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doses till they reach intoxication, fury, debility, and idiotcy. Hernani and Henry 1II. (under the title of Catherine of Cleves) have been some time before the English public in the excellent translation of Lord Francis Egerton. With them, therefore, we may suppose our readers are acquainted; at all events they do not fall within our present scope—they belong to the Restoration ; and it is the reign of Louis Philippe that has engendered the monsters which it is our purpose to exhibit.

Some considerations, however, which bear on the ulterior question, are suggested by these earlier dramas. • Henry III.' is in prose, while Hernani' appears in the old court-dress of rhyme. Lord Francis, in his translations, gives the first in blank verse, but in the second, he has adhered to his original even to the rhyme, for which, in his prologue, he offers the following apology :

· Yet the time was when that strange path along
Great Dryden rolled the chariot wheels of

song,
And forced his coursers, of ethereal race,
With necks rhymed up to modulate their pace.
Our Gallic neighbours long to that control
Have bowed each varied passion of the soul-
The loftiest, humblest, lightest. Not in vain
Let me, then, sue for leave to clank the chain
Racine and Dryden forged in years of yore;
Which in our later age great Talma wore-
Wore with such grace, that though 'twere plain to see
It chafed, we scarce could wish the captive free.'-

pp. 119, 120. These are good verses, but we can by no means concur in this opinion. Rhyme unnecessarily adds another to the improbabilities inseparable from the stage. It is hard enough, even when the persons speak plain prose, to maintain the scenic illusion-still harder when they talk blank verse; but rhyme-if uttered so as to be perceptible-heightens the improbability; and, when it is not perceptible to the ear, it increases the difficulty, and fetters the powers of the writer for no adequate object. It is but justice to Lord Francis to admit that he has done all that it was possible to do—his rhymed version is at once exact and spirited; and the mere English reader who may wish to see the most perfect approximation to the peculiarities of a French play that our language affords, will read, with great pleasure, this translation of Hernani.

But, even in France, the reign of rhyme is past: its trammels were quite inconsistent with the freedom of the new school; and Hugo, Dumas, and their imitators, have gradually thrown them off, and with them all regularity, all order-we may almost add

all

but no one amongst them seems to have once thought of the Natural! and it is not a little amusing to see that, while the Pedantics called Shakspeare a buffoon, the Romantics have outHeroded Herod, and exaggerated into monstrous absurdities all the errors with which the old classical critics used to reproach the great Poet of nature.

This slight sketch of the progress of modern French literature —which we at present have neither time nor space to explain as it deserves—will prepare our readers for an examination of some of the most fashionable productions of the present Parisian stage. We shall confine our observations to the drama, because, as being the most popular walk of literature, it affords the best test of the new taste of the nation, and it supplies also examples of that taste, more striking-we may add, more astonishing--than even iheir poetry and their novels ; – both of which, however—and particularly the latter-exhibit the same extravagance, absurdity, and immorality which we shall have to reprobate in their drama.

We are induced to undertake this subject less by literary than by moral considerations. The English public, which cares so little about its own stage, cares still less about that of our neighbours—but there is something in the general aspect of the modern French theatre which indicates so irregular a state of society, that the matter seems to belong rather to politics than to criticism; and we propose to examine a series of the extraordinary productions of the last three years, less with a view to their individual merits, than to the general effects and ultimate tendency of the whole.

The two authors who, both in novels and plays, (but at present we shall confine ourselves to the latter,) have pushed extravagance farthest, and who are, of course, the most popular dramatists in France, are Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. They also exhibit the gradations by which meņ with more talents than taste, and more power than judgment, are led to outbid not only one another, but themselves, when they have once commenced the career of vulgar popularity.

Hugo began with Hernani, and Dumas with Henry III., which we still think their best works. They both have enough of the Romantic character-enough of that vivacity which disregards the tame unities of time and place-enough of the spirit which seeks for interest on the extreme verge of possibility—enough of extravagant sentiments and of extraordinary situations; but without that gross dereliction of decency, that abandonment of all moral principle, that unhappy curiosity after the worst and most scandalous motives of human actions, which mark in successive gradations their subsequent works—like opium-eaters who begin with a moderate and exhilarating portion, but increase the successive

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doses till they reach intoxication, fury, debility, and idiotcy. Hernani and Henry III. (under the title of Catherine of Cleves) have been some time before the English public in the excellent translation of Lord Francis Egerton. With them, therefore, we may suppose our readers are acquainted; at all events they do not fall within our present scope—they belong to the Restoration

; and it is the reign of Louis Philippe that has engendered the monsters which it is our purpose to exhibit. Some considerations, however, which bear on the ulterior

question, are suggested by these earlier dramas. • Henry III.' is in prose, while - Hernani' appears in the old court-dress of rhyme. Lord Francis, in his translations, gives the first in blank verse, but in the second, he has adhered to his original even to the rhyme, for which, in his prologue, he offers the following apology :

• Yet the time was when that strange path along
Great Dryden rolled the chariot wheels of

song,
And forced his coursers, of ethereal race,
With necks rhymed up to modulate their pace.
Our Gallic neighbours long to that control
Have bowed each varied passion of the soul-
The loftiest, humblest, lightest. Not in vain
Let me, then, sue for leave to clank the chain
Racine and Dryden forged in years of yore;
Which in our later age great Talma wore-
Wore with such grace, that though 'twere plain to see
It chafed, we scarce could wish the captive free.'-

pp. 119, 120. These are good verses, but we can by no means concur in this opinion. Rhyme unnecessarily adds another to the improbabilities inseparable from the stage. It is hard enough, even when the persons speak plain prose, to maintain the scenic illusion-still harder when they talk blank verse; but rhyme-if uttered so as to be perceptible-heightens the improbability; and, when it is not perceptible to the ear, it increases the difficulty, and fetters the powers of the writer for no adequate object. It is but justice to Lord Francis to admit that he has done all that it was possible to do—his rhymed version is at once exact and spirited; and the mere English reader who may wish to see the most perfect approximation to the peculiarities of a French play that our language affords, will read, with great pleasure, this translation of Hernani.

But, even in France, the reign of rhyme is past: its trammels were quite inconsistent with the freedom of the new school; and Hugo, Dumas, and their imitators, bave gradually thrown them off, and with them all regularity, all order--we may almost add

all

all decency. There is, literally, neither rhyme nor season in the majority of their recent productions.

In the conception of a remarkable class of these modern dramas, there is an obvious imitation of Shakspeare. His historical dramás, which beside their intrinsic beauties-interest us so much by the introduction of the names and the representation of the events of our national annals, excited long ago the emulation of Voltaire: but his failure in this line was signal;—and the result of his grecising of Adelaide du Guesclin and the Seigneur de Coucy, in the same style in which he frenchified Semiramis and Orestes, disgusted his audience and himself with that class of subjects. Chenier, taking advantage of the revolution, produced his historical tragedy of Charles IX. with a temporary success, which was due altogether to the deliglit of the mob in seeing a king of France exposed in odious colours, and to the connexion which their absurd ferocity traced between that royal monster and Louis XVI. But even if the powers of Chenier had been greater, the pedantic trammels of the old French theatre were quite inconsistent with the representation of real life, and, above all, of national manuers. Some other similar attempts failed, from the same reasons; and it was not till the license of these latter days, when Hugo and his associates threw off the critical as well as the political yoke, that anything like an approach to nature and reality was made: vulgar nature it undoubtedly is, and mean reality; and although they are certainly much more exciting than the decent tediousness of the old school, we doubt whether they will maintain a more lasting popularity.

M. Hugo, in several of his prefaces, avows his admiration and imitation of Shakspeare; and in that to his sixth and last piece, Mary Tudor,' gives us the chief points of his actual creed :

• There are two methods,' he says, “ to create interest in an audience—the grand and the true;* the grand affects the mass—the true the individuals. A dramatic author ought, then, above all, to attempt either the grand, like Corneille, or the true, like Molière; or, still better, to unite the true and the grand, as in Shakspeare.

• For let us observe, en passant, it has been given to Shakspeare —and that it is which constitutes the sovereignty of his genius-to conciliate, to unite, to combine in his works these two qualitiesgrandeur and truth ; qualities, if not opposite, at least so distinct, that a failure in either constitutes an offence against the other—the risk of the over-true is to become mean, the risk of the over-grand is to become false. In all Shakspeare's works, there is grandeur which is true, and truth which is grand. In all his compositions, we

* Le vrai, which perhaps might be better rendered by the natural; but as the author had, in his own language, the word naturel, if he had chosen to use it, we think it right to translate his opinion literally.

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