Page images
PDF
EPUB

were, the soul, and the latter the coloring or complexion of the piece. Sentiment holds the third place, and its merit lies in being consonant with the plot and the characters.

A well-planned or well-plotted tragedy is an imitation of a perfect and entire action and one of suitable magnitude. An entire thing is that which has a beginning, a middle and an end. A beginning is that which need not be preceded, but must be followed by some other objects or events. An end is that which may not be followed but must be preceded by sometbing else. A middle requires other circumstances, suitably related, both to precede and to follow it. Accordingly a good plot does not begin nor proceed nor end casually or disconnectedly.

Magnitude no less than symmetry is an essential element of beauty. No very small animal can be beautiful; for the view, being crowded into an almost imperceptible time as well as space, will be confused. Neither can a very large one be beaulisul, for, as the whole view cannot be taken in at once, its unity and completeness cannot be seen. Suppose for instance, an aninjal 10,000 stadia in length! So the dramatic plot should be of such a length, that the connection of the story may be readily remembered, and that, by a natural and a probable succession of incidents, there may be a change of fortune from happiness to misery, or from misery to happiness. In fact a tragedy is seldom allowed to embrace the incidents of more than one day. The unity of a plot does not consist in its relating to one person only. There may be many actions of the same man, that have no important connection with each other ; while on the other hand, the actions of several men may be so intimately connected, that they cannot be separated. The action, or combination of actions, must be one in such a sense, that no part can be altered or taken away without confusing or destroying the whole.

The Peripetia or catastrophe of a tragedy is an unexpected reverse of fortune arising naturally out of the incidents. As in the Oedipus Tyrannus, a person coming with the idea of consoling the prince and removing his apprehensions, produces

the contrary effect. Persons of extraordinary virtue should not be represented as falling from happiness to misery, as that would offend our sense of justice, and excite disgust. Still less should vicious persons pass from misery to happiness, for the same reason.

Neither should a very bad man be represented as falling from happiness to misery; for, though agreeable to our wishes, that would not excite either pity or terror -the passions appropriate to tragedy. The proper character for tragedy is the medium between these—not distinguished for virtue, nor reduced to misery by his villainy; but some one in high reputation and prosperity, suffering through ignorance and buman frailty, like Oedipus and Thyestes. Double plots, like the Odyssey, having a different catastrophe for the virtuous and the vicious, are allowable, but less tragic. Single plots, in which the characters all pass from misery to happiness, are entirely inappropriate to tragedy, since they excite neither terror nor pity. On the same principles the tragic effect is best produced, not when an enemy kills an enemy or a stranger injures a stranger, but when a friend unintentionally or uoknowingly involves a friend in evil, or occasions his ruin.

The manners or characters should be essentially good, characteristic of the class or condition, suited to the persons, and consistent throughout. The sentiments to be conveyed, and the manner in which they are to be conveyed, our author treats slightly, as belonging rather to the province of rhetoric. For a similar reason, he might have passed over the language as belonging to the department of grammar. But he has chosen rather to introduce a treatise on grammar; for such, or rather a treatise on grammar and rhetoric combined, is his whole discussion of the language of the drama. It may not be amiss to notice in passing, that Aristotle makes but four parts of speech, viz., article, noun, verb, and connective, including under noun the adjective and pronoun, under verb the participle and adverb, and under connective conjunction, preposition, and interjection. A like disposition to sinplify and generalize is seen in the application of the single term case to the changes of termination in the verb, as well as the noun.

The concluding chapters institute a comparison betweenthe tragic and the epic poem by way not only of pointing out their differences, but also of determining their relative excellence. They agree in most of their essential elements. But the epic dispenses with music and scenic preparations. It is confined for the most part to hexameter verse, and it admits of greater length. The drama does not admit of long episodes, while the epic derives its length from them. The main story of the Odyssey may be told in three sentences. It is the episodes that stretch it into twenty-four Books. In like manner, the Iliad also contains many fables or plots for the drama.

Heroic verse certainly surpasses in dignity and elevation the lambic, which is often used in animated conversation under the promptings of nature. The epic may also be said to be superior to the tragic in dispensing with music and action, and so addressing itself more exclusively to the eye

and ear of the mind. But a good tragedy will bear to be read, as well as a good epic. And the music and action, when skilfully applied, afford so much additional pleasure and excitement. Tragedy has also more perfect unity, and being more concentrated, is more intense in its impression and effect.

Such is an outline of Aristotle's justly celebrated Poetic. We have not followed exactly his arrangement through

We may have failed, in some instances, to catch his idea, for this work, like others of the same author, is not without its disputed points. We have often simplified his language and made it more conspicuous. But we have doubtJess obscured his meaning in many parts by the brevity which we have been obliged to consult. On the whole, we believe we bave given a fair representation of the work. And though it is only an abstract of a fragment, with which we here present our readers, yet we think they cannot buo be struck with the profound thought and masterly analysis with

out.

which the author treats so vague and so subtle a subject. A like thorough and philosophical discussion of the theory of all the fine arts were a treasure indeed. More nearly 'such, doubtless, was the entire work. Such at all events the author was manifestly capable of furnishing. This treatise is founded deep in the nature of the human soul. At the same time, it is constructed with constant reference to the jus, et norma, et usus loquendi of the best poets. It is replete with original thought. It is also fraught with various learning, though we have been obliged to sacrifice to conciseness his copious and pertinent illustrations.

For ages, the Poetic of Aristotle ruled with as absolute sway in the world of letters, as his philosophy did in the theological world. The great French dramatists in particular, were far more afraid of sinning against the unities of Aristotle than against the law of God. They ihus hampered their genius and impaired the value of their productions. But it was the abuse of a good thing. We might have had some better poetry, but we should have had a vast deal of worse, if Aristotle had never written. German authors and scholars for the most part complain that the Poetic is not sufficiently ideal, and adheres too strictly to the “empirical stand-point of his philosophy.But now and then one of them is extravagant in praise of it. Thus Lessing pronounces it as infallible in its principles and as incontrovertible in its arguments, as the Elements of Euclid! The Poelic is well worthy of a place among the Classics in every system of liberal education. No modern treatise on Æsthetics can wholly supersede it. The moderns may produce works, that are fuller and more complete, but none more acute or more profound. In our opinion it is one of the very best of all the works of its illustrious author.

Aster so copious an analysis of the doctrine, and so full an illustration of the manner of Aristotle in the foregoing treatises, we shall content ourselves with a brief abstract of the other works which we shall mention. And first, of

The Ethics.

When we look at man as he acts under the promptings of his own nature, we see that he seeks some thinys for their own sake, and other things for the sake of their consequences -in other words, that he seeks some things only as means, while he seeks other things directly as ends. That which he always seeks for its own sake, and for the sake of which he seeks every thing else, is happiness. Happiness, therefore, is his ultimate end or chief good.

The highest felicity or chief good appropriate to man must be found chiefly, though not exclusively, in the exercise of those faculties which distinguish the human specics. These are understanding and will, the former possessing reason essentially in itself, the latter capable of being associated with, and assimilated to, that divine principle. From these two powers of the human soul, result two classes of virtues, the intellectual and the moral. Sagacity, penetration, intelligence, wisdom, are virtues of the understanding. Gentleness, temperance, fortitude, justice, are virtues of the will or heart. The former consist in the proper disposition and habit of the intellectual part of the soul ; the latter in the proper disposition and habit of the inclinations and passions, which, being found subordinate to reason, perform their duty, only when they implicitly obey its dictates. The intellectual virtues depend chiefly on exercise and education ; the moral proceed entirely from babit, whence they derive their name (ion, Mores, Morals).

Virtue is a practical art, and, like all the arts of life, can be acquired only by practice. It is neither natural, nor yet contrary to nature. We are born capable of attaining it, but the attainment must be made and perfected by habit. The virtues, consisting in a proper moderation of the faculties or feelinys, from which they spring, lie in a medium between the extremes of too little and 100 much. Thus to fear

every thing is cowardice; to fear nothing is audacity. T ue cour

« PreviousContinue »