Imatges de pàgina

to hesitate respecting the duty imposed upon every man that lives, to do all he can to preserve the precious gift which God has given him.

The single and peculiar life is bound,
With all the strength and armour of the mind,

To keep itself from ’noyance. Hamlet, Act iii. Sc., 3. And there is nothing in which he is more emphatic than in representing the act of suicide as a direct violation of the Divine law; first, in that same play

O! that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter ;-

Act i. Sc. 2. Again in Cymbeline :

Against self-slaughter
There is a prohibition so divine,
That cravens my weak hand.

Act iii. Sc. 4. I am not aware that such a prohibition is to be found * in Holy Scripture ; and in the latter of these plays any reference to Revelation would have been out of place. The 'canon,' therefore, to which our poet refers must be one of natural religion; and this is confirmed by a similar sentiment being attributed to Gloster in King Lear, and to Brutus in Julius Cæsar, though, in the latter case, with something of subsequent appearance of contradiction in word, and still more of inconsistency in deed. That such an one as Cleopatra is represented should first cal in question the law, and then pronounce it noble to

* Unless it be in the Sixth Commandment.

+ See below, Sect. 13.


disobey it, is in perfect harmony with her bold bad character :

Is it sin
To rush into the secret house of death,
Ere death dare come to us? ..

What's brave, what's noble,
Let's do it after the high Roman fashion,
And make death proud to take us.

Ant. and Cleop. Act iv. Sc. 13. and again :

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It is great

To do that thing that ends all other deeds,
Which shackles accidents and bolts up change.

Ibid. Act v.


I must not omit to add that great and various as are the merits of Romeo and Juliet, the pleasure and admiration excited by that play, and the interest felt in the hero and heroine, are all marred in some degree by the suicide which they both commit, * being Christians, and shortly after they had been united in holy matrimony.

Sect. 5. Of Sin and Repentance. We have already spoken of the cause of sin, and of its existence, both original and actual, as universal. It follows to trace it in its operation, and then to speak of its necessary corrective-so far as the correction of it lies within our own power and agency, viz. repentance. And so the wicked King Richard exclaims :

* I am surprised that this should have been overlooked by so acute and sound a critic as Schlegel, who speaks of them as still appearing enviable’ in their deaths.

The subtlety of the Tempter, and the craft with which he adapts his temptations, so that he may bring evil out of good, and that virtue itself may be made to minister to sin, for the overthrow of those who could not otherwise be assailed, is very forcibly expressed in Measure for Measure :

O! cunning enemy, that to catch a saint,
With saints doth bait thy hook ! most dangerous
Is that temptation, that doth goad us on
To sin in loving virtue.

Act ii. Sc. 3.
It was thus that the beloved apostle was tempted
to worship the angel, who had shown him, in the
Revelation, the things which he had seen and heard
(xxii. 8); and countless multitudes of Christians
have since been tempted only too successfully to
worship the Virgin Mary and other saints, because
they remembered not the injunction given on that
occasion to St. John, “See thou do it not!'

In like manner we are warned of the danger of entering upon evil courses from the insecurity which attends them, from the distraction and instability which they introduce into the counsels of the heart, and from the inevitable tendency which the doing of one wrong action has to beget another :

Alack! when once our grace we have forgot,
Nothing goes right; we would, and we would not.

Measure for Measure, Act iv. Sc. 4.

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I am in
So far in blood, that sin will pluck on sin.

King Rich. III. Act iv. Sc. 2. And the virtuous Pericles, Prince of Tyre, testifies to the same effect:

One sin I know another doth provoke ;
Murder's as near to lust as flame to smoke.

Act i. Sc. I. It is remarkable that the same holds good of that which is more or less directly the consequence of sin, viz. sorrow, which, according to the proverb, never comes single.

One sorrow never comes, but brings an heir,
That may succeed, as his inheritor.

Ibid. Sc.4. The course by which sin makes us feel, first naked, like Adam and Eve after their fall, then suspicious, then cowardly, is traced by our poet with remarkable accuracy and Scriptural truth; and on the other hand, he has not failed to catch the image by which S. Paul speaks of the armour of God'the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left '—as the defence of all who walk uprightly.

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,
For I am armed so strong in honesty,
That they pass by me as the idle wind,
Which I respect not.

Julius Cæsar, Act iv. Sc. 3.

What stronger breastplate, than a heart untainted?
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just ;
And he but naked, tho' locked up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.

King Hen. VI. 2nd Part, Act ü. Sc. 2.
Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind,
The thief doth fear each bush an officer.

King Hen. VI. 3rd Part, Act v. Sc. 6. The poetical image in this last line will remind the classical reader of Juvenal, Sat. X. 21:

Motæ ad lunam trepidabis arundinis umbram:while the reader of the Bible will recall the fears and suspicions of Herod Antipas, the murderer of John the Baptist, in illustration of the general sentiment.

That the righteous is bold as a lion,' that he “will not be afraid of any evil tidings, and, on the other hand, that the ungodly are brought into great fear even where no fear is,' and that they 'flee when no man pursueth'—these, and such like truths of Holy Scripture, are set forth again and again, in the pages of Shakspeare, with a vividness proportioned to their moral weight. Thus in King Henry VI. 2nd Part:

The trust I have is in mine innocence,

And therefore am I bold and resolute. Act iv. Sc.
And again in King Lear :-

Where I could not be honest,
I never yet was valiant.

Act v. Sc. I. And again we are taught, if we would be truly

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