Зображення сторінки

of style and conception. But Prometheus plays a comparatively small part in it, the chief actors being Deucalion and Pyrrha and the survivors of the great flood, to whom Prometheus brings the fire. It has little relation to the dramas of Aeschylus, Shelley, or Goethe.

The scholarly and beautiful drama of Mr. Bridges, on the other hand, bears obvious traces of Aeschylus and has several parallels with both Shelley and Goethe. He calls it Prometheus the Firegiver, and, contrary, I believe, to the opinion of most modern scholars, makes the Truppópos refer to the giving of fire which preceded and caused the punishment of Prometheus as exhibited in the Vinctus. His plot is simple. By the cruelty of Zeus, who desired to degrade men to the life of brutes, the earth has been deprived of fire. Prometheus comes to Argos to give it. He finds King Inachus about to sacrifice to Zeus and, advocating rebellion instead of prayer, offers Inachus fire, admitting that there will be a penalty to pay for it. Inachus accepts the risk, hoping to see earth fairer than ever, as now to be clothed with the works of men'. To which Prometheus replies in a beautiful speech which Goethe would have liked ; declaring that

nature's varied pleasaunce
Without man's life is but a desert wild,
Which most, where most she mocks him, needs his aid.
She knows her silence sweeter when it girds
His murmurous cities, her wide wasteful curves
Larger beside his economic line.

He goes on to prophesy, more in the vein of Shelley, a new race of men

To tread down tyranny and fashion forth
A virgin wisdom to subdue the world,

To build for passion an eternal song. The Chorus close the first part with a beautiful and most characteristic ode on Wonder, which is pure Bridges.

The second part gives the fears and opposition of the queen, Argeia, who sets forth the unhappy fate of all, Salmoneus, Niobe, and the rest, who defied the gods. Inachus replies, in very Shelleyan vein, that, even if he and she and their children suffer, the world will gain; and bids her not to forget that a good man's children are not only those of his loins engendered' but all the children of his love 'as sand upon the shore'. Prometheus then foretells the fate of Io, the daughter of Inachus, repeating, in a spirit which I cannot but think pedantic, the tedious Aeschylean account of Io’s wanderings, and hinting at his own dread fate. The Chorus sing to Man an ode of his sad life, sad for others if not for himself, with

No strength for thee but the thought of duty,

Nor any solace but the love of beauty. Inachus asks his deliverer's name, but Prometheus only gives the fire and slips away unobserved as it breaks out to the joy of the Chorus. But he has left his name ' newly writ' on the altar in place of the name of Zeus. The play ends with a prophecy of the fall of Zeus and the coming of a god who

By mercy and truth shall be known,
In love and peace shall arise.

Unlike Shelley, Mr. Bridges is quite aware of how much he has been influenced by Christianity: and this Christian ending is quite characteristic of him. But he is no man of Utopias ; his love and peace and truth are forces working on the life we know, not transforming it to an unrecognizable life of spirit. Here, as always, he is rather an artist and a thinker than a demonic genius of the order of the great three whom we have been discussing. He has allowed himself to be too much influenced by scholarship, retaining what is dead as well as what is alive in Aeschylus. But his drama has great and characteristic beauties. Almost all

through it makes on us the impression, which no English poet makes more continuously, that the thing said is something which the poet has himself thought or felt as an actual experience or conviction of his own. It is full of his thoughtfulness, his sanity, his hold on the life of men and women, his love of nature and art, his active interest in science, his unfailing felicities of phrase and rhythm. There is in Mr. Bridges a tenderness which is scarcely in Goethe. But on the whole he is nearer to Goethe than to Shelley. His Promethean fire gives men back to all the fullness and variety of life: and the life is earthly, bodily, intellectual, aesthetic, at least as much as moral and spiritual. There is never a page, never a speech in it, which does not exhibit the poet's curiosity and sensitiveness, his enjoyment of the pleasures of discovery, his delight in beauty wherever he can find it, in sight or sound. The Prometheus of Aeschylus boasts that he gave men all the arts. That is what the Prometheus of Mr. Bridges also gives : and the likeness and unlikeness of their gifts is the measure of the vitality of a great legend like this, at once so old and so new. Whoever touches Prometheus must go back to Aeschylus. That is true. But it is almost equally true that we cannot now go back to the Prometheus Vinctus without carrying with us much which, whatever its ultimate debt to Aeschylus, could not have been present to the minds of an Athenian audience. Aeschylus dies and Milton and Goethe and Shelley. But poetry lives; and the more we know of her the more we perceive how much she loves to bind her servants together till each helps each and all are one.



I FEEL the honour of being asked to come and speak at this College. But you must let me tell you this. I did not select my subject. That was selected for me by Professor Morley and by the revolutions of the sun. I should get out of my depth at once if I were to try to say what it is that the sun does every year. But, whatever it is, the reason of my being here and speaking of what I am to speak of, is that it has done it three hundred times since Cervantes died. So we yield to the illusions produced by what seems the most exact and veracious of the sciences. There is no essential reason why we should think any more of Cervantes when he has been dead three hundred years than when the number was only two hundred and ninety-nine or two hundred and ninety-eight. But even in the sciences we are the slaves of our imaginations, and because we have found it convenient to count by hundreds we suppose ourselves to remember and worship on the same principle.

However, here we are arrived at this great year 1916 : great enough of itself, indeed, big with battle and death and with the fate and shaping of the future of the world. But that is not the greatness I am to speak

. My subject is another greatness which it has, at least for these mathematically-governed imaginations of ours : the greatness which belongs to it as the three hundredth anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes. And it is only, or chiefly, of the lesser half of this greatness that I am to speak, the half least known in England, the half that comes from our great enemy of those days, from Spain, and from the greatest of Spanish writers,

1 Delivered at the University College, Reading, 22nd June 1916.

Cervantes. And even of him it is a part only, and not the whole, with which I am to deal : not all his works but his greatest work, the most famous and longest-lived of all the prose story-books of Europe, the immortal history of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

I wish to be perfectly frank with you. There is a certain boldness, to which some would give a worse name, in my venturing to speak of Don Quixote. I am no Spanish scholar. I can just read Spanish, but not quickly, or without the help of a dictionary; and, as to Cervantes, I have read little of his other works. I am therefore in a double difficulty. What I am going to speak of is one of the great classics of the whole world. Being then, as I say, no Spanish scholar, I have against me, not only my own lack of any exceptional knowledge but the certainty of your possessing ordinary knowledge. To praise Don Quixote is like praising the Elgin marbles or Westminster Abbey. One cannot begin it without a consciousness that other people have done it already and left nothing for us to do.

And yet that is just what it is of the very essence of a classic to disprove. The praise of a classic can never be finished. There may be nothing absolutely new to say about it. But, if it be really a classic, the old things said about it take a new face for each generation. Each century, each people, sees it afresh, the same and not the same. How much more the great chapters of Isaiah, how immeasurably more the deepest of the Psalms, mean to us than they could mean to the Hebrews who first heard them! Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw herself : for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.' 'Into thy hands I commend my spirit.' 'Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord : Lord, hear my voice.' What a world of life and power there is now in such words as these which at their first saying there could not possibly be! And this is still

« НазадПродовжити »