« EelmineJätka »
and curious a dove-tailing, that, ingenious as it ever, marvellous as it sometimes is, still there is felt in it too much of calculation, too little of passion. It has degenerated sometimes into that which almost looks like trick. The symmetrical is attained, but attained by means which lie too plainly on the surface; it is the symmetry of artifice, which betrays itself at once as such ; and not the latent symmetry, which, lying so much deeper, will often look like confusion and disorder at the first. Strange as it may sound, when compared to a frequent estimate of his poetical character, there are plays of Calderon which remind one of nothing so much as of a Dutch garden, where every alley has its alley corresponding, and every tree is nodding to its brother.
It was not indeed possible for him, arriving as he did at the latter end of a great burst of poetry, to be other than a self-conscious poet. This burst of poctry had now lasted so long, had produced so many poetical masterpieces which invited study, had enjoyed such ample time for reflecting upon itself, and upon the means by which its effects were brought about, that self-consciousness had become inevitable. Of many a great artist it is difficult to think that he knew, however his genius may have known, the methods by which he attained his glorious successes. It is impossible to believe this for a moment of Calderon. He knew them, and, as it sometimes seems to
one, knew tnem only too well. In fact he not merely concluded an era ; but it would not be too much to affirm of him, that he hastened its conclusion ; leaving as he did so little possible for those who came after. Every device and resource of his art, moral and material, had been pushed by him as far as it would go, had attained its very utmost limits. The rose of dramatic art in him was full blown, so fully blown, so near being overblown, that there remained nothing for its leaves but to fall. It would be altogether unjust to him to affirm that he corrupted the taste of his fellow-countrymen ; but still he had accustomed them to such rich and gorgeous gratification at once of eye and ear, that those who came after found only two alternatives before them, in each of which the certainty of failure was for them equally bound up. Either, conscious of the inferiority of their genius, they might creep near the ground with low and timid flight-a course which the high-raised expectation of their hearers would not now endure; or else they might emulate his flight, when they became ridiculous, attempting that which only such genius as his could justify or carry through, their waxen wings miserably failing them so soon as they endeavored to soar into that empyrean region, where he had securely held his way. They chose for the most part this, the more ambitious course, but one in which their failure was the more signal. It has been
well observed, “ His popularity hastened the fall of the drama, by quickening a vulgar appetite for the pleasures of the eye, and his example brought into vogue a class of pieces written for scene-painters and machinists which reached the height of absurdity in the pieces of Salvo and Ocampo a few years afterward. On the whole, the genius, modified by the fortune of Calderon, has been truly said to have given the drama the last advance of which it was capable, but at the same time to have placed it, by the means taken to this end, on a summit from which nothing but descent was possible in any direction."* “The poet stands,” as Goethe has excellently well observed, " on the threshold of over-culture.”
Nor can it be denied that it is sometimes possible to trace in his works the influences of that particular world in which he moved. We recognise the courtpoct, the poet of the Buen Retiro; though not indeed to such an extent as seriously to affect his popular, universal character. He had strength enough to resist the baneful influences, the narrowing tendencies, which such a position, and the necessity of often preparing what would be acceptable to his royal and courtly hearers there, might easily have exerted upon him; nor does he desert seriously, nor for long, the broad popular basis on which alone a national drama
* Athenæum, November 26, 1853.
can repose. Still it must be owned that he moves at times in an artificial, merely conventional world; and this his greatest admirers ought not to refuse to confess.*
It is true that this same familiarity with courts, and the life of courts, brought a certain compensation with it. How complete the self-possession of all his characters to which this accomplishment of self-possession would naturally belong. With what graceful ease, with what high-bred courtesy, they know ever how to say the right thing at the right time. What perfect gentlemen his youthful gallants are in their friendships, their quarrels, and their love-makings. Still Calderon was, beyond a doubt, exposed to a danger on this side, and one which he has not altogether escaped.
The injurious consequences of this position which he occupied, are also manifested in the occasional choice by him of subjects, which evidently attracted him not on account of their inward poetic worth, nor of any strong sympathy of his genius with them, but only or chiefly because of the ample room and opportunity for pompous spectacle and show which they afforded. In search of these the poet sometimes a
* Goethe (Worke, Paris, 1836, b. iii. p. 316): "Eine völlige Gleichstellung mit dem spanischen Theater kann ich nirgends billigen. Der herrliche Calderon hat so viel Conventionelles, dass einem redlichen Beobachter schwer wird, das grosse Talent des Dichters durch die Theateretiquette durchzuerkennen.”
little wanders out of the true paths of a severer art, and consents to minister rather to the sense than to the spirit. The court claimed splendid festal pieces, giving room for startling effects, unlooked-for transformations, long-drawn processions, and he did not refuse to produce them. Yet I fancy that he sometimes labored here with no willing mind. In some of these, above all in some of his gorgeous mythological pieces, it will be evident, I think, to a close observer, that he felt his bondage, and found vent for a latent displeasure in a certain irony with which he treats his whole argument. The assumption of this ironical position in respect of his theme, is at other times wholly alien from him.
In these pompous shows Calderon had, and plainly felt that he had, the resources of the royal purse on which he might freely draw. The lengthened stagedirections, which in two or three cases accompany his grand spectacle-plays, involve the most complicated arrangements. A famous Italian machinist especially presided over this department; and the demands which the poet made upon him must have tasked his skill to the uttermost. The cost of adequately producing some of these scenic splendors must have been enormous. But, in truth, the prodigal expenditure of the court of Philip IV. upon its pride and its pleasure seems to have known no stint and no limits. One might suppose that it would have sometimes been a little re