Page images
PDF
EPUB

,

veil, in the contrast between the obscurity of night and the brightness of the dawn. But objects are magnified in the mist aad haze of confusion; the mind is most open to receive striking impressions of things in the outset of its progress. The most trivial pursuits or successes then agitate the whole brain; whereas afterwards the most important only occupy one corner of it. The facility which habit gives in admitting new ideas, or in reflecting upon old ones, renders, the exercise of intellectual activity a matter of comparative insignificance; and by taking away the resistance and the difficulty, takes away the liveliness of impulse that imparts a sense of pleasure or of pain to the soul. No one reads the same book twice over with the same satisfaction. It is not that our knowledge of it is not greater the second time than the first : but our interest in it is less, because the addition we make to our knowledge the second time is very trifling, while in the first perusal it was all clear gain. Thus in youth and childhood every step is fairy-ground, because every step is an advance in knowledge and pleasure, opens new prospects, and excites new hopes, as in after-years, though we may enlarge our circle a little, and measure our way more accurately, yet in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred we only retrace our steps, and repeat the same

[ocr errors]

dull round of weariness and disappointment. Knowledge is power; but it is not pleasure, except when it springs immediately out of ignorance and incapacity. An actor, who plays a character for the hundred and fortieth time, understands and perhaps performs it better; but does he feel the part, has he the same pleasure in it as he had the first time? The wonder is how he can go through with it at all; nor could he, were he not supported by the plaudits of the audience, who seem like new friends to him, or urged on by the fear of disgrace, to which no man is ever reconciled.

I will here take occasion to suggest what appears to me the true state of the question, whether a great actor is enabled to embody his part from feeling or from study. I think at the time from neither; but merely (or chiefly at least) from habit. But I think he must have felt the character in the first instance with all the enthusiasm of nature and genius, or he never would have distinguished himself in it. To say that the intellect alone can determine or supply the movements or the language of passion, is little short of a contradiction in terms. Substituting the head for the heart is like saying that the eye is a judge of sounds or the ear of colours. If a man in cold blood knows how another feels in a fit of passion, it is from having been in a passion

1

himself before. Nor can the indifferent observation of the outward signs attain to the truth of nature, without the inward sympathy to impel us forward, and to tell us where to stop. Without that living criterion, we shall be either tame and mechanical, or turgid and extravagant. The study of individual models produces imitators and mannerists : the study of general principles produces pedants. It is feel- ) ing alone that makes up for the deficiencies of either mode of study ; that expands the meagreness of the one, that unbends the rigidity of the other, that floats a man into the tide of popularity, and electrifies an audience. It is féel. ing, or it is hope and fear, joy and sorrow, love and hatred, that is the original source of the effects in nature which are brought forward on the stage ; and assuredly it is a sympathy with this feeling, that must dictate the truest and most natural imitations of them. To suppose that a person altogether dead to these primary passions of the human breast can make a great actor, or feign the effects while he is entirely ignorant of the cause, is no less absurd than to suppose that I can describe a place which I never saw, or mimic a voice which I never heard, or speak a language which I never learnt. An actor void of genius and passion may be taught

[ocr errors]

a

to strut about the stage, and mouth out his words with mock-solemnity, and give himself the airs of a great actor, but he will never be one. He may express his own emptiness and vanity, and make people stare, but he will not "send the hearers weeping to their beds.” The true, original master-touches that go to the heart, must come from it. There is neither truth or beauty without nature. Habit may repeat the lesson that is thus learnt, just as a poet may transcribe a fine passage without being affected by it at the time ; but he could not have written it in the first instance without feeling the beauty of the object he was describing, or without having been deeply impressed with it in some moment of enthusiasm. It was then that his genius was inspired, his style formed, and the foundation of his fame laid. People tell you that Sterne was hard-hearted ; that the author of Waverley is a mere worldling; that Shakespear was a man without passions. Do not believe them. Their

passions might have worn themselves out with constant over-excitement, so that they only knew how they formerly felt; or they might have the controul over them; or from their very compass and variety they might have kept one another in check, so that none got very much a-head, and broke out into extravagant and overt acts.

[ocr errors]

pro

But those persons must have experienced the feelings they express, and entered into the situations they describe so finely, at some period or other of their lives: the sacred source from whence the tears trickle down the cheeks of others, was once full, though it may be now dried up; and in all cases where a strong impression of truth and nature is conveyed to the minds of others, it must have previously existed in an equal or greater degree in the mind ducing it. Perhaps it does not strictly follow, that

“ They best can paint them, who have felt them most." To do this in perfection other qualifications may be necessary: language may be wanting where the heart speaks, but that the tongue or the pen or pencil can describe the workings of nature with the highest truth and eloquence without being prompted or holding any communication with the heart, past, present, or to come, I utterly deny. When Talma, in the part of Edipus, after the discovery of his misfortune, slowly raises his hands and joins them together over his head in an attitude of despair, I conceive it is because in the extremity of his anguish, and in the full sense of his ghastly and desolate situation, he feels a want of something as a shield or covering to protect him from the weight that is

a

« PreviousContinue »