Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

In these chapters an attempt will be made to present a
view or aspect of a great poet, and the first word must
explain precisely what such a view or aspect is worth,
what it professes to be, and what it disclaims. Dr
Newman, in his "Grammar of Assent," has distinguished
two modes of apprehending propositions. There is what
he calls the real apprehension of a proposition, and there
is the notional apprehension. In real apprehension
there is the perception of some actual, concrete, indi-
vidual object, either with the eye or some bodily sense,
or with the mind's eye-memory, or imagination.
our minds are not so constructed as to be able to re-
ceive and retain only an exact image of each of the
objects that comes before us one by one, in and for
itself. On the contrary, we compare and contrast. We
see at once "that man is like man, yet unlike; and
unlike a horse, a tree, a mountain, or a monument. And
in consequence we are ever grouping and discriminating,

But

A

measuring and sounding, framing cross classes, and cross divisions, and thereby rising from particulars to generals, that is, from images to notions. 'Man' is no longer what he really is, an individual presented to us by our senses, but as we read him in the light of those comparisons and contrasts which we have made him suggest to us. He is attenuated into an aspect, or relegated to his place in a classification. Thus his appellation is made to suggest, not the real being which he is in this or that specimen of himself, but a definition." Thus individual propositions about the concrete, in the mind of a thinker whose intellect works in the way of notional apprehension, "almost cease to be, and are diluted or starved into abstract notions. The events of history and the characters who figure in it lose their individuality.”

Now it is not such an aspect, such a view of Shakspere which it is here attempted to present. To come into close and living relation with the individuality of a poet must be the chief end of our study-to receive from his nature the peculiar impulse and impression which he, best of all, can give. We must not attenuate Shakspere to an aspect, or reduce him to a definition, or deprive him of individuality, or make of him a mere notion. Yet also no experiment will here be made to bring Shakspere before the reader as he spoke, and walked, as he jested in his tavern, or meditated in his solitude. It is a real apprehension of Shakspere's character and genius which is desired, but not such an apprehension as mere observation of the externals of the man, of his life or of his poetry, would be likely to produce. I wish rather to attain to some central principles

[ocr errors]

of life in him which animate and control the rest, for such there are existent in every man whose life is life in any true sense of the word, and not a mere affair of chance, of impulse, of moods, and of accidents.

In such a study as this we endeavour to pass through the creation of the artist to the mind of the creator: but it by no means prevents our returning to view the work of art simply as such, apart from the artist, and as such to receive delight from it. Nay, in the end it augments our delight by enabling us to discover a mass of fact which would otherwise be overlooked. To enjoy the beauty of a landscape landscape it is not necessary to understand the nature and arrangement of the rocks which underlie or rise up from the soil. While studying the stratification of those rocks we absolutely lose sight of the beauty of the landscape. Nevertheless, a larger mass of pleasure is in the end possessed by one who adds to his instinctive spontaneous feeling of delight, a knowledge of the geology of the country. In like manner, while the study of anatomy is quite distinct from the pleasure which the sight of a beautiful human body gives, yet, in the end, the sculptor who adds to his instinctive, spontaneous delight in the beauty of moulded form and moving limb, a knowledge of human anatomy, receives a mass of pleasure greater than that of one who is unacquainted with the facts of structure and function. There is an obvious cause of this. The geologist and the anatomist see more, and see a new class of phenomena, which produce new delights. The lines of force in a landscape, to which an ordinary observer is entirely insensible, come out to the

[ocr errors]

instructed eye, and give it thrills of strong emotion, like those which we receive from the athletes or the gods of Michael Angelo. The lines of force are drawn in the granite and the sandstone differently, and hence an endless variety of delights corresponding to the infinite variety of the disposition of its rock-forces by Nature. We do not only understand better what is before us; we enjoy it more. We are not attenuating it to an aspect, or inobservant of its individuality; we are, on the contrary, penetrating to the centre of that individuality. It is generally not until the dominant lines of force are clearly perceived that we can group in just proportions the minor details which investigation presents to our notice.

One who stands in the Sistine Chapel at Rome, and looks up to its ceiling, must in due time become aware of his own spirit as if it were some over-burdened caryatid, sustaining the weight of the thought of Michael Angelo. The first effort and it is no trivial effortmust be to raise oneself to the height of the great argument. Merely to conceive prophet, or sibyl, primitive man or the awful demiurge, as placed before one's eyes, is an exercise which demands concentration of self, and abandonment of the world, -an exercise which strains and exhausts the imagination. To ascend from this to a comprehension of the total product, to feel the stupendous life which animates not alone each single figure, rapt or brooding, but which circles through them all, which plays from each to the other, and forms the one vital soul that lies behind this manifold creation-to achieve this is something rarer and more difficult. But

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

there is yet a higher ascension possible. These vast creations, and much beside these, St Peter's at Rome, the David at Florence, the Slaves of the Louvre, the Last Judgment, the Moses, the Tombs of the Medici, the Poems for Vittoria Colonna, all these are less than Michael Angelo. These were the projections of a single mind. There is something higher and more wonderful than St Peter's, or the Last Judgment-namely, the mind which flung these creations into the world. And yet, it is when we make the effort which demands our most concentrated and most sustained energy, it is when we strive to come into presence of the living mind of the creator, that the sense of struggle and effort is relieved. We are no longer surrounded by a mere world of thoughts and imaginations which, in an almost selfish way, we labour to appropriate and possess. We are in company with a man; and a sense of real human sympathy and fellowship rises within us. Virtue goes out of him. We are conscious of his strength communicating itself to us. We may not overmaster him, and pluck out the heart of his mystery; yet it is good to remain in his companionship. There is something in this invigorating struggle with a nature greater than one's own which unavoidably puts on in one's imagination, the shape of the Hebrew story of Peniel. We wrestle with an unknown man until the breaking of the day. We "Tell me, say, I pray thee, thy name?" and he will not tell it. But though we cannot compel him to reveal his secret, we wrestle with him still. We say, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." And the blessing is obtained.

« PreviousContinue »