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Night, and the dawn, bright day, and thoughtful eve,
To mingle in this heavenly harmony. NATHANIEL P. Willis, a native of Boston, appeared in early life before the public as a poet. He acquired at once a reputation uncommon for one of his years, and sustained himself by the force of his genius, in several subsequent attempts. Practice in the art, foreign travel, a commanding position, and still comparative youth, encourage the expectation on the part of his countrymen, that he will achieve yet greater things for his own and his country's literary reputation. His Scripture Sketches, and Unwritten Philosophy, display high poetic talents. In a recent publication which contains Melanie, Lord Ivon and his Daughter, the Dying Alchymist, and several other poems, he has acquitted himself in a manner, fitted to enhance the public impression respecting the resources of his genius. He shows a refined and delicate taste, and is master of a sweet and graceful diction. James G. Brooks, Edward C. Pinckney, John Neal, Samuel Woodworth, H. W. Longfellow, Grenville Mellen, Katharine A. Ware, Sarah J. Hale, George W. Doane, William B. Tappan, William 0. Peabody, and several others, have written poetry which has been well received, and which it would give us pleasure separately to notice, did our limits permit.*
During the course of the age now under our notice, dramatic literature has undergone a change corresponding with that which has taken place in all
other departments of the belles lettres. The taste for regular tragedies and comedies has declined with the taste for Pope and Richardson; and in their place have come plays of a less formal kind, displaying the pathos and humour of human life in that mixed state in which they are found in reality, and generally with much liveliness and rapid
235 ity of action. A new species of dramatic representation has also come into vogue, namely, the Melodruma, which, being a delineation of some romantic incident, aided by great splendour of scenery, dress, and decoration, may be said to correspond with the department of fictitious literature which, originating with Walpole, has been brought to perfection by Mrs. Radcliffe, Sir Walter Scott, and others. It is the common opinion that the literature of the drama has declined in our times ; and we cannot deny that there are not now engaged in it the same superior intellects which gave it such lustre in the days of Elizabeth, or even in those of Queen Anne. For this, however, the chief reason is perhaps one of an accidental nature. Successful writing for the stage seems to require a close connexion with the theatre itself, in order that the author may be able to adapt the language, characters, and general structure of the piece, to those circumstances, known only to actors, which tend to make dramatic representation effectual. Hence it is found that the greatest dramatists of former times were either themselves players, or maintained a close acquaintance with the theatre. however, has been drawn between the literary men of the present day and the actors. Our greatest poets, disdaining to subject their genius to a schooling from the performers, or to bend to considerations of theatrical convenience, have either abstained from dramatic composition, or written only what they term dramatic poems; that is, poems in a dramatic form, but not designed for representation. In the defect of better writers, there has arisen a class, consisting partly of actors and managers, who, without the genius of the kindred class of men who flourished in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., display the same readiness and skill, and in some instances, no inconsiderable share of ability, in serving the theatres with pieces calculated to affect or entertain common audiences.
In the department of tragedy, so far as tragedy can be said to have had a distinct existence, we find little produced in this age besides the dramatic poems to which allusion has been made, or, at the best, tragedies intended, but not in the least fitted, for representation.
A wide space,
In 1798, Miss JOANNA Baillie (born in 1764), published the first volume of a series of what she designated Plays on the Passions, of which other two volumes subsequently appeared. These are partly tragedies and partly comedies, one of each class being devoted to the development of a particular ruling passion, such as love, ambition, hope, and revenge. A volume of miscellaneous plays proceeded from the same pen in 1804; and the Family Legend, a tragedy, produced in 1810, closes the list of the dramatic works of this distinguished lady. According to a modern critic, there is in all these compositions great vigour, great variety of situation and character, a vehement and nervous eloquence, and a perpetual flow of exalted thought and feeling. The defects which disqualified them for the stage are deficiencies of interest, of situation, of the rapidity and fulness of action, by which the attention of a theatrical audience can alone be sustained.
The tragedy of Remorse, by Coleridge; the tragic plays of Halidon Hill and Auchindrane, by Sir Walter Scott; the Manfred, Werner, Marino Faliero, Sardanapalus, and Two Foscari, of Byron; the Mirandola of Procter, are also to be classed as dramatic poems, partaking of the ordinary character of the poetical productions of their respective authors, but possessing perhaps less of their usual vigour. Bertram, a tragedy by the Rev. ROBERT MATURIN, better known as a novelist, has appeared on the stage, for which, however, the wild passions delineated, and the odious nature of the subject, render it scarcely fit. Evadne and The Apostate, by Mr. RICHARD LALOR SHIEL; Fazio, by the Rev. HENRY MILMAN; and Julian, Rienzi, and The Vespers of Palermo, by Miss Mary RUSSELL MITFORD, are modern plays, respectable as dramatic poems, which have experienced some share of success upon the stage. The only author of recent times who has realized our ideas of the great dramatists of a former age, is Mr. JAMES SHERIDAN KNOWLES, who, like Maturin and Shiel, is a native of Ireland ; and is perhaps indebted for a part of his success to his professional connexion with the stage. The principal plays of this writer are, Caius Gracchus, Virginius, William Tell, The Wife, SHERIDAN.-O'KEEFE.DIBDIN.COLMAN. 237 and The Hunchback. His style, though modelled upon that of Massinger, is characterised by a simple energy and ardour peculiar to himself, and which sometimes betrays him into bald and homely expressions.
The genteel comedy of the eighteenth century may be said to have terminated with the productions of RichARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN (1751-1816), a lessee of Drury Lane Theatre, and eminent as an orator in the House of Commons. In polish of composition, and vivacity of dialogue, nothing can exceed the Rivals, Duenna, and School for Scandal of this celebrated dramatist ; though few of the characters display individuality, and the morality of the plot is often defective.
Of the writers whom we have described as chiefly supplying the new pieces required at the theatres, one of the first in point of time was John O'KEEFE (1746– 1833), a native of Ireland, and who for a long time was 'a strolling actor in that country. From about the year 1779 to a late period of his life, OʻKeefe was constantly employed in writing plays, of which above fifty were brought out at the London Theatres, being generally light humorous pieces, designed only to make people merry, but sometimes containing a dash of original character. The most popular are The Agreeable Surprise, Wild Oats, Modern Antiques, The Highland Reel, and The Poor Soldier. CHARLES DIBDIN (1748-1815) wrote many dramatic pieces for temporary amusement, but is now remembered only for the great variety of national and nautical songs which he composed in the course of his own endeavours to entertain the public, as a reciter and singer. The songs of Dibdin, of which the music was generally his own, had so powerful an effect in animating the lower departments of the naval service during the war occasioned by the French Revolution, that the author was thought worthy of a pension of two hundred pounds a-year ; those of a pathetic and affectionate kind may be described as models in that species of composition. MR. GEORGE COLMAN, son of the eminent dramatist of the same name, formerly mentioned, is the author of The Mountaineers, The Poor Gentleman, John Bull, The Heir-at-Law, and other popular plays; the distinguishing merit of which lies in a
mixture of characters of tenderness and pathos, with the usual persons of the comic drama. The Dramatist, The Will, and Laugh when you can, are the best of the numerous productions of FREDERICK REYNOLDS, who, for forty years, served Covent Garden Theatre in the capacity of what he called “thinker, that is, performer of every kind of literary labour required in the establishment. The Honey-Moon, by John TOBIN, and Speed the Plough, and The School of Reform, by THOMAS MORTON, were the most distinguished dramatic productions of the earlier years of the present century; and, of the more recent writers of this class, Messrs. Poole, Planche, Jerrold, and Buckstone, may be mentioned as the most eminent.
In the United States, plays began to be acted about the middle of the last century; but the composition of dramatic pieces has claimed comparatively little attention, until more recent times. Numbers of them have been designed for representation; and a respectable list might be made out of successful pieces. Others were intended for private reading, like many of that class which was noticed among the English productions of the present period. It is only as a part of the literature of the land that they are here mentioned; and very few can be named as having distinguished merit. The earliest author, in this department of literary effort in America, was Thomas GODFREY, son of the inventor of the quadrant, as already mentioned. At the age of twenty-two, he wrote The Prince of Parthia, a tragedy, printed in 1765. It was never performed on the stage, and may have been intended only for the closet. As the first effort of the American dramatic Muse, it deserves notice, though it has been pronounced a fail
It was too great an undertaking for so young a man, inasmuch as tragedy is one of the most difficult productions of the human mind, requiring the highest inventive powers, and a thorough knowledge of the world and of character. *
Royal TYLER, a native of Massachusetts, who died in 1825, was the author of The Contrast, The Georgia Spec, or Land in the Moon 1796, and other dramatic
* AM. ED.