« PreviousContinue »
drained off by the deep channel which opens out into Van Diemen's Gulf; but, even in this case, it can only be a mere drain, the little elevation above the sea of the point from whence Mr. Oxley returned, and its great distance, (being at least 2000 miles from the gulf,) scarcely admitting of the possibility of the water running in a continued current. Probability however is against the supposition; and it
rather be concluded that the surface of this vast country somewhat resembles that of a shallow basin whose margin surrounds the sea coasts, from which the waters, descending towards the interior, form a succession of swamps and morasses, or perhaps a vast mediterranean sea.
It is satisfactory to know, that the survey of the whole coast of this immense island will be completed by British navigators; and that Lieutenant King had proceeded to put the finishing hand to this survey long before Captain Freycinet, of the French ship Uranie, since wrecked, had arrived at Port Jackson.
Art. III.-1. Il Conte di Carmagnola: Tragedia, di Alessandro
Manzoni. Milano. 1820. 2. Ricciarda : Tragedia, di Ugo Foscolo. Londra. 1820. 3. Francesca da Rimini : Tragedia, di Silvio Pellico. Milano.
1818. IT T is remarkable that, in proportion to her abundance and richs
ness in every other department of literature, Italy has been singularly barren of excellence in the higher walks of the drama. Indeed, with the exception of Alfieri, she has no one great name in tragedy. Among the Romans it is perhaps not difficult to account for the deficiency. The character of that people seemed to require a sterner and less intellectual kind of diversion; and though Roscius was a Roman, and though Cicero pleaded' for him, we hear in their writings far more often of the arena than of the theatre. In general their imaginations rarely indulged in invention ; they acquiesced in their own poverty, and were content to copy with servility the fanciful mythology of the Greeks, considering it as their highest praise if they transfused it with felicity into their own language. In fact, the poet was not commanded to look abroad into nature, or to strike out a path for himself:
vos exemplaria Græca Nocturnâ versate manu, versate diurna,' was the constant advice of their most consummate critic.
Nor, perhaps, had they reverted to their own history, would they have found much to inspire the tragic poet. Elevating subjects would not indeed have been wanting ; but there was a rigid uniforinity in their earlier manners, little adapted to the free
workings workings of the passions ; while tenderness and the softer emotions might seem, as it were, under a proscription among them, appearing to excite little interest or sympathy. They were on the whole a stately, a formal, and, as far as the nature which poetry delights to paint is concerned, an unnatural people. Hence in the modern tragedies on Roman subjects, Coriolanus, and Julius Cæsar, and Cato, as well as in those of Corneille and Alfieri, the lofty energy and laboured dignity of the men are exalted and truly tragical; but every address to the softer feelings, every attempt at the pathetic, either entirely fails or appears misplaced. They are too austere to move pity; and even the female characters partake of the general severity; if they are drawn faithfully, they awaken no interest; we cannot feel for those who, as it were, disdain our compassion : if they are, as females must be in poetry to awaken our sympathies, tender, gentle, or ardent, they are out of keeping with the general tone of the pieture; they become women, but cease to be Romans.
But as their characters were little formed for the entertaining, so was the language of the Romans peculiarly ill-adapted to the free expression, of earnest and vivid emotion. Though wrought by the exquisite skill of Terence to an easy felicity of commonlife dialogue; when it aspired to great strength or dignity, it seemed to require an artful and elaborate collocation of words. It admitted not the being abrupt and unfinished; every word in each sentence had its proper place; and this construction is more forced and artificial than in other languages : it delighted in inversion, and whoever will read the dry chips,' as they have been called, of the pseudo Seneca, will perceive that all the failure is not to be traced to the frigidity of the poet; passion itself seems to speak the language with effort; the inflexible idiom will not yield to the rapid transitions, and imperfect phrases, of empassioned dialogue; it must be laboured into precision, or it becomes upintelligible.
But the modern Italians, the slaves of vehement and intense passion, with their annals full of those subjects on which the dramatic poet delights to exercise bis powers, striking events brought about by characters under the influence of impetuous and ardent feeling, and confined within a narrow sphere of action ;--the modern Italians, with a language equally capable of expressing the most violent and tumultuous agitation of the soul, or of melting to the most luxurious softness—have nevertheless abandoned those sources of interest and excitement, which almost forced themselves upon them; have neglected a history tragic in every page, and abounding in terrific crime and generous virtue ; and have wasted their skill and power on subjects alien to their
genius and national character. We shall not pause to inquire in what manner the peculiar political circumstances of Italy may have operated to discountenance the national drama; how far the want of a metropolis may have been felt, and the existence of one theatre, whose taste, decisive of fame or of condemnation, might have stimulated dranatic talent to attempt every possible way of pleasing an audience, where it is probable that sooner or later the right string would be touched, and, having been found in unison with the hearts of the people, would have invited some masterly hand to strike it. For, unquestionably, in the earlier times, had any genius arisen of transcendant excellence in this line, the Italian princes who, whether from ostentation, or from real love of intellectual enjoyment, fostered the fine arts, would have vied for the patronage of a poet so eminent; and in the republics, however absorbed in domestic faction, the power and influence of such a writer would have been at once acknowledged. The real solution of the difficulty assuredly is, that all those who might perhaps themselves have done better things, or at least have led the way and directed the poetic feeling into the proper channel, deliberately preferred servile imitation. They turned aside from the dark feuds among the princes of their own country; from the wild and picturesque warfare of their condottieri; from the records of cities, every one of which was full of Montagues and Capulets ; from their expeditions among the islands of the Archipelago; from the adventures which at one period occurred daily upon their coasts, the meetings of Christians and Saracens, and the consequent tales of hazard and captivity; and from the fierce divisions of families on account of political or religious difference. Guelfs and Ghibellines, Bianchi and Neri, were left to the precise page of the annalist, or the romantic tale of the novelist; while tragedy was occupied in awakening the spirits of the departed heroes of Greece,—who arose indeed at their call, but how unlike their noble prototypes ! We are not altogether, however, without suspicion, that our own early associations may, to a certain degree, have misled our judgement. What Lord Byron has said of Venice being endeared and hallowed to us, as it were, by Shakspeare and Otway, is not less true of Italy in general. From the Italian novelists our own great tragic writers drew most of their successful pieces; and, consequently, the scene of most of our popular dramas, with the exception of those founded on our own history, is laid in some one or other of the Italian cities. Hence Verona and Milan, and Florence, and Naples, are to us as the sacred places of tragedy; we cannot hear of the Rialto without thinking at once of Shylock, of Othello, and of Pierre ; while, perhaps, those very names which sound to us as peculiar and set apart for the use of poetry, may to the natives be but as "household words,'too familiar for the dignity which our southern neighbours have always considered as essential to tragedy.
That we may not, however, be supposed to have formed our opinion rashly, we propose giving a slight sketch of the Italian tragic drama, previously to entering upon the merits of the poems which stand at the head of our article. For this purpose we shall make use of Maffei's collection, and the Teatro Antico,' published at Milan in the years 1808-9, with the laudable design of disproving the barrenness of the Italian drama, anterior to Alfieri, though we conceive without success equal to the praiseworthiness of the object. We are induced to this by reverting to the only book in our language which professedly treats on this subject, that of Mr. Walker, a critic so profuse and indiscriminate in his eulogy, as to render him a very uncertain and treacherous guide. Many notices, however, of scarce dramas may be gleaned from his work, as he seems to have laboured with great and exemplary diligence in the illustration of his subject.
Trissino, the author of the Italia Liberata de i Goti, the most unpoetical poem (and it is a hardy assertion) with which we are acquainted, in which the imitation of the ancients is carried to the most injudicious and indeed ludicrous pitch of servility, has derived a considerable portion of celebrity from having first attempted to revive, what is called, the classical drama. His tragedy is certainly far superior to his epic; and there are a few touches of tenderness, which in some degree enliven this regular, but tame production. There is something very moving in the fondness of Sophonisba for her child, apparently increasing as the life within her grows more feeble; and the melancholy exclamation of the chorus struck us forcibly from its simple feeling; while the beautiful Queen is expiring, they look on her, and say of her death,
Ahi me, che questa e pur troppo per tempo,
Ch' ancor non siete nel vigesim' anno.
With arts arising, Sophonisba rose,
And the first tears for her were taught to flow, we cannot but think that little warmth could be excited, and few tears taught to flow, by the poetry of Trissino. In fact it never seemed to enter into his conceptions to cast that ideal and vivid colouring over his subject, by which poetry is distinguished from prose; it was at best but history in its cold and sober truth,
gave to Shak
broken into scenes, and arranged in verse. The Rosmunda of Rucellai followed rapidly the Sophonisba. This too is an inartificial and naked versification of that tremendous story familiar to every reader of Gibbon. The bride on her nuptial day is forced to drink out of the skull of her father, and revenges herself on her barbarous busband by means of a former lover. The atrocity is not so skilfully prepared as to excite terror, and of course there is no character to which we can attach any feeling but that of perfect abhorrence. The Oreste of the same author is better, because in fact it is little more than a free imitation of the Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides. Mr. Walker quotes from this piece a passage of very pleasing description, and indeed the exquisite interest
of the story is in general well preserved. The example thus set, the Italian theatre overflowed with imitations from the
great Grecian Triumvirate, but none of the writers appear worthy of being rescued from the obscurity to which they have long been consigned. Ludovico Dolce and Luigi Alamanni were writers of forgotten epics as well as of forgotten tragedies; Sperone Speroni lives rather in the hatred of posterity as the enemy of Tasso, than in their gratitude as author of the Canace.' We should have formed higher expectations of Giraldi Cinthio; but tragedy is far more indebted to him for the assistance which he speare in some of his novels, than for his own original compositions.
Occasionally the Muse of Italian tragedy forsook the track of her predecessor in Greece, that she might fill her bowl to the brim with blood; and in truth the drama of most modern nations appears to have experienced one access or more of this blood-thirsty fever. He becomes the favourite poet who can conceive the blackest crimes, and contrive to immolate the greatest number of human victims. We ourselves have had two periodical returns of this disorder, one in the days of King Cambyses' and Titus Andronicus, another in those of Dryden and the rhyming school of tragedy; and Mr. Shelly seems inclined to force us into a third. Our neighbours, the Germans, have it however full upon them; every monthly magazine teems with some new and delectable tale of incest and murder, formed most rigidly upon Mr. Schlegel's principle of fatality-a principle carried infinitely too far by that original critic himself in his view of the Grecian theatre, and most exquisitely burlesqued by his prolific countrymen. It will perhaps cause some surprise if, after all, we put in a claim for the palm of unmitigated horror, and of predominant fatalism, in favour of the forgotten poets of whom we write. It would indeed be difficult to find any works in which' on horror's head horrors accumulate' in such abundance as in the Orbecche, the Canace, the