Page images
[ocr errors]


nets. "I do not feel any great propensity to stand forth ast
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 conde-
scending 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 ora-
cle ;
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 ignorant of the treasures contained in those little pieces."*

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

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

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

founded upou Truth and Nature, than Wordsworth him-
self. The critics of the last century have passed away:-

"Peor and Baalim

Forsake their temples dim."

By the operation of what great sustaining principle is it that
we have come back to the just appreciation of "the treas-
ures contained in those little pieces"? The poet-critic
will answer :

"There never has been a period, and perhaps never will be, in which vicious poetry, of some kind or other, has not excited more zealous admiration, and been far more generally read, than good; but this advantage attends the good, that the individual, as well as the species, survives from age to age: whereas, of the depraved, though the species be immortal, the individual quickly perishes: the object of present admiration vanishes, being supplanted by some. other as easily produced, which, though no better, brings with it at least the irritation of novelty, with adaptation, more or less skilful, to the changing humors of the majority of those who are most at leisure to regard poetical works when they first solicit their attention. Is it the result of the whole, that, in the opinion of the writer, the judgment of the people is not to be respected? The thought is most injurious; and could the charge be brought against him, he would repel it with indignation. The people have already been justified, and their eulogium pronounced by implication, when it is said, above — that, of good poetry, the individual, as well as the species, survives. And how does it survive but through the people? What preserves it but their intellect and their wisdom?

'Past and future are the wings

On whose support, harmoniously conjoined,

Moves the great spirit of human knowledge.' — MS.

The voice that issues from this spirit is that vox populi
which the deity inspires. Foolish must he be who can
mistake for this a local acclamation, or a transitory outcry

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]



transitory though it be for years, local though from a nation! Still more lamentable is his error who can believe that there is any thing of divine infallibility in the clamor of that small, though loud portion of the community, ever governed by factitious influence, which, under the name of the PUBLIC, passes itself, upon the unthinking, for the PEOPLE."*

It is this perpetual mistake of the public for the people that has led to the belief that there was a period when Shakspeare was neglected. He was always in the heart of the people. There, in that deep, rich soil, have the Sonnets rested during two centuries; and here and there in remote places have the seeds put forth leaves and flowers. All young imaginative minds now rejoice in their hues and their fragrance. But this preference of the fresh and beautiful of poetical life to the pot-pourri of the last age must be a regulated love. Those who, seeing the admiration which now prevails for these outpourings of "exquisite feelings felicitously expressed," talk of the Sonnets as equal, if not superior, to the greatest of the poet's mighty dramas, compare things that admit of no comparison. Who would speak in the same breath of the gem of Cupid and Psyche, and the Parthenon? In the Sonnets, exquisite as they are, the poet goes not out of himself, (at least in the form of the composition,) and he walks, therefore, in a narrow circle of art. In the Venus and Adonis, and the Lucrece, the circle widens. But in the Dramas, the centre is the Human Soul, the circumference the Universe.


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



THE German critic, Horn, concludes some remarks upon Shakspeare's King John with a passage that may startle those who believe that the truth of history, and the truth of our great dramatic teacher of history, are altogether different things:

“The hero of this piece stands not in the list of personages, and could not stand with them; for the idea should be clear without personification. The hero is England.

"What the poet chose to express of his view of the dignity and worth of his native land he has confided to the Bastard to embody in words:

This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.'

But Shakspeare is immeasurably more than Falconbridge,
and he would have the reader and the spectator more also.
These lines are not intended to be fixed upon England at
the beginning of the fourteenth century alone; they are
not even confined to England generally. They are for the



[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »