ePub 版

then it is candidly acknowledged; and a few holdings forth against that filthy vice at a Temperance Society, are, considering the value of "saying well," ample atonement. As for other vices "which flesh is heir to," it is unanimously asserted, in our own country, that we are not so bad as our neighbours, which is much; and we make astonishing amends for our peccadilloes by the purity of our conversation,— unless over our wine, when freedom of speech is an allowable zest to its flavour. What can be more edifying, in the way of "saying well," than our - denouncements against the evil communication con- stantly kept up between us and the Continent? Nothing; though it would not be amiss to persuade the natives of those cities where we most congregate, that we are not worse than themselves,—a point in which we have hitherto failed. Besides, it would be as well if we could teach our foreign visitors, who cannot be supposed to understand all the valuable niceties of the language, that we are not, as they unhappily imagine, the most immoral people in Europe. All this is manifestly to be laid to the account of that pernicious line from Shakespeare. If, by a culpable oversight, Mr. Bowdler has not erased it from his purified edition,-fie! fie upon him! It will be in vain for him to tell us that the very next sentiment, "And yet words are no deeds," annuls the previous pollution. By no means: we take the text without addition or diminution. Since it is so admirably adapted to our purposes, why destroy the integrity of the line? Heaven forbid ! destroy integrity when it exists in words!

In this realm of cant, what can be said of Shakespeare's moral character? How arduous the attempt, particularly in one who has just spread forth his documents, proving that Shakespeare, a married man, had a mistress; and what, in the eyes of many husbands, must be still more inexcusable, he set the shocking example of acknowledging it!

How to write on this subject, so as to please all parties, I am ignorant. My present vein, I feel, is not suitable to myself; nor am I aware that any good effect can be produced by sneering. I shall therefore proceed in seriousness.

Shakespeare's self-condemnation, in bitter terms, together with the fact of his having quitted his mistress for ever, renders it not only unnecessary, but culpable, to comment on his infidelity. Another subject connected with it indeed requires consideration; that of the publication of all the six Poems, to the probable injury of his wife's feelings. She might, however, have been a woman not to be hurt at the avowal of her husband's inconstancy, coupled, as it was, with remorse. Truly in our own time we have witnessed confessions from poets, similarly situated, and of a worse nature, because told unblushingly, while the public seemed to think nothing of it. But Shakespeare is not to be judged by a corrupt rule; and no one can pretend that he had any thing to do with the publication. The confused manner in which they were printed, rendering them wholly enigmatical for so long a period, exculpates the author from any share in the transaction. That the Poems were eventually intended for publication is certain, since they were to

immortalize the "only begetter of them;" but still, by the very context, their purpose was to tell the world, only when the Earl had become old, what wondrous beauty he possessed in his youth. Probably, had Shakespeare lived to publish his works, they would have been dedicated either to the Earl of Southampton or the Earl of Pembroke; if to the latter, these poems would have certainly been included, when the poet and his wife had become too old to give or take offence on so by-gone a subject.

Who then caused them to be printed? We are told by Meres that they existed, among his private friends, about eleven years before they were printed. With this intelligence, it is not difficult to account for their appearance at a time, in 1609, when any thing from the hand of the popular poet was valuable and eagerly sought. The Earl of Pembroke can hardly be conceived as the person who allowed them to be printed; no inducement except that of personal vanity could have led to such an action; and surely there was more than an equipoise to his vanity, in the relation of his unworthy conduct as a lad towards his professed friend, though some may be of opinion such a consideration is merely a subject for laughter. The mysterious indication of him under the designation of "Mr. W. H." looks indeed as if the Poems were surreptitiously obtained, and timidly dedicated to him. On the other hand, would Thorpe, the printer, when he might, in those superlative aristocratic days, have been crushed for his temerity, have dared the hazard of offending the most powerful nobleman at court?

Here I am led to canvass the supposition of Shake

speare's having lived unhappily with his wife. Hints to this effect had been thrown out, as is often the case when men have no foundation for what they fain would utter boldly; until at last Mr. Moore, who has had the dishonour of being echoed by Dr. Lardner, put them into a regular form in his Life of Lord Byron, and in the following words:

"By whatever austerity of temper, or habits, the poets Dante and Milton may have drawn upon themselves such a fate (a bad nuptial bed) it might be expected that, at least, the "gentle Shakespeare" would have stood exempt from the common calamity of his brethren. But, among the very few facts of his life that have been transmitted us, there is none more clearly proved than the unhappiness of his marriage. The dates of the birth of his children, compared with that of his removal from Stratford,-the total omission of his wife's name in the first draft of his Will, and the bitter sarcasm of the bequest by which he remembers her afterwards,—all prove beyond a doubt both his separation from the lady early in life, and his unfriendly feeling towards her at the close of it.


"In endeavouring to argue against the conclusion naturally to be deduced from this Will, Boswell, with a strange ignorance of human nature, remarks :'If he had taken offence at any part of his wife's conduct, I cannot believe he would have taken this petty mode of expressing it.'

Mr. Moore's purpose was to uphold Lord Byron's character in the separation from his wife; and, in doing so, he has shown himself, far as my judgment reaches, less learned in human nature than Boswell.

Not every one is to be subject to Lord Byron's rule. Boswell judged truly from the best parts of our nature; while Mr. Moore, misled by his purpose, judged from our worst impulses-those which tempt men, like his lordship, to adopt a depressing or false sentimentality, or a scoffing and degrading merriment at the sight of their fellow-creatures. An attempt to draw a parallel between one of universal kindliness, attaching to him an imagined "bitter sarcasm" at the close of his life, and another whose whole life was passed in bitter sarcasm, interrupted only by his pleasures, is utterly unavailing, even when one fashionable poet is arguing in extenuation of another fashionable poet's faults. From Shakespeare's works, and from every thing related of him by those who knew him, nothing can be gathered indicative of a paltry mind, nothing to induce us to believe that the calm. tenour of his life could be ruffled by a petty mode of expressing his displeasure, least of all in the final act of it. To compare him, in the remotest degree, with Lord Byron--but, lest I should suffer the imputation of being like a special pleader, slurring over facts, I gladly examine into the circumstances which Mr. Moore has detailed, and which, by his statement, "clearly prove," and "beyond a doubt," his argu


His removal from Stratford was compulsory from the moment he chose the stage for his profession. If he left his family at home, it is most probable that his limited means for their support at that time did not allow him to take them with him. Such a separation can no more be regarded as unkind than the absence

« 上一頁繼續 »