existence only in remorse, shame, or anguish. Neither has any poet equalled Shakespeare in the rectitude and force with which he has conceived of goodness and of worth; with which he has delineated their blessedness and beauty; with which he has presented them in personages of heroic dignity, or in personages of meek and gentle charities. Shakespeare omits nothing — on the bright side or the dark side of life — that has relation to the moral nature: thence, the suggestive meaning that lies hidden in his representations of pleasure, revelry, and mirth; thence, the solemn pathoş, the tragic intensity, which his genius associates with sorrow, suffering, pain, and all the ills " that flesh is heir to.” Particularly, no poet has so well understood as Shakespeare has the trials which burden contemplative and inquiring spirits with inward struggles and with mental griefs, with troublous thinkings and uneasy doubts, with unanswerable questionings as to the problem of existence, the meaning of life and the mystery of death. As Shakespeare's genius seems thus to have within itself the consciousness of all moral humanity, in both its essence and phenomena, in its good and evil, in its truth and error, — so is that genius rich beyond any other earthly genius in exhortation and counsel, in threatening and encouragement, in suggestions of guidance, strength, and wisdom, of remedy, or of consolation. Nor does Shakespeare ever leave out of view the Divine Author of existence, the Infinite and Holy Mind, by whose inspiration man, and man alone, has here below a moral and a reasonable life, by whose providence he is cared for, and by whose power he is sustained. The moral element in Shakespeare's genius is not merely legal and perceptive; it is religious as well as ethical ; it includes worship as well as duty: worship in mode, act, and principle; duty in its everlasting laws, in its human and divine relations, - its relations to Time and to Eternity,– to man, the universal brother, — to God, the Universal Father.

In one element of his genius or another, there may have been poets — nay, there have been poets — who equalled or excelled Shakespeare; but in the moral element of his genius, he stands alone, in a sort of inspired grandeur. No poet, no historian, no speculative thinker, no ethical writer, ever un

derstood man in this essential and immortal portion of his being as Shakespeare did; nay, all poets, historians, speculative thinkers, ethical writers, have not together more fully comprehended man than has Shakespeare, and more than all of them together his comprehension had sympathy and insight. The most living and complete “ Moral Philosophy” in literature, is that of Shakespeare: this assertion alone affords suggestion enough for an extended disquisition, and citations by the hundred might be quoted to sustain it.

But if we separate inward nature and outward nature from each other, we can have of neither an adequate conception. For outward nature has from inward nature its interest and its meanings; while inward nature has in outward nature the sphere of its experience, and the stimulus that awakens, that nurtures, that trains, that enriches, and that delights its faculties.

Shakespeare is not descriptive for the sake of description, and no great poet ever is. Man and his concerns are the real matter of poetry, as they are of all art. It is therefore with man and his concerns that every great poet deals. Man it is that gives interest and life to Nature; for even as a divine revelation of God, of his goodness, and of his glory, it is to man alone that Nature speaks; Nature shows to him alone her signs, and man alone it is that hears her voice, and that ponders on her symbols. Man it is who contemplates the heavens as the work of God's fingers, and the moon and the stars as of his ordination: to man and for man the words were spoken, “Behold the fowls of the air,” — “Consider the lilies of the field.” Thus it is that the presence of Divine Intelligence in the outward world is revealed in accordance with the forms of human nature; and it is with this twofold significance, divine and human, that Shakespeare conceives of the outward world. Thence, the outward world has to him meanings endless and numberless; thence, it becomes to him a vast vocabulary, from which he forms, as he chooses, his wonderful dialect of pictures and analogies; the very soul of nature seems to pour itself into his soul, and through the medium of his genius, in re-created loveliness, grandeur, and strength. This relation of Shakespeare's genius to outward nature is, again, another source of its ever-living freshness; for nature is always the same, and the reciprocal influences between man and nature admit few essential changes. It is very true that the progress of science does modify our intellectual view of nature, and that the inventions to which progressive science gives birth enable us to turn the forces of nature to practical uses; but however, by advancing knowledge, phenomena may be explained, or discoveries be applied, the outward universe will ever be, to the general consciousness, an instinctive, an immediate, and, upon the whole, a uniform rerelation. So it will be even to the learned, as to the vulgar: the sun will arise and set as aforetime, and as of old ; the moon will brighten the heavens with her lustre, and the earth with her beauty; and the stars be, as they always have been, the pomp and glory of the night. We may adduce the example of astronomy itself, to prove how little science changes impression, or interferes with the consciousness that belongs to sensibility and imagination. No one doubts that in the mind of Job, of the Psalmist, of Isaiah, the ideas of the heavens were as different as could be from those of modern astronomy, and as diminutive as different: but can modern astronomy transcend in sublimity the language of those inspired men ? And why not? Because the feeling of the sublime is not the feeling of bulk or of distance, – it is not suggested by the measurable, however remote or near: the feeling of the sublime unites the sense of mystery and of the infinite; whatever can excite this sense gives us the feeling of sublimity, and in the degree that it thus excites us. So could the heavens excite the ancient sages of Chaldæa and Palestine,- and the heavens of modern astronomy can no more; for reach the utmost visible boundary of space, what we have traversed can yet be measured, and before us is still the INFINITE UNKNOWN. Thus, after all, we are in the midst of immensity, and the impression inspires us with solemn awe: the ancients had a like impression and a like awe. We have a sense of mystery and of infinity, and in that sense a feeling of the sublime: the ancients had no less a sense of mystery and of infinity,– perhaps a sense more profound even than ours, and accordingly they had a feeling of the sublime, to which they gave the most solemn grandeur of expression.

We have said that Shakespeare does not deal in mere description, and yet no mere description was ever than his more accurate. The wonder of his observing faculty is not simply in the vastness of its range, or in the sharpness of its vision; but in an intuitive sagacity, which often anticipates discoveries of science, - science equally as it applies to nature or to man. We have not space for illustrations; but if we had, illustrations could be collected that would be numerous, curious, striking, and appropriate. His familiarity, therefore, with the objects and the life of nature, was not the result of voluntary attention, but of spontaneous habit. So it is that phenomena, visible, audible, or living, impress us in the poetry of Shakespeare, as if almost direct, and without a medium. Through it we look at all phases of sun, moon, stars, and clouds: we see the ocean in its various moods, when it foams against the heavens, and when it is their mirror; we have the land in all its configurations, its inequalities, its ornaments, its garniture, and visioned pictures of its habitable and solitary places; we hear the air as it plays sweet music in the grove, and the songs of birds that sound in chorus; we hear the tempest as it shouts fierce battle in the gloomy firmament, or ploughs deep chasms in the devouring sea. So in some few brief minutes we may have visions of the successive seasons: Spring, “when wellapparelled April on the heel of limping Winter treads”; Summer, “when the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses” ; Autumn, when “the year (is) growing ancient, not yet on Summer's death, nor on the birth of trembling Winter"; Winter,

“ When icicles hang by the wall,

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
And nightly sings the staring owl,
To-whit, to-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
“ When all aloud the wind doth blow,

And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian's nose looks red and raw;

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
To-whit, to-who, a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.” So have we the changes of the day, but marked particularly in the opening and the close ; — in the opening, when “ the morning steals upon the night, melting the darkness”;- in the close, when the silent hours steal on, and flaky darkness breaks within the east”; “the west yet glimmers with some streaks of day"; then “ spurs the lated traveller apace, to gain the timely inn”; at last, “the dragon-wing of night o'erspreads the earth.”

But natural description, accurate and vivid as it is in Shakespeare, is not the peculiarity of his genius; the peculiarity is, that he humanizes all description, and that all his description is incidental to humanity. We often notice this in his symbolic imaginings of day and night:

“ See how the the morning opes her golden gates,

And takes her farewell of the glorious sun! .
How well resembles it the prime of youth,

Trimmed like a younker, prancing to his love !” Then we have Night, “ sober-suited matron all in black," subjectively human in one passage, which we shall quote, and objectively human in another, which also we will quote. Subjectively thus:

“ The gaudy, blabbing, and remorseful day

Is crept into the bosom of the sea;
And now loud-howling wolves arouse the jades

That drag the tragic, melancholy night.”
Night, objectively, we have: -

“When the searching eye of heaven is hid
Behind the globe, and lights the lower world,
Then thieves and robbers range abroad unseen,
In murders, and in outrage, bloody here;
But when from under this terrestrial ball
He fires the proud tops of the eastern pines,
And darts his light through every guilty hole,
Then murders, treasons, and detested sins,
The cloak of night being plucked from off their backs,
Stand bare and naked, trembling at themselves!”

« ElőzőTovább »