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scale, at the top of which sits the author, and at the bottom the critic. The second answer is, that Shakspeare was pursuing two methods at once ; and besides the psychological * method, he had also to attend to the poetical. Now the poetical method requires above all things a preponderance of pleasurable feeling; and where the interest of the events and characters and passions is too strong to be continuous without becoming painful, there poetical method requires that there should be, what Schlegel calls “a musical alleviation of our sympathy.” The Lydian mode must temper the Dorian. This we call method.
We said that Shakspeare pursued two methods. Oh! he pursued many, many more—“both oar and sail”—and the guidance of the helm, and the heaving of the lead, and the watchful observation of the stars, and the thunder of his grand artillery. What shall we say of his moral conceptions ? Not made up of miserable clap-traps, and the tag-ends of mawkish novels, and endless sermonising;—but furnishing lessons of profound meditation to frail and fallible human nature. He shows us crime and want of principle clothed not with a spurious greatness of soul, but with a force of intellect which too often imposes but the more easily on the
• We beg pardon for the use of this insolens verbum ; but it is one of which our language stands in great need. We have no single term to express the philosophy of the human mind; and what is worse, the principles of that philosophy are commonly called metaphysical, a word of very different meaning.
weak, misjudging multitude. He shows us the innocent mind of Othello plunged by its own unsuspecting and therefore unwatchful confidence, in guilt and misery not to be endured. Look at Lear, look at Richard, look, in short, at every moral picture of this mighty moralist! Whoso does not rise from their attentive perusal “a sadder and a wiser man"--let him never dream that he knows any thing of philosophical method.
Nay, even in his style, how methodical is our “sweet Shakspeare.” Sweetness is indeed its predominant characteristic, and it has a few immethodical luxuriances of wit; and he may occasionally, be convicted of words which convey a volume of thought, when the business of the scene did not absolutely require such deep meditation. But pardoning him these dulcia vitia, who ever fashioned the English language, or any language, ancient or modern, into such variety of appropriate apparel, from “the gorgeous pall of scepter'd tragedy” to the easy dress of flowing pastoral?
More musical to lark than shepherd's ear,
When wheat is green, and hawthorn buds appear. Who, like him, could so methodically suit the very flow and tone of discourse to characters lying so wide apart in rank, and habits, and peculiarities, as Holofernes and Queen Catharine, Falstaff and Lear? When we compare the pure English style of Shakspeare with that of the very best writers of his day, we stand astonished at the
method by which he was directed in the choice of those words and idioms, which are as fresh now as in their first bloom ; nay, which are at the present moment at once more energetic, more expressive, more natural, and more elegant, than those of the happiest and most admired living speakers or writers.
But Shakspeare was “not methodical in the structure of his fable.” Oh gentle critic! be advised. Do not trust too much to your professional dexterity in the use of the scalping-knife and tomahawk. Weapons of diviner mould are wielded by your adversary; and you are meeting him here on his own peculiar ground, the ground of idea, of thought, and of inspiration. The very point of this dispute is ideal. The question is one of unity; and unity, as we have shown, is wholly the subject of ideal law. There are said to be three great unities which Shakspeare has violated; those of time, place, and action. Now the unities of time and place we will not dispute about. Be ours the poet,
qui pectus inaniter angit, Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet
Ut magus, et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis. The dramatist who circumscribes himself within that unity of time which is regulated by a stopwatch, may be exact, but is not methodical ; or his method is of the least and lowest class. But
Where is he living clipt in with the sea,
who can transpose the scenes of Macbeth, and make the seated heart knock at the ribs with the same force as now it does, when the mysterious tale is conducted from the open heath, on which the weird sisters are ushered in with thunder and lightning, to the fated fight of Dunsinane, in which their victim expiates with life his credulity and his ambition? To the disgrace of the English stage, such attempts have indeed been made on almost all the dramas of Shakspeare. Scarcely a season passes which does not produce some usteron proteron of this kind in which the mangled limbs of our great poet are thrown together “ in most admired disorder.”—There was once a noble author, who, by a refined species of murder, cut up the play of Julius Cæsar into two good set tragedies. M. Voltaire, we believe, had the grace to make but one of it; but whether his Brutus be an improvement on the model from which it was taken, we trust, after what we have already said, we shall hardly be expected to discuss.
Thus we have seen that Shakspeare's mind, rich in stores of acquired knowledge, commanded all these stores, and rendered them disposable, by means of his intimate acquaintance with the great laws of thought which form and regulate method. We have seen him exemplifying the opposite faults of method in two different characters; we have seen that he was himself methodical in the delineation of character, in the display of passion, in the conceptions of moral being, in the adaptations of language, in the connexion and admirable intertexture of his ever-interesting fable. Let it not, after this, be said that poetry—and under the word poetry we will now take leave to include all the works of the higher imagination, whether operating by measured sound, or by the harmo, nies of form and colour, or by words, the more immediate and universal representatives of thought -is not strictly methodical; nay, does not owe its whole charm, and all its beauty, and all its power, to the philosophical principles of method.
ENCYCLOPÆDIA METROPOLITANA, Part 1st.*
• This number and the preceding one will be considered, I think, as containing unanswerable refutations of the once very prevalent idea, that Shakspeare's plays were the mere offspring of wild and irregular genius, uncontrolled by, and even ignorant of, the laws of method and composition. It must be confessed, indeed, that both Schlegel and the writer in the Encyclopædia have expressed themselves, in one or two instances, in language not sufficiently qualified; but that they have obtained the purpose which they had in view, that they have proved Shakspeare in his noblest pieces to have been not only philosophically profound, but, in the best sense, strictly methodical, can admit of little doubt.-I must here also remark that the present paper cannot fail of imparting a highly favourable impression of the critical department of the Encyclopædia Metropolitana; and it is but justice to add that the scientific is conducted with equal if not superior ability.