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or wanting a son to honour his aged parents, and to pay an annual visit to their tombs when dead; filial piety being, in the estimation of this singular people, the first of moral virtues, and the lack of it the worst of moral otlenees; it is, in fact, the grand basis on which all the religious, moral, and civil institutions of the empire are founded : hence the want of an heir to perpetuate the family name, and to perform the posthumous ceremonies, is a source of misery in a man's life-time, and a reproach to his memory when dead. To obviate this misfortune, as far as human means will admit, custom, which is here stronger than law, allows a man to take an inferior, or second wife, whom he generally purchases from poor relations; in this character she has no rights, and if she bear children, they are considered as the children of the first or legitimate wife, and enjoy the same privileges as if born in lawful wedlock.
The characters in the · Heir in his Old Age' are an old man, his wife, his second wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, and his nephew. The outline of the fable is briefly this :- The old man, having amassed considerable wealth by trade, and being without a son to perform the duties which filial piety demands, both to the living and the dead, had taken a second wife, whose pregnancy is announced at the opening of the play. To atone for some little irregularities in his trading concerns, and incline heaven to be favourable to his wishes, he makes a sacrifice of his book-debts, by burning them in the presence of his family. He then bequeaths his property to his wife and married daughter; and having got rid of a nephew, who is hated by his old wife, by giving him a hundred pieces of silver, he sets out for his house in the country, to await the congratulations of his family on the wished-for birth of his son.
He is scarcely departed, however, before the disappointment of the son-in-law, on the pregnancy of the second wife, vents itself in invectives; and he plainly tells the daughter, (his wife,) that he only married her for the sake of the old man's wealth. The daughter soothes him by hinting how easy it will be to get rid of the pregnant wife, and to frame a plausible story to deceive her father ; and from what follows, the husband, as well as the audience, is left to conclude that she has contrived to despatch the unfortunate woman. In the mean time, the old gentleman is waiting in great anxiety for the result; his family appear in succession to communicate the dolesul tidings of the disappearance of his second wife, which he conceives to be a trick, and is at length reluctantly brought to believe it true. In the bitterness of his disappointment, he bursts into tears, and expresses his suspicions of foul play. Attributing at length his misfortunes to some little peculations of which he has been guilty, he resolves to bestow alms at a neighbouring temple, and to fast for seven days, in the hope that the
objects of his charity may in some measure, however imperfectly. supply the place of a son. We have now a scene at the temple in which the beggars of China, like the beggars in all other countries, exhibit their talent at fraud and imposture ; here also the nephew appears, in the most hopeless state of poverty; he is insulted by the son-in-law, and reproached by the old wife : the uncle, how. ever, dismisses him with a trifle of money to supply his immediate wants, and earnestly recommends him to be punctual in visiting the tombs of his family at the approaching season, giving him the strongest assurances that a due attention to the duties of filial pi. ety must ultimately lead to prosperity.
The nephew accordingly visits the tombs, makes the best ob. lations that his poverty will allow, invokes the shades of bis ancestors to commiserate his distress, and to grant him their protection: he then goes away, and the old man and his wife make their appearance, observe the vestiges of a recent oblation, conclude from the meanness of the offerings that it must have been their ne. phew, and express great indignation that their own daughter and son-in-law should be so tardy in fulfilling their duty. The old man takes this opportunity of convincing his wife of her injustice to this nephew, who is not only more worthy, but nearer in blood than their son-in-law; she relents, and expresses a desire to make reparation; he enters, a reconciliation takes place, and he is again received into the family,
Soon after, the son-in-law and daughter appear with a great noise and a procession of village officers, to perform the ceremonies; but they are received by their parents with bitter reproaches for their ingratitude and tardy piety, and ordered never more to enter the doors of their parents. On the old man's birth-day, however, they approach his house and entreat to pay their respects, when to the utter astonishment and joy of the old man, his daughter presents him with his second wife, leading a son in her hand about three years of age, both of whom, it now appears, had been secreted by the daughter, and supported by her, out of affection to her father, unknown to her husband, who had all along supposed both mother and child to have been otherwise disposed of. The daughter is now separated from her worthless busband, and taken into her father's house ; a new arrangement is made of his property; and the piece concludes with the joy and gratitude of the old gentleman, for being so unexpectedly made happy by - an heir in his old age.'
This simple story is worked up with considerable ingenuity ; the unity and integrity of the action are closely adhered to, the incidents are all connected with the main design, and the character of each of the dramatis persone well preserved throughout, especially that
of the old man: that of the old lady is not quite so passive as we had been led to suppose the female character to be in China ; she rules her family with undisputed sway; and is moreover a reasonable woman, listens to argument, and is open to conviction. The action proceeds without the least interruption, and though the time employed is somewhat more than three years, the events follow each other in such natural order, and are so closely connected, that the lapse of time would not be perceived, but for the age of the child brought forward in the concluding scene. It is very remarkable that the divisions of this drama should approximate so nearly to those of most European nations. It consists of five acts, or four besides the sie-tsze, or opening, which is, to all intents and purposes, an act differing in nothing from the other acts. Its resemblance to the prologues of the Greek drama is sufficiently striking, where the principal personages come forward to let the audience into the argument or story on which the action is to turn, and to acquaint them with the names and characters of the actors. The Old Man,' in the Opening of the present drama, announces himself in this manner:- 1am a man of Tung-ping-foo; my sirname is Lew, my name Tsung-sheu. I am sixty-years of age, and Le-she, my wise, is fifty-eight. My daughter Yin-chung's age is twenty-seven, and that of her husband, Chang-lang, thirty, &c.;' and so he goes on to tell the ages, connexions, and history of the whole dramatis persone-like the single actor of Thespis, announcing his own name and family, and telling the simple tale of his misfortunes,-or, like the ghost of Polydore, in the Hecuba of Euripides, acquainting the audience that he is the son of Hecuba and Priam, just come from the mansions of the dead, &c.-or Helena, who exclaims.
-1 from Sparta draw my birth, a realm To glory not unknown, of royal race, Daughter of Tyndarus,
and Helena my name.' But the nearest parallel to the Chinese drama may perhaps be found in some of our old Mysteries ; as in that of Candlemas Day, or the Killing of the Children of Israel,' where, for instance, King Herod thus announces himself :
*I am King Herowd, I will it be knowen so,
Most strong and myghty in feld for to fyght, &c.' This practice of addressing the audience, as Mr. Gifford has observed, is ridiculed by Ben Jonson in his . Bartholomew Fair, where Lanthorn Leatherhead thus opens his puppet-show.
Gentles, that no longer your expectations may wander,
The resemblance, however, to the Greek drama does not stop here. The lyrical compositions, which in the serious and historical plays are more frequent than in dramas like the one in question, bear a very striking affinity to the chorus of the old Greek tragedy, with all due distance, however, as to taste and genius, and like the chorus too, they are sung with an accompaniment of music. The difficulty of many of these choral songs in the Greek tragedy is not greater than the obscurity which prevails in those of the Chinese. Mr. Davis seems to think that these passages are chiefly intended to gratify the ear, and that sense is very often sacrificed to sound. It may be so; and, if it were, bis editor observes, 'examples of the same kind might be produced nearer home. We are rather inclined to believe, however, from Mr. Davis's own occasional translations, that they are meant to convey some sage reflection, or some moral truth, bearing on the subject of the dialogue, and that their obscurity is owing to the figurative signification of the symbols. Without extensive knowledge of their ancient poetry,' says Mr. Morrison, and the customs and manners of the country, it is very difficult to understand their poetical compositions.'
The Chinese stage derives none of those helps from scenery which, in Europe, so powerfully assists in augmenting the illusion. Nor have they any permanent theatres: with the ready bamboo, of universal use, a few mats, and some printed cotton cloths, they will dress up a theatre in a few hours; or a chamber, with a door for 'their exits and their entrances,' will suffice for the purpose. When a foreign ambassador is received by the viceroy of a province, or the governor of a city, or when an officer of state, or a wealthy citizen, gives an entertainment to his friends, a set of players and a band of music are the never-failing appendages to the banquet. They are always ready to commence on a certain number of pieces, and they continue to play as long as the guests remain, without intermission. The female characters are usually performed by eunuchs or boys ; though women sometimes appear on the stage. The dialogue in their tragedies and historical plays is carried on in a tone of voice considerably elevated above its natural pitch, and continued in a kind of whiping monotony, like a bad imitation of the recitative in the Italian opera, but without the modulations and cadences of that pleasing vehicle of fine music. In the lighter pieces of comedy and tarce, the dialogue is conducted in the familiar tone of common conversation.
Any extract that we could give would convey but little idea of the merits or defects of the present play; whatever they may be, the Chinese drama is unquestionably their own; and it appears, both from this and the tragedy of the House of Tchao, that the
object is to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image;' and though the Heir in his old Age' was written nearly eight hundred years ago, yet, as time stands still in China with regard to any alteration or improvement, this and all their plays, however old, show the existing age, “his form and pressure. It is a true picture of Chinese manners and Chinese feelings, and, as such, is a valuable acquisition to our stock of knowledge, as far as it regards this extraordinary nation.
There is little or no doubt that the Chinese borrowed the popular religion, and the remnants they possess of astronomical science, from the Hindoos; but their drama is obviously altogether national. If we may judge from the single Hindoo play that has been published in an European dress, we should say, that while the Hindoos soar beyond nature into the wilds of mythology, the Chinese adhere rigidiy, far too rigidly sometimes, to human actions and human imperfections. It is true, the same feeling of misery attending the want of a son is expressed in Sacontala as in the Chinese play; but among the Hindoos it is more of a religious feeling, and the observance of a precept of the Vedas; thus the prince Dushmanta says:
• Ah me! the departed souls of my ancestors, who claim a share in the funeral cake, which I have no son to offer, are apprehensive of losing their due honour, when Dushmanta shall be no more on earth!-who then, alas, will perform in our family, those obsequies which the Veda prescribes ? My forefathers must drink, instead of a pure libation, this Aood of lears, the only offering which a man, who dies childless, can make them.
We are so much pleased with this little performance of Mr. Davis, that we hope to see more of the same kind, from the same, or some other collection of the popular dramas of China; for nothing can be better calculated to display the manners and the character of the people.
We had promised ourselves much information on the interesting subject before us, from the embassy to China, which, at the present moment, occupies so large a share of the public attention. With such superior advantages to those of Lord Macartney, in having so many of our own countrymen who are well versed in the language, Sir George Staunton, Mr. Morrison, and Mr. Davis, the Editor too, had naturally enough anticipated the most favourable results from the mission; which, however, we regret to find, from the Imperial Gazette, are not likely to be fulfilled. That the general facis which have been published are true, we are not disposed to doubt; that the details are false, we entertain as little doubt,well knowing that, for the propagation of falsehood, the old Brussels Gazette was but a type of that of Pekin.