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place. An ancient rhetorician delivered a caution against dwelling too long on the excitation of pity ; for nothing, he said, dries so soon as tears; and Shakespear acted conformably to this ingenious maxim, without knowing it.
“ The objection, that Shakespear wounds our feelings by the open display of the most disgusting moral odiousness, harrows up the mind unmercifully, and tortures even our senses by the exhibition of the most insupportable and hateful spectacles, is one of much greater importance. He has never, in fact, varnished over wild and bloodthirsty passions with a pleasing exterior,-never clothed crime and want of principle with a false show of greatness of soul ; and in that respect he is every way deserving of praise. Twice he has pourtrayed downright villains ; and the masterly way in which he has contrived to elude impressions of too painful a nature, may be seen in Iago and Richard the Third. The constant reference to a petty and puny race must cripple the boldness of the poet. Fortunately for his art, Shakespear lived in an age extremely susceptible of noble and tender impressions, but which had still enough of the firmness inherited from a vigorous olden time not to shrink back with dismay from every strong and violent picture. We have lived to see tragedies of which the catastrophe consists in the swoon of an enamoured princess. If Shakespear falls occasionally into the opposite extreme, it is a noble error, originating in the fulness of a gigantic strength : and yet this tragical Titan, who storms the heavens, and threatens to tear the world from off its hinges; who, more terrible than Æschylus, makes our hair stand on end, and congeals our blood with horror, possessed, at the same time, the insinuating loveliness of the sweetest poetry, with love like a child ; and his songs are breathed out like melting sighs. He unites in his genius the utmost elevation and the utmost depth ; and the most foreign, and even apparently irreconcileable properties subsist in him peaceably together. The world of spirits and nature have laid all her treasures at his fect. In strength a demigod, in profundity of view a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom
a protecting spirit of a higher order, he lowers himself to mortals, as if unconscious of his superiority: and is as open and unassuming as a child.
Shakespear's comic talent is equally wonderful with that which he has shown in the pathetic and tragic : it stands on an equal elevation, and possesses equal extent and profundity All that I before wished was, not to admit that the former preponderated. He is highly inventive in comic situations and motives. It will be hardly possible to show whence he has taken any of them; whereas, in the serious part of his drama, he has generally laid hold of something already known. His comic characters are equally true, various, and profound, with his serious. So little is he disposed to caricature, that we may rather say many of his traits are almost too nice and delicate for the stage, that they can only be properly seized by a great actor, and fully understood by a very acute audience. Not only has he delineated many kinds of folly ; he has also contrived to exhibit mere stupidity in a most diverting and entertaining manner Vol. ii. p. 145.
We have the rather availed ourselves of this testimony of a foreign critic in behalf of Shakespear, because our own countryman, Dr. Johnson, has not been so favourable to him. It may be said of Shakespear, that “those who are not for him are against him”: for indifference is here the height of injustice. We may sometimes, in order to do a great right, do a little wrong.” An overstrained enthusiasm is more pardonable with respect to Shakespear than the want of it ; for our admiration cannot easily surpass his genius. We have a high respect for Dr. Johnson's character and understanding, mixed with something like personal attachment : but he was neither a poet nor a judge of poetry. He might in one sense be a judge of poetry as it falls within the limits and rules of prose, but not as it is poetry. Least of all was he qualified to be a judge of Shakespear, who “alone is high fantastical.” Let those who have a prejudice against Johnson read Boswell's Life of him : as those whom he
has prejudiced against Shakespear should read his Irene. We do not say that a man to be a critic must necessarily be a poet : but to be a good critic, he ought not to be a bad poet. Such poetry as a man deliberately writes, such, and such only will he like. Dr. Johnson's Preface to his edition of Shakespear looks like a laborious attempt to bury the characteristic merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and to weigh his excellences and defects in equal scales, stuffed full of "swelling figures and sonorous epithets.” Nor could it well be otherwise ; Dr. Johnson's general powers of reasoning overlaid his critical susceptibility. All his ideas were cast in a given mould, in a set form : they were made out by rule and system, by climax, inference, and antithesis :—Shakespear's were the reverse. Johnson's understanding dealt only in round numbers: the fractions were lost upon him. He reduced everything to the common standard of conventional propriety; and the most exquisite refinement or sublimity produced an effect on his mind, only as they could be translated into the language of measured prose. To him an excess of beauty was a fault ; for it appeared to him like an excrescence; and his imagination was dazzled by a blaze of light. His writings neither shone with the beams of native genius, nor reflected them. The shifting shapes of fancy, the rainbow hues of things, made no impression on him: he seized only on the permanent and tangible. He had no idea of natural objects but “such as he could measure with a two-foot rule, or tell upon ten fingers ” : he judged of human nature in the same way, by mood and figure: he saw only the definite, the positive, and the practical, the average forms of things, not their striking differencestheir classes, not their degrees. He was a man of strong common sense and practical wisdom, rather than of genius or feeling. He retained the regular habitual impressions of actual objects, but he could not follow the rapid fights of fancy, or the strong movements of passion. That is, he was to the poet what the painter of still life is to the painter of history. Common sense sympathizes with the
impressions of things on ordinary minds in ordinary circumstances : genius catches the glancing combinations presented to the eye of fancy, under the influence of passion. It is the province of the didactic reasoner to take cognizance of those results of human nature which are constantly repeated and always the same, which follow one another in regular succession, which are acted upon by large classes of men, and embodied in received customs, laws, language, and institutions; and it was in arranging, comparing, and arguing on these kind of general results, that Johnson's excellence lay. But he could not quit his hold of the common-place and mechanical, and apply the general rule to the particular exception, or shew how the nature of man was modified by the workings of passion, or the infinite fluctuations of thought and accident. Hence he could judge neither of the heights nor depths of poetry. Nor is this all ; for being conscious of great powers in himself, and those powers of an adverse tendency to those of his author, he would be for setting up a foreign jurisdiction over poetry, and making criticism a kind of Procrustes' bed of genius, where he might cut down imagination to matter-of-fact, regulate the passions according to reason, and translate the whole into logical diagrams and rhetorical declamation. Thus he says of Shakespear's characters, in contradiction to what Pope had observed, and to what everyone else feels, that each character is a species, instead of being an individual. He in fact found the general species or didactic form in Shakespear's characters, which was all he sought or cared for; he did not find the individual traits, or the dramatic distinctions which Shakespear has engrafted on this general nature, because he felt no interest in them. Shakespear's bold and happy flights of imagination were equally thrown away upon our author. He was not only without any particular fineness of organic sensibility, alive to all the “mighty world of ear and eye,” which is necessary to the painter or musician, but without that intenseness of passion, which, seeking to exaggerate whatever excites the feelings of pleasure or power in the mind,
and moulding the impressions of natural objects according to the impulses of imagination, produces a genius and a taste for poetry. According to Dr. Johnson, a mountain is sublime, or a rose is beautiful ; for that their name and definition imply. But he would no more be able to give the description of Dover cliff in Lear, or the description of flowers in The Winter's Tale, than to describe the objects of a sixth sense ; nor do we think he would have any very profound feeling of the beauty of the
passages here referred to. A stately common-place, such as Congreve's description of a ruin in the Mourning Bride, would have answered Johnson's purpose just as well, or better than the first ; and an indiscriminate profusion of scents and hues would have interfered less with the ordinary routine of his imagination than Perdita's lines, which seem enamoured of their own sweetness
Or Cytherea's breath.”— No one who does not feel the passion which these objects inspire can go along with the imagination which seeks to express that passion and the uneasy sense of delight accompanying it by something still more beautiful, and no one can feel this passionate love of nature without quick natural sensibility. To a mere literal and formal apprehension, the inimitably characteristic epithet, “violets dim,” must seem to imply a defect, rather than a beauty ; and to any one, not feeling the full force of that epithet, which suggests an image like “ the sleepy eye of love, the allusion to “the lids of Juno's eyes
must appear extravagant and unmeaning. Shakespear's fancy lent words and images to the most refined sensibility to nature, struggling for expression : his descriptions are identical with the things themselves, seen through the fine medium of passion : strip them of that connection, and try them by ordinary conceptions and ordinary rules, and they are as grotesque and barbarous as you please !-By thus