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A second messenger, that came away long any play fraught, like this of Othello, with after, but had a speedier passage : his ac- improbabilities.” count is distinct, and all their loss credited. We next are told, that "the characters So, in fine, one of the chorus concludes with of manners, which are the second part in a that of Euripides, Thus you see the gods tragedy, are not less unnatural and improper bring things to pass often otherwise than than the fable was improbable and absurd.” was by man proposed.”
From such characters we are not to expect After this, can we wonder that the art thoughts “that are either true, or fine, or of Thomas Rymer is opposed to the art of noble;" and further, “in the neighing of a William Shakspere? Let us hear what he horse, or in the growling of a mastiff, there says of Othello—“ of all the tragedies acted is a meaning, there is as lively expression, on our English stage, that which is said to and, may I say, more humanity, than many bear the bell away.” He first gives the fable, times in the tragical flights of Shakespear.” of which the points are, the marriage of The crowning glory of the treatise is the Othello, the jealousy from the incident of the mode in which the critic disposes of the handkerchief, and the murder of Desdemona. scene between Othello and Iago in the third The facetious critic then proceeds :
“ Whatever rubs or difficulty may stick on “ Then comes the wonderful scene where the bark, the moral, sure, of this fable is very Iago, by shrugs, half-words, and ambiguous instructive.
reflections, works Othello up to be jealous. First, This may be a caution to all maidens One might think, after what we have seen, of quality how, without their parents' consent, that there needs no great cunning, no great they run away with blackamoors.
poetry and address, to make the Moor jealous. Secondly, This may be a warning to all Such impatience, such a rout for a handgood wives, that they look well to their some young fellow, the very morning after linen.
her marriage, must make him either to be “ Thirdly, This may be a lesson to hus- jealous, or to take her for a changeling bebands, that, before their jealousy be tragical, low his jealousy. After this scene it might the proofs may be mathematical.”
strain the poet's skill to reconcile the couple, The whole story of Othello, we learn, is and allay the jealousy. Iago now can only founded upon “an improbable lie:”- actum agere, and vex the audience with a
“The character of that state (Venice) is nauseous repetition. Whence comes it, then, to employ strangers in their wars; but shall that this is the top scene—the scene that a poet thence fancy that they will set a raises Othello above all other tragedies in negro to be their general, or trust a Moor our theatres ? It is purely from the action, to defend them against the Turk? With us, from the mops and the mows, the grimace, a blackamoor might rise to be a trumpeter; the grins and gesticulation.
Such scenes but Shakespear would not have him less than as this have made all the world run after a lieutenant-general. With us, a Moor might Harlequin and Scaramuccio.” marry some little drab, or small-coal wench: The conclusion of this prodigious piece of Shakespear would provide him the daughter criticism must conclude our extracts from and heir of some great lord or privy-coun- Thomas Rymer :cillor; and all the town should reckon it a “ What can remain with the audience to very suitable match: yet the English are not carry home with them from this sort of bred up with that hatred and aversion to the poetry, for their use and edification ? How Moors as are the Venetians, who suffer by a can it work unless (instead of settling the perpetual hostility from them,
mind, and purging our passions) to delude Littora littoribus contraria
our senses, disorder our thoughts, addle our
brain, pervert our affections, hair our imaginaNothing is more odious in nature than an tions, corrupt our appetite, and fill our head improbable lie; and, certainly, never was with vanity, confusion, tintamarre, and jingle
jangle beyond what all the parish-clerks of two virtuous men, raised to the extremity of London, with their Old Testament farces and passion, and ending in the renewal of their interludes, in Richard the Second's time, friendship; and he says, “ The particular could ever pretend to ? Our only hopes, for groundwork which Shakespear has taken is the good of their souls, can be, that these incomparably the best.” This decision of people go to the playhouse as they do to Dryden would in those days dispose of the church, to sit still, look on one another, make matter as a question of criticism. But out no reflection, nor mind the play more than comes Rymer, who, in opposition to Dryden's they would a sermon. There is in this play judgment, and Betterton's applause, tells us, some burlesque, some humour and ramble of that Brutus and Cassius here act the part of comical wit, some show, and some mimicry mimics ; are bullies and buffoons; are to to divert the spectators : but the tragical exhibit “a trial of skill in huffing and part is plainly none other than a bloody swaggering, like two drunken Hectors for a farce, without salt or savour.”
twopenny reckoning.” It may be true that We cannot agree with the author of an “the author was not advancing what he able article in 'The Retrospective Review,' thought the world would regard as paradoxical that “these attacks on Shakespear are very and strange;" for it is the commonest of curious, as evincing how gradual has been self-delusions, even to the delusions of inthe increase of his fame;” that “their whole sanity, to believe that the whole world agrees tone shows that the author was not advancing with the most extravagant mistakes and the what he thought the world would regard as strangest paradoxes ; and when Rymer, upon paradoxical or strange ;” that “he speaks as his critical throne, speaks as one with one with authority to decide.” So far from authority to decide,” his authority is as receiving Rymer's frenzied denunciations as powerless as that of the madmar in Hogarth, an expression of public opinion, we regard who sits in solitary nakedness upon his straw, them as the idiosyncrasies of a very singular with crown on head and sceptre in hand. individual, who is furious in the exact pro- Rymer is a remarkable example of an able portion that the public opinion differs from man, in his own province, meddling with that
He attacks Othello' and 'Julius of which he has not the slightest true conCæsar,' especially, because Betterton had for ception. He is, perhaps, more denuded of years been drawing crowds to his performance the poetical sense than any man who ever in those tragedies. He is one of those who attempted to be a critic in poetry: but he glory in opposing the general opinion. In had real learning. Shakspere fell into worse his first book, he says, “With the remaining hands after Rymer. The "Man Mountain tragedies I shall also send you some reflec- was fastened to the earth by the Lillitions on that “Paradise Lost' of Milton's, putians, and the strings are only just now which some are pleased to call a poem.' broken by which he was bound. Dryden, the great critical authority of his In the quotations which we have given day, before whose opinions all other men from Dryden, it may be seen how reverently bowed, had in 1679 thus spoken of the origin criticism was based upon certain laws which, of his great scene between Troilus and however false might be their application, Hector : “ The occasion of raising it was were nevertheless held to be tests of the hinted to me by Mr. Betterton; the con- merit of the highest poetical productions. trivance and working of it was my own. Dryden was always balancing between the They who think to do me an injury by saying rigid application of these laws, and his own that it is an imitation of the scene betwixt hearty admiration of those whose art had Brutus and Cassius, do me an honour by rejected them. If he had been less of a real supposing I could imitate the incomparable poet himself, he might have become as furious Shakespear.” Dryden then goes on to con- a stickler for the canons of the ancients as trast the modes in which Euripides, Fletcher, Rymer was.
With all his occasional exand Shakspere have managed the quarrel of pressions of hatred towards the French school
of tragedy, he was unconsciously walking in written in 1672, presents a curious contrast the circle which the fashion of his age had to "The Grounds of Criticism.' drawn around all poetical invention. It was then a young poet, and wanted to thrust assuredly not yet the fashion of the people ; aside those who stood in the way of his stage for they clung to the school of poetry and popularity : “Let any man who understands passion with a love which no critical opinions English, read diligently the works of Shakecould wholly subdue. It was not the fashion spear and Fletcher; and I dare undertake of those who had drunk their inspiration that he will find in every page some solecism from the Elizabethan poets. It was not the of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense : fashion of Milton and his disciples. Hear and yet these men are reverenced when we how Edward Phillips speaks of Corneille in are not forgiven.
But the 1675:-“ Corneille, the great dramatic writer times were ignorant in which they lived. of France, wonderfully applauded by the Poetry was then, if not in its infancy among present age, both among his own countrymen us, at least not arrived to its vigour and and our Frenchly-affected English, for the maturity; witness the lameness of their amorous intrigues which, if not there before, plots.” This was the self-complacency which he commonly thrusts into his tragedies and the maturer thoughts of a vigorous mind acted histories ; the imitation whereof among corrected. But nothing could correct the us, and of the perpetual colloquy in rhyme, critical obstinacy of Rymer. Dryden's hath of late very much corrupted our English poetical soul mounted above the growing stage." It was the spread of this fashion feebleness of his age's criticism, till at last, amongst the courtly littérateurs of the day when he attempted to deal with Shakspere that gave some encouragement to the ex- in the spirit of his age, he became a wortravagance of Rymer. The solemn harangues shipper instead of a mocker :about decorum in tragedy, the unities, moral fitness, did not always present the ludicrous
Shakespeare, thy gift I place before my sight:
With awe, I ask his blessing ere I write. side, as it did in this learned madman, who
With reverence look on his majestic face, sublimated the whole affair into the most
Proud to be less, but of his godlike race.”* delicious absurdity. We love him for it. His application of a “rule” to Fletcher's “Maid's
The age laid its leaden sceptre upon the Tragedy' is altogether such a beautiful
smaller minds, and especially upon those who exemplification of his mode of applying his approached Shakspere with a cold and critical knowledge, that we cannot forbear creeping admiration. Of such was CHARLES
more quotation from him :-“ If I GILDON. In 1694 he appeared in the world mistake not, in poetry, no woman is to kill a
with 'Some Reflections on Mr. Rymer's Short man, except her quality gives her the ad- View of Tragedy, and an Attempt at a vantage above him ; nor is a servant to kill
Vindication of Shakespear.' It would be a the master, nor a private man, much less
waste of time to produce the antagonist of a subject, to kill a king ; nor on the contrary. Rymer armed cap-à-pie, and set these two Poetical decency will not suffer death to be doughty combatants in mortal fight with their dealt to each other by such persons whom
sacks of sand. It will be sufficient for us to the laws of duel allow not to enter the lists quote a few passages from Gildon's ‘Essay together.” Rymer never changes his opinions.
on the Art, Rise, and Progress of the Stage,' The principles upon which he founded his 1710, by way of showing, what indeed may first book were carried to a greater height of
be inferred from Rymer's own book, that the extravagance in his second. Dryden, on
people were against the critics :-“'Tis my the contrary, depreciates Shakspere, though opinion that, if Shakespear had had those timidly and doubtfully, in his early criti- advantages of learning which the perfect cisms, but warms into higher and higher knowledge of the ancients would have given admiration as he grows older. The' Defence
him, so great a genius as his would have of the Epilogue to the Conquest of Grenada,'
* Epistle to Kneller.
made him a very dangerous rival in fame to evident. There is such a witchery in him the greatest poets of antiquity; so far am I that all the rules of art which he does not from seeing how this knowledge could either observe, though built on an equally solid and have curbed, confined, or spoiled the natural infallible reason, vanish away in the transexcellence of his writings. For, though I ports of those that he does observe, so must always think our author a miracle for entirely as if I had never known anything the age he lived in, yet I am obliged, in of the matter.” The rules of art! It was justice to reason and art, to confess that he the extraordinary folly of the age which does not come up to the ancients in all the produced these observations to believe that beauties of the drama. But it is no small Shakspere realized his great endeavours honour to him, that he has surpassed them in without any rule at all, that is, without any the topics or commonplaces. And to confirm method. Rymer was such a thorough bethe victory he obtained on that head at Mr. liever in the infallibility of these rules of Hales's chamber, at Eton, I shall, in this art, that he shut his eyes to the very highest present undertaking, not only transcribe the power of Shakspere, because it did not agree most shining, but refer the reader to the with these rules. Gildon believed in the same subjects in the Latin authors. This I wer, and believed in the rules at the same do that I might omit nothing that could do time: hence his contradictions.
“ The unhis memory that justice which he really accountable bigotry of the town to the very deserves ; but to put his errors and his ex- errors of Shakespear" was the best proof of cellences on the same bottom is to injure the the triumphant privilege of genius to abide latter, and give the enemies of our poet an ad- in full power and tranquillity amidst its own vantage against him, of doing the same; that rules. The small poets, and the smaller is, of rejecting his beauties, as all of a piece critics, were working upon mechanic rules. with his faults. This unaccountable bigotry When they saw in Shakspere something like of the town to the very errors of Shakespear an adherence to ancient rules of art, they was the occasion of Mr. Rymer's criticisms, cried out, Wonderful power of nature! When and drove him as far into the contrary they detected a deviation, they exclaimed, extreme. I am far from approving his Pitiable calamity of ignorance ! It is evident manner of treating our poet; though Mr. that these critics could not subject the people Dryden owns, that all, or most, of the faults to their laws; and they despise the ignorant he has found are just; but adds this odd people, therefore, as they pity the ignorant reflection : And yet, says he, who minds the Shakspere. Hear Gildon again :—“A judicritic, and who admires Shakespear less ? cious reader of our author will easily discover That was as much as to say, Mr. Rymer has those defects that his beauties would make indeed made good his charge, and yet the him wish had been corrected by a knowledge town admired his errors still : which I take of the whole art of the drama. For it is to be a greater proof of the folly and aban- evident that, by the force of his own judgdoned taste of the town than of any imper- ment, or the strength of his imagination, he fections in the critic; which in my opinion, has followed the rules of art in all those exposed the ignorance of the age he lived in; particulars in which he pleases. I know to which Mr. Rowe very justly ascribes most that the rules of art have been sufficiently of his faults. It must be owned that Mr. clamoured against by an ignorant and Rymer carried the matter too far, since no thoughtless sort of men of our age; but it man that has the least relish of poetry can was because they knew nothing of them, and question his genius ; for, in spite of his never considered that without some standard known and visible errors, when I read Shake- of excellence there could be no justice done spear, even in some of his most irregular to merit, to which poetasters and poets must plays, I am surprised into a pleasure so great, else have an equal claim, which is the that my judgment is no longer free to see highest degree of barbarism. Nay, without the faults, though they are never so gross and an appeal to these very rules, Shakespear
himself is not to be distinguished from the making love the predominant quality in all. most worthless pretenders, who have often He had so fine a talent for touching the met with an undeserved applause, and chal- passions, they are so lively in him, and so lenge the title of great poets from their truly in nature, that they often touch us success.” We will only anticipate for a more without their due preparations than moment the philosophical wisdom of a later those of other tragic poets who have all the school of criticism, to supply an answer to beauty of design and all the advantage of Gildon :
“ The spirit of poetry, like all other incidents. His master-passion was terror, living powers, must of necessity circumscribe which he has often moved so powerfully and itself by rules, were it only to unite power so wonderfully, that we may justly conclude with beauty. It must embody in order to that, if he had had the advantage of art reveal itself; but a living body is of necessity and learning, he would have surpassed the an organized one; and what is organization very best and strongest of the ancients. His but the connection of parts in and for a paintings are often so beautiful and so lively, whole, so that each part is at once end and so graceful and so powerful, especially where
he uses them in order to move terror, that The redoubted John DENNIS was another there is nothing perhaps more accomplished of the antagonists of Rymer. He carried in our English poetry. His sentiments, for heavier metal than Gildon ; but he never- the most part, in his best tragedies, are theless belonged to the cuckoo school of noble, generous, easy and natural, and “ rules of art.” He had a just appreciation adapted to the persons who use them. His of Shakspere as far as he went ;-and a few expression is in many places good and pure of his judgments certainly here deserve a after a hundred years ; simple, though place :-“Shakespear was one of the greatest elevated-graceful, though bold—and easy, geniuses that the world ever saw for the though strong. He seems to have been the tragic stage. Though he lay under greater very original of our English tragical hardisadvantages than any of his successors, mony; that is, the harmony of blank verse, yet had he greater and more genuine diversified often by dissyllable and trisylbeauties than the best and greatest of them. lable terminations. For that diversity disAnd what makes the brightest glory of his tinguishes it from heroic harmony, and, character, those beauties were entirely his bringing it nearer to common use, makes it own, and owing to the force of his own more proper to gain attention, and more fit nature ; whereas his faults were owing to for action and dialogue. Such verse we his education, and to the age that he lived make when we are writing prose ; we make in. One may say of him as they did of such verse in common conversation. If Homer—that he had none to imitate, and is Shakespear had these great qualities by himself inimitable. His imaginations were nature, what would he not have been if he often as just as they were bold and strong. had joined to so happy a genius learning He had a natural discretion which never and the poetical art !” could have been taught him, and his judg- It was this eternal gabble about rules of ment was strong and penetrating. He seems art,—this blindness to the truth that the to have wanted nothing but time and leisure living power of Shakspere had its own orfor thought, to have found out those rules of ganization,—that set the metre-mongers of which he appears so ignorant. His charac- that day upon the task of improving Shakters are always drawn justly, exactly, graphi- spere. Dennis was himself one of the great cally, except where he failed by not know- improvers. Poetical justice was one of the ing history or the poetical art. He has for rules for which they clamoured. Duncan and the most part more fairly distinguished them Banquo ought not to perish in ‘Macbeth,' than any of his successors have done, who nor Desdemona in ‘Othello,' nor Cordelia and have falsified them, or confounded them, by her father in ‘Lear,' nor Brutus in ‘Julius * Coleridge.
Cæsar,' nor young Hamlet in “Hamlet.' So