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To Goethe, On His Producing Voltaire’s "Mahomet" On The Stage
by [?]


Thou, by whom, freed from rules constrained and wrong,
On truth and nature once again we’re placed,–
Who, in the cradle e’en a hero strong,
Stiffest the serpents round our genius laced,–
Thou whom the godlike science has so long
With her unsullied sacred fillet graced,–
Dost thou on ruined altars sacrifice
To that false muse whom we no longer prize?

This theatre belongs to native art,
No foreign idols worshipped here are seen;
A laurel we can show, with joyous heart,
That on the German Pindus has grown green
The sciences’ most holy, hidden part
The German genius dares to enter e’en,
And, following the Briton and the Greek,
A nobler glory now attempts to seek.

For yonder, where slaves kneel, and despots hold
The reins,–where spurious greatness lifts its head,
Art has no power the noble there to mould,
‘Tis by no Louis that its seed is spread;
From its own fulness it must needs unfold,
By earthly majesty ’tis never fed;
‘Tis with truth only it can e’er unite,
Its glow free spirits only e’er can light.

‘Tis not to bind us in a worn-out chain
Thou dost this play of olden time recall,–
‘Tis not to seek to lead us back again
To days when thoughtless childhood ruled o’er all.
It were, in truth, an idle risk and vain
Into the moving wheel of time to fall;
The winged hours forever bear it on,
The new arrives, and, lo! the old has gone.

The narrow theatre is now more wide,
Into its space a universe now steals;
In pompous words no longer is our pride,
Nature we love when she her form reveals;
Fashion’s false rules no more are deified;
And as a man the hero acts and feels.
‘Tis passion makes the notes of freedom sound,
And ’tis in truth the beautiful is found.

Weak is the frame of Thespis’ chariot fair,
Resembling much the bark of Acheron,
That carries naught but shades and forms of air;
And if rude life should venture to press on,
The fragile bark its weight no more can bear,
For fleeting spirits it can hold alone.
Appearance ne’er can reach reality,–
If nature be victorious, art must fly.

For on the stage’s boarded scaffold here
A world ideal opens to our eyes,
Nothing is true and genuine save–a tear;
Emotion on no dream of sense relies.
The real Melpomene is still sincere,
Naught as a fable merely she supplies–
By truth profound to charm us is her care;
The false one, truth pretends, but to ensnare.

Now from the scene, art threatens to retire,
Her kingdom wild maintains still phantasy;
The stage she like the world would set on fire,
The meanest and the noblest mingles she.
The Frank alone ’tis art can now inspire,
And yet her archetype can his ne’er be;
In bounds unchangeable confining her,
He holds her fast, and vainly would she stir.

The stage to him is pure and undefiled;
Chased from the regions that to her belong
Are Nature’s tones, so careless and so wild,
To him e’en language rises into song;
A realm harmonious ’tis, of beauty mild,
Where limb unites to limb in order strong.
The whole into a solemn temple blends,
And ’tis the dance that grace to motion lends.

And yet the Frank must not be made our guide.
For in his art no living spirit reigns:
The boasting gestures of a spurious pride
That mind which only loves the true disdains.
To nobler ends alone be it applied,
Returning, like some soul’s long-vanished manes.
To render the oft-sullied stage once more
A throne befitting the great muse of yore.