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CHURCH QUARTERLY REVIEW. No. CXCIV.-JANUARY 1924.
ART. I.-SHAKESPEARE'S OBSERVATION OF
1. The Ornithology of Shakespeare. By J. E. HARTING. (London: John Van Voorst. 1871.)
2. The Plant-Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare. By H. N. ELLACOMBE. (London and New
York: Edward Arnold. 1896.)
3. Shakespeare as an Angler. By H. N. ELlacombe. (London: Elliot Stock. 1883.)
4. The Nineteenth Century. September
Shakespeare and Nature,' by MORTON LUCE. (London:
PROBABLY few people to-day read Francis Jeffrey, yet he was a considerable critic and within admittedly narrow limits competent enough. It was he who praised Hazlitt, we may remember, for drawing attention to that' familiarity with beautiful forms and images' which we find in Shakespeare; that indestructible love of flowers and odours, and dews and clear waters, and soft airs and sounds, and bright skies, and woodland solitudes, and moonlight bowers, which are the material elements of Poetry-and that fine sense of the undefinable relation to mental emotion, which is its essence and vivifying Soul-and which, in the midst of Shakespeare's most busy and atrocious scenes, falls like gleams of sunshine on rocks and ruins-contrasting with
VOL. XCVII. NO. CXCIV.
all that is rugged and repulsive, and reminding us of the existence of purer and brighter elements !' Whatever Jeffrey may have meant by atrocious' in this connexion, and by it we may, we think, best suppose that he wished to indicate such scenes as the blinding of Gloucester in which the dramatist presents actions of wanton and inhuman cruelty, no lover of Shakespeare is likely to question the truth of the main contention. And even if it were permissible, as we fear it is not, to understand' atrocious in its modern colloquial sense, it might be pleaded that a scene like the discovery of Juliet apparently dead after she has drunk the potion, a scene in which the declamations of grief are so extravagant that it has been thought that Shakespeare must have been ridiculing contemporary melodrama only less openly than in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, is to some extent redeemed by the one simile, 'Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.'2
And this notwithstanding that the sentiment is an unnatural one on the lips of a father who has but that moment learnt that his child is dead. If however the reader will glance at the passages which Jeffrey cites to support his thesis, he will see that they rather suggest external nature to the mind than portray her with any minuteness of detail. The question at once arises, Does Shakespeare depict merely those characteristics which are alike obvious to vigilance and to carelessness,' and which Dr. Johnson's Imlac would have considered suitable for poetic representation, or does he anywhere betray a deeply rooted love of nature and her ways? For love compels observation.
A greater critic than Jeffrey, S. T. Coleridge, had no doubts about the matter. His various remarks on the
1 The Edinburgh Review, August 1817. The passage is easily accessible in Shakespeare Criticism, a Selection, with an Introduction by D. Nichol Smith ('The World's Classics.' Oxford, 1916), p. 365. Romeo and Juliet, IV v 28-29. The references throughout are to the Globe' edition.
3 Rasselas, ch. x.
Venus and Adonis are still on the whole the best study that the poem has received, and it was primarily as the writer of these unpolished lines' that he saw in Shakespeare 'that affectionate love of nature and natural objects, without which no man could have observed so steadily, or painted so truly and passionately, the very minutest beauties of the external world.'1 The poem must have been written in the country! More recently it has been held that although the poem does seem to embody the poet's early impressions of the country-side,' yet the incidents with which it shews Shakespeare's familiarity are after all no more than the 'everyday incidents of rustic existence.' 2 The Venus and Adonis provides us with a convenient starting-point, not only because it was Shakespeare's earliest published work, but because he was unhampered in writing it by the exigencies of dramatic composition.
If, leaving aside for the moment the detailed descriptions of Adonis' horse and the hunting of the hare and boar, the reader will go through the poem marking any lines which bear on external nature, he will probably be surprised not merely at their meagreness but because they are almost all either stock similes or images which do not suggest any special powers of observation on the poet's part. Only once or twice do we catch what seem to be the accents of a lover of the open country. Once is when the poet tells how
. . . the gentle lark, weary of rest, From his moist cabinet mounts up on high
And wakes the morning
the fatal morning to Adonis; and once when he speaks of Venus starting, on hearing the hounds at bay,
like one that spies an adder
Wreathed up in fatal folds just in his way
1 Lectures: Shakespeare as a Poet generally.
2 Venus and Adonis: a facsimile of the First Edition: with an Introduction by [Sir] Sidney Lee (Oxford, 1905), pp. 13–14.
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