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Johnson and Hume on Shakespeare.

A little farther on: "If I would compare him with Shakespeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakespeare the greater wit. Shakespeare was the Homer, or the father of our dramatic poets, Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing; I admire him, but I love Shakespeare." The last remark is a beautiful touch of natural criticism. There are writers whose artificial beauties we admire by rule; there are others whose unlabored excellences flash on the heart. Our admiration is ravished from us, before we know how to give it.

Pope says that Shakespeare wrote better and worse than other men, and Dr. Johnson in his antithetic way says: "The work of a correct and regular writer, is a garden accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with shades and scented with flowers; the composition of Shakespeare is a forest in which oaks extend their branches and pines tower in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and brambles and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and roses, filling the eye with awful pomp and gratifying the mind with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape and polished into brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in inexhaustible plenty, though clouded by in. crustations, debased by impurities and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals."



Mr. Hume, whose taste was formed on French models, is still more limited in his admiration. If Shakespeare be considered as a MAN, born in a rude age and educated in the lowest manner, without any instruction either from the world or from books, he may be regarded as a prodigy: if represented as a POET capable of furnishing a proper entertainment to a refined and intelligent audience, we must abate somewhat of this eulogy. In his compositions, we regret that great irregularities and even sometimes absurdities should so frequently disfigure the animated and passionate scenes intermixed with them; and at the same time, we admire the more these beauties on account of their being surrounded with such deformities. A striking peculiarity of sentiment, he frequently hits as it were by inspiration; but a reasonable propriety of thought, he cannot for any time uphold. Nervous and picturesque expressions as well as descriptions abound in him; but it is in vain we look either for continued purity or simplicity of diction. His total ignorance of all theatrical art and

1 Preface to Shakespeare.

conduct, however material a defect; yet, as it affects the spectator rather than the reader, we can more readily excuse, than that want of taste, which often prevails in his productions and which gives way only by intervals to the irradiations of genius. A great and fertile genius he certainly possessed, and one equally enriched with the tragic and comic vein; but he ought to be cited as a proof, how dangerous it is, to rely on these advantages alone for attaining excellence in the finer arts. And there may even remain a suspicion that we overrate, if possible, the greatness of his genius, in the same manner as bodies often appear more gigantic, on account of their being disproportioned and misshapen."

Such is the general testimony of the critics of the old school. It is remarkably unanimous. Some of them were not unsuccessful poets themselves. They had a right to speak. The age of artificial raptures and mystified discernment had not yet dawned on the world. There was not then a chorus consisting of a chosen few, ambitious to toss every cloud into a fantastic shape and gild it with borrowed brightness until it became a voluntary image; and having a power of transforming obvious blemishes into recondite beauties as if on purpose to leave the slow sentiments of mankind behind the critic's rapid discrimination. The poet's character then floated on the surface of his works.

But a new school has since arisen. It was imported from Germany, and began in England with Mr. Coleridge. They may be called perfectionists; they can see no faults in Shakespeare. His perversions of language; his hard metaphors; his incredible plots; his tumid speeches; his mixture of buffoonery in his most solemn scenes; his want of decorum; his indelicacies; his puns and clinches, are all right; so many mysterious proofs of his profound knowledge of human nature. That mighty salvo of imitating nature (which by the way in most of these things he does not imitate) is a mantle which covers all the multitude of his literary sins;-just as if there were not deformities in nature which ought not to be imitated; just as if there were no such thing as SELECTION. Surely it is the duty of the poet, when he imitates nature, to choose its most instructive side.2 He must not turn a promis


1 History of Great Britain, Vol. I. Appendix, p. 127, 2d edition, quarto.

"A play, as I have said, to be like nature is to be set above it; as statues which are placed on high are made greater than the life, that they may descend to the sight in their just proportion."-Dryden's Essay on Dramatic Poetry; Works, p. 91.

And again; "There may be too great a likeness; as the most skilful paint


Shakespeare has no sympathy with Moral Goodness.


cuous mirror to a deformed landscape; he must not take the like. ness of a man having a cancer on his face with the exactness of the daguereotype. He must make his roses conceal his thorns, and his verdant herbs and waving grass close over the worms and reptiles which crawl beneath them. His business is to give us pleasing, not promiscuous imitation; to move our passions without debasing our hearts.

When so much has been said of his matchless beauties, it cannot be unprofitable to turn our eyes to his forgotten faults. Promiscuous praise is seldom just or enduring. It is corrupting too. It not only gives mortal frailty a dangerous influence over us; but it produces a kind of literary despair. No mortal will be likely to surpass, either in virtue or wisdom, the idol he has been instructed to adore. If the people in Massachusetts should once be persuaded that Princeton-hill is the highest eminence that ever pointed to the sky-the result must be that Teneriffe and Mont Blanc will be forgotten. There may be such a thing as having the imagination shrivelled even by the magnificence of Shakespeare.

In stating a few of the faults of the great poet, I feel I am executing an ungracious task. I expect to be charged with want of perception, want of taste, want of enthusiasm. I shall have the satisfaction, however of uttering my own impressions, and of not being the ninety-ninth repeater of raptures which were never felt.

The first fault which I shall mention, and one which seems to me to be very material in a poet, is, he has no sympathy with moral sublimity; no pictures of sublime, self-sacrificing goodness; never draws us to the xalo-xayavíar of the Greeks; in fact, he has no sympathy with the noblest aspiration of the soul. He sees the beautiful in persons and objects, but he never ascends to the great sea of beauty, ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ πέλαγος τοῦ καλοῦ, to which Diotima told Socrates, the philosopher must rise above particular persons and material objects. He has no confidence in human improvement and progression; he never pants after a better state; he never kindles with liberty, nor rises with religion. His poetry is Epicurean throughout, and he loves to sleep on rosy pillows in

ers affirm, that there may be too near a resemblance in a picture; to take every lineament and feature is not to make an excellent piece, but to take so much only as will make a beautiful resemblance of the whole."-Defence of the Essay on Dramatic Poetry; Works, Vol. I.

1 See the Symposium, page 206, D., Stallbaum's Plato, Vol. 1.

a sensual Elysium. He sees sights of earthly bliss, and hears such sounds; not like those which broke on Milton's ear, the choral warbling of Heaven, but such

As are those dulcet sounds in break of day,
That creep into the dreaming bridegroom's ear
And summon him to marriage.

He is peculiarly sarcastic on the democratic principle. He was a narrow conservative; he bowed to the diadem; he catered to the taste of a voluptuous aristocracy; and was at heart, I suspect, a true Epicurean. In his Julius Caesar, he introduces the rabble merely to show that they were well worthy of the chains that Antony was about to impose on them. Nor can it be said that he was merely drawing a picture of the degenerate republicans of that degraded age. In Coriolanus he has given us the same lesson. In Jack Cade, Henry VI, he has repeated the picture; and he seems to delight in heaping ridicule on that hope that has united religion and liberty in one great design, and animated patriots and martyrs when suffering unto death. This is more remarkable, as Shakespeare himself lived in a most fermenting age. All Europe was on fire; Protestantism was established; the Netherlands were free; Germany was awake, and the poet lived down to the year 1617. The Thirty Years' war was already begun. The hero Gustavus Adolphus was already in the germ of his strength. All Europe was bursting into enthusiasm, and the rising sun of a new age was shining on the parting clouds of the old dispensation. Yet our divine poet, with all his myriad-mindedness, never catches one spark of the general flame. He sees the rights of man, the destiny of thrones, the fate of free principles, and the hopes of divine revelation, all trembling in the scale, and yet he never casts in the feeblest make-weight to turn the balance to the right side. It is remarkable that he wrote an historical play on the most exciting period (Henry the VIII), and yet he passes entirely over the Protestant religion, the cardinal point in that wonderful reign. His fancy never kindles at this moral beauty; his heart is cold and dead to all these influences. He never casts his eye on the supreme pattern; he was never smitten by her form, nor worshipped at her shrine. He never rose with a rising age; he saw not man's aim and destiny. The only millennium he looked for was such as would have gratified his own Falstaff.

Nor can it be said that such subjects are not suited to the dra


Moral Sympathy of Schiller.

ma. We have a most striking picture of stern endurance under hated tyranny in the PROMETHEUS VINCTUS of Æschylus.

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Εκων ἑκὼν ἥμαρτιον, οὐκ ἀρνήσομαι,

θνητοῖς δ' ἁρήγων, ἀυτὸς εὑρόμην πόνους. lines 265-267.

Corneille, in a servile age, touched the same note. It was the inspiring genius of Schiller's song. Could Shakespeare have written the scene between the Marquis Posa and the King in Don Carlos?

The poor and purblind rage
Of innovation, that but aggravates

The weight of th' fetters which it cannot break,
Will never heat my blood. The Century
Admits not my ideas: I live a citizen

Of those that are to come. Sire, can a picture
Break your rest?

And again:

Look round and view God's lordly universe:
On Freedom it is founded, and how rich
It is with Freedom! He the great Creator
Has given the very worm its sev'ral dew-drop;
Even in the moulding spaces of Decay,

He leaves Free-will the pleasures of a choice.
This world of yours! How narrow and how poor!

The rustling of a leaf alarms the lord

Of Christendom. You quake at every virtue;
He not to mar the glorious form of Freedom,
Suffers the hideous host of Evil

Should still run riot in his fair creation.

Him, the Maker, we behold not; calm
He hides himself in everlasting laws;

Which and not him, the skeptic seeing, exclaims
"Wherefore a God? The world itself is God."
And never did a Christian's adoration

So praise him as this skeptic's blasphemy.1


nature of the English poet, it is something better.

man, it is celestial.


If this is not the individualism and conformity to the downright

If it is not hu

Shakespeare has been so often praised for his almost miraculous development of character, that it may move the spleen of his admirers even to suggest that he ever falls short of perfection in this citadel of his strength. Yet, as he often writes with more haste

1 Schiller's Don Carlos, Act III, Scene 10, Carlyle's Translation; Life of Schiller, p. 94.

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