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his conduct suited to our conceptions of him! He is cold, prudent, deaf to pity, blind to beauty, and to be moved only by consideration of the public weal. See him in the Iphigenia of Racine, on a similar occasion, where he tells Agamemnon, he is ready to cry,
Je suis prêt de pleurer ;
and examine whether there appears any thing of Ulysses upon the stage, but his name. Nor is there a greater resemblance between the French and Greek Achilles. Euripides paints him with a peculiar frankness and warmth of character, abhorrent of fraud, and highly provoked when he discovers his name has been used in a deceit. When he sees Iphigenia preferring the good of her country, and an immortal fame, to the pleasures of life, he is then struck with sentiments so suitable to the greatness of his own mind; and, in the style of a hero and a Greek, expresses how glad he should have been of such a bride. The Achilles of Racine is not distinguished from any young lover of spirit; yet this is one of the best French tragedies.
It is usual to compliment Corneille with having added dignity to the Romans; and he has undoubtedly given them a certain strained elevation of sentiment and expression, which has perhaps a theatrical greatness: but this is not Roman dignity, nor suitable to the character of republicans ; for, as the excellent Bishop of Cambray observes*, history represents the Romans great and high in sentiment, but simple, modest, natural in words, and very unlike the bombast, turgidheroes of romance. A great man, says he, does not declaim in the tone of the theatre ; his expressions in conversation are just and strong; he utters nothing low, or any thing pompous.
Augustus Cæsar, represented to a barbarous audience, would command more respect, if seated on the Mogul's golden throne, sparkling with gems, than in the curule chair,
* Lettres sur l'Eloquence, &c.
to which power, not pomp, gave dignity. It is a degree of barbarism to ascribe nobleness of mind to arrogance of phrase, or insolence of manners. There is a certain expression of style and behaviour which verges towards barbarism ; a state to which we may approach by roads that rise, as well as by those that fall. An European monarch would think it as unbecoming him to be styled light of the world, glory of nations, and by the swelling titles assumed by the Asiatic princes, as to be called the tamer of horses, or the swift-footed, like the heroes of Homer.
Père Brumoy seems to be very sensible of Corneille's misrepresentation of the Roman character, though he speaks of it in all the ambiguity of language which prudence could suggest, to one who was thwarting a national opinion *. He talks of un raffinement de fierté in the Romans, and asks, if they are of this globe, or spirits of a superior world? The Greeks of Racine, says he, are not indeed of that universe, which belonged only to Corneille: but with what pleasure does he make us behold ourselves in the persons he presents to us! and how agreeably would the heroes of antiquity be surprized to find themselves adorned by new manners, not indeed like their own, but which yet do not misbecome them!
* Théatre Grec: par Brumoy.
It can hardly be supposed that a critic of Père Brumoy's taste did not mean to convey an oblique censure in these observations. The tragic poet is not to let his Pegasus, like the Hippogriffe of Astolpho, carry him to the moon; he is to represent men such as they were: and indeed, when the fable and manners do not agree, great improprieties and perfect incredibility ensue.
If a Grecian fable is chosen, Grecian mannersshould accompany it. A superficial decorum is kept up, if Agamemnon appears a great chief; but he should be a Greek chief too, if he is to sacrifice his daughter to Diana. The same magnanimity of sentiment might certainly have been found in Gustavus Adolphus, and in other generals; but then how monstrous would appear the great catastrophe of the play!
If Shakspeare had not preserved the Roman character and sentiments, in his play of the Death of Julius Cæsar, we should have abhorred Brutus as an assassin, who by this artifice appears a tyrannicide : and had not Mr. Addison made Cato a patriot, according to the Roman mode, we should think he was mad for killing himself, because Cæsar was likely to become perpetual dictator.
It is difficult to sympathize with a man's passions, without adopting, for the time, his opinions, customs, and prejudices : but it is certainly necessary to exhibit the man as strongly tinctured with those prejudices and customs as possible,