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

"IF the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather." These are the words which, in relation to the Venus and Adonis, Shakspeare addressed, in 1593, to the Earl of Southampton. Are we to accept them literally? Was the Venus and Adonis the first production of Shakspeare's imagination? Or did he put out of his view those dramatic performances which he had then unquestionably produced, in deference to the critical opinions which regarded plays as works not belonging to "invention"? We think that he used the words in a literal sense. We regard the Venus and Adonis as the production of a very young man, improved, perhaps, considerably in the interval between its first composition and its publication, but distinguished by peculiarities which belong to the wild luxuriance of youthful power, such power, however, as few besides Shakspeare have ever possessed.

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

A deep thinker and eloquent writer, Julius Charles Hare, thus describes "the spirit of self-sacrifice," as applied to poetry:

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

"The might of the imagination is manifested by its launching forth from the petty creek, where the accidents of birth moored it, into the wide ocean of being, by its going abroad into the world around, passing into whatever it meets with, animating it, and becoming one with it. This complete union and identification of the poet with his poem, this suppression of his own individual insulated consciousness, with its narrowness of thought and pettiness of feeling, is what we admire in the great masters of that which for this reason we justly call classical poetry, as representing that which is symbolical and universal, not that which is merely occasional and peculiar. This gives them that majestic calmness which still breathes upon us from the statues of their gods. This invests their works with that lucid, transparent atmosphere wherein every form stands out in perfect definiteness and distinctness, only beautified by the distance which idealizes it. This has delivered those works from the casualties of time and space, and has lifted them up like stars into the pure firmament of thought, so that they do not shine on one spot alone, nor fade like earthly flowers, but journey on from clime to clime, shedding the light of beauty on generation after generation. The same quality, amounting to a total extinction of his own selfish being, so that his spirit became a mighty organ through which Nature gave utterance to the full diapason of her notes, is what we wonder at in our own great dramatist, and is the groundwork of all his other powers; for it is only when purged of selfishness that the intellect becomes fitted for receiving the inspirations of genius." *

What Mr. Hare so justly considers as the great moving principle of "classical poetry," what he further notes as the preeminent characteristic of "our own great dramatist," is abundantly found in that great dramatist's earliest work. Coleridge was the first to point out this pervading quality in the Venus and Adonis : and he has done this

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

*The Victory of Faith; and other Sermons." By Julius Charles Hare, M. A. 1840. P. 277.

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

TO THE POEMS.

so admirably, that it would be profanation were we to attempt.
to elucidate the point in any other than his own words:

"It is throughout as if a superior spirit, more intuitive,
more intimately conscious, even than the characters them-
selves, not only of every outward look and act, but of the
flux and reflux of the mind in all its subtlest thoughts and
feelings, were placing the whole before our view; himself
meanwhile unparticipating in the passions, and actuated
only by that pleasurable excitement which had resulted
from the energetic fervor of his own spirit in so vividly ex-
hibiting what it had so accurately and profoundly contem-
plated. I think I should have conjectured from these
poems, that even then the great instinct which impelled
the poet to the drama was secretly working in him, prompt-
ing him by a series and never-broken chain of imagery,
always vivid, and, because unbroken, often minute, — by
the highest effort of the picturesque in words of which
words are capable, higher, perhaps, than was ever realized
by any other poet, even Dante not excepted, to provide
a substitute for that visual language, that constant interven-
tion and running comment by tone, look, and gesture,
which in his dramatic works he was entitled to expect
from the players. His Venus and Adonis seem at once the
characters themselves, and the whole representation of
those characters by the most consummate actors. You
seem to be told nothing, but to see and hear every thing.
Hence it is, that, from the perpetual activity of attention
required on the part of the reader, from the rapid flow,
the quick change, and the playful nature of the thoughts
and images, and, above all, from the alienation, and, if I
may hazard such an expression, the utter aloofness of
the poet's own feelings from those of which he is at once
the painter and the analyst, that though the very subject
cannot but detract from the pleasure of a delicate mind, yet
never was poem less dangerous on a moral account.” *

Coleridge, in the preceding chapter of his "Literary
Life," says, "During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and

* "Biographia Literaria," 1817, vol. ii. p. 15.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

381

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

SUPPLEMENTARY NOTICE

382

I were neighbors, our conversations turned frequently on
the two cardinal points of poetry the power of exciting
the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the
truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of
In
novelty by the modifying colors of imagination."
Coleridge's "Literary Remains," the Venus and Adonis is
cited as furnishing a signal example of "that affectionate
love of nature and natural objects, without which no man
could have observed so steadily, or painted so truly and
passionately, the very minutest beauties of the external
world." The description of the hare-hunt is there given
at length as a specimen of this power. A remarkable
proof of the completeness as well as accuracy of Shaks-
peare's description lately presented itself to our mind, in
running through a little volume, full of talent, published in
1825, "Essays and Sketches of Character, by the late
Richard Ayton, Esq." There is a paper on hunting, and
especially on hare-hunting. He says, "I am not one of
the perfect fox-hunters of these realms; but having been
in the way, of late, of seeing a good deal of various modes
of hunting, I would, for the benefit of the uninitiated, set
down the results of my observations." In this matter he
writes with a perfect unconsciousness that he is describing
what any one has described before. But as accurate an
observer had been before him :

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"She (the hare) generally returns to the seat from which she was put up,
running, as all the world knows, in a circle, or something sometimes like it, we
had better say, that we may keep on good terms with the mathematical. At
starting, she tears away at her utmost speed for a mile or more, and dis-
tances the dogs half-way: she then returns, diverging a little to the right
or left, that she may not run into the mouths of her enemies a necessity
which accounts for what we call the circularity of her course.
Her flight
from home is direct and precipitate; but on her way back, when she has
gained a little time for consideration and stratagem, she describes a curious
labyrinth of short turnings and windings, as if to perplex the dogs by the
intricacy of her track."

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »