« ElőzőTovább »
So farewell to the little good you bear me;
and the touching dialogue with Cromwell, wherein he tells him that he has recommended him to the king, and warns him against ambition :
By that sin fell the angels; how can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it? and concludes with
Oh ! Cromwell! Cromwell!
The circumstances of his death are equally affecting:
After the stout Earl of Northumberland
He gave his honours to the world again,
His blessed part to heaven, and slept in peace. Thus it is always with Shakspeare. His worst characters have some claim upon our kindly feelings. Genius is the power of reflecting nature ; for genius, as the word imports, is nature. The mind of Shakspeare was as a magic mirror, in which all human nature's possible forms and combinations were present, intuitively and inherently —not conceived—but as connatural portions of his own humanity. Whatever his characters were besides, they were also men. Such they were in the world of his imagination—such they are also in the world of reality. It is this harmony and correspondence between the world without and the world within, that gives the charm to his productions. His characters are not the mere abstractions of intellect from an understood class or species, but are generated in his own mind, as individuals having personal being there, and are distinctly brought out, not so much as representatives of character in actual nature, as the original productions of a plastic genius, which is also nature, and works like her. This is to be a poet; this is what is meant by a creative imagination.
ON SHAKSPEARE, IN REFERENCE TO THE AGE IN
WHICH HE FLOURISHED.
SHAKSPEARE flourished and wrote in the last half of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and the first half of that of James the First; and consequently under monarchs who were learned themselves, and held literature in honour. The policy of modern Europe, by which the relations of its different states have been so variously interwoven, commenced a century before. Such was the zeal for the study of the ancients, that even court ladies, and the queen herself, were intimately acquainted with Latin and Greek, and could speak the former with fluency; a degree of knowledge which we should in vain seek for in the European courts of the present day. The trade and navigation of the English, which they carried on with all the four quarters of the world, made them acquainted with the customs and mental productions of other nations; and it would appear that they were then more indulgent to foreign manners than they are in the present day. Italy had already produced nearly all for which her literature is distinguished; and translations were diligently, and even successfully, executed in verse from the Italians. They
were not unacquainted with the Spanish literature, for it is certain that Don Quixote was read in England soon after its first appearance. Bacon, the founder of modern experimental philosophy, and of whom it may be said that he carried in his pocket all that merits the name of philosophy in the eighteenth century, was a contemporary of Shakspeare. His fame, as a writer, did not indeed burst forth till after his death ; but what a number of ideas must have been in circulation before such an author could arise! Many branches of human knowledge have, since that time, been cultivated to a greater extent, but merely those branches which are totally unproductive to poetry: chemistry, mechanics, manufactures, and rural and political economy, will never enable a man' to become a poet. I have elsewhere* examined into the pretensions of modern cultivation, as it is called, which looks down with such contempt on all preceding ages; I have shown that it is all little, superficial, and unsubstantial at bottom. The pride of what has been called the present maturity of human reason has come to a miserable end ; and the structures erected by those pedagogues of the human race have fallen to pieces like the baby-houses of children.
The tone of society at present compels us to remark that there is a wide difference between cultivation and what is called polish. That artificial polish which puts an end to every thing like
* In my Lectures on the Spirit of the Age.
original communication, and subjects all intercourse to the insipid uniformity of certain rules, was undoubtedly unknown in the age of Shakspeare, as it is still in a great measure in England in the present day. They possessed the consciousness of healthful energy, which always expressed itself boldly, though often petulantly. The spirit of chivalry was not yet extinguished ; and a queen who required the observance of much more regard for her sex than for her dignity, and who, from her determination, wisdom, and magnanimity, was, in fact, well qualified to infuse an ardent enthusiasm into the minds of her subjects, inflamed that spirit to the most noble love of glory and renown. Remains of the feudal independence were also still in existence; the nobility vied with each other in splendour of dress, and number of retinue; and every great lord had a sort of small court of his
The distinction of ranks was yet strongly marked ; and this is what is most to be wished for by the dramatic poet. In discourse they were delighted with quick and unexpected answers; and the witty sally passed rapidly like a ball from mouth to mouth, till it could no longer be kept up. This, and the excessive extent to which a play on words was carried, (for which King James himself had a great fondness, so that we need not wonder at the universality of the mode,) may be considered in the light of bad taste; but to take it for a symptom of rudeness and barbarity, is not less absurd than to infer the poverty of a people from their luxurious extravagance. These strained repartees