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great personages, his practice of laying the scene in antiquity, and his pathos.
Now to see the impropriety of the first of these innovations, we need only observe with what art he endeavours to conceal it. His very dexterity in managing his comic heroes clearly shews the natural repugnance he felt in his own mind betwixt the representation of şuch characters, and even his own idea of the comic drama.
The TYRANT is a strange title of a comedy, It required singular address to familiarize this frightful personage to our conceptions. Which yet he hath tolerably well done, but by such expedients as confute his general theory. For, to bring him down to the level of a comic character, he gives us to understand, that the Tyrant was an usurper, who from a very mean birth had forced his way into the tyranny, And to lower him still more, we find him represented, not only as odious to his people but of a very contemptible character. He further makes him the tyrant only of a small Greek town; so that he passes, with the modern reader, for little more than the Mayor of a corporation. There is also a plain illusion in making a simple citizen demand his daughter in marriage. For under the cover of this word, which conveys the idea of a person in lower life, we think very little of the dignity of a free citizen of Corinth. Whence it appears that the poet felt the necessity of unkinging this tyrant as far as possible, before he could make a comic character of him.
* The case of his ABDOLONIME is still easier.
Tis true, the structure of the fable requires us to have an eye to royalty, but all the pride and pomp of the regal character is studiously kept out of sight. Besides, the affair of royalty does not commence till the action draws to a conclusion, the persons of the drama being all simple particulars, and even of the lowest figure through the entire course of it.
The King of Sidon is, further, a paltry sovereign, and a creature of Alexander. And the characters of the persons, which are indeed admirably touched, are purposely contrived to lessen our ideas of sovereignty.
The LYSIANASSE is à tragedy in form, of that kind which hath a happy catastrophe. The persons, subject, every thing so important, and attaches the mind so intirely to the event, that nothing interests more.
As to his laying the scene in antiquity, and especially in the free towns of Greece, I would recommend it as an admirable expedient to all those who are disposed to follow him in this new province of heroic comedy. For amongst other advantages, it gives the writer an occasion to fill the courts of his princes with simple citizens, which, as was observed, by no means answer to our ideas of nobility. But in any other view I cannot say much for the practice. It is for obvious reasons highly inconvenient. Even this writer found it so, when in one of his plays, the MACATE, he was obliged to break through the propriety of ancient manners in order to adapt himself to the modern taste. His duel, as he himself says, “a l'air “ bien françois et bien peu gree.” The reader, if he pleases, may see his apology for this transgression of decorum. Or, if there were no inconvenience of this sort, the representation of characters after the antique must, on many occasions, be cold and disgusting. At least none but professed scholars can be taken with it. .
Nor is the usage of the Latin writers any precedent. For, besides that Horace, we know, condemned it as suitable only to the infancy of their comic poetry, the manners, laws, religion of the Greeks were in the main
so similar to their own, that the difference was hardly discernible. Or if it were otherwise in some points, the neighbourhood of this famous people and the intercourse the Romans had with them, would bring them perfectly acquainted with such difference. And this last reflexion shews how insufficient it was for the author to excuse his own practice from the authority of his countrymen; who, says he, “ never scruple laying their scene in Spain or “ England." . Are the manners of ancient Greece as familiar to a French pit, as those of these two countries?
Lastly, I have very little to object to the pathos of his comedy. When it is subservient to the manners, as in the TESTAMENT and AsDOLONIME, I think it admirable. When it exceeds this degree and takes the attention intirely, as in the LYSIANASSE, it gives a pleasure indeed, but not the pleasure appropriate to comedy. I regard it as a faint imperfect species of tragedy. After all, I fear the tender and pitiable in comedy, though it must afford the highest pleasure to sensible and elegant minds, is not perfectly suited to the apprehensions of the generality. Are they susceptible of the soft and delicate emotions which the fine distress in the Testament is intended to
raise? Every one indeed is capable of being delighted through the passions ; but they must be worked up, as in tragedy, to a greater height, before the generality can receive that delight from them. The same objection, it will be said, holds against the finer strokes of character. Not, I think, with the same force. I doubt our sense of imitation, especially of the ridiculous, is quicker than our humanity. But I determine nothing. Both these pleasures are perfectly consistent. And my idea of comedy requires only that the pathos be kept in subordination to the manners.