Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/August 1895/Professional Institutions IV
IV.—ORATOR AND POET, ACTOR AND DRAMATIST.
By HERBERT SPENCER.
THINGS which during evolution become distinct were of course originally mingled: the process of evolution implies this. Already we have seen that in the triumphal reception of the conqueror, originally spontaneous and rude but in course of time becoming an established ceremonial elaborated into definite forms, there were germs of various arts and the professors of them. With the beginnings of dancing and music just described, were joined the beginnings of oratory, poetry, acting and the drama; here, for convenience, to be treated of separately. All of them manifestations of exalted emotion, at first miscellaneous and confused in their display, they only after many repetitions became regularized and parted out among different persons.
With the shouts of applause greeting David and Saul, came, from the mouths of some, proclamations of their great deeds; as, by Miriam, there had been proclamation of Yahveh's victory over the Egyptians. Such proclamations, at first brief and simple, admit of development into long and laudatory speeches; and, with utterance of these, begins the orator. Then among orators occasionally arises one more fluent and emotional than ordinary, whose oration, abounding in picturesque phrases and figures of speech, grows from time to time rhythmical, and hence the poet. The laudations, comparatively simple in presence of the living ruler, and afterward elaborated in the supposed presence of the apotheosized ruler, are, in the last case, sometimes accompanied by mimetic representations of his achievements. Among children, everywhere much given to dramatizing the doings of adults, we may see that some one of a group, assuming the character of a personage heard about or read about, imitates his actions, especially of a destructive kind; and naturally therefore, in days when feelings were less restrained than now, adults fell into the same habit of representing the deeds of the hero they celebrated. The orator or poet joined with his speech or song the appropriate actions, or else these were simultaneously given by some other celebrant. And then, when further developments brought representations of more complex incidents, in which the victories of the hero and his companions over enemies were shown, the leading actor, having to direct the doings of subordinates, became a dramatist.
From this sketch of incipient stages based on established facts, but partly hypothetical, let us pass to the justifying evidence, supplied by uncivilized races and by early civilized races.
If we take first the usages of peoples among whom the musical faculty is not much developed we meet with the lauding official in his simplest form—the orator. Says Erskine of the Fijians, each tribe has its "orator, to make orations on occasions of ceremony, or to assist the priest and chief in exciting the courage of the people before going to battle": the encouragement being doubtless in large measure eulogy of the chief's past deeds and assertions of his coming prowess. So is it among the New Caledonians.
And, according to Ellis, the Tahitians furnish like facts. Of their "orators of battle" he says—
The Negro races have commonly large endowments of musical faculty. Among them, as we have seen, laudatory orations assume a musical form; and, in doing so, necessarily become measured. For while spoken utterances may be, and usually are, irregular utterances which, being musical, include the element of time, are thereby in some degree regularized. On reading that among the Marutse, those who "screech out the king's praises" do so to a muffled accompaniment of their instruments," we must infer that, as the sounds of their instruments must have some rhythmical order, so too must their words. Similarly the Monbutto ballad-singers, whose function it is to glorify the king, must fall into versified expression of their eulogies. The "troop of laureates or bards "kept at the Dahoman court, can not utter their praises in chorus without having these praises rhythmically arranged. So, too, in Ashanti and among the Mandingos, the laudations shouted before their chief men, having assumed the form of songs, must have verged into speech more measured than usual. Other uncivilized peoples show us the official orator and poet giving to his applause a musical form which must, by implication, be rhythmical. Atkinson says:—
Among these African peoples, however, and the nomadic peoples of Asia just named, eulogies of the living ruler, whether or not with rhythmical words and musical utterance, are but little, or not at all, accompanied by eulogies of the apotheosized ruler, having a kindred form but with priests in place of courtiers. Why is this? There appear to be two reasons, of which perhaps one is primary and the other secondary. We have seen that among the Negro peoples in general, ideas about life after death, where they exist, are undeveloped. The notion is that the double of the dead man does not long remain extant: when there are no longer any dreams about him he is supposed to have perished finally. Consequently, propitiation of his ghost does not grow into a cult, as where there has arisen the notion that he is immortal. And, then, possibly because of this, African kingdoms are but temporary. It is remarked that from time to time there arises some powerful chief who conquers and consolidates neighboring tribes and so forms a kingdom; but that after a generation or two this ordinarily dissolves again. We have seen how powerful an aid to consolidation and permanence is the supposed supernatural power of a deceased ruler; and hence it appears not improbable that the lack of this belief in an immortal god, and consequent lack of the established worship of one, is a chief cause of the transitory nature of the African monarchies.
This supposition harmonizes with the facts presented to us by ancient civilized societies, in which, along with praises of the living ruler, there went more elaborate praises of the dead and deified ruler.
Egypt furnishes instances of poetic laudations of both. Preceding a eulogy of Seti I, it is written:—
And then we have the acts, wholly priestly, of—
Still better and more abundant evidence is furnished by accounts of the early Greeks. The incipient poet, as eulogizer of the god, is priestly in his character and at first is an official priest. Concerning the Greeks of rude times Muir writes—"Hence, in their traditions, the character of poet is usually found to combine those of musician, priest, prophet, and sage;" and he adds that—The mythical poet Olen "ranks as the earliest and most illustrious priest and poet of the Delian Apollo. . . Bœo, a celebrated priestess of that sanctuary [the Delphic], pronounces him. . . to be, not only the most antient of Apollo's prophets, but of all poets."
We are told by Mahaffy that "the poems attributed to these men [poets prior to Homer]. . . were all strictly religious."
"The hexameter verse was commonly attributed to the Delphic priests, who were said to have invented and used it in oracles. In other words, it was early used in religious poetry. . . There is no doubt that the priests did compose such works [long poems] for the purpose of teaching the attributes and adventures of the gods. Thus epic poetry [was at first] purely religious. . . Homer and Hesiod represent the close of a long epoch."
And that their poetry arose by differentiation from sacred poetry, is implied in his further remark that in Homer's time, "the wars and adventures, and passions of men, had become the center of interest among the poets." This partially secularized poetry at a later date became further secularized, while it became further differentiated from music. The hymn of the primitive priest-poet was uttered to the accompaniment of his four-stringed lyre, in a voice more sonorous than ordinary speech—not in song, as we understand it, but in recitative; and, as Dr. Monro argues, a vague recitative—a recitative akin to the intoning of the liturgy by our own priests, and to the exalted utterance spontaneously fallen into under religious excitement. But in course of time, this quasi-musical utterance of hexameters was dropped by a certain derived secular class, the Rhapsodists. These, who recited at courts "the books [of Homer] separately, some one, some the other, at the feasts or public solemnities of the Greek cities," and who themselves sometimes composed "dedicatory prologues or epilogues in honor of the deities with whose festivals such public performances were connected," and became in so far themselves poets, were distinguished from the early poets by their nonmusical speech.
Thus there simultaneously arose a class of secular poets and a divergence of poetry from song.
A parallel genesis occurred among the Romans. Though its sequences were broken, its beginning was the same. Says Grimm—
The more elaborated forms of religious ceremony appear to have been imported from subjugated countries—the sacred games from Etruria, and other observances from Greece. Hence the Romans being the conquerors, it seems to have resulted that the arts, and among others the art of poetry, brought with them by the captives, were for a long period lightly thought of by their captors. Having no commission from the gods, the professors of it were treated with contempt and their function entirely secularized. So that, as Mommsen writes:—
"The poet or, as he was at this time called, the "writer," the actor and the composer, not only belonged still, as formerly, to the despised class of laborers for hire, but were still, as formerly, placed in the most marked way under the ban of public opinion, and subjected to police malreatment." With like implications in a later chapter he adds:—
More coherent evidence concerning the differentiation of the poet from the priest is hardly to be expected where, instead of a continuous evolution of one society, we have an agglomeration of societies, in which the conquering society from the beginning incorporated other ideas and usages with its own.
When, from Southern Europe of early days, we turn to Northern Europe, we meet, in Scandinavia, with evidence of a connection between the primitive poet and the medicine-man. Speaking of the "diviners, both male and female, honored with the name of prophets," who were believed to have power to force the ghosts of the "dead to tell them what would happen," Mallet says that "poetry was often employed for the like absurd purposes:" these same skalds or bards were supposed to achieve this end "by force of certain songs which they knew how to compose." At the same time that these poets and musicians of the ancient northern nations invoked the spirits of the departed in verses which most likely lauded them, they "were considered as necessary appendages to royalty, and even the inferior chieftains had their poets." The Celts had kindred functionaries, whose actions were evidently similar to those of the Greek priest-poets. Says Pelloutier, basing his statement on Strabo, Lucan, and others:—
The use of the word "hymnes" apparently implying that their songs had something of a sacred character. That the connection between poet and priest survived, or was re-established, after paganism had been replaced by Christianity, there is good evidence. In the words of Mills—
And Fauriel asserts that—
But it seems a probable inference that after Christianity had subjugated paganism, the priest-poet of the pagans, who originally lauded now the living chief and now the deified chief, gradually ceased to have the latter function and became eventually the ruler's laureate. We read that—
"A joculator, or bard, was an officer belonging to the court of William the Conqueror."
"A poet seems to have been a stated officer in the royal retinue when the king went to war."
And among ourselves such official laureateship still survives, or is but just dying.
While the eulogizer of the visible ruler thus became a court-functionary, the eulogizers of the invisible ruler no—longer an indigenous deity, but one of foreign origin—came to be bis priests; and in that capacity praised him, sometimes in poetical, sometimes in oratorical, form. Throughout Christendom from early times down to ours, religious services have emphasized in various proportions the different attributes of the deity—now chiefly his anger and revenge, now chiefly his goodness, love, and mercy; but they have united in ceaseless exaltation of his power; and the varieties of oral admiration, of invocation, of devotion, have been partly in prose and partly in verse. All along the Church-service has had for its subject-matter this or that part of the divine story, and all along it has embodied its ideas and feelings in a semi-rhythmical liturgy, in hymns, in the orations which we call sermons: each of them having in one way or other the laudatory character. So that the Christian priest has throughout stood in substantially the same relation to the being worshiped, as did the pagan priest, and has perpetually used kindred vehicles of expression.
While the Christian priest has been officially one who repeated the laudations already elaborated and established, he has also been to a considerable extent an originator, alike of orations and poems. Limiting ourselves to our own country, and passing over the ancient bards, such as Taliesin and Merlin, whose verses were in praise of living and dead pagan heroes, and coming to the poets of the new religion, we see that the first of them Cædmon, a convert who became inmate of a monastery, rendered in metrical form the story of creation and sundry other sacred stories—a variously elaborated eulogy of the deity. The next poet named is Aldhelm, a monk. The clerical Bede again, known mainly by other achievements, was a poet, too; as was likewise bishop Cynewulf. For a long time after, the men mentioned as writers of verse were ecclesiastics; as was Henry of Huntingdon, a prior; Geraldus Cambrensis, archdeacon; Layamon, priest; and Nicholas of Guildford. Not until Edward Ill's reign do we find mention of a secular song-writer—Minot; and then we come to our first great poet, Chaucer, who, whether or not "of Cambridge, clerk," as is suspected, became court-poet and occupied himself mainly with secular poetry. After this the differentiation of the secular verse-writer from the sacred verse-writer became more marked, as we see in the case of Gower; but still, while the subject-matter of the poems became more secularized, as with Langland and with Barbour, the ecclesiastical connection remained dominant. Lydgate was priest, orator and poet; Occleve, poet and civil servant; William of Massington, proctor and poet; Juliana Berners, prioress and secular poetess; Henryson, schoolmaster and poet; Skelton, priest and poet laureate; Dunbar, prior and secular poet; Douglas, rector and court-poet; Barclay, priest and poet; Hawes, priest and poet; and so on. It should be added that one of the functions of the clergyman has been the writing of laudatory hymns—hymns composed now by ordained ecclesiastics, now by dissenting ministers. These facts, joined with facts of recent times, make it clear that as in pagan societies, so in Christian societies, the priest-poet, appointed eulogizer of the deity he serves, is the first poet; and that the poets we distinguish as secular have gradually arisen by differentiation from him.
Along with the divergence of secular poets from sacred poets there have arisen divergences within the assemblage of secular poets themselves. There have come the mainly epic, as Milton; the didactic, as Pope; the satiric, as Butler; the descriptive, as Wordsworth; the comic, as Hood.
From those official praisers of the hero or god whose laudations take the form of speech, non-rhythmical or rhythmical, we pass to those whose laudations take the form of mimetic actions—who express the triumphs of the deified ruler by imitations of his deeds. United as the two originally were, they diverge and develop along their respective lines.
Existing savages yield illustrations of the primitive union of vocal laudation and mimetic laudation. Concerning the Point Barrow Eskimo we read:—
More detailed evidence is supplied by an official account of the Navajo Indians, from which here are relevant passages:—
"Hasjelti Dailjis, in the Navajo tongue, signifies the dance of Hasjelti, who is the chief or rather the most important and conspicuous of the gods. The word dance does not well designate the ceremonies, as they are in general more histrionic than saltatory. . . . The personation of the various gods and their attendants and the acted drama of their mythical adventures and displayed powers exhibit features of peculiar interest. . . . Yet, from what is known of isolated and fragmentary parts of the dramatized myths, it is to he inferred that every one of the strictly regulated and prescribed actions has or has had a special significance, and it is obvious that they are all maintained with strict religious scrupulosity."
And it is added that each of these observances "clearly offers a bribe or proposes the terms of a bargain to the divinities."
Noting next the evidence furnished by Ancient India, we are led to infer that there, as elsewhere, the triumphal reception of a conqueror was the observance from which sprang the dramatic art, along with the arts we have thus far contemplated. Weber writes—
And though, himself offering another interpretation, he quotes Lassen to the effect that
Greek history yields various facts of like meaning. In Sparta
That the drama had a religious origin is shown by the fact that it continued always to have a religious character. Says Moulton—"the performance of every drama was regarded by the ancients as an act of worship to Dionysus." And to like effect is the statement of Mahaffy that—"the old Greek went to the theater to honor and serve his god." The dramatic element of religious ceremonies was at first mingled with the other elements, as is implied by Grote, who speaks of the importance of the united religious celebrants—
The process of differentiation by which the drama arose is well shown by the following extracts from Moulton:—
"Only one of these Ballad-Dances was destined to develop into drama. This was the Dithyramb, the dance used in the festival worship of the god Dionysus.
". . . the 'mysteries' of ancient religion were mystic dramas in which the divine story was conveyed."
"The chorus started from the altar in the center of the orchestra, and their evolutions took them to the right. This would constitute a Strophe, whereupon (as the word 'Strophe' implies) they turned round and in the Antistrophe worked their way back to the altar again."
In lyric tragedy "the Chorus appears as Satyrs in honor of Dionysus, to whose glory the legend is a tribute; they maintain throughout the combination of chant, music, and dance."
"The work of Thespis was to introduce an 'actor,' separate altogether from the chorus."
That along with differentiation of the drama from other social products there went differentiation of the dramatist and the actor from other persons and from one another, may fairly be inferred, however little able we may be to trace the process. Already, by the above extract from Grote, we are shown that a leading actor gave oral directions to subordinate actors; and in doing this he assumed to some extent the character of dramatist. Before the rise of a written literature no greater distinction could be made; but after written literature arose, the dramatist proper became possible. Still, it is to be observed that in the productions of the great dramatic writers of Greece, the original relations continued to be shown. As Moulton remarks:—
And the subject-matter continued in late days as in early days to be, in chief measure, the doings of the gods. An illustration is furnished by Mahaffy, who says:—
Clearly this incident, which while mainly showing the development of instrumental music, shows also the kind of theme chosen. But when we come to the comedies of Aristophanes we see a complete secularization.
Partly because, as pointed out above in following the genesis of the poet, so much of Roman civilization was not indigenous but foreign, and partly because Roman life, entirely militant, led to a contempt for all non-militant occupations (as happens everywhere); the rise of the dramatist in Rome is indefinite. Still we find indications akin to the foregoing. Duruy, in agreement with Guhl and Koner, writes that—
And he goes on to say that—
In Rome as in Greece an idea of sacredness long attached to the drama. "'Varo,' says St. Augustine, 'ranks theatrical things with things divine.'" This conception of sacredness, however, was congruous with their conceptions of the gods, and widely different from sacredness as understood by us.
Having usually been an alien and possessing no odor of sanctity derived from his traditional religious function,—
Little as one might have expected it, we find that the pagan genesis of the drama was paralleled by the Christian regenesis of it in mediæval Europe. It commenced, as in India, Greece, and Rome, with representations of sacred subjects by priestly actors. Incidents in the life of the god were dramatically repeated in edifices devoted to his worship.
"The circumstance that the ritual was carried on in Latin naturally led to its being supplemented on particular occasions with sacred scenes or lessons acted to the ignorant."
"Thus the raison d'être of the mysteries and miracle plays was to act stories from Scripture or the lives of Saints, or embodying central doctrines such as the incarnation, for the benefit of a populace unable to read for themselves."
But there are confused evidences and conflicting opinions respecting dramatic representations in early Christian days—secular and sacred origins appearing to be mingled. We read that "sometimes when a sufficient number of clerical actors were not to be procured, the churchwardens. . . caused the plays to be acted by secular players." And in the same work we also read that "complaint [to Richard II] is made against the secular actors, because they took upon themselves to act plays composed from scripture history, to the great prejudice of the clergy." But in another passage the writer, Strutt, says that these acted mysteries "differed greatly from the secular plays and interludes which were acted by strolling companies, composed of minstrels, jugglers, tumblers, dancers, bourdours or jesters. . . these pastimes are of higher antiquity than the ecclesiastical plays." Not improbably such companies may have survived from pagan times, in which their representations formed part of the pagan worship: losing their original meanings, as did the songs of the minstrels. This view seems congruous with the opinion that the secular drama did not arise by direct descent from the mystery-plays, but that, influenced by the familiarity of its writers both with them and with the popular exhibitions, it took its definite form mainly by suggestion of the classic drama: a supposition favored by the fact that in various Elizabethan plays a chorus is introduced. Be this as it may, however, the general implication remains the same. There arose in Christendom, as in Greece, a sacred drama performed by priests and representing incidents in the sacred story; and if our secular drama did not directly descend from this Christian religious drama, then it indirectly descended from the original pagan religious drama.
Along with the rise of the secular drama have arisen minor differentiations. The separation between actor and dramatist, though still not complete, has become greater; most dramatic authors are not actors. And then the dramatic authors are now distinguished into those known as producers chiefly of tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, burlesque.
We meet here with no exception to the general law that segregation and consolidation are parts of the evolutionary process. Beginning with Greece we trace the tendency even among the poets. Curtius remarks that "poetry like the other arts was first cultivated in circles limited after the fashion of guilds." And the religious character of these guilds is shown by the further statement that "schools of poets came to form themselves which were . . . intimately connected with the sanctuary."
Naturally the process readily took place with those occupied in combined representations; for they, as a matter of necessity, existed as companies. But there early arose more definite unions among them. Mahaffy says, concerning the Greeks, that—
And he further states that—
From Rome, for reasons already indicated, we do not get much evidence. Still there is some.
Nor do modern days fail to furnish a few, though not many, illustrations of the integrating tendency. A slight organization is given by the Actors' Benevolent Fund. The dramatic writers have an agency for collecting the amounts due to them for the performance of their pieces, and are to that extent combined. And then we have a special newspaper, The Era, which forms a medium for communication, by advertisements, between all kinds of stage-performers and those who wish to engage them, as well as an organ for representing the interests of the stage and the semi-dramatic music-hall.
[After the above chapter was written my attention was drawn to a passage in the late Prof. Henry Morley's work, A First Sketch of English Literature (p. 209), which in short space yields verification for the various leading propositions contained in it and in the preceding chapter:—
Here, then, as in the Hebrew triumphal reception of the living hero, and the Greek worship of the apotheosized hero, we see a union of music and the dance, and with them a union of rhythmical speech with some dramatic representation of the incidents described, and of the emotions caused by the description. We see that everywhere there has tended to bud out afresh the combined manifestations of exalted feeling from which these various arts originate. Another fact is forced upon our attention. We are shown that in all cases, while there arises some one of a group who becomes singer or reciter, the rest assume the character of chorus. This segregation, which characterized the religious worship of the Greeks and characterized also their dramatic representations, is not only displayed in later times by the cathedral choir, which shares the service with the solo-singers, and by the operatic chorus which does the like on the stage, but is also displayed by the choral accompanists described in the above passage, and even now survives among us as the chorus which habitually winds up the successive verses of a convivial song in a public house.]
- In his learned work, The Modes of Ancient Greek Music, he writes:—"Several indications combine to make it probable that singing and speaking were not so widely separated from each other in Greek as in the modern languages with which we are most familiar." (p. 113). . .
. . ."For if the language even in its colloquial form had qualities of rhythm and intonation which gave it this peculiar half-musical character, so that singing and speaking were more closely akin than they ever are in our experience, we may expect to find that music was influenced in some measure by this state of things." (p. 119).
Thus it is clear that the primitive priest-poet of the Greeks was simply an emotionallyexcited orator, whose speech diverged from the common speech by becoming more measured and more intoned.