Page images

curses, and the blood, of the poor wretches, from whom were wrung, by all sorts of artifice and violence, the countless myriads which these trophies of imperial vanity have cost. With how different an eye shall we look on the works of Art, in our own free country, when the day of her glory shall have come in the fulness and maturity of time. How proudly shall American posterity point to the august fabrics which the voluntary zeal of patriotism shall have reared. How different the emotions of the slave, who passes by the palace of a petty despot with listless indifference or stupid admiration, and the feelings of the freeman, who exclaims, as he gazes on the marble record of his country's glory, “This our fathers did, but at no tyrant's bidding!"

The generosity (as it is called) of princes, is as capricious as it is profuse. It may one day be subservient to genius, and the next to conquest or corruption. There is no safety in the charity, no certainty in the munificence of men, who wastefully consume the extorted tribute of their subjects. And even when the fiat of the monarch is pronounced, it will not always happen that the services of Art will be commanded. “ Though the papal throne,” says Mr. Lawrence, “ has been filled by a succession of sovereigns ambitious to perpetuate the memory of their reign--though, from this source, a more pow. erful patronage has been extended to the Fine Arts than the situation of the other states of Italy could afford--and, though the most extensive collections of the best productions of antiquity have always attracted to Rome those whose taste and resources enabled them amply to compensate genius, the capital of Christendom has never been distinguished for her native art. ists. The restrictions on freedom of discussion, the index expurgatorius, the interdiction of literary works of the imagination, and the various barriers raised to preserve the orthodoxy of the Church, seem to have had an influence more efficient, in repressing the youthful energies, than even the degradation of foreign dependence."--Pp. 28, 29.

Mr. Lawrence has given a slight but interesting sketch of the biography of Canova. He opened his Studio at the age of sixteen, and came to Rome at twenty-three. « On the reestablishment of the old governments, the decree of proscription against learning and genius was not immediately issued. The emperor of Austria did not, at once, announce that he wanted not learned men, but only faithful subjects,' nor were the princes, who yield implicit obedience to the mandates of the Holy Alliance, then called on to adopt his principles in the in

ternal administration of their governments. Canova was invested by the Sovereign Pontiff with the title of • Inspector General of the fine arts,' an office chiefly valuable from having been created by Leo X. in favor of Raphael. He was soon after enrolled in the golden volume of the Capitol;' but, when Marquis of Ischia, he forgot not that it was to the talents of the artist he owed his distinction. In taking his armorial bearings from his earliest productions, he acknowledged his obligations to his first patron, for whom the statues of Orpheus and Eurydice were executed. The revenue of the marquisate was exclusively appropriated to institutions established for the improvement of the arts. An object worthy of the expenditure of his fortune was the church, which Canova, at the time of his death, was engaged in erecting in his native town, and which was to afford a specimen of the chastest architecture, while the Sculptor proposed to adorn the interior with his own transcendant productions. When an artist so far surpasses his contemporaries as to silence the clamours of rivals, we can entertain Iittle doubt of the sentence, which impartial posterity will pronounce."-pp. 31, 32.

There is no part of this discourse which so heartily meets our approbation, as that which shows the dependence of all liberal institutions upon the freedom and activity of commerce. The fatal tendency of all restrictions upon industry and intellect, is now generally (we should say with more propriety) universally acknowledged, by all enlightened minds. The wealth, which a free commerce will accumulate, will go spontaneously to the encouragement of the arts. There needs no other patronage than this. The expenditure of superfluous wealth on the more lasting productions of the artist, is ably justified by Mr. Lawrence. “Wealth not reproductively used, is expended either in luxury or in durable works of taste. The only question is, whether it shall be consumed in gratifications which do not survive the fleeting moment, or whether it shall be employed in those objects that conduce to intellectual and moral culture, and which tend to impress an honorable character on the state ? Shall we direct our taste to architectural embellishments, to painting, and to statuary, or shall we consume our resources in corrupting pastimes and amusements ???

Mr. Lawrence briefly examines the long-mooted question of the influence of government on the arts.

We have already entered, at some length, upon this interesting subject; and we flatter ourselves we have said enough to show, that whether the

arts flourish more or less under a republican form of government, they will, at all events, be better proportioned to the wants and wishes of the people. The form of government most favorable to their prosperity, is a question of mere (we had almost said, of idle) curiosity. The great point is, the extent to which their cultivation is advisable; and this is best determined by allowing them to stand or fall by their own merits, thus including them in the great maxim of modern policy-laisser faire, et pas trop gouverner.

This address is written in a chaste, correct, and easy style, as free from the pompous stiffness of some of our orations, as from the flimsy ornament for which others are remarkable. Mr. Lawrence has evidently brought to the examination of his subject, a just taste and a sound judgment-qualifications which have secured him from the trivial common-places and frothy declamations into which occasional speeches are very apt to run.

The essay is, in short, highly creditable to the writer, and will abundantly repay the reader for the hour spent in its perusal.

ART. XII.--Alasco. A Tragedy, in Five Acts. By MARTIN AR

CHER SHEE. [Accepted by the Managers, but rejected by the Lord Chamberlain.] London, 1825. New-York: Reprinted.

We are induced to notice this effusion of the virgin muse of Mr. Shee, less on the score of its merits either as a good play or a fine poem,

than on account of the extraordinary treatment it has been fated to receive at the hands of the Lord Chamberlain. The anti-constitutional power vested in this officer, is one happily unknown in this country. The position in which Great Britain is placed, in relation to the great political system of the continent, is such that, notwithstanding the comparative freedom of her institutions at home, and her avowed disconnection with that earthly Trinity, which denounces as heretical any thing short of the most implicit and reverential faith, she is still compelled, in a great measure, to submit to the arbitrary principles promulgated and acted upon in Europe since the days of the first Cæsar. Nor can it ever be otherwise. And it is melancholy to reflect that, while the purest and the most enlightened principles and opinions are daily going forth from the walls of her parliament, and finding their way to the hearts of her people, that parliament and that people are yet compelled to

subscribe to a political faith, every article of which is in direct violation of the principles they profess, and a gross libel upon the understandings and the affections of men. With regard to the power vested in the Lord Chamberlain, it appears to us that there can be but one opinion. We shall therefore content ourselves with referring our readers to the preface to Mr. Shee's play, for some very sensible and eloquent remarks upon the subject. When the courtly Addison took the alarm at a certain word in a line of Pope's prologue to his Cato, “Britons, arise!" and suggested the alteration, “ Britons, attend!" many attributed his fears to the weakness and fastidiousness of a mind by no means powerful or original. The true explanation, however, we are inclined to believe, might have been sought for in the very clear and thorough understanding and appreciation of the political sentiments of the legitimate portion of his audience; whose displeasure would doubtless have been incurred by the radical dissyllable “ Arise !and would consequently have been exerted to proscribe the old Roman, and discard him for ever from the boards. We cannot say that we think highly of the subject of Mr. Shee's tragedy. The topic has been long since worn out, and has ceased to interest since the days of Gustavus Vasa. With little or none of the power of that play, it even exceeds it in its rant and extravagant declamation about liberty,—a blessing which, even an American, we trust, may be permitted to say, is more commonly talked of than enjoyed. Mr. Shee, in his debut as author, was determined, if possible, upon making a hit. His hits were too "palpable” to be relished-his antagonists became angry-and his weapon was made to recoil against himself. The sensitive Lord Chamberlain took the alarm the moment he saw an Englishman's name enrolled in the list of such a set of radicals as we are presented with in Mr. Shee's Dramatis Persona. And here it is that we are struck with the bad taste, to say the least of it, in which the writer's selection of his subject was made. Virginius and Caius Gracchus, two well written and very successful plays, by Mr. Knowles, are founded upon the same materiel selected by Mr. Shee. But notwithstanding the political declamation which pervades every scene of these two dramas, they are tolerated, and, we doubt not, even applauded, by the stanchest legitimates on the other side of the Atlantic. And this for the simple reason, that the persons of the drama are known to have lived centuries ago; and the scenes in which they acted passed away, (or but dimly recalled through the mist of antiquity,) together with the actions them

selves—if great and virtuous actions can be said ever to pass away. Venice Preserved, some scenes of which are cited by Mr. Shee in his preface, to show that the freedom of political speech has, in one instance at least, been tolerated in Great Britain, was written, and first represented, at a time when the fabric of the British Constitution was so torn and tossed upon the waves of warring factions, that the voice alike of wisdom and misrule was drowned amidst the thunder of the storm. But we doubt whether Venice Preserved would have been listened to at Venice. Instead of the present tragedy, had Mr. Shee produced a drama like Otway's masterpiece, we are inclined to think that the age would have been spared the mortifying spectacle of a Lord Chamberlain, seated upon his crimson velvet, with a single flourish of his official pen, attempting to settle the limits of the intellectual chart, and presuming to prescribe to the winged muse of poesy, the exact altitude of her flights, saying unto her, “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.” Our readers will perceive that, while we cannot excuse Mr. Shee's bad taste, not merely in the selection of his subject, but in dealing out, as profusely as he has done, political sentiments of the most extravagant nature, we are by no means the apologists of the Lord Chamberlain. We think the play should have been permitted an audience of the people, whose verdict, we doubt not, would have been characterized by a spirit of intelligence, honesty and independence. Mr. Shee's want of taste or talent is one question, but the act of the Lord Chamberlain, whereby he was condemned and denied benefit of clergy, we apprehend to be another and far more important consideration. We do not, however, mean to charge this writer with a want of talent. We think his play, particularly when considered as a first attempt, a very respectable production in point of composition; and, which is far more important to authors and managers, it appears to us to be what the connoisseurs in stage effect would call a very “actable" play. Mr. Shee seems, however to be an advocate of Miss Baillie's dramatic theory; for his play is evidently written upon a plan, in a great measure, corresponding to her own; with this difference, that, whereas Miss Baillie attempts to illustrate a single passion in the course of five long acts, Mr. Shee works upon as many passions as there are acts in the play. Of Miss Baillie's theory we shall take occasion to express our opinion at length in another place. We do not like it, merely because it is a system, imposing more restraint than genius will endure. Mr. Shee, however, does not make an experiment without assigning the grounds on which he anticipates success. So

« PreviousContinue »