kind of sympathy, confusion in the elements of nature, of human society and the human soul. Throughout all the play, is there not sublimity felt amidst the continual presence of all kinds of disorder and confusion in the natural and moral world ;-a continual consciousness of eternal order, law, and good ? This it is that so exalts it in our eyes. There is more justness of intellect in Lear's madness than in his right senses--as if the indestructible divinity of the spirit gleamed at times more brightly through the ruins of its earthly tabernacle. The death of Cordelia and the death of Lear leave on our minds, at least, neither pain nor disappointment, like a common play ending ill ; but, like all the rest, they show us human life involved in darkness, and conflicting with wild powers let loose to rage in the world ;-a life which continually seeks peace, and which can only find its good in peace—tending ever to the depth of peace, but of which the peace is not here. The feeling of the play, to those who rightly consider it, is high and calm, because we are made to know, from and through those very passions which seem there convulsed, and that very structure of life and happiness that seems there crushed,—even in the law of those passions and that life, this eternal truth, that evil must not be, and that good must be. The only thing intolerable was, that Lear should, by the very truth of his daughter's love, be separated from her love; and his restoration to her love, and therewith to his own perfect mind, consummates all that was essentially to be desired—a consummation, after which the rage and horror of mere matter-disturbing death seems vain and idle. In fact, Lear's killing the slave who was hanging Cordelia-bearing her dead in his arms-and his heart bursting over her—are no more than the full consummation of their re-united love; and there father and daughter lie in final and imperturbable peace. Cordelia, whom we at last see lying dead before us, and over whom we shed such floods of loving and approving tears, scarcely speaks or acts in the play at all: she appears but at the beginning and the end, is absent from all the impressive and memorable scenes; and to what she does say, there is not much effect given ;-yet, by some divine power of conception in Shakspeare's soul, she always seems to our memory one of the principal characters; and while we read the play, she is continually present to our imagination. In her sister's ingratitude, her filial love is felt; in the hopelessness of the broken-hearted king, we are turned to that perfect hope that is reserved for him in her loving bosom ; in the midst of darkness, confusion, and misery, her form is like a hovering angel, seen casting its radiance on the storm.


" Vol. 5. pp. 217, 226, 7, 8, 9.

No. IV.



It is in the minor pieces of Shakspeare that we are first introduced to a personal knowledge of the great poet and his feelings. When he wrote sonnets, it seems as if he had considered himself as more a poet than when he wrote plays; he was the manager of a theatre, and he viewed the drama as his business, on it he exerted all his intellect and power; but when he had feelings intense and secret to express, he had recourse to a form of writing with which his habits had rendered him less familiar. It is strange but delightful to scrutinize, in his short effusions, the character of Shakspeare. In them we see that he who stood like a magician above the world, penetrating with one glance into all the depths, and mysteries, and perplexities of human character, and having power to call up into

open day the darkest workings of the

. I am convinced, indeed, that if, in the present day, any fresh light is to be thrown on the character, and even on the circumstances of the life of Shakspeare, it must be from a very close and profound study of his Sonnets. A few years ago a work was advertised under the title of “ Shakspeare his own Biographer,” avowedly built on these materials; but, from some cause or other, it has not hitherto made its appearance.

human passions—that this great being was not deprived of any portion of his human sympathies by the elevation to which he was raised, but preserved, amidst all his stern functions, a heart overflowing with tenderness, purity, and love. His feelings are intense, profound, acute almost to selfishness; but he expresses them so briefly and modestly, as to form a strange contrast with most of those poets who write concerning themselves. For the right understanding of his dramatic works, these lyrics are of the greatest importance. They show us that in his dramas he very seldom speaks according to his own feelings or his own thoughts, but according to his knowledge. The world lay clear and distinct before his eyes, but between him and it there was a deep gulf fixed. He gives us a portrait of what he saw, without flattery or ornament, having the charm of unrivalled accuracy and truth. Were understanding, acuteness, and profoundness of thought, (in so far as these are necessary for the characterizing of human life,) to be considered as the first qualities of a poet, there is none worthy to be compared with Shakspeare. Other poets have endeavoured to transport us, at least for a few moments, into another and an ideal condition of mankind; but Shakspeare is the master of reality. He sets before us, with a truth that is often painful, man in his degraded state, in this corruption which penetrates and contaminates all his being, all that he does and suffers, all the thoughts and aspirations of his fallen spirit. In this respect he may not unfrequently be said to be a satirical poet, and well indeed may the picture which he presents of human debasement, and the enigma of our being, be calculated to produce an effect far more deep and abiding than the whole body of splenetic and passionate revilers, whom we commonly call by the name of satiric poets. In the midst of all the bitterness of Shakspeare, we perceive continually glimpses of thoughts and recollections more pure than satirists partake in; meditation on the original height and elevation of man; the peculiar tenderness and noble-minded sentiment of a poet: the dark world of his representation is illuminated with the most beautiful rays of patriotic inspiration, serene philanthropy, and glowing love.

But even the youthful glow of love appears in his Romeo as the mere inspiration of death, and is mingled with the same sceptical and melancholy views of life which, in Hamlet, give to all our being an appearance of more than natural discord and perplexity, and which, in Lear, carry sorrow and passion into the utmost misery of madness. This poet, who externally seems to be most calm and temperate, clear and lively ; with whom intellect seems everywhere to predominate ; who, as we at first imagine, regards and represents every thing almost with coldness,-is found, if we examine into the internal feelings of his spirit, to be of all others the most deeply sorrowful and tragic.

« ElőzőTovább »