Imatges de pÓgina

of this tree before it was felled, and Mr. Delamotte's drawing, which he has kindly granted us permission to engrave, was a copy of this valuable sketch. The locality of the tree, as indicated by the position of the castle in this sketch, perfectly corresponds with the best traditions.

We might here dismiss the subject, had we not been favoured with a communication, in accordance with the views which we have already taken. Mr. Nicholson,the eminent landscape draftsman, has furnished Mr. Crofton Croker, who has taken a kind interest in our work, with the following information:

About the year 1800, he was on a visit to the Dowager Countess of Kingston, at Old Windsor; and his mornings were chiefly employed in sketching, or rather making studies of the old trees in the Forest. This circumstance one day led the conversation of some visitors to Lady Kingston to Herne's Oak. Mrs. Bonfoy and her daughter, Lady Ely, were present; and as they were very much with the royal family, Mr. Nicholson requested Lady Ely to procure for him any information that she could from the King, respecting Herne's Oak, which, considering His Majesty's tenacious memory and familiarity with Windsor, the King could probably give better than any one else.

In a very few days, Lady Ely informed Mr. Nicholson that she had made the inquiry he wished of the King, who told her that "when he (George III.) was a young man, it was represented to him that there were a number of old oaks in the park which had become unsightly objects, and that it would be desirable to take them down; he gave immediate directions that such trees as were of this description should be removed; but he was afterwards sorry that he had given such an order inadvertently, because he found that, among the rest, the remains of Herne's Oak had been destroyed. There is a third version of the popular belief

regarding the removal of Herne's Oak, which differs from the preceding statements, and yet is sufficiently circumstantial. The best information we have gathered on the subject is derived from a letter obligingly communicated to us, written by the son of Mr. John Piper, of Cambridge, formerly a gunmaker at Windsor, and of which the following are extracts. It will be remarked how closely this statement of Mr. Piper agrees with the information derived from Collier's plan :

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'My father states that about sixty-four years since, there was a deep chalk-pit sunk inside the park at Windsor, nearly opposite the Hope Inn (which is now nearly filled up again, and through which the road to Datchet now runs). The chalk was taken in immense quantities from this pit to fill up the ditch which then ran round the castle, it being considered it would render the foundations of the castle and connected buildings more secure, as in many places they were giving way. The removal of the chalk from the pit for this purpose, in some measure undermined a fine oak tree, which stood on the upper side of the pit, nearest the castle. Shortly after a storm came and blew this tree down, and this circumstance created a great sensation at the time, as that tree was considered to be the identical Herne's Oak of Shakspere notoriety. My father had in his boyish days very frequently played in the pit and round the tree, and its locality is therefore strongly impressed on his memory, although now between sixty and seventy years since." The letter then concludes thus:-"My father wishes me to add that it must not be inferred that there was no pit existing previous to the removal of the chalk for the purpose stated." There was before then such a pit as described in Act V. Scene III. where Mrs. Page says, They are all couched in a pit close to Herne's oak."

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RIGHTLY to appreciate this Comedy, it is, we conceive, absolutely necessary to dissociate it from the Historical plays of Henry IV., and Henry V. Whether Shakspere produced the original sketch of the Merry Wives of Windsor before those plays, and remodelled it after their appearance,-or whether he produced both the original sketch, and the finished performance, when his audiences were perfectly familiar with the Falstaff, Shallow, Pistol, Nym, Bardolph, and Mistress Quickly of Henry IV., and Henry V.,-it is perfectly certain that he did not intend the Merry Wives as a continuation. It is impossible, however, not to associate the period of the comedy with the period of the histories. For although the characters which are common to all the dramas act in the comedy under very different circumstances, and are, to our minds, not only different in their moods but in some of their distinctive features, they must each be received as identical-alter et idem. Still the connexion must be as far as possible removed from our view, that we may avoid comparisons which the author certainly was desirous to avoid, when in remodelling the comedy he introduced no circumstances which could connect it with the histories; and when he not only did not reject what would be called the anachronisms of the first sketch, but in the perfect play heaped on such anachronisms with a profuseness that is not exhibited in any other of his dramas. We must, therefore, not only dissociate the characters of the Merry Wives from the similar characters of the histories; but suffer our minds to slide into the belief that the manners of the times of Henry IV. had sufficient points in common with those of the times of Elizabeth, to justify the poet in taking no great pains to distinguish between them. We must suffer ourselves to be carried away with the nature and fun of this comedy, without encumbering our minds with any precise idea of the social circumstances under which the characters lived. We must not startle, therefore, at the mention of Star-chambers, and Edward shovel-boards, and Sackerson, and Guiana, and rapiers, and Flemish drunkards, and coaches, and pensioners. The characters speak in the language of truth and nature, which belongs to all time; and we must forget that they sometimes use the expressions of a particular time to which they do not in strict propriety belong. The critics have been singularly laudatory of this comedy. Warton calls it "the most complete specimen of Shakspere's comic powers." Johnson says, "This comedy is remarkable for the variety and number of the personages, who exhibit more characters appropriated and discriminated than perhaps can be found in any other play. Its general power, that power by which all works of genius shall finally be tried, is such, that perhaps it never yet had reader or spectator who did not think it too soon at the end." We agree with much of this; but we certainly cannot agree with Warton that it is "the most complete specimen of Shakspere's comic powers." We cannot forget As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, and Much Ado about Nothing. We cannot forget those exquisite combinations of the highest wit with the purest poetry, in which the


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wit flows from the same everlasting fountain as the poetry,-both revealing all that is most intense and profound and beautiful and graceful in humanity. Of those qualities which put Shakspere above all other men that ever existed, the Merry Wives of Windsor exhibits few traces. Some of the touches, however, which no other hand could give, are to be found in Slender, and we think in Quickly. Slender, little as he has to do, is the character that most frequently floats before our fancy when we think of the Merry Wives of Windsor. Slender and Anne Page are the favourites of our modern school of English painting, which has attempted, and successfully, to carry the truth of the Dutch School into a more refined region of domestic art. We do not wish Anne Page to have been married to Slender, but in their poetical alliance they are inseparable. It is in the remodelled play that we find, for the most part, such Shaksperian passages in the character of Slender as, "If I be drunk, I'll be drunk with those that have the fear of God, and not with drunken knaves," which resolve, as Evans says, shews his "virtuous mind." In the remodelled play, too, we find the most peculiar traces of the master-hand in Quickly,-such as, "His worst fault is that he is given to prayer; he is something peevish that way;" and "the boy never need to understand anything, for 'tis not good that children should know any wickedness. Old folks, you know, have discretion, as they say, and know the world;" and again, "Good hearts! what ado there is to bring you together, sure one of you does not serve heaven well that you are so crossed." Johnson objects to this latter passage as profane; but he overlooks the extraordinary depth of the satire. Shakspere's profound knowledge of the human heart is as much displayed in these three little sentences as in his Hamlet and his Iago.

The principal action of this comedy—the adventures of Falstaff with the Merry Wives-sweeps on with a rapidity of movement which hurries us forward to the denouement as irresistibly as if the actors were under the influence of that destiny which belongs to the empire of tragedy. No reverses, no disgraces, can save Falstaff from his final humiliation. The net is around him, but he does not see the meshes ;-he fancies himself the deceiver, but he is the deceived. He will stare Ford "out of his wits," he will "awe him with his cudgel," yet he lives "to be carried in a basket like a barrow of butcher's offal, and to be thrown into the Thames." But his confidence is undaunted: "I will be thrown into Etna, as I have been into Thames, ere I will leave her;" yet "since I plucked geese, played truant, and whipped top, I knew not what it was to be beaten till lately." Lastly, he will rush upon a third adventure: "This is the third time, I hope good luck lies in odd numbers;" yet his good luck ends in "I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass.” The real jealousy of Ford most skilfully helps on the merry devices of his wife; and with equal skill does the poet make him throw away his jealousy, and assist in the last plot against the "unclean knight." The misadventures of Falstaff are most agreeably varied. The disguise of the old woman of Brentford puts him altogether in a different situation to his suffocation in the buck basket; and the fairy machinery of Herne's Oak carries the catastrophe out of the region of comedy into that of romance.

The movement of the principal action is beautifully contrasted with the occasional repose of the other scenes. The Windsor of the time of Elizabeth is presented to us, as the quiet country town, sleeping under the shadow of its neighbour the castle. Amidst its gabled houses, separated by pretty gardens, from which the elm and the chestnut and the lime throw their branches across the unpaved road, we find a goodly company, with little to do but gossip and laugh, and make sport out of each other's cholers and weaknesses. We see Master Page training his "fallow greyhound;' and we go with Master Ford "a-birding." We listen to the "pribbles and prabbles” of Sir Hugh Evans and Justice Shallow, with a quiet satisfaction; for they talk as unartificial men ordinarily talk, without much wisdom, but with good temper and sincerity. We find ourselves in the days of ancient hospitality, when men could make their fellows welcome without ostentatious display, and half a dozen neighbours "could drink down all unkindness" over "a hot venison pasty." The more busy inhabitants of the town have time to tattle, and to laugh, and be laughed at. Mine Host of the Garter is the prince of hosts; he is the very soul of fun and good temper;-he is not solicitous whether Falstaff sit "at ten pounds a week" or at two;-he readily takes "the withered serving man for a fresh tapster; "-his confidence in his own cleverness is delicious :-" am I politic, am I subtle, am I a Machiavel?"-the Germans "shall have my horses, but I'll make them pay, I'll sauce them." When he loses his horses, and his "mind is heavy," we rejoice that Fenton will give him "a hundred pound in gold" more than his loss. His contrivances to manage the fray

between the furious French doctor, and the honest Welsh parson, are productive of the happiest situations. Caius waiting for his adversary-" de herring is no dead so as I vill kill him "-is capital. But Sir Hugh, with his,

"There will we make our peds of roses,

And a thousand fragrant posies,

To shallow

Mercy on me! I have a great dispositions to cry,"-is inimitable.

With regard to the under-plot of Fenton and Anne Page-the scheme of Page to marry her to Slender-the counter-plot of her mother, "firm for Dr. Caius"-and the management of the lovers to obtain a triumph out of the devices against them-it may be sufficient to point out how skilfully it is interwoven with the Herne's Oak adventure of Falstaff. Though Slender "went to her in white, and cry'd, mum, and she cry'd budget, yet it was not Anne, but a postmaster's boy;"though Caius did "take her in green," he "ha' married un garçon, a boy; un paisan; "—but Anne and Fenton

"long since contracted,

Are now so sure, that nothing can dissolve them."

Over all the misadventures of that night, when "all sorts of deer were chas'd," Shakspere throws his own tolerant spirit of forgiveness and content :

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