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propriety in their conduct, with all the cruelty of revenge and all the exultation of triumph. Hence they became not only cautious to avoid such irregularities as must give offence, but studious to acquire the virtues that might merit praise.

Nor has the influence of the reformation been felt only by the inferior members of the Romish church: it has extended to the sovereign pontiffs themselves. Violations of decorum, and even trespasses against morality, which passed without censure in those ages, when neither the power of the popes, nor the veneration of the people for their character had any bounds; when there was no hostile eye to observe the errors in their conduct, nor any adversary jealous to inveigh against them, would now be liable to the severest animadversion, and excite general indignation and horror. The popes, aware of this, instead of rivalling the courts of temporal princes in gaiety, or surpassing them in licentiousness, have studied to assume manners more suitable to their ecclesiastical character; and by their humanity, their love of literature, their moderation, and even their piety, have made some atonement to mankind for the crimes of their predecessors.

The head of the church of Rome, however, not willing to rest what remained of his spiritual empire, merely on the virtues and talents of its secular members, instituted a new monastic order, namely that of the Jesuits; who, instead of being confined to the silence and solitude of the cloister, like other monks, were taught to consider themselves as formed for action; as chosen soldiers, who, under the command of a general, were bound to exert themselves continually in the service of Christ, and of the pope his vicar on earth. To give more vigour and concert to their efforts, in opposing the enemies of the holy see, and extending its dominion, this general or head of the order was invested with the most despotic authority over its members; and that they might have full leisure for such service, they were exempted from


to the court of Rome a jurisdiction as extensive and absolute as was claimed by the most presumptuous pontiffs during the dark ages: they have contended for the entire independence of ecclesiastics of the civil magistrate; and they have published such tenets, concerning the duty of opposing princes who were enemies to the catholic faith, as countenance the most atrocious crin.es, and tend to dissolve all the ties which connect subjects with their rulers13.

As the order derived both reputation and authority, from the zeal with which it stood forth in defence of the Romish church, against the attacks of the champions of the reformation, its members, proud of this distinction, have considered it as their peculiar function to combat the opinions, and to check the progress of the protestants. They have made use of every art, and employed every weapon against the reformed religion: they have set themselves in opposition to every gentle and tolerating measure in its favour, and they have incessantly stirred up against its followers all the rage of ecclesiastical and civil persecution. But the jesuits have at length felt the lash of that persecution, which they stimulated with such unfeeling rigour; and, as we shall afterward have occasion to see, with a severity which humanity must lament, notwithstanding their intolerant spirit.

While Paul III. was instituting the order of jesuits, and Italy exulting in her superiority in arts and letters, England, already separated from the holy see, and, like Germany, agitated by theological disputes, was groaning under the civil and religious tyranny of Henry VIII. This prince was a lover of letters, which he cultivated himself, and no less fond of the society of women than his friend and rival Francis I. but his controversies with the court of Rome, and the sanguinary measures which he pursued in his domestic policy, threw a cloud over the manners and the studies of the nation, which the barbarities of his daughter Mary ren

13. Id. Ibid.


dered yet darker, and which was not dispelled till the middle of the reign of Elizabeth. Then the muse, always the first in the train of literature, encouraged by the change in the manners, which became more gay, gallant, and stately, ventured once more to expand her wings; and Chaucer found a successor worthy of himself, in the celebrated Spencer.

The principal work of this poet is named the Fairy Queen. It is of the heroic kind, and was intended as a compliment to queen Elizabeth and her courtiers. But instead of employing historical, or traditional characters, for that purpose, like Virgil, the most refined flatterer, if not the finest poet of antiquity, Spencer makes use of allegorical personages; a choice which has contributed to consign to neglect one of the most truly poetical compositions that genius ever produced, and which, notwithstanding the want of unity in the fable, and of probability in the incidents, would otherwise have continued to command attention. For the descriptions in the Fairy Queen are generally bold and striking, or soft and captivating; the shadowy figures are strongly delineated; the language is nervous and elegant, though somewhat obscure, through an affectation of antiquated phrases; and the versification is harmonious and flowing. But the thin allegory is every where seen through; the images are frequently coarse; and the extravagant manners of chivalry, which the author has faithfully copied, conspire to render his romantic fictions little interesting to the classical reader, whatever pleasure they may afford the antiquary; while an absurd compound of Heathen and Christian mythology completes the disgust of the critic. He throws aside the poem with indignation, considered in its whole extent, after making every allowance for its not being finished, as a performance truly Gothic; but he admires particular passages : he adores the bewitching fancy of Spencer, but laments his want of taste, and loathes his too often filthy and ill-wrought allegories.

Shakspeare, the other luminary of the virgin-reign, and the father of our drama, was more happy in his line of composition.


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composition. Though unacquainted, as is generally believed, with the dramatic laws, or with any model worthy of his imitation, he has, by a bold delineation of general nature, and by adopting the solemn mythology of the North, witches, faries, and ghosts, been able to affect the human mind more strongly than any other poet. By studying only the heart of man, his tragic scenes come directly to the heart; and by copying manners, undisguised by fashion, his comic humour is forever new. Let us not however conclude that the three unities, time, place, and action, or plot, dictated by reason and Aristotle, are unnecessary to the perfection of a dramatic poem; because Shakspeare, by the mere superiority of his genius, has been able to please, both in the closet and on the stage, without observing them.

Theatrical representation is perfect in proportion as it is natural; and that the observance of the unities contributes to render it so, will be disputed by no critic who understands the principles on which they are founded. A dramatic performance, in which the unities are observed, must therefore be best calculated for representation; and consequently obtaining its end, if otherwise well constructed, by provok ing mirth or awakening sorrow. Even Shakspeare's scenes would have acquired double force, had they proceeded in an unbroken succession, from the opening to the close of every act. Then indeed the scene may be shifted to distance, consistent with probability, and any portion of time may elapse, not destructive of the unity of the fable, without impairing the effect of the representation, or disturbing the dream of reality; for as the modern drama is interrupted four times, which seem necessary for the relief of the mind, there can be no reason for confining the scene to the same spot during the whole piece, or the time exactly to that of the representation, as in the Grecian theatre, where the actors, or at least the chorus, never left the stage.

The reign of James I. was distinguished by the labours of many eminent authors, both in prose and verse, but mostly

in a bad taste. That propensity to false wit and superfluous ornament, which we have so frequently occasion to regret in the writings of Shakspeare, and which seems as inseparably connected with the revival, as simplicity is with the origin of letters, infected the whole nation. The pun was common in the pulpit, and the quibble was propagated from the throne. Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, however, Camden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth, Raleigh's History of the World, and the translation of the Bible now in use, are striking proofs of the improvement of our language, and of the progress of English prose.

Fairfax's translation of Tasso, and some of the tragic scenes of Fletcher excepted, the style of none of the poets of this reign can be mentioned with entire approbation. Jonson, though born with a vein of genuine humour, perfectly acquainted with the ancient classics, and possessed of sufficient taste to relish their beauties, is a rude mechanical writer. And the poems of Drayton, who was endowed with a fertile genius, with great facility of expression, and a happy descriptive talent, are thickly bespangled with all the splendid faults in composition.

As an example of Drayton's best manner, which is little known, I shall give an extract from the sixth book of his Barons' Wars.

"Now waxing late, and after all these things,
"Unto her chamber is the queen withdrawn13,
"To whom a choice musician plays and sings,
"Reposing her upon a state of lawn,

"In night-attire divinely glittering,

"As the approaching of the cheerful dawn';
"Leaning upon the breast of Mortimer,

"Whose voice more than the music pleas'd her ear.
"Where her fair breasts at liberty are let,
"Where violet-veins in curious branches flow;

13. Isabella of France, widow of Edward II. of England.


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