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the mind to relieve its distress by incredulity. Yet let it be remembered that our author well knew what would please the audience for which he wrote.
The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the action is abundantly recompensed by the addition of variety, by the art with which he is made to cooperate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked son with the wicked daughters, to impress this important moral, that villainy is never at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last terminate in ruin.
But though this moral be incidentally enforced, Shakspeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and, what is yet more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified by The Spectator, who blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and happiness in his alteration, and declares, that, in his opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty. Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to secure the favourable reception of Cato, the town was poisoned with much false and abominable criticism, and that endeavours had been used to discredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life: but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a
play worse; or, that if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.
In the present case the public has decided. Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.
There is another controversy among the critics concerning this play. It is disputed whether the predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a very judicious critic, has evinced by induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes with great justness, that Lear would move our compassion but little, did we not rather consider the injured father than the degraded king.
The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom Hollinshed generally copied; but perhaps immediately from an old historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakspeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications: it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had seen Shakspeare.
A lumentable SONG of the death of King Leir und
his Three Daughters.
King Leir once ruled in this land,
With princely power and peace;
That might his joys increase.
Three daughters fair had he,
As fairer could not be.
So on a time it pleas'd the king
A question thus to move,
Could show the dearest love:
Quoth he, then let me hear
The kindest will appear.
To whom the eldest thus began;
Dear father, mind, quoth she, Before your face, to do you good,
My blood shall render'd be: And for your sake my bleeding heart
Shall here be cut in twain, Ere that I see your
reverend age The smallest grief sustain.
And so will I, the second said;
Dear father, for your sake, The worst of all extremities
I'll gently undertake:
With diligence and love;
Discomforts may remove.
In doing so, you glad my soul,
The aged king reply'd ; But what say'st thou, my youngest girl,
How is thy love ally'd ? My love (quoth young Cordelia then)
Which to your grace I owe, Shall be the duty of a child,
And that is all I'll show.
And wilt thou show no more, quoth he,
Than doth thy duty bind?
When as no more I find :
Henceforth I banish thee my court,
Thou art no child of mine; Nor
any part of this my realm By favour shall be thine.
Thy elder sisters' loves are more
Than well I can demand,
My kingdome and my land,
That lovingly I may
Until my dying day.
Thus flattering speeches won renown
By these two sisters here:
Yet was her love more dear:
Went wand'ring up and down, Unhelp'd, unpity'd, gentle maid,
Through many an English town:
Until at last in famous France
She gentler fortunes found; Though poor and bare, yet she was deem'd
The fairest on the ground:
And this fair lady seen,
He made his wife and queen.