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which was then the main body of the entertainment. But this method did not proceed from an inability to evolve, by any means, the requisite information; for both his Medea and his Iphigenia in Aulis, prove the contrary. Upon the whole, though his manner is devoid of all art, yet he is not censured on this score by the ablest of the critics. In some of his prologues, however, he weakens the interest he ought to inspire, by anticipating the events which tend to excite our surprise.
With regard to the catastrophe and character best adapted to the purposes of tragedy, it has been laid down as a principle, that it is requisite to the perfection of tragedy, that its plot should be of the complicated, not of the simple kind, and that it should imitate such actions as excite terror and pity. l'It follows, evidently, in the first place, that the change from prosperity to adversity, should not be represented, as happening to an eminently virtuous or good character, for this raises disgust rather than terror or compassion. Neither should the contrary change, from adversity to prosperity, be exhibited in a vicious character. This, of all plans, is the most opposite to the genius of tragedy, having no one property that it ought to have; for it is neither gratifying in a moral view, nor affecting, nor terrible. Nor, again, should the fall of a very bad man, from prosperous to adverse fortune, be represented; because, though such a subject may be pleasing, from its moral tendency, it will produce neither pity nor terror. For our pity is excited by misfortunes undeservedly suffered, and our terror by some resemblance between the sufferer and ourselves. Neither of these effects will, therefore, be produced by such an event. Having premised these principles, let us now examine the successes and failures of Euripides in this department of his art. Medea, in the tragedy of that name, murders her children in the sight of the spectators; Polymnestor, in the Hecuba, after being deprived of sight, appears on the stage, bathed in blood, which still streams from his eyes ; and Hippolytus, after having been dragged over the rocks, and almost torn to pieces, by his fiery coursers, makes his appearance, with his limbs mangled and bleeding. These scenes, so shocking and horrid, stifle pity and excite disgust. But the imitative arts, when in perfection, should remove from reality all that is odious, and retain only what is interesting; these harsh and painful feelings ought, therefore, not to be excited, but only such as may draw the soul from its languor, and cause it to taste pleasure without feeling the oppressiveness of pain.
An action which passes between persons who are enemies, but indifferent to each other, makes on us only a transitory imVOL.I.
pression; but our emotions are of the strongest kind, when we behold any one about to perish by the hand of a brother, a sister, a son, or a parent. Euripides is happy in his choice of these disastrous incidents ; for what can create more lively emotions, than Clytemnestra sinking under the bloody hand of a son, or the children of Medea, under that of their unnatural mother? In short, since innocence, suffering contrary to all appearance of justice, is odious, the picture, therefore, that tragedy should present to us on the stage, is, that of a man who may, in some measure, reproach himself with his misfortunes. Thus Hippolytus injures a jealous divinity, Jocasta neglects her most sacred duties, Priam and Hecuba exhibit too great a weakness in favour of the ravisher of Helen, and Antigone obeys the sentiments of nature, rather than the established laws.
If among the causes assigned for the calamities of the principal personage, there are some, which it may be easy excuse, he should then be represented with weaknesses and defects, which may palliate in the eyes of the spectators, the horror of his destiny. Let us see how Euripides proceeds in such cases.
Phædra is influenced with a criminal passion, which Venus had kindled in her heart, to destroy Hippolytus. Our poct therefore gives to this princess only a secondary part; he does still more; she conceives and executes the fearful project of accusing Hippolytus. Her passion is involuntary, but her crime is not so; she is only an odious character, who, after having raised some pity, ends by exciting indignation.
With regard to the incidents which excite terror and pity, the person who commits the tragical act may accomplish it in several ways.
He may commit the crime with deliberate intention; or the crime may not be discovered till after it is committed; or the act may proceed to the very verge of execution, and be suddenly stopped short by an unexpected discovery, which is by far the most perfect; and last of all, which is the worst, when the perpetrator stops, in the moment of executing his design, by a simple change of will. As an instance of the first, we may adduce that of Medea, who forms and executes the project of killing her children; but her action is the more barbarous, because it is unnecessary. Besides the above, there are several varieties, in exciting the emotions of pity and terror; such as in the fable, in the discoveries, in the characters, and in the catastrophes. The discovery, which prevents the completion of an atrocious act, is the best; but it ought not to be made the developement of the plot. Orestes, when recognised by Iphigenia, is on the point of falling by the arms of Thoas ; and when recognised by Electra, is persecuted by the
Furies. He has, therefore, only passed from one danger and one calamity to another. Euripides extricates him from this latter situation, by the intervention of a divinity ; an expedient which might be necessary in his Iphigenia in Tauris, but which was by no means so in his Orestes; the action of which would be more tragic, if he had abandoned the assassins of Clytemnestra to the tortures of remorse. But Euripides was fond of making the gods descend in machinery; and has but too frequently employed this gross artifice, to explain the subject and develope the plot.
What is called the manners, is the exact conformity of the actions, sentiments, thoughts and language of the personage, with his character. The manners characterize the person, in the action; and they should be good. We have an example of manners unnecessarily bad, in the character of Menelaus, in the tragedy of Orestes. Mr. Potter has justly remarked, that Menelaus, throughout this play, is represented as an ungrateful, unfeeling, timid, designing poltron. The manners must also be proper, resembling and uniform. We have an instance of want of uniformity of manners in the Iphigenia at Aulis, for there the Iphigenia who supplicates for life, has no resemblance to the Iphigenia of the conclusion. In order to give the manners boldness and lustre, they ought to be contrasted with each other, as the character of Polynices with that of Eteocles, in the Phænissa. But as we have exceeded the limits assigned to an essay of this kind, we shall only make the observation, that though the more important characters of the dramas of Euripides are generally unexceptionable, yet those of a secondary and still lower rank, often break the proportions, and violate, in various instances, the probabilities of nature.
[Messrs. Editors,-Last winter, I received from a friend, then slowly recovering from severe illness, a letter in verse, partly humorous, partly serious. I take upon me to send you the graver half. Yours, &c.]
FRAGMENT OF A POETICAL EPISTLE.
No more, my friend,
Soothing and rest; who, when there rose
Lonely, in thought, I travelled o'er
Shut out from nature, thus to lie
But I could stand at set of
sun, And see the snow he shone
Brighter and brighter grew the way
Gone is the path, like steps of light,
Why could not I, in spirit, raise Pillar of Bethel to his praise Who blessed me, and free worship pay, Like Isaac's son upon
his Are holy thoughts but visions fair, And transient, chased by stern despair;As break through clouds, in darkness tost, Sweet gleams of starlight, and are lost? Nay turn and study thy own mindNay, look on nature's face; thou'lt find Kind, gentle graces, smiles to raise The wearied spirit-hope, and praise.
O, kind to me! in darkest hour She led me forth with gentle power, From lonely thoughts, from sad unrest, To peace of mind, and to her breast The son who always loved her, pressed ; Called
up the moon to cheer me; laid Her silver light on bank and glade, And bade her throw mysterious beams O’er ice-clad hill-which steely gleams Sent back-a knight who took his rest, His ample shield upon his breast. The fence of long, rough rails, that went O’er trackless snows, a beauty lent