Page images


death by her lord, who informs Thisbe that he had always hated her, from a necessity that a Malipieri must have some one to hate.

[ocr errors]

"On the day when the lion of St. Mark shall fly from his column, shall hate spread his wings of bronze, and fly from the heart of a Malipieri. My grandfather hated the Marquis Azzo, and drowned him at night in the wells of Venice. My father hated the Procurator Badoëz, and poisoned him at a banquet of the Queen Cornaro. For me, it is this woman whom I hate. * * The pardon of this woman! the bones of my mother might implore it, madame, but they would never obtain it!

Thisbe. Is it that the most serene signory of Venice permits you-
Angelo. To pardon nothing-to punish all.

Thisbe. But the family Bragadini-your wife's family-
Angelo. They will thank me.

Thisbe. Your resolution is taken, you say. She will die. It is well: I approve. But since all is yet secret, since no name has been yet pronounced, could you not spare her a punishment, your palace a stain of blood, yourself the public comment and noise! The headsman is a witness. A witness is too much.

Angelo. Yes: poison will do better. But we must have a rapid poison-and believe me, I have none here.

Thisbe. I have it.
Angelo. Where?

Thisbe. At my house.

Angelo. What poison?

Thisbe. The poison Malaspina. You know, the liquor sent me by the Dean of St. Mark."

For the prompt and deadly poison, the actress substituted a sleeping potion; Catharina is conveyed à la Juliet, under pretence of burial, to a place of security, where horses are provided by the generous Thisbe, to carry the lovers from the state of Venice. In the mean time, Rodolph arrives, and believing Thisbe to have murdered his innamorata, after a prolonged dialogue stabs her; a moment after, the other lady awakes from her trance; he enquires by whom she has been saved, and receives from her dying rival the brief answer,

"Par moi-pour toi!"

This exclamation, according to "la loi d'optique" of the theatre, ought to have terminated the piece; but the victim survives long enough to inform them of the disinterested preparations she has made for their departure, and to dismiss them with her blessing. What becomes of the tyrant, does not appear.

We will not detain the reader by offering any further extracts from this play, nor should we have entered into so detailed an account of this and other dramas of the author, but for the wish to afford an opportunity of judging his pieces with regard to their general tendency, and to exhibit a glimpse of the present state of the drama in France. "Angelo" is cer

tainly less revolting and harrowing in its details, than some of its predecessors; but the picture has not lost its moral deformity; some of the features only are less coarse and disgusting. It is written in prose, and we believe makes no pretensions to poetic beauty of any kind. Certainly none is apparent. The popularity of these plays of Victor Hugo, and of those of M. Dumas, his coadjutor in the sublime work of renovating their native literature, which far exceed in atrocity those we have mentioned, may seem incredible to those uninformed of the actual degree of corruption in the public taste which exists in "the great nation." Such may readily be convinced, however, by fair examination, that we have not spent our time in railing at the immoralities and absurdities of authors justly contemned at home, or too insignificant to excite apprehension for their influence; but that the productions we have been compelled to denounce, are those of two writers at the head of those departments of literature in which they are labouring; whose steps are closely followed by a multitude of imitators, who emulate their vices in striving to share their success. Of the influence on the national morals of works so grossly offensive to decency and correct taste, we shall not speak; but only hope that if popular feeling continues to sanction exhibitions of a similar character, the government of France may ere long interfere to put a stop to them. We also congratulate ourselves that so little of the poison has been communicated to the stage in this country; not without fear, however, for the future effect of such pernicious example. Not that there is danger to the intellectual portion of the community; the dramas deserving reprehension on the grounds we have noticed, are wholly unredeemed by any truth, natural or historical, poetry, or even interest; they possess nothing to recommend them to the reader, who can appreciate such excellences; but there exists in all countries, in the multitude, a vitiated taste which seeks gratification. How degraded is genius, when it stoops to minister to it!

We may perhaps take occasion, at some future time, to do justice to the merits of Victor Hugo as a poet-to the talents displayed in some of his exquisite lyric effusions. At present, we must take leave of him, with sincere regret that powers so varied and eminent as are indisputably his-the ability to impress the imagination and the heart-should be appropriated to so unworthy a purpose.


ART. IX.-The Essays of Elia. By CHARLES LAMB, Esq. New York: George Dearborn. 1835.

In adding our tribute to the memory of Lamb, we are conscious of personal associations of peculiar and touching interest. We recall the many listless hours he has beguiled; and the very remembrance of happy moments, induced by his quiet humour, and pleasing reveries, inspired by his quaint descriptions and inimitable pathos, is refreshing to our minds. It is difficult to realise that these feelings have reference to an individual whose countenance we never beheld, and the tones of whose voice never fell upon our ear. Frequent and noted instances there are, in the annals of literature, of attempts, on the part of authors, to introduce themselves to the intimate acquaintance of their readers. In portraying their own characters in those of their heroes, in imparting the history of their lives in the form of an epic poem, a popular novel, or through the more direct medium of a professed autobiography, writers have aimed at a striking presentation of themselves. The success of such attempts is, in general, very limited. Like letters of introduction, they, indeed, prove passports to the acquaintance, but not necessarily to the friendship of those to whom they are addressed. At best, they ordinarily afford us an insight into the mind of the author, but seldom render us familiar and at home with the man. Charles Lamb, on the contrary, if our own experience does not deceive us has brought himself singularly near those who have once heartily entered into the spirit of his lucubrations. We seem to know his history, as if it were that of our brother, or earliest friend. The sadness of his "objectless holidays," the beautiful fidelity of his first love, the monotony of his long clerkship, and the strange feeling of leisure succeeding its renunciation, the excitement of his "first play," the zest of his reading, the musings of his daily walk, and the quietude of his fireside, appear like visions of actual memory. His image, now bent over a huge leger, in a dusky counting-house, and now threading the thoroughfares of London, with an air of abstraction, from which nothing recalls him but the outstretched hand of a little sweep, an inviting row of worm-eaten volumes upon an old book stall, or the gaunt figure of a venerable beggar; and the same form sauntering through the groves about Oxford in the vacation solitude, or seated in a little back study, intent upon an antiquated folio, appear like actual reminiscences rather than pictures of the fancy. The face of his old schoolmaster is as some familiar physiognomy; and we seem to have VOL. XIX.-No. 37. 24


known Bridget Elia from infancy, and to have loved her, too, notwithstanding her one "ugly habit of reading in company. Indeed we can compare our associations of Charles Lamb only to those which would naturally attach to an intimate neighbour with whom we had, for years, cultivated habits of delightful intercourse, stepping over his threshold, to hold sweet commune, whenever weariness was upon our spirits and we desired cheering and amiable companionship. And when death actually justified the title affixed to our friend's most recent papers-which we had fondly regarded merely as an additional evidence of his unique method of dealing with his fellow beings, when they really proved the last essays of Elia, we could unaffectedly apply to him the touching language with which an admired poet has hallowed the memory of a brother bard :

"Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days,
None knew thee, but to love thee,
Nor named thee, but to praise."

And were it only for the peculiar species of fame which Lamb's contributions to the light literature of his country have obtained him, were it only for the valuable lesson involved in this tributary heritage,--in the method by which it was won,in the example with which it is associated, there would remain ample cause for congratulation among the real friends of human improvement; there would be sufficient reason to remember, gratefully and long, the gifted and amiable essayist. Instead of the feverish passion for reputation, which renders the existence of the majority of professed littérateurs of the present day, a wearing and anxious trial, better becoming the dust and heat of the arena, than the peaceful shades of the academy, a calm and self-reposing spirit pervades and characterises the writings of Lamb. They are obviously the offspring of thoughtful leisure; they are redolent of the otium; and in this consists their peculiar charm. We are disposed to value this characteristic highly, at a time which abounds, as does our age, with a profusion of forced and elaborate writings. It is truly delightful to encounter a work, however limited in design and unpretending in execution, which revives the legitimate idea of literature,-which makes us feel that it is as essentially spontaneous as the process of vegetation, and is only true to its source and its object, when instinct with freshness and freedom. No mind, restlessly urged by a morbid appetite for literary fame, or disciplined to a mechanical development of thought, could have originated the attractive essays we are

considering. They indicate quite a different parentage. A lovely spirit of contentment, a steadfast determination towards a generous culture of the soul, breathes through these mental emanations. Imaginative enjoyment,--the boon with which the Creator has permitted man to meliorate the trying circumstances of his lot, is evidently the great recreation of the author, and to this he would introduce his readers. It is interesting to feel, that among the many accomplished men, whom necessity or ambition incline to the pursuit of literature, there are those who find the time and possess the will to do something like justice to their own minds. Literary biography is little else than a history of martyrdoms. We often rise from the perusal of a great man's life, whose sphere was the field of letters, with diminished faith in the good he successfully pursued. The story of disappointed hopes, ruined health, a life in no small degree isolated from social pleasure and the incitements which nature affords, can scarcely be relieved of its melancholy aspect by the simple record of literary success. Earnestly as we honour the principle of self-devotion, our sympathy with beings of a strong intellectual and imaginative bias is too great not to awaken, above every other consideration, a desire for the self-possession and native exhibition of such a heaven-implanted tendency. We cannot but wish that natures thus endowed should be true to themselves. We feel that, in this way, they will eventually prove most useful to the world. And yet one of the rarest results which such men arrive at, is self-satisfaction in the course they pursue-we do not mean as regards the success, but the direction of their labours. Sir James Mackintosh continually lamented, in his diary, the failure of his splendid intentions,-consoled himself with the idea of additional enterprises, and finally died without completing his history. Coleridge has left only, in a fragmentary and scattered form, the philosophical system he proposed to develope. Both these remarkable men passed intellectual lives, and evolved, in conversation and fugitive productions, fruits which are worthy of a perennial existence; yet they fell so far short of their aims, they realised so little of what they conceived, that an impression the most painful remains upon the mind that, with due susceptibility, contemplates their career. We find, therefore, an especial gratification in turning from such instances, to a far humbler one indeed, but still to a man of genius, who richly enjoyed his pleasant and sequestered inheritance in the kingdom of letters, and whose comparatively few productions bear indubitable testimony to a mind at ease,--a felicitous expansion of feeling, an imaginative and yet contented life. It is as illustrative of this, that the essays of Elia are mainly valuable.

« PreviousContinue »