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middle of an assembly of the states of the empire, and preceded by a peal of thunder, that the spirit of Ninus makes its appearance from the tomb. From whence did Voltaire learn that apparitions were so bold? What old woman could not have told him that apparitions were afraid of the light of the sun, and were not fond of visiting large assemblies ? Voltaire was undoubtedly acquainted with all this; but he was too cautious, too delicate, to make use of such trifling circumstances. He was desirous indeed of showing us a ghost, but he was determined it should be one of French extraction, decent and noble. This decency spoiled the whole. A spectre, who takes liberties contrary to all custom, law, and established order of ghosts, does not seem to me a genuine spectre; and, in this case, every thing that does not strengthen the illusion tends to destroy it.
If Voltaire had examined with care, he would have felt the inconveniency which on another account must attend the bringing a phantom before so many people. On its appearance, all the persons of the assembly (that is to say, all the actors who were representing the council of the queen and the states) ought to show in their countenances all the terror that the situation required; each ought even to show it differently from the rest, to avoid
Did with his iron tongue and brazen mouth
the cold uniformity of a ballet. How could such a troop of stupid assistants be trained to this exercise? And when it had succeeded as well as possible, would not this variety of expression of the same sentiment have divided the attention of the spectators, and necessarily have drawn it from the principal characters? That these may make a strong impression on us, it is not only necessary that we should see them, but it is also proper that we should see nothing else.
In Shakspeare, it is only with Hamlet that the ghost converses. In the scene where the mother is present, the spectre is neither seen nor heard by her. All our attention then is fixed on him alone; and the more we discover in him the signs of a soul distracted by terror and surprise, the more cause we have to think the apparition which occasions such agitations, as real as he seems to believe it. The ghost* operates more on us through him than itself. The impression that it makes on him passes into our minds, and the effect is too sensible and too strong for us to doubt of an extraordinary cause. Of this secret Voltaire knew little. It is precisely because his spectre tries to terrify many people, that it produces little terror in any one.
Fielding makes Partridge account for his fear in the same manner. · Not that it was the ghost that surprised me neither ; for I should have known that to have been only a man in a strange dress : but when I saw the little man so frightened himself, it was that which took hold of me.'-Tom Jones, Book xvi, chap. 5."- Pye.
Semiramis cries out once only “o heaven, I die!" and the other assistants are very little more affected by the shade of Ninus than they would be by the unexpected appearance of a friend whom they believed to be at a distance.
I observe also another difference between the French and English spectre. The first is only a poetical machine solely employed to unravel the plot;* we take no interest in him. On the contrary, the other is really an efficient person of the drama, in whose fate we are interested; he excites not only terror, but compassion also.
This has probably arisen from the different manner in which these two authors have considered the general notion of apparitions. Voltaire has regarded the appearance of a dead person as a miracle, and Shakspeare as a natural event. Which of the two thought most as a philosopher, is a question that we have nothing at all to do with; but the Englishman thought most as a poet.
* “ This intention, however, is expressly disavowed by Voltaire, and what is rather surprising, in a paragraph in which he quotes, with approbation, the celebrated rule of Horace,
Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus. I would have,' he says, ' these bold attempts never employed except when they serve at the same time to add to the intrigue and the terror of the piece; and I would wish by all means that the intervention of these supernatural beings should not appear absolutely necessary. I will explain myself: if the plot of a tragic poem is so involved in difficulty, that the poet can only free himself from the embarrassment by the aid of a prodigy, the spectator will perceive the distress of the author, and the weakness of the resource.'—Dissertation on Tragedy, prefixed to Semiramis."-Pye.
u Dramaturgie, Part I. p. 39 et seq. Vide Pye's Commentary on the Poetic of Aristotle, p. 275 et seq.
SHAKSPEARE COMPARED WITH CHAPMAN, HEYWOOD, MIDDLETON, BROOKE, SIDNEY, AND BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.
Of all the English play-writers, Chapman perhaps approaches nearest to Shakspeare in the descriptive and didactic, in passages which are less purely dramatic. Dramatic imitation was not his talent. He could not go out of himself, as Shakspeare could shift at pleasure, to inform and animate other existences; but in himself he had an eye to perceive, and a soul to embrace, all forms. He would have made a great epic poet, if indeed he has not abundantly shown himself to be one; for his Homer is not so properly a translation as the stories of Achilles and Ulysses re-written. The earnestness and passion which he has put into every part of these poems, would be incredible to a reader of mere modern translations. His almost Greek zeal for the honor of his heroes is only paralleled by that fierce spirit of Hebrew bigotry, with which Milton, as if personating one of the zealots of the old law, clothed himself when he sate down to paint the acts of Sampson against the uncircumcised. The great obstacle to Chapman's