"Ghosts on the Stage." The Talisman for 1830. New York: Elam Bliss: 1829: 49-57.


--There's magic in the web of it.--
Make it a darling like your precious eye:
To lose or give't away were such perdition
As nothing else can match.--Othello.





EVERY one knows or has heard of the studious habits of the illustrious JEFFERSON, and of his fondness for collecting books, not for show, but for use, in all departments of science, art, literature, antiquarian research, and modern speculation. But his classical pursuits and his study of the difficult authors which cannot be read without great labour, while the poet and schoolmaster only can derive profit by mastering them, are probably known but to few. The general impression has been, that he was more attached to philosophical and speculative investigations--to those the result of which might have a practical influence on the condition of man--than to the perusal of works of pure literature. Indeed I have heard his example held up, by those who were alike ignorant of the course of his private reading, and of the classics which they condemned as stale and unprofitable, to vindicate the assertion that the acquisition of the Greek



and Latin languages was a waste of time at best, and alien to, and uncongenial with a proper comprehension of the important business of life. But the truth is, that these despised classics, on which all our best literature is founded, formed the favourite study of this great man in his youth, and afforded him a principal source of amusement in the dignified and learned retirement of his age. I had an opportunity of ascertaining this fact, when I visited Monticello in the winter of 1824-5.

I have rarely found more subjects for thoughtful and pleasing observation than were then afforded me, in the intellectual and personal habits of the ex-President. The activity of his mind had always excited my admiration. That of his body I was now surprised to find so little impaired by time, and by the manifold and distracting exercises of that intellect, which at the birth of our nation and in the first great council of the fathers of our country, had

"Winged that arrow, sure as fate,
Which fixed the sacred rights of man."

When I accompanied him in his daily morning ride, to his infant University, he bestrode a fiery, powerful horse, which it would have puzzled many a Broadway exhibitor of equestrian prowess even to manage. And when we arrived at the foundations, and rising walls of




those diversified structures, 'where grateful science' shall long 'adore his shade,' he ran up ladders, and travelled rapidly and unhesitatingly along the unfloored beams of the Rotundo, while my younger nerves were, I confess, agitated, as I followed him deliberately, and cautiously.

It is, however, to his classical reading and habits of study only, that I have now occasion to refer. He was no mere amateur, as was obvious from an inspection of his library. His collection of lexicons was large, and bore the evidences of having been consulted, thumbed and enriched with annotations, as regularly, if not as learnedly, as those of his renowned correspondent, Dr. Parr; while tables and indexes, chronological, or for the convenience of reference, which must have been compiled with considerable labour, were to be found in his own hand writing, pasted in several of the classical authors.

It was one of his favorite labour-saving contrivances, to unite in one volume whatever he found most immediately serviceable, or considered most relevant, upon one subject. He would take a valuable classic, Polybius for example, select the fairest printed Greek text, and the best German annotations, and cause them to be bound, interleaved alternately with the French commentary and translation of Pollard, and the Reveries of Marshal Saxe; producing by this conjunction a set of singularly variegated, but curious and useful quartos.



As no directions could have been sufficiently explicit to enable a binder to dispose with any accuracy of these sheets, varying in size and in the contents of the pages, it is obvious that their preliminary arrangement must have been made by the hands of the distinguished collector himself, or under his immediate supervision. In one less celebrated for sound practical sense, political wisdom, aptitude for managing a nation's business, and indomitable moral energy, occupations like these would have been noted and commented upon, by the superficial and flippant, as indicating the reverse of such high qualities. The philosophy of nature's roturiers did not hold water in this instance.

One day at dinner, after we had chatted some time, and on a variety of topics, while three or four sorts of wines, which, though neither old, nor curious, not high priced, were good of their kind, and as pure from brandy adulterations as they came from their vineyards, had passed and been tasted convivially, the conversation turned on dramatic representations, and the introduction of apparitions, upon the stage. On this latter subject, I fully subscribed to Lloyd's opinion that no ghost should be seen by the audience; and argued the inconsistency of making the bloody and brain-created phantom of Banquo stalk before the spectators of the scene, while to those who were upon it, save Macbeth, the space filled up by the ghost must, by an impracticable effort for imaginative delusion,




be conceived to be but empty air. I urged also the more palpable and complicated inconsistency in the representation of Hamlet; in which, at one time, the Prince, the audience and three gentlemen of the palace, behold the resurrection of the buried majesty of Denmark; while on another occasion, the ghost being visible to all else, the Queen could not behold him. And, though the surpassing and all but actually divine genius of Shakespeare, was here identically conspicuous, so far as conception was concerned, and the play was to be read in the closet, still I maintained, that in enacting regular tragedy, the production of ghosts should not be attempted; both on account of the incongruities before suggested, and the ludicrous accidents which may mar the effect, considering the persons employed to personify them.

"I must dissent from you altogether;" said my host. "You admit that the reader sees no inconsistency, or rather feels none, when the queen does not behold the spirit of her dead husband. I am clearly of Dr. Johnson's opinion, that 'a dramatic exhibition is a book recited with concomitants that increase or diminish its effect. A play read, affects the mind like a play acted.' If the poet's fable is worthy of the intervention of a ghost, I am decidedly in favour of having a good honest one produced, that the spectators may be sensible of what it is which terrifies or overawes the actor. With all my regard for the French stage, I confess that La Rive, the Talma of my time, did not affect me, (nor do I



believe that he did his enthusiastic audience,) with half the thrilling emotion, the calenture of the imagination, or nervous excitement, which I have experienced at the appearance of many a sturdy and clumsy old Hamlet, or Banquo, at Drury Lane and Covent Garde; or even at Philadelphia, where, I recollect, while Congress sat there, Fennell played the 'buried majesty of Denmark.'"

"Shakespeare being in question, and Doctor Johnson, the greatest scholiast, and your experience, being against me, I must of course give up the point. But in the regular tragic drama, you will admit, that not only the French stage, but all classical authority and usage is against the introduction of any ghosts at all, whether seen or supposed to be so?"

"I beg your pardon. Do you remember none in any Greek tragedy?"

"None," I replied, after some consideration. "Gods and Goddesses, personifications, Force, Strength, Death, and so forth, cannot be called such. Alcestis is indeed revived, by the descent of Hercules to Hades; but no ghost is introduced, or could be. The Eidolon of Polydore, in the Hecuba, is merely brought in for prologue, to show the purposes of the play, as Shakespeare employed Gower or Father Time; with certainly more poetical effect than could have been attained by the conversational explanations of Messieurs Noddle and Doodle. But he has nothing to do with the action of the drama,




nor would Euripides have ventured to make a mere shade an agent or interlocutor."

"You have forgotten, I perceive, the raising of the Eidolon of Darius, by the incantations of the Persian Council or Magi; and the introduction of Clytemnæstra in the "Eumenides." Æschylus, the great master of the sublime, the terrible and the horrific, had the boldness to bring up the unsubstantial shades; and did so most successfully,"

I confess, that though in my youth I was very fond of Greek literature, (and my admiration of its unrivalled treasures has never been diminished,) I was never very familiar with the remaining works of the father of tragedy. My acquaintance with them was confined to the Prometheus Bound; and, with that exception, Parson Adams' manuscript Æschylus, without copious collateral assistance, would have been nearly as great a puzzle to me as it was to the country squire. This I frankly acknowledged. It was with no small surprise, also, that I heard my host discoursing of these relics, unknown certainly to many professors in this country, with an ease which showed that he had read them intelligently, and an enthusiasm which was not borrowed from the pedantic raptures of a commentator, but inspired by its original subject. In grandeur and magnificence of conception, he thought Æschylus peerless; and said it needed little study of what he has left, to be convinced that even his own rich and flexible lan-



guage was insufficient to supply the exorbitant demands of his imagination. As with Shakespeare, expression sunk under the weight of his thoughts, or received from them a power which the same words never had before. He said he would show me the passages to which he had referred.

The conversation then fell into a different channel. On returning to my room at night, I found on the table two octavo volumes, severally containing the Persians and the Furies of the ancient dramatist, interleaved and arranged in the manner I have before described. The text was, if I recollect aright, that of Bothe. His annotations, and those of Schutz, the old Scholia, the French of Du Theil, and the English version of Potter, with plates from the antique, were bound together face to face.

With these convenient aids, I made out the meaning, according to the text before me, of the Chorus in the Persians, which calls up the shade of Darius; at whose tomb the widowed mother was making propitiatory offerings to appease the manes, when, after the defeat and flight of Xerxes, the Council had been listening with intense impatience to the rumours of disaster and destruction, brought by a messenger. From reading, I was led to versifying; and finding my attempt at translation, not long since, among some loose papers, I suggested the subject, which has often been mentioned as an admirable one for a painter, to Inman. His pro-




lific pencil has furnished me with a classical illustration for this volume of my miscellanies; and I have taken the opportunity of chronicling the conversation which gave rise to my making the version.