Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

which troubles her soul, should draw her hand across her forehead; whilst Parthenia, with looks replete with love and grief, should appear to conjure her to abandon her design, and revoke the dreadful vow she has just been pronouncing. (See Plate XLIX.) As her spirits and strength return, all the tenderness of Alcestis should likewise revive. Unshaken in her resolution, she ought, at first, solely to avert her looks from Parthenia ; immediately after, her hand, placed in that of her sister, should begin to tremble; her attempts to tear berself from her arms should afterwards become more strong, and her eyes, as well as her forehead, should express à certain secret displeasure with the most noble perseverarice: but after the most tender looks and embraces, the Queen, too strongly attached to her heroic devotion, should tear herself entirely from the arms of Parthenia. (See Plate L.) And it is here that another invocation of the infernal Gods ought to ensue. By this means the repetition of this devotion will be found not only perfect, but the hurried leap from one sentiment to the other will be totally avoided; and what, without this prudent precaution, might have appeared a useless ornament or a mere misplaced, musical luxury, becomes an admirable and expressive trait in the character of Alcestis.

The art of passing adroitly from one movement to the other is very difficult, particularly when these movements destroy each other with an extreme rapidity. Orosmane, in Voltaire's Zaire, is at one time hurried on by passion ; at another, he is an unfortunate lover, whose betrayed love exbales itself in bitter complaints. This sentiment, and the desire of vengeance, alternately govern his whole soul; but love, so closely united to choler, can only manifest itself under the semblance of grief; and as we have remarked, the reciprocal transition of one of these two sentiments to the other is extremely easy.

[graphic]

LETTER XXXVII.

The Conclusion.

Hitherto, my friend, we have been reasoning upon simple sentiments, or at least upon such as are apparently so.

There still remains one circumstance for us to examine, to wit, that where several sentiments already exist in the soul, of which one may assume the ascendancy, without the least disorder resulting from all the others. It is evident that we may here apply the same principles, of which we have availed ourselves in appreciating the changes of the simple sentiments: thus you must not expect many new or important observations upon this subject.

If the affection which ought to acquire the preponderancy already governs the composed passion, it will only stand in need of a little reinforcement to make the concomitant affection entirely disappear. I readily agree, that (as you have remarked) my reflexions only extend to generals, without stopping to characterise particulars. I have also read the work you were so good as to point out to me, and have found it worthy of its judicious author. It contains the solution of a question which had long perplexed

me.

“ The quick passage from one contrary to another,” says M. Tiedermann, “ explains itself very easily. When the operations give rise to a sudden change in the determinate causes, laughter and choler (not the bitter laugh of disdain, but that of joy and gladness), reciprocally exclude each other, notwithstanding the man, animated with the most violent choler, cannot restrain himself from the most hearty laughter, at the moment when his adversary, no longer opposing him with resistance, manifests his fear, or his inferiority, by comic attitude, and this even when an equal motive would not have created laughter in another situation. The idea of the contrast, between the impetuous developement of his own powers and the feeble resistance he experiences, leads him irresistibly on to laughter; and it is not insensibly, but in a sudden way, that he thus passes from one contrary to another.”

If the question here was not that of a man animated with the most violent choler, I should contest neither the justice nor the truth of this observation. But I am at a loss to conceive how a sudden, vehement, and decided choler can pass with such rapidity to violent bursts of laughter. In whatever point of view I contemplate this situation, it appears to me, precisely, that because a man of honour forgets his anger against a coward, he finds he ought to be vexed with himself, and manifest his internal discontent by his words or his actions; so that, if he permits himself to laugh, it will necessarily be with bitterness—the laugh of disdain and contempt, not that of gaiety and joy. But, granting the observation of this author to be true, it does not seem to prove the fact which we are now discussing; to wit, the possibility of a sudden passage from one contrary to the other. The true contrary of choler ought to be a sentiment which, instead of a process hurried, impetuous, and full of irregularity, should assume one more slow, feeble, and uniform ; and the most perfect contrary would be that which united all these

A A

« ZurückWeiter »