網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

brought him a new pupil, “But are ye sure he's not a dunce?” Why, really one might ask the same thing in regard to every man proposed for whatsoever function, and consider it as the one inquiry needful: Are ye sure he's not a dunce? There is, in this world, no other entirely fatal person.

For, in fact, I say the degree of vision that dwells in a man is a correct measure of the man. If called to define Shakespeare's faculty, I should say superiority of intellect, and think I had included all under that. What indeed are faculties? We talk of faculties as if they were distinct, things separable, as if a man had intellect, imagination, fancy, etc., as he has hands, feet, and arms. That is a capital error. Then again, we hear of a man's "intellectual nature" and of his "moral nature," as if these again were divisible and existed apart. Necessities of language do perhaps prescribe such forms of utterance; we must speak, I am aware, in that way, if we are to speak at all. But words ought not to harden into things for us. It seems to me, our apprehension of this matter is, for the most part, radically falsified thereby. We ought to know withal, and to keep forever in mind, that these divisions are at bottom but names; that man's spiritual nature, the vital force which dwells in him, is essentially one and indivisible) that what we call imagination, fancy, understanding, and so forth, are but different figures of the same power of insight, all indissolubly connected with each other, physiognomically related; that if we knew one of them, we might know all of them. Morality itself, what we call the moral quality of a manwhat is this but another side of the one vital force whereby he is and works? All that a man does is physiognomical of him. You may see how a man would fight by the way in which he sings; his courage, or want of

[ocr errors]

courage, is visible in the word he utters, in the opinion he has formed, no less than in the stroke he strikes. He is one, and preaches the same self abroad in all these ways.

Without hands a man might have feet, and could still walk; but, consider it-without morality, intellect were impossible for him; a thoroughly immoral man could not know anything at all! To know a thing, what we can call knowing, a man must first love the thing, sympathize with it—that is, be virtuously related to it. If he have not the justice to put down his own selfishness at every turn, the courage to stand by the dangerous-true at every turn, how shall he know? His virtues, all of them, will lie recorded in his knowledge. Nature, with her truth, remains to the bad, to the selfish, and the pusillanimous forever a sealed book; what such can know of Nature is mean, superficial, small—for the uses of the day merely. But does not the very fox know something of Nature? Exactly so—it knows where the geese lodge! The human Reynard, very frequent everywhere in the world, what more does he know but this and the like of this ? Nay, it should be considered too that, if the fox had not a certain vulpine morality, he could not even know where the geese were, or get at the geese! If he spent his time in splenetic atrabiliar reflections on his own misery, his ill usage by Nature, Fortune, and other foxes, and so forth-and had not courage, promptitude, practicality, and other suitable vulpine gifts and graces, he would catch no geese. We may say of the fox too that his morality and insight are of the same dimensions different faces of the same internal unity of vulpine life! These things are worth stating, for the contrary of them acts with manifold very baleful perversion in this time; what limitations, modifications they require, your own candor will supply.

If I say, therefore, that Shakespeare is the greatest of intellects, I have said all concerning him. But there is more in Shakespeare's intellect than we have yet seen. It is what I call an unconscious intellect; there is more virtue in it than he himself is aware of) Novalis beautifully remarks of him that those dramas of his are products of nature too, deep as Nature herself. I find a great truth in this saying. Shakespeare's art is not artifice; the noblest worth of it is not there by plan or precontrivance. It It grows up from the deeps of Nature, through this noble, sincere soul, who is a voice of Nature. The latest generations of men will find new meanings in Shakespeare, new elucidations of their own human being—"new harmonies with the infinite structure of the Universe; concurrences with later ideas, affinities with the higher powers and senses of man.” This well deserves meditating. It is Nature's highest reward to a true, simple, great soul that he get thus to be a part of herself. Such a man's works, whatsoever he with utmost conscious exertion and forethought shall accomplish, grow up withal unconsciously from the unknown deeps in him; as the oak-tree grows from the Earth's bosom, as the mountains and waters shape themselves, with a symmetry grounded on Nature's own laws, conformable to all truth whatsoever. How much in Shakespeare lies hid: his sorrows; his silent struggles known to himself; much that was not known at all, not speakable at all—like roots, like sap and forces working underground! Speech is great; but silence is greater.

Withal the joyful tranquillity of this man is notable. I will not blame Dante for his misery; it is as battle without victory, but true battle—the first indispensable thing. Yet I call Shakespeare greater than Dante in that he fought truly and did conquer. Doubt it not; he had his own sorrows.

Those Sonnets of his will even testify expressly in what deep waters he had waded, and swum struggling for his life—as what man like him ever failed to have to do? It seems to me a heedless notion, our common one, that he sat like a bird on the bough and sang forth, free and offhand, never knowing the troubles of other men. Not so; with no man is it so. How could a man travel forward from rustic deer-poaching to such tragedy-writing and not fall in with sorrows by the way? Or, still better, how could a man delineate a Hamlet, a Coriolanus, a Macbeth, so many suffering heroic hearts, if his own heroic heart had never suffered? And now, in contrast with all this, observe his mirthfulness, his genuine overflowing love of laughter! You would say in no point does he exaggerate but only in laughter. Fiery objurgations, words that pierce and burn, are to be found in Shakespeare; yet he is always in measure here; never what Johnson would remark as a specially "good hater." But his laughter seems to pour from him in floods; he heaps all manner of ridiculous nicknames on the butt he is bantering, tumbles and tosses him in all sorts of horseplay; you would say, with his whole heart laughs. And then, if not always the finest, it is always a genial laughter. Not at mere weakness, at misery or poverty; never. No man who can laugh, what we call laughing, will laugh at these things. It is some poor character only desiring to laugh, and have the credit of wit, that does so. Laughter means sympathy; good laughter is not "the crackling of thorns under the pot.” Even at stupidity and pretension this Shakespeare does not laugh otherwise than genially. Dogberry and Verges tickle our very hearts, and we dismiss them covered with explosions of laughter; but we like the poor fellows only the better for our laughing-and hope they will get on well there, and continue Presidents of the City-watch. Such laughter, like sunshine on the deep sea, is very beautiful to me.

We have no room to speak of Shakespeare's individual works; though perhaps there is much still waiting to be said on that head. Had we, for instance, all his plays reviewed as Hamlet, in Wilhelm Meister, is! A thing which might one day be done. August Wilhelm Schlegel has a remark on his historical plays, Henry Fifth and the others, which is worth, remembering. He calls them a kind of national epic. Marlborough, you recollect, said he knew no English history but what he had learned from Shakespeare. There are really, if we look to it, few as memorable histories. The great salient points are admirably seized; all rounds itself off into a kind of rhythmic coherence; it is, as Schlegel says, epic-as indeed all delineation by a great thinker will be. There are right beautiful things in those pieces, which indeed together form one beautiful thing. That battle of Agincourt strikes me as one of the most perfect things in its sort we anywhere have of Shakespeare's. The description of the two hosts; the wornout, jaded English; the dread hour, big with destiny, when the battle shall begin; and then that deathless valor: "Ye good yeomen, whose limbs are made in England !” There is a noble patriotism in it-far other than the "indifference” you sometimes hear ascribed to Shakespeare. A true English heart breathes, calm and strong, through the whole business; not boisterous, protrusive, all the better for that. There is a sound in it like the ring of steel. This man too had a right stroke in him, had it come to that!

But I will say of Shakespeare's works generally that we have no full impress of him there—even as full as we have of many men. His works are so many windows

« 上一頁繼續 »