WHEN Roumania came to be recognized as an independent State, her representative at the Court of St. James's was for a long time Ion Ghica, an able statesman and also a writer of repute. Many of his letters to Alexandri, which still make very pleasant reading, are dated from London. He tells in them of his frequent visits to the British Museum, where, as he puts it, "the history of the human genius rolls before one's eyes as in a panorama." In what remains of his private library I found the following amongst other English books: A Biography of Shakespeare, by Charles Knight; The Life and Genius of Shakespeare, by Thomas Kenny; Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, in two volumes, by J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps; A Shakespearean Grammar, by E. A. Abbott; Schmidt's Shakespeare Lexicon. Such works have been of real use to his sons, Scarlat and Dumitru Ghica, who were educated in England and translated Romeo and Juliet, Richard ILL, The Merchant of Venice, King John, Antony and Cleopatra, and Julius Cæsar.
During the 'sixties and 'seventies a group of young men, newly returned from abroad, where they had completed their studies, founded at Jassy a society called ''Junimea,'' which had subsequently a great and direct bearing on Roumanian literature. Its members used to meet at each other's houses and discuss, or read from, various authors.
At the very first meeting, members were invited to hear the reading of a translation or Macbeth by Peter Carp, who was to become leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. He published it afterwards, together with another of Othello, in book form. They both had the merit of being written in rather good, clear Roumanian and of having closely followed the original. One of the papers at the time accused him of not having translated the two plays from the original; and the translator, who became later notorious for his jokes, one day entered the offices of the paper. The secretary was there—the translator mumbled for a few minutes in a rather strange tongue, and then said: "Tell your Editor that I spoke to you in English." But how was the poor man to know that he was really speaking English, when he himself could not understand a word of it?
Besides other people who manifested a keen interest in Shakespeare, there was then Eminescu, the foremost representative of Roumanian poetry, who in the artistic embodiment of a pessimistic view of life ranks with Leopardi. His manuscripts, now in the Roumanian Academy, show not only that he was an assiduous reader of Shakespeare but that he even intended to translate the great dramatist. Now and then Eminescu alludes to Shakespearean characters as, for instance, in a fantastic story where he says about the heroine:
"It seemed as if the genius of divine Shakespeare had breathed into the world a new moonlight angel, a new Ophelia,'' or his grand picture of King Lear given in a poem called Emperor and Proletarian:
There are verses in Eminescu filled to the utmost with a poignant sorrow. And it is Hamlet's soliloquy that entered into his inspiration, when he stood before a beautiful maiden's coffin in Mortua Est:
Or when he wrote Midnight Chimes—a rather curious but characteristic poem—where in the crowded compactness of six verses he sets forth the same dark, unsolved doubts regarding one's own existence:
Apart, however, from any direct influence there are points upon which the two poets meet. Shakespeare repeatedly expresses the belief in the immortality of his Sonnets, in their power to save his cherished friend from death's oblivion. So does Eminescu when addressing the lady of his dreams:
Among other Renaissance conceptions Shakespeare emphasized the Platonic one, to the effect that all mundane beauties are but reflections of an immutable, unseen, perfect Beauty. This conception, which probably caught the attention of the Roumanian poet through the reading of Schopenhauer, is evident from his saying that women
or from the lines:
The comparison of life with a stage made by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice and in As You Like It is also given by Eminescu, especially in his Glossa:
In this trend of ideas one has also to consider the poetical creation of P. Cerna. He died young while studying at Leipzig. In a book submitted by him as a thesis, under the title of Gedenkenlyrik, he discusses Hamlet's "To be or not to be . . ." from an aesthetic point of view. And there is not a little of Shakespeare in his power of soaring to the higher realms of imagination, where poetry can revel in new, unthought-of similes. For instance, this passage in one of his poems:
Shakespeare left traces in him which are easily to be detected. Thus in a poem called Separation such verses as:
remind one of Romeo's final words in the churchyard: