Imatges de pÓgina
[ocr errors]

both. Is this Juliet's Romeo? Not in the least. It is only Rosaline's
young gentleman, going through his paces. We are in the first act of
the tragedy, but the tragedy is not begun. When Romeo shall once be
the thrall of passion, he will drop all this swagger, and reduce these
strides, and put off sock and buskin, and become terribly in earnest. He
will cease, then, to discourse to his associates in pretty Petrarchisms like

Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in a lover's eyes;
Being vexed, a sea nourish'd with a lover's tears:
What is it else? a madness most discreet,

A choking gall, and a persévering sweet.
What is it else? A century of similar inventions, which any lover, sigh-
ing like furnace, could compose“ by the mile,” to his mistress's eyebrow.
But Romeo as yet knew not what it was;-he could only talk about it,
and about it. Soon 'he shall know it as it is—and the person of Rosaline
be remembered only as the fading, because baseless, fabric of a vision-
not too bright to last, but too airy and unreal.

Rosaline was no more to Romeo-less in fact—than the gardener's daughter to the poet-she

So light of foot, so light of spirit-oh, she
To me myself, for some three careless moons,
The summer pilot of an empty heart
Unto the shores of nothing! Know you not
Such touches are but embassies of love,
To tamper with the feelings, ere he found

Empire for life P*
Hazlitt's remark is, “Romeo's passion for Juliet is not a first love; it
succeeds and drives out his passion for another mistress, Rosaline, as the
sun hides the stars. This is perhaps an artifice (not absolutely necessary)
to give us a higher opinion of the lady, while the first absolute surrender
of her heart to him enhances the richness of the prize. The commence-
ment, progress, and ending of his second passion are, however complete
in themselves, not injured, if they are not bettered by the first.”+ We
think Hazlitt greatly overrates the love” and “ passion” for Rosaline,
and approximates it far too closely to the latter attachment,-from
which it seems to differ not merely in degree, but in kind. We would
class Romeo's solitary antecedent with the modern poet's plurality of
amourettes :

I have loved others, that I do confess;
But they were never sovereigns of my scene,
Nor e'er have been to me what you have been.
Stray sympathies have cross'd my loneliness,
Poor scatter'd vagrants in a flimsy dress;
But you are of my tuned thoughts the Queen;
I harvest you—the rest I did but glean-
My soul of you was but premonitress.
Therefore I deem of those my loves of yore,
As one might, when the fruit is on the bough,

* Tennyson, The Gardener's Daughter.
+ Hazlitt, Characters of Shakspeare's Plays.

Of spring-tide blossoms that exist no more,

And were fruit's harbingers, all vanish'd now.* It would have displeased us, Coleridge remarks, if Juliet had been represented as already in love, or as fancying herself so ;—“ but no one, I believe, ever experiences any shock at Romeo's forgetting his Rosaline, who had been a mere name for the yearning of his youthful imagination, and rushing into his passion for Juliet.” Rosaline was a mere creation of his fancy, according to Coleridge, -who bids us remark the boastful positiveness of Romeo in a love of his own making, which is never shown where love is really near the heartt-the positiveness referred to being that of the lines beginning,

When the devout religion of mine eye

Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires ! &c., already quoted by us, to show Romeo's then liability to genteel fustian. Had Juliet taxed him, during their too brief happiness, with the fine things he had lavished on Rosaline, he might have excused, if not justified himself, in the very words of Hesperus to Olivia :

By Truth's white name I'll tell thee,
Olivia, there was once an idle thought
That aped affection in my heart ; nay, nay,
Not in my heart; it was a dream or so;
A dream within a dream; a pale, dim warmth ;
But thou hast dawned like summer on my soul,

Or like a new existence. I Dr. Maginn observes that while the fray with which the play opens was going on, Romeo was nursing love-fancies, and endeavouring to persuade himself that his heart was breaking for Rosaline.

“ How afflicting his passion must have been, we see by the conundrums he makes upon iť”-for, the sorrows which a man can balance in such trim antitheses do not lie very deep. “ The time is rapidly advancing when his sentences will be less sounding.

It is my lady; oh, it is my love!

O that she knew she were ! speaks more touchingly the state of his engrossed soul than all the fine metaphors ever vented. The supercilious Spartans in the days of their success prided themselves upon the laconic brevity of their despatches to states in hostility or alliance with them. When they were sinking before the Macedonians, another style was adopted; and Philip observed that he had taught them to lengthen their monosyllables. Real love has had a contrary effect upon Romeo. It has abridged his swelling passages, and brought him to the language of prose. The reason of the alteration is the same in both cases. The brevity of the Spartans was the result of studied affectation. They sought, by the insolence of threats obscurely insinuated in a sort of demi-oracular language, to impose upon others, – perhaps they imposed upon themselves, -an extravagant opinion of their mysterious power. The secret was found out at last, and their anger bubbled over in big words and lengthened sentences.

Chauncy Hare Townshend, The Three Gates.
+ Coleridge's Notes and Lectures on Shakspeare.
| Thos. Lovell Beddoes, The Brides' Tragedy, Act II. Sc. 3.

next scene,

“ The love of Rosaline is as much affected on the part of Romeo, and it explodes in wire-drawn conceits. . . . It is no wonder that a gentleman who is so clever as to say such extremely fine things, forgets, in the

-the devout religion of his eye, without any apprehension of the

Transparent heretic being burnt for a liar by the transmutation of tears into the flames of an auto-da-. He is doomed to discover that love in his case is not

A madness most discreet when he defies the stars ; there are then no lines of magnificent declamation.

Is it even so ? then I defy you, stars !
Thou (to Balthasar] knowest my lodging: get me ink and paper,

, And hire post-horses; I will hence to-night. Nothing can be plainer prose than these verses. But how were they delivered ? Balthasar will tell us.

Pardon me, sir; I dare not leave you thus :
Your looks are pale and wild, and do import

Some misadventure.
Again, nothing can be more quiet than his final determination :

Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night. It is plain Juliet,-—unattended by any romantic epithet of love. There is nothing about Cupid's arrow, or Dian's wit ; no honeyed word escapes his lips,-nor again does any accent of despair."* Quantum mutatus ab illo whose wire-wove extravagances about Rosaline were so euphuistic, tumid, and tedious exceedingly.

In one of those celebrated lectures delivered by Coleridge in 1811, on the Principles of Poetry, as illustrated in Shakspeare and Milton,- for the only extant records of which we are indebted to Mr. Payne Collier,there is discussed in some detail Shakspeare's description of the passion of love in various states and stages, beginning, as was most natural

, with love in the young. Does he open the play, asks the lecturer, by making Romeo and Juliet in love from the first, as any ordinary thinker would do ? Certainly not: Shakspeare knew what he was about, and how he was to accomplish what he was about: he was to develop the whole passion, and he commences with the first elements—that sense of imperfection, that yearning to combine itself with something lovely. Romeo became enamoured of the idea he had formed in his own mind, and then, as it were, christened the first real being of the contrary sex as endowed with the perfections he desired. He appears to be in love with Rosaline; but, in truth, he is in love only with his own idea.

“ He felt that necessity of being beloved which no noble mind can be without.

Then our poet, our poet who so well knew human nature, introduces Romeo to Juliet, and makes it not only a violent but a permanent love-a point for which Shakspeare has been ridiculed by the

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

ignorant and unthinking. Romeo is first represented in a state most susceptible of love, and then, seeing Juliet, he takes and retains the infection."'*

In a subsequent lecture, Coleridge returns to the Rosaline romance, He quotes the protesting passage (wherein methinks the hero doth protest too much) in answer to Benvolio's suggestion, that Romeo should compare the supposed beauty of Rosaline with the actual, and easily ascertainable, beauty of other ladies; and the critic then points out how it is in his full conviction of confidence that Romeo is brought to Capulet's, as it were by accident : he sees Juliet, instantly becomes the heretic he has just before declared impossible, and then commences that completeness of attachment which forms the whole subject of the tragedy.

Surely, our great philosophical critic goes on to argue,--surely, Shakspeare," the poet, the philosopher, who combined truth with beauty and beauty with truth, never dreamed that he could interest his auditory in favour of Romeo, by representing him as a mere weathercock, blown round by every woman's breath ; who, having seen one, became the victim of melancholy, eating his own heart, concentrating all his hopes and fears in her, and yet, in an instant, changing, and falling madly in love with another. Shakspeare must have meant something more than this, for this was the way to make people despise instead of admiring his hero. Romeo tells us what was Shakspeare's purpose: he shows us that he had looked at Rosaline with a different feeling from that with which he looked at Juliet. Rosaline was the object to which his over-full heart had attached itself in the first instance : our imperfect nature, in proportion as our ideas are vivid, seeks after something in which those ideas may be realised."'+

And Coleridge further insists that what took place in the mind of Romeo was merely natural—that it is accordant with every day's experience. Amid such various events, he says, and such shifting scenes, such changing personages, we are often mistaken, and discover that he or she was not what we hoped and expected; we find that the individual first chosen will not complete or complement our imperfection ; we may have suffered unnecessary pangs, and have indulged idly-directed hopes, and then a being may arise before us, who has more resemblance to the ideal we have formed. “ We know that we loved the earlier object with ardour and purity, but it was not what we feel for the later object. Our own mind tells us, that in the first instance we merely yearned after an object, but in the last instance we know that we have found that object, and that it corresponds with the idea which we had previously formed.”I

The meditative poet of “The Three Gates” touches playfully on this theme, where he introduces the young wife, Alice, questioning (not quite cross-examining) her Edward about the Beatrice of his love-poems :


Nay, pretty wife,
Surely by this time you must know that poets

Are Fiction's playmates, and make up a whole,
Seven Lectures on Shakspeare and Milton, by the late S. T. Coleridge.
Edited by J. P. Collier (1856), pp. 73 sq.
+ Coleridge, ubi suprà. Eighth Lecture.

Ibid. p. 93.

Just as Apelles did construct his Venus,
From shreds cull’d here and there, so that their words
Are, like all language, only veils to truth.
Suppose that you yourself are Beatrice,
And I was only making you a secret.
A secret! oh it is the nicest thing
In life.


All very pretty, Edward; but
You did not know me in your childish days
Like that same Beatrice!


That's shrewdly put.
Come! I'll not tell you stories, though my rule
Is always to tell stories when I'm question'd.
There was a Beatrice.


I was sure of it.


But you, who are so clever, and read Shakspeare,
Know that all loving hearts have many a love
Before a Juliet; nay, all Juliets
Romeos by dozens, ere they find the true one.*

MAGINN'S SHAKSPEARE PAPERS. This reprint is a right welcome boon to the reading world. Dr. Maginn was no ordinary critic. He approached Shakspeare with enthusiasm and reverence, and could appreciate his grand powers as few can. He was not only himself a wit, a scholar, a shrewd observer, and “satirical rogue,” but also— little as he may be popularly recognised under this aspect—a man of keen, warm, tender feeling, and one that could quite as naturally be grave as gay, and perhaps even prefer shadow to sunshine. People are apt to think of The Doctor, as par excellence he was called, in days when John Wilson was kat' esoxnv, The Professor, as a rollicking Irishman, pure and simple, whole and entire,-a clever, dashing, mercurial, helter-skelter wag of the first water, and there an end. Let them read these Shakspeare Papers and correct any such notion. Maginn is here seen grave as a judge—without a jot of the specific gravity chargeable on judicial dulness. He judges Shakspeare, , and may well therefore be grave; but Shakspeare's self, and his own

Chauncy Hare Townshend, The Second Gate : Love. † Shakspeare Papers: Pictures Grave and Gay. By William Maginn, LL.D. London: Richard Bentley, 1859.

« AnteriorContinua »