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The Two Noble Hinsmen;
AND ON THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SHAKSPERE'S STYLE
AND THE SECRET OF HIS SUPREMACY.
BY THE LATE
WILLIAM SPALDING, M.A.,
FORMERLY PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH, AND AFTERWARDS
PROFESSOR OF LOGIC, RHETORIC, AND METAPHYSICS IN THE UNIVERSITY OF ST
ANDREW's ; AUTHOR OF 'A HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE,' ETC., ETC.
The New Shakspere Society
LONDON, E.C., 1876.
This Letter by Prof. Spalding has always seemd to me one of the ablest (if not the ablest) and most stimulating pieces of Shakspere criticism I ever read. And even if you differ from the writer's conclusion as to Shakspere's part, or even hold that Shakspere took no part at all, in the Play, you still get almost as much good from the essay as if you accept its conclusions as to the authorship of The Two Noble Kinsmen. It is for its general, more than for its special, discussions, that I value this Letter. The close reasoning, the spirited language, the perception and distinction of the special qualities of Shakspere's work, the investigation into the nature of dramatic art, the grasp of subject, and the mixt logic and enthusiasm of the whole Letter, are worthy of a true critic of our great poet, and of the dist isht Professor of Logic, Rhetoric, and Metaphysics, who wrote this treatise, that at once delights and informs every one who reads it. No wonder it carrid away and convinct even the calm judicial mind of Hallam.
Indeed, while reading the Letter, one can hardly resist the power of Prof. Spalding's argument, backt as it is by his well-chosen passages from the Play. But when one turns to the play itself, when one reads it aloud with a party of friends, then come doubt and hesitation. One begins to ask, “Is this indeed Shakspere, Shakspere at the end of his glorious career, Shakspere who has just given us Perdita, Hermione and Autolycus'?
Full of the heavenly beauty of Perdita's flowers, one reads over The Two Noble Kinsmen flower-song, and asks, pretty as the fancy of a few of the epithets is, whether all that Shakspere, with the spring-flowers of Stratford about him, and the love of nature deeper than ever in his soul
- whether all he has to say of the daisy-Chaucer's 'Quene of flourës alle'- is, that it is “smelless but most quaint "; and of marigolds, that they blow on death-beds', when one recollects his twenty-years' earlier
Unsure myself as to the form of oxlip root-leaves, and knowing nothing of the use of marigolds alluded to in the lines
Oxlips in their cradles growing,
Marigolds on death-beds blowing," also seeing no fancy even if there were fact in 'em, I applied to the best judge in England
INCONSISTENCY OF EMILIA'S CHARACTER.
use of them in Lucrece (A.D. 1594) :
Without the bed her other fair hand was,
And canopied in darkness sweetly lay,
Till they might open to adorn the day. Full of the ineffable charm and consistency of Miranda and Perdita, one asks of Emilia-Chaucer's daring huntress, virgin free, seeking no marriage-bed-whether Shakspere, at the crisis of her life, degraded her to a silly lady's-maid or shop-girl, not knowing her own mind, up and down like a bucket in a well, balancing her lovers' qualities against one another, saying she'd worn the losing Palamon's portrait on her right side, not the heart one, her left, &c.; and then (oh dear!) that Palamon might wound Arcite and spoil his figure! What a pity it would be !
Arcite may win me,
V. iii. 68-71, p. 81, ed. Littledale. I say, is it possible to believe that Shakspere turnd a noble lady, a frank gallant nature, whose character he had rightly seizd at first, into a goose of this kind, whom one would like to shake, or box her ears well ? The thing is surely impossible. Again, is it likely--and again, I say, at the end of his career, with all his experience behind him, that Shakspere would make his hero Palamon publicly urge on Venus in his prayer to her, that she was bound to protect him because he'd believd a wanton young wife's word that her old incapable husband was the father of her known to me, Dr R. C. A. Prior, author of the Popular Names of British Plants; and he says "I am quite at a loss for the meaning of cradles and death-beds in the second stanza.
" The writer did not know much about plants, or he would not have combined summer flowers, like the marigold and larkspur, with the primrose.
"I prefer the reading With hair-bells dimme'; for nobody would call the upright salver-shaped flower of the primrose a 'bell.' The poet probably means the blue-bell."
On the other hand, Mr Wm Whale of our Egham Nurseries writes : “The rootleaves of the Oxlip are cradle-shaped, but circular instead of long. The growth of the leaves would certainly give one an idea of the stem and Oxlip flowers being lodged in a cradle (? saucer).
" I have seen the marygold * in my boyish days frequently placed on coffins; and in a warm death-room they would certainly flower. The flowers named may be all called Spring-flowers, but of course some blowing rather later than others."
* This is called the Calendula officinalis, or Medicinal Marygold, not the African or French sorts which are now so improved and cultivated in gardens.