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1847.]
The marvellous improbable.

535 dunghill."! After such a specimen of courtly refinement, we can scarcely wonder that the poet, equal to his age, should make a rich and noble father address his daughter in such language as the following:

Mistress minion, you,
Thank me no thankings and proud ine no prouds,
But settle your fine joints 'gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris lo St. Peter's church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green-sickness carrion! out you baggage !
You tallow face !2_

Or that two queens should address each other in such an imperial style as the following:

Elinor. Come to thy grandam, child.

Constance. Do, child, go to it' grandam, child;
Give grandam kingdom, and it' grandam will
Give it a plum, a cherry, and a fig:

There's a good grandam.3 Now though we have no doubt that a determined critic, who is himself a perfect rarity, may discover some profound beauty here, sone exquisite imitation of nature; yet for our humble selves, who are always content to admire poetry on its surface, we must be permitted to avow that our first impressions will conquer our last-namely, that nothing but the sacred name of Shakespeare can rescue such ineffable nonsense from eternal contempt.

He is often very unskilful in making the marvellons, probable; most of his plots turn on incidents which tempt our disgust by destroying our belief. Incredulus odi. Here he differs immensely from Walter Scott, who always makes the wonderful credible by explaining some natural reason for supernatural appearances. There is profound truth also in the remark of Hume, already quoted, 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 dispro. portioned and misshapen.” The similitude is true whatever you may say of the thing it illustrates. It is said, that most spectators see St. Peter's church at Rome, for the first time, with feelings of great disappointment; at least with an inadequate conception of its beauty. Everything is so well proportioned, so finished, so grad ual, so uniform, no break on the eye; no contracted imperfection, that (as the Platonists say, God left the seeds of chaos in creation that we might see better the germs of order) the spectator forgets particular beauties in the matchless effect of the whole. I am inclined to think that we are most unjust to the most finished poets. We praise the judgment of Virgil ; we talk of his art, we depreciate his genius and call him a cold inventor of harmonious perfection. Yet Macrobius has justly said, after all his art and all his imitations, he drank his creating excellence from the fountain of nature. Videsne eloquentiam omni varietate distinctam ? quam quidem mihi videtur Virgilius non sine quodam praesagio, quo se omnium profectibus praeparat, de industria sua permiscuisse: idque non mortali, sed divino ingenio praevidisse; atque adeo non alium ducem secutus, quam ipsam rerum omnium matrem naturam, hanc praetexerit velut in musica concordiam dissonorum. This is saying of the polished Virgil exactly what we are taught to say of the irregular Shakespeare.

See Neal's Puritans, Vol. I. c. 8. p. 571. a Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 5.

3 King John, Act II, Scene 1.

I hope I shall not be regarded as a perfect barbarian if I add, that even his knowledge of nature is not universal. Why should the worst part of human nature be put for the whole? Why should knowing grog-shops, harlots' gaming-houses, bar-rooms, and brothels, be called knowing mankind ? Has not every house its parlor as well as sink; and has not the bush its rose as well as thorn? From all his characters, in all their motives, I believe I may say, religion never emerges. He has never drawn a CHRISTIAN. I do not attribute this so much to the impulse of his genius or defect of observation, as that Christian piety is not a very theatrical virtue. Yet Coleridge and Talsourdhave both proved that it is possible to show to a weeping audience the spirit of religiou without its terminology.

Thus I have endeavored to show how our admiration of beauty leads us to deformity, when our idolatrous homage tempts us to push excellence up to perfection. I am altogether of the old school. Nothing can be more disgusting than the assumed superiority of the new critics. Their new discerned beauties are only some false visions seen by blindness. What! Milton, Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Hume, the very countrymen of the poet, drinking in the vernacular language, to yield to Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, and Schlegel! My reason for engaging in this ungracious task,

Saturnalia, Lib. V. c. 1.
' In the Tragedies, Remorse and lon.

1847.]

Uses of Shakespeare to a Clergyman.

537

NATION

is a sincere conviction that both our taste and morals must suffer, if we are taught to read so powerful an author without DiscRIMI

He is a great genius; but his faults and merits are so blended that, if we permit his ethereal flights too much to charm our fancy, his sensual tendencies will inevitably taint our hearts. He is a great genius; but I distinguish between power and development, between the abilities of the man and the perfection of the work.

Before concluding these remarks, it may be permitted, in so grave a work as the BIBLIOTHECA, to ask what place the volumes of Shakespeare should hold in a clergyman's library; and what lessons of utility he may derive from so remote a department of literature. Omitting the benefits of the poetic analysis of human nature; omitting his powers of language and illustration; his wonderful structure and diction, there are especially two important lessons, which a preacher may learn from this great master of the drama, which I have not seen noticed.

In the first place, then, it is obvious that one of the great difficulties respecting the inspiration of the Scriptures, and also the interpretation, is, not giving full play to the sphere of language. The Bible is not a series of direct propositions, laid down by a formal logic, and to be understood, like the Elements of Euclid, in the most direct sense. It is poetry; it is painting; it is rhetoric; it is dramatic, in some of its exhibitions; it is lyric; and its meaning is only infallible and instructive when we reach it. The man who receives the obvious and direct sentiment, and makes that the dictate of inspiration, will be often grievously deceived. Take the Book of Job, for example ; it is a drama; it is full of moral painting; and the object of many a speech is, not to give us a philosophical proposition from the chair of a teacher; but to paint the progress of accusing jealousy or excusing patience, suspicion, agony, perplexity, sorrow, or despair. The man that does not understand this principle, has not found the key which must unlock the golden treasures of the Bible. Now Shakespeare is the author, of all others, that best understood this moral painting. He never talks like a philosopher, but always as a poet. Different as he was from the sacred writers as a moral being, he is always in close communion with them as a genius. “It is obvious," says Professor Richardson," that though the description of a passion or affection may give us pleasure, whether it be described by the agent or the spectator; yet, to those who would apply the inventions of the poet to the uses of philosophical investigation, it is

far from being of equal utility with the passion exactly imitated." And again: "Compare a soliloquy of Hamlet, with one of the descriptions of Roderigue in the Cid. Nothing can be more natural in the circumstances and with the temper of Hamlet, than the following reflections :

O that this too, too solid flesh would melt, etc. In the Cid, Roderigue, who is the hero of the tragedy and deeply enamoured of Climene, is called upon to revenge a heinous insult done to his father by the father of his mistress; and he delineates the distress of his situation in the following manner, certainly with great beauty of expression and versification, but not as a real sufferer.

Perc jusque au fond du coeur
D'une atteinte imprevue aussi bien que mortelle
Miserable vengeur d'une trop juste querelle,
Et malheureux object d'une injust rigueur,
Il demeure immobile, et son ame abattue

Cede au coup qui me tue. This harangue would better suit a descriptive novelist or narrator of the story, than the person actually concerned. Let us make the experiment. Let us change the verbs and pronouns from the first person into the third; and instead of supposing Rcderigue speaks, let us imagine the state of his mind is described by a spectator : * pierced even to the heart, by an unforeseen as well as mortal stroke, the miserable avenger of a just quarrel and the unhappy object of unjust severity, he remains motionless, and his broken spirit yields to the blow that destroys him'

Il demeure immobile, et son aine abattue

Cede au coup qui le tue Try the soliloquy of Hamlet by the same test; and without the words ‘he should,' which render it dramatic, the change will be impossible.”1 This distinction between imitating a passion and describing it, must become almost instinctive to the diligent student of Shakespeare.

Now we venture to say that no distinction can be more important to the man who hopes to grasp the true spirit of revelation. The Psalms are, most of them, PICTURES of devotion, perplexity, sorrow, penitence, trust, gratitude. The whole book of Ecclesi

A Philosophical Analysis and Illustration of some of Shakespeare's Remarkable Characters, by W. Richardson, Professor of Humanity, Glasgow, Introduction, p. 17.

a

1847.] Biblical Interpretation taught by Shakespeare. 539 astes, has scarcely a direct sentiment in it. It is the utterance of the feelings of a man wandering without faith, and disappointed in the pursuit of the world. Dr. Dwight was surely no mean man, and moreover he was a poet; and yet if the reader will look into his first volume of Miscellaneous Sermons, sermon XVII, he will see how totally at a loss he was from not understanding this great principle of interpretation. He supposes Ecclesiastes 3: 12 to be a formal proposition, having all the authority of inspiration; and if so, why not take one step more, and say, we must believe that somehow the 19th verse is true: "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preëminence above a beast.”

The other lesson, taught us by Shakespeare, is, the wisdom of certain rules in restoring a copy which, to a man not familiar with the subject, appears very perverse and paradoxical. One of Griesbach’sl rules is, that the harsher reading is often to be preferred, to the more easy and obvious one; and this appears very strange to some, as having no other tendency than to fill the Bible with ungrammatical structures and unauthorized sentiments. No doubt the principle may be pushed too far; but its necessity and wis. dom are abundantly confirmed by studying the text of Shakespeare. Thus in Othello, Act I, Scene 1, Iago says of Cassio :

A fellow almost damned in a fair wife. As it appears afterwards that Cassio was not married, it has been proposed to read for wife, life, supposing the poet to allude to Luke 6: 26, “ Wo unto you when all men shall speak well of you.” I am, however, inclined to the old reading. For first, Shakespeare seldom alludes to the Bible; secondly, the difficulty arises from not understanding the pregnant meaning of the word almost. We find from the play that Cassio was connected with Bianca, and that it was rumored that he was going to marry her, though the rumor was “the monkey's own giving out. She is persuaded I will marry her, out of her own love and flattery, not out of my promise.” The phrase, therefore, “almost damned in a fair wife,” means, he is on the verge of being married to a harlot. This use of the word almost, however unusual in other writers, is exquisitely Shakespearean, and is no doubt the true reading. So in Macbeth, we have these lines:

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"I quote from memory. I forget how Griesbach expresses it; but it is something to this effect.

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