The Dial/Volume 15/Number 169/Chronicle and Comment


CHRONICLE AND COMMENT.

The Comédie Francaise could not come to Chicago this summer, for reasons playfully set forth in a recent article by M. Sarcey, and it has, instead, gone to London, where it is to remain a month, and produce no less than forty-seven pieces of its repertory. The programme includes classical and modern plays in great variety, among which "Hamlet" is noteworthy, although we hardly recognize the tragedy in the description—“drame en vers en cinq actes par MM. Dumas et Paul Meurice.” But we have no doubt that it is our own Hamlet that M. Mounet-Sully will present to his audience. We must remember that it was Shakespeare's Cleopatra that was, after all, given us by Mme. Bernhardt, although disguised in lines that made no pretence of being Shakespearian. The opening performance of the French Play in London was signalized by a "Salut à Londres," written by M. Claretie, and recited by Mile. Reichemberg, from which we extract a few verses:

“Salut, pays du grand Shakespeare,
Au nom de Corneille le Grand;
Aux souverains d'un double empire
Où le génie accepte et rend;

“Ou, loin de la dent des couleuvres,
Il proclame — invincible et fier —
Le libre échange des chefs-d’œuvre
A travers les vents et la mer!”

Mr. Edgar Prestage writes to the London "Academy" to complain of the neglect of Portugese literature by English students. To say that Portugal has produced but one author of the first rank Camoens is a statement as absurd, in his opinion, as "that England has produced no great poet with the exception of Shakespeare." He calls particular attention to three great writers of the present century Almeida Garrett, Anthero de Quental, and Joao de Deus saying of the latter that he is "without doubt, the greatest lyric poet now living." Curiosity should certainly be stimulated by so enthusiastic a description of a poet whose name means nothing at all to most English readers, but we fear that the case is a hopeless one. If the poet in question were a novelist, or even a dramatist, he might come into general recognition; but no lyric poet is ever appreciated outside the circle of those whose language he sings. Heine has come nearer than any other lyrist of the century to such general favor, but even Heine is known to most non-Germans chiefly for his humorous and ironical prose or for his pathetic life-story. It was not Byron's slender lyrical gift that made him a Continental favorite, but the fact that he stood as an energetic and picturesque spokesman of the revolutionary spirit. Even Shelley is practically unknown outside of England and America. The greatest of living lyrists—pace—Mr. Prestage is probably Signor Carducci; but to how many who are not Italians is he more than a name? Hugo's highest achievement was in the lyric, but to the English-speaking world he was the novelist and hardly more. These statements apply with almost equal force to Herr Björnson; but who, unfamiliar with Norwegian, thinks of Björnson as a lyric poet? There is no help for it. We can translate novels, and plays, and epics; we cannot translate songs. A nation must be content with its own lyrists; the genius of the singer proper is, by no process known to the alchemy of the translator, reproducible in another form of speech than that in which it finds native expression.

The London "Literary World" recounts an alleged recent "experience" of Mr. Herbert Spencer, telling us that the philosopher has "received a letter from a Wild West American publisher, asking how much he would take for the exclusive right to publish his poem, ‘The Faërie Queen,’ in the States." The story is not even ben trovato, but it shows well enough how we are libelled at times by the arrogant foreigner. In this case, revenge follows promptly, for the same issue of the paper, a few pages further on, informs its readers that Mrs. Deland is a daughter of Mrs. Julia Ward Howe; and, still later, inserts an anxious query as to the authorship of the line,

“From perilous seas in faery lands forlorn.”

People who live in glass houses should not pretend that the brown-stone fronts of their neighbors are constructed of the same brittle material.