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extensive and lasting empire.-Ariosto and Tasso adopted and carried to perfection the style of Pulci and Boiardo. Taste and literature had made no advances in England in the fifteenth century; and, in the sixteenth and early part of the seventeenth, our countrymen resorted for models principally to Italy. The Earl of Surry and his contemporaries were the introducers of the Italian school in this island. Spenser in his Faerie Queen combined at once all the imperfections of the allegorical and the romantic. Even the transcendent genius of Milton formed itself upon these originals ; and, however we may adore the wonders of his invention, impartial criticism must acknowledge that he studied much in the school of the artificial, the colossal, and the wild, and little in that of nature.
It is incumbent upon us, however, not to treat the romantic style with too undiscriminating a severity. The fault was in thinking this the only style worthy of an elevated genius, or in thinking it the best. It has its appropriate and genuine recommendations. It is lofty, enthusiastic, and genial and cherishing to the powers of imagination. Perhaps every man of a truly poetical mind will be the better for having passed a short period in this school. And it may further safely be affirmed that every man of a truly poetical mind, who was reduced to make his choice between the school of coarse, burlesque, and extravagant humour, such as that of Hudibras for example, and the school of extravagant heroism and chivalry, such as that
of Tasso, would decide for the latter. The first chills and contracts, as it were, the vessels and alleys of the heart, and leaves us with a painful feeling of self-degradation. The second expands and elevates the soul, and fills the mind of the reader with generous pride, complacence in the powers he feels, and a warm and virtuous ardour to employ them for the advantage of others.
It is time that we should quit the consideration of these two less glorious spheres of human genius, and turn back to the temple of Nature, where Shakspeare for ever stands forth the high priest and the sovereign. The portraits drawn by those who have studied with success in her school, are dishonoured by being called portraits; they are themselves originals above all exception or challenge. The representations drawn in the romantic or the burlesque style may be to a great degree faithful exhibitions of what has actually existed ! ; but, if they are, at least they exhibit a nature, vitiated, distorted, and, so to express the idea, denaturalised. The artificial and preconcerted is only shown, and those fainter and evanescent touches, by which every man betrays the kind to which he belongs, are lost. The portraits of Shakspeare, on the other hand, abound in, and may almost be said to be made up of these touches. In his characters we see the habits and prejudices of the man, and see, as through a transparent medium, how every accident that befals him acts upon his habits, his prejudices, and upon those passions which are common to us all. How precisely is this the case with Justice Shallow! How completely are the starts and sallies of Hotspur, his repetitions, the torrent of his anger, his fiery temper, and his images drawn often from the most familiar and ordinary life,-how completely are they the very man that the poet desired to present to us! Shakspeare does not describe, he does seem to imagine the personages of his scene; he waves his magic wand, and the personages themselves appear, and act over again, at his command, the passions, the impressions, and the sorrows of their former life. The past is present before us.
Life of Chancer, Vol. 4. p. 189. It has been justly observed by Mr. Godwin, that what comes nearest to the pre-eminence of Shakspeare in the natural style, is the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, the Don Quixote of Cervantes, the Sir Roger de Coverley of Addison, the Lovelace of Richardson, the Parson Adams of Fielding, the Walter Shandy of Sterne, and the Hugh Strap of Smollet.
ON THE ART OF SHAKSPEARE.
To me Shakspeare appears a profound artist, and not a blind and wildly-luxuriant genius. I consider, generally speaking, all that has been said on this subject as a mere fabulous story, a blind and extravagant error. In other arts the assertion refutes itself; for in them acquired knowledge is an indispensable condition before any thing can be performed. But even in such poets, as are usually given out for careless pupils of nature, without any art or school discipline, I have always found, on a nearer consideration, when they have really produced works of excellence, a distinguished cultivation of the mental powers, practice in art, and views worthy in themselves and maturely considered. This applies to Homer as well as Dante. The activity of genius is, it is true, natural to it, and in a certain sense unconscious; and consequently the person who possesses it is not always at the moment able to render an account of the course which he may have pursued; but it by no means follows that the thinking power had not a great share in it. It is from the very rapidity and certainty of the mental process, from the utmost clearness of understanding, that thinking in a poet is not perceived as something abstracted, does not wear the appearance of meditation. That idea of poetical inspiration, which many lyrical poets have brought into circulation, as if they were not in their senses, and like Pythia, when possessed by the divinity, delivered oracles unintelligible to themselves (a mere lyrical invention), is least of all applicable to dramatic composition, one of the productions of the human mind which requires the greatest exercise of thought. It is admitted that Shakspeare has reflected, and deeply reflected, on character and passion, on the progress of events and human destinies, on the human constitution, on all the things and relations of the world ; this is an admission which must be made, for one alone of thousands of his maxims would be a sufficient refutation of whoever should attempt to deny it. So that it was only then respecting the structure of his own pieces that he had no thought to spare ? This he left to the dominion of chance, which blew together the atoms of Epicurus? But supposing that he had, without the higher ambition of acquiring the approbation of judicious critics and posterity, without the love of art which endeavours at self-satisfaction in a perfect work, merely laboured to please the unlettered crowd; this very object alone, and the theatrical effect, would have led him to bestow attention to the conduct of his pieces. For does not the impression of a drama depend in an especial manner on the relation of the parts to each other? And however beautiful a scene may be in itself, will it not be at once re