French Tragedy

MADEMOISELLE BERNHARDT’S visit has proved to be an event of some mark in our dramatic annals. Unlike that of her greater predecessor in the Théâtre Français, it has been profitable from the beginning and throughout; and, after a widely extended tour through the West and North, she now returns to the East to gather, we may be sure, more dollars into the treasury of the theatrical adventurers to whose enterprise we owe the pleasure of seeing her. Their profits have been so considerable and so constant that the contrast in this respect to the visit of Rachel is very striking. It is difficult to believe that the greatest actress, the greatest histrionic artist, of modern times failed to attract remunerative audiences even in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, —failed to attract a succession of large audiences at comparatively low prices of admission. When Rachel first appeared in New York the price of the best seats, those in the balcony and the parterre, was three dollars, with which that of places in the less desirable parts of the house corresponded ; but after a few performances it was found necessary to reduce these prices, and the seats in the parterre were sold at the box office for two dollars, with no advance to be paid to ticket speculators. Indeed, at this low rate she played night after night to houses hardly more than half full; and she had a like experience in other large towns. We are richer now than we were then; but this difference between the money results of these two notable dramatic ventures is not the cousequence of our increase in wealth. In the very places which had for years filled their theatres and their opera-houses with large and eager audiences it was difficult to gather a thousand people thrice a week to see her a sight of whom was worth a voyage to Europe. The problem was not to find money for Rachel, but audiences. She couldn’t have filled the Academy of Music in New York at twenty-five cents as a general price of admission. Her public might have been said to be “ fit, though few,” if they had always been the former. Nor does it seem that the remarkable succession of large audiences before whom Mademoiselle Bernhardt has appeared is due to an increased acquaintance with the French language and its dramatic literature. The rustling of the play books, as her hearers follow her performances, with one eye on the actress and one on the translation, forbids us to believe that any large proportion of them understand her much better than they would if she were speaking Russian. And as to the dramatic tastes of these audiences, the published accounts of the receipts at the various performances show a marked preference for the lightest and the thinnest dramas.

Frou-Frou has always overtopped Phèdre. The great increase of the Bernhardt over the Rachel audience seems to be the consequence on the one hand of the Parisian habits acquired by a very large proportion of our people in their vast annual summer migrations to Paris during the last twenty-five years, and on the other to the large additions which have been made in that time to our foreign-born population. In all respects the Rachel performances were of a much higher order. The principal artist was a very much greater histrionic personage ; the company by which she was supported was very much abler and more complete ; and all the material adjuncts of the drama, costumes and what not, were much more attractive. Yet Rachel was a comparative failure pecuniarily in the United States, and Bernhardt has been “ a great success.”

The general public interest in the distinguished German-French-Hebrew actress, and the fact that she whose memory the artist of to-day revives and rivals made her reputation almost exclusively in the highest walks of the French drama, from which the other, however, does not withhold her feet, make a consideration of that drama at least not inopportune.

The most significant and the most striking fact which such a scrutiny reveals is that France, the country which is now more prolific in dramatic authors than any other, which now supplies the theatres of all other countries with at least the ground-work and the substance of the greater number of the plays performed in them, and which alone cultivates the art of Roscius to such a degree as to produce a school of highly trained actors, is the only civilized country, Russia perhaps excepted, — if Russia as a country may be called civilized, — which has no national drama. Among the people who have produced Corneille, Racine, and the greater Molière, Talma and Rachel, the drama is an exotic. French tragedy is Greek ; French comedy, Spanish. Whatever is not Spanish in French comedy is not dramatic, although it may be comic; whatever is not Greek in French tragedy is neither tragic nor dramatic. Other civilized peoples, notably the English, have a drama which is strongly marked with national traits, which has been developed by the hands of genius from rude, indigenous germs, and which, although modified externally in its perfected strength, or in its decay by the influence of other schools, still retains its national form and spirit. But France, under the pernicious influence of its Academy, and of that suckling Academy the Hôtel Rambouillet, cast aside as barbarous the crude, chaotic plays of original and elemental substance which she, like other nations, once possessed, and which yet had within them the germs of a new and characteristic dramatic literature, and deliberately assumed the position of an imitator.

The French drama is not a spontaneous growth ; it is an artificial manufacture. The Hôtel Rambouillet and the Academy said, “ Go to ! let us make to ourselves a drama. In comedy we will form it upon the intrigue of the Spanish stage ; in tragedy we will emulate the severe simplicity of the Greeks. It shall be very correct and proper according to the rules of art and convenance, if not very decent morally ; certain words shall be allowed to the comic writers, and certain others to the tragic, and it shall be literary felony for either to use the other’s language; and let us beware that the unities are rigidly observed.” And they did so : and thus it is that in the French drama what is essential is foreign, and what is national is adventitious.

It is true that both the Hôtel and the Academy criticised severely the very plays which they were the means of calling into existence, and which often succeeded in spite of the condemnation of both. But those plays were none the less the fruits of an effort to conform to the decrees of those tribunals; which very naturally assumed the right and the function of deciding their degree of conformity to the standard which had been thus set up and which the dramatists accepted.

The progress of the English drama may be traced up through the rude Mysteries (which have now an existing semblance in the Oberammergau Passion Play), and the hardly less rude Moralities, to the first crude attempts at comedy and tragedy, and thence rapidly onward to the glory and perfection of Elizabeth’s later years. Not to go further back, in Marlowe, and Shakespeare, and Beaumont and Fletcher, and Chapman, and Massinger, and Middleton, and Shirley, and in their contemporaries, we find traits common to their works, and to those anomalous things in which personified human vices and virtues, and God and Satan, and patriarchs, saints, and prophets, were brought upon the stage in company with personages of the time and the ever-present buffoon, who as Vice or Fool supplied the humor or the coarse sarcasm of the piece, and who has his lineal descendant and representative in Touchstone, in Dogberry, in the grave-digger in Hamlet, and in the heroic Fool in King Lear. Attempts have been made at various times to impinge classic forms upon the English drama, but in vain. Jonson essayed it, and, although lauded by scholars and critics, failed utterly. For more than a hundred and fifty years his classic plays have been positively unknown in English theatres ; and who now would even read Sejanus except as a laborious literary task ? The classic scion soon died and fell away, because it had no affinity with the sturdy stock, selfish and insolent, upon which it had been grafted. Even the compromise in Dryden’s rhyming tragedies was more than we could bear; and as to the classic drama pure and simple, a manager would now be as likely to produce Norton and Sackville’s tragedy, Gorbuduc. which was written twenty years before Shakespeare was born, and which Sir Philip Sidney commends as " full of stately speeches,” and Pope admired for “ propriety in the sentiments and dignity in the sentences,” as Cato by Addison, who succeeded Shakespeare at the distance of a century, and who by his formal, dead-and-alive performance won the warm approval of the French critics that looked upon him of Avon as a barbarian. We have had no Academy and no Hôtel Rambouillet, or have had counterparts of the latter only to laugh at their decrees; and thus it is that among our literary riches we have a drama in which what is essential is of ourselves, and whatever is adventitious is foreign. That which lives upon the English stage must show us the truth of nature through a medium of English common sense. Even the surpassing wit of the School for Scandal no longer serves to counterpoise its artificiality and the lack of real character in its personages. It is played, but as a dramatic curiosity, and for the opportunities it affords to one or two actors. Its days upon the stage are numbered ; and with the whole school of which it is the crowning glory it will ere long disappear from the theatre, — if, indeed, we are to have a theatre which is more than burlesque and spectacle. Boucicault and other playwrights may make clever adaptations of clever French plays which obtain a momentary success, but only to die out of the public memory before their very eyes. To achieve immortality a generation long they must write comedies which are more than adaptations or imitations. Corneille, who, although not quite the great Corneille that Frenchmen fondly think him, had more dramatic genius than any man of his own or of the succeeding century, always excepting that glory of the French stage, the truly great Moliére, — Corneille had written some comedies, by which he had attracted attention and even gained distinction, when the success of Mairet’s Sophonisbe suggested to the younger poet that it would be for him a good deed and a profitable to write a classical play ; and he wrote Medée, which won for its au thor something like renown. It was followed by the Cid, which soon filled France with his fame. The Academy, however, and the Hôtel Rambouillet, where wit and learning kept bad taste in countenance and tied genius up in leading-strings, criticised those plays, particularly the latter, very severely, not because they were dull, or characterless, or lacking in dramatic interest, but because they were not correct; they were not selon les règies ; and it was not until Les Horaces and Cinna appeared that those tribunals admitted that real tragedy had been produced. The French classic drama had then taken form ; its type had been created, or rather manufactured ; and thenceforward dramatic authors knew what they had to do, or what fate they must expect.

That this estimate of the difference between the French drama and that of other peoples, — our own, for example, — and of the cause of that difference, is correct, may be shown by a brief examination of the transition period of the drama in France, by which we shall see that the Academy and the coterie Rambouillet, or the educated and high-bred class of whose tastes and opinions they were the all-powerful exponents, crushed the nascent vitality of the French stage at that epoch, and perhaps forever.

What was it, we may therefore ask, that Corneille had done ? How did he cause himself to be accepted then, and acknowledged since then, as the founder and the great Apollo of the French stage ? He had merely settled down into imitating the Greek and Latin dramatists, as well as a Frenchman writing for the court of Louis XIV. and using the French language could imitate them. And strange to say, the best French critics, in announcing the advent of their great dramatic poet, unite with their eulogies a naif confession that he was a mere imitator ; nay, they seem to glory in his lack of originality in form and in spirit, and, strangest of all, his lack of Frenchness. “ Voici,” exclaims Voltaire, referring to the soliloquy in the fourth scene of the first act of Medée, — “ voici des vers qui annonce Corneille ! ” And in our own time Guizot says that they do even more: “ lls annoncaient la tragédie ; elle avail enfin apparut a Corneille, et ses traits, qu’encore grossièrement ébauchés, ne se peuvent plus méconnaître,” — a sufficiently comprehensive declaration of the French dramatic creed. But Voltaire adds, — sneering or boasting, who can say ? — “ Ce monologue est tout entière imité de Seneque le tragique.” And thus Corneille, guided by the Academy and the Hôtel Rambouillet, inaugurated tragedy in France by imitation. Indeed, the greater part of Medée is little more than a translation of Seneca’s tragedy on the same subject (like Ben Jonson’s long dead-and-buried classic dramas) ; and although Corneille soon ceased to produce mere French adaptations from the Latin or the Greek dramatists, both he and Racine, and also their successors, who sought merely to follow in their footsteps, aimed only, by their own confession, at composing tragedies as much like those of Sophocles, Euripides, and Seneca as they could make them; doing away with the chorus, indeed, but introducing those personnages protatiques who, as Corneille himself admits, “ ne sont introduits que pour écouter la narration du sujet.” Such are those hapless personages who come tagging in after the Theseus, the Pyrrhus, or the Orestes of the play, dressed in sad-colored robes, to listen, mostly in silent martyrdom, to the relation of the experience of their distinguished friends, and on the appearance of another person of quality retire, toady-like, to the background to eat humble-pie. Very dramatic personages they are, and very dramatic must be the tragedy of which they form a necessary part!

But the common sense of the world, which, be it ever remembered, is on all points as far as possible from affinity with the dominant opinion of a day, and which therefore rarely errs, has decided that imitations are inevitably feeble reductions of their originals; as the borrowed light of every satellite is cold and wan and lifeless. Never has this general truth had stronger confirmation in a particular instance than in the French classic drama. Corneille and Racine could imitate the conventional and the formal in the Greek drama, and use its materials; but they could do nothing more ; nothing, at least, more admirable.

Æschylus and Sophocles lift us above the level of common life ; but while in creating their ideal drama they eliminated from it all that is homely, they were careful to preserve nothing which is not forever true. They show us heroes and demigods suffering the wrath of the superior divinities or the sterner doom of Fate. But their heroes are heroes because of some human trait exalted to sublimity ; the demigods are not monsters, but men as gods, knowing good and evil ; and we, bending our eyes intently upon the grand spectacle, can free our souls from the bondage of the mere material conditions of human life, and sit in wrapt and awe-ful admiration.

The great French tragedians, however, in imitating this ideal tragedy, succeeded only in showing us that which is neither human nor heroic. They are artificial without being stately ; their personages are pompous but not majestic, and lofty but not serene. They repress our sympathy without commanding our admiration ; and human nature, wearied and outraged, has but the alternative, — to yawn or to laugh.

One agent which French dramatists employed in debasing the ancient classic type of the drama was Love, which as a controlling power, if not as a dramatic motive, has no place in Greek tragedy. But it would not do to write tragedies for the court of the Grand Monarque, and have no love in them ; and therefore there is one continuous cry, amour, amour, amour, upon their classic stage. Think of the grand and single purpose of the men who show us the defiance of Prometheus, the woes of Œdipus, the sad devotion of Antigone, and the frenzy of Medea; and then think, in tragedy written on their model, of bringing Cupid on the scene, — Cupid wearing a flowing peruke and red-heeled shoes, if nothing else!

How trivial the manliest of French dramatists could be, even when he was most nearly original, and of what a sustained weakness he was capable, we can easily see by looking through Corneille’s Horaces, the tragedy which is admitted to be one of his best three, and which La Harpe says is “ de tous les ouvrages de Corneille celui où il a du le plus à son génie. Ni les anciens ni les modernes ne lui ont rien fourni.” Now whatever in this tragedy is not a bald relation of fact is a cold statement of psychological truth without dramatic purpose, or an equally undramatic exchange of “ sentiments ” between the speakers ; and all this is constantly put in the form of epigram and antithesis. The facts that Camille has a lover and Sabine a husband in one camp, and each a father and a brother in the other, are reiterated in wearisome antitheses about file and femme, père and époux, frère and amant, six syllables being always devoted with a dexterous union, Rhadamanthine justice, and arithmetical accuracy, to each relationship. Here are a few instances : —

“Son sang dans une armée, et son amour dans
“On peut changer d’amant, mais noil changer
“ Avec une allégresse aussi plaine et sincere,
Que j’ai dpousai la sceur, je combattrai le frere.”
“ Près d’dpouser la sœur, qu’il faut tuer le frere.”
“ En l’une je suis/mnee, en l’autre je suis fille.”
“En l’lune je suis file, en 1’autre je suis femme.”
“Est-ce lamort d’un frere, ou celle d’un époux ?”

But it is not only the peculiar relations which Mademoiselle Camille and Madame Sabine bear to Monsieur Curiace and the Messieurs Horace (père et fils’) that afford occasion for this antithetical and epigrammatic style of classic tragedy. For example, Mademoiselle Camille says, —

“ Ce jour nous fut propice et funeste a la fois;
Unissant nos maisons, il desunit nos vois;
Un êeme instant couclut notre hymen et la guerre
Fait naître notre espoir, et le jeta par terre.”
Monsieur Curiace ingeniously remarks,
“ Cependant tout est libre attendant qu’on les
Home est dans notre camp, et notre camp dans
Rome; ”


which jingle of words aud see-saw of thought all must admit bears the grand heroic stamp of the days of legendary Rome. So also does what he soon after adds : —

“ La gloire en est pour vous, et la perte pour eux;
Il nous fait immortílle, et les rend malheureux; ”
and again, in a moment or two : —
“ Tu m’as commis ton sort, je t’en rendrai bon
Je vivrai sans reproche ou je pererai sans honte.”

Glancing down the page, we remark too the following specimens of the grand style of Corneille. Camille, speaking of her approaching marriage to Curiace (about which, by the bye, the French dramatist makes the dear creature “ all in a twitter,” just like any Christian girl of nowadays), says, —

“ Quand, pour comble de joie, il obtint de mon
Que de ses chastes feux je serai le salaire.”

It is difficult to express in words the effect produced by the representation of one of the Curiatii asking the head of the Horatii for his daughter as “ le salaire” of his “ chastes feux” ! But Monsieur Curiace does say something to Monsieur Horace (fils) upon the stage almost equal to this, enforced thereto by the proprieties of the French classic drama and the exigencies of rhyme : —

“Je vois que votre honneur demande tout mon

Que tout le mien consist àa vous percer le flanc.”“ Percer le flanc,” like Bardolpli’s “accommodated,” is “ a good phrase, a soldier-like word, and a word of exceeding good command.”

The consolation which Monsieur Horace, peèe (we really must be careful thus to distinguish these gentlemen from each other, for their age is the only point of unlikeness between them), offers to his daughter, upon the death of him of whose chaste flame she was to be le salaire, is another characteristic specimen of this grand style : —

“En la mort d’un amant vous ne perdez qu’un

Dont la perte est aisée de rcparer en Rome.”

True beyond possibility of doubt. Pity that there was not in French the adage, “ There’s as good fish in the sea as ever was caught.” But think what, under such circumstances, Shakespeare, or Fletcher, or Massinger, might have made a father say !

Again, when Procule meets Horace, jeune, at the end of the fourth act, he says, —

“ Vous deviez la traiter avec meins de rigueur.”

As “ la ” refers to Mademoiselle Camille, for whom Monsieur Horace has just perce le flanc, it will be generally admitted that Procule has reason, and that Madame Sabine, who comes in at the moment, very properly asks him,—

“ A quoi s’arrête ici votre illustre colore ? ” His illustrious anger should have been arrested before, or allowed to go further ; although it must be admitted that he atones somewhat for his indiscretion by addressing to her immediately these consoling and complimentary words : —

“ Seche tes pleurs, Sabine, ou les caches à ma vue,
Rends toi digue du nom: de ma chaste moitié.”

When, upon such a trifling occasion as that of piercing the flank of a sister, a Roman addresses his wife as his better half, we may approximately guess under what great and subduing grief such a lofty personage might melt into the tenderness of calling her his rib.

These are examples, taken almost at hap-hazard, of Corneille’s diction in Les Horaces. We open Polyeucte, and find Severe and Pauline parting after a scene of lofty sentiment, in the French style. Severe says, —

“ Adieu, trop vertueux objet, et trop charmant; ”

and Pauline, not to be surpassed in compliment, yet preserving Severe’s model, rejoins, and rhymes : —

“Adieu, trop malheureux et trop parfait amant.”

Perhaps it must be admitted that this is better than “ Adieu, too, too fascinating Julia ; ” but when we consider the advantages of poetic diction, of writing in the grand classic style, and of imitating the severe Greek drama, which Corneille had, we see why his verse is so neat and his sentiment so appropriate.

In these passages Corneille does not quite equal Racine in like specimens of the grand style, which the latter scatters from a full hand through his classic tragedies : such, for instance, as that in which Pyrrhus, when Andromaque comes before him, says (hear ! for the son of Achilles speaks to the widow of Hector), —

“ Me cherchiez-vous, Madame ?
Un espoir si charmant me serait-il permis ?”

But Pyrrhus is a bold fellow, as his father’s son has a right to be, and soon he presumes to permit himself yet more charming hopes: —

“ Je vous offre mon bras. Puis-je esp^rer encore
Que vous accepterez un cœur qui vous adore ? ”

I do not hesitate to declare that neither Homer nor Æschylus ever wrote any thing like that. But when Achilles’ son says: “ Je vous offre mon bras,” are we quite sure of the sense in which he uses the last word ? Would it surprise us to see “ the rugged Pyrrhus ” crook his elbow, offer his arm with a profound bow, and, otant son chapeau, gallant Madame Andromaque off the stage ? It is often difficult to believe that Racine did not purposely, or at least consciously, write burlesque; but this doubt never occurs with regard to Corneille, who has a terse vigor of expression often enough to show that he meant his people to be in earnest.

And Corneille’s French critics assure us that in Les Horaces there are grand passages. Of the personages, anon : let us first look at the two most vaunted and best known of these grand passages. The first Voltaire calls “ ce trait de plus grand sublime, cet mot auquel il n’en est aucun comparable dans toute l’ antiquite.” Now what is this which surpasses all that is to be found in the Prometheus, the Œdipus, and the two Iphigenias ? It is Horace, pere’s, reply to Julie’s question what Horace, fils, would do against three, “ qu’il mourut.” The second, which is lauded by the same writer, is the line —

“ Faites votre devoir, et laissez faire aux dieux.”

As to the first (which is plainly the origin of the other mot, “ the guard dies ”), could any clever school-boy well up in his Viri Romæ and his Livy fail to make a Roman give such an answer to such a question ? The other is merely the English commonplace, Do your duty and leave the rest to God. As to both, may we not ask in wonder, What must be the wealth of a dramatic literature of which these are the brightest jewels ?

Next in importance to the undramatic form of the diction in French tragedy is the defect of a lack of character in the personages. This is so great as to amount to a lack of human interest. Neither Corneille nor Racine gave individuality to any one of his personages; and it is needless to say that where they failed there was no success on the part of their feeble imitators. They have Trojans, Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, and Frenchmen on their stage ; but their Trojan differs from their Greek, their Spaniard from their Frenchman, their everyone man from their every other, only in age and in rank. They all have the same feeling, the same manner, and use the same language. In this respect, indeed, even the personnages protatiques and the servants do not differ from the kings and queens ; and we learn the characters and even the very ages of the dramatis personæ only by description, or by the manner in which the actors make up for them on the stage. True, we know something of most of them historically or mythologically ; but no thanks to the dramatist therefor. It is essential to dramatic art and distinctive of it that it shall unfold character, not describe it ; that is the province of narration. Greek tragedy, conventional as its form was, did not neglect this requirement. Antigone and Ismene, for instance, have not spoken a dozen sentences each before we see that the former is imaginative, generous, impulsive, unselfish, and devoted, while the latter is cold, calculating, correct, and prudent. They each have individuality of soul; and we feel that we might be sure how each would act under given circumstances. In the whole range of classic French tragedy there is hardly one personage of whom this is true. Camille, Hermione, Phèdre, Roxane, are not what they are of themselves. We connect with their names only vague and general notions of a Roman maiden, a good Grecian girl, a bad Grecian woman, and a barbarous Sultana. They are distinguished from each other only by their ages and their circumstances. Their being is all objective : subjectively they have no existence.

Of the national traits with which Corneille has been thought by some French critics to have endowed his personages, it is only to be said that these traits consist of nothing but what in dramatic art is called costume, which includes not only dress, but manners, habits of life, and such expressions as mark epoch and nationality. Thus, for instance, Shakespeare, who frequently, almost continually, errs in this respect, as all the great painters have erred, —and what matter ? — violates costume in making Apemantus say grace before he eats at Timon’s feast. But correctness in costume, like most of the points in regard to accuracy on which pedants afflict their souls, is the easily attained result of a little study and a great deal of care about small things; and personages that have no other merit, and not a spark of life within them, may be without fault in this respect, yet mere puppets correctly dressed, assuming the habits and using the language of a certain period ; while others, Shakespeare’s Greeks and Romans, for instance, or even Fletcher’s, may violate costume, and yet be in thenmental and moral traits our very ideal of the men of their period. And thus it is that Corneille’s classic personages, although they have the proper dresses on their backs, the proper words in their mouths, do the proper deeds and utter the proper sentiments, are spouting shams. He tried to make Romans in Les Horaces ; and what is Horace, fils, but a big Frenchman with a bowie-knife, rolling bis r’s and bis eyes through interminable Alexandrines ? The difference between him and Curiace is merely that which is made by the facts of Livy’s story : mutatis mutandis, one is but the other; “change places, and, handy dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?”

Racine’s people pass us by undistinguisbable, a homogeneous crowd. To all of them may be applied the remark made by Corneille upon those in Bajazet, — that they were Frenchmen in foreign costume ; a criticism which showed that the critic’s censorship did not, like his charity, begin at home. As to the way in which such lay figures are made to have a semblance of life upon the stage, it is simply through the vital force and the art of the actor, who, conceiving the character and fully feeling the situation, acts almost irrespective of the spoken words, except in so far as they suggest the character and the situation and the consequent emotion. The actors of Racine’s dramas are called upon to do this constantly. His works are evidently the productions of a man of whom it might well be said, as it is said in his epitaph, written by Boileau, “ I1 s’appliqua lougtemps àa composer des tragédies.” But to the making of tragedies there goes something more than long application.

To these great and essential faults the French drama adds another, which, although adventitious, does more than any other to make French tragedy tedious and French comedy superficial. It makes the stage a place for causerie. The proverb that speech is silvern but silence golden is not of Gallic origin. Frenchmen think, witli Bonnard, that —

“Le silence est l’esprit des sots; “

but they forget that he added, —

“ Et 1’uue des vertus du sage; ”

and it is not surprising that, cultivating the art of talking, and excelling in it, as Frenchmen do, they should have made the great mistake of supposing that the stage is the place for causerie. In French tragedy the personages come upon the stage and talk about what lias happened or what will happen. What they say has rarely much to do with the progress of the action. In French comedy, if we read it, we find in it little more than clever talk or tongue-manoeuvre of some sort; if we see it, its dramatic interest depends entirely on the use which the actors make of the situations. In the best French comedies — those of Moliere always excepted — the best scenes are but smart conversations between people who, in general, are going about their ordinary affairs in an ordinary way. All this is often very clever, but unless it is acted, — when the acting is not the writer’s work, — what real dramatic value or purpose has it? Wlmt phases of human nature does it turn to the light ? What emotion does it portray ? What character unfold ? None. It shows us groups of, generally, well-behaved people getting each other into intellectual corners, from which they must tight their way out by skill in tongue-fence.This has become the character of French comedy, which now follows its Spanish model only so far as that brings its personages into situations perilous to their happiness or their reputations, and from which they are to be extricated by their wit. And it is astonishing to see with what success a French dramatist will make a wife defend herself to her lover for having been found alone with her husband, or a maiden justify herself for consenting to marriage with a man whom she detests, that she may be free to enjoythe companionship of another whom she loves.

The easy flow of French conversation, — which makes seeing French comedy like having our going into society done for us (as the Turk would have his dancing), — when it ceases to flow and sparkle irregularly, and swells into the solemn waves of Alexandrian verses, each like the other, rising six syllables, pausing an instant, and falling six into the trough of rhyme, becomes as dreary as a stage prospect of an artificial ocean; and we think, If this is poetry, how delightful must have been the life-long speech of Monsieur Jourdain ! And yet of such eternal talk in verse all French tragedies are made up. Even Phèdre’s curse of Œnone, which Rachel made so terrible, is mostly didactic : —

“ Je ne t’éoute plus. Va-t’en, monstre execrable!
Va, laissc-moi le soin do mon sort déplorable.
Puisse le juste ciel dignement te payer!
Et puisse ton supplice àà jamais eSrayer
Tous ceux qui, comme toi, par de laches adresses
Des princes malheureux nourrissent les faiblesses
Les poussent an penchant où leur eocur est enclin, Et leur osent. du crime aplanir le cliemiu!
Détestables flatteurs, present le plus funesto
Qui puisse faire aux vois la col&re celeste.”

Those last six lines, which should be the flaming climax of the imprecation, are a very pertinent, cool, judicious, moral reflection, and have no place in a malediction ; which, however, Phèdre’s reply to Œnone is not, except in the first four lines. The rest was evidently written to be recited with dignity to Œnone, hut at the Grand Monarque. Rachel fused the whole speech into one com suming outburst of hate and horror; but the fire of her genius, not that of Racine’s, lighted the volcano.

I am able to say that this appreciation of French tragedy was that of Rachel herself. I knew her and talked with her about her art; and one evening, when there was no one else by to listen, she spoke without reserve of the dullness of French tragedy, and its lack of character. She condemned it wholly; and expressed her great regret that she did not know Shakespeare until it was too late for her to study his plays, even to act them in translation ; for she could not speak English. She spoke with enthusiastic admiration of Shakespeare, and almost with contempt of Corneille and Racine. And although she knew me as the author of Shakespeare’s Scholar, which had just then been published, she was somewhat older than I was, and, being a woman, was really much older. Moreover, she was the great tragedian of the age, and I but a young dilettante author; and therefore there is no reason to believe that this comparison and confession were in compliment to a man of English blood and speech, and a student of Shakespeare. I saw that she meant and felt all that she said. Others, indeed, shared with us this appreciation of the French drama ; but I have never seen the reasons for it particularly set forth ; and the light which her genius cast upon its dull formalities was by some who should have been sharpereyed mistaken for its own.

Richard Grant White.