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The conventional phrase “sovereign bliss,” is nothing compared with the grave repetition and enforcement of the insuit in Chaucer:
Woman is manněs joy and mannės blis.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE FAIRIES
In oldě dayěs of the King Artòur,
In the old days of King Arthur, which the Bretons hold in such high estimation, this land was all full of fairies. The Elf-Queen, with her merry attendants, was always dancing about the green meads. Such at \rast was the opinion a long time ago,-many hundred years. Nowadays we see them no longer; for the charity and piety of the begging friars, and others of their holy brethren, who make search everywhere by land and water, as thick as the motes in the sun-beams, blessing our halls, chambers, kitchens, bowers, cities, boroughs, towers, castles, villages, barns, dairies, and sheep-folds, have caused the fairies to vanish; for where the fairy used to be, there is now the friar himself. You are sure to meet him before breakfast and dinner, saying his matins and holy things, and going about with his wallet. Women may now go up and down in
In every bush, and under every tree,
safety; for though they may see things in the bushes and under the trees, it's only the friar There is no other incubus but he.
I “ Ther is non other incubus but he.”—The incubus was the suc. cessor of the ancient Faun; and, though a mischievous spirit, was supposed to be sometimes in love. Hence a twofold satire in the allusion.
[See the volume entitled “ Imagination and Fancy,” page 106.]
SHAKSPEARE had as great a comic genius as tragic; and every. body would think so, were it possible for comedy to impress the mind as tragedy does. It is true, the times he lived in, as Hazlitt has remarked, were not so foppish and ridiculous as those of our prose comic dramatists, and therefore he had not so much to laugh at: and it is observed by the same critic, with equal truth, that his genius was of too large and magnanimous a description to delight in satire. But who doubts that had Shakspeare lived in those inferior times, the author of the character of Mercutio could have written that of Dorimant ? of Benedick and Beatrice, the dialogues of Congreve ? or of Twelfth Night and the Taming of the Shrew, the most uproarious farce ? I certainly cannot think with Dr. Johnson, that he wrote comedy better than tragedy; that “his tragedy seems to be skill, and his comedy instinct.” I could as soon believe that the instinct of Nature was confined to laughter, and that her tears were shed upon principles of criticism. Such may have been the Doctor's recipe for writing tragedy; but Irene is not King Lear. Laughter and tears are alike born with us, and so was the power of exciting them with Shakspeare; because it pleased Nature to make him a complete human being.
Shakspeare had wit and humor in perfection; and like every possessor of powers so happy, he rioted in their enjoyment. Mo. lière was not fonder of running down a joke: Rabelais could not give loose to a more “ admirable fooling." His mirth is commensurate with his melancholy : it is founded on the same know. ledge and feeling, and it furnished him with a set-off to their oppression. When he had been too thoughtful with Hamlet, he “took it out" with Falstaff and Sir Toby. Not that he was habitually melancholy. He had too healthy a brain for that, and too great animal spirits; but in running the whole circle of thought, he must' of necessity have gone through its darkest as well as brightest phases; and the sunshine was welcome in pro. portion. Shakspeare is the inventor of the phrase, “ setting the table in a roar;" of the memory of Yorick; of the stomach of Falstaff, stuffed as full of wit as of sack. He “wakes the night. owl with a catch ;” draws “three souls out of one weaver;" passes the “ equinoctial of Queubus” (some glorious torrid zone, lying beyond three o'clock in the morning); and reminds the “unco righteous” for ever, that virtue, false or true, is not incom. patible with the recreations of “cakes and ale." Shakspeare is said to have died of getting out of a sick-bed to entertain his friends Drayton and Ben Jonson, visitors from London. He might have died a later and a graver death, but he could not well have had one more genial, and therefore more poetical. Far was it from dishonoring the eulogizer of “good men's feasts ;" the recorder of the noble friends Antonio and Bassanio; the great thorough-going humanist, who did equal justice to the gravest and the gayest moments of life.
It is a remarkable proof of the geniality of Shakspeare's jesting, that even its abundance of ideas does not spoil it; for, in comedy as well as tragedy, he is the most reflective of writers. I know but of one that comes near him in this respect; and very near him (I dare to affirm) he does come, though he has none of his poetry, properly so called. It is Sterne ; in whose Tristram Shandy there is not a word without meaning,-often of the profoundest as well as kindliest sort. The professed fools of Shak. speare are among the wisest of men. They talk Æsop and Solomon in every jest. Yet they amuse as much as they in. struct us. The braggart Parolles, whose name signifies words, as though he spoke nothing else, scarcely utters a sentence that is not rich with ideas; yet his weakness and self-committals hang over them all like a sneaking infection, and hinder our laughter from becoming respectful. The scene in which he is taken blindfold among his old acquaintances, and so led to
vilify their characters, under the impression that he is gratifying their enemies, is almost as good as the screen-scene in the School for Scandal.
I regret that I can give nothing of it in this volume, nor even of Falstaff, and Sir Toby, nor Benedick, nor Autolycus, &c., &c., almost all the most laughable comedies of Shakspeare being writ. ten in prose. But if it could have been given, how should I have found room for anything else? The confinement to verse luckily does not exclude some entertaining specimens both of his humor and wit.
Hetspur gives an account of a noble coxcomb, who pestered him at an
Hotspur. My liege, I did deny no prisoners.
his nose, and took 't away again ;-