Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

LITERARY TRANSFORMATION.

(CONTINUED.)

PHILOSOPHERS-POETS-POLITICAL ECONOMISTS.

FROM 1792 to 1800, I seldom heard Locke mentioned in England : his system, it was said, had become obsolete, and he was regarded as weak in ideology. With respect to Newton, as a writer, they would not have him upon earth, and sent him off to heaven, which was perfectly just.

Il vint; il revela le principe suprême,
Constant, universel, un comme Dieu lui-même:
L'univers se taisait ; il dit- Allraction !
Ce mot, c'etait le mot de la création *.

As for the poets, the “ Elegant Extracts” afforded an asylum to a few pieces of Dryden's. People could not forgive the rhymed verses of Pope, though they went to see his house at Twickenham, and cut pieces from the weeping willow which he planted, but which has died away like his fame.

Contemplation. A mon père. J.J. Ampère.

Blair? A tiresome critic, in the French style: he was placed far below Johnson.

The old Spectator ? To the garret.

Philosophic literature? Confined to the classes at Edinburgh.

The works of the English political writers possess little general interest. General questions are there seldom touched upon; those works scarcely ever discuss any but truths peculiar to the constitution of the British islands.

The productions of the economists are less circumscribed. The calculations respecting the wealth of nations, the influence of colonies, the movement of generations, the employment of capital, the balance of trade and agriculture, apply in part to the different European societies.

However, at the period of which I am treating, Burke had overstepped the circle of national political individuality. By declaring against the French Revolution, he hurried his country into that long series of hostilities which terminated on the field of Waterloo. Cut off from the rest of the world for twenty-two years, England defended her constitution against the ideas which are at this day overpowering it, and dragging it to the common fate of ancient civilisation.

THE STAGE.-MRS. SIDDONS.—THE PIT.

INVASION OF GERMAN LITERATURE.

It was nevertheless ungrateful thus to slight the Classics. People had gone back to Shakspeare and Milton. Well—the writers of the age of Queen Anne had restored to the light those two poets, who waited fifty years in limbo for the moment of their entrance into glory. Dryden, Pope, and Addison were the promoters of the apotheosis. Thus Voltaire has contributed to the illustration of the great men of the reign of Louis XIV.: that versatile, prying, inquisitive genius, possessing abundance of fame, lent a little to his neighbour, on condition that it should be repaid to him with heavy interest.

During the eight years of my emigration in London, I saw Shakspeare rule the stage; Rowe, Congreve, Otway, scarcely made their appearance upon it. That sublime and unequal painter of the passions scarcely suffered any other to place himself beside him. Mrs. Siddons, in the part of Lady Macbeth, performed with extraordinary grandeur: the scene where she walks in her sleep thrilled the spectator with horror. Talma alone was on a level with that actress; but his talent possessed somewhat of the Greek correctness, which was not to be found in that of Mrs. Siddons.

In 1822, being invited to a party at Lord Lansdowne's, his lordship introduced me to an austere-looking lady of seventy-three. dressed in crape, wore a black veil like a diadem over her white hair, and looked like an abdicated queen.

She addressed me in a solemn tone and three mutilated sentences of the “ Génie du Christianisme ; she then said with not less solemnity, I am Mrs. Siddons.” Had she said, “I am Lady Macbeth,” I should have believed her. One needs but live to meet with the wrecks of one age cast by the waves of Time on the shore of

She was

[ocr errors]

another age.

The English pit was, in my days of exile, noisy and coarse.

Sailors drank beer in the pit, ate oranges, apostrophised the boxes. I happened one evening to be next to a sailor who had come into the house drunk. He asked me where he was. I told him in Covent Garden. “ A pretty garden, indeed !” he exclaimed, seized like Homer's gods with inextinguishable laughter. But John Bull,

in his brutality, was a better judge of the beauties of Shakspeare than those dandies of the present day, who prefer the plays of Kotzebue and of our Boulevards, translated into English, to the scenes of Richard III. and Hamlet.

German literature has invaded English literature, as formerly Italian literature, and afterwards French literature, made an irruption into the native land of Milton. Walter Scott commenced his literary career with a translation of Göthe's “ Götz of Berlichingen.” Kotzebue's dramas then profaned the stage of Shakspeare: a different choice might have been made, since there were Göthe, and Schiller, and Lessing. Some Scottish poets have done better to imitate in their courage and in their mountains, those martial strains of new Germany with which St. Marc Girardin has made us acquainted, as Ampère has initiated us in the Edda, the Sagas, and the Nibelungen Lied.

The following piece was written by Körner on Rauch's bust of Queen Louisa of Prussia :

Thou sleep'st so soft-still, life's fair visions over,
Each tranquil feature breathes once more in seeming,
Thy clear mild eyes, just closed in peaceful dreaming,
With scarcely folded wings light slumbers cover ;
Thus slumber on till thy land's sons, redeeming
God's favour, gladly give life to recover
Their freedom — when upon each bright hill lover

« VorigeDoorgaan »