網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

not very vigorous attempt to express the universal admiration that the people of England felt for the great national poet. The verse-homage to Shakspere after the days of Milton had no very original character. The cuckoo-note with which these warblers generally interspersed their varied lays was the echo of Milton's "wood-notes wild," which they did not perceive had a limited application to some particular play-As You Like It, for instance. In Rowe's prologue to 'Jane Shore' we have,

"In such an age immortal Shakspeare wrote,

By no quaint rules nor hamp'ring critics

taught;

With rough majestic force he mov'd the heart,
And strength and nature made amends for

art."

Thomson asks

"For lofty sense, Creative fancy, and inspection keen Through the deep windings of the human heart,

Is not wild Shakspeare thine and nature's

boast?"

T. Seward, addressing Stratford, says,—

"Thy bard was thine unschool'd."

practical wisdom, with a critic who delights in the most extravagant paradoxes, we might prefer the amusement of Warburton's edition to toiling through the heaps of verbal criticism which later years saw heaped up. Warburton, of course, belonged to the school of slashing emendators. The opening of his preface tells us what we are to expect from him :

"It hath been no unusual thing for writers, when dissatisfied with the patronage or judgment of their own times, to appeal to posterity for a fair hearing. Some have even thought fit to apply to it in the first instance, and to decline acquaintance with the public till envy and prejudice had quite subsided. But, of all the trusters to futurity, commend me to the author of the following poems, who not only left it to time to do him justice as ! it would, but to find him out as it could: for, what between too great attention to his profit as a player, and too little to his reputation as a poet, his works, left to the care of

door-keepers and prompters, hardly escaped the common fate of those writings, how good soever, which are abandoned to their own fortune, and unprotected by party or cabal. At length, indeed, they struggled into light; but so disguised and travestied, that no Collins's Epistle begins thus, speaking of the classic author, after having run ten secular works of Shakspere :stages through the blind cloisters of monks "Hard was the lot those injur'd strains endur'd, and canons, ever came out in half so maimed Unown'd by science."

But Collins, in many respects a true poet, has a higher inspiration in his invocations of the great master of the drama than most of his fellows:

"O more than all in powerful genius bless'd, Come, take thine empire o'er the willing breast!

Whate'er the wounds this youthful heart shall feel,

Thy songs support me, and thy morals heal. There every thought the poet's warmth may raise,

There native music dwells in all the lays."

To Hanmer succeeded WARBURTON, with a new edition of Pope, enriched with his own most original notes. If it were not painful to associate Shakspere, the great master of

and mangled a condition."

There is little in Warburton's preface which possesses any lasting interest, perhaps with the exception of his defence against the charge that editing Shakspere was unsuitable to his clerical profession :

"The great Saint Chrysostom, a name consecrated to immortality by his virtue and eloquence, is known to have been so fond of Aristophanes as to wake with him at his studies, and to sleep with him under his pillow; and I never heard that this was objected either to his piety or his preaching, not even in those times of pure zeal and primitive religion. Yet, in respect of Shakspeare's great sense, Aristophanes's best wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's freedoms, Shakspeare writes with the purity of a vestal. . . . Of all the literary

exercitations of speculative men, whether designed for the use or entertainment of the world, there are none of so much importance, or what are more our immediate concern, than those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercise the reason, or amuse the imagination; but these only can improve the heart, and form the human mind to wisdom. Now, in this science our Shakspeare is confessed to occupy the foremost place, whether we consider the amazing sagacity with which he investigates every hidden spring and wheel of human action, or his happy manner of communicating this knowledge, in the just and living paintings which he has given us

of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits. These afford a lesson which can never be too often repeated, or too constantly inculcated; and to engage the reader's due attention to it hath been one of the principal objects of this edition.

"As this science (whatever profound philosophers may think) is, to the rest, in things, so, in words (whatever supercilious pedants may talk), every one's mother-tongue is to all other languages. This hath still been the sentiment of nature and true wisdom. Hence, the greatest men of antiquity never thought themselves better employed than in cultivating their own country idiom."

CHAPTER IV.

JOHNSON.-VOLTAIRE.-MRS. MONTAGU.-MARTIN SHERLOCK.-HUME.

Ir was in the year 1741 that David Garrick at once leaped into eminence as an actor, such as had not been won by any man for half a century. He was the true successor of Burbage, Betterton, and Harris. His principal fame was, however, like theirs, founded upon Shakspere. But it is a mistake to imagine that there had not been a constant succession of actors of Shakspere's great characters, from the death of Betterton to Garrick's appearance. His first character in London was Richard III. He made all the great parts of Shakspere familiar to the playgoing public for five-and-thirty years. The Alchymist' and the 'Volpone' of Ben Jonson were sometimes played; "The Chances,' and 'Rule a Wife and Have a Wife,' of Beaumont and Fletcher; but we are told by Davies, in his 'Dramatic Miscellanies,' that, of their fifty-four plays, only these two preserved their rank on the stage. This is a pretty convincing proof of what the public opinion of Shakspere was in the middle of the last century. The Prologue of Samuel Johnson, spoken by Garrick at the opening of Drurylane Theatre in 1747, is an eloquent expression of the same opinion :

"When Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous foes

First rear'd the stage, immortal Shakspeare

rose;

Each change of many-colour'd life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new:
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
And panting Time toil'd after him in vain.
His powerful strokes presiding truth im-
press'd,

And unresisted passion storm'd the breast.

"Then Jonson came, instructed from the
school

To please in method, and invent by rule;
His studious patience and laborious art
By regular approach essay'd the heart;
Cold approbation gave the lingering bays;
For those who durst not censure scarce could
praise.

A mortal born, he met the gen'ral doom,
But left, like Egypt's kings, a lasting tomb.

"The wits of Charles found easier ways to
fame,

Nor wish'd for Jonson's art, or Shakspeare's fame.

Themselves they studied; as they felt, they

writ:

Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit.

Vice always found a sympathetic friend;

eighteenth century, when, according to the They pleas'd their age, and did not aim to epitaph, the poet's forms were sunk in death

mend.

Yet bards like these aspir'd to lasting praise,
And proudly hop'd to pimp in future days.
Their cause was gen'ral, their supports were
strong;

Their slaves were willing, and their reign was
long:

Till Shame regain'd the post that Sense betray'd,

And Virtue call'd Oblivion to her aid.

"Then, crush'd by rules, and weaken'd as refin'd,

For years the pow'r of Tragedy declin'd; From bard to bard the frigid caution crept, Till declamation roar'd whilst passion slept; Yet still did Virtue deign the stage to tread, Philosophy remain'd though Nature fled. But forc'd, at length, her ancient reign to quit, She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of Wit; Exulting Folly hail'd the joyous day, And pantomime and song confirm'd her sway." It is tolerably evident, from the whole tenour of this celebrated prologue, that of the early dramatists Shakspere reigned upon the stage supreme, if not almost alone. It has been the fault of actors, and the flatterers of actors, to believe that a dramatic poet is only known to the world through their lips. Garrick was held to have given life to Shakspere. The following inscription on Garrick's tomb in Westminster Abbey has been truly held by Charles Lamb to be "a farrago of false thoughts and nonsense:"

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

To paint fair Nature, by divine command,
Her magic pencil in her glowing hand,

A Shakspeare rose; then, to expand his fame
Wide o'er this breathing world, a Garrick

came.

and lay in night, there had been thirteen editions of Shakspere's collected works, nine of which had appeared during the preceding forty years. Of Ben Jonson there had been three editions in the seventeenth century, and one in the eighteenth; of Beaumont and Fletcher two in the seventeenth century, and one in the eighteenth. Yet, absurd and impertinent as it may be to talk of immortal Garrick calling the plays of Shakspere back to day, it cannot be denied that the very power of those plays to create a school of great actors was in itself a cause of their extension amongst readers. The most monstrous alterations, perpetrated with the worst taste, and with the most essential ignorance of Shakspere's art, were still in some sort tributes to his power. The actors sent many to read Shakspere with a true delight; and then it was felt how little he needed the aid of acting, and how much indeed of his highest excellence could only be received into the mind by reverent meditation.

In 1765 appeared, in eight volumes octavo, 'The Plays of William Shakspeare, with the Corrections and Illustrations of various Commentators: to which are added Notes by Samuel JOHNSON.' This was the foundation of the variorum editions, the principle of which has been to select from all the commentary, or nearly all, that has been produced, every opinion upon a passage, however conflicting. The respective value of the critics who had preceded him are fully discussed by Johnson in the latter part of his Preface: this branch of the subject was only of temporary interest. But the

Though sunk to death the forms the Poet larger portion of Johnson's Preface not only

drew,

The Actor's genius bade them breathe anew;
Though, like the bard himself, in night they
lay,

Immortal Garrick call'd them back to day:
And till Eternity with power sublime
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time,
Shakspeare and Garrick like twin stars shall
shine,

And earth irradiate with a beam divine."

Up to the end of the first half of the

to a certain extent represented the tone of opinion in Johnson's age, but was written with so much pomp of diction, with such apparent candour, and with such abundant manifestations of good sense, that, perhaps more than any other production, it has influenced the public opinion of Shakspere up to this day. That the influence has been, for the most part, evil, we have no hesitation in believing. This celebrated Preface is accessible to most readers of Shakspere.

2

It was observed by Warburton, in 1747, that the fit criticism for Shakspere was not such "as may be raised mechanically on the rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Bossu have collected from antiquity: and of which such kind of writers as Rymer, Gildon, Dennis, and Oldmixon, have only gathered and chewed the husks." But he goes on to infer that "crude and superficial judgments on books and things" had taken the place of the older mechanical criticism; and that there was "a deluge of the worst sort of critical jargon-that which looks most like sense." The rules of art, as they were called, having been rejected as inapplicable to Shakspere, a swarm of writers arose who considered that he was to be judged without the application of any general principles at all. They held that he wrote without a system; that the absence of this system produced his excellences and his faults; that his absurdities were as striking as his beauties; that he was the most careless and hasty of writers; and that therefore it was the business of all grave and discreet critics to warn the unenlightened multitude against his blunders, his contradictions, his violations of sense and decency. This was the critical school of individual judgment, which has lasted for more than a century amongst us; and which, to our minds, is a far more corrupting thing than the pedantries of all the Gildons and Dennises who have eat paper and drunk ink. Before the publication of Johnson's preface (which, being of a higher order of composition than what had previously been produced upon Shakspere, seemed to establish fixed rules for opinion), the impertinences which were poured out by the feeblest minds upon Shakspere's merits and demerits surpass all ordinary belief. Mrs. Charlotte Lennox, in whose Shakespear Illustrated' Johnson himself is reputed to have had some hand, is an average specimen of the insolence of that critical jargon "which looks most like sense." Mrs. Lennox was evidently a very small-minded person attempting to form a judgment upon a very high subject. But it was not only the small minds which uttered such babble in the last century. Samuel

6

[ocr errors]

The

....

| Johnson himself, in some of his critical opinions upon individual plays, is not very far above the good lady whom he patronized. What shall we think of the prosaic approbation of 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream ?'— "Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts in their various modes are well written." What of his praise of 'Romeo and Juliet ?'— "His comic scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetic strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations." What of the imputed omissions in 'As You Like It?'— "By hastening to the end of this work Shakspeare suppressed the dialogue between the usurper and the hermit, and lost an opportunity of exhibiting a moral lesson in which he might have found matter worthy of his highest powers." What of the pompous seesawing about 'Macbeth?'-"It has no nice discriminations of character. . . danger of ambition is well described. The passions are directed to the true end. Lady Macbeth is merely detested; and, though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his fall." What, lastly, shall we say to the bow-wow about 'Cymbeline ?'—" To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility-upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation." All that we can in truth say of these startling things is this-that this learned, sensible, sometimes profound, and really great man, having trampled upon the unities and other tests of poetical merit, the fashion of Dryden's age but not of his own, is perpetually groping about in the mists of his private judgment, now pursuing a glimmering of light, now involved in outer darkness. This system of criticism upon Shakspere was rotten to the foundation. It was based upon an extension and a misapplication of Ben Jonson's dogmatic assertion-" He wanted art." The art of Shakspere was not revealed to the critics of the last century. Let us hear one to whom the principles of this art were revealed :-"It is a painful truth, that

[ocr errors]

not only individuals, but even whole nations, | sions," then he is bewildered; and he geneare ofttimes so enslaved to the habits of rally ends in blaming his author. The chatheir education and immediate circumstances, racteristic excellence, he says, of the tragedy as not to judge disinterestedly even on those of 'Hamlet,' is "variety." According to his subjects the very pleasure arising from which notion that in all Shakspere's dramas we consists in its disinterestedness, namely, on find "an interchange of seriousness and subjects of taste and polite literature. In- merriment, by which the mind is softened at stead of deciding concerning their own modes one time and exhilarated at another," he and customs by any rule of reason, nothing holds, that "the pretended madness of Hamappears rational, becoming, or beautiful to let causes much mirth." But, in the conthem but what coincides with the peculiari- duct of the plot, the business of life and ties of their education. In this narrow the course of the passions do not proceed circle individuals may attain to exquisite with the regularity which he desires :-“ Of discrimination, as the French critics have the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears done in their own literature; but a true no adequate cause. . . . . Hamlet is, through critic can no more be such, without placing the whole piece, rather an instrument than himself on some central point, from which an agent. After he has by the stratagem of he may command the whole,—that is, some the play convicted the king, he makes no general rule, which, founded in reason, or attempt to punish him. . . . . The catathe faculties common to all men, must there- strophe is not very happily produced." fore apply to each,—than an astronomer can Where is the mistake in all this? It is in explain the movements of the solar system taking a very limited view of the object and without taking his stand in the sun.' scope of Art. "It is its object and aim to bring within the circle of our senses, perceptions, and emotions, everything which has existence in the mind of man. Art should realize in us the well-known saying, Nihil humani a me alienum puto. Its ap pointed aim is to awake and give vitality to all slumbering feelings, affections, and passions; to fill and expand the heart; and to make man, whether developed or undeveloped, feel in every fibre of his being all that human nature can endure, experience, and bring forth in her innermost and most secret recesses-all that has power to move and arouse the heart of man in its profoundest depths, manifold capabilities, and various phases; to garner up for our enjoyment whatever, in the exercise of thought and imagination, the mind discovers of high and intrinsic merit, the grandeur of the lofty, the eternal, and the true, and present it to our feeling and contemplation. In like manner, to make pain and sorrow, and even vice and wrong, become clear to us; to bring the heart into immediate acquaintance with the awful and the terrible, as well as with the joyous and pleasurable; and, lastly, to lead the fancy to hover gently, dreamily, on the wing of imagination, and entice her to

Samuel Johnson proposes to inquire, in his preface, "by what peculiarities of excellence Shakspeare has gained and kept the favour of his countrymen." He answers the question at considerable length, by dis- | playing what he holds to be the great peculiarity of his excellence :-"Shakspeare is, above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. . . . . This, therefore, is the praise of Shakspeare-that his drama is the mirror of life." Such is the leading idea of the critic. He sees nothing higher in Shakspere than an exhibition of the real. "He who has mazed his imagination in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him may here be cured of his delirious ecstacies, by reading human sentiments in human language; by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions." When Johnson is unable to trace this actual picture of life in Shakspere, when he perceives any deviations from the regular "transactions of the world," or the due "progress of the pas* Coleridge's 'Literary Remains,' vol. ii. p. 63.

« 上一頁繼續 »