Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

failure in the poetical portion of his plays. Although there are many passages of almost unrivalled vigour, sarcasm and pathos, yet there are none which enthusiastic Reviewers could quote as "favourable specimens." Was he then a great poet? We should rather say he was a great dramatist. He excelled in the drama because it suited his impetuous, passionate nature, and enabled him to lay bare the secrets of the human heart; but he could not succeed in descriptive or lyrical poetry: he could have written the plays of Eschylus, had Eschylus written the choruses.

It is indeed a striking evidence of Alfieri's greatness, in those points wherein he is really great, that, with such defects, he can excite such deep and lasting admiration in those who study him. As a poet he is harsh and crabbed, wanting in grace and musical delight. He can only paint a few characters and a few passions; he brings no profound wisdom, no searching doubts to startle and to occupy the mind; his theatrical system is rigid and meagre; no one loves the women and few care about the men he draws. He affords little variety, and his plays rely solely on the intrinsic interest of the passions. But, in spite of all these defects, he is one of the greatest of modern dramatists; his theatrical system may be meagre of incident, but his plays are the careful works of a profound artist. His management of the subject, the due subordination of one part to another, the gradual development and the perfection of the climax cannot be too much admired: his plays do not end in the third or fourth act, and then drag through a weary fifth, as so often occurs in other writers. But it is in passion that he surpasses almost all his rivals,—passion subtle and profound,-and this would cover a multitude of sins. Alfieri is an artist: his plays are wholes, not fragments, and they contain scenes worth wading through volumes of rubbish to arrive at: he wants the generous opulence of Shakspeare, the stream of whose poesy is fed by a thousand tributaries; but on the other hand he also wants the "wasteful and ridiculous excess" of Shakspeare's contemporaries. In conclusion, we may say that whoever bestows on Alfieri the necessary study, will pronounce him with all his faults the X greatest dramatist of Italy and one of the greatest of Europe;

VOL. XVII.-No. XXXIV.

2 D

but that any one who reads his plays without forgetting the Shakspearian standard, and without tolerance for faults, will wonder what the Italians can find in him to excite such deep and lasting admiration.

ARTICLE II.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla, genannt der Glückliche, als Ordner der Römischen Freystaates: dargestellt von Dr. U. S. ZACHARIÄ. (Lucius Cornelius Sulla, surnamed the Fortunate, as Legislator of the Roman Republic.) delberg: 1834.

Hei

WE know no sign of the times more hopeful than the development of our democratic spirit. There are politicians who can test a counter-revolutionary re-action by nothing but election lists; never remembering that the ballot-box and the suffrage are merely means to an end, and that the real end of democracy is for every free citizen to take an active share in the great work of government. If we gain this, it little matters whether we gain it by those means which we are accustomed to look upon as natural and legitimate. If our national character is impregnated with elevating sentiments of authority and responsibility, it little matters in what actual machinery it embodies them. With an indolent or heedless race, decay will fasten alike upon liberal or despotic institutions, but the eagles were never gathered together until the carcase was already fallen. No people can perish which is conscious of its danger and arms itself to meet it. It is indeed mournful for rich and poor to stand arrayed against each other, their ranks becoming every day more clearly defined, and the gulf that separates them growing blacker and deeper and narrower. But it is a more mournful and more solemn thing for a great nation to glide silently to its grave, the very hour of its extinction unmarked by any stroke upon the clock of time, unless the world be watching the mighty hand that may deal its

last blow. Our horizon may be dark, but Rome's was still darker; when one by one her most intellectual and ingenious minds darkened at sight of the dangers that surrounded them, and, shrinking from the unwelcome task of administering affairs, sought a safe distraction in the excitements of speculative literature; when one or two great men alone continued true to their high calling, their crests flashing all the brighter for the darkness that elsewhere overhung the field. We rejoice to think that there are no signs of such despondency at home: it seems, on the contrary, that as events tend more clearly to a great national crisis, rank after rank is marshalling itself for the struggle, and growing conscious of some larger aim than the promotion of its own interests. Class after class bears witness to the necessity of united action, and feels itself charged with God's commission to strive manfully for the safety of England. The English have been called political and practical since the days of the Plantagenets, and hourly every national taste and pursuit is determining towards this centre. The development of our municipal institutions has given to many a member of the poorer classes a better political education than was possessed by statesmen of the fifteenth century. But, as the price of our final triumph, we must sacrifice much that inferior nations are proud of. The masculine training that hardens and compacts the muscles is destructive to external smoothness. We must strip away much that is graceful and precious, and cast into the furnace our jewels of silver and gold, rejoiced to forge them into spear and shield for the salvation of our Carthage. We are told that our literature cannot boast of any great names to vie with the giants of former days: but if the Church has no Aquinas or Hooker, it was never more rich in men true to the active calling of apostles. Right or wrong in doctrine, all the Christian clergy are awake to the task of leavening and civilizing the inorganized masses of our population. The historian is no longer a speculator on interesting "historic doubts," or the teller of a pleasing story; but he is a prophet, to drag up from the bosom of the past some neglected fact or perverted precedent, to purge it from all its temporary accessories, and hold it up before our eyes for reproof, correction and instruc

tion. Two authors stand prominently forward with this distinct and acknowledged aim, speaking with a voice as eloquent as ever thundered from the tribune or the pulpit. Every page of Mr. Carlyle's history is a professed warning to an unworking upper class to set their house in order. Had Dr. Arnold finished his Roman History, we are convinced we should have seen how this one idea was rooting itself in his mind,—indignation at the great anomaly of an enormous slave population, festering at the foundation of the society which was crowned by the powerful and wealthy aristocracy of Rome.

In many respects Rome is our parallel, and if in the points we have dwelt upon our condition is more hopeful, are we sure that we are not burdened with heavier embarrassments? In the great blot upon our English society, the separation between rich and poor, we need look for no earlier parallel than France in the last century; and the right or wrong adjustment of those relations decides so thoroughly the final fate of a nation, that we may almost parody Luther's exclamation and say, that it is the great sign of a rising or a falling state. But France offers rather a warning on this point, than any just parallel to our present condition. France perished for want of a democracy,-Rome in spite of one. Rome, as well as England, had her popular party, throwing up at intervals some great men who pursued their holy course in spite of the selfishness and rapacity that supported them. Rome, as well as England, had popular leaders, who knew not how to elevate their followers, and so were content to sweeten the cup of their degradation,—the men who bring on a revolution, and destroy, for their own selfish ends, the only stay against its excesses, the honour and honesty of those who are to effect it. In France we may look to the opposition of rich and poor; in modern Italy, to the effect of spiritual tyranny; but for the concentration of all the various dangers that beset us, for the clashing and turmoil of her political life, for the unshaken majesty of her bearing towards foreign nations, for the hollow glitter of her aristocracy above and the sullen moan of her populace below, for the singular witness borne to the strength of her institutions and character by the great men whose voices make themselves heard above the

storm, for the union of all these various characteristics, England can find her only parallel in conquering and gorgeous Rome.

We believe that all Europe is watching us, and if we were blind to this parallel, it would be forced upon us by continental writers. We need only instance the elaborate paintings in the third part of M. Michelet's History of Rome; and the same idea influenced Dr. Zachariä in the work before us, even to the extent of transplanting into Roman history the political terminology of England. This work, though nominally a life of Sulla, is in great part taken up with a retrospect of the half century that preceded his public life,-the period between the appearance of Tiberius Gracchus and the close of the Social War.

Dr. Arnold has complained of the painful dissatisfaction which follows all our attempts to penetrate through the outward surface of history and catch a glimpse of the inner and practical life of ancient Greece and Rome. We feel the sense of incompleteness yet more oppressive as we strive to form clear conceptions of the definite shape and substance of individual character. There are hardly five or six characters in the first six centuries of Rome of which we can form any particular idea. Till we come within the range of the light which Cicero's enormous store of personal anecdotes throws back on the two or three preceding generations, we can rarely do more than guess at the characters of the heroes of Roman history. But after the fall of Carthage the darkness becomes less dense, and it is easier to conceive the personal merits and defects of the Gracchi than to give a consistent history of their measures.

Tiberius Gracchus was sprung from the very highest rank of the Roman aristocracy, and the splendour of his family connexions must have been a source of influence hardly inferior to that possessed by the famous "cousinhood" of the last century. His namesake and ancestor had triumphed at Beneventum in the second Punic war; his maternal grandfather was the great Scipio; his father, censor and twice consul, as tribune had protected the latter against impeachment; he was himself brother-in-law to Scipio Emilianus, the conqueror of Carthage, and son-in-law to Appius Claudius, con

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »