THE first representation of SHERIDAN KNowLEs's new play, Love, filled
Covent Garden with eager crowds, whose hushed attention throughout testified to its interest, and was the worthiest tribute that the author could desire : applause was not wanting either, but it was repressed as an interruption. No claptrap situations, or bombast speeches like
blown bladders, stimulated the dull senses of the public to noisy de
Monstrations of irrational ecstacy ; no premeditated chaplets were flung on the stage ; and no well-dressed dramatist, publicly seated in a private
box, invited the notice of the pit : KNOWLES was called for, as usual, but, with good taste, he left the theatre (in which he had not been visible
to the audience) so soon as the success of his play was determined. Love is a drama of passion; character is only so far developed as the passion requires, and action there is little: every thing tends to the main purpose of exhibiting the influence of love on human nature as exemplified by the principal persons. These are the Countess Eppen stein, daughter of the Duke of Carinthia. and her secretary Huon, her father's serf; between whom a mutual affection, unrecognized by either, has sprung up. In the struggle between love and pride in the breast of the Countess, and between love and duty on the part of the serf,
is the source of' the interest. The relative position of the lovers, and the
ruling characteristic of the Countess, are graphically sketched in the following pasage.
As many streams will go
To make one river up, one passion oft
Predominant, all others will absorb.
What passion, swoln in her, drinks up the rest?
Of her beauty, or her rank, or what ?
Pride of herself! intolerant of all
Equality : nor that its bounds alone; Oppressive to the thing that is beneath her.
Say that she waves me off when I advance, She spurns the serf that bows to her at distance.
Suitor and secretary fare alike.
I woo for scorn, he for no better serves— Nay, rather worse comes off.
Her secretary ?
Thy only one of all his wretched class Ifer presence brooks : for he is useful to her—
Reads with a music as a lute did talk ;
Writes as a graver did the letters trace ;
Translates dark languages—fur learning which She bath a strange conceit ; is wise in rare Philosophy ; hath mastery besides
Of all sweet instruments that men essay— The hautboy, viol, lute.
The serious interest is relieved by a pleasant little underplot, wherein
the every-day aspect of the tender passion is depicted. The Coun
tess's comptudon Catherine, a sprightly girl, with wit, sense, and spirit,
thus rallies her dull-souled swam— Why, what a man you are, Sir Rupert ! Fie What ! not a word to say? Let's change the theme then : The argument shall be, that you're in love ;
The which shall I affirm while you deny.
1 say you are in love. Come, prove me wrong SIR RUPERT.
I never argue only for the sake Of argument. CATHERINE.
Come, come, you have a tongue ! You are in love ; prove it by fifty things. And first and foremost, you deny it, Sir ;
A certain sign, with certain accidents—
As dulness, moodiness, moroseness, shyness.
I'd stake my credit on one single fact Thou hearest out to admiration—
A lover is the dullest thing on earth.
Who but a lover—or his antipodes,
A wise man—ever found out that the use
Of his tongue was to hold it ? Thou must he in love ;
And for one sovereign reason, after which I'll give no other—thou dost follow me !
Such materials as these in KNOWLES'S bands promise a beautiful drama, happily blending the lively and pathetic : and such it is up to the end of the third act ; but the two last "drag their slow length along," weakening the interest, and wearying the patience of the audience. This is owing to two defects of construction. To make out Sve acts where three would have sufficed, the dialogue is expanded where it should have been compressed : four scenes occupy three acts, one of which (the fifth) would better have been dispensed with alto. gether. Skilful pruning may lighten the heaviness of some scenes; but curtailment is a sorry substitute for condensation. Moreover, the plot
is badly managed ; its old machinery is too much worn to work wen: But to make this clear we must tell a little of the story.
The love of the Countess for Huon being discovered by accident, her father sends for the serf, and commands him on pain of death to sign a pledge to marry Catherine : Huon at first refuses, but the CounteSs compels him to obey : the marriage is supposed to take place ; Catherine disappears, and Huon takes to flight ; and to crown the misery of the Countess, her aged father dies. Thus terminates the third act, the suspense being wound up to the highest pitch of excitement. In the tedious process of unwinding, the threads get entangled, and the cha. meters and the audience are equally at fault : people grow impatient for the Gnouement, which successive scenes seem to delay rather than to forward. At the opening of the fourth act a long time is supposed to have elapsed : an Empress succeeds the dead Duke as arbiter of fate. site comes to hold a tournament, the victor at which, according to the' Duke's will, is to receive the hand of the Countess, unless she have made her choice before. In the suite of the Empress are the two fugitives–. Catherine, not in the least disguised by the epicene costume that passes on the stage for male attire when worn by a woman ; and Ikon, looking not. a whit more noble than before, in the costume of a knight. A long interview takes place between Huon and the Countess, hi which they both avow their passion ; but as it does not suit the author's purpose that they should understand each other yet, they continue to ploy at " hawk and buzzard." The Countess in a lit of jealousy appears before the Empress, in high dudgeon and white muslin ; flings her coronet, title-deeds, ay and cash-box too, at the foot of the throne ; and vows she will go into a convent. The Empress, like a kind and sensible woman, tries to bring the wilful girl to her senses ; but in return gets accused of having taken a fancy to her dear man Huon, and stolen his heart from her. After plaguing the Countess a little, and letting her get on the high ropes, the Empress brings her On her knees by telling her that she had made Huon a prince to please her, and that the hand destined for him was hers ! The perverse being is not satisfied even now, but mutters to herself, "Would he were still the serf ! "—really there is no pleasing some people. However, the Countess has the satisfaction of disappointing the victor when he claims his pro. mised guerdon, by telling him she is married already ; and then, as the mystery can no longer be kept up, out comes the secret that she it was who married Huon, her own name being Catherine ! This would be a good joke enough to end a petite comedy with, but for such a flimsy device to be the pivot on which turns the plot of a serious drama, is like making a linchpin of a bodkin. KNOWLES'S dramatic vehicle, however, escaped the danger, and will have a run—so smooth is the road of his popularity. May it he long before it break down but the next he launches we hope will be better-built.
In spite of these faults, the inherent power of the writing is so strong, that not only is admiration compelled, but sympathy inlisted by the passionate earnestness of the dialogue : you feel that the author's heart is in his work ; and Nature's voice speaks in the language of the characters, though the occasion is arbitrary and gratuitous. Nothing in the play is liner than many parts of the long scene in the fourth act between the Countess and Boon. One of the most eloquent and pathetic passages places the absurdity and unnaturalness of the subsequent incidents in the strongest light.
I loved thee ever ! Yes, the passion now Thrills on the woman's tongue ; the girl's had told thee,
Had I been bold as fond ; for even then 1 SW thy worth, but mild not see thy station, Till others, not so well affected towards thee, Reveal'd it to me by their cold regards. I could not help my nature. From that time
Two passions strove in my divided soul
For mastery—seorn of thy station, love For thee—each feeding on the other's hate, And growing stronger, till I thought their strife Would shake my frame to dissolution ! Yes Oh, iluouu ! when may brow sat cloudy oft O'er my cold eye, that look'd aAant at thee, Thou little thought what friend there was within Would make that brow clear as it summer sky, That eye bright, glowing as a summer's sun, To kindle thee—as they their world, with life, And health, anti wealth, and gladness!
Say'st thou this
To me ? or do I dream I hear thee say it ?
Or is the past is dream ? I did not yield
At thy command, to marry Catherine ? Thou didst not see me wed her? Fancy forged The ring 1 thought I putt upon her linger ? Thou west not by at all ? From first to last, Midst not a band in it ? or, if thou hadst, Why then untimely this unfold to me? For I do know thee to be mide of all
Proud honour's children ! Art thou offspring prime
Of cruelty as well ? 0 Heaven ! to think She loved me, and could give me to another, Nor yet to her alone I—another !
What reply does the Countess make? This—" Ha well ?"—and then she falls into the jealous fit, and rants about her misery, and the
serf's "base blood." Is it consistent—nay, possible—that the woman whose anguish of soul could wring from her proud heart such a frank, confession of her love, should be able to resist so affecting an appeal.. No; but another act was wauting, and the dramatist, who up to this point had preserved the integrity of character and passion with a metaphysical nicety, the result of intuitive feeling, sacrifices truth to expo.. dieney. This is not merely an abstract point of propriety that stickle for; there is a violation of nature that strikes at the vitality of
sve the interest. We only explain the cause of an effect that many feel: who never take the trouble to inquire the why and wherefore.
Let us now put the render and ourselves into a better humour with the drama, I y quoting one or two of those fervid bursts of heart eloquence that KNOWLES is famed for. Hear Min on the theme of the drama, "Love." "No telling bow love thrives! to what it comes!
'Whence grows! 'Tis e'en of as mysterious root
As the pine that makes its lodging tit' the rock; Yet there it lives, a livem trce, flourishing
Where you would thinic a blade of grass would die! What is love's poison, if it be not hate? Yet in that poison oft is found love's limit.
Frowns that are clouds to us are sun to him, lie finds a music in a scornful tongue, That melts him more than softest melody_ Passion perverting all thin....s to its mood,
And, spite of nature, matching opposites."
" It is a hypocrite; looks every way
But that where lie its thoughts; will openly Frown at the thing it smiles in secret on ; Shows most like hate e'en when it most is love; Would fliii convince you it is very rock When it is water, ice when it is tire;
Is oft its OWII (hire, like a thorough elleat ; Persuades itself 'tis not the thing it is ; Bolds up its head, purses its brow,,, and looks
Askant, with scornful lip, hugging it That it is high disdain ; till suddenly It lidis On its knees, making most piteous suit
With hail of tears and hurricane of sigIN, Calling on heaven and earth for witnes-es That it is love, true love, nothing hot love." The dialogue is terse, and rich in just thoughts, so well expressed od aptly introduced that theyhave the charm of novelty as well as the force of truth, though not strictly original. In one particular, indeed, this play is superior to many other productions of its author, and that is in the palpose of the speeches : these are not pretty flowers of poesy, or showy declamation, stuck in to garnish the scene, but solid Matter, good and to the point.
The perl'ormance of this play was remarkable for evenness and general propriety ; an excellence more felt than acknowledged, the result ofjudieiotts management and careful training. Miss ELLEN TREE, who made her first appearance in the company on this occasion, plays the Counts, and sustains the arduous character with spirit and cleverness: she gives the outbreaks of womanly feeling with an effect of naturalness that is touching, but the mask of lofty indifference is too closely worn--we do not see enough of the love-stricken girl behind it. A pervading defect of Miss Times style, confirmed perhaps by the injudicious applause of American audiences, materially lessened the effect Of the part : we all al: to the common stage-trick of alternately lowering the voice to a whisper and raising it to a scream, thus substituting meehani,m for spontaneous emotion, and giving to her elocution an artificial character that is at variance with nature. This factitious delicacy and forced vehenuince cause those who detect it to doubt the earnestness of the performer— a doubt that is fatal to all sympathy: the calmness. of agitation paralyzing the faculties, is in danger of being mistaken for apathy, by reason of the frigid formality that this mannerism superinduces in level passages. This was strikingly evident in the scene where the Countess's love for Huon is betrayed : while out hawking, a storm comes on, and Huon takes shelter under tree, the rest of the party finding refuge in a neighbouring ruin : the Countess, alarmed for the safety of Hum yet fearing to show her regard for the serf by calling him away—which, however, she might have done without any suspicion of her motive—stands " transfixed," exposed to the pelting rain and almost sharing the danger of Huon. A strong manifestation of emotion in look and gesture is necessary to prevent the situation from being ridiculous. It was very nearly so, when the Jove ef the stage, who had previously thundered in Olympian style, launched a bolt that scathed the tree and stripped its branches bare : this dexterous feat, and the scene that ensued, diverted the attention into a new channel. ELLEN TREE'S acting at this juncture is admirable : Mom fidls senseless with the shock ; and the Countess, forgetting all but his danger at the moment, flies to hint in an agony of grief and terror : hut when he revives, she awakes to a sense of her rashness, and assumes an air of indifference, veiling her concern for the serf under an affected horror of lightning. These various emotions Miss TREE depicted with a natural truth that showed her feminine instinct more powerful than the hollow arts of stage-effect, on which she relies too much in the other scenes.
Asotaisox, as Mon, never appeared to such advantage before : be Made a strong impression by the feeling that he threw into his performative ; every word and gesture has its due effect. He has raised himself in public estimation, and has only to discard some of MACREADY's mannerisms to bear out the promise of his first appearance. \Isms, as the arch and lively Catherine, is the life of the scenes in which she appears—the last excepted, where her sudden apparition enveloped ia a scarlet mantle, wearing a toy helmet, elicited a burst of laughter of the wrong sort. COOPER, as the aged Doke of Carinthia, gave the lie to his tremulous utterance by a misuse of his stick, which he thumped on the floor after the manner of' testy old fellows in comedy, making such good use of his legs and arms, that it was evident lie had no need of its support: yet he is represented as dying of old age! Mrs. BnotouAst, for all her good looks, and though she Speaks and acts with propriety, does not appear to advantage as the Empriss, wanting the commanding presence of greatness. llmonAn, as one or the nobles, delivers a speech with judgment and feeling ; and the other subordinate parts were well filled—that of Catherine's lover excepted, whom VINING made not merely shy butt insensible. The getting-up of the play is admirable. The richly-decorated interiors of Norman architecture have all the quaint splendour of the middle ages ; and not only the ornaments of the walls but the furniture and other accessories are in corresponding taste : the coup 'hell is magnificent without tawdriness. The scene of the thunder-bolt we have before spoken of, hut the coming on and clearing off of the storm deserve especial mention as a beautiful scenic illusion. The costumes are appropriately gorgeous. The helmets of the knights are more correct than picturesque, with their cockscomb crests; and for the armour, on a principle whkh we explained before. we had rather it were tinsel than tin. A most gratifying proof of the liberal spirit of the new management of Covent Garden is afforded in the handsome treatment of the author: Mr. KNowi.Es, in his preface, states that he never before received such high terms for a drama. This is encouragement for dramatists, who have hitherto had too much occasion to "curse their stars."