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Some time after the conversation and illustration recorded in the preceding chapter, Benedict appeared one evening so flat and out of spirits,—whether this was owing to any lack of fees it is needless to guess,—that the Nymph resolved to rouse him, and accordingly, as soon as the candles were set and the fire trimmed, she took up Lord Francis Leveson Gower's translation of Faust, a drama by Goethe.
“ You have not read this,” said she; “ I recollect you threw it down with the epithet of Coleridgian ravings when it was first sent home; but I have since carefully, word and line, pored it all through, and I mean, Benedict, with your permission, to deliver my opinion at some length on the subject.
6 In the first place, then, I think the noble translator has done a great service to the literature and to the genius of his country, in presenting us with so clever, and, upon the whole, so tasteful a translation of a work, considered by the Germans and the German scholars as the masterpiece of so celebrated a man as Goethe ; for I presume it will now be admitted, that as this performance is supposed to possess beauties of the highest order in the opinion of the author's countrymen and the admirers of their literature, we may, by its merits, form some notion of the degree of taste which the Germans have attained, and also of that sort of moral quality which they value as genius.
“ You are aware, that in our own language we possess, in the Doctor Faustus of Marlowe, a tragedy on the same subject,—and that Lord Byron's Manfred is partly also similar in conception, but more elegantly imagined than either. Vulgarly speaking, the story is that of an accomplished man selling himself to the devil,-philosophically, it is but a dramatic version of such a character applying his attainments without any restraint of moral or religious principle. Of the three dramas, I prefer Byron's ; at the same time, I admit, that there are passages, in the Doctor Faustus, more impassioned, and passages also, even like his Lordship’s peculiar style, more effective than any thing in Manfred. The horror of Faustus towards the catastrophe transcends all exhibitions of despair, that dramatic genius has yet attempted; for, though the Promethean fortitude of Manfred belongs to the highest class of the sublime, it is still but a sustaining effort. It wants the vehemence necessary to make us sensible that the moral strength is really that stupendous energy which the poet has endeayoured to embody. The catastrophe of the Faust of Goethe, compared with either, is a failure. The interest depends not on the hero, but on the despair of a poor girl whom he had seduced, and he is carried away by the devil, without exciting one sentiment of horror for his fate. The general conception of the whole piece is also inferior to Marlowe's tragedy, and not for a moment to be compared with the hinted horrors of the NOBLE poet's
mystery. It is not, however, my intention to institute any very strict comparison. Indeed, I have but alluded to the two English works, as affording a proof of the difference between our national taste and that of the Germans,-now I will proceed more closely with the Faust.
“ The general character of the play may be described, as formed on the plan of the old moralities and mysteries. It opens with this song in heaven, by the three archangels, Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael.”
Is pouring out to kindred spheres,
His preappointed course of years.
Though none its dazzling rays withstand,
Creation’s dazzling realms expand.
Revolves with uncomputed speed,
Darkness and light by turns succeed.
From deep primeval rocks below,
The rocks that stand, the waves that flow,
From sea to land, from land to main;
The trembling universe enchain,
The lightnings of the dread destroyer
Precede his thunders through the air ;
The servants of his wrath forbear.
Though none its dazzling rays withstand,
Creation's dazzling realms expand.”
“ Then follows a personal conference between the Almighty and Mephistopheles, alias the Devil, of which the idea is taken from the book of Job. Lord Francis has omitted to translate this scene, and, I doubt not, judiciously; but I should remark to you a true touch of German taste in it. Mephistopheles receives permission to exercise his powers upon Faust, as of old upon Job, and in the end of the play he carries off Faust; thus the author hideously makes the Almighty consenting to the destruction of Faust for the gratification of the Devil. How much finer, and more elevated, and more poetical too, is the Hebrew idea, of making Job withstand the temptation ! How much more awful the conception of Marlowe, in making Doctor Faustus surrender his spirit, so ennobled by knowledge, for mere sensual enjoyments ! But the glory of conceiving the splendidly-endowed Manfred, struggling with the condemnations of remorse, the sequel, if I may so speak, to the enjoyment obtained by the guilty compact, raises Byron, in this instance, as much above both Goethe and Marlowe as the lesson conveyed in Job excels them all. The subject, however, is not exhausted. Job was tried but by afflictions, the temptations of St Anthony, in the hands of a truthpoet, would furnish a richer topic than either.
“ After the colloquy in heaven, the scene opens with Faust in his study: he has exhausted science and art; his curiosity is still hungry, and he is dabbling in magic. All this is very prettily conceived, but it is feebly expressed. A spirit in the end appears, for no purpose earthly. This is a dramatic error,-no character should be introduced in a play that is not required to the futherance of the plot. The spirit having vanished, Wagner, the secretary to Faust, comes in and interrupts his spell, and a very weak and prosing conversation ensues, intended to be satirical, but the shafts are clumsy and ineffectual. Wagner, too, is of little use in the piece, when he has retired, Faust, however, delivers himself of a soliloquy, which possesses very considerable poetical merit. He is speaking of the interruption produced by Wagner, and of the spirit which had appeared.”
“ Strange that when reason totters hope is firm.
Each slight encouragement renews our toil, We grub for treasures in the mouldy soil, And bless our fortune when we find a worm. Was this the place for such a voice to sound, When the dark powers of nature swarm'd around? And yet for once poor wretch, whom nature ranks, Meanest of all her children, take my thanks. Despair had seized me, you have burst the chain, And given' my dazzled sense its powers again. The vision seem'd of such gigantic guise, My frame was lessen’d to a pigmy's size.