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The experiment was tried in the old Colonies, and failed. To say nothing of the native governors at an earlier time, seven out of the thirteen at the Revolutionary period were of this description, and some of them seem to have been disliked and assailed by their former equals and rivals on this very account. Human nature has not changed, and a second attempt to place the administration of Colonial affairs in the hands of distinguished Colonists would result as unsuccessfully as did the first.
We have now noticed the principal questions which agitate our neighbours across the border, and we hasten to conclude our task. In our introductory remarks, we expressed the opinion that England would lose her continental possessions in America at no distant day ; whether this opinion rests on sufficient grounds, our readers will now judge for themselves. To continue the connection with the mother country is the desire of a strong party ; but the Colonists who prefer independence or annexation to the United States will soon, if they do not already, form a majority. With those who wish to become members of this Union we have no sympathy. Our views upon this subject were freely spoken in these pages in 1845, and need not be repeated. We then said, that, whenever the event could be consummated in peace and good-will, we should rejoice at the formation of a second confederacy of American States. Nothing has occurred to change this feeling, but much to confirm and strengthen it. Annexation would do neither party any good ; and we could easily enumerate many calamities which would be likely to happen, were such a measure to be attempted by either.
Art. II. - Nieboska Komedyia. Paryż. 1835.* The title of this poem | will, we believe, be most adequately rendered in English - The Profane Comedy.” It
* This article is a continuation of the essay on Polish literature contained in the last number of this Review. The present portion was intended for publication at the same time with the former, but the article was divided on account of its too great length.
† Literally, The Not-divine Comedy.
is apparently intended as an antithesis to that of the Divina Commedia ; and perhaps imports, that, as the Italian poet relates visions of things sacred, of the spiritual world and the future life of the soul, so the author of the Nieboska Komedyia passes into the future of this common, profane life, and recounts the retributions of the present world.
The Nieboska Komedyia, though in effect a poem, is written in prose. The language, however, especially in the more elevated passages, is highly poetical. The author frequently employs quaint, sometimes obsolete and Scriptural, forms of expression. We have preferred to present our extracts in a rhythmical version, as this will, we believe, convey to the reader a better idea of the original, and, as allowing of more condensation and greater freedom of language, may even be found more literal than a prose translation.
Our author has chosen the dramatic form ; but his piece is in no respect governed by the rules of the drama. It is divided into four parts, - not, however, called acts, — each introduced by a prologue, in which the subject of the ensuing division of the piece is indicated.
The exact scene of the events which are related is left undetermined ; we know only that it is in Europe, --- apparently in Slavonian Europe. The chief hero of the piece is probably a Pole, - a Polish magnate. He receives, however, no other title than that of “The Man”; his wife is simply 66 The Woman.” The other personages have, for the most part, titles merely descriptive of their country or station, or expressive of their characters.
The visible and invisible world touch everywhere ; good and evil spirits walk among the living persons of the drama, and seem not less actual than they.
The time, like the place, of this drama is undefined. It lies in the future, at a period, probably, not very distant from our own. When the play opens, we find ourselves in the midst of a failing and decrepit state of society, where all is artificial and unreal; where old institutions, having lost their significance, remain as dead forms, or as oppressive burdens.
Every member of such a society is placed in a false position · as regards every other. . The natural and the factitious conscience are continually at war. The highest endowments are bestowed in vain ; deprived of their free and natural development, these are to their possessor but sources of acuter suffering or more daring error. A deep mournfulness is thrown over the whole of these first scenes. The sketches are slight and rapid, but full of significance. We have the ceremonious bridal ; a glimpse of the splendid ball that celebrates it; the christening, – a banquet where careless guests chat and divert themselves, only to the broken-hearted mother is it a religious rite. We meet the cold, formal priest; the cold, formal physician ; the speculative philosopher, theorizing, without sympathy, upon the condition and prospects of the world, and feeling only an intellectual interest in its present misery and its doubtful future. During the scenes of the first and second parts, we remain upon the upper surface of society, amid the sickly luxuriance which covers that hollow crust; but we have, through all, bodings of the grosser misery that lies beneath, and, from time to time, dim glimpses into that terrible lower world. Between the first and second part occurs an interval of ten years. The scenes of the second are extended over a period of four years. In the third part, the period is supposed to have arrived when the folly and oppression of the dominant, and the miseries of the subjected, classes have filled their measure. The author, looking upon all the gloomy portents of his time, — the prodigal luxury, the squalid want, the misery long endured, the justice long delayed, — forebodes the coming of a terrible vengeance,
with the eye of the poet and the prophet, the storm that shall hereafter desolate the kingdoms. Although he has restricted the scene of this drama to no particular region, but has supposed one general outburst of the subjected masses to bring one sweeping destruction to the aristocracy of Europe, yet we feel that the crimes of his country to her slighted children are chiefly present to him ; that it is to his own countrymen, to his own brother nobles, that he would, above all, address his warning. Never, indeed, does a Pole entirely lose the thought of his country. His deed, his word, are hers; and whether it be in lines of tenderness or of reproach, what he writes he writes for her. As the sufferings and wrongs of Poland are never absent from the mind of any Pole, so to the more nobleminded and clear-thinking among them are still present the mistakes and misdeeds that have aided to cause those sufferings, and have opened a path to those wrongs. Among these misdeeds stands foremost that long course of injustice
which has reduced the Polish peasant from the free tiller of a soil, the common property of the nation, to be a mere adjunct to the land on which he delves ; an injustice which, in the hour of her need, has robbed Poland of that which is the surest bulwark of a nation's freedom, the stout arms and strong hearts of a free yeomanry.
Yet has the guilt of Poland, in this regard, not been greater than that of other countries. The name of republic which she claimed, and the jealous love of liberty which her nobles have always boasted, have rendered their injustice to their weaker brothers the more noticeable ; but the condition of the Polish peasant, hapless as it often was, was not so intolerable as that of the serf in those countries where an alien race trampled, without scruple, on the abject people, whose inability to defend their land left them no longer a property in it, and whose lives were held but as a gift from their conquerors.
The Polish kmeton was of the same blood with his lord ; he spoke the same language ; he cherished the name of the same fatherland. If in Poland, as elsewhere, the desire of possession and the love of ease led the powerful to encroach upon the rights of the weak, and to live contentedly on the labor of others, yet was the conscience of the oppressor never allowed to sink into apathy, nor could he, for a length of time, forget the tenure upon which he held his power. The lesser nobles could not repel the encroachments of the more powerful, appeal to the constitution, and demand the restoration of the ancient equality, without accusing themselves, and recalling the memory of the time when the relation of the peasant to his lord was that of a younger to an elder brother, — when service rendered on the one part was but the voluntary acknowledgment of protection granted on the other. The king was, not from humanity only, but from interest, the protector of the commonalty ; since the overgrown power of the nobles threatened his prerogatives no less than their liberties. Accordingly, when the sceptre was held by a hand at once beneficent and vigorous, the people enjoyed quiet and security, under just laws, uprightly administered. The annals of Poland present us with many such intervals of calm. In the days of the first Jagellons, the peasants and the poorer nobles had their full share in the prosperity which those wise rulers secured to the country. The schools were opened to them ; and we find numerous examples of men upon whom birth had conferred no distinction, who won it by their genius or attainments. Janicki, who, for his poems in Latin, obtained the laureate crown at Rome, was a common peasant. Kromer, bishop of Varnice, and a celebrated historian, was of the humblest origin. Dantisk, the son of an artisan, attained to the senatorial dignity, and was equally distinguished as a poet and a diplomatist. The annals of those times offer the names of many others who rose from the lowest station to the highest dignities. The writers of Poland have, in all times, been fearless in reprobating the crimes of the great. Her historians have been faithful to their duty. Even the biographers, in other countries so often mere panegyrists, here have not failed, while they chronicle with pride the achievements of their hero, to censure him with severity, whenever, forgetting the patriot in the magnate, he has looked to the aggrandizement of his order, and not solely to the prosperity of his country.
Nor have there been wanting among the great nobles themselves men wise and truly patriotic, who saw the danger that threatened their country from the slavery and degradation of so many of her children, and strove, by the enactment of wise laws, to effect their restoration to their rights. If these attempts have been too often baffled by prejudice or selfish. ness, let us not reprobate too harshly the inconsistency of the Poles. Let us remember how slow, even in our own land of freedom, is the march of justice, when there is question, not of recovering our own rights, but of restoring those of others. Let us remember how even the wise and good among us regard the dangers of change as more to be deprecated
than those of any existing wrong. The Profane Comedy presents us with two heroes, the representatives of the opposite classes of society. The one, a noble, of ancient family, of boundless wealth, - one on whom nature and condition have bestowed every gift, and whose intellect and imagination have been refined and exalted by the highest degree of culture. The other, a plebeian, a man of coarse, common sense, of clear, strong intellect. He has formed himself by the study of the real world, of actual life; but of a world of selfishness and meanness, of life such as it shows itself to one to whom poetic sentiment and religious faith are alike unknown.