Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

as far as his charges are coincident with the deci. sions of Shakspeare's own commentators and (so they would tell you) almost idolatrous admirers. The true ground of the mistake lies in the confounding mechanical regularity with organi: form. The form is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a pre-determined form, not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material ;-as when to a mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. The organic form, on the other hand, is innate; it shapes, as it developes, itself from within, and the fulness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form. Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible in forms ;—each exterior is the physiognomy of the being within,-its true image reflected and thrown

au troisième; le prince tue le père de sa maîtresse, feignant de tuer un rat, et l'heröine se jette dans la rivière. On fait sa fosse sur le théâtre ; des fossoyeurs disent des quolibets dignes d'eux, en tenant dans leurs mains des têtes de morts; le prince Hamlet répond à leurs grossièretés abominables par des folies non moins dégoûtantes. Pendant ce temps-là, un des acteurs fait la conquête de la Pologne. Humlet, sa mère, et son beau-père boivent ensemble sur le théútre ; on chante à table, on s'y querelle, on se bat, on se tue: on croirait que cet ouvrage est le fruit de l'imagination d'un sauvage ivre. Dissertation before Semiramis.

This is not, perhaps, very like Hamlet; but nothing can be more like Voltaire. Ed.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

out from the concave mirror;—and even such is the appropriate excellence of her chosen poet, of our own Shakspeare,—himself a nature humanized, a genial understanding directing self-consciously a power and an implicit wisdom deeper even than our consciousness.

I greatly dislike beauties and selections in general; but as proof positive of his unrivalled excellence, I should like to try Shakspeare by this criterion. Make out your amplest catalogue of all the human faculties, as reason or the moral law, the will, the feeling of the coincidence of the two (a feeling sui generis et demonstratio demonstrationum) called the conscience, the understanding or prudence, wit, fancy, imagination, judgment,--and then of the objects on which these are to be employed, as the beauties, the terrors, and the seeming caprices of nature, the realities and the capabilities, that is, the actual and the ideal, of the human mind, conceived as an individual or as a social being, as in innocence or in guilt, in a play-paradise, or in a war-field of temptation ;--and then compare with Shakspeare under each of these heads all or any of the writers in prose and verse that have ever lived ! Who, that is competent to judge, doubts the result? - And ask your own hearts,-ask your own common-sense—to conceive the possibility of this man being--I say not, the drunken savage of that wretched sciolist, whom Frenchmen, to their shame, have honoured before their elder and better worthies,

but the anomalous, the wild, the irregular, genius of our daily criticism! What! are we to have miracles in sport ?-Or, I speak reverently, does God choose idiots by whom to convey divine truths to man ? (h)

RECAPITULATION, AND SUMMARY
Of the Characteristics of Shakspeare's

Dramas.*

I
N lectures, of which amusement forms a large

part of the object, there are sone peculiar difficulties. The architect places his foundation out of sight, and the musician tunes his instrument before he makes his appearance; but the lecturer has to try his chords in the presence of the assembly; an operation not likely, indeed, to produce much pleasure, but yet indispensably necessary to a right understanding of the subject to be developed.

Poetry in essence is as familiar to barbarous as to civilized nations. The Laplander and the savage Indian are cheered by it as well as the inhabitants of London and Paris ;-its spirit takes up and incorporates surrounding materials, as a plant clothes

[ocr errors]

* For the most part communicated by Mr. Justice Cole. ridge. Ed.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

itself with soil and climate, whilst it exhibits the working of a vital principle within independent of all accidental circumstances. And to judge with fairness of an author's works, we ought to distinguish what is inward and essential from what is outward and circumstantial. It is essential to poetry that it be simple, and appeal to the elements and primary laws of our nature; that it be sensuous, and by its imagery elicit truth at a flash; that it be impassioned, and be able to move our feelings and awaken our affections. In comparing ·

different poets with each other, we should inquire which have brought into the fullest play our imagination and our reason, or have created the greatest excitement and produced the completest harmony. If we consider great exquisiteness of language and sweetness of metre alone, it is impossible to deny to Pope the character of a delightful writer; but whether he be a poet, must depend upon our definition of the word; and, doubtless, if every thing that pleases be poetry, Pope's satires and epistles must be poetry. This, I must say, that poetry, as distinguished from other modes of composition, does not rest in metre, and that it is not poetry, if it make no appeal to our passions or our imagination. One character belongs to all true poets, that they write from a principle within, not originating in any thing without; and that the true poet's work in its form, its shapings, and its modifications, is distinguished from all other works that assume to

[ocr errors]

belong to the class of poetry, as a natural from an artificial flower, or as the mimic garden of a child from an enamelled meadow. In the former the flowers are broken from their stems and stuck into the ground; they are beautiful to the eye and fragrant to the sense, but their colours soon fade, and their odour is transient as the smile of the planter;—while the meadow may be visited again and again with renewed delight; its beauty is innate in the soil, and its bloom is of the freshness of nature. (i)

The next ground of critical judgment, and point of comparison, will be as to how far a given poet has been influenced by accidental circumstances. As a living poet must surely write, not for the ages past, but for that in which he lives, and those which are to follow, it is, on the one hand, natural that he should not violate, and on the other, necessary that he should not depend on, the mere manners and modes of his day. See how little does Shakspeare leave us to regret that he was born in his particular age! The great æra in modern times was what is called the Restoration of Let. ters;—the ages preceding it are called the dark ages ; but it would be more wise, perhaps, to call? them the ages in which we were in the dark. It is usually overlooked that the supposed dark period was not universal, but partial and successive, or alternate; that the dark age of England was not the dark age of Italy, but that one country was in

[ocr errors]

ܪ

« PredošláPokračovať »