Speaking in confidence, for I should not like to have my words repeated to the tragedians and the rest of the imitative tribe but I do not mind saying to you, that all poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers, and that the knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them. Explain the purport of your remark.
Whilst he was speaking, Caphisus, Theon's son, interrupted him, and said: This discourse smells neither of history nor comment, but is taken out of the common topics of the Peripatetics, and endeavors to persuade; besides, you should, like the tragedians, raise your machine, and fright all that contradict you with the god.
Hewlett, modelling his style upon the far finer Greek originals, produced an effect which was better than Mr. Pound's in proportion as the Greek tragedians are superior to the troubadours. In his execution he has really recaptured much of the manner of the great Greek tragedians.
In Homer, and in the Greek tragedians, everything takes place in the presence of the gods, and when they become visible, or manifest themselves in some wonderful operation, we are in no degree astonished. On the other hand, all the labour and art of the modern poets, all the eloquence of their narratives, cannot reconcile our minds to these exhibitions.
These old legends, so brimming over with everything that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moral sense some of them so hideous, others so melancholy and miserable, amid which the Greek tragedians sought their themes, and moulded them into the sternest forms of grief that ever the world saw; was such material the stuff that children's playthings should be made of!
The selfish male, the glorious self-denial of the woman, the deep but helpless sympathy of the gods, the tendency to laughter to relieve our tears, the wonderful lyrics indicate a new arrival in poetry. The originality of Euripides is evident in the choice of a subject not otherwise treated; he was constantly striving to pass out of the narrow cycle prescribed for Attic tragedians.
"This fellow is the most congenial of them all, has a little room somewhere in North Moore Street, in which may found two or three pictures of fierce looking tragedians; a cot covered with a quilt of various colors, and looking as if it had been used for a horse blanket; a carpet the colors have long since been worn out of; a dumb clock over the dingy mantel piece; a portrait of the deceased husband of the hostess; and a table well supplied with pipes, tobacco, and French plays.
It was possible to overlook the liberties taken by the tragedians, according as their subject might require it, with the Unities of Place and Time, on which such ridiculous stress has been laid by many of the moderns, but the bold manner in which the old comic writer subjects these mere externalities to his sportive caprice is so striking, that it must enforce itself on the most short-sighted observers: and yet in all the treatises on the constitution of the Greek stage, due respect has never yet been paid to it.
How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, so many fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates, who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in red-hot flames with their deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal, not of Minos, but of Christ; so many tragedians, more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers." * But the humanity of the reader will permit me to draw a veil over the rest of this infernal description, which the zealous African pursues in a long variety of affected and unfeeling witticisms.
Are they in reality anything else than literary Struldbrugs? "I conclude upon the whole that Aristophanes did not like any of the tragedians; yet no one will deny that this keen, witty, outspoken writer was as good a judge of literary value, and as able to see any beauties that the tragic dramas contained as nine-tenths, at any rate, of ourselves.