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SIR WALTER SCOTT, RACINE, AND
The argument at the end of the last Essay may possibly serve to throw some light on the often agitated and trite question, Whether we receive more pleasure from an Opera or a Tragedy, from the words or the pantomime of a fine dramatic representation? A musician I can conceive to declare, sincerely and conscientiously, in favour of the Opera over the theatre, for he has made it his chief or exclusive study. But I have heard some literary persons do the same ; and in them it appears to me to be more the affectation of candour, than candour itself. “ The still small voice is wanting” in this preference; for however lulling or overpowering the effect of music may be at the time, we return to nature at last; it is there we find solidity and repose, and it is from this that the understanding ought to give its casting vote. Indeed there is a sense of reluctance and a sort of critical remorse in the opposite course as in
Causes march before them, and consequences follow after them. They are links in the chain of the universe, and the grappling-irons that bind us to it. They open the gates of Paradise, and reveal the abyss of human woe.
“ Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
Die in a word; such is the breath of kings."
But in this respect all men who have the use of speech are kings. ( It is words that constitute all but the present moment, but the present object. They may not and they do not give the whole of
train of impressions which they suggest; but they alone answer in any degree to the truth of things, unfold the dark labyrinth of fate, or unravel the web of the human heart; for they alone describe things in the order and relation in which they happen in kuman life. Men do not dance or sing through life; or an Opera or a ballet would “ come home to the bosoms and businesses of men,” in the same manner that a Tragedy or Comedy does. As it is, they do not piece on to our ordinary existence, nor go to enrich our habitual reflections. We wake from them as from a drunken dream, or a last night's debauch ; and think of them no more, till the actual impression is repeated. On the other hand, panto
mime action (as an exclusive and new species of the drama) is like tragedy obtruncated and thrown on the ground, gasping for utterance and struggling for breath. It is a display of the powers of art, I should think more wonderful than satisfactory. There is a stilling sensation about it. It does not throw off “ the perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart," but must rather aggravate and tighten the pressure.
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak,
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break."
This is perhaps the cause of our backwardness to admit a comparison between Mrs. Siddons and Palarini, between Shakespear and Vigano. Poetry and words speak a language proper to humanity; every other is comparatively foreign to it. The distinction here laid down is important, and should be kept sacred. Even in speaking a foreign language, words lose half their meaning, and are no longer an echo to the sense; virtue becomes a cant-term, vice sounds like an agreeable novelty, and ceases to shock. How much more must this effect happen, if we lay aside speech (our distinguishing faculty) altogether, or try to “gabble most brutishly,” measure good and evil by the steps of a dance, and breathe our souls away in dying