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variety of subjects on which his mind was employed, it was impossible for him to avoid shallowness and immaturity of ideas. To form a correct idea of his relation to his two predecessors in the tragic art, we must institute a comparison between the characteristic features of the preceding classical age and that in which he gave the tone. In the time of Louis the Fourteenth, the traditionary belief respecting the most important concerns of humanity remained undisturbed; and in poetry, the object was not so much to enrich the mind, as to form it by means of a free and noble entertainment. But the want of thinking began at length to be felt: it unfortunately happened, however, that bold presumption hurried far before profound enquiry, and hence the increase of public immorality was followed by a dangerous scepticism, from the ridicule of which no object was sacred, and which shook the foundations of every conviction which had a reference to religion, morals, and the preservation of the social union. Voltaire was by turns philosopher, rhetorician, sophist, and buffoon. The impurity by which his views were in part characterised, was irreconcileable with a complete impartiality in his theatrical career. As he saw the public longing for information, which was rather tolerated by the favour of the great than authorized and formally approved of by the public institutions, he did not fail to meet their wishes, and to deliver, in beautiful verses, on the stage, what no man durst yet preach from the pulpit or the professor's chair. He made use of poetry as a
means to accomplish ends which are foreign to it; and this has often polluted the poetical purity of his compositions. In Mahomet he wished to exhibit the dangers of fanaticism, or rather, laying aside all circumlocution, the belief in any revelation whatever. For this purpose, he has most unjustifiably disfigured a great historical character, loaded him in a revolting manner with the most shocking crimes, at the expense of our tortured feelings. As he was universally known as the bitter enemy of Christianity, he bethought himself of a new triumph for his vanity, by making Christian sentiments in Zaire and Alzire the means of exciting our emotion and here for once his versatile heart, which was susceptible of a feeling for goodness in momentary ebullitions, shamed the rooted malice of his understanding; he actually succeeded, and these affecting and religious passages cry out loudly against him for the idle abuse in which his petulant ignorance so often indulged. In England he acquired a knowledge of a freer constitution, and became an enthusiastic admirer of freedom.-Corneille introduced the Roman republicanism and politics in general into his works, for the sake of their poetical energy; Voltaire again exhibited them under a poetical form, that they might have a political effect on the popular opinion. As he imagined that he was better acquainted with the Greeks than his predecessors, and as he had obtained a slight knowledge of the English theatre and Shakspeare, which were before undiscovered islands for
France, he wished in like manner to derive every advantage from them.-He insisted on the seriousness, the severity, and simplicity of the Greeks; and actually in so far approached them, that he excluded love from various subjects to which it did not properly belong. He was desirous of reviving the majesty of the Grecian scene; and here his endeavours had this good effect that in his theatrical works the eye was no longer so miserably neglected. He borrowed from Shakspeare, as he thought, a boldness of theatrical effect; but here he was the least successful; when, in imitation of that great master, he ventured in Semiramis to call up a ghost from the other world, he fell into the commission of innumerable absurdities. In a word, he was perpetually making experiments in the dramatic art; and at different times he availed himself of totally different means for effect. Hence his works have occasionally remained half way between studies and finished productions; we perceive something unfixed and unfinished in his whole formation. Corneille and Racine are much more perfect within the limits which they have prescribed to themselves; they are altogether that which they are, and we have no glimpses in their works of any thing of a higher or different description. Voltaire's claims are much more extensive than his means. Corneille has expressed the maxims of heroism with greater sublimity, and Racine the natural emotions with greater sweetness; but we must allow that Voltaire has introduced the springs of mora
lity with greater effect into the drama, and that he displays a more intimate acquaintance with the original relations of the mind. Hence, in some of his pieces, he is more powerfully affecting than either of the other two.
The first and last only of these three masters of the French tragic stage may be said to be fruitful; though even this they cannot be accounted, when compared with the Greeks. That Racine was not more prolific, was indeed partly owing to accidental circumstances in his life. He enjoys this advantage, however, that with the exception of his first youthful attempts, the whole of his pieces have kept possession of the stage, and the public estimation. But many of the pieces of Corneille and Voltaire, which even pleased at first, have since disappeared, and are now not even so much as read; on which account, selections from their works have been published under the title of Chef-d'œuvres. It is remarkable, that few of the numerous tragical attempts in France have succeeded. Laharpe reckons, that about a thousand tragedies have been acted or printed since the death of Racine, and that about thirty only, besides those of Voltaire, have kept possession of the theatre. Notwithstanding the great competition in this department, the tragical repertory of the French is therefore far from ample. We will not undertake to give a full account of their theatrical stores; and it is still farther from the object of our undertaking to enter into a
circumstantial and anatomical investigation of separate pieces. We can only, with a rapid pen, notice the character and relative worth of the most distinguished works of those three masters, and of a few others deserving of favourable mention.
Corneille opened the career of his fame, in the most brilliant manner, with the Cid, of which, indeed, the execution alone is his own: the plan of the Spaniard appears to have been closely followed by him. The Cid of Guillen de Castro has never come into my hands, so that it has not been in my power to institute an accurate comparison between the two works. But were we to judge from the specimens produced, the Spanish piece seems to have been written with much greater simplicity than the French; and the subject was first adorned with rhetorical pomp by Corneille. We are ignorant, however, of what he has left out and sacrificed. All the French critics are agreed that the part of the Infanta is superfluous. They do not see, with the Spanish poet, that when a princess, forgetful of her elevated rank, entertains an inclination for Rodrigo, and wishes to distinguish him as the flower of an amiable order of knighthood, this must serve as a stronger justification of the love of Chimene, which so many powerful motives could not overcome. It is true, the passion of the Infanta ought to have been more musically developed, and the deeds of Rodrigo against the Moors more epically, that is, more contemplatively related, to produce that pleasure and general