I know few things more agreeable than to hear him and his cousin open the armoury of their wit, which, like summer lightning, flashes rapidly and brightly, but never wounds. In England, we are apt to consider wit and satire as nearly synonymous; for we hear of the clever sayings of our reputed wits, in nine cases out of ten, allied to some ill-natured bon mot, or pointed epigram. In France this is not the case, for some of the most witty men, and women too, whom I ever knew, are as remarkable for their good nature as for their cleverness. That wit which needs not the spur of malice is certainly the best, and is most frequently met with at Paris.
Went last evening to see Mademoiselle Marsin Henri III. Her acting was, as usual, inimitable. I was disappointed in the piece, of which I had heard much praise. It is what the French call decousue, but is interesting as a picture of the manners of the times which it represents. There is no want of action or bustle in it; on the contrary, it abounds in incidents: but they are, for the most part, puerile. As in our own Othello, a pocket handkerchief leads to the denouement, reminding one of the truth of the verse,—
“What great events from trivial causes spring!”
The whole court of Henry the Third are brought on the scene, and with an attention to costume to be found only in a Parisian theatre. The strict attention to costume, and to all the other accessories appertaining to the epoch, mise en scene, is very advantageous to the pieces brought out here; but, even should they fail to give or preserve an illusion, it is always highly interesting as offering a tableau du costume, et des moeurs des siecles passes. The crowd brought on the stage in Henri III, though it adds to the splendour of the scenic effect, produces a confusion in the plot; as does also the vast number of names and titles introduced during the scenes, which fatigue the attention and defy the memory of the spectators.
The fierce “Duc de Guise,” the slave at once of two passions, generally considered to be the most incompatible, Love and Ambition, is made to commit strange inconsistencies. “Saint-Megrin” excites less interest than he ought; but the “Duchesse de Guise,” whose beautiful arm plays a grand role, must, as played by Mademoiselle Mars, have conquered all hearts vi et armis.
Henri III has the most brilliant success, and, in despite of some faults, is full of genius, and the language is vigorous. Perhaps its very faults are to be attributed to an excess, rather than to a want, of power, and to a mind overflowing with a knowledge of the times he wished to represent; which led to a dilution of the strength of his scenes, by crowding into them too much extraneous matter.