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proves fatal to his success. Unity in the midst of confusion is given to his subject. Room is afforded for graphic painting, space for forcible delineations of character. It becomes possible to awaken interest, by following out the steps of individual adventure. Though the name of historical romance is not to be found in antiquity, the thing itself was far from being unknown. Its most charming biographies are little better than historical romances; at least they possess their charm, because they exhibit their unity. The Cyropædia of Xenophon, the Lives of Plutarch, many of the heart-stirring Legends of Livy, of the profound Sketches of the Emperors in Tacitus, are in truth historical romances under the name of histories or biography. The lives of eminent men owe their chief charm to the unity of the subject, and the possibility of strongly exciting the feelings, by strictly adhering to the delineation of individual achievement. So great is the weight of the load, crushing to the historian, which is thus taken from the biographer or writer of historical romance, that second-rate genius can effect triumphs in that department, to which the very highest mind alone is equal in general historical composition. No one would think of comparing the intellect of Plutarch with that of Tacitus; but, nevertheless, the Lives of the former will, to the end of the world, prove more generally attractive than the Annals of the latter. Boswell's mind was immeasurably inferior to that of Hume; but for one reader of the History of England, will be found ten of the Life of Johnson. Sir Walter Scott's Life of Napoleon does not prove that he was qualified to take a place among the great English historians; but, to the end of the world, Richard Ceur-de-Lion, Queen Mary, and Elizabeth will stand forth from his canvass more clearly than either from the rhetoric of Hume or the eloquence of Robertson.
The Epic POEM confines within still narrower limits the narration of human events. As it borrows the language and is clothed with the colours of poetry, so it is capable of rousing the feelings more powerfully than either biography or romance, and, when crowned with success, attains a fame and takes a hold of the hearts of men to which nothing in
prose composition can be compared. Elevation of thought, fervour of language, powerful delineation of character, are
its essential qualities. But all these would prove unavailing if the one thing needful, unity of subject, is awanting. It is that which is its essential quality, for it alone lets in all the others. All the great Epic poems which have appeared in the world are not only devoted to one interest, but are generally restricted, in point of space and time, within limits not materially wider than those of the Greek drama. The Iliad not only relates exclusively the latter stages of the siege of Troy, but the whole period of its action is fortyeight days—of its absorbing interest, (the time from the storming of the Greek lines by Hector to his death by the heaven-defended Achilles,) thirty-six hours. The Paradise Lost adheres strictly to unity both of subject and time : the previous battles of the angels is the subject of narrative by the angel Raphael ; but the time that elapsed from the convocation of the devils in Pandemonium to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise is only three days. The Jerusalem Delivered has the one absorbing interest arising from the efforts of the Christians for the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre ; and its time is limited to a few weeks. Virgil was so enamoured of his great predecessor that he endeavoured to imitate, in one poem, both his great works. The Æneid is an Iliad and Odyssey in one. one must feel that it is on the episode with Dido that the interest of the poem really rests; and that all the magic of his exquisite pencil can scarcely sustain the interest after the pious Æneas has taken his departure from the shores of Carthage. The Lusiad of Camoens, in which the perilous voyage of Vasco di Gama is narrated, necessarily from its subject embraced wider limits; but the one interest of the poem is as single and sustained as that of the discovery of the New World by Columbus. If any of these writers had professed in rhyme to give a history of a more extensive or protracted subject, the interest would have been so much diffused as to be lost. The genius of Homer would have sunk under the effort to make an epic poem of the conquests of Alexander; that of Milton broken down had he attempted in blank verse to narrate the campaigns of Napoleon. The confusion of ideas and incidents so painfully felt by all the readers of Orlando Furioso, and which the boundless fancy of Ariosto was unable to prevent, proves that epic poetry
has its limits, and that they are narrower than either history or romance.
What epic poetry is to romance or biography, THE DRAMA is to epic poetry. As the former selects from the romance of history its most interesting and momentous events, and makes them the subject of brilliant description, of impassioned rhetoric, so the latter chooses from the former its most heart-stirring episodes, and brings them in actual dialogue and representation before the mind of the spectator. Immense is the effect of this concentration-still more marvellous that of the personation with which it is attended. Imagination assumes the form of actual beings; conception of reality. The airy visions of the past are clothed in flesh and blood. The marvels of acting, scenery, and stage effect, come to add to the pathos of incident, to multiply tenfold the charms of poetry. It is impossible to conceive intellectual enjoyment carried beyond the point it attained, when the magic of Shakspeare's thought and language was enhanced by the power of Siddons' or Kemble's acting, or is now personified by the witchery of Helen Faucit's conceptions. But to the full effect of this combination, it is indispensable that the principles of dramatic composition be observed, and the stage kept within its due limits, more contracted, in point of time and place, than either romance or epic poetry. Within those bounds it is omnipotent, and produces an impression to which, while it lasts, none of the sister arts can pretend. Beyond them it never fails to break down, and not only ceases to interest, but often becomes to the last degree wearisome and exhausting.
It is the combination of powers, required for excellence on the stage, that renders it so rare : to form an adequate and correct conception of the proper representation of the leading characters in the master-pieces of Sophocles, Shakspeare, or Schiller, requires a mind scarcely inferior to that of the original poets themselves. The performer must throw himself, as it were, into the mind of the author ; identify himself with the character to be represented ; conceive it in manner as the poet had portrayed it in words; and then convey, by acting, this second conception to the spectators. By this double distillation of thought through the soul of genius, a finer and more perfect creation is some
times formed than the efforts of any single mind, how great soever, could originally have formed. It may well be doubted, whether Shakspeare's original conception of Lady Macbeth or Desdemona was as perfect as Mrs Siddons' personation of them; or whether the grandeur of Cato or Coriolanus, as they existed in the original mind of Addison or the patriarch of the English stage, equalled Kemble's inimitable performance of them. Beautiful as were the visions of Juliet and Rosalind which floated before the mind of the Bard of Avon, it may be doubted whether they equalled Miss O'Neil's or Miss Helen Faucit's exquisite representation of these characters. The actor or actress brings to the illustration of the great efforts of dramatic genius qualities of a different sort, in addition to those which at first pervaded the mind of the author, but in harmony with them, and not less essential to the realisation of his conception. Physical beauty, the magic of voice, look, and manper, the play of countenance, the witchery of love, the step of grace, combine, with the glance of indignation, the accents of despair, to add a tenfold attraction to the creations of fancy. All the arts seem, in such representations, to combine their efforts to entrance the mind : every avenue to the heart is at once flooded with the highest, the most refined enjoyment, often with the noblest, the most elevated feelings.
“ For ill can poetry express
Full many a reach of thought sublime ;
But notwithstanding the extraordinary effect of dramatic • representation in the hands of its greatest performers, nothing is more certain than that, in general, it proves a failure. It is not difficult to see to what this general failure of the drama is due. It arises from the impossibility of awakening interest without attending to unity of emotion ; of keeping alive attention without continuity of incident ; of making the story intelligible without simplicity of action. Dramatic authors, actors, and actresses, how gifted soever
in other respects, are the worst possible judges on this subject. They are so familiar with the story, from having composed the piece themselves, or made it the subject of frequent repetition or rehearsal, that they can form no conception of the difficulty which nine-tenths of the audience, to whom the piece is entirely strange, experience in understanding the plot, or acquiring any interest in the incidents or development of the piece. It may safely be affirmed, that a vast majority of the spectators of the dramas now habitually represented, with the exception of a few of Shakspeare's, which have become as household words on the English stage, never understand anything of the story till the end of the third act, and are only beginning to take an interest in the piece when the curtain falls. Dramatic authors and performers would do well to ponder on this observation ; they may rely upon it, that it furnishes the key to the present degraded state of the English drama.
It is not mere stupidity on the part of the audience which occasions this. So complicated is the story, so lengthened the succession of events, in most of our modern theatrical pieces, that the most acute understanding, fortified by the most extensive practice, requiring alertness of intellect, will long be at fault in comprehending them. We have seen many a barrister famed for cross-examination on the north circuit unable to comprehend, till the piece was half over, the drift of Sheridan Knowles's dramas. Is it surprising, when this is the case, that the vast majority of the audience complain of weariness in the representation, and that the managers of theatres, sensible of this difficulty, are fain to eke out the proper interest of the drama by the meretricious aids of scenery, and dancing, and decorations?
What is constantly complained of by all classes at the theatre is, that it is so tiresome; that the back is broken by sitting without a support; that they cannot comprehend the story; that they do not understand what it is all about; and that the performance is infinitely too long. This last observation is undoubtedly frequently well founded; nowhere is the truth of old Hesiod's maxim, that a balf is often greater than the whole, more frequently exemplified than in dramatic representations. But still the fact of the complaint being so universally made, and equally by all classes,