Page images

coarse and unfinished, and leaves out the details 'which are one part of nature? Do not the English remonstrate against this defect too, and endeavour to cure it? But it may be said we relish Schiller, because he is barbarous, violent, and like Shakespear. We have the Cartoons of Raphael then, and the Elgin marbles ; and we profess to admire and understand these too, and I think without any affectation. The reason is that there is no affectation in them. We like those noble outlines of the human face at Hampton Court; the sustained dignity of the expression; the broad, ample folds of the drapery ; the bold, massive limbs"; there is breath and motion in them, and we would willingly be so transformed and spiritualised : but we do not want to have our heavy, stupid faces flittered away into a number of glittering points or transfixed into a smooth petrifaction on French

Our faces, if wanting in expression, have a settled purpose in them; are as solid as they are stupid ; and we are at least flesh and blood. We also like the sway of the limbs and negligent grandeur of the Elgin marbles; in spite of their huge weight and manly strength, they have the buoyancy of a wave of the sea, with all the ease and softness of flesh: they fall into attitudes of themselves: but if they

[ocr errors]



were prit into attitudes by the genius of Operadancing, we should feel no disposition to imitate or envy them, any more than we do the Zephyr and Flora graces of French statuary. We prefer a single head of Chantry's to a quarry of French sculpture. The English are a modest people, except in comparing themselves with their next neighbours, and nothing provokes their pride in this case, so much as the selfsufficiency of the latter.

of the latter. When Madame Pasta walks in upon the stage, and looks about her with the same unconsciousness or timid wonder as the young stag in the forest; when she moves her limbs as carelessly as a tree its branches ; when she unfolds one of her divine expressions of countenance, which reflect the inmost feelings of the soul, as the calm, deep lake reflects the face of heaven; do we not sufficiently admire her, do we not wish her ours, and feel, with the same cast of thought and character, a want of glow, of grace, and ease in the expression of what we feel? We bow, like Guiderius and Arviragus in the cave when they saw Imogen, as to a thing superior. On the other hand, when Mademoiselle Mars comes on the stage, something in the manner of a fantoccini figure slid along on a wooden frame, and making directly for the point at which

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

her official operations commence-when her face is puckered into a hundred little expressions like the wrinkles on the skin of a bowl of cream, set in a window to cool, her eyes peering out with an ironical meaning, her nose pointing it, and her lips confirming it with a dry pressure-we admire indeed, we are delighted, we may envy, but we do not sympathise or very well know what to make of it. We are not electrified, as in the former instance, but animal-magnetised. We can manage pretty well with any one feeling or expression (like a clown that must be taught his letters one at a time) if it keeps on in the same even course, that expands and deepens by degrees, but we are distracted and puzzled, or at best only amused with that sort of expression which is hardly itself for two moments together, that shifts from point to point, that seems to have no place to rest on, no impulse to urge it forward, and might as well be twenty other things at the

[ocr errors]

* Even her j'existe in Valeria (when she first acquires the use of sight) is pointed like an epigram, and put in italics, like a technical or metaphysical distinction, instead of being. a pure effusion of joy. Accordingly a French pit-critic took up the phrase, insisting that to exist was common to all things, and asked what the expression was in the original German. This treatment of passion is topical and extraneous, and seldom strikes at the seat of the disorder, the heart.

[ocr errors]


same time, where tears come so easily they can hardly be real, where smiles are so playful they appear put on, where you cannot tell what you are to believe, for the parties themselves do not know whether they are in jest or earnest, where the whole tone is ironical, conventional, and where the difference between nature and art is nearly imperceptible. This is what we mean by French nature, viz. that the feelings and ideas are so slight and discontinuous that they can be changed for others like a dress or vizor; or else, to make up for want of truth and breadth, are caricatured into a mask. This is the defect of their tragedy, and the defect and excellence of their comedy; the one is a pompous abortion, the other a fac-simile of life, almost too close to . be agreeable. A French comic actor might be supposed to have left his shop for half an hour to shew himself upon a stage—there is no difference, worth speaking of, between the man and the actor--whether on the stage or at home, he is equally full of gesticulation, equally voluble, and without meaning - as their tragic actors are solemn puppets, moved by rưles, pulled by wires, and with their mouths stuffed with rant and bombast. This is the harm that can be said of them : they theinselves are doubtless best acquainted with the good, and are not too diffident to tell it. Though other people abuse them, they can still praise themselves ! I once knew a French lady who said all manner of good things and forgot them the next moment; who maintained an argument with great wit and eloquence, and presently after changed sides, without knowing that she had done so ; who invented a story and believed it on the spot; who wept herself and made you weep with the force of her descriptions, and suddenly drying her eyes, laughed at you for looking grave. Is not this like acting? Yet it was not affected in her, but natural, involuntary, incorrigible. The hurry and excitement of her natural spirits was like a species of intoxication, or she resembled a child in thoughtlessness and incoherence. She was a Frenchwoman. It was nature, but nature that had nothing to do with truth or consistency.

In one of the Paris Journals lately, there was a criticism on two pictures by Girodet of Bonchamps and Cathelineau, Vendean chiefs. The paper is well written, and points out the defects of the portraits very fairly and judiciously. These persons are there called “ Illustrious Vendeans." The dead dogs of 1812 are the illustrious Vendeans of 18.24. Monsieur Chateaubriand will have it so, and the French are too

« PreviousContinue »