Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

guages. Can any thing astonish us more, than that all their tragedies and comedies were set to music, and actually accompanied by musical instruments? How is our laughter, as well as our wonder, excited, when we are told that sometimes one actor gesticulated while another recited a speech, and that the greater admiration was bestowed upon the former! Nay, to raise the ridicule to the highest pitch, we are informed that actors in their speeches, and the chorus in their songs, accompanied their performances by dancing ; that the actors wore masks lined with brass, to give an echoing sound to the voice, and that these masks were marked with one passion on one side, and with a contrary passion on the other; and çhat the actor turned that side to the spectators which corresponded to the passion of the speech he was reciting. These extraordinary circumstances are not gathered from obscure passages of the ancients, picked up here and there, but are brought to us by the general and united voice of all antiquity; and therefore, however surprising, or even ridiculous, they may seem, are undoubtedly true.

31. Perhaps it will be said, is it possible that those who have left us such proofs of their good sense and exquisite taste in their writings, statues, medals, and seals, could be so absurd in their dramatic representations ? The thing is wonderful, it may be answered; but not more so than that they should not have seen the use of stirrups in riding, of the polarity of the loadstone in sailing, and of several other modern discoveries,

stance of the political importance of accents, of written accents, in the Greek s language. For if this law had been put in writing without any accent upon the so word oqubova, there would have been no means of deciding between two con“ structions ; either of which, the words, in this state, would equally have ad

mitted: and it must have remained an inexplicable doubt, whether the legisla

tor meant, that the poor woman should only forfeit her trinkets, or become a " public slave."

which seem to have stared them full in the face without their perceiving it *. But is there any thing more common than to find not only individuals, but a whole people, who, though re. markably excellent in some things, are surprisingly deficient in others ? So true is the observation of Middleton, who, speak, ing of those who have written on the pronunciation of the Greek and Latin languages, says:

Ab illis vero scriptoribus etsi plurima ingeniose atque erudite disputata sint, nonnulla tamen deesse, multa dubiè, quædam etiam falso posita ani

66

* We have the strongest proof in the world that the ancient Greeks made usę only of capital letters, that they were utterly ignorant of punctuation, and that there was not the least space between words or sentences, but that there was an equal continuation of letters, which the reader was obliged to decypher, without any assistance from points or distances. Without the clearest evidence, could we suppose, that, while composition had reached the perfection it had done in Greece, orthography was in a state of barbạrity worthy of the Cape of Good Hope?

Can any thing give us a more ludicrous idea than the practice of the ancients in sometimes splitting a word at the end of the line, and commencing the next line with the latter part of the word ? This must have been nearly as ridiculous as the following English verses, in imitation of this absurd practice.

Pyrrhus, you tempt a danger high,
When you would steal from angry liz
Oness her cubs, and soon shall fly

inglorious,
For know the Romans, you shall find
By virtue more and generous kind-
Ness, than by force or fortune blind,

victorious.

Notwithstanding the hackneyed epithet of Gothic barbarity applied to verse in shymne, is it not wonderful that a species of versification, approved by Italy, France, and England, in their best periods of poetry, should never once have been tried by the Greeks and Romans ?--that they should never have straggled, either

by

madverti ; idque hac in causa accidisse, quod in cæteris ple- . risque solet, ut mortalium nemini detur rem invenisse simul et perfecisse." De Lat. Lit. Pronun.

32. That singing a part in a tragedy should seem so unnatural * to us, arises chiefly from our being so little accustomed to it. Singing in the pulpit seems to the full as extraordinary ;

by chance, or for the sake of change, into so pleasing a jingle of sounds? They who could write poems, and so lengthen or shorten the lines, as to form axes, wings, and altars, might, without any imputation on their taste, have, now and then, condescended to rhyme. In short, that the ancients should never have slid into Thyme, is a circumstance which would never have been believed, had it been possible to doubt it: and I fear it must be classed with that long catalogue of unaccountables, with which their prosody, their rhetoric, and their drama abound.

* Perhaps our unwillingness to believe that the ancient dramas were set to music, arises from a very mistaken notion we have of their skill in thar art, It is true we have not the same materials for judging of their music as we have of their poetry and sculpture; but their ignorance of counterpoint, and the poverty of their instruments, sufficiently show what little progress they had made in it. Those very few remains of their music which have reached us, confirm us in this conjecture; and it is to the indefatigable pains of so good a scholar and so excellent a musician as Dr. Burney, that we are indebted for an illustration of it.

" At the end of a Greek edition of the astronomical poet, Aratus, called Phæ

nomena," says Dr. Burney, "and their Scholia, published at Oxford in 1762 ; “ the anonymous editor, supposed to be Dr. John Fell, among several other pieces, " has enriched the volume with three hymns, which he supposed to have been " written by a Greek poet called Dionysius; of which the first is addressed to “ the muse Calliope, the second to A pollo, and the third to Nemesis; and these “ hymns are accompanied with the notes of ancient music to which they used to

6 be sung.

“ I know not whether justice has been done to these melodies; all I can say is, " that no pains have been spared to place them in the clearest and most favourable 46 point of view: and yet, with all the advantages of modern notes and modern

measures,

T 4

and yet this song was so powerful about a century or two ago, and later in Scotland *, as to make mere speaking, though with the utmost energy, appear flat and insipid. Let the human

stows

measures, if I had been told that they came from the Cherokecs or the Hotten

tots, I should not have been surprised at their excellence. “ I have tried them in every key and in every measure that the feet of the

verses would allow; and as it has been the opinion of some, that the Greek “ scale and music should be read Hebrew-wise, I have even inverted the order of “ the notes, but without being able to augment their grace and elegance. The

most charitable supposition that can be admitted concerning them is, that the " Greek language being itself accentuated and sonorous, wanted less assistance “ from musical refinements than one that was more harsh and rough; and music " being still a slave to poetry, and wholly governed by its feet, derived all its “ merit and effects from the excellence of the verse, and sweetness of the voice " that sung, or rather recited it: for mellifluous and affecting voices nature be

from time to time on some gifted mortals in all the habitable regions of " the earth; and even the natural effusions of these must ever have been heard “ with delight. But as music, there needs no other proof of the poverty of an. “ cient melody, than its being confined to long and short syliables. We have

airs of the most graceful and pleasing kind, which will suit no arrangement of syllables to be found in any poetical numbers, ancient or modern, and * which it is impossible to express by mere syllables in any language with which “ I am at all acquainted."

Dr. Burncy's conjecture, that the Greek music was entirely subservient to verse, accounts for the little attention which was paid to it in a separate state ; it accounts for the effects with which their music was accompanied, and for the total uselessness of counterpoint. Simple melody is the fittest music to accompany words, when we wish to understand what is sung ; simple melody is the music of the great bulk of mankind; and simple melody is never undervalued, till the ear has been suf, ficiently disciplined to discover the hidden melody which is still essential to the most complicated and elaborate harmony,

some

* The Rev. Mr. Whitfield was a highly animated and energetic preacher, without the least tincture of that tone which is called canring. When he went

to

voice be but in a fine tone, and let this tone be intensely impassioned, and it will infallibiy, as Milton expresses it,

take the prison'd soul, And lap it in Elysium

33. What may tend to reconcile us still more to this dramatic 'music, is the sing-song manner, as it is called, of pronouncing tragedy, which very generally prevailed before the time of Mr. Garrick, and which now prevails among some classes of speakers, and is preferred by them to, what we call, the more natural manner. This drawling, undulating pronunciation, is what the actors generally burlesque by repeating the line,

[ocr errors]

Tum ti tum ti, tum ti lum ti tum ti: and though this mode of declamation is now so much de. spised, it is highly probable that it was formerly held in estimation *.

34. Now, if we suppose this drawling pronunciation, which, though very sonorous, is precisely speaking, and essentially different from singing: if we suppose this to have been the conversation pronunciation of the Greeks and Romans, it may pos

to Scotland, where this tone was in high estimation, though his doctrine was in perfect unison with that of his auditors, his simple and natural, though earnest manner of speaking, was looked upon at first as a great defect. He wanted, they said, the holy tone.

* This cant, which, though disgustful now to all but mere rustics, on account of its being out of fashion, was very probably the favourite modulation in which heroic verses were recited by our ancestors. So fluctuating are the taste and practices of mankind ! but whether the power of language has received any advantage from the change just mentioned (namely, pronouncing words in a more simple manner) will appear at least very doubtful, when we recollect the stories of its former triumphs, and the inherent charms of musical sounds. The Art of deliver ing Written Language, page 73.

« ZurückWeiter »