« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
Tbe love of theft would consequently abounded in feeling, but they were be unnatural in such a man, and it the feelings of an ardent and viwould be stepping beyond the bounds gorous nature, not the love-sick of nature in any writer to attribute it emotions of an Eloisa or a Sappho. to him, while it would be perfectly But though he was unsuccessful in natural in a rogue ; while the love delineating the tender feelings and of honesty would be just as un- affections, yet he was equally unnatural in the latter, as the love of successful wherever feeling was not deception in the former. All feelings concerned. In sim; le narration he and propensities, therefore, are per- is heavy, tedious, and uninteresting, fectly natural, provided they suit the because there is nothing to urge him general character of the person to forward. He is always great on a whom they are ascribed. If Shak- great occasion ; but where the occa. speare, then, has not painted refined sion does not inspire him, he is feelings, we must not suppose, for clumsy and unskiltul. This must a moment, that his delineations of have solely arisen from his want of the heart are less natural or correct acqnired learning. The stores from He has painted human nature in it's which he drew his portraits of the deeper and bolder shades, such as human heart, in all it's disguises, it came from the hand of it's Creator. existed in his own mind ; bat when He has presented to us the marked the heart was not the subject of bis and masculine features which it as- description, he had no interna mosumes in it's original formation, or nitor to consult with; and his acat least before the traces of this quaintance with general literature was original structure are softened and too limited to afford him that informashaded over by the gloss of art and tion without which no genius could the influence of cultivation. I would embellish an abstract or general subnot, however, maintain, that he is ject with which it had no previous always natural in the expressions acquaintance. He was always sure which he puts into the mouths of of grasping nature, where nature only his characters. Strained or affected was to be described ; but when bis sentiments will never become those subject led him to observations unwho are not represented to as connected with her operations, he affected characters; and yet nothing Jabours unsuccessfully.' Dr. Johnson is more common with Shakspeare. therefore observes, with great justice, When Prospero tells Miranda, in the that whenever he attempts to display • Tempest," how he and shc, when a his learning,
“ he seldom escapes child, were driven out of Milan, she without the pity or resentment of his exclaims,
reader.” Shakspeare, in fact, was “ Alack for pity! only acquainted with the history of I not remembering how I cried ont then, the human heart, the appearances of Will cry it o’er agaiu ; it is a hint external nature, and the influence of That wrings mine eyes to it.”
these appearances on the human mind; If Miranda could not be moved to tears but this knowledge he acquired from by the circumstance of her banish. bis own feelings, and simple observament, it is unnatural to suppose, that tion. He knew therefore only how the she would weep, merely because she heart is affected by general nature, forgot it; but if it was her banish- for he was but indifferently acquaintment that made her weep, her tears ed with the particular manners of qught not to be attributed to a dif- particular nations, because this referent cause. Numerous instances of quired an extent of reading, and an this kind are to be met with in exercise of memory, with which he Shakspeare, and it can only be ac- did not choose to burthen himself. counted for by that passion for effect Where nature, then, was the subwhich was common to all the wri- ject of his pen, no man excelled him; ters of his age. Shakspeare, indeed, where she was not, no man was more could paint nothing well that did affected or ridiculous. Pope was not, not require strong colouring. Where therefore, wrong, when he said, that the softer allections were to be de- “po man wrote better or worse than scribed, he had neither the tender- him.” It is justly objected to him, ness nor the sweetness that could give that his Romans are not sufliciently them appropriate expression, He Roman, nor his kings completely
royal; which arose from his ignorance dains to tell an untruth, because he of Roman manners, and his little in- knows it is beneath the dignity of tercourse with kings and princes. So
so does the honest Turk or far as they acted like mankind in ge- Russian; and so do honest men of neral, he described them faithfully; all nations. He relieves the disbut wherein they differed from the tressed, and so do they. He stands generality of mankind he did not up in defence of his country, if it exactly know, because mere genius be unjustly invaded, and so do they : could not furnish bim with the in- but in all the indifferent circumstances formation. Reading alone could re- of life, where choice and not duty medy this defect, and Shakspeare was urges him to action, he yields to the always too full of his own thoughts general character, peculiar genius, to seek for information from the know- and national temper of his countryledge of others : a knowledge which, men; and here he will be generally at best, could only supply him with found to differ from the Englishman, facts, and not with ideas. He was, the Spaniard, and the natives of all indeed, well acquainted with the local other countries ; and he who deshabits of his own countrymen, and cribes him acting or talking in stylo witb the phraseology of mechanics, that is foreign to his national manartizans and sailors ; and if he were ners, violates nature, and only rennot, all the powers of human genius ders him a subject of ridicule to every would never bare enabled him to one who is well acquainted with them. describe them so correctly ; for as The same observation applies to kings local babits and manners do not arise and senators ; and therefore, though from the general operations of nature Dr. Jobson defends Shakspeare in goin the human breast, they can only ing into the senate-house in search of a be known by actual experience. buffoon, I cannot help thinking, that Hence it is that he failed in describ- he might have sought for him elseing Roman manners. He is not jus- where with more propriety. In all titiable, however, in having neglected cases, however, where Shakspeare to make bimself intiniately acquainted bas failed, we can trace his failure, with them before he attempted his not to the want of genius, but to * Coriolanus," and " Julius Casar;" for the want of that information and judgwithout this acquaintance, inspira- ment which the most elevated genius tion alone could enable him to describe can never acquire by it's own inberent them faithfully, Dr. Johnson, indeed, or unaided energies. endeavours to defend him, on this No critic will ever take a proper head, against the censure of the cri- view of the genips of Sbakspeare, tics.' - Shakspeare,” he says, “ al- who defends either bis acquired learnwars nakes nature triumph over ing, or the delicacy of his sentiments. accident. His story requires Romans In each of these he is remarkably defior Kings ; but he thinks only on men.” cient, and this deficiency has led him This, in my opinion, is a weak defence. into many violations of fidelity and Nature cannot triumph over accident, parit These violations, however, are because men will always act differently blindly defended by those who will not in different situations. A Roman will admit either that his knowledge was always act like a Roman, and differ- confined, or his sentiments coarse and ently, not only from an Englishman, indelicate. Such admissions they but from a native of any other country, think would argue poverty of genius ; in all tbe minor and indifferent circum- as if genius necessarily implied knowstances of life. He is the creature of Jedge and delicacy of feeling. M. particular and local habits and influ: Schlegel, whose lectures on dramatic ences ; and these babits and influ- literature are in higb repute, not only ences become a second nature, of in this country but on the continent, is which he cannot divest himself, be- one, among the many critics, who decause be is unacquainted with any fends the grossest absurdities in Shakother. It is only when he is called speare, sooner than admit either bis opon by a principle of action, found- want of learning or his want of taste. ed in human nature antecedent to Shakspeare, in his play of “ As You babit and local influences, that he Like It,” transfers the lions and serwill act like an Englishman or a pents of the torrid zone, and the shepSpaniard. An honest Roman dis- herdesses of Arcadia to the forest of
Ardennes; in which M. Schlegel says though it is only in the former that it he was justified, “because the de- can make it's appearance. Ignorance sign and import of his picture re- of facts is, therefore, no proof either of quired them.” This defence is erro- genius, or of it's absence; because, neous. The poet, indeed, is at liberty without reading and application, this to create what he pleases, to plant kpowledge is equally inaccessible to imaginary forests with imaginary lions, the man of genius and the dunce.
Let serpents, shepherdesses, or what other us not, then, profess either to admire beings he pleases; but though he enjoys or defend such errors in Shakspeare as the most unrestricted license, wbile he arose from his limited knowledge. describes creations that exist only in His fame rests on too firm a basis his own mind, yet when he comes to to be in the least affected by them; describe real existence and real ob- for it is absurd to suppose that a jects, with which we are ourselves knowledge of geography or chronopresumed to be as well acquainted logy is any test of genias, as the as he is, he must not shock our feel- greatest dunce may be acquainted ings by relations, which we know not with both, if he will take the trouble. to be merely exaggerated but abso- Shakspeare' derives his fame and imlutely falsc, unless it appear from the mortality, not from that species of context or spirit of his work that such knowledge which can be conimunirelations are ironically introduced, cated by instruction, but from that and that he was perfectly well ac- knowledge wbich no instruction can quainted at the time with the blun- impart. All that is exoellent in him ders which he was committing. No must be sought for in the originality poetic license, therefore, save irony of his thoughts, the depth of his obalone, or an affectation of ignorance, servations on homan nature, the power would justify a poet in placing St. which he displays in tracing shades Paul's in Bristol, and St. Peter's and variations of character, and in in London. Shakspeara is equally un- pursuing incipient passions through justifiable, in describing Bohemia all the modifications which they assurrounded by the sea, and M. Schle- sume, under the endless diversity of gel in vindicating his propriety in do- circumstances and situations, and ing so. But bow can M. Sehlegel, or which contribute to retard or acceany of his admirers, suppose, for a mo- lerate their original tendency, and ment, that to admit bis ignorance of nataral momentum. geography, or his anachronisms, is to Delicacy of feeling is more nearly impeach his genius, and to diminish allied to genius thau acquired knowthe lustre of his fame. Genius and ledge, and therefore it may be more learning are not necessarily connect difficult to vindicate Shakspeare ed; nor have we the least reason to against the censure of those who doubt, that greater geniuses have lived upbraid him with grossness of manand died in ignorance not only of geo- ner, and who maintain, that in all graphy and chronology, but of all the his dramatic works, there is neither arts and sciences, than either Shak- softness of handling, nor refinement of speare, Homer, or Milton.
sentiment. His admirers, instead of “ Full many a gem of purest ray serene, attempting to account for the cause of The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean his deficiency in this respect, flatly bear:
deny the charge. On what authority Full many a flower is born to blush un
they do so, I must confess myself seen,
ignorant; for I could never discover And waste it's sweetness on the desart
in Shakspeare one passage that can air."
be called softly elegant, delicately reIt is certain, that not more than one- fined, or exquisitely tender. These twentieth of mankind receive a liberal characters of poetic excellence are too education; and without such an edu- feminine for his genius; and perhaps cation, or at least some approach to it, it may be said with equal truth, that genius must necessarily remain dor- they were too feminine for the geinant and unnoticed. It is, however, nias of Homer. Strength, dignity, morally improbable, that one twen- energy, sublimity, and beauty, are tieth of mankind should possess more the characteristic features of both, genius and original powersofmind than in Homer, bowever, there is more the remaining nineteen twentieths, animation, in Shakspeare more trate,
Homer viewed the bright side of to him who is always governed by human nature, and therefore all his reason, fitness, propriety, etiquette, characters may be said to he heroes and so forth; while genius is the However various and diversified are characteristic of strong and ardent the feelings which he excites in the feelings, which disdain to consult human breast, there is one common reason even when it seems to be character impressed upon them all; governed by it's precepts. The writer Dately, vivacity, ardour, and enthu- of genius writes as he feels, not as siasm; so that, as Pope justly ob- reason dictates to him; though the serves, - do man of a truly poetical sentinents which his feelings suggest spirit is master of himself, wbile he to him are often found to be in acreads bim.” This is not the cha- cordance with reason. It is, howracter of the emotions which Shak- erer, with his feelings alone that he speare calls forth. Instead of con- holds secret council, and therefore tining himself to the bright side of he cares not whether reason assent Luman nature, he viewed it on all or dissent from the sentiments which sides ; or, in other words, he viewed they impart. A writer who consults truman nature as be found it to ex- reason alone is generally correct, so ist : he turned it inside out, and far as he proceeds, but if he attempt therefore may be said to have sifted it to probe the inmost recesses of the 10 the bottom, and to have painted it heart, he must not carry reason along without colouring or disguise. Ardour with him ; for she knows nothing of and enthusiasm, consequently, are the heart, or it's affections. It is not the feelings wbich he excites, but from his own feelings alone, and not wonder, astonishment, and venera- from the abstract deductions of reation. We are surprised when we find son, that he can derive this knowourselves admitted into the secret ledge. A great tragic writer, therecouncils of the heart, and when the fore, bas nothing to do with reason, springs and motives of human ac- for reason neither inclines us to mirtle tions are disclosed to our view; and or laughter: she tells us what she therefore, though Shakspeare fre- knows, not what she feels, and therequently makes us laugh at the fol- fore we listen to her with unconcern. ties of mankind, yet we are serious It is only feeling and passion that even in our mirth; and proceed with rouses the soul, and transports her secret ase through all the mazes and with all the emotions by which labyrinths of buman nature. It is in they are themselves actuated ; but this wonderful developement of the that delicacy of sentiment which is human heart that the genius of Shak- the offspring of reason and polished speare properly consisted, not in the manners, is a weak instrument in the tenderness and delicacy of feelings. hands of the tragic poet, who wishes His sentiments, indeed, were strictly to make us sympathize with the formoral and religious ; but his genius tunes or misfortunes of his characters. was too stubborn to bend to the soft- “Men fit to disturb the peace of the Dess and elegance of refined deli- world, and rule it when 'tis wildcst," cacy. It is, however, a great mis- says Mr. Knight, are the proper take to suppose, that delicacy and materials for tragedy," and therefore genius are necessarily allied; for those who lay such important stress there is little of it to be found in on Shakspeare's want of delicacy and Milton, and still less in Homer; nor refinement, seem to me very impercan it possibly exist but in culti- fectly acquainted with the true nature vated society. Hence it is, that of dramatic genius. So far, therefore, Virgil has more delicacy than either from defending, with some critics, the Homer, Milton, or Shakspeare, be- delicacy of Shakespeare's sentiments, cause he lived in a polished and I maintain that those who censure Tefined age ; but I doubt whether him for the want of it, are indirectly, this acquired delicacy did not curb though unconsciously, advocating the the natural impetuosity, of his ge- pre-eminence of that genius which nios; for Horace, who is still more they seek to decry. In conclusion, delicate and refined than Virgil, bas I shall observe with Schlegel, that also less vigour of sentiment, and less “ that censorious spirit which scents' sublimity of conception The fact is, out impurity in every sally of a bold that delicacy of feeling belongs only and vivacious description, is at best
but an ambiguous criterion of purity that we seem desirous of realizing of morals; and therc is frequently those prospects of wbich they are in concealed under his hypocrisy, the pursuit. Other dramatic writers, on consciousness of an impure imagina- the contrary, address the understand
ing more than the passions, not in But though Shakspeare wants the general because they think this the refined language of delicate senti- right course, but because they can ment, he never violates the moral pursue no other, because they are sanctity or dignity of human nature. unacquainted with the human heart, Even in his coarsest expressions, and those instruments by which it is there is nothing that countenances most powerfully agitated; in a word, immorality or vice, while a deep sense because they do not feel themselves, of virtue and religion is upheld and consequently have no feelings to throughout; for even when he makes communicate to others. Unable to us laugh, and relaxes us from the make us feel, they necessarily make severity of witnessing the superior tus reason; for he who is not moved energies and virtues of the soul cailed by what passes before him, either into action, the powerful impulse of begins to reflect on the cause of this the latter still remain, and fortify the want of emotion, and consequently to heart against the transient influence criticise the play, or otherwise, he of wit and revelry, till the stronger directs his thoughts to some other charms of energetic virtue are again subject of contemplation, for the mind renewed. We never depart, there cannot be at rest, and where the feelfore, from witnessing his plays with ings are not powerfully engaged, the any levity, nor inconstancy of feeling, intellectual faculties are necessarily We never find our hearts balancing in action. While Shakspeare therebetween the seductive allurements of fore hurrics us along the tide of feelvice, and the more potent influence ing and of passion, other writers of virtuous emotions. He makes us leave us to our own thoughts; so that laugh, it is true, nor does he always with them we are philosophers or address us with the polish of a cour- critics, but with him we are mere men, tier, but we see the honesty of his subject to all the frailties of our naintention through the bluntness of ture, and to all the impetuosity of our his manner; we excuse hin because passions; and we rejoice to find it so. it is his way; we know he makes us For it is to become men once more laugh only because he thinks there is that we visit the theatre, knowing that no harm in laughing, and that virtue it is here only those original sympais not in the least endangered by a thies of the heart, which the induratsmile. He addresses himself not to ing tenor of life represses and conthe effeminately delicate, the fastidi- trouls, can assume a momentary exously austere, or the affectedly dig. istence, and convince us that we are nified ; for he knew that the drama is still men, and take an interest in every intended for those only who can feel thing connected with our species. and give expression to their feelings, Homo sum: humani nihil, a me alienum not for those platonic thinkers who
puto. look on a play like so many philoso- From the closest view which we can phic sages, watching the result of an take of the genius of Shakspeare, it experiment in physics. He therefore will invariably appear, then, that all his studies to make us feel, not to make faults and deviations from propriety, us think ; or rather he studies to make originated not from the want of genius, us feel so strongly that we shall forget but from it's luxuriant redundancy. to think. The plays of Shakspeare, The writer who abounds in thought therefore, are calculated to triumph and sentiment, has infinitely more over philosophy itself, while the plays difficulty in reducing them to order of other writers are only calculated to than he who is limited to a few; but convert us into philosophers. He this dficulty is greatly encreased hurries us along through the deep, when a writer has no models to copy awful, and interesting scenes which after, and is obliged to pursue the lic discloses to our view: the passions impulse and tendency of his own which he pourtrays in his characters' genius. Vast conceptions are not so take possession of ourselves, and we easily embodied in the texture of are so powerfully influenced by then, language as limited and contrasted