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If Molière can not make us insensible to the dramatists whose work they were rendering, inherent defects of French dramatic poetry, still filled out with their own life and warmth the less can Corneille and Racine. Corneille has parts into which they threw themselves, gave energy and nobility, Racine an often Virgilian body to what was meager, fire to what was cold, sweetness and pathos. But while Molière, in and themselves supported the poetry of the depth, penetrativeness, and powerful criticism of French classic drama rather than were supported life, belongs to the same family as Sophocles and by it. It was easier to think the poetry of RaShakespeare, Corneille and Racine are quite of cine inimitable when Talma or Rachel was seen another order. We must not be misled by the producing in it such inimitable effects. Indeed, excessive estimate of them among their own French acting is so good that there are few countrymen. I remember an answer of M. pieces, excepting always those of Molière, in the Sainte-Beuve, who always treated me with great repertory of a company such as that which we kindness, and to whom I ventured to say that I have just seen, where the actors do not show could not think Lamartine a poet of very high themselves to be superior to the pieces they renimportance. “He was important to us,” an- der, and to be worthy of better. swered M. Sainte-Beuve. In a far higher degree “ Phèdre ” is a work of much beauty, yet cercan a Frenchman say of Corneille and Racine, tainly one felt this in seeing Rachel in the part “They were important to us." Voltaire pro- of Phèdre. I am not sure that one feels it in nounces of them, “These men taught our na- seeing Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt as Phèdre, tion to think, to feel, and to express itself” (Ces but I am sure that one feels it in seeing her as hommes enseignèrent à la nation à penser, à Doña Sol. The tragedy of M. Victor Hugo has sentir et à s'exprimer). They were thus the in- always, indeed, stirring events in plenty, and, so structors and formers of a society in many re- long as the human nerves are what they are, so spects the most civilized and consummate that long will things like the sounding of the horn in the world has ever seen, and which certainly is the famous fifth act of “Hernani" produce a not inclined to underrate its own advantages. thrill in us. But so will Werner's “TwentyHow natural, then, that it should feel grateful to fourth of February," or Scott's “ House of Asits formers, and should extol them! “ Tell your pen.” A thrill of this sort may be raised in us, brother Rodolphe," writes Joseph de Maistre and yet our poetic sense may remain profoundly from Russia to his daughter at home, “ to get on dissatisfied. So it remains in “Hernani.” M. with his French poets; let him have them by Sarcey, a critic always acute and intelligent, and heart, the inimitable Racine above all, never whom one reads with profit and pleasure, says mind whether he understands him or not. I did that we are fatigued by the long speeches in not understand him when my mother used to “Hernani,” and that we do not appreciate what come and sit on my bed, and repeat from him, delights French people in it, the splendor of the and put me to sleep with her beautiful voice to verse, the wondrous beauty of the style, the pothe sound of this incomparable music. I knew etry. Here recurs the question as to the adehundreds of lines of him before I could read; quacy of the French Alexandrine as tragic verse. and that is why my ears, having drunk in this If this form is vitally inadequate for tragedy, then ambrosia betimes, have never been able to en- to speak absolutely of splendor of verse and dure common stuff since." What a spell must wondrous beauty of style in it when employed such early use have had for riveting the affec- for tragedy is misleading. Beyond doubt M. tions; and how civilizing are such affections, how Victor Hugo has an admirable gift for versificahonorable to the society which can be imbued tion. So had Pope. But to speak absolutely of with them, to the literature which can inspire the splendor of verse and wondrous beauty of them! Pope was in a similar way, though not style of the “Essay on Man" would be misleadat all in the same degree, a forming and civilizing ing. Such terms can be properly used only of influence to our grandfathers, and limited their verse and style of an altogether higher and literary taste while he stimulated and formed it. more adequate kind, a verse and style like that So, too, the Greek boy was fed by his mother of Dante or Milton. Pope's brilliant gift for and nurse with Homer; but then in this case it versification is exercised within the limits of a was Homer!
form inadequate for true philosophic poetry, and We English had Shakespeare waiting to open by its very presence excluding it. M. Victor Huour eyes, whensoever a favorable moment came, go's brilliant gift for versification is exercised to the insufficiencies of Pope, but the French had within the limits of a form inadequate for true no Shakespeare to open their eyes to the insuffi- tragic poetry, and by its very presence excluding ciencies of Corneille and Racine. Great artists it. like Talma and Rachel, whose power as actors But, if we are called upon to prove this from was far superior to the power as poets of the the poetry itself, instead of inferring it from the form, our task, in the case of “Hernani,” is really modern life, the drama of which the “Sphinx" only too easy. What is the poetical value of and the “Etrangère" and the “Demi-Monde" this famous fifth act of “Hernani"? What are types, and which was the most strongly atpoetical truth, or verisimilitude, or possibility has tractive part, probably, of the feast offered to us Ruy Gomez, this chivalrous old Spanish grandee, by the French company? The first thing to be this venerable nobleman, who, because he can said of these pieces is that they are admirably not marry his niece, presents himself to her and acted. But then, constantly, as I have already her husband upon their wedding night, and in- said, one has the feeling that the French actors sists on the husband performing an old promise are better than the pieces which they play. What to commit suicide if summoned by Ruy Gomez are we to think of this modern prose drama to do so ? Naturally the poor young couple itself, the drama of M. Octave Feuillet, and M. raise difficulties, and the venerable nobleman Alexandre Dumas the younger, and M. Augier? keeps plying them with Bois ! Allons! Le sé- Some of the pieces composing it are better conpulcre est ouvert, et je ne puis attendre! J'ai structed and written than others, and much more håte! Il faut mourir! This is a mere charac- effective. But this whole drama has one charter of Surrey melodrama. And Hernani, who, acter common to it all; it may be best described when he is reminded that it is by his father's as the theatre of the homme sensuel moyen, the head that he has sworn to commit suicide, ex- average sensual man, whose country is France, claims :
and whose city is Paris, and whose ideal life is
the free, gay, pleasurable life of Paris. Of course “ Mon père ! mon père !-Ah ! j'en perdrai la there is in Paris much life of another sort too, as raison !".
there are in France many men of another type and who, when Doña Sol gets the poison away than that of the homme sensuel moyen. But for from him, entreats her to return it
many reasons, which I need not enumerate here,
the life of the free, confident, harmonious devel“... Par pitié, ce poison, opment of the senses, all round, has been able to Rends-le-moi ! Par l'amour, par notre âme im- establish itself among the French, and at Paris, mortelle !"
as it has established itself nowhere else, and the because
ideal life of Paris is this sort of life triumphant.
And of this ideal the modern French drama, “Le duc a ma parole, et mon père est là-haut.” works like the “Sphinx” and the “Etrangère"
and the “Demi-Monde,” are the expression; it The poetry! says M. Sarcey; and one thinks of is the drama, I say, of the homme sensuel moyen, the poetry of “ Lear.” M. Sarcey must pardon
It represents the life me for saying that in
of the senses developing themselves all round “ Le duc a ma parole, et mon père est là-haut
without misgiving, a life confident, fair, and free,
with fireworks of fine emotions, grand passions we are not in the world of poetry at all, hardly and dévouement, lighting it up when necessary. even in the world of literature, unless it be the We in England have no modern drama at literature of “Bombastes Furioso.”
all. We have our Elizabethan drama. We have Our sense for what is poetry and what is not, a drama of the last century and of the latter part the attractiveness of the French plays and players of the century preceding, a drama which may be must not make us unlearn. We may retain our called our drama of the town, when the town old conviction of the fundamental insufficiency, was an entity powerful enough, because homoboth in substance and in form, of the classic "geneous enough, to evoke a drama embodying tragedy of the French. We may keep, too, what its notions of life. But we have no modern in the main has always been the English esti- drama. Our vast society is not homogeneous mate of Molière : that he is a man of creative enough, not sufficiently united, even any large and splendid power, a dramatist whose work is portion of it, in a common view of life, a comtruly delightful, edifying, and immortal; but that mon ideal, capable of serving as basis for a even he, in poetic drama, is hampered and has modern English drama. We have apparitions not full swing, and, in consequence, leaves us of poetic and romantic drama (as the French, somewhat dissatisfied. Finally, we poor old peo- too, have their charming Gringoire), which are ple should pluck up courage to stand out yet, always possible, because man has always in his for the few years of life that remain to us, against nature the poetical fiber. Then we have numberthat passing illusion of the turbulent young gen- less imitations and adaptations from the French. eration around us, that M. Victor Hugo is a poet All of these are at the bottom fantastic. We of the race and lineage of Shakespeare.
may truly say of them that “truth and sense and What are we to say of the prose drama of liberty are flown." And the reason is evident.
They are pages out of a life which the ideal since, of the complete estrangement of the Britof the homme sensuel moyen rules, transferred to ish middle class from the theatre. a life where this ideal does not reign. For the What is certain is that a signal change is attentive observer the result is a sense of incu- coming over us, and that it has already made rable falsity in the piece as adapted. Let me great progress. It is said that there are now give an example. Everybody remembers “Pink forty theatres in London. Even in Edinburgh, Dominoes.” The piece turns upon an incident where in old times a single theatre maintained possible and natural enough in the life of Paris. itself under protest, there are now, I believe, over Transferred to the life of London, the incident is half a dozen. The change is not due only to an unreal, and its unreality makes the whole piece, increased liking in the upper class and in the in its English form, fantastic and absurd. working class for the theatre. Their liking for
Still that does not prevent such pieces, and it has certainly increased, but this is not enough the theatre generally, from exercising a great at- to account for the change. The attraction of traction. For we are at the end of a period, and the theatre begins to be felt again, after a long have to deal with the facts and symptoms of a interval of insensibility, by the middle class also. new period on which we are entering ; and promi- Our French friends would say that this class, nent among these fresh facts and symptoms is long petrified in a narrow Protestantism and in a the irresistibility of the theatre. We know how perpetual reading of the Bible, was beginning at the Elizabethan theatre had its cause in an ar- last to grow conscious of the horrible unnaturaldent zest for life and living, a bold and large cu- ness and ennui of its life, and was seeking to riosity, a desire for a fuller, richer existence, per- escape from it. Undoubtedly the type of religion vading this nation at large, as they pervaded other to which the British middle class has sacrificed nations, after the long mediæval time of obstruc- the theatre, as it has sacrificed so much besides, tion and restraint. But we know, too, how the is defective. But I prefer to say that this great great middle class of this nation, alarmed at grave class, having had the discipline of its religion, is symptoms which showed themselves in the move- now awakening to the sure truth that the human ment, drew back, made choice for its spirit to spirit can not live right if it lives by one point live at one point instead of living, or trying to only; that it can and ought to live by several live, at many, entered, as I have so often said, points at the same time. The human spirit has the prison of Puritanism, and had the key turned a vital need, as we say, for conduct and religion ; upon its spirit there for two hundred years. It but it has the need also for expansion, for intelforsook the theatre. The theatre reflected the lect and knowledge, for beauty, for social life and aspiration of a great community for a fuller and manners. The revelation of these additional richer sense of human existence no more. It needs brings the middle class to the theatre. came afterward to reflect the aspirations of “the The revelation was indispensable, the needs town.” It developed a drama to suit these aspi- are real, the theatre is one of the mightiest means rations; while it also recalled and reëxhibited the of satisfying them, and the theatre, therefore, is Elizabethan drama, so far as “the town” wanted irresistible. That conclusion, at any rate, we it and liked it. Finally, as “the town” ceased may take for certain. But I see our community to be homogeneous, the theatre ceased to de- turning to the theatre with eagerness, and finding velop anything expressive. It still repeated the the English theatre without organization, or purold with more or less of talent, but the mass of pose, or dignity, and no modern English drama the British middle class kept quite aloof from the at all except a fantastical one. And then I see whole thing. I remember that, happening to be the French company from the chief theatre of at Shrewsbury twenty years ago, and finding the Paris showing themselves to us in London-a whole Haymarket company acting there, I went society of actors admirable in organization, purto the theatre. Never was there such a scene of pose, and dignity, with a modern drama not fandesolation. Scattered at very distant intervals tastic at all, but corresponding with fidelity to a through the boxes were some half dozen chance- very palpable and powerful ideal, the ideal of the comers, like myself; there were some soldiers life of the homme sensuel moyen in Paris, his and their friends in the pit, and a good many riff- beautiful city. I see in England a materialized raff in the upper gallery. The real townspeople, upper class, sensible of the nullity of our own the people who carried forward the business and modern drama, impatient of the state of false life of Shrewsbury, and who filled its churches constraint and of blank to which the Puritanism and chapels on Sundays, were entirely absent. of our middle class has brought our stage and I pitied the excellent Haymarket company; it much of our life, delighting in such drama as the must have been like acting to one's self upon an modern drama of Paris ; the emancipated youth iceberg. Here one had a good example, as I of both sexes delighting in it; the new and clever thought at the time, and as I have often thought newspapers, which push on the work of emancipation and serve as devoted missionaries of the kept before the public by means of this comgospel of the life of Paris and of the ideal of the pany, is given frequently, is given to perfection. average sensual man, delighting in it. And in Pieces of truth and beauty, which emerge here this condition of affairs I see the middle class and there among the questionable pieces of the beginning to arrive at the theatre again after its modern drama, get the benefit of this company's abstention of two centuries and more ; arriving skill, and are given to perfection. The queseager and curious, but a little bewildered. tionable pieces themselves lose something of their
Now, lest at this critical moment such drama unprofitableness and vice in their hands; the as the “Sphinx” and the “ Etrangère" and the acting carries us into the world of sound and “Demi-Monde,” positive as it is, and powerful pleasing art if the piece does not. And the type as it is, and pushed as it is, and played with such of perfection fixed by these fine actors influences prodigious care and talent, should too much rule for good every actor in France. the situation, let us take heart of grace and say Secondly, the French company shows us not that as the right conclusion from the unparalleled only what is gained by organizing the theatre, success of the French company was not that we but what is meant by organizing it. The organshould reverse our old notions about the tragedy ization in the example before us is simple and of M. Victor Hugo, or about French classic trag- rational. We have a society of good actors, edy, or even about the poetic drama of the great with a grant from the state on condition of their Molière, so neither is it the right conclusion that giving with frequency the famous and classic we should be converted and become believers in stage-plays of their nation, and with a commisthe legitimacy of the ideal of the life of the sioner of the state attached to the society and homme sensuel moyen, and in the sufficiency of taking part in the council with it. But the soits drama. This is not the occasion to deliver a ciety is to all intents and purposes self-governing. moral discourse. It is enough to revert to what In connection with it is the school of dramatic has been already said, and to remark that the elocution of the Conservatoire, a school with the French ideal and its theatre have the defect of names of Regnier, Monrose, Got, and Delaunay leaving out too much of life, of treating the soul on its roll of professors. as if it lived at one point or group of points only, The Society of the French Theatre dates from of ignoring other points, or groups of points, at Louis XIV. and from the great century, and has which it must live as well. And herein the con- traditions, effect, consistency, and a place in the ception of life shown in this French ideal and in public esteem, which are not to be won in a day. its drama really resembles, different as in other But its organization is such as a judicious man, ways they are, the conception of life prevalent desiring the results which have been by this time with the British middle class, and has the like won, would naturally have devised; and it is defect : both conceptions of life are too narrow. such as a judicious man, desiring in another Sooner or later, if we adopt either, our soul and country to secure like results, would naturally spirit are starved, and go amiss, and suffer. imitate.
What are we to learn, then, from the mar- We have in England everything to make us velous success and attractiveness of the perfor- dissatisfied with the chaotic and ineffective conmances at the Gaiety Theatre? what is the con- dition into which our theatre has fallen. We sequence which it is right and rational for us to have the remembrance of better things in the draw? Surely it is this : “The theatre is irre- past, and the elements for better things in the sistible; organize the theatre.” Surely if we future. . We have a splendid national drama of wish to stand less in our own way, and to have the Elizabethan age, and a later drama which clear notions of the consequences of things, it is has no lack of pieces conspicuous by their stageto this conclusion that we should come.
qualities, their vivacity, and their talent, and inThe performances of the French company teresting by their pictures of manners. We have show us plainly, I think, what is gained—the had great actors. We have good actors not a theatre being admitted to be an irresistible need few at the present moment. But we have been for civilized communities—by organizing the the- unlucky, as we so often are, in the work of oratre. Some of the drama played by this com- ganization. In the essay at organization which pany is, as we have seen, questionable. But in we had, in the patent theatres with their excluthe absence of an organization such as that of sive privilege of acting Shakespeare, we find by this company it would be played more; it would, no means an example, such as we have in the with a lower drama still to accompany it, almost constitution of the French theatre, of what a if not altogether reign; it would have far less judicious man, seeking the good of the drama correction and relief by better things. An older and of the public, would naturally devise. We and better drama, containing many things of find rather such a machinery as might be dehigh merit, some things of surpassing merit, is vised by a man prone to stand in his own way,
and devoid of clear notions of the consequences tory are played a certain number of times in each of things. It was inevitable that the patent season; as to new pieces, let your company use theatres should provoke discontent and attack; its discretion. Let a school of dramatic elocuthey were attacked and their privilege fell. Still tion and declamation be instituted in connection to this essay, however imperfect, of a public or- with your company; it may surprise you to hear ganization for the English theatre, our stage owes that elocution and declamation are things to be the days of power and greatness it has enjoyed. taught and learned, and do not come by nature, So far as we have had a school of great actors, but it is so. Your best and most serious actors' so far as our stage has had tradition, effect, con- (this is added with a smile) “would have been sistency, and a hold on public esteem, it had better if in their youth they had learned elocuthem under the system of the privileged theatres. tion. These recommendations, you may think, The system had its faults, and was abandoned ; are not very much ; but, as your divine William and then, instead of devising a better plan of pub- says, they are enough; they will serve. Try lic organization for the English theatre, we gladly them. When your institution in the west of took refuge in our favorite doctrines of the mis- London has become a success, plant a second chief of state interference, of the blessedness of of like kind in the east. The people will have leaving every man free to do as he likes, of the the theatre; then make it a good one. Let your impertinence of presuming to check any man's two or three chief provincial towns institute, with natural taste for the bathos and to press him to municipal subsidy and coöperation, theatres such relish the sublime. We left the English theatre as you institute in the metropolis, with state subto take its chance. Its present impotence is the sidy and cooperation. So you will restore the Engresult.
lish theatre, and then a modern drama of your It seems to me that every one of us is con- own will also, probably, spring up among you, and cerned to find a remedy for this melancholy state you will not have to come to us for pieces like of things, and that the pleasure we have had in Pink Dominoes.'" the visit of the French company is barren, unless No, and we will hope, too, that the modern it leaves us with the impulse to do so, and with English drama, when it comes, may be somethe lesson how alone it can be rationally done. thing different from even “ The Sphinx" and the “Forget "-can we not hear these fine artists “Demi-Monde.” For my part, I have all confisaying in an undertone to us, amid their graceful dence, that if it ever comes, it will be different compliments of adieu ?-“forget your clap-trap, and better. But let us not say a word to wound and believe that the state, the nation in its col- the feelings of those who have given us so much lective and corporate character, does well to con- pleasure, and who leave to us as a parting legacy cern itself about an influence so important to such excellent advice. For excellent advice it is, national life and manners as the theatre. Form and everything we saw these artists say and do a company out of the materials ready to your upon the Gaiety stage inculcates it for us, whethhand in your many good actors or actors of er they exactly formulated it in words or no. And promise. Give them Drury Lane Theatre. Let still, even now that they are gone, when I pass them have a grant from your Science and Art along the Strand and come opposite to the Gaiety Department; let some intelligent and accom- Theatre, I see a fugitive vision of delicate features plished man, like our friend Mr. Pigott, your under a shower of hair and a cloud of lace, and present Examiner of Plays, be joined to them as hear the voice of Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt Commissioner from the Department, to see that saying in its most caressing tones to the Lonthe conditions of the grant are observed. Let doners : The theatre is irresistible ; organize the the conditions of the grant be that a repertory is theatre ! agreed upon, taken out of the works of Shakespeare and out of the volumes of the Modern MATTHEW ARNOLD, in the Nineteenth CenBritish Drama, and that pieces from this reper- tury.