Imatges de pàgina

enough in external appearance; but religious character in any of its numerthe poet of human nature should have ous historical forms? There is a repenetrated through the appearance to mark in one of his plays to this effect : the substance, and recognized in them, " It is an heretic that makes the fire, not merely the possibility of Crom

Not she which burns in 't.” well, but of the ideal of character which This might be taken as a beautiful exCromwell but imperfectly represented. pression of Christian toleration, and You may say that Shakespeare's na- is certainly admirable as a general ture was too sunny and genial to admit thought ; but it indicates Shakethe Puritan. It was not too sunny or speare's indifference to religious pasgenial to admit Richards, and lagos, sions in indicating his superiority to and Gonerils, and “secret, black, and them. It would have been a much midnight hags."

greater achievement of genius to have It may be doubted also if Shake passed into the mind and heart of the speare's affinities extended to those conscientious burner of heretics, seized numerous classes of human character the essence of the bigot's character, that stand for the reforming and philan- and embodied in one great ideal indithropic sentiments of humanity. We vidual a class of men whom we now doubt if he was hopeful for the race. both execrate and misconceive. If he He was too profoundly impressed with could follow the dramatic process of its disturbing passions to have faith in his genius for Sir Toby Belch, why its continuous progress. Though im- could he not do it for St. Dominic? mensely greater than Bacon, it may be Indeed, toleration, in the sense that questioned if he could thoroughly have Shakespeare has given to the word, appreciated Bacon's intellectual char- is not expressed in maxims directed acter. He could have delineated him against intolerance, but in the exercise to perfection in everything but in that of charity towards intolerant men ; and peculiar philanthropy of the mind, that it is thus necessary to indicate the limspiritual benignity, that belief in man itations of his sympathy with his race, and confidence in his future, which in order to appreciate its real quality both atone and account for so many and extent. His unapproached greatof Bacon's moral defects. There is no ness consists not in including human character in his plays that covers the nature, but in taking the point of view elements of such a man as Hildebrand of those large classes of human nature or Luther, or either of the two Williams he did include. His sympathetic inof Orange, or Hampden, or Howard, or sight was both serious and humorous; Clarkson, or scores of other represent- and he thus equally escaped the intolative men whom history celebrates. erance of taste and the intolerance of Though the broadest individual nature intelligence. What we would call the which human nature has produced, hu- worst criminals and the most stupid man nature is immensely broader than fools were, as mirrored in his mind,

fairly dealt with ; every opportunity was It would be easy to quote passages afforded them to justify their right to from Shakespeare's works which would exist; their words, thoughts, and acts seem to indicate that his genius was were viewed in relation to their circumnot limited in any of the directions stances and character, so that he made which have been pointed out; but them inwardly known, as well as outthese passages are thoughts and ob- wardly perceived. The wonder of all servations, not men and women. Ham- this would be increased, if we suplet's soliloquy, and Portia's address to posed, for the sake of illustration, that Shylock, might be adduced as proofs the persons and events of all Shakethat he comprehended the religious ele- speare's plays were historical, and that, ment; but then who would take Ham- instead of being represented by Shakelet or Portia as representative of the speare, they were narrated by Macau


lay. The result would be that the im- spirits. In the whole class, the point pression received from the historian of of view is the historian's, and not the every incident and every person would point of view of the persons the historibe different, and would be wrong. The an describes. The curse which clings external facts might not be altered ; to celebrity is, that it commonly enters but the falsehood would proceed from history only to be puffed or lampooned. the incapacity or indisposition of the The truth is, that most men, the inhistorian to pierce to the heart of the telligent and virtuous as well as the facts by sympathy and imagination. ignorant and vicious, are intolerant There would be abundant information, of other individualities. They are unabundant eloquence, abundant invec- charitable by defect of sympathy and tive against crime, abundant scorn of defect of insight. Society, even the stupidity and folly, perhaps much saga- best, is apt to be made up of people cious reflection and judicial scrutiny of who are engaged in the agreeable occuevidence; but the inward and essential pation of despising each other ; for one truth would be wanting. What exter- association for mutual admiration there nal statement of the acts and probable are twenty for mutual contempt; yet motives of Macbeth and Othello would while conversation is thus mostly made convey the idea we have of them from up of strictures on individuals, it rarely being witnesses of the conflict of their evinces any just perception of individthoughts and passions ? How wicked ualities. James is indignant or jeerand shallow and feeble and foolish ing at the absence of James in John, would Hamlet appear, if represented, and John is horror-stricken at the imnot in the light of Shakespeare's im- pudence of James in refusing to be agination, but in the light of Macau- John. Each person feels himself to lay's epigrams ! How the historian be misunderstood, though he never would“ play the dazzling fence” of his questions his power to understand his rhetoric on the indecision of the prince, neighbor. Egotism, vanity, prejudice, his brutality to Ophelia, his cowardice,. pride of opinion, conceit of excellence, his impotence between contending mo- a mean delight in recognizing inferiority tives, and the chaos of blunders and in others, a meaner delight in refusing crimes in which he sinks from view ! to recognize the superiority of others, The subject would be even a better all the honest and all the base forms one for him than that of James II.; of self-assertion, cloud and distort the yet the very supposition of such a mode vision when one mind directs its glance of treatment makes us feel the pathos at another. For one person who is of the real Hamlet's injunction to the mentally conscientious there are thoufriend who strives to be his compan- sands who are morally honest. The ion in death :

result is a vast massacre of character, "Absent thee from felicity awhile,

which would move the observer's comAnd in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, passion were it not that the victims To tell my story."

are also the culprits, and that pity at the If the historian would thus deal with spectacle of the arrow quivering in the the heroes, why, such “small deer sufferer's breast is checked by the sight as Bardolph and Master Slender would of the bow bent in the sufferer's lands. of course be puffed out of existence This depreciation of others is the most with one biss of lordly contempt. Yet approved method of exalting ourselves. Macaulay has a more vivid historical It educates us in self-esteem, if not in imagination, more power of placing knowledge. The savage conceives that himself in the age about which he the power of the enemy he kills is added writes, than historians like Hume and to his own. Shakespeare more justly Hallam, whose judgments of men are conceived that the power of the human summaries of qualities, and imply no being with whom he sympathized was inwardness of vision, no discerning of

added to his own.

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This toleration, without which an towards the feeble and the low is apt internal knowledge of other natures is to be that of indifference or contempt. impossible, Shakespeare possessed be- Milton can do justice to the Devil

, yond any other man recorded in lit- though not, like Shakespeare, to “poor erature or history. It is a moral as devils.” But it may be doubted if the well as mental trait, and belongs to the wise and good have the right to cut highest class of virtues. It is a vir- the Providential bond which connects tue which, if generally exercised, would them with the foolish and the bad, and remove mutual hostility by enlighten- set up an aristocratic humanity of their ing mutual ignorance. And in Shake- own, ten times more supercilious than speare we have, for once, a man great the aristocracy of blood. Divorce the enough to be modest and charitable; loftiest qualities from humility and gewho has the giant's power, but, instead niality, and they quickly contract a of using it like a giant, trampling on pharisaic taint; and if there is anyweaker creatures, prefers to feel them thing which makes the wretched more in his arms rather than feel them un- wretched, it is the insolent condescender his feet; and whose toleration sion of patronizing benevolence, - if of others is the exercise of humility, there is anything which makes the veracity, beneficence, and justice, as vicious more vicious, it is the “ l-amwell as the exercise of reason, imagi- better-than-thou” expression on the nation, and humor. We shall never face of conscious virtue. Now Shakeappreciate Shakespeare's genius until speare had none of this pride of superiwe recognize in him the exercise of the ority, either in its noble or ignoble form. most difficult virtues, as well as the ex- Consider that, if his gigantic powers ercise of the most wide-reaching in- had been directed by antipathies intelligence.

stead of sympathies, he would have It is, of course, not so wonderful left few classes of human character that he should take the point of view untouched by his terrible scorn. Even of characters in themselves beautiful if his antipathies had been those of and noble, though even these might taste and morals, he would have done appear very different under the glance so much to make men hate and misof a less soul-searching eye. To such understand each other, - so much to aspects of life, however, all genius destroy the very sentiment of humanity, has a natural affinity. But the marvel - that he would have earned the disof his comprehensiveness is his mode tinction of being the greatest satirist of dealing with the vulgar, the vicious, and the worst man that ever lived. and the low, — with persons who are But instead, how humanely he clings commonly spurned as dolts and knaves. to the most unpromising forms of huHis serene benevolence did not pause man nature, insists on their right to at what are called “ deserving objects speak for themselves as much as if of charity,” but extended to the unde- they were passionate Romeos and serving, who are, in truth, the proper high-aspiring Buckinghams, and does objects of charity. If we compare him, for them what he might have desired in this respect, with poets like Dante should be done for himself had he and Milton, in whom elevation is the been Dogberry, or Bottom, or Abhorpredominant characteristic, we shall son, or Bardolph, or any of the rest! find that they tolerate humanity only The low characters, the clowns and in its exceptional examples of beauty vagabonds, of Ben Jonson's plays, exand might. They are aristocrats of cite only contempt or disgust. Shakeintellect and conscience, — the noblest speare takes the same materials as aristocracy, but also the haughtiest Ben, passes them through the meand most exclusive. They can sym- dium of his imaginative humor, and pathize with great energies, whether changes them into subjects of the most celestial or diabolic, but their attitude soul-enriching mirth. Their actual

With its sweet air.”

prototypes would not be tolerated; rapture of wonder when her soul first but when his genius shines on them, shone on him through her innocent they “ lie in light” before our humor- eyes ; and afterwards when he asks, ous vision. It must be admitted that

“I do beseech you in his explorations of the lower levels (Chiefly that I might set it in my prayers)

What is your name ? ” of human nature he sometimes touches

And doubtless there was a more marthe mud deposits; still he never hisses

vellous melody in her voice than in the or jeers at the poor relations through Adam he there discovers, but magnani

mysterious magical music

“That crept by him upon the waters, mously gives them the wink of recog

Allaying both their sury and his passion nition !

This is one extreme of his genius, Shakespeare, indeed, in his transcenthe poetic comprehension and embodi- dently beautiful embodiments of femiment of the low. What was the other nine excellence, the most exquisite creextreme ? How high did he mount in ations in literature, passed into a region the ideal region, and what class of his of sentiment and thought, of ideals characters represent his loftiest flight ? and of ideas, altogether higher and It is commonly asserted that his super- more supernatural than that region in natural beings, his ghosts, spectres, which he shaped his delicate Ariels witches, fairies, and the like, exhibiting and his fairy Titanias. The question his command of the dark side and the has been raised whether sex extends to bright side, the terror and the grace, of soul. However this may be decided, the supernatural world, indicate his here is a soul, with its records in literararest quality ; for in these, it is said, ture, who is at once the manliest of he went out of human nature itself, and men, and the most womanly of women; created beings that never existed. Won- who can not only recognize the femiderful as these are, we must recollect nine element in existing individuals, but that in them he worked on a basis of discern the idea, the pattern, the radipopular superstitions, on a mythology ant genius of womanhood itself, as it as definite as that of Greece and Rome, hovers, unseen to other eyes, over the and though he re-created instead of living representatives of the sex. Litcopying his materials, though he Shake- erature boasts many eminent female spearianized them, he followed no dif- poets and novelists ; but not one has ferent process of his genius in delineat- ever approached Shakespeare in the ing Hecate and Titania than in deline- purity, the sweetness, the refinement, ating Dame Quickly and Anne Page. the elevation, of his perceptions of femiAll his characters, from the rogue Au- nine character, – much less approached tolycus to the heavenly Cordelia, are him in the power of embodying his perin a certain sense ideal ; but the ques- ceptions in persons. These charaction now relates to the rarity of the ele- ters are so thoroughly domesticated on ments, and the height of the mood, and the earth, that we are tempted to forget not merely to the action of his mind; the heaven of invention from which and we think that the characters techni- he brought them. The most beautiful cally called supernatural which appear of spirits, they are the most tender of in his works are much nearer the earth daughters, lovers, and wives. They than others which, though they lack the are “airy shapes,” but they “syllable name, have more of the spiritual quality men's names.” Rosalind, Juliet, Opheof the thing. The highest supernatural lia, Viola, Perdita, Miranda, Desdeis to be found in the purest, highest, mona, Hermione, Portia, Isabella, Imo most beautiful souls.

gen, Cordelia,

if their names do not Did it never strike you in reading call up their natures, the most elabo“ The Tempest,” that Ariel is not so rate analysis of criticism will be of no supernatural as Miranda ? We may be avail. Do you say that these women sure that Ferdinand so thought, in that are slightly idealized portraits of actual women ? Was Cordelia, for example, thinks the true reading is, “smothers simply a good, affectionate daughter of her with painting.” Now Imogen's a foolish old king? To Shakespeare, wrath first reduces the light woman to himself, she evidently partook of di- the most contemptible of birds and the vineness; and he hints of the still ec- most infamous of symbols, the jay, and stasy of contemplation in which her then, not willing to leave her any subnature first rose upon his imagination, stance at all, annihilates her very being when, speaking through the lips of a with the swift thought that the paint witness of her tears, he hallows them on her cheeks is her mother, - that she as they fall : –

is nothing but the mere creation of “She shook the holy water from her heavenly eyes.” painting, a phantom born of a color, And these Shakespearian women,

without real body or soul. It would be though all radiations from one great easy to show that the mental processes ideal of womanhood, are at the same

of all Shakespeare's women are as inditime intensely individualized. Each

vidual as their dispositions. has a separate soul, and the process

And now think of the amplitude of es of intellect as well as emotion are

this man's soul! Within the immense different in each. Each, for example, space which stretches between Dogis endowed with the faculty, and is berry or Launcelot Gobbo and Imogen steeped in the atmosphere, of imagi- or Cordelia, lies the Shakespearian nation ; but who could mistake the im- world. No other man ever exhibited agination of Ophelia for the imagina- such philosophic comprehensiveness, tion of Imogen ? - the loitering, linger- but philosophic comprehensiveness is ing movement of the one, softly conse

often displayed apart from creative comcrating whatever it touches, for the prehensiveness, and along the whole irradiating, smiting efficiency, the flash vast line of facts, laws, analogies, and and the bolt, of the other? Imogen is relations that Shakespeare's intellect experhaps the most completely expressed tended, his perceptions were vital, his of Shakespeare's women ; for in her insight was creative, his thoughts flowed every faculty and affection is fused with in forms. And now was he proud of imagination, and the most exquisite his transcendent superiorities? Did tenderness is combined with vigor and he think that he had exhausted all that velocity of nature. Her mind darts in can appear before the sight of the eye an instant to the ultimate of everything. and the sight of the soul? No. The After she has parted with her husband, immeasurable opulence of the undisshe does not merely say that she will covered and undiscerned regions of expray for him. Her affection is winged, istence was never felt with more reverand in a moment she is enskied. She ent humility than by this discoverer, does not look up, she goes up: she

who had seen in rapturous vision so would have charged him, she says,

many new worlds open on his view. In

the play which perhaps best indicates “At the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight, T' encounter me with orisons, for then

the ecstatic action of his mind, and I am in heaven for him."

which is alive in every part with that When she hears of her husband's in- fiery sense of unlimited power which constancy, the possible object of his

the mood of ecstasy gives, — in the sensual whim is at once consumed in play of “ Antony and Cleopatra,” he the fire that leaps from her impassioned has put into the mouth of the Soothlips, –

sayer what seems to have been his own

modest judgment of the extent of his “Some jay of Italy, Whose mother is her painting, hath betrayed him."

glance into the universe of matter and

mind : Mr. Collier, ludicrously misconceiving “ In Nature's infinite book of secrecy the instinctive action of Imogen's mind,

A little I can read !”

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