Page images

not very vigorous attempt to express the practical wisdom, with a critic who delights universal admiration that the people of in the most extravagant paradoxes, we might England felt for the great national poet. prefer the amusement of Warburton's edition The verse-homage to Shakspere after the to toiling through the heaps of verbal days of Milton had no very original character. criticism which later years saw heaped up. The cuckoo-note with which these warblers Warburton, of course, belonged to the school generally interspersed their varied lays was of slashing emendators. The opening of his the echo of Milton's "wood-notes wild," preface tells us what we are to expect from which they did not perceive had a limited | him :application to some particular play-As You “It hath been no unusual thing for Like It, for instance. In Rowe’s prologue to writers, when dissatisfied with the patronage "Jane Shore' we have,

or judgment of their own times, to appeal to

posterity for a fair hearing. Some have even “In such an age immortal Shakspeare wrote, By no quaint rules nor hamp’ring critics thought fit to apply to it in the first instance,

and to decline acquaintance with the public taught; With rough majestic force he mov'd the heart, till envy and prejudice had quite subsided. And strength and nature made amends for But, of all the trusters to futurity, commend art."

me to the author of the following poems, who Thomson asks

not only left it to time to do him justice as

it would, but to find him out as it could: “For lofty sense,

for, what between too great attention to his Creative fancy, and inspection keen

profit as a player, and too little to his repuThrough the deep windings of the human tation as a poet, his works, left to the care of heart,

door-keepers and prompters, hardly escaped Is not wild Shakspeare thine and nature's boast ?"

the common fate of those writings, how good

soever, which are abandoned to their own T. Seward, addressing Stratford, says, fortune, and unprotected by party or cabal. “ Thy bard was thine unschool'd.”

At length, indeed, they struggled into light;

but so disguised and travestied, that no Collins's Epistle begins thus, speaking of the classic author, after having run ten secular works of Shakspere :

stages through the blind cloisters of monks “ Hard was the lot those injur'd strains endur'd, and canons, ever came out in half so maimed Unown’d by science."

and mangled a condition."

There is little in Warburton's preface But Collins, in many respects a true poet,

which possesses any lasting interest, perhaps has a higher inspiration in his invocations of

with the exception of his defence against the the great master of the drama than most of

charge that editing Shakspere was unsuitable his fellows:

to his clerical profession :“O more than all in powerful genius bless'd, “ The great Saint Chrysostom, a name Come, take thine empire o'er the willing consecrated to immortality by his virtue and breast!

eloquence, is known to have been so fond of Whate'er the wounds this youthful heart shall

Aristophanes as to wake with him at his feel,

studies, and to sleep with him under his Thy songs support me, and thy morals heal.

pillow; and I never heard that this was There every thought the poet's warmth may

objected either to his piety or his preaching, raise,

not even in those times of pure zeal and There native music dwells in all the lays.”

primitive religion. Yet, in respect of ShakTo Hanmer succeeded WARBURTON, with a speare's great sense, Aristophanes's best wit new edition of Pope, enriched with his own is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Arismost original notes. If it were not painful to tophanes's freedoms, Shakspeare writes with associate Shakspere, the great master of the purity of a vestal. . . . Of all the literary

exercitations of speculative men, whether of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits.
designed for the use or entertainment of These afford a lesson which can never be too
the world, there are none of so much im- often repeated, or too constantly inculcated ;
portance, or what are more our immediate and to engage the reader's due attention to
concern, than those which let us into the it hath been one of the principal objects of
knowledge of our nature. Others may ex- this edition.
ercise the reason, or amuse the imagination ; “ As this science (whatever profound phi-
but these only can improve the heart, and losophers may think) is, to the rest, in things,
form the human mind to wisdom. Now, in so, in words (whatever supercilious pedants
this science our Shakspeare is confessed to may talk), every one's mother-tongue is to
occupy the foremost place, whether we con- all other languages. This hath still been the
sider the amazing sagacity with which he sentiment of nature and true wisdom. Hence,
investigates every hidden spring and wheel the greatest men of antiquity never thought
of human action, or his happy manner of themselves better employed than in cul-
communicating this knowledge, in the just tivating their own country idiom.”
and living paintings which he has given us



[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

It was in the year 1741 that David Garrick
at once leaped into eminence as an actor,
such as had not been won by any man for
half a century. He was the true successor
of Burbage, Betterton, and Harris. His
principal fame was, however, like theirs,
founded upon Shakspere. But it is a mistake
to imagine that there had not been a constant
succession of actors of Shakspere's great
characters, from the death of Betterton to
Garrick's appearance. His first character in
London was Richard III. He made all the
great parts of Shakspere familiar to the play-
going public for five-and-thirty years. The
Alchymist'and the Volpone' of Ben Jonson
were sometimes played ; "The Chances,' and
*Rule a Wife and Have a Wife,' of Beaumont
and Fletcher ; but we are told by Davies, in
his ‘Dramatic Miscellanies,' that, of their
fifty-four plays, only these two preserved
their rank on the stage. This is a pretty
convincing proof of what the public opinion
of Shakspere was in the middle of the last
century. The Prologue of Samuel Johnson,
spoken by Garrick at the opening of Drury-
lane Theatre in 1747, is an eloquent expres-
sion of the same opinion :-

“When Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous

First rear'd the stage, immortal Shakspeare

Each change of many-colour'd life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new :
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
And panting Time toil'd after him in vain.
His powerful strokes presiding truth im-

And unresisted passion storm'd the breast.
“ Then Jonson came, instructed from the

To please in method, and invent by rule;
His studious patience and laborious art
By regular approach essay'd the heart;
Cold approbation gave the lingering bays;
For those who durst not censure scarce could

A mortal born, he met the gen’ral doom,
But left, like Egypt's kings, a lasting tomb.
“ The wits of Charles found easier ways to

fame, Nor wish'd for Jonson's art, or Shakspeare's

Themselves they studied; as they felt, they

Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit.

[ocr errors]

Vice always found a sympathetic friend; eighteenth century, when, according to the They pleas'd their age, and did not aim to epitaph, the poet's forms were sunk in death mend.

and lay in night, there had been thirteen Yet bards like these aspir’d to lasting praise, editions of Shakspere's collected works, nine And proudly hop'd to pimp in future days. of which had appeared during the preceding Their cause was gen’ral, their supports were forty years. Of Ben Jonson there had been strong;

three editions in the seventeenth century, Their slaves were willing, and their reign was

and one in the eighteenth ; of Beaumont and long:

Fletcher two in the seventeenth century, and Till Shame regain'd the post that Sense be

one in the eighteenth. Yet, absurd and tray'd,

impertinent as it may be to talk of immortal And Virtue callid Oblivion to her aid.

Garrick calling the plays of Shakspere back " Then, crush'd by rules, and weakend as

to day, it cannot be denied that the very refin'd, For years the pow'r of Tragedy declin'd;

power of those plays to create a school of From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,

great actors was in itself a cause of their Till declamation roard whilst passion slept ;

extension amongst readers. The most monYet still did Virtue deign the stage to tread,

strous alterations, perpetrated with the worst Philosophy remain'd though Nature filed. taste, and with the most essential ignorance But forc'd, at length, her ancient reign to quit, of Shakspere's art, were still in some sort She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of Wit; tributes to his power. The actors sent many Exulting Folly hail'd the joyous day, to read Shakspere with a true delight; and

And pantomime and song confirm'd her sway." then it was felt how little he needed the It is tolerably evident, from the whole tenour aid of acting, and how much indeed of his of this celebrated prologue, that of the early highest excellence could only be received dramatists Shakspere reigned upon the stage into the mind by reverent meditation. supreme, if not almost alone. It has been In 1765 appeared, in eight volumes octavo, the fault of actors, and the flatterers of The Plays of William Shakspeare, with the actors, to believe that a dramatic poet is Corrections and Illustrations of various Comonly known to the world through their lips. mentators: to which are added Notes by Garrick was held to have given life to Shak Samuel Johnson. This was the foundation spere. The following inscription on Garrick's of the variorum editions, the principle of tomb in Westminster Abbey has been truly which has been to select from all the comheld by Charles Lamb to be “a farrago of mentary, or nearly all, that has been profalse thoughts and nonsense :”.

duced, every opinion upon a passage, however “To paint fair Nature, by divine command,

conflicting. The respective value of the Her magic pencil in her glowing hand,

critics who had preceded him are fully A Shakspeare rose; then, to expand his fame discussed by Johnson in the latter part of Wide o'er this breathing world, a Garrick his Preface: this branch of the subject

was only of temporary interest. But the Though sunk to death the forms the Poet | larger portion of Johnson's Preface not only drew,

to a certain extent represented the tone of The Actor's genius bade them breathe anew; opinion in Johnson's age, but was written with Though, like the bard himself, in night they so much pomp of diction, with such apparent lay,

candour, and with such abundant manifesta. Immortal Garrick call'd them back to day:

tions of good sense, that, perhaps more than And till Eternity with power sublime

any other production, it has influenced the Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time,

public opinion of Shakspere up to this day. Shakspeare and Garrick like twin stars shall

That the influence has been, for the most shine, And earth irradiate with a beam divine."

part, evil, we have no hesitation in believing.

This celebrated Preface is accessible to most Up to the end of the first half of the readers of Shakspere.


[ocr errors]

It was observed by Warburton, in 1747, Johnson himself, in some of his critical that the fit criticism for Shakspere was not opinions upon individual plays, is not very such as may be raised mechanically on the far above the good lady whom he patronized. rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Bossu have What shall we think of the prosaic approcollected from antiquity : and of which such bation of 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream ?-kind of writers as Rymer, Gildon, Dennis, “Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the and Oldmixon, have only gathered and parts in their various modes are well written.” chewed the husks.” But he goes on to infer What of his praise of 'Romeo and Juliet ?'that “crude and superficial judgments on “His comic scenes are happily wrought, but books and things” had taken the place of his pathetic strains are always polluted with the older mechanical criticism; and that some unexpected depravations.” What of there was “a deluge of the worst sort of the imputed omissions in ‘As You Like It? critical jargonthat which looks most like “By hastening to the end of this work Shaksense.” The rules of art, as they were called, speare suppressed the dialogue between the having been rejected as inapplicable to usurper and the hermit, and lost an opporShakspere, a .swarm of writers arose who tunity of exhibiting a moral lesson in which considered that he was to be judged without he might have found matter worthy of his the application of any general principles at highest powers.” What of the pompous seeall. They held that he wrote without a sawing about ‘Macbeth ?’—“It has no nice system; that the absence of this system discriminations of character. . . ... The produced his excellences and his faults ; danger of ambition is well described. .... that his absurdities were as striking as his The passions are directed to the true end. beauties; that he was the most careless and Lady Macbeth is merely detested ; and, hasty of writers; and that therefore it was though the courage of Macbeth preserves the business of all grave and discreet critics some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his to warn the unenlightened multitude against fall.” What, lastly, shall we say to the his blunders, his contradictions, his viola- bow-wow about 'Cymbeline ?'—“ To remark tions of sense and decency. This was the the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the critical school of individual judgment, which conduct, the confusion of the names and has lasted for more than a century amongst manners of different times, and the imus; and which, to our minds, is a far more possibility of the events in any system of corrupting thing than the pedantries of all life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting the Gildons and Dennises who have eat paper imbecility—upon faults too evident for deand drunk ink. Before the publication of tection, and too gross for aggravation.” All Johnson's preface (which, being of a higher that we can in truth say of these startling order of composition than what had pre- things is this—that this learned, sensible, viously been produced upon Shakspere, sometimes profound, and really great man, seemed to establish fixed rules for opinion), having trampled upon the unities and other the impertinences which were poured out tests of poetical merit, the fashion of Dry. by the feeblest minds upon Shakspere's den's age but not of his own, is perpetually merits and demerits surpass all ordinary groping about in the mists of his private belief. Mrs. Charlotte Lennox, in whose judgment, now pursuing a glimmering of “Shakespear Illustrated' Johnson himself light, now involved in outer darkness. This is reputed to have had some hand, is an system of criticism upon Shakspere was average specimen of the insolence of that rotten to the foundation. It was based upon critical jargon which looks most like an extension and a misapplication of Ben sense.”

Mrs. Lennox was evidently a very Jonson's dogmatic assertion—“He wanted small-minded person attempting to form a art.” The art of Shakspere was not revealed judgment upon a very high subject. But it to the critics of the last century. Let us was not only the small minds which uttered hear one to whom the principles of this art such babble in the last century. Samuel were revealed :-“ It is a painful truth, that


not only individuals, but even whole nations, sions,” then he is bewildered ; and he geneare ofttimes so enslaved to the habits of rally ends in blaming his author. The chatheir education and immediate circumstances, racteristic excellence, he says, of the tragedy as not to judge disinterestedly even on those of ‘Hamlet,' is “variety.” According to his subjects the very pleasure arising from which notion that in all Shakspere's dramas we consists in its disinterestedness, namely, on find "an interchange of serioumess and subjects of taste and polite literature. In- merriment, by which the mind is softened at stead of deciding concerning their own modes one time and exhilarated at another," he and customs by any rule of reason, nothing holds, that the pretended madness of Hamappears rational, becoming, or beautiful to let causes much mirth.” But, in the conthem but what coincides with the peculiari- duct of the plot, the business of life and ties of their education. In this narrow the course of the passions do not proceed circle individuals may attain to exquisite with the regularity which he desires :-“ Of discrimination, as the French critics have the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears done in their own literature; but a true no adequate cause. . . . . Hamlet is, through critic can no more be such, without placing the whole piece, rather an instrument than himself on some central point, from which an agent. After he has by the stratagem of he may command the whole,-that is, some the play convicted the king, he makes no general rule, which, founded in reason, or attempt to punish him. The catathe faculties common to all men, must there-strophe is not very happily produced." fore apply to each,—than an astronomer can Where is the mistake in all this? It is in explain the movements of the solar system taking a very limited view of the object and without taking his stand in the sun."* scope of Art. “It is its object and aim to

Samuel Johnson proposes to inquire, in bring within the circle of our senses, perhis preface, “ by what peculiarities of ex- ceptions, and emotions, everything which cellence Shakspeare has gained and kept has existence in the mind of man. Art the favour of his countrymen.” He answers should realize in us the well-known saying, the question at considerable length, by dis- Nihil humani a me alienum puto. Its applaying what he holds to be the great pecu- pointed aim is to awake and give vitality to liarity of his excellence :-"Shakspeare is, all slumbering feelings, affections, and pasabove all writers, at least above all modern sions ; to fill and expand the heart ; and to writers, the poet of nature; the poet that make man, whether developed or undeholds up to his readers a faithful mirror of veloped, feel in every fibre of his being all manners and of life. This, therefore, that human nature can endure, experience, is the praise of Shakspeare—that his drama and bring forth in her innermost and most is the mirror of life.” Such is the leading secret recesses-all that has power to move idea of the critic. He sees nothing higher and arouse the heart of man in its proin Shakspere than an exhibition of the real. foundest depths, manifold capabilities, and “He who has mazed his imagination in fol- | various phases ; to garner up for our enjoylowing the phantoms which other writers ment whatever, in the exercise of thought raise up before him may here be cured of his and imagination, the mind discovers of high delirious ecstacies, by reading human senti- and intrinsic merit, the grandeur of the ments in human language; by scenes from lofty, the eternal, and the true, and present which a hermit may estimate the transac- it to our feeling and contemplation. In like tions of the world, and a confessor predict manner, to make pain and sorrow, and even the progress of the passions.” When John- vice and wrong, become clear to us ; to bring son is unable to trace this actual picture of the heart into immediate acquaintance with life in Shakspere, when he perceives any the awful and the terrible, as well as with deviations from the regular“ transactions of the joyous and pleasurable ; and, lastly, to the world,” or the due“ progress of the pas- lead the fancy to hover gently, dreamily, en

* Coleridge's Literary Remains,' vol. ii. p. 63. the wing of imagination, and entice her to

« PreviousContinue »