« PreviousContinue »
THE PASSIONATE SHEPHERD TO HIS LOVE.
Come live with me and be my love,
A belt of straw, and ivy buds,
The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
This song is introduced, not so much for its poetical excellence (though it is quite what a poet would write on the occasion) as because it is one of those happy embodiments of a thought which all the world thinks at some time or other; and which therefore takes wonderfully with them when somebody utters it. The "golden buckles" and "amber studs" are not to be considered as a contradiction to the rest of the imagery; for we are to suppose it a gentlewoman to whom the invitation is addressed, and with whom her bridegroom proposes to go and play at shepherd and shepherdess, at once realizing the sweets of lowliness and the advantages of wealth. A charming fancy! and realized too sometimes; though Sir Walter Raleigh could not let it alone, but must needs refute it in some excellent
verses, too good for the occasion. Sir Walter, a great but wilful man (in some respects like Marlowe himself, and a true poet too-I wish he had written more poetry), could pass and ultimately lose his life in search of El Dorados,—whole countries made of gold,—but doubted whether an innocent young lady and gentleman, or so, should aim at establishing a bit of Arcadia.
There are so many copies of this once-popular production, all different and none quite consistent, owing, no doubt, to oral repetitions and the license of musical setting (for no copy of it is to be found coeval with its production), that, after studious comparison of several, I have exercised a certain discretion in the one here printed, and omitted also an ill-managed repetition of the burthen :-not, of course, with the addition of a syllable. Such readers, therefore, as it may concern, are warned not to take the present copy for granted, at the expense of the others; but to compare them all, and make his choice.
SHAKSPEARE is here in his purely poetical creations, apart (as much as it is possible for such a thinker and humanist to be) from thought and humanity. There is nothing wanting either to the imagination or fancy of Shakspeare. The one is lofty, rich, affecting, palpable, subtle; the other full of grace, playfulness, and variety. He is equal to the greatest poets in grandeur of imagination; to all in diversity of it; to all in fancy; to all in everything else, except in a certain primæval intensity, such as Dante's and Chaucer's; and in narrative poetry, which (to judge from Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece) he certainly does not appear to have had a call to write. He overinformed it with reflection. It has been supposed that when Milton spoke of Shakspeare as
the genealogy did him injustice. But the critical distinction between Fancy and Imagination was hardly determined till of late. Collins himself, in his Ode on the Poetical Character, uses the word Fancy to imply both, even when speaking of Milton; and so did Milton, I conceive, when speaking of Shakspeare. The propriety of the words, "native wood-notes wild," is not so clear. I take them to have been hastily said by a learned man of an unlearned. But Shakspeare, though he had not a college education, was as learned as any man, in the highest sense of the word, by a scholarly intuition. He had the spirit of learning. He was aware of the education he wanted,
and by some means or other supplied it. He could anticipate Milton's own Greek and Latin ;
Tortive and errant from his course of growth-
In fact, if Shakspeare's poetry has any fault, it is that of being too learned; too over-informed with thought and allusion. His wood-notes wild surpass Haydn and Bach. His wild roses were all twenty times double. He thinks twenty times to another man's once, and makes all his serious characters talk as well as he could himself,-with a superabundance of wit and intelligence. He knew, however, that fairies must have a language of their own; and hence, perhaps, his poetry never runs in a more purely poetical vein than when he is speaking in their persons ;—I mean it is less mixed up with those heaps of comments and reflections which, however the wilful or metaphysical critic may think them suitable on all occasions, or succeed in persuading us not to wish them absent, by reason of their stimulancy to one's mental activity, are assuredly neither always proper to dramatic, still less to narrative poetry; nor yet so opposed to all idiosyncrasy on the writer's part as Mr. Coleridge would have us believe. It is pretty manifest, on the contrary, that the over-informing intellect which Shakspeare thus carried into all his writings, must have been a personal as well as literary peculiarity; and as the events he speaks of are sometimes more interesting in their nature than even a superabundance of his comments can make them, readers may be pardoned in sometimes wishing that he had let them speak a little more briefly for themselves. Most people would prefer Ariosto's and Chaucer's narrative poetry to his; the Griselda, for instance, and the story of Isabel,-to the Rape of Lucrece. The intense passion is enough. The misery is enough. We do not want even the divinest talk about what Nature herself tends to petrify into silence. Cura ingentes stupent. Our divine poet had not quite outlived the times when it was thought proper for a writer to say everything that came into his head. He was a student of Chaucer: he beheld the living fame of Spenser; and his
fellow-dramatists did not help to restrain him. The players told Ben Jonson that Shakspeare never blotted a line; and Ben says he was thought invidious for observing, that he wished he had blotted a thousand. He sometimes, he says, required stopping. (Aliquando sufflaminandus erat.) Was this meant to apply to his conversation as well as writing? Did he manifest a like exuberance in company? Perhaps he would have done so, but for modesty and self-knowledge. To keep his eloquence altogether within bounds was hardly possible; and who could have wished it had been? Would that he had had a Boswell a hundred times as voluminous as Dr. Johnson's, to take all down! Bacon's Essays would have seemed like a drop out of his ocean. He would have swallowed dozens of Hobbeses by anticipation, like larks for his supper.
If Shakspeare, instead of proving himself the greatest poet in the world, had written nothing but the fanciful scenes in this volume, he would still have obtained a high and singular reputation, that of Poet of the Fairies. For he may be said to have invented the Fairies; that is to say, he was the first that turned them to poetical account; that bore them from clownish neighborhoods to the richest soils of fancy and imagination.
WHOLE STORY OF THE TEMPEST.
ENCHANTMENT, MONSTROSITY, AND LOVE.
The whole story of the Tempest is really contained in this
Mira. I pray you, sir,
(For still 'tis beating in my mind) your reason
For raising this sea-storm?