Shall We Still Read Greek Tragedy?
IN the revolt against the long primacy of the classics we find united temporarily, by the bond of common hostility, several camps that on other questions are much at variance with one another. There are, for example, men of practical affairs who think lightly of things of the mind ; there are some men of science who think lightly of all literature and art; there are many who, seeing modern life so rich and full, would allow antiquity scant space in the crowded present. In literature itself, the abundance and range and manifold interest of the world’s best, from Dante to Tennyson, in languages still living, and therefore worth acquiring for reasons commercial and social as well as literary, are in truth persuasive arguments against what seems so much more remote. Hence, even serious students of literature, not a few, would allow even to the greatest of the ancients no primacy beyond priority in date. No less a poet and scholar than Robert Browning, as his friend and biographer, Mrs. Sutherland Orr, has told us,1 in spite of his “ deep feeling for the humanities of Greek literature, and his almost passionate love for the language,” refused “ to regard even the first of Greek writers as models of literary style,” and found “ the pretensions raised for them on this ground inconceivable.” The growing recognition — in itself heartily to be welcomed — of the importance of our own literature and tongue as humanizing subjects of study often brings with it, especially among younger men, an inclination to depreciate Greek literature in itself, apart from any reference to its place in education. The terms classicism and romanticism, and notions more or less clear as to old controversies that centred in them, play no small part in developing the tendency. It is perhaps the Greek dramatists who are oftenest alluded to with depreciation : partly, no doubt, because they are so much read in college by students who do not yet know the language well enough to understand them ; and partly because in them Greek literature comes into closest contact with the modern, and the comparison with Shakespeare lies so near. It was against Æschylos that Browning delivered his attack, in his version of the Agamemnon, which puzzled so many readers before Mrs. Orr gave us the explanation.
Under these circumstances, a student of the Attic drama finds himself involuntarily reviewing the question from new standpoints, and endeavoring to settle in his mind where the truth lies. The question is not, of course, whether Æschylos or Shakespeare is the greater, but whether Æschylos and his compeers are really great; and if so, how and why.
Suppose we first sum up the indictment. A Greek tragedy, we are told, is but a slender streamlet beside the mighty river of Shakespeare’s presentation of human life and passion in a Hamlet or a Macbeth. The plot is simple, the characters are few, the total impression is that of meagreness. The chorus is an essentially undramatic element that in Greek times was never quite sloughed off ; it takes slight part in the action, and its lyric comments break the continuity and make the tragedy an assemblage of incongruous fragments rather than an organic unit. Even in the dialogue there is little action and much narrative ; long speeches abound. But drama, by its very name, is action ; if that is lacking, the work is so far not drama, or at best is dramatic in form only, — a poem to be read instead of a play to be acted. Even in this aspect, as poetry simply, the reader finds it comparatively tame and colorless. It has been called statuesque ; it is indeed marble in its coldness. What is vaunted as restraint and due observance of bounds closely resembles poverty, and seems to us lack of inspiration. The poetry warms us but faintly, because the internal fire burned low. The conclusion of the whole matter is, the Greek drama is merely the germ of which the Elizabethan drama is the full flower,— a germ exceedingly interesting for what came of it, but of no great significance otherwise.
Running all through this strain of criticism, which has a very familiar sound, and which I trust I have not exaggerated, is that outspoken or tacit reference to Shakespeare as the norm of perfection, by which the world’s drama is to be judged. Now human thought progresses by beating against the wind, and the tacks are sometimes long. Once it was the classicists who made Greek tragedy the norm of perfection, and judged Shakespeare by that ; and the new school had a hard struggle to get the critics to see that the end of that tack had been reached, and it was time to put about. Plainly, one principle is no more right than the other. Any welldefined school of art must be judged by itself ; some method must be sought more fruitful and conclusive than comparisons of the sort that are odious, and some other criterion than mere personal preference. By wider induction it must be possible to find some principles that shall be, not final, perhaps, but at least safer guides to opinion than the preconceptions of an individual, or even a race, whether ancient or modern. Let us see.
First as to this view that for the modern world the Attic drama has interest and value mainly, or even solely, as being the seed from which sprang the Elizabethan bloom. It was a precious seed, if nothing more ; but one naturally asks. How was it with other arts of Hellas ? Are they also related to those of later ages only as the germ to what comes of it ? Sculptors are pretty well agreed that in their branch of art that figure tells only a small fragment of the truth. Since the Parthenon marbles were made accessible to Europe, they have been the wonder and despair of sculptors, not primarily on scientific grounds, as early stages in the evolution of something finer, but in themselves, as great artistic creations, and in spite of mutilation and removal from their architectural setting. They and other Hellenic marbles brought to light in this century have been the inspiration of the recent and current revival of sculpture in Europe and America. The like is true of architecture, though time’s tooth and barbarian hands have dealt still more hardly with its monuments. The Doric temple is deemed the peer of the Gothic church, and we cannot spare either of them. Greek music is lost; even the fragments lately discovered at Delphi tantalize more than they inform us. In painting, too, we have scant materials for judgment; but the vases, gems, and other minor products of art industry that museums treasure from Greek hands are valued and sought for their own sake, as things of beauty perennially. Indeed, it was apropos of those very late Hellenistic portraits from Egypt that John La Farge, an artist saturated with the best art of all times and many races, exclaimed, —finding even the mere perfunctory trade - work in them full of meaning for their methods and technique as well as their historical associations, — “ Anything made, anything even influenced by that little race of artists, the Greeks, brings back our mind to its first legitimate, ever continuing admiration ; with them the floating Goddess of Chance took off her sandals and remained.” Of course, a people may do great things in many arts, and do lesser things or fail in one. La Farge may be right, and yet the drama be no more than Browning or still more unsympathetic readers believe. But the example of the other arts, whose products have been rated so high for their intrinsic beauty by the most competent among many successive peoples, does create a certain presumption in favor of the belief that the admiration for, say, the Agamemnon of Æschylos as a great work of art, also an admiration shared by many competent critics of diverse races and times, rests, after all, on a firmer and broader base than personal preference or a taste created by education. These tragedies come to us from the same city and period that raised the Parthenon and its sister temples, and carved the marbles that adorned them. There is some probability that the plays in which those generations of that little clan delighted are themselves informed with a like spirit. Another branch of the same race created the epic ; few would maintain that any later epic is to Homer, in respect to intrinsic literary value, as maturity to infancy. Perhaps the Attic drama is itself a flower, of equal beauty and fragrance with the Elizabethan, which grew after many seasons and in a different soil from seed that the Attic flower let fall.
But there is little action in a Greek play, and the drama, by its very name, is action. The appeal to etymology as an argument may easily lead astray. A little study of words makes it clear that etymology merely shows us the starting-point of a word’s life ; usage develops, changes, and often completely transforms its meaning, so that the truth in such an argument may be like Gratiano’s reasons, two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff. In any case, to press an etymology too far is either mental strabismus or sophistry. This etymological argument about the drama reminds me of those shallow “ educators ” — happily no longer common — for whom the entire theory of education is an elaboration of the dictum that educo means draw out. Whatever theory one may now hold about the importance of action in a play, it was Greek tragedy, not modern, to which the name drama was first given by those who invented both word and thing. They may be presumed to have known what they were doing. They called this new form of the 舠goat-song” drama because its characteristic feature, that which differentiated it from epic narrative as from Æolic and Dorian lyric, was that the performers personated the people in the story, instead of relating or singing in their own character. The gods and the men who figured in the myth were made to apppear bodily, in mimic presentation, doing and saying in their own persons what they were imagined to have done and said. That has always been the generic mark of drama, and gives the real meaning of the term. Plato’s mind was not befogged on this point when he wrote the Republic. The most undramatic prologues of Euripides are dramatic in the etymological sense, because they are spoken by an individual who personates another character ; and that fact may illustrate the value of the etymological argument from another side. The questions how complex the plot thus acted should be, how many or how few the characters, how many and what acts shall be visibly performed before the audience, — these are questions to be settled on a variety of grounds ; but no play has ever dispensed entirely with narrative, nor with certain elements that in Greek tragedy were concentrated in the choral songs. To demand that narrative and reflection and the lyric strain shall be quite excluded, and the whole story be presented through action alone, is to demand pantomime. There everything is action; but a tragedy is something higher. It would be instructive to go through several of the best modern plays, noting all the passages of pure narrative in them, — passages, I mean, in which one character relates to another, and so to the audience, events that have taken place elsewhere, instead of being enacted visibly.
It is quite true, however, that in Greek tragedy the plot is simple and the characters are few. A theatre - goer, making his first acquaintance with Sophokles through a performance of the Antigone in English, would inevitably find the action slow and meagre. The world of ideas and motives is not that to which he is accustomed ; he cannot in a brief session come to feel at home there. And though he compel himself to make due allowance on that score, and also for the impoverishment caused by translation, our theatre-goer may be pardoned if he still find the plot wanting in variety and “ go.” The question, however, may be fairly raised, how far this impression of meagreness is due to inherent defect, and how far to association. Inasmuch as all great English tragedies are more elaborate in plot, and we rarely see on our stage one of the Greek type, mere unfamiliarity with the type would be as a thick mist before the eyes. Fanny Kemble, in the recollections of her girlhood, records her gratitude that by her French education she learned to know and appreciate the great French dramatists before her introduction to Shakespeare, by whose genius she was later so completely overpowered that she could not then have approached French tragedy for the first time without prejudice. The lack of her fortunate experience in that regard doubtless accounts in no slight degree for the too common depreciation of Corneille and Racine among English-speaking people. And out of a score of persons who admire Rembrandt on first acquaintance, hardly one, of our northern races, enjoys at first view, without previous preparation, the great Italians who painted with and before Raphael. Yet many out of the score, if permitted by fortune to dwell for a while in that sunnier atmosphere, may come to enjoy the Italians far more than the northern genius whose kinship with ourselves appeals to us at once.
But farther, is a complex plot, involving many characters, essential to a great play? Some plot there must be, and Aristotle, from his analysis of the plays he knew, lays great stress on the importance of it : apparently he rates CEdipus the King highest among Greek tragedies, largely because its plot is unusually elaborate. Yet, though the CEdipus, in this particular, touches the extreme limit permitted by the Greek form, it falls far short of that to which Shakespeare has accustomed us ; and we may still ask, Is the comparative simplicity of plot in Greek tragedy in itself a defect ?
How is it in music ? We do not regard the string quartette as an imperfect form because the orchestral symphony has been invented. The symphony is more complex ; it embraces in one composition a wider range and greater richness of effect, and therefore pleases and impresses more people who are not thoroughly musical. But the greatest symphonic composers have also chosen frequently to write in quartette form. The truth is, the range of each single instrument is so wide that the four combined are an adequate vehicle for a great musical work. Four or five human souls of tragic mould in the grip of tragic circumstance may be enough, in the hands of a master, to produce a harmony that shall move us to the depths of our being. A Greek play is never so meagre as the quartette. That comparison fits better the plays of Racine. One might liken Greek tragedy rather to a symphonic movement for a small orchestra, omitting or making slight use of the drums and brasses. Analogies in detail to such music often recur to me in reading the plays. And in other arts ? The masterpiece of Pheidias, we are told, was not one of the groups in the Parthenon gables, but the Zeus at Olympia; not an elaborate composition, in the sense of one containing a great number of figures in variously correlated action, but a single figure, grand in conception, perfect in detail. The compositions in marble, whose remnants are the glory of the British Museum, he left to other hands to execute; his own strength found a more congenial task in the endeavor to embody in the more precious medium of gold and ivory the ancient ideal of the Olympian god, seated in a majestic repose whose calm expressed more power than any action could. And if we turn to Raphael, is the School of Athens, or any of the larger and more complex compositions in the Vatican, a greater work than the Sistine Madonna ? The world has not thought so. To conceive that greatness in art depends on multiplicity of larger constituents or complexity of their arrangement is a mistake of like nature with conceiving that national greatness is identical with bigness and wealth. In either sphere greatness is something quite different. The quality of the central idea, the perfection with which that idea is rendered, with the just amount and due subordination of contributory detail,—these are far more than mere size and number in whatever wealth of circumstance. We apply this principle elsewhere in literature. We do not consider The Scarlet Letter, with its few characters and simple external incidents, and its revelation of the depths of the human heart, as therefore inferior to, let us say, Les Misérables. We do not compare the two ; nor do I now, farther than to illustrate this one point in our inquiry. Without urging the parallel too far, I may say that they represent in the novel a like distinction of class to that which I wish to point out between Greek and Elizabethan tragedy. In short, the wider the basis of our induction, the clearer becomes the conclusion which Amiel stated in the broad and philosophic generalization, “ The art which is grand, and yet simple, is that which presupposes the greatest elevation, both in artist and in public.”
Perhaps the ground is now sufficiently cleared to enable us to approach, with less risk of entanglement, two positive features of Greek tragedy that sometimes repel the modern reader. First the chorus, — to the Greek always the central and perhaps most interesting element, to us presenting rather the aspect of an excrescence. It would be vain to attempt here to conjure about us the antique atmosphere of prepossession in favor of the chorus; it is enough if we can dissipate our modern prepossession against it, and see the matter as it is, if we cannot see it as it was. Passing over, therefore, the well-known historical explanation of its presence, if we examine the six or eight best plays that have survived the wreck of the Middle Ages, what do we find the chorus to be, and how are its odes related to the whole ? The Agamemnon of Æschylos may be taken as one illustration ; his Eumenides and Prometheus, as well as the two CEdipus plays of Sophokles, and the Antigone and Elektra, fairly belong with it; perhaps the Medea and Tauric Iphigeneia of Euripides may be added. In the Agamemnon, then, the chorus is a company of twelve elderly men, councilors of Klytaimnestra and of the absent king, summoned to meet the queen that they may hear the great news of Troy’s capture and receive the returning monarch. Their presence at the palace is thus as clearly called for, dramatically, as that of the herald or Kassandra. From this point of view, they might be likened to the nobles of various degree that fill so large a space in attendance on Shakespeare’s kings ; the only marked difference is that the ancient poet unites his nobles into a group, who generally, though not always, act and speak as one. In the Antigone and CEdipus the King the chorus is of the same character. Its leader has about the same interest and part in the action as Polonius or Horatio; the entire band as much, at least, as the Players in Hamlet, or those citizens and gentlemen and other minor characters who make the background of so many scenes. In the Eumenides the interest is far greater, for the members of the chorus are the dread Furies themselves in pursuit of the criminal. In CEdipus at Kolonos they are the men who dwell near the sacred grove ; gathering to repel the profaning wanderer, they hear his defense, and remain as representative Athenians to share in protecting him, and in receiving the blessing which his supernatural death and burial are to confer on their country. In the Aias of Sophokles they are the Salaminians, sailors and fighting men, who have accompanied Aias to Troy. The devoted followers have heard rumors of their lord’s insane attempt, and have come to his tent to learn the truth, to defend him from his foes, and, as it proves, to guard his corpse and to bury him. To another class belong the women who come to cheer, advise, and condole with a suffering woman, as Elektra or Medea. The priestess Iphigeneia has her temple ministrants about her. These may all be fairly compared, in a way, with Juliet’s nurse, with Nerissa, with the inevitable confidantes and waiting-women.
Such is the chorus from one side. On the other side, what is its function in the choral odes ? Regarded merely as the formal divisions between acts or scenes, the odes are certainly as pleasing, and detract as little from unity of effect, as the fall of a curtain and the tedious wait filled in by inferior music that has nothing to do with the play, and merely accompanies the chat of the audience. In fact, however, these songs are not out of character and are not an interruption : they are a lyric utterance of participants in the action, even if minor participants, — the expression of their emotions and thoughts called forth by specific events, by the dramatic situation. So much is plain even to the reader who does not understand the elaborate and beautiful versification ; and some time a composer will be moved to write such music for one of the plays as will assist our imagination to realize the stately antique chant in unison, with instrumental accompaniment, strictly conforming to the poetic rhythm. The interpretative dance, which rendered the sentiment in graceful motion and made it visible, we can only imagine. But two facts need to be emphasized : First, the choral odes are dramatic, in the sense in which Browning’s Dramatic Lyrics are, — the expression of emotion and reflection called forth by the situation, not in the bystander or spectator merely, but in those who have a vital interest and part in the action. Occasionally, it is true, the choral song swerves a little from the strictly dramatic function. It exhibits a tendency on the one hand to become the mouthpiece of the poet himself, and on the other to utter the sentiments of what has been called the ideal spectator. Yet this tendency appears but rarely in the best plays, and appears only for an instant; the dramatic idea quickly resumes its normal sway. Secondly, such lyric material has a legitimate place in the drama, which aims to present life at its fullest, and is based on the convention that the soul, in such moments of most intense life, feels no hindrance, from without or within, to complete self-expression. In the modern drama this emotional and reflective element is more distributed. We find it often in soliloquy, or scattered through the conversation in comments on persons or events, and in occasional snatches of song. In part, however, it is left unexpressed, and that is a loss. It is characteristic of Greek art that this element, distinctly recognized as belonging in the drama, has its own medium and style of presentation in appropriate lyric form, — in essence the same form that we employ for like purposes outside the drama, though we have isolated the dance, and given it over to the ballet and to social amusement. The song from the skené, or lyric solo by a more prominent character, fits perfectly into our conception, or is at least accepted easily by one who accepts the Wagnerian music-drama, that latest direct offshoot of Attic tragedy.
Another feature that perhaps requires brief examination is the messenger and his narrative. He is the result of two well-known conventions of the Greek theatre, which are natural enough in themselves, but have been much misunderstood. The chorus ordinarily remained on the scene when the leading characters withdrew ; nearly everything took place in the open air ; no curtain was used. The play was thus continuous ; a change of scene was so inconvenient that it was seldom employed. Hence, whatever the story required to take place elsewhere than in the presence of the council, or the confidantes, or whoever the chorus were, had usually to be narrated. Again, Athenian taste refused to tolerate scenes of death and violence before the eyes of the audience. The Greeks were not less cruel or bloody in actual life than we are, or than Englishmen were three centuries ago ; but their average artistic sense was finer. They perceived that when death or bodily mutilation is simulated in broad daylight illusion undergoes a severe strain, and they felt their æsthetic enjoyment of such scenes interfered with or destroyed. At any rate, such scenes were pretty nearly banished ; hence the catastrophe itself is usually narrated, and the messenger is rather prominent among the minor personages. The device must be regarded as part of that simplicity of structure which we have already considered, — a device that deepens the impression of unity as much as it detracts from variety. The poet, however, does not rely upon narrative alone to present the catastrophe. Like the painter, who makes us behold the deed in its effect, the dramatist shows us CEdipus just blinded, — shows us the bodies of Antigone and Haimon, and the sorrow and too late repentance of Kreon. It is open to question whether such a method is not more effective in the end than the cruder way of displaying everything before the bodily eye. The painter’s art, in spite of being limited to a single moment of the action, satisfies the imagination better than the kinetoscope and like mechanisms. I do not see how a tragic event could be more powerfully presented than is the king’s murder in the Agamemnon. Kassandra’s wild and whirling words foretell it and her own fate as close at hand ; his last cry reaches our ear ; and finally, the murderous wife is seen holding the bloody instrument of death over her prostrate victims, while she acknowledges and glories in her crime. The sense of horror could not have been deepened by sight of the deed itself ; the pity and fear that purge the soul would thereby have lost in efficacy, debased by a coarser strain.
One other item of the indictment must not be passed over, — the supposed lack of force and fire, which, according to one’s attitude, is accounted either cause or effect of the Greek principle of moderation. Style, especially in a foreign tongue, is a difficult thing to discuss convincingly. The sense for it is much like musical taste ; original endowment and the degree and school of training create differences of judgment ; mediation between them is dangerous, and the issue must generally be left to the slow-sifting process of time. In this case the sifting process has been going on some centuries, and perhaps one may venture on a temperate search for a guiding principle or two.
The close kinship between Greek poetry and Greek sculpture is a commonplace ; whoever finds one cold will probably find the other so. It is true, also, that a little time and study are needful before one becomes accustomed to the Hellenic manner far enough to see fully what it means. But if one fancies the Hermes of Praxiteles or the torsos from the eastern gable of the Parthenon cold, the reason must be in the observer or his circumstances. Perhaps he has not seen the originals, but only a translation of them into cold plaster or flat black and white. Perhaps fortune has not favored him with time enough : such things are not importunate ; they do not strive nor cry ; they know they can wait. But after a time, unless one is by nature incapable, the quiet marble begins to quiver with life ; even the passion of grief, the adequate expression of which is commonly thought peculiar to Christian art, is seen to be nowhere more movingly portrayed than in the calmly throned Demeter of Knidos. All this in spite of mutilation, and without the color with which we know the ancients gave an added warmth and life to detail in sculpture. The contortions of Bernini’s figures, on the bridge of St. Angelo and in various Roman churches, are in one sense just as true or even truer to nature, but are by comparison frigid, unmeaning, and false. Bernini’s way was less difficult. It is easier to model or draw an old man, with the passion and experience of a long generation graven in furrows across his face, than to portray a strong and well-poised soul that finds a subtler outward expression in the more flowing outlines of youth or middle life. To make a simple transcript from nature, caught in a moment of violent action, is easier than to create after nature, from a profound and sympathetic comprehension of many such moments, a work that shall embody their essence, — a work full of their passionate life, yet maintaining that comparative calm without which nothing can please permanently. The mere transcript tells its tale more quickly, but the artist’s creation more powerfully.
The principle may be verified in all the arts, but nowhere better than in Greek sculpture and Greek tragedy in contrast with sculpture of the seventeenth century and with the Elizabethan drama. Shakespeare himself makes Hamlet enforce the lesson on his Players : “ For in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.” In every art this advice is good, though conveyed with an iteration of metaphor that itself offends against the principle. Accustomed as we are to the ruder way that delights in vehemence, in the sharpest contrast, in the “ torrent, tempest, and whirlwind of passion,” we are less quick to appreciate under the finer manner that force which is strong enough to hold in leash its own strength. Hence, too, the common mistake regarding character-drawing in Greek tragedy. A careless reader finds little of it, because it is mostly effected by gentle means, a delicate stroke of color sufficing where we look for the light and shadow of a Rembrandt. The analogy with sculpture here, also, is very close. Once more Amiel may furnish us a phrase : 舠 The art of passion is sure to please, but it is not the highest art.” And again : “ A well - governed mind learns in time to find pleasure in nothing but the true and just.” The world may yet learn much from Hellas in this direction, and the drama is one of the best means of teaching us. If we would see in English verse what this quality in tragic style is, Robert Browning is one of the last among the great poets in whom to look for it. The best sustained illustration, perhaps, is the dialogue of Matthew Arnold’s Merope. The choral parts of that little - read play are very inadequate ; Arnold was far from being a Sophokles in original power, and the antique subject is remote from our interest ; but of the dialogue style and the general structure of Greek tragedy his Merope gives a truer notion than any translation or any other imitation that I know.
I have failed in my purpose unless I have made it seem probable that in its masterpieces Greek tragedy is worthy, after all, to rank with the masterpieces of any later dramatic school. Its peculiar form and special qualities are the outgrowth of its own historical conditions. The soil and air, though not our own, were good ; the vine was vigorous, and the product is of a sound and generous kind that has kept well. Due appreciation of one vintage need not dull our taste for another; why not be thankful for both ? Like the Doric temple, Greek tragedy is simple in its plan and structure, but of infinite elaboration and subtle variety in detail. In the chorus, in the messenger’s narrative, and in the dialogue as well, the principle of grouping details in larger masses reminds us of the sculptured pediment, the metopes alternating with triglyphs, the massive yet graceful columns planted firmly to withstand all destroyers but man ; everywhere grouping, symmetry, perfection of workmanship, and delicate harmony. In calling such masterpieces models, one does not mean that the type is now to be directly imitated. The form is not adapted to express or serve, in new examples of it, our modern life. So of temples and sculptured gods ; modern repetitions have at best an exotic air. But that is no condemnation of the originals, which were adapted to express the best side of ancient life. The Shakespearean form of drama is also really adapted only to the age that gave it birth; witness the omissions and alterations in our finest revivals of Shakespeare’s plays. Our more exacting demands in regard to stage - setting and machinery are alone enough to modify greatly the notion of what is good in dramatic structure, and in many other respects taste has changed not a little since Elizabeth’s time. But to state this is not to depreciate Shakespeare. Is Cologne Cathedral any less noble because it would be ill adapted to the use of a Protestant non-liturgical service ? The Italian type of Madonna and Child was worked out under special conditions of the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries. It is not one to be copied now. Unless the painter be a very great artist, who knows thoroughly both his mind and the cunning of his hand, he had better not attempt to employ the type even with a modern application and meaning. But is the type, and are the great Madonnas of Italian art, therefore not great ? They remain among the accumulated treasures wherewith the past has endowed the present and the future. They, and whatever else goes to make up the sum of the best that has been thought and done in the world, are to be cherished and used for the education of the race.
The great advantage that literature has over the other arts, the advantage that alone secures it a preëminence over them in the general educational scheme, is the readiness with which the masterpieces can be indefinitely multiplied, and brought in their original form directly before the mind. In the best plays of Æschylos and Sophokles the force of Hellenism is felt in concentration. The reconstruction of the ancient theatre, which the young science of archæology has but lately made possible, has enhanced their value to us, by freeing our conception of them from the distorting effect of later traditions, and restoring them to our imagination in the simple dignity of their original presentation. Many generations will pass from the scene, and many a little system and literary school will have its day, before those plays lose their freshness and their power to elevate and charm.
Thomas Dwight Goodell.
- Life and Letters, ii. 477f.↩