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UP ON THE
Ć I N N.
CORNE I L L E.
TOUGH it is an agreeable task, upon
the whole, to attempt the vindication of injured fame, the pleasure is much allayed by its being combined with a necessity to lay open the unfairness and errors in the proceedings of which we complain. To defend is pleasant, to accuse is painful ; but we must prove the injustice of the sentence, before we can demand to have it repealed.
The editor of the late edition of Corneille's works, has given the following preface to the tragedy of Cinna : “Having often heard 6. Corneille and Shakefpear compared, I thought it proper to thew their different
“ manner in subjects that have a resem: « blance. I have therefore chosen the first " acts of the Death of Cæfar, where there " is a conspiracy, as in Cinna, and in which
every thing is relative to the conspiracy to the end of the third act. The reader
may compare the thoughts, the style, " and the judgment of Shakespear, with “ the thoughts, the style, and the judg“ ment of Corneille. It belongs to the “ readers of all nations to pronounce be“ tween the one and the other. A French.
man or an Englishman might perhaps be
suspected of fome partiality. To institute “ this process, it was necessary to make an “ exact translation ; what was profe in the
tragedy of Shakespear is rendered into prose ; what was in blank verfe into “ blank verse, and almost verfe by verse ; " what is low and familiar is translated
familiarly and low. The translator has “ endeavoured to rise with the author when “ he rises ; and when he is turgid and bom,
bast, not to be more or less so than he. s. The translation given here is the most
« faithful that can be, and the only faithful
in our language of any author ancient or modern. I have but a word to add, “ which is, that blank verse costs nothing “ but the trouble of dictating ; it is not
more difficult to write than a letter. If
people should take it into their heads to “ write tragedies in blank verse, and to act “ them on our theatre, tragedy is ruined “ take away the difficulty and you
away " the merit.”
An English reader will hardly forbear smiling at this bold assertion concerning the facility of writing blank verse. It is indeed no hard matter to write bad verse of any kind; but, as fo few of our poets have attained to that perfection in it which Shakespear and Milton have done, we have reason to suppose the art to be difficult. Whatever is well done in poetry or eloquence appears easy to do, Theatrical dialogue being an imitation of discourse, our critics do not require the appearance of effort and labour, but, on the contrary, the
language of nature, and a just resemblance to the thing imitated. Possibly there is as much of difficulty in blank verse to the poet, as there appears of ease in it to the reader. Like the ceftus of Venus, formed by the happy skill of the Graces, it best exerts its charms while the artifice of the texture is partly concealed. Dryden, who brought the art of rhyme to great excellence, endeavoured to introduce it on our stage ; but nature and taste revolted against an imitation of dialogue in a mode so entirely different from that in which men discourfe. The verse Mr. de Voltaire thus condemns is perhaps not less happily adapted than the iambic to the dramatic offices. It rises gracefully into the sublime ; it can slide happily into the familiar ; hasten its career if impelled by vehemence of passion ; pause in the hesitation of doubt'; appear lingering and languid in dejection and sorrow ; is capable of varying its accent, and adapting its harmony, to the sentiment it thould convey, and the passion it would excite, with all the power of musical expression.
Even a person who did not understand our language would find himself very differently affected by the following speeches in that metre:
LEAR. Vengeance ! plague ! death! confufion ! Fiery? what fiery quality ? why, Glo'ster, I'd speak with the Duke of Cornwall, and his wife: The king would speak with Cornwall. The dear
father Would with his daughter speak, commands her fer
age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have ; but in their stead, Curses not loud but deep, mouth-honour, þreath, Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dares not,
The charm arising from the tones of English blank verse cannot be felt by a