19 OCTOBER 1850, Page 19

ALISON'S ESSAYS. * Tire concluding volumes of Mr. Alison's rekeinted papers

do not ; alter the opinion we expressed upon the lint volume. Besides their absolute faults,—such ai an unvarying stiltedness and infla- tion, with a partisan vehemence, and a good deal too much of what Cobbett called "absolute wisdom,"--they are deficient in work- manship. As reviews, they do not give a sufficient account of the book noticed; as literary or historical essays, they do not suffi- ciently or thoroughly exhaust their subject Neither is the man- lier well adapted to he class of composition; it is too swaggering and ex7cathedra, without that searching and philosophic spirit which carries with it internal evidence of a title to dogmatize. The style, too, is cumbrous ; it is as if a carver used to colossal work should continue the same mode of handli "his tools when engaged on subjects in miniatin-e. There is no lack of variety and range in the topics treated of. Mr. Alison holds the pen of a ready writer. The "Greek Drama" and the "Roman Republic" stand side by side ; the "Copyright Question" is followed by the "Decline of Turkey " ; the "Af- ghanistan Expedition," the "Old Scottish Parliament," and " Ships, Colonies, and Commerce," succeed each other ; the " Ro- mantic Drama" comes between " Guizot " and "Wellington," the "British School of Architecture" between "Humboldt" and " Sismondi." "Historical Romance " and "the British Theatre" support "Direct Taxation " ; between which and "Free-trade Reform and Finance" stands "Macaulay,"—an inferior article, neither considering him fully as a writer nor thoroughly reviewing his History., and dealing gingerly, though we think de reciatingiv with two of his three coadjutors, Jeffrey and Sydney Smith, espe- cially the latter.

This wide and varied range is perhaps indispensable in a con- tributor to a magazine ; but it hardly argues the mastery of a subject which we look for in an author who collects his fugitive writip for republication. It however indicates, we think, Mr. Alison s mode of composition. He seems to have thrown off what struck him at the time for his monthly lucubration. As a general rule„ the topics are those on which his mind is habitu- ally engaged,--questions of history or historical biography, mat- ters of finance and political economy : but there are, as the names of the papers we have enumerated intimate, various other topics of fine arts and the belles lettres, on which Mr. Alison has put forth his opinions, not without consideration, but possibly without study; and though he is a man of great abilities and varied ac- quirements, his mind is not exactly e that nature which renders his mere opinion valuable ; on the contrary, his opinion is perhaps the least valuable thipg about him. Yet after all, the papers on topics not so immediately connected with the author's studies are the most attractive. "My harp has one unchanging theme." In the historical and political papers, the aggressive spirit of democracy, the hardships and evils of a fixed standard of value, the importance of protection to British in- dustry, and the absolute necessity- of a corn-law, are dwelt upon till the reader's stomach turns at the unvarying sameness. Even if the views were less disputable than they are, there would still be a great deal too much of it ; for the huinan mind is so consti- tuted that it requires variety as well as truth, and cannot long bear even sermons on one subject. But three parts of the world differ with Mr. Alison, and the majority of those who once agreed with him are giving up the cause as a " bad. job," and turning their attention to something practical. All that he says may lily be true, and certainly consistent with what many have eon saying for years past; but the subject is spent, used up, done with. Men are sick of it, and of those who preach about it. A true prophet annoys a stiffnecked generation that will not be- lieve in his vaticinations. Cassandra must have been an awful bore to the Trojans' and had they believed her, they could not have changed the result.

It is probable that this perpetual harping upon one string—this repetition by the by of what the Doctor had said quite enough about in his History—may hurt the effect of his collected essays as mach as their inherent faults. At all events, if the writer is not so well versed in art and the belles lettres, the reader gets some- thing fresher there. Even in that field, however, Dr. Alison must have something unlike what anybody else thinks. He has found out that the decline of the British stage is owing to our neglect of the unities : but, as he will compound for time and place, and only stipulates absolutely for minty of interest—that is, of action—the discovery does not amount to much. In like manner, he falls upon modern portrait-painting with some onesided views, and a disposition to make out a case for the ancients; for surely Reynolds or even Lawrence may compete with Lely. But the passage will afford an idea of his way of treating art. "What is still more enticing, and tells with decisive effect upon this argu- ment, painting, at least in one branch, had attained much greater excellence, both in England and Scotland, at a remote period than it has since attained. Take any person moderately versed in art into a picture-gallery where mo- dem and ancient portraits are blended together, and, neglecting the works of West, Lawrence, and Beechey, he will fix at once on the old paintings of Vandyke and Sir Peter Lely. Raeburn of Edinburgh will strive in vain, except in a few of his most admirable pieces, to maintain his ground against Tanueson, who flourished in Scotland two hundred years before. There is a depth of shade, a minuteness of finishing, a perfection of detail, and at the same time, a generality of effect about these old portraita, which riveter the admiration through every succeeding age. Observe that bearded old senator of 'Mien. The face is brought out in bold relief by a profusion of dark shadow—the thin locks of the hair, the thick curls of the beard, are represent- " Essays, Political, Historical, and Miscellaneous. By Archibald Alison, LLD., Author of the "History of Europe," &c. Vols. II. and III. Published by Black- wood and Sons, ed with miniature accuracy—beneath the shaggy eyebrows the dark eyes still gleam forth with the fire of talent—the nch velvet robe glistens as if the light was yet shining on its glossy surface—every vein in the hands is portrayed to the life. Draw near to that inimitable portrait by Vandyke; it is a nohleman of the seventeenth century, a compeer of Charles I. The dark curls of the hair hang down on either auk of the manly but melancholy vi- sage; handsome fbatures, a Roman cast of countenance, an aristocratic air, bespeak the object of lady's love ; armour glances beneath his rich cloak, a broad ruff surrounds his neck, a brilliant scarf adorns his breast; every ob- ject in the whole piece is finished with the pencil of the finest ml- mature-painter; while °Ter the whole, genius has thrown the broad and uniform light of its own illumination. You are captivated by that full-length portrait of a celebrated beauty in the galaxy of Charles H.—the auburn locks, with playful grace, "descend upon the exqui- site neck and shoulders ; the laughing eves, the smiling lip, the arched eyebrow, tell the coquetry of youth and beauty ; the envious vi.41 half conceals, half displays the swelling bosom; the delicate waist, clad in satin stomacher, tapers almost beyond. what modern fashion can imitete or modern beautydehre ; the rich Brussels lace is portrayed with inimitable skill on the slioulders • every fold of the satin dress siin shines with the lustre of day. The drapery 'behind, whose dark shade brings out the figure—the rich Turkey carpet—the white satin slipper and slender ankle, resting on a velvet stool—the little lap-dog in the corner of the piece—the gorgeous jewels in the bosom—are all delineated with the skill of the greatest master of still life; it tells you that the fame of Sir Peter Lely stands on a durable foundation. After drinking down draughts of admiration at these admirable models, which stand in fresh and undecaying brilliancy on the canvass after the lapse of centuries, turn to that half-faded portrait a century younger. The colours have in great part disappeared ; the dress is so grotesque, and in such an extreme of now antiquated fashion, as to excite surprise rather then admiration : the face evinces the traces of loveliness, the figure and air give unequivocal marks of no ordinary talent; but the background is unfinished; the drapery is coarse ; the whole is the ghost of genius, not its finished and living offspring ; it shows that Sir Joshua, with all his powers, is not des- tined in portrait-painting to stand the test of ages. Turn next to that smil- ing cherub whose face shines like the sun emerging from clouds, from amidst the blue and misty atmosphere with which it is surrounded. The eyes are brilliant, the golden locks beautiful, the lips seem made for love ; but the whole is a brilliant sketch, not a finished picture ; the figure is evanescent and misty ; the background hardly distinguishable ; the extre- mities finished by an inferior hand ; a hundred years hence it will be deemed the dream of genius, not its waking monument ; and the great name of Sir Thomas Lawrence will be consigned to comparative obscurity. That illus- trious man's picture of George IV. excited- unqualified admiration in this country ; but when it was sent as a present to the Pope, and placed beside the monuments of ancient art in the Vatican, it fell at once from its lofty pedestal, and was felt to be a third-rate production when compared to the great work', of ancient days."

" The British Theatre," written not for Blackwood but for the Dubitta Unicerotty Magaztne, Is made the vehicle of a series of I sketches of actors, from which we will take two—Garlick and ICemble.

I " Of Garrick all have heard ; but none of the present generation have I seen him, and it is the more advanced in years only who have received ee- 1 countsof his extraordinary talents from eye-witnesses. They were undoubtedly, however, of the very highest description. The estimation in which he was held by the greatest men of his own, not the least of any age, sufficiently proves this. The companion of Johnson and Burke, of Goldsmith and Rey- nolds, of Fox and Gibbon, must have been no common man, independent altogether of his theatrical abilities. Like all persons of the highest class of intellect, his talents were not confined to his own profession; they shone out in every department of thought. He was as great at the supper of the Literary Club, when in presence of the eloquence of Burke or the gladiatorial powers of Johnson, as when he entranced the audience at Covent Garden or Drury lane. Those who enjoyed his friendship spoke in the highest terms of his conversational powers, as well as the varied subjects of information which exercised his thoughts, and the simple and amiable turn of his mind. "As an actor, his most remarkable quality was his versatility. He had few advantages from nature. His figure, though not actually diminutive, was neither tall nor commanding ; his countenance was far from being east in the antique mould ; his voice neither remarkably sonorous nor powerful : but all these deficiencies were supplied, and more than supplied, by the energy of his mind and the incomparable powers of observation which he possessed. There never was such a delineation at once of the tragic and comic passions. He united the eye of Ilogarth for the ludicrous and that of Salvator for the terrible ; that of Carucci for the pathetic, and that of Ve- leagues for the dignified. It was this close observation of nature which con- stituted his great power, and enabled him to wield at will, and with such surprising effect, the magic wand which swayed the feelings of his audience, alternately rousing them to the highest exaltation of the tragic and the ut- most stretch of the comic passions. This peculiar faculty, however, had its disadvantages; it made hun fond of stage-effect, and condescend to trick. Ile performed Lear on crutches, to add to the effect of the great scene, when he threw them away. It is difficult to conceive how such a oombination can exist in the same individual; and certainly experience affords very few in- stances of a similar union. But the examples of Shakspere and Sir Walter Scott prove that such a blending of apparently heterogeneous qualities may be found in the most highly-gifted dramatic poets. Napoleon s celebrated saying, from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step, may possibly at- foal, in a certain degree a key to the mystery. And the peculiarity was probably founded, in both, on the same accurate eye for the working of the human heart, and power of graphic delineation, which, alike in the poet and the performer, is the foundation of dramatic excellence.

• •

"Theatrical genius seemed to have been inherent in the Kemble blood. It is hard to say whether John Kemble was greater as an actor, or his sister, Mrs. Sudden., as an actress. His mind was cast in the same mould ; but its features in some respects were different from hers. Ile had the same ten- dency to the grand and the heroic—unbending firmness, unconquerable courage, Roman magnanimity, were what he loved to represent, and in which he chiefly excelled. But he had more versatility of power than his majestic sister. King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, were performed by him with as much success as Brutus, Cato, or Coriolanus. The Stranger was one of his greatest pieces. The character of Haller, worn down by grief, emaciated by anguish, firm in resolution, but writhing under emotion., suited his ecuhar and tran- scendent power. Ile portrayed to the life the idea of Vir

" Nullis ille movetur Fletibus„ ant yOCRa ullas tractabiles audit: Fats obstant, placidasque viii deus obstruit auras. . . Assiduis bine atque hinc, vocibus heros, Tunditur et magno persentit pectore cures. Mens inimota menet; lachrymte volvuntur Manes."

" Kemble's figure and countenance were admirably adapted to the represent- ation of melancholy or dignified character. Both were heroic. Cast in the Roman mould, his &ft had the high features, stem expression, and lofty air,

which spring from magnanimity of soul and conscious lustre of descent His air, step, and manner on the stage, were entirely in unison with this cha- racter. Though not tall, his majestic carriage and firm step bespoke the he- roic mind. He walked the boards like Coriolanus ; his seat at the council was that of Cato ; Brutus could not with more dignity have drawn his sword from his scabbard. His voice was husky, and generally in a kind of sing- song, but powerful in his bursts of passion. It is probable that his style of acting would not meet with the same unqualified admiration now which it did in his time ; it was better suited to an heroic than a utilitarian age. It would now be complained of as stiff and unnatural. It bespoke the period which achieved the victories of Nelson and Wellington, rather than that which raised a monument to successful railway speculator. But it is not on that account likely to be the less elevating, or to have approached less closely to the eternal standard of ideal perfection. "Kemble was a great antiquarian. He had closely studied the dress, arms, accoutrements, architecture, and furniture of former ages, and exhibited them with admirable fidelity on the stage. His flowing white robes in Cato, his glittering helmet in Coriolanus, his broad short sword in Brutus, are yet pre- sent to the recollection of all who witaessed them. These adjuncts to thea- trical effect are not to be despised even by the most exalted genius. They constitute part of its charming illusion : it is no small addition to a noble performance to see the whole still life with which it is surrounded a complete realization of former times ; to behold again revived the exact feudal armies of Henry V. or Hotspur; to see Othello arrayed in the true garb of Venetian wealth, and Brutus or Coriolanus walking the boards with the air and arms of Roman warriors. Immense was the attention which Kemble bestowed on this subject. So strongly did it occupy his mind, so largely did it influence his conversation, that one was sometimes almost tempted to think that na- ture had destined him rather for an antiquarian than a tragedian. But when he appeared on the stage in the characters he had thus arrayed with so much ease in the garb and panoply of former times, it at once was seen to what end that ancient lore had been applied. It was all brought to bear on the graphic delineation of character ; it was as an adjunct of mind that matter was to him so much the object of study. It was the combination of both which constituted the magical illusion of his performance."