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far, at least, his play has the advantage of Miss Baillie's theory, that it is not mere speculation, depending on chance or caprice for its success. Let us then attend, for a moment, to what Mr. Shee says upon the subject; and see whether his reasons are as well founded as he seems to apprehend they are. “In order," says Mr. S., “to give an exaggerated and unpicturesque importance to one or two characters, the rest of the dramatis personæ have been flattened to a dead level of insignificance and insipidity; which has made the play, unless where the hero or heroine have occupied the scene, a kind of dramatic waste, without any object of sufficient consequence to operate either as a relief or a contrast to the principal figure.” “In Alasco," proceeds Mr. Shee, “there are at least five parts capable of some effect.” Now we would ask whether Macbeth, or Richard the Third, or Venice Preserved, (the best tragedy since the days of the great master,) create less interest or sympathy because their respective heroes are present to the mind and eye, to the almost total exclusion of the rest of the dramatis personæ from all essential participation in the great action of the drama ? We apprehend not. The reverse, in fact, seems to be the case. It is somewhere remarked, that“ disordered power, concentered within itself to its own destruction, is the height of all tragedy." To this opinion, we venture to say, all, who either think or feel deeply, will subscribe. Power must be concentered in order to be felt. It ceases to be power the moment it is divided or participated. This holds true in matter no less than in mind. The
consequence of inattention to, or rather a rejection of this truth, has, in the present as in other instances, been productive of-not failure, for no plays succeed better than the melo-dramatic--but feebleness. "To require of the mind that it should feel an interest (and no small degree of interest either, according to Mr. Shee) in the fortunes of five or six persons engaged in one action, the performance of which, after all, we perceive to devolve upon the energies of a single individual, namely, the hero,-for there must be a hero,-is to task the attention beyond the bearance of either nature or reason. Mr. Shee's plan, therefore, appears to us to be founded on an entire misapprehension of the true sources of our emotions. one attend to his sensations upon being told that a whole city has been swallowed up by an earthquake, or overwhelmed by an inundation, and he will find them exceedingly indefinite, weak, and unimpressive; but let him listen to the story of a single individual, whose unaided efforts had been instrumental in the achievement of some great event, whether of good or of
evil-let him learn his name, and nothing more, and he will find his mind very differently, and, we venture to say, far more powerfully affected. Myriads perished amid the snows of Moscow, but who ever thought of any but the man-Napoleon! flying from the only foe he could not conquer-before whom his genius and his valor were alike rebuked.
We have said enough, we hope, of Mr. Shee's plan, and will now proceed to lay before our readers one or two specimens of his style and power of execution. The subject of the play is the rescue of Poland from the bondage of the continent. Our readers, therefore, may very well anticipate the nature of the dialogue throughout. Some alleviation, however, of the horrors of war and the dryness of political discussion, is afforded in the loves of Alasco and Amantha; to whom he is represented as having been betrothed previous to the opening of the play.
Amantha's account to Jerome, of a dream she had in the castle, while in the power of Hohendahl, affords a very favorable specimen of the author's powers. Amantha.
My father and my husband !
This strikes us as being better than any thing else in the play, beginning, middle, or end. Indeed, neither the commencement nor the conclusion, afford any favorable matter for extract. Johnson used to say that he seldom or never read a book through. He would generally glance at the contents, and could soon determine whether or not it was worth a perusal. This has been, in a great measure, a habit with ourselves; and, accordingly, after reading a page or two of the first act of Mr. Shee's play, we turned to the conclusion of the last, and felt a doubt, we must own, as to the probability of our being rewarded for a perusal of the whole. Most dramatic writers, we believe, have found the opening or introduction of the play, one of the most difficult parts of the execution. The mode by soliloquy has been adopted by many writers, and is generally recommended. Upon this point, however, every author will determine for himself. Suffice it to say, that the first scene in Mr. Shee's play, and it is an unusually long scene too, is by no means calculated to recommend the rest. It is entirely taken up with a dialogue between Conrad, the friend of Alasco, and a Polish chief. Alasco's virtues form the burden of the conference, which, we are inclined to think, must have been “sadly borne” by the audience. Character in the drama, as well as in real life, should always be left to develope and illustrate itself in action. Before we know a man, to hear him extravagantly lauded by another, is calculated to make about as much impression as though we were to hear him praise himself. It may, in fact, have an unfortunate effect, by raising anticipations which, however perfect he may be, are rarely realized in the conduct of any
human being. This caution, however, involves no obligation, on the part of the author, to conceal, as is sometimes the case, all previous knowledge or insight from the audience into the character and history, whatever it may be, of the hero or the heroine. But the more briefly this is done, the better. And here brevity reminds us that we have been any thing but brief ourselves; for which offence we beg pardon of our readers. What we have said of the merits of Mr. Shee's play has, we hope, been favorable on the whole. It may not be the most Shakspearean drama of the age; but it is, at least, worth all the wretched trash with which the meek and enduring audiences of the British capital are daily and hourly afflicted, in the shape of Asiatic, melodramatic, and grand operatic performances, by the Messrs. Di. mond, Dibdin and Company.
ART. XII.—Memoir read before the Historical Society of the
State of New York, December 31, 1816, by EGBERT Benson. Second edition. Jamaica. 1825.
It is certainly no slight evidence of the intrinsic mérit and the popularity of this little volume, that notwithstanding the neglect of reviewers for nine years past to notice it, and in spite of the attempts of the New-York Historical Society to weaken its authority, by denying the sanction of that ancient and flourishing institution to its publication, it has nevertheless forced its way through all the difficulties and trials of a first edition, and now makes its appearance in the shape of a second, with notes. All this is certainly somewhat in contradiction to the author's Latin motto prefixed to his notes, which asserts that none read his writings, because some do not relish the subject, and others are not fond of being censured. It must be admitted, however, that the latter position very naturally accounts for the neglect evinced by the Historical Society, for the author does indeed handle them very roughly in Note No. 1. ; and he imputes their hostility to a dislike on their part to receive instruction, though they had the grace, it seems, to pass a vote of thanks for the bitter though salutary pills he compelled them to swallow.
The subject of the memoir is names; chiefly the names of places in that portion of our country once held by the Dutch, and by them called Nieuw Nederlandt ; and the learned author has extended his investigations to rivers, mountains, islands, fishes and families. Let it not be presumed, however, that he has merely furnished a catalogue of names, with the derivation or etymology affixed to each; he has done much more-he has embodied in his nomenclature a rich mass of amusing anecdotes and curious facts,
“ Picked from the worm-holes of long vanished days,
And from the dust of old Oblivion raked ;" and connecting and combining these in a manner peculiar to himself, he has woven a tissue of arabesque truly original and inimitable. In his own words,
“The Memoir is to be considered as a piece in the loom; and the subject, as professed, Names, to serve only “ as the warp for the interwoven woof;" and, to compare small things with great, in the famous weaving match of old, the fair websters had, probably, the like warp—“the skill of the GODDESS-ONE appeared in the woof; and the four lessons, the finish of the work, decided her victorious." I trust there will not be found, in my piece, a lesson, whether, as sentiment, and not just ; or, as hint, or hit, and not fair."-p. 92.
A great many ingenious speculations are to be met with in these pages, on men and things in general, which are not to be found any where else, besides a good deal of law, politics, and divinity. But more than all, there is a vein of sly satire and subtle 'irony pervading the work, which keeps the attention continually awake, and excites the curiosity of the reader, in an uncommon degree, to discover the bearing and application, and sometimes even the meaning of it. That there is a meaning, however, and a profound one too, the reader may always feel assured. It may seem very obscure at first, like the lura mope can ubre of Friart Bacon ; but it will come to light at last, he may depend upon it, and with a vengeance too. We ourselves, sagacious critics as we are, have been not a little puzzled to solve one or more of the author's enigmatical sentences, but have scarcely ever failed, by means of hard and deep thinking, to find out the pith and purport at last. We have still, however, a little doubt as to the two following passages :
“He was a Dutchman, and doubtless penned the passage in asseveration of their title to the river as the first discoverers of it; and it does not require an attendance of a whole half century on courts of justice to learn, that where interest, or wish, or not less ill than good will, or even only the vanity of narrating, to show we know something not known to others, or the absence of hecd, or any other of the varieties of human frailty, there how sparing of belief.”—p. 22.
“ The father, a mechanic of the humblest order, a son of St. Crispin, alike ready to serve a customer, whether to meid or make, and so never above his business, and so, all sense ; in morals, all worth ; and so, if I may be permitted in a play on the word, and in an allusion to his vocation, .no rest or residue of him leather.'"-p. 45.
One would almost imagine our author had made himself familiar with the pleadings of the two eloquent advocates, who pronounced such learned and lucid speeches before the renowned Pantagruel. The fact is, a great portion of the memoir, like the whimsical writings of Rabelais, is a piece of comic and serious satire on the follies, vanities and stupidities of the present generation. The very motto in the title page* sounds the alarm, though in a strain so equivocal, that the unsuspecting reader finds himself bit by the fly, while he is calmly listening to its “ buzzing melody."
It cannot be denied, however, that apart from its satire, this little volume contains a great deal of traditional lore relating
Cui(musco) Nomen asilo