Imagens das páginas

the capital. Throughout the whole of these countries there is one general characteristic in which they resemble the Indians of America, namely, courage and self-respect. The chiefs, after coming to salute the Pasha, would make no scruple of sitting down facing him, and converse with him without embarrassment, in the same manner as they are accustomed to do with their own Maleks, with whom they are very familiar. With the greatest apparent simplicity they would frequently propose troublesome questions to him, such as, “ © great Sheck, what have we done to


should come so far to make war upon us? Is it for want of food in your country that you come to get it in ours"'p. 198.

pp. 80.

Art. IV.-Sylla. Tragédie en Cinq Actes. Par E. Jouy.. 4me

Edition. Paris. 1822. IT is a trite observation that the literature of the day, as cause

or effect, has a close connection with the state of the national chasacter-perhaps one, who travels only by his fire-side, can take no better measure to guide his judgment by on this point. The drama too is that department of literature wherein this connection is ordisarily the closest—it undoubtedly is so in France: a light-hearted Parisian naturally flies to that branch of literature which comes the nearest to mere ainusement, gives the mind the least trouble of reflection, and furnishes the readiest means, as well as the most unanswerable excuse, for flying out of himself and from the dull monotony of home. Hence it is that the Théâtre Français is crowded with an eager interest, which our gorgeous and gigantic theatres seldom witness :--and this at least must be said for it, that it affords always a decent and intellectual entertainment; a French tragedy may be to us but a dull and unimpassioned production, but it is creditable to a people to require no stronger stimulus, to be content with feeding the ear and the intellect, without demanding the pantomimic melo-drames and monstrous nothings, which the countrymen of Shakspeare and Jonson bave learned to consider as indispensable to their gratification.

We must not suffer ourselves however to wander into this subject; what has been said will perhaps explain sufficiently why we intend to devote a few pages to the examination of a popular French tragedy. Sylla has been eminently successful, and was announced, we believe, lately for the sixtieth representation; but it is pot the only thing in the volume upon which we mean to remark; M. Jouy has prefaced it with rather a long discourse, wbich he calls a Préambule Historique, and a curious specimen it is of brilliant French writing, sometimes when it sounds most finely and is most antithetically balanced, having no definite meaning, and at VOL. XXVIII. NO, LV.


other times when the meaning is clear, being inconsistent with itself, and with the authorities on which it professes to rely.

It begins with the following oracular sentence

* Reputations are formed by accident; contemporaries receive them ready made, and generally hand them down without discussion and without examination. Years, ages roll away, and the echo of the passions of the moment, repeated from age to age, forins that equivocal and monotonous rumour, which we call history.'

We have ventured a translation of these words, as Hamlet would have called them; and if our readers should derive from it no very precise idea of what was intended to be conveyed, we cannot plead guilty to being the cause of that obscurity-in the original they would have found more brilliant' words, but not a more definite meaning. M. Jouy intended perhaps to say that history, for the most part, was built upon the prejudice and passion of the moment, and that the tale which they handed down, passed without examination till the means of contradiction were out of our reach. If this be really his opinion, it was a superfluous labour in him to run, even so cursorily as we suspect he has done, through the authors named in a subsequent page of the preface; for his own speculations, or at least the sketch of Montesquieu, might be taken to be of as high authority as this equivocal and monotonous rumour, which we call history.'

It cau be hardly necessary to spend time in maintaining that History does not deserve this appellation. Undoubtedly a great part, perhaps the greater part, of past events are utterly unknown to us —but as to these history does not exist. Undoubtedly also we may concede, that even of events, which history has presented to us in correct and .philosophical narration, other details have also been given full of fable and false reasoning; and that many men, nay many writers, entirely neglect to discriminate between the two, - relying with as much confidence and as little inquiry on the report of credulity, or prejudice, or ignorance, as on that which comes vouched by the eye-witness or the laborious investigation of sensible and impartial historians. But is history to be blamed for this? --she has done her part; if people will collect their ideas of the Grecian annals, for instance, from Plutarch, and turn aside from Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and the contending orators of - Athens, they may be sensible of great obscurity in their dates, and improbability or inconsistency in their facts; events may seem to flow from inadequate causes, and to hang together by no natural connection—but still the Grecian history is handed down to those who will study it in the right sources, not indeed in perfect integrity, but in a clear and intelligible detail:--the characters of the leading men, the general principles of politics, the grand divisions of


ties, and the manners, customs, and genitis of the people may all be fully as well known, as the same things in any country in Europe within the last twenty years.

We will not follow M. Jouy through a rapid historical sketch of his hero's life, which he affixes, with some inconsistency, to his general denunciation against history--it is not very correct, but that is of the less importance, as the character which he draws in the play does but imperfectly correspond with it. His most remark, able error seems to have been in the notion of Sylla's character, which he states himself to have borrowed from Montesquieu.

Quant à son terrible caractère, aucun de ses historiens n'a su 'le pénétrer; et Montesquieu est le seul qui ait éclairé cet abîme d'un rayon de son génie. Sous la plume de l'auteur immortel de la Grandeur et Décadence des Romains, Sylla devient le réformateur de Rome ; il asservit les Romains pour leur faire haïr l'esclavage, il veut les ramener à l'amour de la liberté par les horreurs de la tyrannie ; et quand il a suffisamment abusé du pouvoir dans l'intérêt de la république, qu'il ne sépare pas de ses vengeances personnelles, satisfait de la leçon sanglante qu'il a donnée à ses compatriotes, il brise lui-même la palme du dictateur, qu'il a usurpée, et vient avec un sourire effrayant se confondré parmi les citoyens dont chacun peut lui demander compte d'un acte de sa cruelle dictature. Ainsi toute cette vie est une combinaison, toutė cette tyrannie est un calcul, toute cette audace est du sang-froid et du raisonnement.'—p. viii.

We confess that this interpretation of Sylla's conduct a little astonished us. According to our experience, men do not in general act upon such circuitous and far-fetched systems; and to say that Sylla became the sanguinary enslaver of his country for the purpose of reforming and making her free, implied a degree of theorising absurdity in his character which we could not reconcile with his acknowledged and practical ability ;—the whole seemed more like the antithesis of the French tragedy than the simplicity of nature.' Montesquieu's authority, however, pressed upon us, and we turned to bim with some anxiety, which was relieved by finding that he certainly, when rightly understood, gives no countenance to the theory built up in his name. Instead of considering the abdication of Sylla as the result of a long matured plan, by which, after a severe discipline, the Romans were to be restored to the spirit and enjoyment of freedom, we found him speaking of la fantaisie, qui lui fit quitter la dictature; instead of considering the cruel proscriptions as a severe mode of restoring public virtue and independence, we found him speaking of them as having made it impossible dès lors de s'attacher davantage à la république : we found hiin tracing all the steps by wbich Sylla had acquired his power, and a large proportion of his acts while in power, and declaring that they G 2


had made it impossible for Rome to preserve her freedom; and, lastly, we found him extreinely detracting from the heroism of his abdication, (la résolution, says M. Jouy, la plus sublime, la plus audacieuse, que le génie de la puissance ait jamais conçue,) by the remark, that he had given establishments to the soldiers of fortyseven legions! in different parts of Italy, who considered their fortunes attached to his life, who watched over his safety in retirement, and were ready to assist him in danger, or avenge him in his fall.*

Indeed, it can hardly be doubted that Sylla's abdication, whether it were the result of long premeditation, or the whim of the moment, was in fact rather a laying down of the fasces and the robe, the ensigns and trappings of authority, (things which his mind set no value on, yet felt the burthen of,) than the resignation of any real power, or the exposure of himself to any new danger. Sylla was the head and life of one of the two great parties into which Rome was divided; he had made it predominant, and had raised about it the protection of wise laws. But the members of that party could not forget the recent superiority of their opponents, so mercilessly exercised; nor could they be ignorant of their existing strength. The life of Sylla was as necessary to them as ever, for laws had long been a dead letter in Rome, when the positive force to maintain them was wanting; and for these reasons his influence was certainly as great after as before his abdication. He must have had innumerable enemies in Rome, and must have injured many in wantonness or cruelty, beyond even what his own laws could have justified-yet we do not hear a single instance of any one bold enough to draw him into question during his retirement.

To us, indeed, the abdication appears to have been rather the humour of the man, than the resolve of the statesman. Sylla was fond of literature beyond the measure of his age-fond of free, and even licentious society; for this we have not the doubtful word of Plutarch, but the unquestionable authority of Sallust and Cicero. In early life he had shown no excessive fondness for the offices and honours of the state ; and it was not till some years after the regular period, that he became a candidate for the consulship. Upon the whole, he seenis rather to have been forced up the ladder of promotion by circumstances, the necessity of struggling for his safety against the personal jealousy of Marius, and the political hostility of the democratic party in the state. When he had reduced that

* The passages we refer to are in the eleventh chapter of the Grandeur et Décadence; what will M. Jouy say to the following observations from another work of his great countryman? Sylla, qui confondit la tyrannie, l'anarchie et la liberté, fit les lois Cornéliennes. Il sembla ne faire des réglements, que pour établir des crimes. Ainsi qualifiant une infinité d'actions du nom de meurtre il trouva par tout des meurtriers, et par une pratique, qui ne fut que trop suivie, il tendit des pièges, sema des épines, ouvrit des abîmes sur le chemin de tous les citoyens.'— De l'Esprit des Lois, l. vi. c. 13.


party to submission, not by the difficult arts of conciliation and good government, but by the rough discipline of the proscription, we think it showed some superiority of mind to be able to despise the ponip and trappings which enslave the hearts of thousands ; but still it was no very extraordinary greatness to retire to his favourite enjoyments, in a situation which divested him of no real influence, nor exposed him to any personal danger. Something must be allowed for the wearisomeness of state, to a man of intellect, who had not been familiarized to it from his youth, and grown to be unconscious of the burthen. Something must be deducted also for a wish indulgere genio, and to enjoy the evening of life. After all, the character which we are to ascribe to the abdication of Sylla, must depend very much upon the manner in which he employed his retirement. If the account of Plutarch be correct, his retreat, and that of Tiberius to the island of Capreæ, must rank upon nearly the same scale in the judgment of the philosopher and moralist.

This is a long digression; but we have still a few words more to say upon another part of the preface.--It did not require any very strong powers of prophecy to foresee, that the character of Sylla on the stage would become the subject of political application by our ingenious neighbours. We can hardly refrain, therefore, from smiling at the exquisite simplicity with which M. Jouy expresses his surprize that any one could suppose him capable of such an intention, and at the eagerness with which he seizes the opportunity, if such it can be called, of instituting a comparison between Sylla and Napoleon. We do not mean to canvass this comparison ; but we notice it, with pleasure, for a different purpose. It has been said, that the French press is reduced to an entire and disgraceful servility by the present law. Now, here is a brilliant eulogy of the exEmperor-palliating his failings, passing by his crimes, and exaggerating his good qualities and splendid exploits; it speaks plainly the language of affectionate regret for his fall, and of respect for his memory; but, though free, it is perfectly decorous, and appeals not to the passions of the vulgar, and this is permitted to circulate without restraint. This is as it should be. The system is imperfect, undoubtedly, and we shall hail the day, when a more complete one shall be adopted; but while the distinction is thus observed between malignant libel and fair discussion, it cannot in practice produce all the wymixed mischief which has been imputed to it.

We come now to the play itself. The story opens on the eve of a proscription, the list of which Sylla has summoned a council of senators to examine and approve, before he issues the fatal order for execution. Roscius, the accomplished actor, and the distinguished favourite of the dictator, has also received a summons,


G 3

« AnteriorContinuar »