Page images

and in sundry preceding Articles in this Journal. Our present object is, generally, to invite attention more distinctly to the entire subject. The great question of the Christian evidences in general always vitally important at the present time, if there be any force in what we have advanced, demands more special attention; in connexion with opinions, far more dan gerous to its security than the open attacks of infidelity,according to which, while the original revelation of Christianity is never openly attacked or denied, it is yet in effect placed upon the same level with the modern systems engrafted on it; and professing to be equally authoritative developments of it. A clearer examination of the great principles involved is thus peculiarly forced on our attention; even at the risk of approaching topics from which many would shrink, and touching on questions affecting the foundation of all religion, which many think it so religious to shun. When, as at present, Mysticism and Scepticism are undistinguishable in outward aspect, and when transcendental orthodoxy and utter disbelief have learned to speak the same language, it becomes the more necessary to strip them of their disguises, and expose the naked deformities of each; as well as to vindicate the just claims of sober and rational enquiry into the evidences, which alone secures them their proper force and authority.

It has been the common insinuation of unbelievers, that as all early historians have their legends and prodigies, and all religions their miracles, their divine incarnations, and apotheoses, so the religions exhibited in the Bible have theirs; and thus they advance to the allegation that the latter in general, and the religion of the New Testament in particular, are not more real nor founded on better evidence than the rest; and this comparison is applied, not only to the false religions of the Heathen, but even to the later forms of Christianity, and to the miraculous claims and marvellous legends of the ancient church; which, they contend, cannot be really distinguished from those of Scripture. In a word, they would place all such supernatural narratives on the same level, and thence argue that the real evidences in the one case, can be no better than in the other.

We therefore think, that it has now become peculiarly important, in the discussion of the Christian Evidences, to view them with especial reference to such objections. And the main point to which our attention should, at present, be more steadily directed, is the distinctive nature of the Evidences of pure and original Christianity, with reference to this confusion and neutralization of them, the real and rational marks of separation by which the Gospel itself stands essentially characterized in these

respects in the New Testament Records so as to place a broad, well-marked, and effectual line of demarcation between its Evidences, and the pretensions, whether of the blind religions of ignorance and imposture, or of those corruptions of its own principles which have so widely prevailed under the disguise of

its name.

[ocr errors]

We can hardly say, that, among the more recent productions on these subjects, able as some of them are, the particular view here indicated has been sufficiently elucidated; or that there exists one which exactly meets the demand we have here pointed out. We have much gratification, however, in referring to the little work mentioned at the head of this Article, entitled Easy Lessons on the Evidences of Christianity-of which it is, perhaps, too late in the day to speak in detail; but it is, we trust, so gen. erally known as not to need our recommendation. With appa rent pretensions of the humblest kind, it conveys the most forcible exposition of these evidences in a style adapted to ordinary con. ceptions, but arresting, at the same time, the attention of the most cultivated intellects, as indeed might be expected from the well-known acute and logical mind of the eminent Prelate who is generally understood to be its author; while we are glad to know that the excellent French and Italian translations, together with its adoption by the Irish National Education Board, have done much towards the wider diffusion of the benefits derivable from its pages.

ART. IX.-1. The Earl of Gowrie. A Tragedy. By the Rev. JAMES WHITE. 8vo. London : 1846.

2. The King of the Commons. By the Author of The Earl of Gowrie. 8vo. London: 1846.

TH HESE Plays, though in many respects sufficiently open to criticism, are yet not without a certain visible impress of mental vigour and originality of treatment: their merits and demerits, such as they are, are equally their own. They are in no shape imitations of our Older Dramatists, clothing in the garb of antiquated expression, or the outward pageantry of times gone by, feelings, views, and motives of action, which are plainly the sole growth of modern progress, and modern sympathies. As little do they resemble, though appearing in the form of his

torical plays, those tableaux in action, which among our continental neighbours have obtained a popularity at once cheap and noisy; in which evading the difficulty of all continuous character painting, and leaving Time, as Shakspeare has done in the Winter's Tale, to fill up, as Chorus, all those blanks which afford no salient materials for theatrical exhibition-the Dramatist selects only a few brilliant and impassioned scenes from the history of a life; and, by the aid of scenery and appropriate costume the charm of historic groups and familiar names, with a profusion of startling incidents-undoubtedly produces, so far as regards the stimulus imparted to the nerves, a very powerful effect for the time. We have called this a cheap source of popularity; because we believe it to be, of all applications of artistic talent, that by which the maximum of immediate effect and temporary popularity has been attained, with the minimum of mental labour, and the slenderest expenditure of poetical capital. For in truth this department of art falls fully more within the province of the play-wright than the play-writer ;-depends more on the scene-painter, the property-man, and the actor, than the poet; and accordingly our recent French experiences seem to prove that this is the most levelling of all departments, and that many a nameless or already forgotten writer dashes off these historical impromptus with nearly the same tact and brilliancy, certainly with nearly the same success, as his more gifted prototypes, Vitet or Dumas.

The Plays before us have a higher and more legitimate aim ;that of exhibiting not mere desultory and fragmentary sketches, but studied pictures-finished portraits of the men and of the times with which they deal; and, though there is just enough in the style to show that the writer is sufficiently well acquainted with our old English Dramatists, they derive their effect—at least in the more tragic and impassioned portions-from a vigorous, manly, though rather modern cast of diction and dialogue; and an almost entire absence of those conventional archaisms of expression, which have generally been regarded as almost indispensable accompaniments of Dramas conducted on the plan, or in the spirit of the Elizabethan era.

The author, the Rev. Mr White, announces in his Preface to the King of the Commons, that the two plays already published form part of an intended series on the Stuart Kings of Scotland. He proposes, it seems, to accomplish for Scottish history, from Robert II. to the accession of James VI. to the English crown, what Shakspeare has done for the Chronicles of England during the troubles of York and Lancaster; and Raupach for those of Germany during the Swabian dynasty of the Hohenstauffen.

The project is a bold, but, we must think, a most injudicious one; for the main faults of the two plays we are about to notice, arise from the hopeless and intractable nature of the subject, destitute of dramatic interest and dramatic capabilities; and if such be the case with the last two portions of the series, have we any reason to anticipate that fitter materials for the Drama will be found in the earlier history of the race of Stuart? Some halo of romance, though of a kind which has little analogy to the dramatic, is indeed shed round the early history of our first James, by his long imprisonment in England, his romantic attachment to the grand-daughter of John of Gaunt, and his poetical accomplishments; but with his return to Scotland, we are plunged into the prosaic struggles of selfish and barbarous factions. No trait of gentleness, no gleam of nobleness, breaks through the gloomy and lowering aspect of the time; and the prospect darkens and darkens, till the end is conspiracy and death. What human skill could extract dramatie materials from such a reign as that of James II. ?—a wretched struggle between the Crown and the Douglasses, disgraced by a murder committed under the guise of hospitality by royal hands, and terminating with the accidental death of the monarch by the bursting of an ill-made cannon at the siege of Roxburgh? Could even Shakspeare himself have inspired an interest in the fate of the timid, avaricious, lowminded, and unmanly James III., falling, during an ignominious flight from the field, by the dagger of some nameless assassin? And though the chivalrous qualities of our Scottish Don Sebastian, James IV., and the sad interest which, in the eyes of Scotchmen, will always attach to all connected with the field of Flodden,' present at first sight a better per sonel as to the character represented, and a more dignified catastrophe than that which closed the reign of his father or grandfather, we are utterly at a loss to perceive out of what combination of events, during this reign, any thing approaching to an interesting dramatic whole could be produced. The truth is, that Mr White has already exhausted the two reigns which afford the best materials for his purpose; those of James V. and Jam es VI. For out of the peculiar character of James V.,-his bravery, his poetical sympathies, his patronage of art, his old hatred of the Douglasses, combined with the warmth of his attachments to his own friends, and the character of his reign,-ir which we see, on the one hand, the introduction on a grand scale of settled order and jus.. tice, and the dawn of the great conflict between declining Papac y and the rising Reformation,-out of such elements, no doulot, much may be made by a dexterous ar tist; while the character: of the sixth James, though certainly suff iciently ungainly and uajn P t




viting, and fitter for Comedy than Tragedy, is still so anomalous, so full of peculiarity and quaintness, that either by itself or by contrast with natures of an opposite mould, it can be made an effective and picturesque agent in a dramatic combination.

The subjects with which Shakspeare and Raupach had to deal, in the dramatic series which they attempted, were of a very different nature. Even the partialities of Scotchmen will scarcely induce them to compare the petty interests and barbarous struggles of Scotland, from the year 1371 to the accession of James, with the great contests, the absorbing interests, the vast and imposing changes of fortune which were involved in the eventful century, from the Diet held by the first Frederick in the plains of Piacenza, to the judicial murder of Conradin on the scaffold at Naples. For the history of Germany during that period, we must recollect, is the history of Europe of the civilized world; the struggles delineated are no contests of rebellious clans or combinations of se'ifish and ambitious nobles against the growing power of the crown, but the mighty contest between the Empire and the Pope, the supremacy of the Secular or the Ecclesiastical power. The prize is universal empire, and the battle is waged on a scale proportioned to the grandeur of the event; characters, incidents, and passions, partake of the same elevation; and a colouring of enthusiasm, strong conviction, and self-respect, is thus naturally impressed upon the language in which the great actors of the scene give utterance to their hopes, their resolutions, their pleadings, and their vindications. Yet even with all these advantages, the series of plays on the Hohenstauffen becomes tedious. We are arrested at first by the stern interest of the struggle between Frederick and Alexander III.; by the deep human sympathies that are awakened by the fate of Henry the Lion; and the gloomy and despotic grandeur and iron cletermination of Henry VI., strongly awe and fascinate the ima gination ;-but as the long line continues, like Banquo's successors, to unroll itself before us, volume atter volume, and meaner spirits displace the mightier agents on the scene, we begin to feel that the latter part of the series becomes insufferably tedious;-that Manfred, Enzio, and Conradin are mere repetitions in a we aker shape of themes and ideas already exhausted; and earnestly to wish, both for the credit of the author and our own comfort, tha t Raupach had closed his labours half a century sooner with the death of Henry in 1197. If the dramatic cyclus fi om English history which Shakspeare

[ocr errors]

1158 to 1268.

Our Edition of the Hohens tauffen Series extends to eight vols. 8vo,

« PreviousContinue »