Page images
PDF
EPUB

Marvel much we hear has grown, and inquiries through the town

of our poet have been most unsparing, (With submission be it known that these words are not our own,

but his own proper speech and declaring) Why his dramas hitherto came not forward as was due,

their own proper Choregus obtaining; Take us with you, sirs, awhile and a

moment's easy

toil will in brief be the reason explaining, Twas no folly bred, we say, this distrust and cold delay,

but a sense of th’ extreme application And the toil which he who woos, in our town, the Comic Muse,

must encounter in such his vocation. Suitors many (and brisk sparks) as our poet oft remarks,

pay her court and profoundest attention; But of all that love and burn, very few meet due return:

this observance first bred apprehension. Then your tempers quick-severe-ever changing with the year-

to this thought added fears more appalling, And a sense of those disasters which, through you their fickle masters,

old age on your poets sees falling, Could it 'scape observing sight what was Magnes' wretched plight,

when his hairs and his temples were hoary; Yet who battled with more zeal or more trophies left to tell

of his foriner achievements and glory? He came piping,t dancing, tapping-fig-gnatting and wing-clapping, -

frog-besmear'd and with Lydian grimaces : Yet he too had his date, nor could wit or merit great

preserve him, unchang'd, in your graces. Youth pass'd brilliantly and bright;when his head was old and white,

strange reverse and hard fortune confronted ; What boots taste or tact forsooth, if they've lost their nicest truth,

or a wit where the edge has grown blunted ! Who Cratinus may forget, or the storm of whim and wit,

which shook theatres under his guiding? When Panegyric's song pour'd her flood of praise along;

who but he on the top wave was riding? Foe nor rival might him meet; planet and oak ta’en by the feet

did him instant and humble prostration ; For his step was as the tread of a flood that leaves its bed,

and his march it was rude desolation. Who but he the foremost guest then on gala-day and feast?

What strain fell from harp or musicians, * The office of CHOREGUS, or Chorus-master, was both honourable and expensive. Each of the ten tribes furnished one annually, and his business was to defray the expenses of the scenical representations and those of the solemn festivals. If the tribe were too poor to provide a choregus, the expense fell upon the state.

† The poet alludes, in his peculiar manner, to the titles of some of the dramatic works of Magnos.

# There is some allusion here, most probably, to a passage in one of the plays of Cratinus, all of which have unfortunately perished, U 3

But

But“ Doro, Doro sweet, nymph with fig-beslipper'd feet”

or—“ Ye verse-smiths and bard-mechanicians.” Thus in glory was he seen, while his years as yet were green;

but now that his dotage is on him, God help him! for no eye, of all those who pass him by,

throws a look of compassion upon him. 'Tis a couch, but with the loss of its garnish and its gloss ;

’uis a harp that hath lost all its cunning,— 'Tis a pipe where deftest hand may the stops no more command,

nor on it divisions be running. Connas-like,*

* he's chaplet-crown'd, and he paces round and round

in a circle which never is ended ; On his head a chaplet hangs, but the curses and the pangs

of a drought on his lips are suspended. O if ever yet on bard waited, page-like, high Reward,

former exploits and just reputation, By an emphasis of right, sure had earn'd this noble wight

in the hall a most constant-potation; And in theatres high station ;-there a mark for admiration

to anchor her aspect and face on, In his honour he should sit, nor stand drivelling in the pit

an object our rude jests to pass on. I spare myself the toil to record the buffets vile,

the affronts and the contumelies hateful, Which on Cratest frequent fell, yet I dare you, sirs, to tell,

where was caterer more pleasing or grateful ? Who knew better how to lay soup piquant and entremets,

dainty patties and little side-dishes ? Where with all your bards a Muse cook'd more delicate ragouts

or hash'd sentiment so to your wishes? Princely cost nor revenue ask'd his banquets it is true ;

yet he is the only stage-master, Through all changes and all chances, who undaunted still advances,

lord alike of success and disaster. Sirs, ye need no more to hear-ye know whence the hue of fear

o'er our bard's cheek of enterprise stealing, And why like wiser men, who look forward in their ken,

in proverbs he's wont to be dealing, Saying-better first explore what the powers of scull and oar,

ere the helm and the rudder you're trying; At the prow next take your turn, there the mysteries to learn

of the scud and the winds that are flying. Connas was a flute-player, and is not to be confounded with Connus, the preceptor of Socrates in harp music. Vid. Plat. in Euthydemo, et Menexeno. From a fragment of Cratinus, Connas appears to have made himself a little conspicuous by constantly wearing a chaplet on his head.

+ Crates was first an actor, and afterwards a writer of the Old Comedy: be performed the principal characters in Cratinus's plays, and was the great rival of Aristophanes's favourite actors Callistratus and Philonides. He is said to have been the first who introduced a drunken character on the Atheniau stage.

This mastery attain'd, time it is a skiff were gain’d,

and your pilotage put to the trial :Thus with caution and due heed step by step would he proceed

in a course that should challenge denial. Nor let it breed offence, if for such befitting sense

and so modest a carriage and bearing,
We ask some mark of state on its author here to wait:
guard of honour, procession, or chairing:--

With a shout of such cheering
As Bacchus is hearing,
When vats overflowing
Set Mirth all a-crowing,
And Joy and Wine meet
Hand in hand in each street.
So his purpose

attained
And the victory gain'd,
Your bard shall depart
With a rapture-touch'd heart,
While Triumph shall throw
O’er his cheeks such a glow,
That Pleasure might trace

Her own self in his face. We hope that with candid and discerning readers, we have already paved the way for the justification of Aristophanes by some of the preceding remarks, and that many errors, which might have arisen in their minds from confounding the ancient drama with the modern, (than which no two things can be more dissimilar,) have already been removed. It is not for us to tell them what inferences are to be drawn from the circumstances which have been incidentally mentioned that Aristophanes did not invent the Old Comedy, but found it ready made to his hands—that in his satirical and even his indecent vein he acted upon established principles; principles which, however inconsistent with ournotions upon such subjects, found sanction in the very religion of the times. The information given respecting the masks has apprised them, that the audience came to the exhibition with a previous knowledge that they were to consider what they saw merely as a harmless caricature. As these plays were acted only once, our readers will tell themselves, that it became a necessity that the impression made should be a strong one; and this necessity will be further enforced to their minds by the reflexion, that the audience could only carry away what they retained in their memories;—what they lost in the recitation was not likely to be recalled by books; for these were few and scarce, and the Athenians

were, as we have already observed, a seeing and hearing, but not a reading public. For these and a few other remarks we shall U4

trust

trust to the penetration of our readers. In this place also, did our limits permit, we might enter at some length into the state of parties, which in some shape or other always divided Athens. A war party and peace party-a party which favoured aristocratical, and a party which in like manner leaned to democratical principles, are terms which we easily understand; and we can guess, by the influence they have upon ourselves, what would be their effects upon the fiery, disputatious, and idle citizens of Athens. To their literary parties however, and more particularly to that war of opinion, which existed between the philosophers and the writers for the comic stage, we have nothing analogous; but it was as keen, as bitter, and as unintermitting as any opposition of politics between the Whig and Tory of this country : even the subordinate animosities between the comedian and the flute-player, who was employed to regulate the steps of the choral movements, give occasion to remarks in the plays of Aristophanes, (who certainly did not want for the esprit de corps,) which to this day are highly amusing. Now though nobody questions the general sincerity of those who advocate Whig or Tory principles among ourselves, yet we believe the warmest arguers on either side would not always like to be taken to the letter in the opinions of each other, which the heat of argument sometimes elicits: the public meanwhile are the real gainers by the controversy—they form silently their judgment from the conflicting parties, and often set right those who are ostensibly their preceptors. And in free states it is right that all this should be so. The atmosphere which we breathe is purged and cleansed in the same manner: the explosion takes place above, and the quiet fields below are only made sensible of the storm by the showers which are elicited from the concussion, and which fall to gladden, to fatten, and to fertilize. In this sense, Socrates, as a philosopher, was fair game for Aristophanes, as a comedian; and the good sense of the former (perhaps the most predominant feature in his wonderful mind) would lead him to be the first to laugh at the absurdity, and would teach him that a free state it was better that many things should evaporate in a laugh than in a more serious way. Many other points might here be insisted upon, and particularly such as would tend to remove those prejudices, which lead readers to suppose, that Socrates was, at the time of the exhibition of the Clouds, the same important personage to his contemporaries which his doctrines and his death have since made him to posterity; and that therefore any attack upon him must have been the effect of envy and malevolence. It would be easy to prove, that Socrates, an obscure philosopher just commencing his career, could be no great object of envy to Aristophanes, already high in fame, and

shining

shining in a branch of that particular profession where it was so peculiarly the object of ambition in Athens to excel. The relationships of rank,—those relations which all are so ready to deny as influencing their conduct, but which, in fact, operate so strongly upon all,-might here also be mentioned with effect; and it would be no difficult matter to shew, that though a mistaken contempt might thus be generated, there would be small grounds for supposing a decided malevolence, in a man of rank and property, to the son of Phænaret the midwife, who valued his house with all its contents at five minæ. Even the opposition of personal character, as well as of profession, between the philosopher and the poet;-the one gay, jovial, light-hearted, and a man of the world; the other serious, thoughtful, and contemplative; witty perhaps, but from the vivacity which lies in the intellect, and not that more sociable one which lies in the temperament, might not be undeserving of remark; and still more might we insist upon the circumstance, that the personal appearance of Socrates (which we described more at length than persons of good taste might think warrantable, on purpose to give effect to this remark) was a consideration to a poet, part of whose entertainment consisted in the ridiculousness* of his masks :—but we hasten to remarks of a more important tendency, and we shall discuss them as freely, but as candidly as we have every other part of our subject.

The name of Socrates is known to most readers, we believe, only by the page of history, where nothing appears in its undress; and even to persons tolerably conversant with the learned languages, the knowledge of this singular man is often confined to that beautiful little work of Xenophon, which indeed deserves the classical appellation of 'golden, and to that immortal Trilogy of Plato, which has been embalmed by the tearst of all ages. When we read the admirable system of ethics (some few blots excepted) which is laid open in the former, and the simple narrations which conduct the author of them to the close of his mortal career in the latter, it is not simply a burst of admiration, or grief, or horror, which breaks from us, but a union of all three, so profound, and so involved, that the mind must be strong indeed, which can prevent the feelings, for a time, from mastering the judgment. Few readers, we believe, even make the attempt: the prison scene is an agony of suffering, to which the mind gives

'Επι το γελοιοτερον έσχηματιζετο is the expression of Julius Pollux (lib. iv. c. 19), when speaking of the comic mask. See also Lucian de Salt. v. v. p. 141.

+ One of the greatest, wisest, and best men of antiquity, and whose little infirmities only made him the more amiable, confesses that he never read the Phædon without an agony of tears. Quid dicam de Socrate? cujus morti illachrymare soleo Platonem legens. --Cic. de Nut. Deor. lib. vjïi.

way

« PreviousContinue »