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ures with which they can supply themselves are neither the best, nor the only pleasures which they are capable of enjoying. To those classes which spend their days in toil, complete repose seems to be the first and almost the sole condition of pleasure. A momentary suspension of the efforts or privations of daily life, an interval of movement and liberty, a relative abundance; this is all that the people seek to derive from those festivities which they are able to provide for themselves—these are all the enjoyments which it is in their power to procure. And yet these men are born to experience nobler and keener delights; they are possessed of faculties which the monotony of their existence has allowed to lie dormant in inactivity. If these faculties be awakened by a powerful voice; if an animated narrative, or a stirring scene stimulate these drowsy imaginations, these torpid sensibilities, they will gain an activity which they could never have imparted to themselves, but which they will rejoice to receive; and then will arise, without the co-operation of the multitude, but in its presence and for its amusement, new games and new pleasures which will speedily become necessities.
To such festivities as these the dramatic poet invites the assembled people. He undertakes to divert them, but the amusement which he supplies is one of which they would have been ignorant without his assistance. Æschylus relates to his fellow-citizens the victories of Salamis, the anxieties of Atossa, and the grief of Xerxes. He charms the people of Athens, but it is by raising them to a level with emotions and ideas which Æschylus alone could exalt to so high a point; and he communicates to the multitude impressions which they are capable of feeling, but which Æschylus alone is able to awaken. Such is the nature of dramatic poetry; for the people it calls its
creations into being, to the people it addresses itself; but it is in order to ennoble their character, to extend and vivify their moral existence, to reveal to them faculties which they unconsciously possess, and to procure for them enjoyments which they eagerly seize, but which they would not even seek after, if a sublime art did not reveal to them their existence by making them minister to their gratification.
And this work the dramatic poet must necessarily pursue; he must elevate and civilize, as it were, the crowd that he summons to hear his performance. How can he act upon the assembled multitude, except by an appeal to the most general and elevated characteristics of their nature? It is only by going out of the narrow circle of common life and individual interests that the imagination becomes exalted and the heart enlarged, that pleasures become disinterested and the affections generous, and that men can sympathize in those common emotions the expression of which causes the theatre to resound with transports of delight. Religion has, therefore, universally been the source and furnished the primitive materials of dramatic art; at its origin, it celebrated, among the Greeks, the adventures of Bacchus, and, in Northern Europe, the mysteries of Christ. ( This arises from the fact that, of all human affections, piety most powerfully unites men in common feelings, because it most thoroughly detaches them from themselves ;) it is also less dependent for its development upon the progress of civilization, as it is powerful and pure even in the most backward state of society. From its very beginning, dramatic poetry has invoked the aid of piety, because, of all the sentiments to which it could address itself, piety was the noblest and the most universal.
Originating thus among the people and for the people, but destined to elevate them by affording them delight, the dramatic art speedily became, in every age and country, and by reason of this very characteristic of its nature, the favorite pleasure of the superior classes.
This was its natural tendency; and in this, also, it has encountered its most dangerous quicksands. More than once, allowing itself to be led astray by its high fortune, dramatic art has lost or compromised its energy and liberty. When the superior classes can fully give themselves up to their position, they fall into the error or misfortune of isolating themselves from their fellows, and ceasing, as it were, to share in the general nature of man, and the public interests of society. Those universal feelings, natural ideas, and simple relationships which constitute the basis of humanity and of life, become changed and ener: vated in a social condition which consists entirely of exceptions and privileges. In such a state of society, conventionalisms take the place of realities, and morals become factitious and feeble. Human destiny ceases to be known under its most salient and general aspects. It has a thousand phases, it leads to a host of impressions and relations of which the higher classes are utterly ignorant, unless they are compelled to enter frequently into the public atmosphere. Dramatic art, when devoted to their pleasure, finds its domain greatly diminished and impoverished; it is invaded by a sort of monotony; events, passions, characters, all those natural treasures which it lays under contribution, no longer supply it with the same originality and wealth. Its independence is imperiled as well as its variety and ehergy. The habits of elegant society, as well as those of the multitude, are characterized by their littlenesses, and it is much more capable of im
posing these littlenesses as laws. It is stimulated by tastes rather than by necessities; it rarely introduces into its pleasures that serious and ingenuous disposition which abandons itself with transport to the impressions which it receives; and it very frequently treats genius as a servant who is bound to please it, and not as a power that is capable of governing it by the enjoyments which it can supply. If the dramatic poet does not possess, in the suffrages of a larger and more simple public, the means of defending himself against the haughty taste of a select coterie-if he can not arm himself with public approbation, and rely for support upon the universal feelings which he has been able to arouse in all hearts his liberty is lost; the caprices which he has attempted to satisfy will weigh upon him like a chain, from which he will be unable to free himself; talent, which is entitled to command all, will find itself subject to the minority, and he who ought to guide the taste of the people, will become the slave of fashion.
Such, then, is the nature of dramatic poetry that, in order to produce its most magical effects, and to preserve, during its growth, its liberty as well as its wealth, it must not separate from the people, to whom its earliest efforts were addressed. It languishes, if it is transplanted from the soil in which it first took root. Popular at its origin, it must continue to be national, and it must not cease to comprehend beneath its sway, and to charm with its productions, all classes that are capable of experiencing the emotions from which it derives its power.
All ages of society, and all states of civilization are not equally favorable to calling the people to the aid of dramatic poetry, and insuring its prosperity under their influ
It was the happy lot of Greece that the whole nation grew and developed itself together with literature and the arts, keeping always on a level with their progress, and acting as a competent judge of their glory. That same people of Athens, who had surrounded the chariot of Thespis, thronged to hear the master-pieces of Sophocles and Euripides; and the most splendid triumphs of genius were always, in that city, popular festivals. So brilliant a moral equality has not presided over the destiny of mod. ern nations; their civilization, displaying itself upon a far more extended scale, has undergone many more vicissitudes, and presented much less unity. During more than ten centuries, nothing was easy, general, or simple in our Europe. Religion, liberty, public order, literature-nothing has been developed among us without long-continued effort, in the midst of incessantly-renewed struggles, and under the most diversified influences. Amid this mighty and agitated chaos, dramatic poetry did not possess the privilege of an easy and rapid career. It was not its fate to find, almost at its birth, a public at once homogeneous and various, the constituent members of which, both great and small, rich and poor, in fine, all classes of citizens, should be equally eager for, and worthy of its most brilliant solemnities. Neither epochs of great social disorder nor periods of severe necessity are times in which the masses can devote themselves with enthusiasm to the pleasures of the stage. (Literature prospers only when it is so intimately united with the tastes, habits, and entire existence of a people as to be regarded at once as an occupation and a festivity, an amusement and a necessity. Dramatic poetry, more than any other branch of literature, depends upon this deep-seated and general union of the arts with societ". It is not satisfied with the tranquil pleasures of enlightened approbation, but it requires the