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revel in the seductive witchery of its volup-| more, which penetrates into the abysses of tuous emotion and contemplation. Art should employ this manifold richness of its subject-matter to supply on the one hand the deficiencies of our actual experience of external life, and on the other hand to excite in us those passions which shall cause the actual events of life to move us more deeply and awaken our susceptibility for receiving impressions of all kinds.”*

This is something higher than Johnson's notion of Shakspere's art-higher as that notion was than the mechanical criticism of the age which preceded him. But the inconsistencies into which the critic is betrayed show the narrowness and weakness of his foundations. The drama of Shakspere is "a mirror of life;" and yet, according to the critic, it is the great sin of Shakspere that he is perpetually violating "poetical justice." Thus Johnson says in the preface, "He makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to show in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong, and at the close dismisses them without further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance." Johnson could not have avoided seeing that, if Shakspere had not carried his persons "indifferently though right and wrong," he would not have exhibited "the real state of sublunary nature." But there was something much higher that Shakspere would not then have done. Had he gone upon the principle of teaching an impracticable and therefore an unnatural theory of rewards and punishments in human affairs, if he had not intended that "his precepts and axioms" should 66 drop casually from him," he would have lost his supereminent power of gradually raising the mind into a comprehension of what belongs to the spiritual part of our nature; of exciting a deep sympathy with strong emotion and lofty passion; of producing an expansion of the heart, which embraces all the manifestations of human goodness and human sorrow; and, what is

* We quote this from a very able article in the British and Foreign Review,' on Hegel's Esthetics.' The passage is Hegel's.

guilt and degradation, and shows that there is no true peace, and no real resting-place, for what separates us from our fellow men and from our God. This is not to be effected by didactic precepts not dropped casually; by false representations of the course of worldly affairs and the workings of man's secret heart. The mind comprehends the whole truth, when it is elevated by the art of the poet into a fit state for its comprehension. The whole moral purpose is then evolved, through a series of deductions in the mind of him who is thus moved. This is the highest logic, because it is based upon the broadest premises. Rymer sneers at Shakspere when he says that the moral of 'Othello' is, that maidens of quality should not run away with blackamoors. The sarcasm only tells upon those who demand any literal moral in a high work of art.

Because Johnson only saw in Shakspere's dramas "a mirror of life," he prefers his comedy to his tragedy. "His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct." When the poet is working with grander materials than belong to the familiar scenes of life, however natural and universal, the critic does not see that the region of literal things is necessarily abandoned-that skill must be more manifest in its effects. We are then in a world of higher reality than every-day reality. "In tragedy he often writes with great appearance of toil and study what is written at last with little felicity." This now strikes the most superficial student of Shakspere as monstrous. We open 'Irene,' and we understand it. "He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting which the train of his story seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects those exhibitions which would be more affecting for the sake of those which are more easy." It is a great privilege of the art of Shakspere, that in his most tragical scenes he never takes us out of the region of pleasurable emotions. It was his higher art, as compared with the lower art of Otway. He does reject "those exhibitions which would be more affecting," but not "for the sake of those which are more easy." Let any one try which is the

more easy, "to touch a soul to the quick, to lay upon fear as much as it can bear, to wean and weary a life till it is ready to drop," as Charles Lamb describes the tragic art of Webster; or to make a Desdemona, amidst the indignities which are heaped upon her, and the fears which subdue her soul, move tranquilly in an atmosphere of poetical beauty, thinking of the maid that

"had a song of-willow;

the poetical art. He has here narrowed the question to an absurdity.

We may observe, from what Johnson says of "the minute and slender criticism of VOLTAIRE," that the English critics fancied that, doing Shakspere ample justice themselves, they were called upon to defend him from the mistaken criticisms of a foreign school. Every Englishman, from the period of Johnson, who has fancied himself absolved from the guilt of not admiring and under

An old thing 'twas, but it express'd her for- standing Shakspere has taken up a stone to


And she died singing it."

It is a rude conception which Johnson has of Shakspere's art, when he says of the play of 'Hamlet,' "The scenes are interchangeably di- | versified with merriment and solemnity. . . . . The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth; the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness; and every personage produces the effect intended." True. But it was no intended effect of the madness of Hamlet to cause "much mirth." Every word that Hamlet utters has something in it which sounds the depths of our intellectual being, because every word is consistent with his own character, which, of all poetical creations, sends us most to search into the mysteries of our own individual natures. This, if we understand it aright, is poetry. But Johnson says, "Voltaire expresses his wonder that our author's extravagances are endured by a nation which has seen the tragedy of 'Cato.' Let him be answered, that Addison speaks the language of poets, and Shakspeare of men. We find in 'Cato' innumerable beauties which enamour us of its author, but we see nothing that acquaints us with human sentiments or human actions; we place it with the fairest and noblest progeny which judgment propagates by conjunction with learning; but 'Othello' is the vigorous and vivacious offspring of observation, impregnated with genius." If Addison speaks "the language of poets," properly so called, 'Cato' is poetry. If Shakspere speaks the language of men, as distinct from the language of poets, 'Othello' is not poetry. It needs no further argument to show that the critic has a false theory of

cast at Voltaire. Those who speak of Voltaire as an ignorant and tasteless calumniator of Shakspere forget that his hostility was based upon a system of art which he conceived, and rightly so, was opposed to the system of Shakspere. He had been bred up in the school of Corneille and Racine, the glories of his countrymen; and it is really a remarkable proof of the vigour of his mind that he tolerated so much as he did in Shakspere, and admired so much; in this respect geing farther perhaps than many of our own countrymen of no mean reputation, such as Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke in 1730. In his 'Discourse on Tragedy,' prefixed to 'Brutus,' and addressed to Bolingbroke in that year, he says, "Not being able, my lord, to risk upon the French stage verses without rhyme, such as are the usage of Italy and of England, I have at least desired to transport to our scene certain beauties of yours. It is true, and I avow it, that the English theatre is very faulty. I have heard from your mouth that you have not a good tragedy. But in compensation you have some admirable scenes in these very monstrous pieces. Until the present time almost all the tragic authors of your nation have wanted that purity, that regular conduct, those bienséances of action and style, that elegance, and all those refinements of art, which have established the reputation of the French theatre since the great Corneille. But the most irregular of your pieces have one grand merit-it is that of action." In the same letter we have his opinion of Shakspere, which is certainly not that of a cold critic, but of one who admired even where he could not approve, and blamed as we had been accustomed to

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blame:"With what pleasure have I seen in London your tragedy of Julius Cæsar,' which for a hundred and fifty years has been the delight of your nation! I assuredly do not pretend to approve the barbarous irregularities with which it abounds. It is only astonishing that one finds not more of them in a work composed in an age of ignorance, by a man who even knew not Latin, and who had no master but his own genius. But, in the midst of so many gross faults, with what ravishment have I seen Brutus," &c. All this is perfectly intelligible, and demands no harsher censure than we have a right to apply to Dryden, who says nearly as strong things, and writes most of his own tragedies in the spirit of a devoted worshipper of the French school. In 1761, some thirty years after his letter to Bolingbroke, Voltaire writes An Essay on the English Theatre,' in which he expresses the wonder, which Johnson notices, that the nation which has 'Cato' can endure Shakspere. In this essay he has a long analysis of 'Hamlet,' in which, without attempting to penetrate at all into the real idea of that drama, he gives such an account of the plot as may exaggerate what ne regards as its absurdities. He then says, "We cannot have a more forcible example of the difference of taste among nations. Let us, after this, speak of the rules of Aristotle, and the three unities, and the bienséances, and the necessity of never leaving the scene empty, and that no person should go out or come in without a sensible reason. Let us talk, after this, of the artful arrangement of the plot and its natural development; of the expressions being simple and noble; of making princes speak with the decency which they always have, or ought to have; of never violating the rules of language. It is clear that a whole nation may be enchanted without giving oneself such trouble." No one can be more consistent than Voltaire in the expression of his opinions. It is not the individual judgment of the man betraying him into a doubtful and varying tone, but his uniform theory of the poetical art, which directs all his censure of Shakspere; and which therefore makes his admiration, such

as it is, of more value than the vague homage of those who, despising, or affecting to despise, Voltaire's system, have embraced no system of their own, and thus infallibly come to be more dogmatical, more supercilious, in their abuse, and more creeping in their praise, than the most slavish disciple of a school wholly opposed to Shakspere, but consecrated by time, by high example, and by national opinion. The worst things which Voltaire has said of Shakspere are conceived in this spirit, and therefore ought not in truth to offend Shakspere's warmest admirers. "He had a genius full of power and fruitfulness, of the natural and the sublime "-this is the praise. The dispraise is linked to it:"Without the least spark of good taste, and without the slightest knowledge of rules." We may dissent from this, but it is not fair to quarrel with it. He then goes on:"I will say a hazardous thing, but true, that the merit of this author has ruined the English theatre. There are so many fine scenes, so many grand and terrible passages spread through his monstrous farces which they call tragedies, that his pieces have always been represented with extreme success. We smile at the man's power of ridicule when he travesties a plot of Shakspere, as in the dissertation prefixed to 'Semiramis.' But his object is so manifest

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that of the elevation of his own theory of art—that he cannot outrage us. For what is his conclusion? That Shakspere would have been a perfect poet if he had lived in the time of Addison+.

The famous 'Letter to the Academy,' in 1776, was the crowning effort of Voltaire's hostility to Shakspere. In that year was announced a complete translation of Shakspere; and several of the plays were published as a commencement of the undertaking. France, according to Grimm, was in a ferment. The announcement of this translation appears to have enraged Voltaire. It said that Shakspere was the creator of the sublime art of the theatre, which received from his hands existence and perfection;

* ' Lettres Philosophiques.' Lettre 18. Dictionnaire Philosophique.' 'Correspondance,' 3me partie, tome 1re.

and, what was personally offensive, it added that Shakspere was unknown in France, or, rather, disfigured. Voltaire tells the Academy that he was the first who made Shakspere known in France, by the translation of some of his passages; that he had translated, too, the 'Julius Cæsar.' But he is indignant that the new translators would sacrifice France to England, in paying no homage to the great French dramatists, whose pieces are acted throughout Europe. He notices, then, the four plays which they have translated, and calls upon them, of course in his tone of exaggeration and ridicule, to render faithfully certain passages which they have slurred over. But Voltaire avows the support which he receives from the English themselves in his condemnation of what he holds to be the absurdities of Shakspere, quoting from Marmontel in this matter:-"The English have learned to correct and abridge Shakspere. Garrick has banished from his scene the Grave-diggers in Hamlet,' and has omitted nearly all the fifth act." Voltaire then adds, -"The translator agrees not with this truth; he takes the part of the gravediggers; he would preserve them as a respectable monument of an unique genius." The critic then gives a scene of 'Bajazet,' contrasting it with the opening scene of 'Romeo and Juliet.' "It is for you," he says to the Academicians, "to decide which method we ought to follow -that of Shakspere, the god of tragedy, or of Racine." In a similar way he contrasts a passage in Corneille and 'Lear:-"Let the Academicians judge if the nation which has produced 'Iphigénie' and 'Athalie' ought to abandon them, to behold men and women strangled upon the stage, street-porters, sorcerers, buffoons, and drunken priests-if our court, so long renowned for its politeness and its taste, ought to be changed into an alehouse and a wine-shop." In this letter to the Academy Voltaire loses his temper and his candour. He is afraid to risk any admiration of Shakspere. But this intolerance is more intelligible than the apologies of Shakspere's defenders in England. We must confess that we have more sympathy with Voltaire's earnest attack upon Shakspere than with Mrs. MONTAGU's maudlin defence.

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"Thus it is

Take a specimen :-" Our author, by following minutely the chronicles of the times, has embarrassed his dramas with too great a number of persons and events. The hurlyburly of these plays recommended them to a rude, illiterate audience, who, as he says, loved a noise of targets. His poverty, and the low condition of the stage (which at that time was not frequented by persons of rank), obliged him to this complaisance; and, unfortunately, he had not been tutored by any rules of art, or informed by acquaintance with just and regular dramas." She gives a speech of Lear, and says, that Shakspeare redeems the nonsense, the indecorums, the irregularities of his plays." Again, in her criticism on 'Macbeth:'—" Our author is too much addicted to the obscure bombast much affected by all sorts of writers in that age. . . There are many bombast speeches in the tragedy of 'Macbeth,' and these are the lawful prize of the critic." The exhibition of the fickle humour of the mob in Julius Cæsar' is not to be "entirely condemned." "The quarrel between Brutus and Cassius does not, by any means, deserve the ridicule thrown upon it by the French critic: . . . . . . but it rather retards than brings forward the catastrophe, and is useful only in setting Brutus in a good light." One more extract from Mrs. Montagu, and we have done:-"It has been demonstrated with great ingenuity and candour that he was destitute of learning: the age was rude and void of taste; but what had a still more pernicious influence on his works was, that the court and the universities, the statesmen and scholars, affected a scientific jargon. An obscurity of expression was thought the veil of wisdom and knowledge; and that mist, common to the morn and eve of literature, which in fact proves it is not at its high meridian, was affectedly thrown over the writings, and even the conversation of the learned, who often preferred images distorted or magnified, to a simple exposition of their thoughts. Shakspeare is never more worthy of the true critic's censure than in those instances in which he complies with this false pomp of manner. It was par

* Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakspeare."

donable in a man of his rank not to be more polite and delicate than his contemporaries; but we cannot so easily excuse such superiority of talents for stooping to any affectation." This half-patronising, halfvindicating tone is very well meant; and we respect Mrs. Montagu for coming forward to break a lance with the great European critic; but the very celebrity of Shakspere's "fair warrior" is one of the proofs that there was no real school of criticism amongst us.

Apologies for Shakspere, lamentations over his defects, explanations of the causes of them, — rude age, unlettered audience, the poet himself working without knowledge, all this, the invariable language of the English critics, is eagerly laid hold of, not only to justify the hostility of Voltaire, but to perpetuate the reign of a system altogether opposed to the system of Shakspere, up to the present hour. M. Villemain, in the new edition of his Essay upon Shakspeare,' published in 1839, gives us as much interjectional eulogy of our national poet as might satisfy the most eager appetite of those admirers who think such praise worth anything. The French critic, of nearly a century later than Voltaire, holds that Shakspere has no other system than his genius. It is in this chaos that we must seek his splendour. His absurdities, his buffooneries, belong to the gross theatre of his period. In judging Shakspere we must reject the mass of barbarism and false taste with which he is surcharged. But then, apart from any system, "quelle passion! quelle poésie! quelle éloquence!" "This rude and barbarous genius discovers an unknown delicacy in the development of his female characters." And why? "The taste which is so often missing in him is here supplied by a delicate instinct, which makes him even anticipate what was wanting to the civilization of his time." The critic reposes somewhat on English authority: “Mrs. Montagu has repelled the contempt of Voltaire by a judicious criticism of some defects of the French theatre, but she cannot palliate the enormous extravagancies of the pieces of Shakspere. Let us not forget, she says, that these pieces were played in a miserable inn before an unlettered audience,

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Thou wert the

"It is she who was thy book, O Shakspeare; it is she who was thy study day and night; it is she from whom thou hast drawn those beauties which are at once the glory and delight of thy nation. eldest son, the darling child, of nature; and like thy mother, enchanting, astonishing, sublime, graceful, thy variety is inexhaustible. Always original, always new, thou art the only prodigy which nature has produced. Homer was the first of men, but thou art more than man. The reader who thinks this

eulogium extravagant is a stranger to my subject. To say that Shakspeare had the imagination of Dante, and the depth of Machiavel, would be a weak encomium: he had them and more. To say that he possessed the terrible graces of Michael Angelo, and the amiable graces of Correggio, would be a weak encomium: he had them, and more. To the brilliancy of Voltaire he added the strength of Demosthenes; and to the simplicity of La Fontaine the majesty of Virgil.-But, say you, we have never seen such a being. You are in the right; Nature made it, and broke the mould."

This is the first page of 'A Fragment on Shakspeare' (1786). The following is an extract from the last page:-" The only view of Shakspeare was to make his fortune, and for that it was necessary to fill the playhouse. At the same time that he caused a duchess to enter the boxes, he would cause her servants to enter the pit. The people have always money; to make them spend it, they must be diverted; and Shakspeare forced his sublime genius to stoop to the gross taste of the populace, as Sylla jested

with his soldiers."

* Essai sur Shakspeare, Paris, 1839.

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