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SHAKESPEARE'S MINOR POEMS.
BY JOHN 8. Kill,
Shakkspeark calls his Venus and Adonis "the first heir of his invention." I have seen no sufficient reason why we should not take this expression in its obvious import. If so, the poem is to be regarded as the author's first and earliest literary performance. There seems indeed but little doubt that it was composed on the sweet banks of the Avon, and before the author had left Stratford for the great metropolis. The poem has about it all the freshness of country air, all the warmth of youthful passion.
It is founded upon a well-known Grecian legend. That imaginative people invented for almost every abstract mental idea some material and concrete symbol, for every emotion and passion of the soul some graceful tale of life and action. Grecian fable is only Grecian logie, Grecian science, Grecian opinion personified. Among the ideas thus embodied in action are two that seem to be in some respects the counterparts of each other, although this correlation, so far as I am aware, has not been heretofore observed. As was Diana among women, so was Adonis among men—each having every perfection except that which is most characteristic. The same inventive fancy, which formed the idea of a woman possessed of every gracious and womanly quality except the desire to be acceptable to the other sex, conceived also the idea of a man, in all respects manly and noble, beautiful and brave, but utterly and absolutely indifferent to what is after all man's ruling passion. The Adonis of early Graocia was simply a passionless boy. He was one who could love a woman only as he loved his sister, his mother, or his brother. It was not guile, used to decoy more victims. It was not affectation, to hide the real state of his heart. It was not vanity, to show his own importance by apparently contemning that which others prized so highly. It was simply sheer, absolute indifference. Love, in the special application of that term, was to him a thing unintelligible. He could form no more idea of it, than can a blind man of colours, or a deaf man of sounds, or a cherub of the feelings of humanity. Yet was never cherub more beautiful or more enchanting. The flush of health was on his cheek, the pride of intellect was on his brow, the strength of manhood was in his arm. Such was the Adonis of the graceful and imaginative Greek;—such, with disagreeable abatements and additions, was the Syrian
Toi.. vi. 10
Thammuz, worshipped with foul and disgusting rites by the daughters of Israel during the degenerate days of the later prophets.
Numberless are the incidents framed by the poets out of this general idea. The most common is that celebrated by Shakespeare in the present poem. It is briefly this. Venus, the Goddess of female beauty, becomes enamoured of the beautiful boy, but her admiration is not returned; he forsakes her for the more congenial sports of the chase, where he is killed by a wild boar, leaving her to lament in bitter waitings his untimely fate. Such is an outline of the story. In the main incidents and in the leading idea, there is nothing original. All the creative power is in the filling up. Here the poet distances all competitors ancient or modern. The various scenes are painted with a distinctness—a sort of visibility —not surpassed even by Spenser, while there is throughout a compactness and force of expression of which Spenser was entirely incapable. The actors stand out to the mind's eye with all the distinctness of a group of statuary.
One peculiarity, first observed I believe by Coleridge, is worthy of note. The poem is not marked by stirring action, but by a series of minutely finished pictures. In other words, it is descriptive, not dramatic. Yet the character of these descriptions is precisely that which would indicate the possession of the dramatic power. Drama is action. That the action may be consistent and suitable, the dramatist while composing must have the actors and the scene of action most vividly and palpably before his own mind. He must be present to every scene and every soul, as really as though he were at the moment actually on the stage, surrounded by the characters whom he has summoned into existence. He must therefore have the power of conception in the highest degree. The fact to be noted is, that this power is equally shown in the Venus and Adonis. In other words, a poem essentially and characteristically undraIh a tie evinces at the same time the possession of high dramatic power. The pictures given to the reader in the poem are such as must be ever present to the mind's eye of the poet while writing a drama. Shakespeare's descriptions in his Venus and Adonis raise in our minds just such scenes as I suppose always existed in his own mind while putting language into the mouth of his dramatic characters.
The scene in which the horse of Adoni: breaks loose from him may be cited in illustra tion of this peculiarity:
"Imperiously he leaps, ho neighs, he bounds,
"Hi - ears up-pricked; his braided hanging mano
His eye, which glisters scornfully like fire,
"Sometimes he trots, as if he told the steps,
"What recketh he his rider's angry stir,
He sees his love, and nothing else he sees,
u Look, when a painter would surpass the life,
M Round-hoofd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
f t Sometimes he scuds far off, and there he stares;
For through his mane and tail the high wind sings,
The accuracy of Shakespeare's descriptions has lately received a very striking illustration. A few years since there was published in London a volume, entitled "Essays and Sketches of Character, by the late Richard Ayton, Esq." These essays contain, among other things, a paper on hare-hunting. It is curious to observe the similarity between the descriptions of this professed hare-hunter, and those of the poet, even when the latter are most highly idealized.
"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... At starting, she tears away at her utmost speed for a mile or more, and distances the dogs halfway: she then returns, diverging a little to the right or left, that she may not run iuto the mouths of her enemies—a necessity which accounts for what ti called 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."
"And when thou hast on foot the purblind hare,
"The hounds, whom we left in full cry, continue their music without remission as long as they are faithful to the scent; as a summons, it should * em, like the seaman's cry, to pull together, or keep together, and it is a certain proof to themselves and their followers that they are in the right way : on the instant that they are' at fault,' or lose the scent, they are silent... The weather, in its impression on the scent, is the great father of 'faults;* but they may arise from other accidents, even when the day is in every respect favourable. The intervention of ploughed land, on which the scent soon cools or evaporates, is at least perilous; but sheep-stains, recently left by a flock, are fatal: they cut off the scent irrecoverably —making a gap, as it were, in the clue, in which the dogs have not even a hint for their guidance."
"Sometime he runs among a flock of sheep,
And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;
"For there his smell with others being mingled.
Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replica,
"Suppose then, after the usual rounds, that you see the hare at last (a sorry mark for so many foes) sorely beleaguered—looking dark and draggled, and limping heavily along; then stopping to listen, again tottering on a little, and again stopping: and at every step, and every pause, hearing the death-cry grow nearer and louder."
"By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,
And now his grief may be compared well
"Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch
Adonis, regardless of the entreaties of the Goddess of Love, goes forth to pursue the wild boar. By accident, while in close pursuit, he
fell from his horse and was overrun by the ferocious beast. The protruding tusk of the "grim, urchin-snouted boar," penetrated the groin of the beauteous boy, and killed him outright, goring him horribly. The anguish and distraction of Venus on seeing his mangled body, is another of those striking pictures with which the poem abounds.
* She looks upon his lips, and they arc pale;
Passion always exaggerates. The spectator of a tragedy may be accurate and precise; the actor never. In wo, or rage, no man stops to measure his words, or correct his images. The boldest metaphors in his mouth seem tame, forced and even artificial comparisons become natural. They indicate an excited, an unnatural, an "artificial'' state of mind. They are the efforts of a drowning man grasping at straws. No one ever understood this principle better than Shakespeare. When Venus sees the tlowers and grass drenched in the blood of Adonis, they seem to her to be bleeding in . sympathy,'' or to have "stolen" the precious drops. Indeed, the whole scene describing the lament of Venus over the dead body of Adonis is exquisitely beautiful. Every line shows the hand of a master.
"' No flower was nigh, no grass, herb, leaf, or weed,
'"This solemn sympathy poor Venus noteth;
Iler voice is stopped, her joints forge l to bow;
Her eyes are mad that they have wept till now.
"Upon his hurt she looks so steadfastly,
*'mt tongue cannot express my grief for one,
sighs are blown away, my salt tears gone, Mine eyes are turned to fire, my heart to lead:
Heavy heart's lead melt at mine eyes, as flrel
So shall I die by drops of hot desire.
4'Alas, poor world, what treasure hast thou lost! what ben remains alive that's worth the viewing? wbcse tongue is music now? what canst thou bonst Of things long since, or any thing ensuing?
The flowers are sweet, their colours fresh and trim;
But true-sweet beauty lived and died with him.
-'Bonnet nor veil henceforth no creature wear!
Nor sun, nor wind, will ever strive to kiss you:
Haring no fair to lose, you need not fear;
The sun doth scorn you, and the wind doth hiss you .
"' And therefore would he put his bonnet on,
"' To see his face the lion walked along
"' When he beheld his shadow in the brook,
Would bring him mulberries, and ripe-red cherries:
"' But this foul, grim, and urchin-snouted boar,
The mind, highly excited on any subject, is easily and rapidly carried from one passion to another. The disappointment and grief of Venus prepare the mind of the reader for the intense bitterness and spite that follow.
"' Since thou art dead, Io! here 1 prophesy,
"' It shall be fickle, false, and full of fraud;
It shall be sparing, and too full of riot,
".It shall suspect, where is no cause of fear;
Perverse it shall be, when it seems most toward,
"' It shall be cause of war and dire events,
Sith, in his prime death doth my love destroy,
The Venus and Adonis is by all the critics regarded as betraying marks of youth, and it is expressly called by the author '' the first heir of his invention." Vet no one, I think, can read
* Fear him, frighten him.
it without being struck with the ease and sweetness of the versification, the splendour and polish of the diction, the concentrated energy of expression in some places and the extraordinary command of language throughoutv—in short, with a high state of finish in the style and a thorough mastery of the art of composition, which we rarely expect to find except in the practised writer.
In the dedication of the Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare promises, if the work proves acceptable to the noble Earl, to take advantage of all idle hours till he has honoured his patron with some graver labour. This promise he redeemed by the production in the following year of another narrative and descriptive poem entitled "The Rape of Lucrece." This poem is in many respects the fellow and counterpart of the other. It is in the seven-line stanza, or "Rhythm-Royal" which was noticed in a former paper. It is considerably longer than the Venus and Adonis, and is much graver in its cast. It is, like the other, remarkable for its fulness and accuracy in painting minute details. The author takes an incident as free as possible from all complication of plot. There is no unravelling of difficulties, no solving of mysteries, no exciting of curiosity, (which in a tale of fiction is one great source of interest—sometimes the only one,) no multiplication of actors or changing of scene. It is a story which every school-boy knows by heart; a story containing but few actors and few incidents; nor does the author seek to create an interest by multiplying these. On the contrary, he leaves it apparently as bare as possible of all the ordinary sources of interest in a narrative poem. The effect which he seems to seek is that of the painter of nature, who invites attention not by novelty or the glare of his colours, but by the fidelity with which he gives back to the eye a familiar scene.
The story is this. Collatinus a noble Roman boasts in camp of the matchless beauty and the incorruptible virtue of his wife Lacretia. Tarquin, the king's son, incited partly by pique and partly by lawless passion, steals away privately from camp and goes to Collatium, to the house of Collatinus. There by the hostess he is courteously and hospitably entertained over night, as became the prince royal and the friend of her husband. His fiendish end accomplished, he returns next day to camp. The wretched victim of his violence, frantic with despair, despatches a messenger to camp with a letter, urging her husband's instant return on account of some deep grief, but without relating what it was. Collatinus, his father-in
• "A perfect dominion, rometimes domination, over the whole world of language."—Colibidoi.
law Lucretius, his friend Brutus, and other followers, repair forthwith to Collatium. Lucretia meets them in the threshold, relates the horrid crime which had been committed, makes them first swear vengeance on the criminal, and then, uttering his name, plunges into her heart a fatal dagger in attestation of her innocence. The agony-struck husband and father give way to a violent and benumbing grief, from which they are first roused by a sudden suggestion of Brutus. He sees that the critical moment has come, and drawing from the wound the yet bloody steel, made all present kneel, and severally kissing the still reeking dagger, swear by it to expel the insulting Tarquins from the throne and abolish the monarchy. This is the whole story.
In respect to the general character of the poem, I said it was in many respects the fellow of its predecessor. And yet, if I mistake not, there is one perceptible difference. They are both paintings; but the one is more a painting of external, visible, material objects; the other, of things internal, invisible, immaterial. In the Venus and Adonis, there is more of what strikes the senses. In the Lucrece, there is the minute, microscopic anatomy of crime and passion. When Tarquin steals along at dead of night on his fiendish errand, we see indeed the torch that lights his guilty path, and the threatening falchion in his hand; but we are made to see still more clearly, with our mind's eye, the workings of his soul, as he is agitated successively by conscience, honour, pity, pride, and passion. And never probably was there such a complete anatomy of grief, as in the description of Lucretia's feelings during those few hours intervening between her injury and her death. These actings of the mind turning inward upon itself, are made by the poet to supply the place of external incident. It is this power of describing minutely the processes of thought, which is, in my opinion, the chief characteristic of the poem. Thoughts, passions, motives, and acts of the mind, are in the Lucrece made to occupy the place occupied in most narrative poems by material and external scenes and actions. The reader who takes up the poem with the expectation of that sort of interest which arises from novelty, or from lively and rapid narrative, will soon lay it down in disappointment. But he who comes to the perusal prepared to feel an interest in tracing minutely the workings of passion, who knows already something of the psychology of crime and grief, and who would receive still farther revelations of its mysteries at the hand of one who has sounded the soul of man through its whole diapason—such a reader will find the Lucrece a poem of abounding and most enchaining interest.
Within the last few years I have been twice at the Lakes. There is a road leading to Grasmere, on the least known side of Loughrigg, which presents a singular number of striking and dissimilar views. First of all, on departing from the highway to Langdale, you climb a little hill; and there below you, in a sort of grassy basin on the side of Loughrigg, lies Wordsworth's favourite Loughrigg tarn; the "Speculum Dianas" as he loves to call it; oval, deep, and clear as her mirror should be. Then you pass between two Westmoreland farm-houses, which shut in the road as it were, and make a little home-like scene, with their gables, and stacks of chimneys, and wooden galleries, and numerous out-buildings, festooned with ivy and climbing roses; which latter straggle through the loose stone wall, and scent the air, already So fragrant with the odours of the wayside herbs. Pass these homesteads, and you seem to have left all human habitation behind,—the very fences disappear, as if the moorland and bog were not worth enclosing, until you come to a little glen; a ravine,—a "ghyll," where linger yet one or two of the ancient trees of Loughrigg forest; and, as if they had suggested the idea of planting, in the lower and more open and genial part of this "ghyll," there are many of the more hardy trees of a much later date, say fifty years old; but they have spread out their branches, and grown unchecked and unpruned, till they form quite a wood, of perhaps half a mile long, on the bleak mountain side, through which the soft grassy road passes on the way to Red Bank; where first you see Grasmere, lying calm and still, fathoms below you, and reflecting the blue heavens, and purple mountain tops in its gla»9y surface. But come back with me to the ihady wood on Loughrigg side. We passed a stone cottage there in the more open part, where your attention was called off from more immediate objects, by the sunny peep into the valley between Loughrigg and Highclose. You were so absorbed by this glimpse into the bright fertile little dale on the left, with its "meadow green and mountain gray," that you did not notice the gray, old cottage, just up above the road, in the wood on the right, and yet it was very picturesque; truly "a nest in a green hold," with yet enough of sun to gild the diamond-paned windows, all through the long afternoon of a summer's day; and high enough to command a view through that opening in the
trees for many a mile. It was largo and roomy, though too irregular and low; and if we had peeped over the stone wall, we should have seen a trim little garden, with pleasant flowerborders under the low windows.
This cottage always struck me as being in a beautiful situation, sheltered, but not too much shut in for health; with a bright look out into a distant scene of much variety. But a few years ago, it gave me more a feeling of desolation and hermit-like isolation from the world than it does now. Now there are signs of childhood about, and children's voices blend with the song of the wood-birds,—a child's garden may be detected in this strange little mixture of white pebbles, and fading dandelions and daisies; and while quite enough of house-leek, and stonecrop, and moss, and travellers'joy, are retained about the roof and walls to give it that rich variety of colour you see, yet much has been cleared away that formerly gave it the appearance of a dwelling, which was shrinking back into the green bosom of mother earth. The currant bushes are pruned down into fruitfulness; and the long rose-branches do not trail on the ground any more.
Now listen to me while I tell you what I heard of the inhabitants of that cottage during the last thirty years. Sit down on this felled tree, and while the noonday hum of busy insects in the wood mingles with the hum of the bees in yonder hives, I will weave together what I have learnt of "Martha Preston."
This house, and perhaps forty acres of land, some rocky and sterile, hardly fit even for feeding sheep, some mere bog, and as such, only good to furnish peat for fuel, and some rich meadow-land, formed the hereditary possessions of the Prestons, Westmoreland "statesmen." For two hundred years, certainly, this nook of land had been theirs; and for nearly as long a time had that house been their habitation, to judge from the initials and date carved up and down on the old oaken screen, the meal and clap-bread chest, the dresser and settle. They were probably made on the spot, out of the remains of some of the old foresttrees; and had been polished by many a housewife, before Jane Preston set her daughter Martha to rub them as her morning's task. Thomas and Jane Preston had two children, Martha and John. The sister was the elder by eight years, and felt like a mother to the little boy, whom she had nursed almost more than