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to nature, and independent on art. Probably we have by this time learned that the closest imitations of nature must be the highest efforts of art. To argue otherwise is to forsake the philosophical and easy, for the preternatural and the perplexing. Again, rather than attribute his excellence to its right cause, the editors have chosen to ascribe its larger portion to a variety of accidents. No doubt accidents improved his mind, as every man's mind may be improved ; but there is no reason for our ascribing a greater number of fortunate accidents to him than to another. His intellectual superiority may itself have been a consequence of some unnoticed thing in the chain of events; nay, he might not have been born, according to Godwin, if Alexander the Great, about two thousand years before, had not happened to bathe in the Cydnus.
I willingly leave the chain of events, and all that is termed accident in this world, because they are beyond my comprehension. When I open the pages of Shakespeare, my reason sees nothing but the product of a superior mind, aided and strengthened by the keenest observation and the deepest study. Yes, one thing more, which may, however, be said to belong essentially to a superior mind, and without which, I verily believe, his name could scarcely have descended to us,-a spirit of goodness within him. Had he not happily possessed a kindliness of nature, an inexhaustible charity, an ardent love of all created things; but, in their stead, a discontented or a malevolent view of his fellow-creatures, how basely would he have fallen from his present height! Such a distraction of the mind, would either have cramped his genius, or
HIS DRAMATIC KNOWLEDGE AND ART.
utterly destroyed it. In vain then would have been his dramatic art, and knowledge of stage effect, which none has equalled,-in vain his experience with mankind, his books, his poetry. As it is, while he surveys nature neither with an evil eye nor with austerity, he teaches us to read “ sermons in stones, and good in every thing;" to respect all opinions which are built on reflection and sincerity; to know our passions truly, lest they should mislead us ; to look with charity on the failings or mistakes of others; to find, if possible, some excuse even for the vicious, while we most condemn vice; to feel certain that we cannot be happy while we do a wrong to another; and, when ourselves are wronged, to forgive an enemy, if he is penitent,-not coldly, but with a brother's warmth. The grand “magic in the web” of his writings is his doctrine. The first requisite for the art of poetry is universal kindliness. Humanly speaking, he is our
, greatest teacher as well as our greatest delight. With other poets something is wanting, or something uncongenial is presented; whatever chord he strikes,-and by turns, he strikes on all-it is sure to harmonize with our best affections. The more he is read, the more he is, not only admired, but loved. Every Englishman knows something of his works, but, if I may be allowed to judge of others by myself, or by those with whom I have conversed, no one knows enough.
HE NEVER WAS A FLATTERER.
REGARDING, as Shakespeare has contended, that the conferring of merited praise is an honest action, and that praise is flattery only when addressed to the undeserving, I have argued that the five Poems to his friend, are free from flattery. It now remains to be proved that he has never, throughout his works, been guilty of personal adulation. This is necessary, as the contrary has been either boldly stated, or recklessly implied by many.
The principal charge against him has been made by the most prejudiced and heedless of his editors, Dr. Johnson, in his note on Cranmer's speech at the end of Henry the Eighth. Here is the note.
“ These lines, to the interruption by the king, seem to have been inserted at some revisal of the play, after the accession of King James. If the passage, included in crotchets, be left out, the speech of Cranmer proceeds in a regular tenour of prediction and continuity of sentiments; but, by the interposition of the new lines, he first celebrates Elizabeth's successor, and
then wishes he did not know that she was to die; first rejoices at the consequence, and then laments the
Our author was at once politic and idle; he resolved to flatter James, but neglected to reduce the whole speech to propriety; or perhaps intended that the lines inserted should be spoken in the action, and omitted in the publication, if any publication ever was in his thoughts. Mr. Theobald has made the same observation."
This accusation wholly rests on the belief that Shakespeare was the author of the lines within the crotchets; against which there are several objections.
The lines being so placed shows them separable from the legitimate text. Shakespeare, though he has written obscurely, never committed a like incontinuity of purpose, never was so awkward, and therefore he ought not to be supposed the author of a passage, allowed to be, as it is marked, an interpolation. There is no congeniality with the character of his verse, - nothing with the character of Cranmer's speech, which is an outpouring of prophecies, in short simple sentences, as if each was uttered in a single breath; whereas these lines are harsh, long-winded, and involved.
It is also taken for granted that the play was first produced in the reign of Elizabeth, for which there is not a shadow of authority, except that her reign is eulogized in it; while our sole authority is direct in favour of its having been first produced in 1613, ten years after her death.
Malone is extremely puzzled upon this subject, discussing it at great length, in his Chronology. He
cannot comprehend how the play could have been written during Elizabeth's life; yet he is willing to suppose that such was the case, on account of its high compliment on her reign. He has, however, the evidence of Sir Henry Wotton, who saw it represented in 1613, and who described it as a “new play.” In this dilemma, he chooses to think it possible it was palmed, in that year, on the public as a “new play," while it was merely a revival with a new name, All is true ; but he brings forward nothing in support of this notion. Without conjecturing improbabilities, why should we not believe, according to the account we have received, that it was first acted in 1613, and that the flattery to king James was not in the original manuscript, but inserted by another hand ?
Thus every difficulty will be removed; and my evidence is strong for such a belief. The passage, not within the crotchets,
“She shall be, to the happiness of England,
An aged princess; * * but she must die ;
passage, without taking into account the outrage of calling the vain Elizabeth aged to her face, supposing the play was performed in her reign, (which Malone, in strange simplicity, thinks would not have offended her at the age of seventy !) imagined the queen’s death during her life, and was little short of high treason-probably nothing short, in her ears. Malone slurs over this fact, which is everything to the argument. The play, therefore, could not have been brought forward during the life of that queen ; and