« PreviousContinue »
CATILINE; A TRAGEDY.*
THE above work has, for some time past, been looked for in the literary world, not without expectation and anxiety; and, in our own case, we must confess that this expectation has been answered by considerable disappointment. From the somewhat pompous carriage of Mr. Croly's muse-her measured step and dignified deportment-we had been led to believe that she would well become the tragic robe and cothurnus; and had hoped to see her " go stately by," to take an approved and final station in that noble but neglected department of our national literature. But, judging from the evidence now before us, we fear this will not be. In fact, we have here a work enriched with powerful and energetic, as well as sweet and graceful poetry; but it is the poetry of imagination, not of passion; it is engendered and deliberately given forth from the intellect; it does not spring eagerly and involuntarily from the heart: and this is to say, in other words, that it is not dramatic. We believe Mr. Croly to be gifted with great and valuable powers, of a certain kind. He possesses a rich store of poetical thoughts and feelings, which have always at their command a gorgeous flow of language and imagery. These-directed by a general soundness of taste and judgment, such as we believe Mr. Croly to possess-may be made to produce very striking and impressive effects; but, alone, these effects cannot amount to high tragedy. They may worthily supply its outward form, and its ornamental attire, but unless Passion breathe into it a vital spirit, it must still remain but a splendid caput
The subject of Catiline is well adapted to the purpose for which it has, in this instance, been chosen. It offers a unity of action and a depth of passionate interest, united to the great desideratum of historical truth. But it must be admitted that the author has not availed himself of these capabilities to the extent that the high drama demands. He has judiciously enough applied his best powers to the end he had in view; and if they have not enabled him to reach it, he may be well content to submit to his failure, when he reflects that he suffers it in common with every living writer who has made the same attempt. In fact, Tragedy sits on a height which cannot be climbed: it must be scaled with wings, if at all; and those wings must be the eagle's.
We proceed to regard the work before us more in detail, and to lay a few specimens of it before the reader. Its principal defect strikes us as being a want of coherence of purpose, and consequently a want of unity and consistency of effect. If we may borrow a mode of expression from a sister art, the characters are well drawn; but they are not well coloured, either as it regards themselves or each other. The tone of the language, and the flow and fall of the versification, are essentially of the same class, from whichever of the personages they proceed. This creates a languid monotony in the general effect, very injurious to dramatic feeling, which should be as vivid and as varied as the varied purposes and interests from which it is supposed to spring. In short, notwithstanding the author's censure of Voltaire's and Cre
Catiline; a Tragedy. In Five Acts. With other Poems. By the Rev. George Croly, A. M. Author of "Paris in 1815,” “ The Angel of the World," &c.
billon's plays, on the same subject, as being "written on the model of the French stage; and, according to the national taste, make up for nature and incident, (he means, probably, the want of "nature and incident,") by affected sensibility and feeble declamation." Notwithstanding this sweeping, and, perhaps, just censure, it must be confessed that this new attempt on the same subject assimilates less to the English than to the French model-less to Shakspeare than to Voltaire; that, if the "sensibility" it contains is real instead of "affected," and the "declamation" is strong instead of "feeble," it is, for the most part, but" declamation" and "sensibility" after all-not passion.
It must be needless to lay before the reader the plot of this tragedy: the title will at once call it to mind: for the variations from strict history are few and unimportant. We shall do better in offering specimens of the poetry with which the drama is enriched. The following describes the effect of Catiline's eloquence at the meeting in the Campus Martius, when he opposes Cicero in the election for the Consulship :
"You should have seen him in the Campus Martius,-
With mighty speech. His words seem'd oracles,
That pierced their bosoms; and each man would turn,
That with the like dumb wonder answer'd him :
Then some would weep, some shout; some, deeper touch'd,
In fear but to have lost a syllable."
His conduct during the banquet which is given at his palace immediately after his defeat at the election, is thus described :
"He seem'd to feel
The fiercest joy of all; pledged the whole room
In brimming goblets; talk'd a round of things,
Laugh'd, till his very laughter check'd our mirth,
And all gazed on him; then, as if surprised,
Marking the silence, mutter'd some excuse,
And sank in reverie; then, wild again,
Talk'd, drank, and laugh'd—the first of Bacchanals!"
His warlike bearing in the field is thus spoken of by a companion in arms:
"You've seen him in the field?
Ay, fifty times,
I' the thickest fight; where all was blood and steel,
Mad with their wounds, through lances thick as hail,
Now seen, the battle's wonder; now below,
Mowing his desperate way, till, with wild shrieks,
The author has chosen to depict Catiline altogether after the portrait of Cicero, as given in the Orat. pro Calio, and not after that of
* It is supposed to be exactly at this period that the play commences.
unmixed wickedness which Sallust draws of him. Accordingly, we are taught to consider him as drawn or urged into treason by the mingled force of pride and disappointment-of ambition, added to fancied disgrace and wrong. These are some of his reflections while he is plotting the mischief by which he hopes to rise on the fallen fortunes of his enemies and opposers :
I feel a nameless pressure on my brow,
As if the heavens were thick with sudden gloom;
He goes to the casement.]
Shall I be like thee yet? The clouds have past-
To his red city in the west, that now
Spreads all her gates, and lights her torches up,
What follows, is a rich and picturesque description of a waking vision,
"Heaven can show strange things:
Last night I could not rest: the chamber's heat,
Roll'd to wild battle. Then, they breathed awhile,
Leaving the space between a sheet of gore,
Strew'd with torn standards, corpses, and crash'd spears."
The following is exceedingly bold, vehement, and poetical:—
"The state is weak as dust.
Rome's broken, helpless, heart-sick! Vengeance sits
Soon to be tasted. Time, and dull decay,
Have let the waters round her pillar's foot;
And it must fall. Her boasted strength 's a ghost,
Fearful to dastards;—yet, to trenchant swords,
Thin as the passing air! A single blow,
In this diseased and crumbling frame of Rome,
It may be agreeable to contrast these extracts with one or two others
"Too much he loved her! 'Tis an ancient tale,
When grapes are crushing. I have seen the spot,
She was a Grecian maiden; and, by some,
And again. It is the story of Jupiter and Semele :
Pity her! 'twas Love
He rais'd his eye,— and in its flash—she died !”
This is rich and rare poetry, and cannot fail to meet with the admiration it deserves.
We give the following as a specimen of the undramatic manner in which Catiline is frequently made to express himself in the course of the work. However good it may be in its way, it is merely what may be said in the case in question-not what would be said. Catiline draws his sword in preparation for the last desperate effort on which his hopes depend :
“This emblem of all miseries and crimes,—
The robber's tool, that breaks the rich man's lock,
The murderer's master-key to sleeping hearts,
The orphan-maker-widower of brides;-
In this brief bar of steel, more woe to the earth
Almost immediately after this, Catiline is brought in from the field of battle, mortally wounded, and he dies in an insane paroxysm of ambitious images and hopes. Springing from the ground by a last effort of supernatural energy, he exclaims :
"Is there no faith in Heaven? My hour shall come !
Shall root up thrones. Your husband shall be King !—
We must find room for two or three short detached passages, which are exceedingly good in their respective classes.
"This is a mortal hour; the rising wind
Sounds angry, and those swift and dizzy clouds,
Seem horse and chariot for the evil shapes
That scatter ruin here."
"Why, my lord,
Your brow grows cloudy, and you clench your hand,
"Arise! must we be brain'd
While you lie dreaming there?-Ho! Catiline!
"The icicle that melts even in the ray
In which it glitters.”—
"And this is my supremacy! The prize
That whets men's swords, and sows in noble hearts
The cheerless image of a statesman's life!
"You are a music-lover, and sigh Greek.
[To the Secretary.
Where the chill'd minstrel sent his amorous soul
The space we are enabled to devote to our notices of contemporary literature, seldom permits us to go into the detail of those minor faults which are to be found in almost every poetical work of any length; and in this among the rest. If we ever regret our circumscribed limits, it is not on this account; for the pointing out of such trifling errors and oversights as those now alluded to we regard as but a secondary and very unimportant duty of criticism; and we willingly pass it over in the present instance.
The volume before us contains a few other poems besides the tragedy of Catiline, some of which possess extreme delicacy and beauty, but the chief of which we recognise as having appeared in print before; and upon the whole we closet with a high opinion of the author's