Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

Malone says,

thus clears away the mists of our ordinary vision, and irradiates the whole complex moral world in which we for a time live, and move, and have our being, with the brightness of his own intellectual sunlight. Now it appears to us that, although the Venus and Adonis, and the Lucrece, do not pretend to be the creations of this wonderful power — their forms did not demand its complete exercise — they could not have been produced by a man who did not possess the power, and had assiduously cultivated it in his own proper field. In the second poem, more especially, do we think the power has reached a higher development, indicating itself in “a yet wider range of knowledge and reflection."

" I have observed that Painter has inserted the story of Lucrece in the first volume of his Palace of Pleasure,' 1567, on which I make no doubt our author formed his poem.” Be it so. The story of Lucrece in Painter's novel occupies four pages. The first page describes the circumstances that preceded the unholy visit of Tarquin to Lucrece; nearly the whole of the two last pages detail the events that followed the death of Lucrece. A page and a half at most is given to the tragedy. This is proper enough in a narrative, whose business it is to make all the circumstances intelligible. But the narrative poet, who was also thoroughly master of the dramatic power, concentrates all the interest upon the main circumstances of the story. He places the scene of those circumstances before our eyes at the very opening :

“ From the besieged Ardea all in post,

Borne by the trustless wings of falsc desire,
Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host,
And to Collatium bcars," &c.

The preceding circumstances which impel this journey are then rapidly told. Again, after the crowning action of the tragedy, the poet has done. He tells the consequences of it with a brevity and simplicity indicating the most consummate art :

Whea thai sworn to this advised doom,
Iber di cocci de to bear dead Lucrece thence;
T: Jy bor bading body thorouzh Rome,
A sto pats Tarquin's fəal offence :
W beisz dose with speeds diligence,
The Rispausbiy dii give consent
Is Targa's etc astiaz banishment."

He has the cleared aray all the encumbrances to the

ress of the main action. He would have done the seme bad he made Lucrece the subject of a drama. But te has to te his paintil story, and to tell it all: not to extb.tapetin of it, as he would have done had he chosen tee sabject for a tragedy. The consummate delicacy with which te has accomplished this is beyond all praise, perbags atore al imitation. He pats forth his strength on the secessaries of the main incident. He delights to make the chief atas analyse their own thoughts, — reflect, ex1:22. ernestdia:e. All this is essentially undramatic, and

, te rent it to be so. Bit then, what pictures does he faint of the progress of the action, which none but a great dramatic poet, who had risions of future Macbeths an? 0:heis bei retin, could have painted! Look, for erage, at that magnificent scene, when

[ocr errors][merged small]

ci Tarquia leaping from his bed, and softly smiting his fachion en a dist, lighting a torch

** Taith must be los.istar to his lustful eye.”

Look, again, at the exquisite domestic incident which tells of the quiet and gentle occupation of his devoted victim :

* By the light he spies Lucretia's giore, wherein her needle sticks; He takes it from the rushes where it lies."

The hand to which that glove belongs is described in the very perfection of poetry :

• Without the bed her other fair hand was,
On the green coverlet; whose perfect white
Showed like an April daisy on the grass."

In the chamber of innocence Tarquin is painted with terrific grandeur, which is overpowering by the force of contrast:

“This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,
Which, like a falcon towering in the skies,
Couchcth the fowl below with his wings' shade."

The complaint of Lucrece after Tarquin has departed was meant to be undramatic. The action advances not. The character develops not itself in the action. But the poet makes his heroine bewail her fate in every variety of lament that his boundless command of imagery could furnish. The letter to Collatine is written a letter of the most touching simplicity :

“ Thou worthy lord
Of that unworthy wife that greeteth thee,
Health to thy person! Next vouchsafe to afford
(If ever, love, thy Lucrece thou wilt see)
Some present speed to come and visit me:

So I commend me from our house in grief;
My woes are tedious, though my words are brief.”

Again the action languishes, and again Lucrece surrenders herself to her grief. The

“Skilful painting, made for Priam's Troy,"

is one of the most elaborate passages of the poem, essentially cast in an undramatic mould. But this is but a prelude to the catastrophe, where, if we mistake not, a strength of passion is put forth which is worthy him who drew the terrible agonies of Lear ::

-- bass if ber beart woull break,

Stebusia Tiran's cane: He, he,' she says,
2. En be' hrpoor tongue could not speak;
The si acest ad dz'ars,
tas breakingssis and short assays,
Sens: H2, be, fair loris, 'tis he,
Tuess band to give this wound to me.'"

ce his concluding remarks upon the Venus and
Als Lecrece, says, “ We should do Shakspeare in-
Sie Tere re to try them by a comparison with more
menarished productions, or with our present idea
oi
di perica'ercellence.” This was written in the year 1780
-ive period which rejoiced in the “polished productions”
ci Hazeyard Miss Seward, and founded its "idea of poeti-
cai ere esce" on some standard which, secure in its con-
Festiu irms, might depart as far as possible from sim-
card nature, to give us words without thought, ar-
ranged in verses without music. It would be injustice in-
deesi to Sbakspeare to try the Venus and Adonis, and Lu-
crece, ty such a standard of “poetical excellence.” But
we hare oathired that period. By way of apology for
Shakspeare, Malone adds, " that few authors rise much
atsre the age ia which they live.” He further says " The
poems of Tenus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece,
whaterer opinion may be now entertained of them, were
certainly much admired in Shakspeare's lifetime.” This is
consolatory. In Shakspeare's lifetime there were a few
men that the world has since thought somewhat qualified
to establish an idea of poetical excellence ” — Spenser,
Drayton, Jonson, Fletcher, Chapman, for example. These
were not much valued in Malone's golden age of " more
modern and polished productions; ” — but let that pass.
We are coming back to the opinions of this obsolete
school; and we venture to think the majority of readers
now will not require us to make an apology for Shak-
speare's poems.

If Malone thought it necessary to solicit indulgence
for the Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, he drew even a
more timid breath when he ventured to speak of the Son-

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

nets.

"I do not feel any great propensity to stand forth as the champion of these compositions. However, as it appears to me that they have been somewhat underrated, I think it incumbent on me to do them that justice to which they seem entitled.” No wonder he speaks timidly. The great poetical lawgiver of his time — the greater than Shakspeare, for he undertook to mend him, and refine him and make him fit to be tolerated by the super-elegant intellects of the days of George III. — had pronounced that the Sonnets were too bad even for his genius to make tolerable. He, Steevens, who would take up a play of Shakspeare's in the condescending spirit with which a clever tutor takes up a smart boy's verses, — altering a word here, piecing out a line

, there, commending this thought, shaking his head at this false prosody, and acknowledging upon the whole that the thing is pretty well, seeing how much the lad has yet to learn, - he sent forth his decree that nothing less than an act of parliament could compel the reading of Shakspeare's Sonnets. For a long time mankind bowed before the oracle; and the Sonnets were not read. Wordsworth has told us something about this:

“ There is extant a small volume of miscellaneous poems, in which Shakspeare expresses his feelings in his own person. It is not difficult to conceive that the editor, George Steevens, should have been insensible to the beauties of one portion of that volume, the Sonnets; though there is not a part of the writings of this poet where is found, in an equal compass, a greater number of exquisite feelings felicitously expressed. But, from regard to the critic's own credit, he would not have ventured to talk of an act of parliament not being strong enough to compel the perusal of these, or any production of Shakspeare, if he had not known that the people of England were igno. rant of the treasures contained in those little pieces." *

That ignorance has been removed; and no one has contributed more to its removal, by creating a school of poetry

• Preface to Poctical Works.

« PredošláPokračovať »