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PRE FAC E.
An indistinct recollection of the very pretty little tale called “Perouse, or the Bellows-mender,” suggested the plot of this drama. The incidents are, however, greatly altered from those in Perouse, and the characters entirely recast. In the selection of the time in which the play has been laid, I was guided naturally and solely, by the wish to take that period in which the incidents might be rendered most probable, and in which the probationary career of the hero, in the fifth act-upon which the dénouement, and, indeed, the design depends—might be sufficiently rapid for dramatic effect, and (on account of that very rapidity) in accordance with the ordinary character and events of the age. The early years of the first and most brilliant successes of the French republic appeared to constitute the only epoch in which these objects could be attained. It was a period when, in the general ferment of society and the brief equalization of ranks, Claude's highplaced love, his ardent feelings, his unsettled principles-the struggle between which makes the passion of this drama-his ambition, and his career, were phenomena that characterized the time itself, and in which the spirit of the nation went along with the extravagance of the individual. In some respects, Claude Melnotte is a type of that restless, brilliant, and evanescent generation that sprung up from the ashes of the terrible revolution; men born to be agents of the genius of Napoleon, to accomplish the most marvellous exploits, and to leave but little of permanent triumph and solid advantage to the succeeding race.
In selecting this period as one best suited to the development of a story which seemed to me rich in materials of dramatic interest, I can honestly say that I endeavoured, as much as possible, to avoid every political allusion applicable to our own time and land, our own party prejudices and passions. How difficult a task this was, a reference to any drama, in which the characters are supposed to live under republican institutions, will prove! There is scarcely a single play the scene of which is laid in Rome, in Greece, in Switzerland, wherein political allusions and political declamations are not carefully elaborated as the most striking and telling parts of the performance.*
The principal fault of this play, as characteristic of the time, is perhaps, indeed, the too cautious avoidance of all those references to liberty and equality in which, no doubt, every man living at that day would have hourly indulged. The old and classical sentiment, that virtue is nobility (virtus est sola nobilitas), contains the pith of all the political creed announced by Claude Melnotte ; and that sentiment is the founder, and often the motto, of aristocracy itself. It is a sentiment that never will, I trust, be considered revolutionary in a country which boasts, among its proudest names, the
# The noble tragedy of “Ion” has for its very plot, its very catastrophe, almost its very moral, the abolition of royalty and the establishment of a republic; yet no one would suspect Sergeant Talfourd of designing the overthrow of the British Constitution.