19 DECEMBER 1840, Page 15



As speeches are made to be spoken, so are plays to be played ; and as long as they are confined to their particular object, it is quite enough if the audience be pleased. But when the orator, or the dramatist, prints his production, he claims for it a higher praise, and moat be tested by another standard than " the claps of multi- tudes." The simultaneous appearance of the Dramatic Works of SHERIDAN KNOWLES and of Sir Eawsuu licewEn's Honey, fur- nishes an opportunity for making some remarks on the leading cha- racteristics of each writer.

Neither SHERIDAN KNOWLES nor Bur-oven can be said to draw their materials from the living world ; but of the two, BULWER makes the nearest approach to it. His knowledge of life and character, as shown in his dramas, is indeed limited enough, and his representa- tions very often gross exaggerations; but traces of an acquaintance with the world are visible, though the world itself may not be there—just as we can tell that an artist has seen a person, though he has drawn a caricature instead of a portrait. On the other hand, little social knowledge is traceable in the better plays of KNoweEs : he seems to derive the sentiments of his characters and the charac- ters themselves from the works of his predecessors, or from some exemplars in his own mind. What he takes from nature is, like Bersveit's, rather traceable than embodied ; and shows itself in a welling-out of the domestic feelings, in lighter touches of natural re- mark, or natural pathos—just as Buswmt's is exhibited in pointed hits at general weaknesses or prevailing thibles, or in some dressed- up abstraction. The scenes between Virginius told his daughter, the sudden fhinting of Julia in The Hunchback when Clifford leaves her, and many other passages in KNOWLES, might be cited as es- amities of our meaning. The hits at the times in Money, the passing pursuits embodied in Stout the political economist, Lord

Glossmore the constitutional Whig, Captain Dudley Smooth the blackleg, are instances from Burovea.

" Art" may be considered in two senses. The most usual meaning implies a practical dexterity in applying such knowledge of a pursuit as is chiefly floating about, and can only be gained from living practitioners, or frequent practice onesself. The other and higher meaning includes a thorough knowledge of the nature which is to be represented, as well as cut' the principles of that branch of human art which is to be the vehicle of' representation; and the skill of the great artist is shown in first selecting from nature the things that are essential to his purpose, and then presenting them to the best advantage. To this latter kind of art neither KNOWLES nor Bet..wmt can aspire ; but they both pOSSCSS the former. It is shown in KNOWLES by the distinctness with which he places foregone events and present likelihoods before the audience on his opening, so as to strike attention at once ; by the manner in which he con- trasts his characters ; and by the stage-action or "business" which he throws into the conduct of his fable. The art of 13uswint is of an inferior kind ; and indeed is not so much art as stage-trick,— consist ing of " situations," or claptrap sent iinents, or phrases point- edly satirical, tellieg by themselves, at least to the multitude, but utterly incongruous as respects their relation to the rest of the drama. Hence, the art of KNOWLES is more felt than seen, and his best dramas bear more frequent repetition ; but we imagine the merest groundling must detect the tricks of Buswria, co en whilst he grins at them.

KNOWLES is perhaps more of an imitator than Bur.wsa. In one sense Ili'LWER cannot be called an imitator at all ; for his pieces have

no prototype. His dramas, to a certain catent, are 81ti : he has expanded afterpieces into five-act plays ; his ttagedy being in- flated inelodrema ; his comedy polished and pointed farce. But the personal Vet ling of the author has stamped an idiosyncracy 1111011 the character of his plays, and HO one would be likely to mistake them for any other writer's. KNOW1.1::.:, on the contrary, is indebted to preceding authors for his style and diction ; fre- quently tin. his characters and incidents. Hence a great and per- vading defect in his pis:. : they are mosaics, different things be- longing to dillbrent ages being mixed t,.gethcr. For variety, action, pathos, 1111(1 interest well sustained to the last, with a kindly Inuman feeling, and a strong under-current:of poetical power, Hirgishts is perhaps the first drama of the author, if not the first acting tragedy which the century has produced. Butt it is full of incongruities. The mob is entirely the mob or Sir A KS PEI{ K ; the character of' Virginius, in his domestic phase, is net that of' an antique Roman, but a worthy modern father, ovedlowing with

affection, with a little touch of sentiment at bottom, and his out sternness is only in his words : he is scarcely the man to

have killed his daughter. This analysis might be pursued through all the dramatis persome ; but it is sufficient to sav gout-ally that they want individuality and minute marking, ffiat they are Humans in name and phrase rather than in heart :Intl mind, and that the manners are modern. Thus in l'irgisisx there are three distinct ages-

1. Scenes, attunes, rind actions—Roman ; 2. Imagery, cast of thought, and diction—Elizabethan ; 3. Domestic sentiments and manners—I !untidy modern English.

Neither writer has :my lofty notion of morals. If either deviates from law ti ml convention, it is only to fudlow the ethics of former playwrights. The moving principle of The .Thsehistek originates in eavesdropping ; and much of the play is carried on by a similar process. The incident of a lover, in the seine drama, who has

quarrelled with his it and been reduced to poverty, being made to carry, or submitting to carry, a letter to that mistress

when an affianced wife, is not only improbable but. degrading to tile character of the man : and when Clifford and Julia are brought together by this pitiful contrivance to exhibit distress, their indul- gence of what is then a criminal passion smacks altogether of the , player's school of ethics. In Money, the whole conduct ori- ginates in want of continua morality or common prudence. The affection of Clara is obvious to every one but Evelyn: in his offers to Georgina, evolved by the delicate contrivance of the :sank- note, he runs the same risk of being accepted for his money as if he had renewed his proposals to his real love ; and the fraudful mode in which he at last eminscipates himself from the difficulties his folly had involved hint in, though nut uncommon on the stage, was even deemed by Sussain.sx* (no great moralist) to re- quire censure and punishment. But the climax of Money, no doubt, is the offer of Evelyn to Georgina made publicly in the presence of' Clara. Such an act never could have taken place in good society, or in any society : it is one that no man with com- mon feeling for himself or for a woman could have been driven to commit under any circumstances; in the circumstances of the play, it is alike a libel on the feelings of a gentleman or the spirit of a man, and such an incident as no one would have dreamt of but a playwright, regardless of truth, nature, or propriety, when clutching at an effect.

Even such notions of ethics as Sir EDWARD BELWER has he can- not develop. After all that has bcen said about the subordination of' every thing to money in MOpey, this subordination is fictitious, not real. It is not avarice, but love, which influences Clara; love, not money, is the impelling power of Evelyn ; and had not the fitshionably-educated and (as the author paints her) match-hunting Georgina, been influenced by love also, Mr. Evelyn, in despite of his deceptive schemes, would have found himself in what is called the wrong box, and been °Wised to marry her.

To the highest demands of' their art both Bee NER and KNOWLEs are unequal. The ravings of madness, the breathings of love, and all the intertser emotions of passion, are beyond their power. Nut is either much disposed to sacrifice some fancied " effect " to truth. The weakness of lictovsa in this respect amounts to a second nature, and KNOWLES seems falling into it. The elements of his last play, Lore, (not included in this collection,) were tragic. The indul-

gence of a passion between persons so widely remote in station as . - a serf and a princess, must, under any circumstances, have been

fraught with weakness, violence, and suffering ; especially in an age when the prejudices of caste were SO strong. But the public are supposed to be partial to happy endings; the players might have a similar notion, and multi not, moreover, " top tragedy ; and Mr. KNowses sacrificed his art, and his production.

In poetical power the palm must be assigned to KNOWLES. In Buswart's dramas, it may indeed be questioned whether any poetry at all is displayed; both sentiment and description degenerating into fustian. But in K:sowsrs, poetry is the life-blood of the drama ; sometimes, it is true, stopping the action, and rendering the lopt a vehicle (ill 2,1r. Bayes's phrase) " to bring in good things"; but mostly effective in the mouth of a finished declaimer, being :rarely pushed to such an extent as to fatigue the audience. His poetry, too, is dramatic; not running riot in mere reflection, or in a schoolboy seareh after ideas, but a dialogue, which, whether strictly appopriate or not to the charactusrs, is addressed to the business in hand. His description also is dramatie,—that is, it pre- sents images to the mind, aud such images as may be supposed pre- sent to the audience, or to have some son:as:it a with the phi',-- as the picture-scene in 17)s1aiss, and the compasison of town and country life in The //sue/a/m.4. But the distimtive feature in the productions of KNOWLES, :11R1 011(.. lit Which he stands alone amongst modern dramatists. is a continual well or human sympathy throughout his works : the reader fecls that tla, v.riter has a &on. In Butwmt, up the contrary, the =hot, mai Nillat is worse, the vanity of the author, is never out of sight : his feeling and his sentiment are both marred by Buheerio, all;.etation: he does not seem so lunch a living man, as a creature thdt lias been embowelled and stuffed with paragraphs and prose epigrams.

These paragraphs and epigrams. Ilene ever, su!len very good of their kind ; and to them, conjoined with ctli e zive situ:alum,- clap- trap inflated to catch thc many-classed vulgar. and a geed deal of dexterity in turning to account passing.evonts or 'A ull•klitrA ti circum- stances, naust be at the success of those of his plays which have succeeded. The first act of his Moniy is a fa‘ourable speci- men ()Olds. Current foibles are It 1 a eircumstance of SO little novelty as tl:c reading of a will is rendered titillating by hitting off the characteristics of the dramatis persona- ; some d phrases are !WI into the wombs l sever: l of the per- sona iii I a n amusing effect is produced. upon the stage. by the mispronunciation of Sir Frederick Blount. This mode of form- ing ridiculous cluaracis vs.- says JoussoN. " can confer praise only on him who originally discovered it ; for it reupdres not touch either of A% it or judgment ; its success must be derived almost wholly from the player ; butt its power in a skilful mouth. even he that despises it is unable to resist.- lint here too there insy be a distinction—that the depraved pronunciation should he appropriate, and produce an effect even in the reading., which By LW 1:11's BIOnnt does 110t.

We haul intended to illustrate some of our positions by analogous passages from each author : but the space it wumld require from us, and the time from the reader, would not reward the troable. On a first perusal of the first act of „Ironsy, it struck us as a capital * Falklatul, iu The Rivals. example of BULWEIt'S skill in composition. A closer examination, with a view to the selection of quotations, detects its emptiness. We can find nothing beyond a few pointed sentences, and a collec- tion of well-sounding incongruities, that, like the weakliest kind of ephemeral plants, will not bear transplanting. After what we have said, it is idle to ask whether these dramas are designed for endurance. The offspring of Ber.wErt, indeed, will not only die long before their parent, but depend for their short stage-existence upon the powers of MACREADY. The dramas of KNOWLES Mill, probably, have a longer span ; for, possessing more comprehension and substance in their matter, greater skill in their construction, and a much wider range and variety of characters, they are not only less dependent upon the accidental existence of particular players, but will meet a greater variety of tastes in the au- dience. As regards endurance, however, KNOWLES is quite on a level with any tragic dramatist of a century past. It is the fitshion to talk about the decline of the drama, and the neglect of the drama, and all the rest of it. The lamentation is just enough as applied to the dramatic art : regular dramas alternate with spectacle, melo- drama, and farce, or are put aside altogether ; the fashionables have deserted the playhouse ; the public do not encourage legiti- mate actors; perhaps there are very lbw worthy of encouragement. But as regards the production of plays, who can name a tragedy written within these hundred years, or indeed since the close of the seventeenth century, that excels the better dramas of KNOWLES ? Ue may draw his characters from fancy or stock plays: are any tragic writers since °Tway and SOUTHERN one jot more original or natural ''r have they greater truth in their sentiments or dia- logue? is their language more appropriate to the particular charac- ter, or their style more reflective of the individual writer and the usage of his age? have their incidents or stories more likelihood? and, greatest test of all, can a better moral be deduced from

their works as a guide for the conduct of ?