Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

seen the prints of Hogarth than never have seen those of Ra. phael. It is many years ago since I first saw the prints of the

Cartoons' hanging round the old-fashioned parlour of a little inn in a remote part of the country. I was then young: I had heard of the fame of the Cartoons, but this was the first time I had ever been admitted face to face into the presence of those divine works. “How was I then uplifted !” Prophets and apostles stood before me as in a dream, and the Saviour of the Christian world with his attributes of faith and power; miracles were working on the walls; the hand of Raphael was there; and as his pencil traced the lines, I saw godlike spirits and lofty shapes descend and walk visibly the earth, but as if their thoughts still lifted them above the earth. There I saw the figure of St. Paul, pointing with noble fervour to " temples not made with hands, eternal in the heavens ;” and that finer one of Christ in the boat, whose whole figure seems sustained by meekness and love ; and that of the same person surrounded by his disciples, like a flock of sheep listening to the music of some divine shepherd. I knew not how enough to admire them. If from this transport and delight there arose in my breast a wish, a deep aspiration of mingled hope and fear to be able one day to do something like them, that hope has long since vanished; but not with it the love of art, nor delight in the works of art, nor admiration of the genius which produces them, nor respect for fame which rewards and crowns them! Later in life, I saw other works of this great painter (with more like them) collected in the Louvre, where Art at that time lifted up her head, and was seated on her throne, and said, “ All eyes shall see me, and all knees shall bow to me!” Honour was done to her and all hers. There was her treasure, and there the inventory of all she had. There she had gathered together her pomp, and there was her shrine, and there her votaries came and worshipped as in a temple. The crown she wore was brighter than that of kings. Where the struggles for human liberty had been there were the triumphs of human genius. For there, in the Louvre, were the precious monuments of art; there “stood the statue that enchants the world;" there was "Apollo,' the 'Laocoon,' the 'Dying Gladiator,' the head of the 'Antinous,' 'Diana with her Fawn, the

· Muses and the Graces' in a ring, and all the glories of the antique world :

" There was old Proteus coming from the sea,

And wreathed Triton blew his winding horn.”

There, too, were the two 'St. Jeromes,' Corregio's and Domenichino's; there was Raphael's Transfiguration, the St. Mark' of Tintoret, Paul Veronese's Marriage of Cana,' the Deluge' of Poussin, and Titian's 'St. Peter Martyr.' It was there that I learned to become an enthusiast of the lasting works of the great painters, and of their names no less magnificent: grateful to the heart as the sound of celestial harmony from other spheres, waking around us (whether heard or not) from youth to age; the stay, the guide and anchor of our purest thoughts; whom, having once seen, we always remember, and who teach us to see all things through them; without whom life would be to begin again, and the earth barren; of Raphael, who lifted the human form half-way to Heaven; of Titian, who painted the mind in the face, and unfolded the soul of things to the eye; of Rubens, around whose pencil gorgeous shapes thronged numberless, startling us by the novel accidents of form and colour, putting the spirit of motion into the universe, and weaving a gay fantastic round and bacchanalian dance with nature; of Rembrandt, too, who “smoothed the raven down of darkness till it smiled,” and tinged it with a light like streaks of burnished ore; of these, and more than these, of whom the world was scarce worthy, and for the loss of whom nothing could console menot even the works of Hogarth!

13

LECTURE VIII.

On the Comic Writers of the Last Century.

THE question which has been often asked, “Why there are comparatively so few good modern comedies ?" appears in a great measure to answer itself. It is because so many excel. lent comedies have been written, that there are none written at present. Comedy naturally wears itself out—destroys the very food on which it lives; and by constantly and successfully exposing the follies and weaknesses of mankind to ridicule, in the end leaves itself nothing worth laughing at. It holds the mirror up to nature, and men seeing their most striking peculiarities and defects, pass in gay review before them, learn either to avoid or conceal them. It is not the criticism which the public taste exercises upon the stage, but the criticism which the stage exercises upon public manners that is fatal to comedy, by rendering the subject-matter of it tame, correct, and spiritless. We are drilled into a sort of stupid decorum, and forced to wear the same dull uniform of outward appearance; it is asked, why the Comic Muse does not point, as she was wont, at the peculiarities of our gait and gesture, and exhibit the picturesque contrasts of our dress and costume, in all that graceful variety in which she delights. The genuine source of comic writing,

and yet

“Where it must live, or have no life at all,"

is undoubtedly to be found in the distinguishing peculiarities of men and manners. Now this distinction can subsist, so as to be strong, pointed, and general, only while the manners of different classes are formed almost immediately by their particular circumstances, and the characters of individuals by their natural temperament and situation, without being everlastingly modified and neutralized by intercourse with the world-by knowledge

and education. In a certain stage of society, men may be said to vegetate like trees, and to become rooted to the soil in which they grow. They have no idea of anything beyond themselves and their immediate sphere of action; they are, as it were, circumscribed, and defined by their particular circumstances; they are what their situation makes them, and nothing more. Each is absorbed in his own profession or pursuit, and each in his turn contracts that habitual peculiarity of manners and opinions which makes him the subject of ridicule to others, and the sport of the Comic Muse. Thus the physician is nothing but a physician, the lawyer is a mere lawyer, the scholar degenerates into a pedant, the country squire is a different species of being from the fine gentleman, the citizen and the courtier inhabit each a different world, and even the affectation of certain characters, in aping the follies or vices of their betters, only serves to show the immeasurable distance which custom or fortune has placed between them. Hence the earlier comic writers, taking advantage of this mixed and solid mass of ignorance, folly, pride, and prejudice, made those deep and lasting incisions into it-have given those sharp and nice touches, that bold relief to their characters,--have opposed them in every variety of contrast and collision, of conscious self-satisfaction and mutual antipathy, with a power which can only find full scope in the same rich and inexhaustible materials. But in proportion as comic genius succeeds in taking off the mask from ignorance and conceit, as it teaches us

" To see ourselves as others see us,”_

in proportion as we are brought out on the stage together, and our prejudices clash one against the other, our sharp angular points wear off; we are no longer rigid in absurdity, passionate in folly, and we prevent the ridicule directed at our habitual foibles by laughing at them ourselves.

If it be said, that there is the same fund of absurdity and prejudice in the world as ever—that there are the same unaccountable perversities lurking at the bottom of every breast, I should answer, Be it so: but at least we keep our follies to ourselves as much as possible; we palliate, shuffle, and quivo

cate with them; they sneak into bye-corners, and do not, like Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, march along the high road, and form a procession; they do not entrench themselves strongly behind custom and precedent; they are not embodied in professions and ranks in life; they are not organized into a system; they do not openly resort to a standard, but are a sort of strag. gling nondescripts, that, like Wart,“ present no mark to the foeman.” As to the gross and palpable absurdities of modern manners, they are too shallow and barefaced, and those who affect are too little serious in them, to make them worth the detection of the Comic Muse. They proceed from an idle, impudent affectation of folly in general, in the dashing bravura style, not from an infatuation with any of its characteristic modes. In short, the proper object of ridicule is egotism: and a man cannot be a very great egotist, who every day sees himself represented on the stage. We are deficient in comedy, because we are without characters in real life—as we have no historical pictures, because we have no faces proper for them.

It is, indeed, the evident tendency of all literature to generalise and dissipate character, by giving men the same artificial education, and the same common stock of ideas; so that we see all objects from the same point of view, and through the same reflected medium ;-we learn to exist, not in ourselves, but in books ;-all men become alike mere readers—spectators, not actors in the scene, and lose their proper personal identity. The templar, the wit, the man of pleasure, and the man of fashion, the courtier and the citizen, the knight and the squire, the lover and the miser-Lovelace, Lothario, Will Honeycomb, and Sir Roger de Coverley, Sparkish and Lord Foppington, Western and Tom Jones, My Father and My Uncle Toby, Millamant and Sir Sampson Legend, Don Quixote and Sancho, Gil Blas and Guzman d'Alfarache, Count Fathom and Joseph Surface,-have met and exchanged common-places on the barren plains of the haute litérature-toil slowly on to the temple of science, “ seen a long way off upon a level," and end in one dull compound of politics, criticism, chemistry and metaphysics!

We cannot expect to reconcile opposite things. If, for exam

« AnteriorContinuar »