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To seal our happiness with their consents!
Oh, heavenly Julia !" After being commanded to follow Valentine to Milan, he briefly laments his banishment, or rather reasons on the means that once lay in his power to prevent it, and concludes with a moral reflection on the instability of happiness.
“Oh, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day;
And by and by a cloud takes all away !" Beautiful as the lines are, which is another matter, let us compare his words with the heart-rending tenderness of Valentine, when he is forced to quit his Silvia.
“Except I be by Silvia in the night,
Foster'd, illumined, cherish'd, kept alive !" Proteus bids adieu to Julia, coolly advises patience, declares he will return as soon as possible, and promises constancy in a set speech.
One of the maxims of Rochefoucault is, “absence diminishes the weak passions, and augments the strong, as the wind blows out a candle, and increases a fire.” This is proved by Proteus, who no sooner arrives at Milan than 6 his candle is blown out,” and
“ The remembrance of his former love
Is by a newer object quite forgotten.”
In his passion for Silvia he is conscious of his “ false transgression,” and seems startled at the self-knowledge he has just obtained. How naturally he confesses the immediate effects of his perfidy !
Methinks, my zeal to Valentine is cold ;
And that I love him not, as I was wont.” He strives to summon up the powers of his mind, and hopes to “check his erring love;" but, in the same sentence, perplexed in irresolution, and fearfully looking forward to the doubtful contest, determines, should he chance to fail in his endeavours, to employ his abilities in the attainment of his desire. For a while we behold him wavering and confused; on the utmost boundary of innocence, but shuddering to make the fatal step beyond it. Hitherto the absence of temptation had withheld him from the commission of an unworthy action, and the first deviation from virtue alarms him. His conscience is wounded to the quick, and he can do nothing till the pain has ceased. He stands in need of a “flattering unction,” seeks for it in the sophistries of his perverted brain, and at last, by their assistance, becomes a mean disgraceful villain, boasting that he has brought over reason to his side. His arguments are selfishly ingenious. Like Hudibras, he discovers not only a palliative, but an excuse for his perjury. “ To leave my Julia shall I be forsworn; To love fair Silvia shall I be forsworn; To wrong my friend, I shall be much forsworn.
Unheedful vows may heedfully be broken ;
Then, for his own interest, what he says is incontrovertible :
Julia I lose, and Valentine I lose :
I to myself am dearer than a friend.” Having proceeded thus far, the inevitable conclusion is,
“I cannot now prove constant to myself,
From this moment his crimes increase in number and magnitude. No sooner has he placed his foot on the empire of guilt, than, according to the ancient custom of the country, he receives a passport to travel into any part of it without interruption. We need not follow his steps.
At length, wearied out by his fruitless villainies, and exasperated at Sylvia's reproaches, he attempts to violate her person; and it is here, at the very height of his depravity, and at the overthrow of all his schemes, that he becomes a penitent. All this is consonant to nature, and particularly so with Proteus. Had he been stopped in the midst of his career, his sudden conversion would be less probable; a man is more sincere in his detestation of crime, when, after having tried it in every possible way, he is convinced of its inefficacy. The disgrace endured by Proteus was so overwhelming, so insupportable, that he was ready to adopt any means to deliver himself from the dreadful punishment; and as nothing but absolute contrition
could be of service, he flew to it with more ardour than he ever displayed in any action of his life. If I may venture to give an opinion on the sincerity of his repentance, I would say it was so far honest, that, from that time forward, he neither thought of obtaining possession of Sylvia, nor endeavoured to revenge himself for the shame he had suffered ; and very possibly he was so far a good husband to Julia, that she never could complain of a repetition of his former injuries. In fact I look upon him, at the end, as on a child, who had committed a heinous fault, and was effectually reformed by timely chastisement.
Let those blame Shakespeare for the immoral tendency of this comedy, who have not charity, like Valentine, to forgive; and who imagine that a few lines of solemn admonishment, just as the curtain drops, are of service to mankind. Shakespeare's morality is less in his fables, than in his characters ; where the good are incitements to virtue, and the erring are dissuasives from vice. There are very few among us who are not compelled tacitly to acknowledge their similarity to Proteus, and to blush at the resemblance,--who are not aware of their having, at times, and in a degree, clothed their justification in the same wretched subtleties, when prompted by selfinterest or passion. Proteus is our brother.
The disputed difficulty towards the end of the play I would solve by abolishing it, as an interpolation by some one capable only of counting a line on his ten fingers, in order to give Julia's fainting another direct cause, but at the expense of Valentine's character, who is compelled preposterously to say,
“ And, that my love may appear plain and free,*
All that was mine in Silvia, I give thee.” Julia faints at the sight of Proteus, overcome by remorse and shame; then, as she recovers, seeing that moment the most propitious for the discovery of herself, she has recourse to the artifice of the two rings.
Against the opinion of others, mine is that this play does not conclude too abruptly.
II. HENRY THE Sixth. First Part.— The author of the original of this historical drama is unknown, and nothing of it, except in its present amended form, has come down to us. So scattered are the amendments, that some have thought that Shakespeare had no hand in it at all. His hand is to me apparent, in many places, throughout; but rather timidly employed, as if he feared to exercise decision, and was not yet aware of his superiority on all occasions. Certainly the account Talbot gives of his entertainment as a prisoner, breathes of Shakespeare uncontrolled; but the passage, for length and undoubtful continuity, may stand alone. Even the scene of the dying Mortimer, and that in the castle of the countess, are seemingly mixed. In most of the other scenes it is not always easy to trace him. Altogether he was not perhaps author of more than one-fourth of the whole.
My conjecture is that it was his first attempt at altering another's work, and imagine, since all agree
* Reminding us of Dr. Johnson's example of an earless versifier:
Lay your knife and your fork across your plate.”—See Boswell.