Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

But

Bacon. In truth, Mr. Shakspeare, you have observed the world so well, and so widely, that I can scarce believe you ever shut your eyes. I too, although much engrossed with other studies, am, in part, an observer of mankind. Their dispositions, and the causes of their good or bad fortune, cannot well be overlooked even by the most devoted questioner of physical nature. But note the difference of habitudes. No sooner have observed and got hold of particu. lars, than they are taken up by my judgment to be commented upon, and resolved into general laws. Your imagination keeps them to make pictures of. My judgment, if she find them to be comprehended under something already known by her, lets them drop, and forgets them; for which reason, a certain book of essays, which I am writing, will be small in bulk, but I trust not light in substance. Thus do men severally follow their inborn dispositions.

Shakspeare. Every word of your lordship's will be an adage to after times. For my part, I know my own place, and aspire not after the abstruser studies : although I can give wisdom a welcome when she comes in my way. the inborn dispositions, as your lordship has said, must, not be warped from their natural bent, otherwise nothing but sterility will remain behind. A leg cannot be changed into

Among stage-players, our first object is to exercise a new candidate, until we discover where his vein lies.

Bacon. I am told that you do not invent the plots of your own plays, but generally borrow them from some common book of stories, such as Bocaccio's Decameron, or Cynthio's Novels. That practice must save a great expenditure of thought and contrivance.

Shakspeare. It does, my lord. I lack patience to invent the whole from the foundation.

Bacon. If I guess aright, there is nothing so hard and troublesome as the invention of coherent incidents; and yet, methinks, after it is accomplished, it does not show so high a strain of wit as that which paints separate characters and objects well. Dexterity would achieve the making of a plot better than genius, which delights not so much in tracing a curious connexion among events, as in adorning a fantasy with bright colors, and eking it out with suitable appen, dages. Homer's plot hangs but ill together. It is indeed no better than a string of popular fables and superstitions, caught up from among the Greeks; and I believe that they who, in the time of Pisis'trătus, collected this poem;

an arm.

did more than himself to digest its particulars. His praise must therefore be found in this, that he reconceived, amplified, and set forth, what was but dimly and poorly conceived by common men.

Shakspeare. My knowledge of the tongues is but small, on which account I have read ancient authors mostly at second hand. I remember, when I first came to London, and began to be a hanger-on at the theatres, a great desire grew in me for more learning than had fallen to my share at Stratford; but fickleness and impatience, and the bewilderment caused by new objects, dispersed that wish into empty air. Ah, my lord, you cannot conceive what a strange thing it was for so impressible a rustic, to find himself turned loose in the midst of Babel! My faculties wrought to such a degree, that I was in a dream all day long. My bent was not then toward comedy, for most objects seemed noble and of much consideration. The music at the theatre ravished my young heart; and amidst the goodly company of spectators, I beheld, afar off, beauties who seemed to out-paragon Cleopatra of Egypt. Some of these primitive fooleries were afterwards woven into Romeo and Juliet.

Bacon. Your Julius Cæsar and your Richard the Third please me better. From my youth upward I have had a brain politic and discriminative, and less prone to marvelling and dreaming than to scrutiny. Some part of my juvenile time was spent at the court of France, with our ambassador, Sir Amias Paulet; and to speak the truth, although I was surrounded by many dames of high birth and rare beauty, I carried oftener Machiavelli* in my pocket than a book of madrigals, and heeded not although these wantons made sport of my grave and scholar-like demeanor. When they would draw me forth to an encounter of their wit, I paid them off with flatteries, till they forgot their aim in thinking of themselves. Michael Angelo said of Painting, that she was jealous, and required the whole man, undivided. I was aware how much more truly the same thing might be said of Philosophy, and therefore cared not how much the ruddy complexion of my youth was sullied over the midnight lamp, or my outward comeliness sacrificed to my inward advancement.

Shakspeare. Speaking of bodily habitudes, is it true that your lordship swoons whenever the moon is eclipsed, even though unaware of what is then passing in the heavens ? Bacon. No more true, than that the moon eclipses whenever I swoon.

* Pron. Mac-e-a-vell-ye.

Shakspeare. I had it from your chaplain, my lord.

Bacon. My chaplain is a worthy man; he has so great a veneration for me, that he wishes to find marvels in the common accidents of my life.

Shakspeare. The same chaplain also told me, that a certain arch in Trinity College, Cambridge, would stand until a greater man than your lordship should pass through it. Bacon. Did you ever pass through it, Mr. Shakspeare ? Shakspeare. No, my lord. I never was at Cambridge.

Bacon. Then we cannot yet decide which of us two is the greater man. I am told that most of the professors there pass under the arch without fear, which indeed shows a wise contempt of the superstition.

Shakspeare. I rejoice to think that the world is yet to have a greater man than your lordship, since the arch' must fall at last. Bacon. You say well, Mr. Shakspeare; and now, if

you will follow me into another chamber, I will show you the Queen's Book of Sonnets.

LESSON XLVI.

On the relative value of good sense and beauty, in the female

sex.-LITERARY GAZETTE. NOTWITHSTANDING the lessons of moralists, and the declamations of philosophers, it cannot be denied that all mankind have a natural love, and even respect, for external beauty. In vain do they represent it as a thing of no value in itself, as a frail and perishable flower; in vain do they exhaust all the depths of argument, all the stores of fancy, to prove the worthlessness of this amiable gift of nature. However persuasive their reasonings may appear, and however we may, for a time, fancy ourselves convinced by them, we have in our breasts a certain instinct, which never fails to tell us, that all is not satisfactory, and though we may not be able to prove that they are wrong, we feel a conviction that it is impossible that they should be right.

They are certainly right in blaming those who are ren. dered vain by the possession of beauty, since vanity is at all times a fault : but there is a great difference between being vain of a thing, and being happy that we have it; and that beauty, however little merit a woman can claim to herself for it, is really a quality which she may reasonably rejoice to possess, demands, I think, no very labored proof. Every one naturally wishes to please. To this end, we know how important it is that the first impression we produce should be favorable. Now this first impression is commonly produced through the medium of the eye ; and this is frequently so powerful as to resist for a long time the opposing evidence of subsequent observation. Let a man of even the soundest judgment be presented to two women, equally strangers to him, but the one extremely handsome, the other without any remarkable advantages of person, and he will, without deliberation, attach himself first to the former. All men seem in this to be actuated by the same principle as Socrates, who used to say, that when he saw a beautiful person, he always expected to see it animated by a beautiful soul.

The ladies, however, often fall into the fatal error of imagining that a fine person is, in our eyes, superior to every other accomplishment, and those who are so happy as to be endowed with it, rely, with vain confidence, on its irresistible power, to retain hearts as well as to subdue them. -Hence the lavish care bestowed on the improvement of exterior and perishable charms, and the neglect of solid and durable excellence ; hence the long list of arts that administer to vanity and folly, the countless train of glittering acomplishments, and the scanty catalogue of truly valuable acquirements, which compose, for the most part, the modern system of fashionable female education. Yet so far is beauty from being in our eyes an excuse for the want of a cultivated mind, that the women who are blessed with it, have, in reality, a much harder task to perform, than those of their sex who are not so distinguished. Even our self-love here takes part against them ; we feel ashamed of having suffered ourselves to be caught like children, by mere outside, and perhaps even fall into the contrary extreme.

Could " the statue that enchants the world,”—the Venus de Medicis, at the prayer of some new Pygmalion, become suddenly animated, how disapointed would he be, if she were not endowed with a soul answerable to the inimitable perfection of her heavenly form ? Thus it is with a fine woman, whose only accomplishment is external excellence.

She may dazzle for a time; but when a man has once thought," what a pity that such a masterpiece should be but a walking statue !" her empire is at an end.

On the other hand, when a woman, the plainness of whose features prevented our noticing her at first, is found, upon nearer acquaintance, to be possessed of the more solid and valuable perfections of the mind, the pleasure we feel in being so agreeably undeceived, makes her appear to still greater advantage : and as the mind of man, when left to itself, is naturally an enemy to all injustice, we, even unknown to ourselves, strive to repair the wrong we have involuntarily done her, by a double portion of attention and regard.

If these observations be founded in truth, it will appear that, though a woman with a cultivated mind may justly hope to please, without even any superior advantages of person, the loveliest creature that ever came from the hand of her Creator can hope only for a transitory empire, unless she unite with her beauty the more durable charms of intellectual excellence.

The favored child of nature, who combines in herself these united perfections, may be justly considered as the masterpiece of the creation as the most perfect image of the Divinity here below. Man, the proud lord of the creation, bows willingly his haughty neck beneath her gentle rule. Exalted, tender, beneficent is the love that she inspires. Even Time himself shall respect the all-powerful măgic of her beauty. Her charms may fade, but they shall never wither; and memory still, in the evening of life, hanging with fond affection over the blanched rose, shall view, through the veil of lapsed years, the tender bud, the dawning promise, whose beauties once blushed before the beams of the morning sun.

LESSON XLVII. A morning in the Highlands of Scotland.-Punishment of a Spy whose employers had betrayed Rob Roy MacGregor.*

Scott. I SHALL never forget the delightful sensation with which * At the time this celebrated Highland Chieftain was taken prisoner, Morris had been sent as a hostage for his personal safety, which being violated, excited the wrath so powerfully described in this extract.

« ElőzőTovább »