Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/698

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soul. When the sacerdotal castes, aristocracies, and despotic monarchies have been instituted, when power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a minority of privileged persons, the great revolution has an influence at once useful and injurious upon literature. Encouraged, corrupted, and exploited by the directing classes, by the worldly fortunate, poetry gains much in form and technics; meter ceases to be simple; the gross assonances of the past no longer suffice to charm more refined audiences; exact rhymes are required, and a skillful adaptation of syllables to a rigorously determined quantity. At the same time, poetical compositions cease to be only oral. They are written, and prosody must at once satisfy the eye and the ear.

The substance is modified along with the form, and becomes aristocratic like it. Certain gross features, which formerly shocked no one, are expunged; but with this the poem suffers a loss of its naive grandeur, its sincerity of standard, its epic charm. When they undertook to protect and reward poets, the powerful classes ruled them always, even without desiring it; whether they knew it or not, they took them away from some subjects and imposed others upon them. On the whole, the final result of this high patronage is usually lamentable; and by the single fact of its existence, sincere, elevated, independent literature, the only kind that is of value, languished and expired under the rule of the "grand monarch," Louis XIV. What was left was only a shadow, an attenuated poetry, which chiseled out the form without caring for the material; which, having no ideas to express, juggled with the words, and saw nothing but the melodic side in the verse; in short, an inferior poetry, which tended to confound itself anew with its twin sister, music, which it had previously had to quit in order to think better.

The evolution of the dramatic art was effected in a nearly parallel line with that of lyric poetry. Even more rigorously than that, dramatic literature is the slave of the social state, because it has necessarily a collective character. In the course of our studies we have found the general opinion, according to which the theater is the literary expression of an advanced civilization, to be false. On the contrary, the dramatic species goes back to the very origin of literary æsthetics, for choral and mimic dances constitute nearly all the literature of primitive peoples, and a rudiment of scenic art has been found, even in Tasmania, among an extremely inferior race. In reality scenic poetry preceded all other kinds, and most frequently constituted their mold. By the simultaneous employment of mimicry, song, speech, and instrumental music, the opera-ballet of the early ages was the form of æsthetics most fitted strongly to impress spectators and actors, and at the same time to satisfy a very lively psychical want, that