« VorigeDoorgaan »
appearance. With the general knowledge and admiration of the ancients which existed in England, we might have looked for some attempt at a true imitation of the Greek Tragedy; no such imitation has, however, made its appearance; in the choice and handling of their materials they show an undonbted affinity to the French. Some poets of celebrity in other departments of poetry, Young, Thomson, Glover, have written tragedies, but no one of them has displayed any true tragical talent.
They have now and then had recourse to familiar tragedy to assist the barrenness of imagination; but the moral aim, which must exclusively prevail in this species, is a true extinguisher of genuine poetical inspiratiou. They have, therefore, been satisfied with a few attempts. The Merchant of London, and The Gamester, are the only plays in this way which have attained any great reputation. George Barnwell is remarkable from having been praised by Diderot and Lessing, as a model for imitation. This error could only have escaped from Lessing in the keenness of his hostility to the French conventional tone. For in truth it is necessary to keep Lillo's honest views constantly in mind, to prevent us from finding George Barnwell as laughable as it is certainly trivial. Whoever possesses so little, or rather, no knowledge of men and of the world, ought not to set up for a public lecturer on morals. We might draw a very different conclusion from this piece, from that wbich the author had in view, namely, that to prevent young people from entertaining a violent passion, and being led at last to steal and murder, for the first wretch who spreads her snares for them, (which they of course cannot possibly avoid,) we ought, at an early period, to make them acquainted with the true character of courtezans. Besides, I cannot approve of not making the gallows visible before the last scene; such a piece ought always to be acted with a place of execution in the background. With respect to the edification to be drawn from a drama of this kind, I should prefer the histories of malefactors, which in England are usually printed at executions; they contain, at least, real facts, instead of awkward fictions.
Garrick's appearance forms an epoch in the history of the English theatre, as he chiefly dedicated his talents to the great characters of Shakspeare, and built his own fame on the growing admiration for this poet Before his time, Shakspeare
GARRICK-AIS AISTRIONIC TALENTS.
bad only been brought on the stage in mutilated and disfigured alterations. Garrick returned on the whole to the true originals, though he still allowed himself to make some very unfortunate changes. It appears to me that the only excusable alteration of Shakspeare is, to leave out a few things not in conformity to the taste of the time. Garrick was undoubtedly a great actor. Whether he always conceived the parts of Shakspeare in the sense of the poet, I, from the very circumstances stated in the eulogies on his acting, should be inclined to doubt. He excited, however, a noble emulation to represent worthily the great national poet; this has ever since been the highest aim of actors, and even at present the stage can boast of men whose histrionic talents are deservedly famous.
But why has this revival of the admiration of Shakspeare remained unproductive for dramatic poetry? Because he has been too much the subject of astonishment, as an unapproachable genius who owed everything to nature and nothing to art. His success, it is thought, is without example, and can never be repeated; nay, it is even forbidden to venture into the same region. Had he been considered more from an artistic point of view, it would have led to an endeavour to understand the principles which he followed in his practice, and an attempt to master them. A meteor appears, disappears, and leaves no trace behind; the course of a heavenly body, however, ought to be delineated by the astronomer, for the sake of investigat. ing more accurately the laws of general mechanics.
I am not sufficiently acquainted with the latest dramatic productions of the English, to enter into a minute account of them. That the dramatic art and the public taste are, however, in a wretched state of decline, may, I think, be safely inferred from the following circumstance. Some years ago, several German plays found their way to the English stage; plays, which, it is true, are with us the favourites of the multitude, but which are not considered by the intelligent as forming a part of our literature, and in which distinguished actors are almost ashamed of earning applause. These pieces have met with extraordinary favour in England; they have, properly speaking, as the Italians say, fatto furore, though indeed the critics did not fail to declaim against their immorality, veiled over by sentimental hypocrisy. From the poverty of our dramatic literature, the admission of such abor
THE SPANISH DRAMA.
tions into Germany may be easily comprehended; but what can be alleged in favour of this depravity of taste in a nation like the English, which possesses such treasures, and which must therefore descend from such an elevation ? Certain writers are nothing in themselves; they are merely symptoms of the disease of their age; and were we to judge from them, there is but too much reason to fear that, in England, an effe. minate sentimentality in private life is inore frequent, than from the astonishing political greatness and energy of the nation we should be led to suppose.
May the romantic drama and the grand historical drama, those truly native species, be again speedily revived, and may Shakspeare find such worthy imitators as some of those whom Germany has to produce !
Spanish Theatre-Its three Periods: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon
Spirit of the Spanish Poetry in general— Influence of the National History on it-Form, and various species of the Spanish Drama
Decline since the beginning of the eighteenth century. The riches of the Spanish stage have become proverbial, and it has been more or less the custom of the Italian, French, and English dramatists, to draw from this source, and generally without acknowledgment. I have often, in the preceding Lectures, had occasion to notice this fact; it was incompatible, however, with my purpose, to give an enumeration of all that has been so borrowed, for it would have assumed rather a bulky appearance, and without great lahour it could not have been rendered complete. What has been taken from the most celebrated Spanish poets might be easily pointed out, but the writers of the second and third rank have been equally laid under contribution, and their works are not easily met with out of Spain. Ingenious boldness, joined to easy clearness of intrigue, is so exclusively peculiar to the Spanish dramatists, that whenever I find these in a work, I consider myself justified in suspecting a Spanish origin, even though the circumstance may have been unknowu to the author himself, who drew his plagiarism from a nearer source.*
* Thus for example, The Servant of two Masters, of Goldoni, a piece
SPANISII DRAMA-DE LA HUERTA.
From the political preponderance of Spain in the sixteenth century, a knowledge of its language became widely diffused throughout Europe. Even in the first half of the seventeeuth century, many traces are to be found of an acquaintance with Spanish literature in France, Italy, England, and Germany; since that time, however, the study of it had every where fallen into neglect, till of late some zeal for it has been again excited in Germany. In France they have no other idea of the Spanish theatre, than what can be formed from the translations of Linguet. These again have been rendered into German, and their number has been increased by others, in no respect better, derived immediately from the originals. The translators have, however, confined themselves almost exclusively to the department of comedies of intrigue, and though all the Spanish plays with the exception of a few Entremeses, Saynetes, and those of a very late period, are versified, they have turned the whole into prose, and even considered themselves entitled to praise for having carefully removed every thing like poetical ornament. After such a mode of proceeding nothing but the material scaffolding of the original could remain; the beautiful colouring must have disappeared together with the form of execation. That translators who could show such a total want of judgnient as to poetical excellences would not choose the best pieces of the store, may be easily supposed. The species in question, though in the invention of innumerable intrigues, of such a kind as the theatrical literature of all other countries can produce but few examples of it, it certainly shows astonishing acuteness, is, nevertheless, by no means the most valuable part of the Spanish theatre, which displays a much greater brilliancy in the handling of wonderful, mythological, or historical subjects.
The selection published by De la Huerta in sixteen small volumes, under the title of Teatro Hespañol, with introductions giving an account of the authors of the pieces and the different species, will not afford, even to one conversant with the language, a very extensive acquaintance with the Spanish theatre. His collection is limited almost exclusively to the department of comedies in modern manners, and he has not highly distinguished above his others for the most amusing intrigue, passes for an original. A learned Spaniard has assured me, that he knows it to be a Spanish invention. Perhaps Goldoni had bere merely an older Italian imitation before him.
admitted into it any of the pieces of an earlier period, composed by Lope de Vega, or his predecessors. Blankenburg and Bouterwek * among ourselves have laboured to throw light on the earlier history of the Spanish theatre, before it acquired its proper shape and attained literary dignity,-a subject involved in much obscurity. But even at an after period, an immense number of works were written for the stage which never appeared in print, and which are either now lost or only exist in manuscript; while, on the other hand, there is hardly an instance of a piece being printed without having first been brought on the stage. A correct and complete history of the Spanish theatre, therefore, can only be executed in Spain. The notices of the German writers abovementioned, are however of use, though not free from errors; their opinions of the poetical merit of the soveral pieces, and the general view which they have taken, appear to me exceedingly objectionable.
The first advances of Dramatic Art in Spain were made in the last half of the sixteenth century; and with the end of the seventeenth it ceased to flourish. In the eighteenth, after the War of the Succession, (which seems to have bad a very prejudicial influence on the Spanish literature in general,) very little can be mentioned which does not display extravagance, decay, the retention of old observances without meaning, or a tame imitation of foreign productions. The Spanish literari of the last generation frequently boast of their old national poets, the people entertain a strong attachment to them, and in Mexico, as well as Madrid, their pieces are always represented with impassioned applause.
The various epochs in the formation of the Spanish theatre may be designated by the names of three of its most famous authors, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon.
The earliest and most valuable information and opinions on this subject are to be found in the writings of Cervantes; chiefly in Don Quixote (in the dialogue with the Canon), in the Preface to his later plays, and in the Journey to Parnassus. He has also in various other places thrown out occasional remarks on the subject. He had witnessed in his youth the commencement of the dramatic art in Spain; the poetical poverty of which, as well as the meagreness of the theatrical decorations, are very humorously described by him. He was
* The former, in his annotations on Sulzers Theorie der schöner Künste the latter in his Geschichte der Spanischen Poesie.