ePub 版

-grew immortal in his own despite.

Speaking of one whom he had celebrated, and contrasting the duration of his works with that of his personal existence, Shakspeare adds:


Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Tho' I once gone to all the world must die;
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read;
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead:
You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen,

Where breath most breathes, e'en in the mouth of men.

upon themselves, in order to render all the remaining parts of the drama consistent with those, that had been forced upon them by circumstances independent of their will; out of which circumstances the drama itself


The circumstances in the time of Shakspeare, which it was equally out of his power to alter, were different, and such as, in my opinion. allowed a far wider sphere, and a deeper and more human interest. Cri tics are too apt to forget, that rules are but means to an end; consequently, where the ends are different, the rules must be likewise so. We must have ascertained what the end is, before we can determine what the rules ought to be. Judging under this impression, I did not hesitate to declare my full conviction, that the consummate judgment of Shakspeare, not only in the general construction, but in all the details, of his dramas, impressed me with greater wonder, than even the might of his genius, or the depth of his philosophy. The substance of these lectures I hope soon to publish; and it is but a debt of justice to myself and my friends to notice, that. the first course of lectures, which differed from the following courses only, by occasionally varying the illustrations of the same thoughts, was addressed to very numerous and, I need not add, respectable audiences at the Royal Institution, before Mr. Schlegel gave his lectures on the same subjects at Vienna.

4 Epist. to Augustus.

5 [These extraordinary sonnets form, in fact, a poem of so many stanzas of fourteen lines each; and, like the passion which inspired them, the sonnets are always the same, with a variety of expression,-continuous, if you regard the lover's soul,-distinct, if you listen to him, as he heaves them sigh after sigh.

These sonnets, like The Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece

* See † note on preceding page.

I have taken the first that occurred; but Shakspeare's readiness to praise his rivals, ore pleno, and the confidence of his own equality with those whom he deemed most worthy of his praise, are alike manifested in another Sonnet.

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the praise of all-too-precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb, the womb wherein they grew ?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonished.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost,
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast;

I was not sick of any fear from thence!
But when your countenance fill'd up his line,
Then lack'd I matter, that enfeebled mine."


In Spenser, indeed, we trace a mind constitutionally tender, delicate, and, in comparison with his three great compeers, I had almost said effeminate; and this additionally saddened by the unjust persecution of Burleigh, and the severe calamities, which overwhelmed his latter days. These causes have diffused over all his compositions "a melancholy grace," and have drawn forth occasional strains the more pathetic from their gentleness. But nowhere do we find the least trace of irritability, and still less of quarrelsome or affected contempt of his censurers.

The same calmness, and even greater self-possession, may be affirmed of Milton, as far as his poems and poetic character are concerned. He reserved his anger for the enemies of religion, freedom, and his country. My mind is not capable of forming a more august conception, than arises from the contemplation of

aré characterized by boundless fertility, and labored condensation of thought with perfection of sweetness in rhythm and metre. These are essentials in the budding of a great poet. Afterwards habit and consciousness of power teach more ease—præcipitandum liberum spiritum. Table Talk, May 14, 1833, p. 231, 2d edit. Ed.]

this great man in his latter days; poor, sick, old, blind, slan dered, persecuted,

Darkness before, and danger's voice behind,—

in an age in which he was as little understood by the party, for whom, as by that against whom, he had contended; and among men before whom he strode so far as to dwarf himself by the distance; yet still listening to the music of his own thoughts, or if

[In illustration of Milton's magnanimity of patience I cannot refrain from quoting the conclusion of his letter to Leonard Philares, the Athenian:

"At present every species of illumination being, as it were, extinguished, there is diffused around me nothing but darkness, or darkness mingled and streaked with an ashy brown. Yet the darkness in which I am perpetually immersed, seems always, both by night and day, to approach nearer to white than black, and when the eye is rolling in its socket, it admits a little particle of light as through a chink. And though this may, perhaps offer to your physician a like ray of hope, yet I make up my mind to the malady as quite incurable; and I often reflect, that as the wise man admonishes, days of darkness are destined to each of us, the darkness which I experience, less oppressive than that of the tomb, is, owing to the singular goodness of the Deity, passed amidst the pursuits of literature and the cheering salutations of friendship. But if, as is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God, why may not any one acquiesce in the privation of his sight, when God has so amply furnished his mind and his conscience with eyes? While He so tenderly provides for me, while He so graciously leads me by the hand and conducts me on the way, I will, since it is his pleasure, rather rejoice than repine at being blind. And, my dear Philares, whatever may be the event, I wish you adieu with no less courage and composure than if I had the eyes of a lynx."

Westminster, September 28, 1654.

What a proof is it of the firmness of Milton's mind to the last, that, when driven into a late marriage by the ill treatment of his daughters, who, inheriting, as appears, their mother's unworthy temper,-without either devotion of spirit or even the commoner sense of duty,-tyrannized over him in his days of darkness; though blind and infirm and in all the dependence which blindness brings, he could yet resist the entreaties of a wife whom he loved, and who was properly indulgent to him, that he should accept the royal offer of the restitution of his place,—because he must "live and die an honest man!"

See Symmons's Life of Milton, confirmed on these points by Todd, in his edition of the great man's Poetical Works of 1826. S. C.]

additionally cheered, yet cheered only by the prophetic faith of two or three solitary individuals, he did nevertheless

argue not

Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot

Of heart or hope; but still bore up and steer'd
Right onward.

From others only do we derive our knowledge that Milton, in his latter day, had his scorners and detractors; and even in his day of youth and hope, that he had enemies would have been unknown to us, had they not been likewise the enemies of his country.'

I am well aware, that in advanced stages of literature, when there exist many and excellent models, a high degree of talent, combined with taste and judgment, and employed in works of imagination, will acquire for a man the name of a great genius; though even that analogon of genius, which in certain states of society may even render his writings more popular than the absolute reality could have done, would be sought for in vain in the mind and temper of the author himself. Yet even in instances of this kind, a close examination will often detect, that the irritability, which has been attributed to the author's genius as its

7 ["In Milton's mind there were purity and piety absolute,—an imagination to which neither the past nor the present were interesting, except as far as they called forth and enlivened the great ideal in which and for which he lived; a keen love of truth, which after many weary pursuits, found a harbor in a sublime listening to the still voice in his own spirit, and as keen a love of his country, which, after a disappointment still more depressive, expanded and soared into a love of man as a probationer of immortality. These were, these alone could be, the conditions under which such a work as the Paradise Lost could be conceived and accomplished. By a life-long study Milton had known

-what was of use to know,

What best to say could say, to do had done.

His actions to his words agreed, his words

To his large heart gave utterance due, his heart
Contain'd of good, wise, fair, the perfect shape:

and he left the imperishable total, as a bequest to the ages coming, in the Paradise Lost." Lit. Rem., vol i Ed.]

cause, did really originate in an ill conformation of body, obtuse pain, or constitutional defect of pleasurable sensation. What is charged to the author, belongs to the man, who would probably have been still more impatient but for the humanizing influences of the very pursuit, which yet bears the blame of his irritability. How then are we to explain the easy credence generally given to this charge, if the charge itself be not, as I have endeavored to show, supported by experience? This seems to me of no very difficult solution. In whatever country literature is widely diffused, there will be many who mistake an intense desire to possess the reputation of poetic genius, for the actual powers, and original tendencies which constitute it. But men, whose dearest wishes are fixed on objects wholly out of their own power, become in all cases more or less impatient and prone to anger.` Besides, though it may not be paradoxical to assert, that a man can know one thing and believe the opposite, yet assuredly a vain person may have so habitually indulged the wish, and persevered in the attempt, to appear what he is not, as to become himself one of his own proselytes. Still, as this counterfeit and artificial persuasion must differ, even in the person's own feelings, from a real sense of inward power, what can be more natural, than that this difference should betray itself in suspicious and jealous irritability? Even as the flowery sod, which covers a hollow, may be often detected by its shaking and trembling.

But, alas! the multitude of books, and the general diffusion of literature, have produced other and more lamentable effects in the world of letters, and such as are abundant to explain, though by no means to justify, the contempt with which the best grounded complaints of injured genius are rejected as frivolous, or entertained as matter of merriment. In the days of Chaucer and Gower, our language might (with due allowance for the imperfections of a simile) be compared to a wilderness of vocal reeds, from which the favorites only of Pan or Apollo could construct even the rude syrinx; and from this the constructors alone could elicit strains of music. But now, partly by the labors of successive poets, and in part by the more artificial state of society and social intercourse, language, mechanized as it were into a barrel-organ, supplies at once both instrument and tune. Thus

« 上一頁繼續 »