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EPIC AND DRAMATIC COMPOSITIONS.

Diripiuntque dapes, contactuque omnia fœdant
Immundo: tum vox tetrum dira inter odorem.-neid, lib. iii. 210.

Sum patria ex Ithaca, comes infelicis Ulyssei,
Nomen Achemenides: Trojam, genitore Adamaste
Paupere (mansissetque utinam fortuna !), profectus.
Hic me, dum trepidi crudelia limina linquunt,
Immemores socii vasto Cyclopis in antro
Deseruere. Domus sanie dapibusque cruentis,
Intus opaca, ingens: ipse arduus, altique pulsat
Sidera (Dii, talem terris avertite pestem)
Nec visu facilis, nec dictu affabilis ulli.
Visceribus miserorum, et sanguine vescitur atro.
Vidi egomet, duo de numero cum corpora nostro,
Prenfa manu magna, medio resuspinus in antro,
Frangeret ad saxum, sanieque aspersa natarent
Limina: vidi atro cum membra fluentia tabo
Mandéret, et tepida tremerent sub dentibus artus.
Haud impune quidem: nec talia passus Ulysses,
Oblitusve sui est Ithacus discrimine tanto.
Nam simul expletus dapibus, vinoque sepultus
Cervicem inflexam posuit, jacuitque per antrum
Immensus, saniem eructans, ac frusta cruento
Per somnum commixta mero: nos magno precati
Numina, sortitique vices, unà undique circum
Fundimur, et telo lumen terebramus acuto

ignens, quod torva solum sub fronte latebat.-Eneid, lib. iii. 613.

*389

CHAP. XXII.

EPIC AND DRAMATIC COMPOSITIONS.

TRAGEDY differs not from epic in substance: in both the same ends are pursued, namely, instruction and amusement; and in both the same mean is employed, namely, imitation of human actions. They differ only in the manner of imitating; epic poetry employs narration; tragedy represents its facts as passing in our sight; in the former, the poet introduces himself as an historian; in the latter, he presents his actors, and never himself.*

This difference regarding form only, may be thought slight: but the effects it occasions are by no means so; for what we see makes

* The dialogue in a dramatic composition distinguishes it so clearly from other compositions, that no writer has thought it necessary to search for any other distinguishing mark. But much useless labour has been bestowed, to distinguish an epic poem by some peculiar mark. Bossu defines it to be, "A composition in verse, intended to form the manners by instructions disguised under the allegories of an important action;" which excludes every epic poem founded upon real facts, and perhaps includes several of Æsop's fables. Voltaire reckons verse so essential, as for that single reason to exclude the adventures of Telemachus. See his Essay upon Epic Poetry. Others, affected with substance more than with form, hesitate not to pronounce that poem to be epic. It is not a little diverting to see so many profound critics hunting for what is not; they take for granted, without the least foundation, that there must be some precise criterion to distinguish epic poetry from every other species of writing. Literary compositions run into each other precisely like colours: in their strong tints they are easily distinguished; but are susceptible of so much variety, and of so many different forms, that we never can say where one species ends and another begins. As to the general taste, there is little reason to doubt, that a work where heroic actions are related in an elevated style, will, without further requisite, be deemed an epic poem

a deeper impression than what we learn from others. A narrative poem is a story told by another: facts and incidents passing upon the stage come under our own observation; and are besides much enlivened by action and gesture, expressive of many sentiments beyond the reach of words.

A dramatic composition has another property independent altogether of action; which is, that it makes a deeper impression than narration in the former, persons express their own sentiments; in the latter, sentiments are related at second hand. For that reason Aristotle, the father of critics, lays it down as a rule, That in an epic poem the author ought to take every opportunity of introducing his actors, and of confining the narrative part within the narrowest bounds.* Homer understood perfectly the advantage of this me. thod; and his two poems abound in dialogue. Lucan runs to the opposite extreme, even so far as to stuff his Pharsalia with cold and languid reflections; the merit of which he assumes to himself, and deigns not to share with his actors. Nothing can be more injudiciously timed than a chain of such reflections, which suspend the battle of Pharsalia after the leaders had made their speeches, and the two armies are ready to engage.†

Aristotle, regarding the fable only, divides tragedy into simple and complex: but it is of greater moment, with respect to dramatic as well as epic poetry, to found a distinction upon the different ends attained by such compositions. A poem, whether dramatic or epic, that has nothing in view but to move the passions and to exhibit pictures of virtue and vice, may be distinguished by the name of pathetic but where a story is purposely contrived to illustrate some moral truth, by shewing that disorderly passions naturally lead to external misfortunes, such compositions may be denominated moral.‡ Beside making a deeper impression than can be done by cool reasoning, a moral poem does not fall short of reasoning in affording conviction: the natural connexion of vice with misery, and of virtue with happiness, may be illustrated by stating a fact, as well as by urging an argument. Let us assume, for example, the following moral truths; that discord among the chiefs renders ineffectual all common measures; and that the consequences of a slightly-founded quarrel, fostered by pride and arrogance, are no less fatal than those of the grossest injury: these truths may be inculcated by the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles at the siege of Troy. If facts or circumstances be wanting, such as tend to rouse the turbulent passions, they must be invented; but no accidental nor unaccountable event ought to admitted; for the necessary or probable connexion between vice and misery is not learned from any events but what are naturally occasioned by the characters and passions of the

Poet. cap. 25. sect. 6.

t Lib. 7. from line 385 to line 460.

The same distinction is applicable to that sort of fable which is said to be the invention of Æsop. A moral, it is true, is by all critics considered as essential to such a fable. But nothing is more common than to be led blindly by authority; for, of the numerous collections I have seen, the fables that clearly inculcate a moral make a very small part. In many fables, indeed, proper pictures of virtue and vice are exhibited: but the bulk of these collections convey no instruction, nor afford any amusement, beyond what a child receives in reading an ordinary story

persons represented, acting in such and such circumstances. A real event, of which we see not the cause, may afford a lesson, upon the presumption that what hath happened may again happen: but this cannot be inferred from a story that is known to be a fiction.

Many are the good effects of such compositions. A pathetic composition, whether epic or dramatic, tends to a habit of virtue, by exciting us to do what is right, and restraining us from what is wrong,* Its frequent pictures of human woes produce, besides, two effects extremely salutary: they improve our sympathy, and fortify us to bear our own misfortunes. A moral composition obviously produces the same good effects, because by being moral it ceaseth not to be pathetic it enjoys besides an excellence peculiar to itself; for it not only improves the heart, as above-mentioned, but instructs the head by the moral it contains. I cannot imagine any entertainment more suited to a rational being, than a work thus happily illustrating some moral truth; where a number of persons of different characters are engaged in an important action, some retarding, others promoting, the great catastrophe: and where there is dignity of style as well as of matter. A work of that kind has our sympathy at command; and can put in motion the whole train of the social affections: our curiosity in some scenes is excited, in others gratified; and our delight is consummated at the close, upon finding, from the characters and situations exhibited at the commencement, that every incident down to the final catastrophe is natural, and that the whole in conjunction make a regular chain of causes and effects.

Considering that an epic and a dramatic poem are the same in substance, and have the same aim or end, one will readily imagine, that subjects proper for the one must be equally proper for the other. But considering their difference as to form, there will be found reason to correct that conjecture, at least in some degree. Many subjects may indeed be treated with equal advantage in either form; but the subjects are still more numerous for which they are not equally qualified; and there are subjects proper for the one, and not for the other. To give some slight notion of the difference, as there is no room here for enlarging upon every article, I observe, that dialogue is better qualified for expressing sentiments, and narrative for displaying facts. Heroism, magnanimity, undaunted courage, and other elevated virtues, figure best in action: tender passions, and the whole tribe of sympathetic affections, figure best in sentiment. It clearly follows, that tender passions are more peculiarly the province of tragedy, grand and heroic actions of epic poetry.†

I have no occasion to say more upon the epic, considered as pe culiarly adapted to certain subjects. But as dramatic subjects are more complex, I must take a narrower view of them; which I do the

*See chap. 2. part 1. sect. 4.

+ In Racine tender sentiments prevail; in Corneille, grand and heroic manners. Hence clearly the preference of the former before the latter, as dramatic poets. Corneille would have figured better in an heroic poem.

more willingly, in order to clear a point involved in great obscurityby critics.

In the chapter of Emotions and Passions, it is occasionally shewn, that the subject best fitted for tragedy is where a man has himself been the cause of his misfortune: not so as to be deeply guilty, nor altogether innocent; the misfortune must be occasioned by a fault incident to human nature, and therefore in some degree venial. Such misfortunes call forth the social affections, and warmly interest the spectator. An accidental misfortune, if not extremely singular, doth not greatly move our pity; the person who suffers, being innocent, is freed from the greatest of all torments, that anguish of mind which is occasioned by remorse :

Poco é funesta
L'altrui fortuna,
Quando non resta
Ragione alcuna

Ne di pentirsi, né darrosir.—Metastasio.

An atrocious criminal, on the other hand, who brings misfortunes upon himself, excites little pity, for a different reason; his remorse, it is true, aggravates his distress, and swells the first emotions of pity; but these are immediately blunted by our hatred of him as a criminal. Misfortunes that are not innocent, nor highly criminal, partake the advantages of each extreme: they are attended with remorse to imbitter the distress, which raises our pity to a height; and the slight indignation we have at a venial fault, detracts not sensibly from our pity. The happiest of all subjects accordingly for raising pity, is where a man of integrity falls into a great misfortune by doing an action that is innocent, but which, by some singular means, is conceived by him to be criminal: his remorse aggravates his distress; and our compassion, unrestrained by indignation, knows no bounds. Pity comes thus to be the ruling passion of a pathetic tragedy: and by proper representation, may be raised to a height scarce exceeded by any thing felt in real life. A moral tragedy takes in a larger field; as it not only exercises our pity, but raises another passion, which, though selfish, deserves to be cherished equally with the social affection. The passion I have in view is fear or terror; for when a misfortune is the natural consequence of some wrong bias in the temper, every spectator who is conscious of such a bias in himself, takes the alarm, and dreads his falling into the same misfortune; and by the emotion of fear or terror, frequently reiterated in a variety of moral tragedies, the spectators are put upon their guard against the disorders of passion.

The commentators upon Aristotle, and other critics, have been much gravelled about the account given of tragedy by that author; "That, by means of pity and terror, it refines or purifies in us all sorts of passion." But no one who has a clear conception of the end and effects of a good tragedy, can have any difficulty about Aristotle's meaning our pity is engaged for the persons represented;

* Part 4.

and our terror is upon our own account. Pity indeed is here made to stand for all the sympathetic emotions, because of these it is the capital. There can be no doubt that our sympathetic emotions are refined or improved by daily exercise; and in what manner our other passions are refined by terror, I have just now said. One thing is certain, that no other meaning can justly be given to the foregoing doctrine than that now mentioned; and that it was really Aristotle's meaning, appears from his thirteenth chapter, where he delivers several propositions conformable to the doctrine as here explained. These, at the same time, I take the liberty to mention; because, as far as authority can go, they confirm the foregoing reasoning about sub. jects proper for tragedy. The first proposition is, That it being the province of tragedy to excite pity and terror, an innocent person falling into adversity ought never to be the subject. This proposi tion is a necessary consequence of his doctrine as explained: a subject of that nature many indeed excite pity and terror; but in the former in an inferior degree, and the latter no degree for moral instruction. The second proposition is, That the history of a wicked person in a change from misery to happiness ought not to be represented. It excites neither terror nor compassion, nor is agreeable in any respect. The third is, That the misfortunes of a wicked person ought not to be represented. Such representation may be agreeable in some measure upon a principle of justice; but it will not move our pity, nor any degree of terror, except in those of the same vicious disposition with the person represented. The last proposition is, That the only character fit for representation lies in the middle, neither eminently good nor eminently bad: where the misfortune is not the effect of deliberate vice, but of some involuntary fault, as our author expresses it.* The only objection I find to Aristotle's account of tragedy, is, that he confines it within too narrow bounds, by refusing admittance to the pathetic kind: for if terror be essential to tragedy, no representation deserves that name but the moral kind, where the misfortunes exhibited are caused by a wrong balance of mind, or some disorder in the internal constitution : such misfortunes always suggest moral instruction; and by such misfortunes only can terror be excited for our improvement.

Thus Aristotle's four propositions above mentioned relate solely to tragedies of the moral kind. Those of the pathetic kind are not confined within so narrow limits: subjects fitted for the theatre are not in such plenty as to make us reject innocent misfortunes which rouse our sympathy, though they inculcate no moral. With respect indeed to subjects of that kind, it may be doubted whether the conclusion ought not always to be fortunate. Where a person of integrity is represented as suffering to the end under misfortunes purely accidental, we depart discontented, and with some obscure sense of injustice for seldom is man so submissive to Providence, as not to revolt against the tyranny and vexations of blind chance; he will be tempted to say, This ought not to be. Chance, giving an

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"If any one can be amused with a grave discourse which promised much and performs nothing, I refer to Brumoy, in his Theater Grec, Preliminary discourse on the origin of tragedy.

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