Dehors Trompeurs--(False Appearances).
Le Sage, the author of Gil Blas, who had a particular partiality for Spanish literature, at a time when it was abandoned by every one else, laid the scene of most of his works in Spain and Italy, and supported his characters in the manners of those countries: but his best comedy, Turcaret, belongs to himself and his own country, without having recourse either to Spanish romances or Italian Burlettas; and he appears to much more advantage as an original than an imitator, Turcaret is the bitterest, and yet the most pleasant satire that ever was written :--no satire in Juvenal or Boileau can delineate such a character as Turcaret, so well as dramatic dialogue has represented it in the scene between him and his confidential friend, M. Raffle.'
Sect. v. contains the character of eleven dramatists, with an Bc. at the coda. La Motte, Marivaux, and Saint-Foix, are included in this list: but, as the Lecturer honours them only with his censures, we shall pass on to the next section; nat having room for discussing their merits, and disputing his awards ;-though the latter, we think, are much too severe on pieces with which the whole French nation were formerly pleased.
Sect.vi. Comédie larmoyante, or crying comedy. La Chaussée. This species of mixed drama, to which the lovers of broad comedy have never been reconciled, is a 3d Genus, between the hortors of tragedy and the farcical laugh of comedy ; differing still from the comi-tragedy of our Dryden and Southern. It has too frequently succeeded to be discontinued; and it offers pictures of temporary domestic distress which in private life happens but too frequently, and which, though attended with no consequences sufficientiy fatal for tragedy, is too serious for comedy. As such situations are in nature, though not entirely in the buskin or sock; and as, in representation, the cause and the cure are exhibited; such dramas may have a moral use, as well as afiord amusement to minds which are neither skrewed up to the lofty pitch of tragedy, nor sufficiently relaxed to enjoy the frolicsome gambols of comedy. Le Prejugé à la mode, by La Chaussée, the inventor of la Comédie larmoyante, was the first successful piece of this kind. It was in. tended to lead to the abolition of the absurd custom which had long prevailed, of a man and his wife shunning each other in public, and fancying that they should Jose all respect from
people of fashion if ever they were seen together. M. LA HARPE says that this drama combats a prejudice which no longer subsists; and that, if La Chaussée contributed to its discontinuance, which he believes, it is one of the most honourable victories over vice and folly that talents ever ob. tained.
‘Sect. vii. Voltaire.- Here M. LA HARPE remarks that, • among the few talents wanting to render the genius of Vol. taire universal, must be included comedy. He early made the experiment, and failed;' - yet the Lecturer has just told us that it is easier to write comedy than tragedy. • In 1736, he produced, anonymously, The Prodigal Son, written on the plan of de la Chaussée; which he then much admired, though he afterward decried it. This comedy ran 30 nights; and there are scenes in it which are extremely affecting, even to tears: but, when the author attempts humour, of which he has so much on other occasions, the dialogue becomes mean, vulgar, and contemptible. The play resembles comi-tragedy more than the sober and delicate scenes of la Chaussée.' The humour of Voltaire, like that of our Fielding, always tended to profligacy; which may be entertaining to some readers in a book, but is generally disgusting on the stage.
Sect. viii. Diderot, Saurin, Sedaine. - In this section, we have much good criticism, particularly relative to Diderot's two singular domestic tragedies, Le Fils naturel, and Le Pire de famille : but a short extract would afford our readers little satisfaction, and we have not space for a long one.
Sect. ix. Fabre d'Eglantine, and Beaumarchais. In the first of these articles, the Lecturer has not spared the Jacobins, or the descendants of his old friends the Philosophefs. The account of Beaumarchais, drawn up with singular care and candour, is interesting, and full of anecdotes and information concerning this extraordinary character ; of which we are sorry that our limits will not allow us to give specimens.
Vol. xii. is wholly devoted to the French Opera, concerning which the rest of Europe is less interested than about any other branch of literature; so little pleasure does the vocal music of that country afford to ears that are accustomed to Italian singing, or to singers of that school. We shall therefore content ourselves, and we hope to satisfy our readers, with merely pointing out the contents of this volume.
Chap. vi. Of the Opera. Sect. 1. Danchet and Lamotte. Sect. II. Roy, Pellegrin, Bernard, Labreure.--Sect. iii. Of Vol. taire in the great Opera, or Acad. Royale de la Musique, and in the heroic Comedy and comic Opera.-Sect. Iy. Of the Italian Opera
compared with the French, and of the Changes which the Net Music may introduce at the French Opera.
Appendix to the preceding Section, or Observations on a Work by M. Grétry, intitled, Memoirs or Essays on Music.
Chap. vii. Of the Comic Opera, and of the Ballad Farce which preceded it.-Sect. I. Lesage, Piron, Vadi.-Sect. 11. Favart. Seçt. III. Sedaine.--Sect. Iv. Marmontel. Sect. v. Concerning d'Hele (Dale), Anseaume, Poinsinet ; particular French Pieces at the Italian Theatre; and of the Collection by Gherardi.
Here, then, we take our leave of M. LA Harpe; a writer whose uncommon exertions and very respectable talents in literature it is not necessary for us now to characterize, after the repeated and ample introductions of them which have taken place in our Review. Whether we are destined again to meet him on classic ground, we have intimated our doubts at the beginning of this article : but, as we have been indebted to him for much entertainment, we are required by gratitude to wish him comfort and tranquillity in his latter days.
Art. IX. Voyage en Italie, &c. i. e. Travels through Italy, by
FREDERICK JEAN LAURENT Meyer, Doctor of Laws, Member
author's classical citations and allusions remind us of Addison. When he quotes the Georgics of Virgil, he genee rally gives, at the bottom of the page, a translation from the Abbé De Lille.- The objects here described have frequently been delineated : but, as chacun a ses lunettes, this book will agreeably remind travellers of what they have seen, and acquaint readers with what is to be seen; and it will make those who have neither travelled, nor sought for information concerning Italy in books, desirous of doing both.
At Verona, with which Dr. MEYER commences, Maffci is the hero, and the Amphitheatre is the lion. At Vicenza, Palladio is the principal personage, and his olympic theatre is the principal feature of that city. At Padira, the beautiful church of Santa Giustina, il Prato della Valle, and Guadagni the singer, (of whose talents and history, the author seems but superficially informed,) are the principal themes. Livy's monument is but slightly touched ; and of the church of Şan Antonio, and its celebrated choral establishment, nothing is said. · Venice is the next place which the author visits; a city which at all times has afforded travellers much to observe and to report,