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philosophical, arts in war, demonstrations in physics. Everything perishes except Truth, and the worship of Truth, and Poetry which is its enduring language.

And now, when I am about to speak of some of the great qualities of Shakspere, I do not propose to be very critical. It is better to approach him with, as I think Mr. Coleridge has suggested, an “affectionate reverence.” It is safer to err on the side of too much respect. I am unwilling to discuss, at length, his (so called) want of utility, or his morality, or his historical, geographical, or verbal errors; some of which last may be ascribed to the age he lived in, whilst others may be safely placed to the account of interpolators or transcribers of his plays. Besides, our poet deals with subjects so many and so various, and he is of so high an intellect, that I dare not venture to speak of him as of any other writer. He has been denounced lately, I hear, as an offender against letters; stripped and hacked and scarified, to satisfy the bad humour of some very unenviable person. I lave forborne to read this libel against the greatest man that the world has produced, being already sufficiently acquainted with the freedom of preceding critics.

The flattery or goodnature of these writers (now an important body) has done but little harm. No book can live and take its permanent place, unless it has in itself the seeds of vitality. But the injury which literature suffers from dishonest, malignant criticism, is very great. It is true, that a commanding genius is not to be repressed by malevolence or envy: and it is true, perhaps, that merit of every order will make its way in the end, and secure its due reputation. But, in the meantime, we, the cotemporaries, are defrauded of the fruits gathered in for us; and the labourer is cheated of his hire. Readers of books are for the most part an indolent race. They prefer taking the opinions of the present or last generation, to searching for those which are a century old. In fact, men associate themselves insensibly with the people of their age. Their habits, including even the habit of thinking, run very much in the same current. An original thinker will indeed accept nothing upon hearsay; he will investigate and judge for himself. But the rank and file of men hug an error to their souls ; repeat and propagate it, till even Truth is for a time discomfited. The fact is, that fame sometimes depends upon a happy conjunction of influences. Not only Pallas and Apollo, but Jove and Mercury also, must assemble and determine the point. The old dramatists of England lay inhumed, without mark or epitaph, for 170 years. At last, a clerk in the India House, whose taste led him to ponder over ancient books, pierced the darkness in which they lay, and saw their value. It was as though a diver, suddenly let down in some remote spot of the ocean, had beheld these “sumless wrecks and sunken treasuries,” and had brought up wealth inexhaustible, rich gems, and gold, and antique ornaments, --for ages neglected or forgotten!

Shakspere himself has suffered, in his time, from commentators and critics, foreign and domestic. The opinions of Voltaire, even now, interfere with the progress of his fame in France. Our great poet, however, has, by dint of his irrepressible power, risen above all ordinary impediments which beset the course of authors,

“ Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot,"

and has taken his station at the head of all. In this country, at least, he requires no defender; scarcely, indeed, an expounder of his meaning, notwithstanding the change that our language has undergone since his time. All that is left is to have some discretion in our worship; to enumerate some of his qualities; to reckon up, as far as space and one's own ability will permit, the good deeds that he has done; and thus leave him

-in a new shape-tended and decorated by a new artist, his characters drawn out by the pencil, and many of his delicate fancies (as I think) delicately handled, to take his chance with the English public.

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And here, it may be well to advert to some of the points on which others have already spoken. Amongst other titles to respect, Shakspere has been styled the originator of our “romantic Drama." This phrase conveys

very erroneous, for it conveys a very insufficient, idea of what he did, even for the Drama. The word “ romantic,” either in its old signification (of “wild” or “improbable"), or coupled with its recent and more ludicrous associations, is, to the last degree, disparaging and untrue, as applied to bim. That he pursued the lofty, the heroic, and the supernatural, and subdued them to his use, is well known; but probability and truth are the very qualities by which he is distinguishable, above all other writers. Taking the outline of his stories for granted (a necessary postulate), his plots are admirably managed; and his characters are absolutely living people; true in the antique time, true in his own, and true in ours :

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To know what Shakspere achieved, it is only necessary to look at the previous history of the stage. Before his time, the drama was a narrow region. With the single exception of the Greek drama, it bore no comparison, in any country, with the other departments of national literature. And even in Greece, as elsewhere, the drama was cramped and limited in its very nature. It did not extend beyond its own history, or superstitions; it dealt with a single event that was familiar to all, and in which the whole course of the story was visible from the outset to the end. It embodied the anger of Jove, the power of remorse, the pains and penalties of sinful or presumptuous men; or it reflected the distorted humours or singularities of the time, after the fashion of a farce or a satire. the case throughout all antiquity.

In our own rude beginnings, the same meagreness of outline and poverty of character prevailed; without any of the grandeur of thought, or beauty of language, which distinguished the drama of Athens. As Æschylus bad given to the ancients, Diana and Apollo, Strength, Force, and the Furies; so the English Mysteries and Moralities presented to our forefathers Knowledge, and Good Councill, and Death, and Sathan the Devil, and the rest. of such personages sufficiently announce their errands, and shew that the object of these little, dramas was simply didactic. They conveyed moral and religious lessons to communities who were unacquainted with books; and possessed, we may imagine, some extrinsic attractions, which drew together spectators and auditors whom the homilies of the ecclesiastics had failed to collect.

The growing intelligence of the public could not, however, long rest content with these inartificial dramas; and accordingly Tragedy and Comedy began, simultaneously, about the time of the birth of Shakspere, to manifest themselves in more regular shapes upon the English stage. This dawn announced a coming day. Yet, there is nothing in this period, except the plays of Marlowe, that need detain us; although Peele has sweet and flowing lines, and Lily some charming passages, in which he has revived all the romance and more than the sentiment of the ancient Grecian fables. Marlowe was the only great


precursor of Shakspere. He was far from a perfect dramatist. His characters are defective in discrimination, in delicacy, and in truth. Nevertheless, he was

a daring and powerful writer, and his "mighty line” is known, by reputation at least, to all readers of English literature. Some of his thoughts and images are not unworthy of Shakspere himself. The well-known lines

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burned the topless towers of Iium?”

may be referred to as a fine instance of imagination. His bold, reckless heroes, however, are carried to the very limits of extravagance, and his women are extravagant also, or without mark. He is altogether of the earth, earthy: he riots in the sensual and diabolical, and tramples down all probabilities. And yet, amidst all this, are interspersed proud and heroic thoughts, classical allusions, harmonious cadences, that elevate and redeem his dramas from, otherwise, inevitable disgust. For some of these faults Marlowe was himself answerable, but many of them may be fairly ascribed to the barbarism of his age.

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Such was the state of things when Shakspere came; the good Genius who brought health and truth, and light and life, into the English drama; who extended its limits to the extremity of the earth, nay, into the air itself; and peopled the regions which he traversed, with beings of every shape, and hue, and quality, that experience or the imagination of a great poet could suggest.

The benefits which Shakspere bestowed upon the stage may possibly be readily admitted, although the precise nature of those benefits must, by most readers, be taken upon trust. But the full importance of his writings to the land he lived in will never, perhaps, be generally understood. Their effect can scarcely be exaggerated. The national intellect is continually recurring to them for renovation and increase of power:

As to their fountain, other stars Repairing, in their golden urns draw light.”

They are a perpetual preservative against false taste and false notions. Their great author is the true reformer. He stands midway between the proud aristocracy of rank and wealth, and that "fierce democratie" which would overwhelm all things in its whirl; a true philosopher; a magician more potent than his own Prospero, and never otherwise than beneficent and wise.

There is no part of the drama which he did not amend. Until his time (for Marlowe's tragedy is merely speckled and bespotted by vulgar farce) the grave and the comic were never permitted to unite. Tragedy was barred out from Comedy by some traditional law. The picture presented was either gloomy and without relief, or it was trivial and jocose, wanting in depth and stability. The true aspect of human nature, therefore, which is various and always changing, had never been seen upon the stage. Instead thereof, a mask, hideous or grotesque, as the case might be, but always inflexible, was exhibited for our edification or amusement; and we were taught to laugh only with people who could never be serious, or to sympathise with heroes to whom it would be derogatory to smile. This defect, a defect under which the great Athenian dramas labour, Shakspere remedied ; not by engrafting temporary jests or fleeting fashions upon the enduring form of tragedy, but by blending and interweaving humours which are common to all men, with the passions that are also common to all. The humours, and jealousies, and vanities of Illyria, of Egypt, of Greece, of Rome, of the Isle of Prosper, of the Forest of Arden,—are they not such as we encounter in England every day?

The quality of Shakspere's mind was precisely such as is required to form a great dramatist; for he was not only absolutely free from egotism and vanity, but, joined to an intellect of the very first order, he possessed an affection or sympathy that embraced all things.

No vain man, and, as I believe, no bad man, can ever become a great dramatist. First, throughout the entire play he must altogether forget himself. His characters must have no taint or touch of his own peculiar opinions. He must forget his own humours; he must forbear to manifest his own weaknesses; he must banish his own sentiments on every subject within the range of the play. He must understand exactly how nature operates on every constitution of mind, and under every accident; and let his dramatis persona speak and act accordingly. And, secondly, he must have a heart capable of sympathising with all; with the hero and the coward; with the jealous man and the ambitious man; the lover and the despiser of love; with the Roman matron, the budding Italian girl, the tender and constant English wife; with people of all ranks, and ages, and humours, however widely they may differ from himself. It has been said that this power of depicting and appearing to sympathise with every passion, is, in fact, part of the intellect itself. If so, it has surely its source in the affections. And, indeed, I have always thought that a large portion of what we know, and what we are apt to ascribe solely to observation, is in effect derived through the heart. The thousand little weaknesses, and troubles, and fluctuations, which the dramatic writer lays before us, are learned in great part from his own nature. It is the sympathy he feels for the character he creates, as well as the knowledge that he gains from the observation of such character, that enables him to paint human nature truly. No scrutiny, however minute or extended, and no power of mere intellect (meaning thereby reasoning only, or the imagination so far as it rests upon reason), could enable any author to detect the many little processes of the mind, the traits of humour and the affections, which Shakspere has set forth. It is certain that, till his time, no man ever knew or could learn so much of the various good qualities and infirmities of human nature, as one may now learn from the mere study of his plays. No writer before his time ever mingled and made common cause, as it were, with people of all conditions. He was one of the many.” He did not set himself above the herd, and deal out oracular maxims and apothegms; but allowed and prompted every one to speak as Nature dictated. In a word, he evidently sympathised with all men; and, shewing this, he begat sympathy in his hearers. It is not the display of intellect on abstract subjects, nor the moral dogma, nor sententious wisdom in any shape, nor even the cunning analysis of character, so much as the power of attracting the sympathy of an audience, that commands success.

The judgment of Shakspere was on a level with his intellect. There is no dramatist who approaches him in this respect. Ben Jonson, one of the most scientific of designers, is far below him in all that relates to the more important parts and real constitution of a play. The conduct of his plots is generally admirable, and the conduct of his dramatis personæ absolutely faultless. There is no playing at cross purposes, no confusion. Everything is in due order, in due subordination. There are many voices, but they are “matched in mouth like bells," each under each. In the construction of a drama, the dovetailing of the scenes, or even the probability of the story, is not of the highest moment. It is the entire harmony of the play, its completeness within itself (the

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story or premises being admitted), that constitutes its main charm and merit: it is, in fact, the relation which one character bears to another; the due blending of thoughts and incidents; one voice answering to another; one thought or event following another, like the consequence the cause; no object standing out, staring without meaning, disjointed, unallied to the rest; but all rounded off, classed, arranged: the light deepening into shadow, the darkness gradually emerging into light.

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In regard to the characters drawn by Shakspere, I do not recollect one in his undoubted dramas, that is not at once true, consistent, and complete.

Our great poet never squares or clips a character to suit any preconceived theory; but permits each to do his best (or worst) as nature or education may inspire. “Accommodate,” he says, “is a good word;" but to accommodate or remould nature in order to fit a theory or demonstrate a problem, is a sacrifice of truth to conjecture; and Shakspere in essentials never sacrificed truth. Fault has been found with the construction of some of his plays—as with the “Winter's Tale,” for instance, or the fairy dramas—for doing violence to probability or the unities; but let the characters upon whom he has set his stamp once appear, and I defy the critic not to admit that every one is wrought out of the true metal. Not one of them is a mask, or a voice, or a chorus; but a man complete. The words he utters belong to himself, and to no one besides. Even the change which we observe to take place in some of his dramatic personages, is one of the strongest proofs of their completeness and truth. That fluctuation which to an ordinary writer might seem to be a deviation from character, he knew to be one of its constituent parts : for the condition of man is complex and various. He is not built up by nature as a case or sounding-board for one particular note, grave or sharp; but for the whole diapason. To draw a character who shall stand up as the stiff representative of a single virtue, is to betray a woful ignorance of humanity. The virtues, as well as the vices, of man never come singly, but in troops They abide with us, perhaps, but they are not rigid or inflexible. On the contrary, they change and are modified by many causes. The brave man of to-day may, like Macbeth, be a coward to-morrow; and the nerves of a Richard, who was yesterday foremost in the battle, may to-day be shaken by a dream.

In the mechanical drama (so to speak)—in that which is formed without flexibility or variety in the characters or verse, like some of the French tragedies—there is a regular progress of puppets from the beginning to the end; the same voice of the same ventriloquist guiding them on, without fluctuation or pause. Nothing disturbs the monotony and weariness of the scene; nothing elevates or depresses the dialogue, which is always in alt. One personage is a tyrant, another a lover, a third a warrior, a fourth a friend; and each delivers himself duly of the maxims which belong to the virtue or passion which he is thus engaged to represent. They are all, in short, abstractions, and not men. Now, Shakspere's characters are not abstractions, nor are they mere sections of character. They are entire and complete. Neither are they mere characters standing alone or aloof. Each shews the relation he bears to others, and how he is operated upon by them. So Coriolanus, Macbeth, and Othello, exbibit the different phases of their character, according to the light cast upon them by the

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