« PoprzedniaDalej »
The most important addition to the written drama at this time was the first volume of JoANNA BAILLIE's plays on the passions, published in 1798 under the title of A Series of Plays: in which it is attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind, each Passion being the subject of a Tragedy and a Comedy. To the volume was prefixed a long and interesting introductory discourse, in which the authoress discusses the subject of the drama in all its bearings, and asserts the supremacy of simple nature over all decoration and refinement. ‘Let one simple trait of the human heart, one expression of passion, genuine and true to nature, be introduced, and it will stand forth alone in the boldness of reality, whilst the false and unnatural around it fades away upon every side, like the rising exhalations of the morning.' This theory (which anticipated the dissertations and most of the poetry of Wordsworth) the accomplished dramatist illustrated in her plays, the merits of which were instantly recognised, and a second edition called for in a few months. Miss Baillie was then in the thirty-fourth year of her age. In 1802 she published a second volume, and in 1812 a third. In the interval she had produced a volume of miscellaneous dramas (1804), and The Family Legend (1810), a tragedy founded on a Highland tradition, and brought out with success at the Edinburgh theatre. In 1836 this authoress published three more volumes of plays, her career as a dramatic
writer thus extending over the long period of thirty
eight years. Only one of her dramas has ever been performed on the stage: De Montfort was brought out by Kemble shortly after its appearance, and was acted eleven nights. It was again introduced in 1821, to exhibit the talents of Kean in the character of De Montfort; but this actor remarked that, though a fine poem, it would never be an acting play. . The
author who mentions this circumstance, remarks:—
“If Joanna Baillie had known the stage practically, she would never have attached the importance which she does to the development of single passions in
single tragedies; and she would have invented more stirring incidents to justify the passion of her characters, and to give them that air of fatality which, though peculiarly predominant in the Greek drama, will also be found, to a certain extent, in all successful tragedies. Instead of this, she contrives to make all the passions of her main characters proceed from the wilful natures of the beings themselves. Their feelings are not precipitated by circumstances, like a stream down a declivity, that leaps from rock to rock; but, for want of incident, they seem often like water on a level, without a propelling impulse.” The design of Miss Baillie in restricting her dramas each to the elucidation of one passion, appears certainly to have been an unnecessary and unwise restraint, as tending to circumscribe the business of the piece, and exclude the interest arising from varied emotions and conflicting passions. It cannot be said to have been successful in her own case, and it has never been copied by any other author. Sir Walter Scott has eulogised “Basil's love and Montfort's hate' as something like a revival of the inspired strain of Shakspeare. The tragedies of Count Basil and De Montfort are among the best of Miss Baillie's plays; but they are more like the works of Shirley, or the serious parts of Massinger, than the glorious dramas of Shakspeare, so full of life, of incident, and imagery. Miss Baillie's style is sindoth
and regular, and her plots are both original and
carefully constructed; but she has no poetical luxuriance, and few commanding situations. Her tragic scenes are too much connected with the crime of murder, one of the easiest resources of a tragedian; and partly from the delicacy of her sex, as well as from the restrictions imposed by her theory of composition, she is deficient in that variety and fulness of passion, the “form and pressure’ of real life, which are so essential on the stage. The design and plot of her dramas are obvious almost from the first act —a circumstance that would be fatal to their success in representation. The unity and intellectual completeness of Miss Baillie's plays are their most striking characteristics. Her simple masculine style, so unlike the florid or insipid sentimentalism then prevalent, was a bold innovation at the time of her two first volumes; but the public had fortunately taste enough to appreciate its excellence. Miss Baillie was undoubtedly a great improver of our poetical diction.
[Scene from De Montfort.]
[De Montfort explains to his sister Jane his hatred of Rezenvelt, which at last hurries him into the crime of murder. The gradual deepening of this malignant passion, and its frightful catastrophe, are powerfully depicted. We may remark, that the character of De Montfort, his altered habits and appearance after his travels, his settled gloom, and the violence of his passions, seem to have been the prototype of Byron's Manfred and Lara.]
De Mon. No more, my sister, urge me not again; My secret troubles cannot be revealed. From all participation of its thoughts My heart recoils: I pray thee be contented. Jane. What! must I, like a distant humble friend, Observe thy restless eye and gait disturbed In timid silence, whilst with yearning heart I turn aside to weep? 0 no, De Montfort! A nobler task thy nobler mind will give; Thy true intrusted friend I still shall be. De Mon. Ah, Jane, forbear! I cannot e'en to thee. Jane. Then fie upon it! fie upon it, Montfort There was a time when e'en with murder stained, Had it been possible that such dire deed
* Campbell's Life of Mrs Siddons. 511
Could e'er have been the crime of one so piteous,
Ha! wilt thou not?
Then, if affection, most unwearied love,
De Mon. [Raising her, and kneeling.]
Feel like the oppressive airless pestilence.
| Returned the forfeit sword, which, so returned,
[Female Picture of a Country Life.]
Even now methinks Each little cottage of my native vale Swells out its earthen sides, upheaves its roof, Like to a hillock moved by labouring mole, | And with green trail-weeds clambering up its walls, Roses and every gay and fragrant plant Before my fancy stands, a fairy bower. Ay, and within it too do fairies dwell. Peep through its wreathed window, if indeed The flowers grow not too close; and there within | Thou'lt see some half a dozen rosy brats, | Eating from wooden bowls their dainty milk— Those are my mountain elves. Seest thou not Their very forms distinctly? I'll gather round my board | All that Heaven sends to me of way-worn folks, And noble travellers, and neighbouring friends, Both young and old. Within my ample hall, The worn out man of arms shall o' tiptoe tread, Tossing his gray locks from his wrinkled brow With cheerful freedom, as he boasts his feats | Of days gone by. Music we'll have; and oft The bickering dance upon our oaken floors
Shall, thundering loud, strike on the distant ear
[Fears of Imagination.]
Didst thou ne'er see the swallow's veering breast,
[Speech of Prince Edward in his Dungeon.]
Doth the bright sun from the high arch of heaven,
[Description of Jane de Montfort.]
[The following has been pronounced to be a perfect picture of Mrs Siddons, the tragic actress.]
Page. Madam, there is a lady in your hall Who begs to be admitted to your presence. Lady. Is it not one of our invited friends? Page. No ; far unlike to them. It is a stranger. Lady. How looks her countenance? Page. So queenly, so commanding, and so noble, I shrunk at first in awe; but when she smiled, Methought I could have compassed sea and land To do her bidding. Ladyo Is she young or old : Page. Neither, if right I guess; but she is fair, For Time hath laid his hand so gently on her, As he, too, had been awed. Iady. The foolish stripling! She has bewitched thee. Is she large in stature? Page. So stately and so graceful is her form, I thought at first her stature was gigantic; But on a near approach, I found, in truth, She scarcely does surpass the middle size.
Dady. What is her garb:
TILL THE PRESENT TIME.
Page. I cannot well describe the fashion of it: She is not decked in any gallant trim, But seems to me clad in her usual weeds Of high habitual state; for as she moves, Wide flows her robe in many a waving fold, As I have seen unfurled banners play With the soft breeze. Lady. Thine eyes deceive thee, boy; It is an apparition thou hast seen. Freberg. [Starting from his seat, where he has been sitting during the conversation between the Lady and the Page.] It is an apparition he has seen, Or it is Jane de Montfort.
WILLIAM Godwin-WILLIAM SoTHEBY.
MR Godwin, the novelist, attempted the tragic drama in the year 1800, but his powerful genius, which had produced a romance of deep and thrilling interest, became cold and frigid when confined to the rules of the stage. His play was named Antonio, or the Soldier's Return. It turned out “a miracle of dulness,’ as Sergeant Talfourd relates, and at last the actors were hooted from the stage. The author's equanimity under this severe trial is amusingly related by Talfourd. Mr Godwin, he says, “sat on one of the front benches of the pit, unmoved amidst the storm. When the first act passed off without a hand, he expressed his satisfaction at the good sense of the house; “the proper season of applause had not arrived;” all was exactly as it should be. The second act proceeded to its close in the same uninterrupted calm; his friends became uneasy, but still his optimism prevailed; he could afford to wait. And although he did at last admit the great movement was somewhat tardy, and that the audience seemed rather patient than interested, he did not lose his confidence till the tumult arose, and then he submitted with quiet dignity to the fate of genius, too lofty to be understood by a world as yet in its childhood.” The next new play was also by a man of distinguished genius, and it also was unsuccessful. Julian and Agnes, by WILLIAM SoTHEBY, the translator of Oberon, was acted April 25, 1800. “In the course of its performance, Mrs Siddons, as the heroine, had to make her exit from the scene with an infant in her arms. Having to retire precipitately, she inadvertently struck the baby's head violently against a door-post. Happily, the little thing was made of wood, so that her doll's accident only produced a general laugh, in which the actress herself joined heartily.’ This ‘untoward event' would have marred the success of any new tragedy; but Mr Sotheby's is deficient in arrangement and dramatic art. We may remark, that at this time the genius of Kemble and Mrs Siddons shed a lustre on the stage, and reclaimed it from the barbarous solecisms in dress and decoration which even Garrick had tolerated. Neither Kemble nor Garrick, however, paid sufficient attention to the text of Shakspeare's dramas, which, even down to about the year 1838, continued to be presented as mutilated by Nahum Tate, Colley Cibber, and others. The first manager who ventured to restore the pure text of the great dramatist, and present it without any of the baser alloys on the stage, was Mr Macready, who made great though unavailing efforts to encourage the taste of the public for Shakspeare and the legitimate drama.
s. T. Collert IDGE.
The tragedies of Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Procter, and Milman (noticed in our account of these poets), must be considered as poems rather than plays. Coleridge's Remorse was acted with some success
in 1813, aided by fine original music, but it has not since been revived. It contains, however, some of Coleridge's most exquisite poetry and wild superstition, with a striking romantic plot. We extract the scene in which Alhadra describes the supposed murder of her husband, Alvar, by his brother, and animates his followers to vengeance.
The Mountains by Moonlight. ALHADRA alone, in a
As they were blossoming hues of fire and gold;
[She fixes her eyes on the earth. Then drop in, one after another, from different parts of the stage, a considerable number of Morescoes, all in Moorish garments and Moorish armour. They form a circle at a distance round ALHADRA, and remain silent till the second in command, NAoxii, enters, distinguished by his dress and armour, and by the silent obeisance paid to him on his entrance by the other Moors.]
Naomi. Woman, may Alla and the prophet bless thee! We have obeyed thy call. Where is our chief? | And why didst thou enjoin these Moorish garments Alhad. [Raising her eyes, and looking round on the circle.] Warriors of Mahomet! faithful in the battle! My countryment Come yeo to work An honourable deed And would ye work it |
In the slave's garb: Curse on those Christian robes!
Dost thou dare receive it? For I have sworn by Alla and the prophet, No tear shall dim these eyes—this woman's heart Shall heave no groan—till I have seen that sword Wet with the life-blood of the son of Waldez | [A pause.]
Ordonio was your chieftain's murderer!
Naomi. Comfort her, Alla. Alhad. I stood in unimaginable trance, And agony that cannot be remembered, Listening with horrid hope to hear a groan' But I had heard his last, my husband's death-groan Naomi. Hastel let us onward. Alhad. I looked far down the pit— My sight was bounded by a jutting fragment; | And it was stained with blood. Then first I shrieked, | My eyeballs burned, my brain grew hot as fire! And all the hanging drops of the wet roof Turned into blood—I saw them turn to blood! And I was leaping wildly down the chasm, When on the farther brink I saw his sword, | And it said vengeance Curses on my tongue! The moon hath moved in heaven, and I am here, And he hath not had vengeance! Isidore, Spirit of Isidore, thy murderer lives! Away, away ! | All. Away, away! [She rushes off, all following. The incantation scene, in the same play, is sketched with high poetical power, and the author's unrivalled musical expression —
Scene—A Hall of Armory, with an altar at the back of the stage. Soft music from an instrument of glass or steel. | WALDEz, ORDonio, and Alvah in a Sorcerer's robe are discovered.
Ord. This was too melancholy, father.
Wald. Nay, My Alvar loved sad music from a child. Once he was lost, and after weary search We found him in an open place in the wood, To which spot he had .. a blind boy, Who ...i. into a pipe of sycamore Some strangely moving notes; and these, he said, Were taught him in a dream. Him we first saw Stretched on the broad top of a sunny heath-bank:
And lower down poor Alvar, fast asleep,
ere On such employment! With far other thoughts I left you. Ord. [Aside.] Ha! he has been tampering with her? Alv. 0 high-souled maiden! and more dear to me Than suits the stranger's name! I swear to thee I will uncover all concealed guilt. Doubt, but decide not! Stand ye from the altar. [Here a strain of music is heard from behind the scene. Alv. With no irreverent voice or uncouth charm I call up the departed Soul of Alvar! Hear our soft suit, and heed my milder spell: So may the gates of Paradise, unbarred, Cease thy swift toils . Since haply thou art one Of that innumerable company Who in broad circle, lovelier than the rainbow, Girdle this round earth in a dizzy motion, With noise too vast and constant to be heard: Fitliest unheard! For oh, ye numberless And rapid travellers! what ear unstunned, What sense unmaddened, might bear up against The rushing of your congregated wings? [Music.] Even now your living wheel turns o'er my head 1 [Music expressive of the movements and images that s". Ye, as ye pass, toss high the desert sands, That roar and whiten like a burst of waters, A sweet appearance, but a dread illusion To the parched caravan that roams by night! And ye build up on the becalmed waves That whirling pillar, which from earth to heaven Stands vast, and moves in blackness! Ye, too, split The ice mount 1 and with fragments many and huge Tempest the new-thawed sea, whose sudden gulfs Suck in, perchance, some Lapland wizard's skiff! Then round and round the whirlpool's marge ye dance, Till from the blue swollen corse the soul toils out, And joins your mighty army. [Here, behind the scenes, a voice sings the three words, “IIcar, succt spirit."] Soul of Alvar! Hear the mild spell, and tempt no blacker charin By sighs unquiet, and the sickly pang Of a half dead, yet still undying hope, Pass visible before our mortal sense I So shall the church's cleansing rites be thine, Her knells and masses, that redeem the dead! [Song behind the scenes, accompanied by the same instrument as before.] Hear, sweet spirit, hear the spell, Lest a blacker charm compel So shall the midnight breezes swell With thy deep long lingering knell.