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PREFACE OF THE TRANSLATOR.
Tue Lectures of A. W. Schlegel on Dramatic Poetry have obtained high celebrity on the Continent, and been much alluded to of late in several publications in this country. The boldness of his attacks on rules which are considered as sacred by the French critics, and on works of which the French nation in general have long been proud, called forth a more than ordinary degree of indignation against his work in France. It was amusing enough to observe the hostility carried on against him in the Parisian Journals. The writers in these Journals found it much easier to condemn M. SCHLEGEL than to refute him: they allowed that what he said was very ingenious, and had a great appearance of truth; but still they said it was not truth. They never, however, as far as I could observe, thought proper to grapple with him, to point out anything unfounded in his premises, or illogical in the conclusions which he drew from them; they generally confined themselves to mere assertions, or to minute and unimportant observations by which the real question was in no manner affected.
In this country the work will no doubt meet with a very different reception. Here we have no want of scholars to appreciate the value of his views of the ancient drama; and it will be no disadvantage to him, in our eyes, that he has been unsparing in his attack on the literature of our enemies. It will hardly fail to astonish us, however, to find a stranger better acquainted with the brightest poetical ornament of this country than any of ourselves; and that the admiration of the English nation for Shakspeare should first obtain a truly enlightened interpreter in a critic of Germany.
It is not for me, however, to enlarge on the merits uf a work which has already obtained so high a reputation. I shall better consult my own advantage in giving a short extract from the animated account of M. SCHLEGEL's Lectures in the late work on Germany by Madame de Staël:
“W. SCHLEGEL has given a course of Dramatic Literature at Vienna, which comprises every thing remarkable that has been composed for the theatre, from the time of the Grecians to our own days. It is not a barren nomenclature of the works of the various authors: he seizes the spirit of their different sorts of literature with all the imagination of a poet. We are sensible that to produce such consequences extraordinary studies are required: but learning is not perceived in this work, except by his perfect knowledge of the chefs-d'cuvre of composition. In a few pages we reap the fruit of the labour of a whole life; every opinion formed by the author, every epithet given to the writers of whom he speaks, is beautiful and just, concise and animated. He has found the art of treating the finest pieces of poetry as so many wonders of nature, and of painting them in lively colours, which do not injure the justness of the outline; for we cannot repeat too often, that imagination, far from being an enemy to truth, brings it forward more than any other faculty of the mind; and all those who depend upon it as an excuse for indefinite terms or exaggerated expressions, are at least as destitute of poetry as of good sense.
“An analysis o, the principles on which both Tragedy and Comedy are founded, is treated in this course with much depth of philosophy. This kind of merit is often found among the German writers; but SCHLEGEL has no equal in the art of inspiring his own admiration; in general, he shows himself attached to a simple taste, sometimes bordering on rusticity; but he deviates from his usual opinions in favour of the inhabitants of the South. Their play on words is not the object of his censure; he detests the affectation which owes its existence TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
to the spirit of society: but that which is excited by the luxury of imagination pleases him, in poetry, as the profusion of colours and perfumes would do in nature. Schlegel, after having acquired a great reputation by his translation of Shakspeare, became also enamoured of Calderon, but with a very different sort of attachment from that with which Shakspeare had inspired him; for while the English author is deep and gloomy in his knowledge of the human heart, the Spanish poet gives himself up with pleasure and delight to the beauty of life, to the sincerity of faith, and to all the brilliancy of those virtues which derive their colouring from the sunshine of the soul.
“I was at Vienna when W. Schlegel gave his public course of Lectures I expected only good sense and instruction, where the object was merely to convey information: I was astonished to hear a critic as eloquent as an orator, and who, far from falling upon defects, which are the eternal food of mean and little jealousy, sought only the means of reviving a creative genius."
Thus far Madame de Staël. In taking upon me to become the interpreter of a work of this description to my countrymen, I am aware that I have incurred no slight degree of responsibility. How I have executed my task it is not for me to speak, but for the reader to judge. This much, however, I will say,--that I have always endeavoured to discover the true meaning of the author, and that I believe I have seldom mistaken it. Those who are best acquainted with the psychological riches of the German language, will be vie must disposed to look on my labour with an eye of indulgence,
From the size of the present work, it will not be expected that it should contain either a course of Dramatic Literature bibliographically complete, or a history of the theatre compiled with antiquarian accuracy.
Of books containing dry accounts and lists of names there are already enough. My purpose was to give a general view, and to develope those ideas which ought to guide us in our estimate of the value of the dramatic productions of various ages and nations.
The greatest part of the following Lectures, with the exception of a few observations of a secondary nature, the suggestion of the moment, were delivered orally as they now appear in print. The only alteration consists in a more commodious distribution, and here and there in additions, where the limits of the time prevented me from handling many matters with uniform minuteness. This
afford a compensation for the animation of oral delivery which sometimes throws a veil over deficiencies of expression, and always excites a certain degree of expectation.
I delivered these Lectures, in the spring of 1808, at Vienna, to a brilliant audience of nearly three hundred individuals of both sexes. The inbabitants of Vienna have long been in the habit of refuting the injurious descriptions which many writers of the North of Germany have given of that capital, by the kindest reception of all learned men and artists belonging to these regions, and by the most disinterested zeal for the credit of our national literature, a zeal which a just sensibility has not been able to cool. I found here the cordiality of better times united with that amiable animation of
the South, which is often denied to our German seriousness, and the universal diffusion of a keen taste for intellectual amusement. To this circumstance alone I must attribute it that not a few of the men who hold the most important places at court, in the state, and in the army, artists and literary men of merit, women of the choicest social cultivation, paid me not merely an occasional visit, but devoted to me an uninterrupted attention.
With joy I seize this fresh opportunity of laying my gratitude at the feet of the benignant monarch who, in the permission to deliver these Lectures communicated to me by way of distinction immediately from his own hand, gave me an honourable testimony of his gracious confidence, which I as a foreigner who had not the happiness to be born under his sceptre, and merely felt myself bound as a German and a citizen of the world to wish him every blessing and prosperity, could not possibly have merited.
Many enlightened patrons and zealous promoters of everything good and becoming have merited my gratitude for the assistance which they gave to my undertaking, and the encouragement which they afforded me during its execution.
The whole of my auditors rendered my labour extremely agreeable by their indulgence, their attentive participation, and their readiness to distinguish, in a feeling manner, every passage which seemed worthy of their applause.
It was a flattering moment, which I shall never forget, when, in the last hour, after I bad called up recollections of the old German renown sacred to every one possessed of true patriotic sentiment, and when the minds of my auditors were thus more solemnly attuned, I was at last obliged to take my leave powerfully agitated by the reflection that our recent relation, founded on a common love for a nobler mental cultivation, would be so soon dissolved, and that I should never again see those together who were then assembled around me. A general emotion was perceptible, excited by so much