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good account of the Salic law, though a much worse has been given by many antiquaries. But he who reads the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech in Henry the Fifth, and who shall afterwards say that Shakspeare was not a man of great reading and information, and who loved the thing itself, is a person whose opinion I would not ask or trust upon any matter of investigation.” Then, was all this reading, all this information, all this knowledge of our great dramatist, a mere rudis indigestaque moles? Very far from it. Method, we have seen, demands a knowledge of the relations which things bear to each other, or to the observer, or to the state and apprehensions of the hearers. In all and each of these was Shakspeare so deeply versed, that in the personages of a play, he seems “to mould his mind as some incorporeal material alternately into all their various forms.” In every one of his various characters we still feel ourselves communing with the same human nature. Every where we find individuality; no where mere portrait. The excellence of his productions consists in a happy union of the universal with the particular. But the universal is an idea. Shakspeare, therefore, studied mankind in the idea of the human race; and he followed out that idea into all its varieties by a method which never failed to guide his steps aright. Let us appeal to him, to illustrate by example the difference between a sterile and an exuberant mind, in respect to what we have ventured to call
the science of method. On the one hand observe Mrs. Quickley's relation of the circumstances of Sir John Falstaff's debt. On the other hand consider the narration given by Hamlet to Horatio, of the occurrences during his proposed transportation to England, and the events that interrupted his voyage.*
If, overlooking the different value of the matter in these two narrations, we consider only the form, it must be confessed that both are immethodical. We have asserted that method results from a balance between the passive impression received from outward things, and the internal inactivity of the mind in reflecting and generalising; but neither Hamlet nor the Hostess hold this balance accurately. In Mrs. Quickley, the memory alone is called into action; the objects and events recur in the narration in the same order, and with the same accompaniments, however accidental or impertinent, as they had first occurred to the narrator. The necessity of taking breath, the efforts of recollection, and the abrupt rectification of its failures, produce all her pauses, and constitute most of her connexions. But when we look to the Prince of Denmark's recital, the case is widely different. Here the events, with the circumstances of time and place, are all stated with equal compression and rapidity; not one introduced which could have been omitted without injury to
Henry IV, Part 1. Act 2. Sc. 1.
* Act 5. Sc. 2.
the intelligibility of the whole process. tendency is discoverable, as far as the mere facts are in question, it is to omission; and accordingly the reader will observe that the attention of the narrator is called back to one material circumstance, which he was hurrying by, by a direct question from the friend (How was THIS SEALED?) to whom the story is communicated. But by a trait which is indeed peculiarly characteristic of Hamlet's mind, ever disposed to generalise, and meditative to excess, all the digressions and enlargements consist of reflections, truths, and principles of general and permanent interest, either directly expressed or disguised in playful satire.
Instances of the want of generalisation are of no rare occurrence; and the narration of Shakspeare's Hostess differs from those of the ignorant and unthinking in ordinary life, only by its superior humour, the poet's own gift and infusion, not by its want of method, which is not greater than we often meet with in that class of minds of which she is the dramatic representative. Nor will the excess of generalisation and reflection have escaped our observation in real life, though the great poet has more conveniently supplied the illustrations. In attending too exclusively to the relations which the past or passing events and objects bear to general truth, and the moods of his own mind, the most intelligent man is sometimes in danger of overlooking that other relation, in which they are likewise to be placed, to the apprehension and sympathies of his hearers. His discourse appears like soliloquy intermixed with dialogue. But the uneducated and unreflecting talker overlooks all mental relations, and consequently precludes all method that is not purely accidental. Hence,the nearer the things and incidents in time and place, the more distant, disjointed, and impertinent to each other, and to any common purpose,
will they appear in his narration; and this from the absence of any leading thought in the narrator's own mind. On the contrary, where the habit of method is present and effective, things the most remote and diverse in time, place, and outward circumstance, are brought into mental contiguity and succession, the more striking as the less expected. But while we would impress the necessity of this habit, the illustrations adduced give proof that in undue preponderance, and when the prerogative of the mind is stretched into despotism, the discourse may degenerate into the wayward or the fantastical.
Shakspeare needed not to read Horace in order to give his characters that methodical unity which the wise Roman so strongly recommends :
Si quid inexpertum scene committis, et audes
Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet. But this was not the only way in which he followed an accurate philosophic method : we quote the expressions of Schlegel, a foreign critic of great and deserved reputation :-“If Shakspeare
deserves our admiration for his characters, he is equally deserving of it for his exhibition of passion, taking this word in its widest signification, as including every mental condition, every tone from indifference or familiar mirth, to the wildest rage and despair. He gives us the history of minds : he lays open to us, in a single word, a whole series of preceding conditions.” This last is a profound and exquisite remark; and it necessarily implies that Shakspeare contemplated ideas, in which alone are involved conditions and consequences ad infinitum. Purblind critics, whose mental vision could not reach far enough to comprise the whole dimensions of our poetical Hercules, have busied themselves in measuring and spanning him muscle by muscle, till they fancied they had discovered some disproportion. There are two answers applicable to most of such remarks. First, that Shakspeare understood the true language and external workings of passion better than his critics. He had a higher, and a more ideal, and consequently a more methodical sense of harmony than they. A very slight knowledge of music will enable any one to detect discords in the exquisite harmonies of Haydn or Mozart; and Bentley has found more false grammar in the Paradise Lost than ever poor boy was whipped for through all the forms of Eton or Westminster; but to know why the minor note is introduced into the major key, or the nominative case left to seek for its verb, requires an acquaintance with some preliminary steps of the methodical