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SIR WALTER SCOTT, RACINE, AND
The argument at the end of the last Essay may possibly serve to throw some light on the often agitated and trite question, Whether we receive more pleasure from an Opera or a Tragedy, from the words or the pantomime of a fine dramatic representation? A musician I can conceive to declare, sincerely and conscientiously, in favour of the Opera over the theatre, for he has made it his chief or exclusive study. But I have heard some literary persons do the same ; and in them it appears to me to be more the affectation of candour, than candour itself. • The still small voice is wanting" in this preference ; for however lulling or overpowering
; the effect of music may be at the time, we return to nature at last; it is there we find solidity and repose, and it is from this that the understanding ought to give its casting vote. Indeed there is a sense of reluctance and a sort of critical remorse in the opposite course as in
giving up an old prejudice or a friend to whom we are under considerable obligations; but this very feeling of the conquest or sacrifice of a prejudice is a tacit proof that we are wrong; for it arises only out of the strong interest excited in the course of time, and involved in the nature and principle of the drama.
Words are the signs which point out and define the objects of the highest import to the human mind; and speech is the habitual, and as it were most intimate mode of expressing those signs, the one with which our practical and serious associations are most in uni
To give a deliberate verdict on the other side of the question seems, therefore, effeminate and unjust. A rose is delightful to the smell, a pine-apple to the taste. The nose and the pala e, if their opinion were asked, might very fairly give it in favour of these against any rival sentiment; but the head and the heart cannot be expected to become accomplices against themselves.
We cannot pay a worse compliment to any pleasure or pursuit than to surrender the pretensions of some other to it. Every thing stands best on its own foundation. A sound expresses, for the most part, nothing but itself; a word expresses a million of sounds. The thought or impression of the
moment is one thing, and it may be more or less delightful; but beyond this, it may relate to the fate or events of a whole life, and it is this moral and intellectual perspective that words convey in its full signification and extent, and that gives a proportionable superiority in weight, in compass, and dignity to the denunciations of the tragic Muse. The language of the understanding is necessary to a rational being. Man is dumb and prone to the earth without it. It is that which opens the vista of our past or future years. Otherwise a cloud is upon it, like the mist of the morning, like a veil of roses, an exhalation of sweet sounds, or rich distilled perfumes; no matter whatit is the nerve or organ that is chiefly touched, the sense that is wrapped in ecstacy or waked to madness; the man remains unmoved, torpid, and listless, blind to causes and consequences, which he can never remain satisfied without knowing, but seems shut up in a cell of ignorance, baffled and confounded. Sounds without meaning are like a glare of light without objects; or, an Opera is to a Tragedy what a transparency is to a picture. We are delighted because we are dazzled. But words are a key to the affections. They not only excite feelings, but they point to the why and wherefore.