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moral imitation is withdrawn to make room, by the exhibition of the vulgar passions, for identical resemblance; so that such a drama is nothing more than a pantomimic ballet explained by words.
That other imitation of nature, which consists in making gesticulations speak, in the scenic action, by substituting the measured movements of the body for the articulate language of sounds, would seem, by way as it were of reprisal, to have been pushed even so far, through zeal for truth, as to give utterance to the pantomime, and words to the dancer. *
* Even so, and it affords a striking example of the direct negation of effect produced, when two arts, or two forms of the same art are mingled together in the false endeavour to attain a more complete resemblance or illusion.
While at Amsterdam during the last winter, I was present at the performance of a ballet, or an opera, call it as you will, though it was in fact neither, in which the performers, with the view of heightening the effect, were made, part of them to express themselves in the language of song, and part to employ the language of gesture; but instead of enhancing the pleasure, the result was totally to destroy it. The rather, it gave rise to a ludicro-painful feeling, for it was almost impossible to divest oneself of the idea that the personages who spoke only by gesture, were unfortunates who had lost the gift of speech. Now the very contrary is the perfection of pantomime, which ought to be so conducted as that we should not perceive, or, at least, not have cause to complain, that the actors do not employ articulate language. We should be so carried along and interested in the action as not to perceive the defect or deficit, in overcoming and supplying a substitute for which it is, that the triumph of the author and the actors consists.
More traces of this manner of considering imitation will be found in the musical compositions of the theatre, than may at first sight appear. Indeed the generality of persons take delight in such conceits as those, where the art itself is brought upon the scene, and is at once the subject and the object of the music; I allude to those, so seeming, concerts, rehearsals, lessons in singing, and rival performances but too frequently produced on the stage. In them imitation may be said to be altogether identical. (See Chapter xv.) The employing certain instruments, as the drum in a warlike symphony, explosions of fire-arms to express a battle, artificial thunder to represent a storm, are evidently errors of the same class. So true is it, that too much noise to express noise, too much lamentation in the song to portray suffering, destroys the effect of imitation. The more the kind of subject approaches reality, the more requisite is it to respect the brief space that separates them.
To require from the action of the dumb-play what is expected from that of the song, and from the interest of the drama, what music is called upon to fulfil, is yet another error arising from a false idea of truth in the imitative resemblance proper to
M. Scribe was the author of the above mentioned, as of many other, non-descript anomalies. - Translator.
music. (See on, where the same subject is renewed.) Does the singer not err when he allows the modulations, or rather the erratic bursts of loose declamation to mingle with the rhythmical and measured words of the song, thereby breaking the charm of his art by a contrast that he takes for truth, whereas it is mere discord ?
There are even certain actors who maintain that, in delivery, metre ought to be neglected, and verse wholly lost sight of. A proneness to seek for a natural, short of the nature of imitation,
makes them regardless of all the nicer shades of | simplicity: they abandon the simple for the familiar, and finally sink into vulgarity.
Such is the case in that dramatic system to which the unregulated genius of the English poet has afforded the support of his example; if indeed the name of system may be applied to a manner of imitating, arising from ignorant instinct, which nature will repudiate, so long as reason and taste shall be found in nature. It is very possible for genius to adopt a vicious form of composition, more especially if it find in its irregularity, that sort of independence which, favouring the soarings of thought, may sometimes assist its daring and originality. But the true genius of imitation, belonging to all ages, is genius submitting to nature, and ranging free, though shackled with the trammels of art.
Now can that style of dramatic composition be so characterized, where every extreme is mingled in confusion, where the lowness of the language is contrasted with the eminence of the personages, and the vulgarity of the images with the refinement of the thoughts; where, in order to appear natural, the tragic poet descends to the familiarity of the lowest comedy, and, in consecutive passages of the most opposite strains, suddenly sinks from the epic style to that of the mountebank? *
The historic muse is not less exposed to the errors of this false zeal for truth. There is not a doubt but that the first duty of the historian is veracity, and fidelity to the facts that he relates. But the manner of representing them touches also, to a certain degree, upon the province of poetical imitation; but to place the causes of events in a clear light, to display all the varieties of character by well drawn portraits, and to give colour, life, and bustle to the narrative, is an art rivalling that of the poet and the painter. The right of the historian to make use of this kind of imitative talent has notwithstanding been disputed. Some have evinced a desire to prohibit the employment of those fictious dialogues, which are a means of bringing the personages on the scene, and of developing, in somewhat of a dramatic manner, the secret springs of policy. In short, there have been those who have gone even so far as to maintain, that all art should be excluded from historical relations, which, say they, should be nothing more than mere chronicles and journals.
* This severe censure of our divine bard has its share of justice. That Shakspeare, over and above the incongruities and injudicious minglings of low-lived scenes with others of the greatest pathos and power, was also wanting in some of the qualifications of a good play-wright is sufficiently made evident in Charles Lamb's criticisms, and accounts for the greater amount of pleasure we receive from Shakspeare's works when reading them in the closet, than when witnessing and hearing them on the stage. His character as a poet is perhaps enhanced by this latter deficiency, which detracts from his merit as a writer of plays for the stage. With regard, however, to both, and the first is by far the greatest fault, be it remembered that if they may be tolerated in Shakspeare, they are allowable to none, far less to those of inferior genius.— Translator.
I shall say but little here of the arts of design, and that precisely because the matter for criticism on that point would prove too abundant, and because the second part of this theory will lead to the same kind of notions regarding them. It will be sufficient to advert to those deviations of taste which have prevailed at certain periods, and in certain schools, when the artist conceived that he was faithfully imitating nature, by reproducing, as in a mirror, the deformities which belonged only to the individual he had for his model, by reducing the works of imitation to a mere impress, a kind of fac simile destitute of beauty,