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have been particularly subject to such an influence ; for every generation would add to their intricacy. If in that age of 66 treasons, conspiracies, and spoils,” the technical terms were not extensively learned, it was not because of inactivity in the laws, or of neglect in the enforcement of the penalties. If people did not understand the meaning of “ impeachment," “ attainder," " indictment," it was from no want of teaching by repetition and example. The tribunals of all grades were always full of occupation ; the block was never dry; and the gallows was never empty. Henry the Eighth beheaded and strangled his tens of thousands; Elizabeth, his daughter, did not reach beyond her thousands.
Whether Shakespeare was, therefore, ever in an attorney's office or not, is still an open question; but we think that, in his times and circumstances, he did not need to be there to have learned even more law than his writings show; and that if any man of intellect failed to acquire as much from the common habits of the period, it was not because those habits did not afford him sufficient opportunity.
But trifling and temporary as this inquiry is, it proves what a present and perpetual life the genius of Shakespeare is in our literature, since there is no incident so small that does not acquire value if it has relation to him. Amidst all social and intellectual change, transition, and decay, Shakespeare's genius is not only an unharmed life, but a life ever enlarging the dimensions of its influence. It runs in the current of our thinking, and for all that our nature struggles to express it gives us ideas and a vocabulary; it secures sympathy from all grades of mind, in the unity of a common consciousness; it awakens in them all the sense of a common humanity.
We propose to inquire what it is, in Shakespeare's genius, which accounts for its growing influence, and indicates its lasting power. To this end we shall consider his genius, in itself;— then, some points in its relation to humanity, individual and social.
In looking to Shakespeare's genius, in itself, and as a whole, it at once inspires us with the feeling of its subjective completeness. We think of other poets through some one characteristic faculty or attribute: and only in connection with such faculty
VOL. LXVII. — 5TH 8. VOL. V. NO. II.
or attribute will this one or that be present to the mind. The genius of Shakespeare will not, cannot, narrow itself into this partial emphasis. The conception of Shakespeare's genius cannot be connoted or denoted: such conceptions must grasp, or try to grasp, an inward nature, that is integral and complete. Here is one poet that we recall by his imagination : it may be imagination fierce and dark; it may be imagination sportive, gladsome, bright, full of tricks, gayety, and wiles; it may be imagination grotesque, serious, superstitious, quaint, — turning men's doings into mockery, — finding in life but a comedy of oddities, and peopling all existence with spirits, goblins, and strange appearances; but, in whatever way, or manner, it is still imaginative. It may have in it the soul of beauty or the soul of hideousness; the soul of goodness or the soul of evil; the soul of joy or of fear; of gentleness or of force; - it is still imagination ; it will be one or other of these, according to the personality of the poet; and only in this, and his personality, do we shape our idea of his genius. There, again, is another poet who stands to us for intellect; intellect abstract, speculative, philosophic; pondering much on the origin of things, on the nature of existence, on the destiny of MAN; — stands to us, we repeat, for intellect; for intellect, not, indeed, unideal, unimpassioned, uncolored; still, it is through the intellect intensified that the genius here considered becomes poetic, and so it is we view it. One poet we recognize as a singer and dreamer of the ideal ; another, as the logician and polemic of the actual. One poet is the keen critic of manners, and looks at humanity only in society; another is an enthusiast of nature, and contemplates humanity only in solitude. Let us conceive of the most florid fancy, the most voluptuous and luxurious imagery; with this conception there is an appropriate poet associated. Conceive also of the barest landscape, of the most sordid conditions of life, of ignorance and poverty, with all their vices, their sufferings, their struggles, their toils; that conception, too, has its poet. Satire has poets, and so has sanctity. Passion, reckless, wild, and strong, indulging in all that can give the excitement of a pleasure or a pain, becomes at times the force of genius ; then the poet whom it inspires sings out of the inspiration, and the song is
of satisfaction lost in satiety ; of anticipation closed in disappointment; of festivity turned into mourning; of mirth swallowed up in melancholy; of the delights of sense changed into the vexations of the spirit, and the bitterness of remorse : the song swells into a mighty requiem, when it is not the lyric of ridicule or the malediction of discontent; and all nature, and all history, and all life, are made to join in its acrimonious or its doleful music. Fancy, that will not have less than the infinite, which it crowds with the boldest and strangest visions, – fancy, sick with the love of beauty, and thought that spurns the limits of the possible, — these, too, must have their poet, and they have had him. He sang amidst the mountains, and looking to the stars; he sang in elfish wood and valley; he sang along the enchanted stream; he sang to the chorus of the waves; and while the singer was in his prime, the glories of nature in the mingling of wind and waves put his song to silence. Fancy in another form chooses another poet; and he also sings a song of thought and beauty; he sings it in melodious and pathetic tones: in its weird and dreamy music, we have murmurs of human emotion which had not hitherto been uttered; and fantasies of mind, that with no certain shape hovered dimly through the spirit, are by the incantation conjured into vision. While the spell of the song is on us, we see the past in the living populations of legends and epics; and nature reveals itself to us through a medium that seems an atmosphere of enchantment. Finally, while we discern one poet in the sublime, we have another in the homely ; one poet awes us with the birth of creation, another cheers us with the birth of childhood ; one soothes us with the pleasures of memory, another stimulates with the pleasures of hope; one poet deals in description, another devotes his song to duty; this poet sings of war, and that of peace; at one time a poet gives his genius, in high-resounding measure, to the grand and heroic activities of life; at another, a poet in eloquent and believing despondency concerns himself with the solemnities of the grave and the awfulness of immortality.
Now we might safely say that every form of genius presented in this rapid review may be found in the genius of Shakespeare, concentrated and condensed. But every form of genius has in Shakespeare its due relation, and keeps it. Composed of all these several elements, the genius of Shakespeare is sufficient unto itself. As there is neither deficiency nor excess in the forces of Shakespeare's genius, so is there no disorder in their working, and no disproportion or incompactness in their product. The faculties which constitute these forces are not only great, living, of the soundest health, and of the most sustained activity, each in its own power; but also, collectively, they have the unity and the inspiration of an excellent harmony.
We have not in these remarks made any separate mention of the grand imagination which belongs to the genius of Shakespeare. We have not, because, grand though it is, it makes no singularity of impression, as distinct and aside from the totality of that genius: it permeates the whole as a living principle ; as a spirit of fire, which melts the mental chaos into material for creative use; as a spirit of energy and skill, which shapes this material into the agencies and phenomena of an ideal universe. For the same reason that we have not made the Shakespearian imagination the topic of separate comment, we content ourselves with this allusion, and will not refer again, directly, to the subject.
But there is one element in the genius of Shakespeare which we will distinctively notice; it is the feminine element. This is a security, perhaps more enduring than any other, for the immortality of Shakespeare in literature. No genius that deals with human life is complete without including both the masculine and the feminine elements. One, away from the other, issues into no living product, but is doomed to die. Nor merely this : one away from the other does not unfold its own fullest nature ; each, by itself, is not only barren, but stunted. The genius which includes them both, and develops both, is like those plants that have the two sexes in the same flower, in which the blossom that gives delight by its beauty gives, at the same time, the promise of coming fruit and of deathless seed. It may be said, that this will hold as well for genius in woman as in man; and that if genius in man must include the feminine element, genius in woman must include the masculine element. We grant the position ; but we grant it with a certain modification : it is this, — that, as the masculine element should predominate in the genius of man, the feminine element should predominate in the genius of woman: a contrary order is not excellent, but unnatural,- is not delightful, but disagreeable. Mere emotion and sympathy in woman, separate from sound thinking, leaves her a simpleton or a sentimentalist; mere intellect in man, separate from sensibility and intuition, leaves him a surly Cynic or a reasoning machine: but we can hardly tell which is the more intolerable, a lachrymose man, or a logical woman. The feminine element is not only important in literature for the completeness of genius; it is also important, because it is by that element that genius obtains the sympathy of woman: and without the sympathy of woman no literature that deals with humanity can be said to live. The literature that can last, must have common interest for man and woman; but if it lean to either side, it should be to that of woman : for the life of woman is always nearer to nature than that of man ; her instincts and sentiments are more primitive; her sense of sex is more vigilant and tenacious; her thoughts are more spontaneous, rapid, and direct; — and the whole constitutes an inward character, that maintains a wonderful unity amidst the numberless varieties of her sex, and a continued identity, which is neither lost nor obscured, throughout the manifold changes of history or the world. The literature, therefore, which not only has no feminine element, but, still worse, which has no feminine interest, wants the most vital element of humanity. If so it be with simple exclusion, what must it be with the literature which depreciates woman, scorns her, mocks her, ridicules her, and satirizes her? The one she will neglect, the other she will detest. What woman reads Rabelais ? What woman reads Montaigne or Bayle? What woman reads Alexander Pope or Jonathan Swift? And with all the genius of these writers, they can hardly be said to have any living interest in the world. What woman reads them? But also it may be inquired, What man ? To this question we reply, that if women read them, men would; and if women had read them, they would not so soon have become obsolete.