The Critical Review, second series 12 (November 1794): 260-62.
The Fall of Robespierre; an Historic Drama. By S.T. Coleridge, of Jesus College, Cambridge. 8vo. 1s. sewed. Lunn, Cambridge. 1794.
The fall of Robespierre was an event of the greatest importance to the affairs of France, and is a very proper subject for the tragic muse. It may, however, be thought by some to be too recent an event to admit of that contrivance which is essentially necessary in unravelling the plot of the drama. Indeed, we have been informed, that the work before us was the production of a few hours exercise, and must, therefore, not be supposed to smell very strongly of the lamp. Several parts too being necessarily made up of such reports of the French convention, as have already been collected through the medium of newspapers, may be expected to have little of the charms of novelty.
By these free remarks, we mean not to under-rate Mr. Coleridge's historic drama. It affords ample testimony, that the writer is a genuine votary of the Muse, and several parts of it will afford much pleasure to those who can relish the beauties of poetry. Indeed a writer who could produce so much beauty in so little time, must possess powers that are capable of raising him to a distinguished place among the English poets.
In the first act, the scene lies in the Thuilleries. Barrere is first introduced thus speaking of Robespierre:
'The tempest gathers–be it mine to seek
A friendly shelter, ere it bursts upon him.
But where? and how? I fear the tyrant's soul–
Sudden in action, fertile in resource,
And rising awful 'mid impending ruins;
In splendor gloomy, as the midnight meteor,
That fearless thwarts the elemental war.
When last in secret conference we met,
He scowl'd upon me with suspicious rage,
Making his eye the inmate of my bosom.
I know he scorns me–and I feel, I hate him–
Yet there is in him that which makes me tremble!'
The following speech of Legendre has much beauty in it. He is speaking of Barrere:
'Perfidious Traitor;–still afraid to bask
In the full blaze of power, the rustling serpent
Lurks in the thicket of the Tyrant's greatness,
Ever prepar'd to sting who shelters him.
Each thought, each action in himself converges;
And love and friendship on his coward heart
Shine like the powerless sun on polar ice:
To all attach'd, by turns deserting all,
Cunning and dark–a necessary villain!'
The following speech of Robespierre is in the true style of this species of composition:
'What? did La Fayette fall before my power?
And did I conquer Roland's spotless virtues?
The fervent eloquence of Vergniaud's tongue?
And Brissot's thoughtful soul unbribed and bold?
Did zealot armies haste in vain to save them?
What! did th' assassin's dagger aim its point
Vain, as a dream of murder, at my bosom?
And shall I dread the soft luxurious Tallien?
Th' Adonis Tallien? banquet-hunting Tallien?
Him, whose heart flutters at the dice-box? Him,
Who ever on the harlots' downy pillow
Resigns his head impure to feverish slumbers!'
This drama consists only of three acts, of which the first is by far the most finished. The third act closes beautifully:
'The last worst traitor triumphed–triumph'd long,
Secur'd by matchless villany. By turns
Defending and deserting each accomplice
As interest prompted. In the goodly soil
Of Freedom, the foul tree of treason struck
Its deep-fix'd roots, and dropt the dews of death
On all who slumbered in its specious shade.
He wove the web of treachery. He caught
The listening crowd by his wild eloquence,
His cool ferocity that persuaded murder,
Even whilst it spake of mercy!–never, never
Shall this regenerated country wear
The despot yoke. Though myriads round assail,
And with worse fury urge this new crusade
Than savages have known; though the leagued despots
Depopulate all Europe, so to pour
The accumulated mass upon our coasts,
Sublime amid the storm shall France arise,
And like the rock amid surrounding waves
Repel the rushing ocean.–She shall wield
The thunder-bolt of vengeance–she shall blast
The despot's pride, and liberate the world!'
At the end of this work, Mr. Coleridge has subjoined, proposals for publishing by subscription, Imitations from the modern Latin Poets, with a critical and biographical Essay on the Restoration of Literature: a work in which we most heartily wish him success. The present is a very agreeable specimen of Mr. Coleridge's poetical talents, and as the writers, from whose works he proposes to frame imitations are but little known to English readers, though many of them possess much merit, he will render, we doubt not, an acceptable service to the public.