ePub 版

Gelas. Alas, alas, 'twill never be my hap
To travel now to the Antipodes !
Oh! that I had my Pegasus but here!
I'd fly away, by Jove!

[Exeunt all except Tim. and Lach.
Tim. Ye are a stony generation,
Or harder, if aught harder may be found;
Monsters of Scythia inhospital,
Nay, very devils, hateful to the gods.
Lach. Master, they are gone."

It is pretty clear that Shakspere owed no obligation to the writer of this scene. Mr. Dyce justly says, "I entertain considerable doubts of his having been acquainted with a drama which was certainly never performed in the metropolis, and which was likely to have been read only by a few of the author's particular friends, to whom transcripts of it had been presented." We have little doubt, however, that Timon was familiar to the stage before Shakspere took up the subject; although it is tolerably evident that the play which Mr. Dyce has given to the world was not the play which Shakspere, as we believe, partly made his own. Shakspere, according to our belief, did what he undertook to do, and perhaps he did more than he intended. He completely remodelled the character of Timon. He left it standing apart in its naked power and majesty, without much regard to what surrounded it. It might have been a hasty experiment to produce a new character for Burbage, the greatest of Elizabethan actors. That Timon is so all in all in the play is, to our minds, much better explained by the belief that Shakspere engrafted it upon the feebler Timon of a feeble drama that held possession of the stage, than by the common opinion that he, having written the play entirely, had left us only a corrupt text, or left it unfinished, with parts not only out of harmony with the drama as a whole, in action, in sentiment, in versification, but altogether different from anything he had himself produced in his early, his mature, or his later years.

It is scarcely necessary for us very minutely to follow the successive passages of the fourth and fifth acts, in our endeavours to trace the hand of Shakspere. We may,

however, briefly point out the passages which we believe not to be his. The second scene of the fourth act, between the Steward and his servants, has some touches undoubtedly of the master's hand; the Steward's speech, after the servants have left, again presents us the rhyming couplets, and the unmetrical blank verse. The scene between the Poet and the Painter, at the commencement of the fifth act, is so unmetrical, that it has been printed as prose by all modern editors. We have already exhibited a specimen of this hobbling approach to metre-the characteristic of several of the rude plays which preceded Shakspere, such as 'The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth.' Mr. Collier considers that play to be wholly prose; but he adds, "by the time it was printed, blank verse had completely superseded both rhyme and prose: the publisher seems, on this account, to have chopped up much of the original prose into lines of various lengths, in order to look like some kind of measure, and now and then he has contrived to find lines of ten syllables each, that run with tolerable smoothness, and as if they had been written for blank verse." We venture to think, that, although the greater part of 'The Famous Victories' was intended for prose, "the lines of ten syllables each that run with tolerable smoothness" were written for blank verse; and this, we believe, is the case with parts of the scene in Timon' which we are now describing. But, whether they speak in prose or verse, the Poet and the Painter of this scene are as unlike the Poet and the Painter of the first act, in the tone of their dialogues, as can be well imagined. Timon, in the lines which he speaks aside, has caught this infection of unmetrical blank verse which reads like prose, and jingling couplets which want the spirit of poetry. The soldier at Timon's tomb is marked by the same characteristics. Of the concluding scene of the return of Alcibiades to Athens, we have already spoken.


It is not by looking apart at the scenes and passages which we have endeavoured to separate from the undoubted scenes and passages of Shakspere in this play, that we can rightly judge of their inferiority. They must

be contrasted with the great scenes of the fourth act, and with Timon's portion of the fifth, the essentially tragic portions of this extraordinary drama. In power those scenes are almost unequalled. They are not pleasing-they are sometimes positively repulsive in the images which they present to us: but in the tremendous strength of passionate invective we know not what can be compared to them. In Lear,' the deep pity for the father is an ever-present feeling, mingling with the terror which he produces by his denunciations of his daughters; but, in 'Timon,' the poet has not once sought to move our pity: by throwing him into an attitude of undiscriminating hostility to the human race, he scarcely claims any human sympathy. Properly to understand the scenes of the fourth and fifth acts, we must endeavour to form a general estimate of the character which Shakspere has here created.

The Timon of Shakspere is not the Timon of the popular stories of Shakspere's day. The twenty-eighth novel of 'The Palace of Pleasure' has for its title, 'Of the strange and beastly nature of Timon of Athens, enemy to mankind.' According to this authority, "he was a man but by shape only," he lived "a beastly and churlish life." The story further tells us, "at the same time there was in Athens another of like quality called Apemantus, of the very same nature, different from the natural kind of man." Neither was the Timon of Plutarch the Timon of Shakspere. The Greek biographer, indeed, tells us, that he was angry with all men, and would trust no man, "for the unthankfulness of those he had done good unto, and whom he took to be his friends," but that he was represented as "a viper and malicious man unto mankind, to shun all other men's companies but the company of young Alcibiades, a bold and insolent youth, whom he would greatly feast, and make much of, and kissed him very gladly." Plutarch also adds, "This Timon sometimes would have Apemantus in his company, because he was much liked to his nature and conditions, and also followed him in manner of life." The Timon, therefore, of Plutarch, and of the popular stories of Shakspere's time, was little different from


the ordinary cynic, such as he is described by Lucian:-"But now, mind how you are to behave: you must be bold, saucy, and abusive to everybody, kings and beggars alike; this is the way to make them look upon you, and think you a great man. Your voice should be barbarous, and your speech dissonant, as like a dog as possible; your countenance rigid and inflexible, and your gait and demeanour suitable to it: everything you say savage and uncouth: modesty, equity, and moderation you must have nothing to do with never suffer a blush to come upon your cheek: seek the most public and frequented place; but, when you are there, desire to be alone, and permit neither friend nor stranger to associate with you; for these things are the ruin and destruction of power and empire.”* The contrast in Shakspere between Timon and Apemantus, as developed in the fourth act, is one of the most remarkable proofs of our poet's wonderful sagacity in depicting the nicer shades of character. Johnson, speaking of the scene between the misanthrope and the cynic in the fourth act, says, "I have heard Mr. Burke commend the subtlety of discrimination with which Shakspere distinguishes the present character of Timon from that of Apemantus, whom to vulgar eyes he would now resemble." The Timon' of Shakspere is in many respects essentially different from any model with which we are acquainted, but it approaches nearer, as Mr. Skottowe first observed, to the 'Timon' of Lucian than the commentators have chosen to point out: "It has been deemed a satisfactory conclusion that he derived none of his materials from Lucian, because no translation of the dialogue of 'Timon' is known to have existed in Shakspere's age. But it should rather have been inferred, from the many striking coincidences between the play and the dialogue, that Lucian had some influence over the composition of Timon,' although the channel through which that influence was communicated is no longer to be traced.”† Before we proceed to an analysis of the


*Lucian's Sale of Philosophers.'-Franklin's Transla


† 'Life of Shakspeare,' vol. ii. p. 280.

Shaksperean 'Timon,' it may be well to take | The subsequent dialogue between Mercury

a rapid glance at the dialogue of Lucian, to which Mr. Skottowe refers.

Timon, or the Misanthrope,' opens with an address of Timon to Jupiter, the protector of friendship and of hospitality. The misanthrope asks what has become of the god's thunderbolt, that he no longer revenges the wickedness of men? He then describes his own calamities. After having enriched a crowd of Athenians that he had rescued from misery,-after having profusely distributed his riches amongst his friends, those ungrateful men despise him because he has become poor. Timon speaks from the desert, where he is clothed with skins, and labours with a spade. Jupiter inquires of Mercury who it is cries so loud from the depth of the valley near Mount Hymettus; and Mercury answers that he is Timon-that rich man who so frequently offered whole hecatombs to the gods; and adds, that it was at first thought that he was the victim of his goodness, his philanthropy, and his compassion for the unfortunate, but that he ought to attribute his fall to the bad choice which he made of his friends, and to the want of discernment which prevented him seeing that he was heaping benefits upon wolves and ravens: "Whils these vultures were preying upon his liver, he thought them his best friends, and that they fed upon him out of pure love and affection. After they had gnawed him all round, eaten his bones bare, and if there was any marrow in them sucked it carefully out, they left him, cut down to the roots and withered, and, so far from relieving or assisting him in their turns, would not so much as know or look upon him. This has made him turn digger; and here, in his skin garment, he tills the earth for hire; ashamed to show himself in the city, and venting his rage against the ingratitude of those who, enriched as they had been by him, now proudly pass along, and know not whether his name is Timon." Jupiter resolves to despatch Mercury and Plutus to bestow new wealth upon Timon, and the god of riches very reluctantly consents to go, because, if he return to Timon, he should again become the prey of parasites and courtezans.

and Plutus, upon the use of riches, is exceedingly acute and amusing. The gods, upon approaching Timon, descry him working with his spade, in company with Labour, Poverty, Wisdom, Courage, and all the virtues that are in the train of indigence. Poverty thus addresses Plutus:-" You come to find Timon; and as to me who have received him enervated by luxury, he would forsake me when I have rendered him virtuous; you come to enrich him anew, which will render him as before, idle, effeminate, and besotted." Timon rejects the offers which Plutus makes him; and the gods leave him, desiring him to continue digging. He then finds gold, and thus apostrophizes it:"It is, it must be, gold, fine, yellow, noble gold; heavy, sweet to behold. . . . . Burning like fire, thou shinest day and night: come to me, thou dear delightful treasure! now do I believe that Jove himself was once turned into gold: what virgin would not spread forth her bosom to receive so beautiful a lover?" But the Timon of Lucian has other uses for his riches than Plutus anticipated;—he will guard them without employing them; he will, as he says, 66 purchase some retired spot, there build a tower* to keep my gold in, and live for myself alone: this shall be my habitation; and, when I am dead, my sepulchre also: from this time forth it is my fixed resolution to have no commerce or connexion with mankind, but to despise and avoid it. I will pay no regard to acquaintance, friendship, pity, or compassion: to pity the distressed, or to relieve the indigent, I shall consider as a weakness,— nay, as a crime; my life, like the beasts of the field, shall be spent in solitude, and Timon alone shall be Timon's friend. I will treat all beside as enemies and betrayers; to converse with them were profanation; to herd with them, impiety: accursed be the day that brings them to my sight!" The most agreeable name to me, he adds, shall be that of Misanthrope. A crowd approach who have heard of his good fortune; and first comes Gnathon, a parasite, who brings

* A building called the Tower of Timon is mentioned by Pausanias.

him a new poem-a dithyrambe. Timon strikes him down with his spade. Another, and another, succeeds; and one comes from the senate to hail him as the safeguard of the Athenians. Each in his turn is welcomed with blows. The dialogue concludes with Timon's determination to mount upon a rock, and to receive every man with a shower of stones.

There can be no doubt, we think, that a great resemblance may be traced between the Greek satirist and the English dramatist. The false friends of Timon are much more fully described by Lucian than by Plutarch. The finding the gold is the same, the rejection of it by the Timon of Shakspere is essentially the same: the Poet of the play was perhaps suggested by the flatterer who came with the new ode;-the senator with his gratulations is not very different from the senators in the drama;-the blows and stones are found both in the ancient and the modern. There are minor similarities which might be readily traced, if we believed that Shakspere had gone direct to Lucian. But our opinion is that he found those similarities in the play which we are convinced he remodelled. It is in the conception and the execution of the character of Timon that the original power of Shakspere is to be traced.

The vices of Shakspere's Timon are not the vices of a sensualist. It is true that his offices have been oppressed with riotous feeders, that his vaults have wept with drunken spilth of wine,-that every room "Hath blaz'd with lights, and bray'd with minstrelsy;"

but he has nothing selfish in the enjoyment of his prodigality and his magnificence. He himself truly expresses the weakness, as well as the beauty, of his own character: "Why, I have often wished myself poorer, that I might come nearer to you. We are born to do benefits, and what better or properer can we call our own, than the riches of our friends? O, what a precious comfort 't is, to have so many, like brothers, commanding one another's fortunes!" Charles Lamb, in his contrast between Timon of Athens' and Hogarth's 'Rake's Progress,' has scarcely done justice

[ocr errors]

to Timon: "The wild course of riot and extravagance, ending in the one with driving the Prodigal from the society of men into the solitude of the deserts; and, in the other, with conducting Hogarth's Rake through his several stages of dissipation into the still more complete desolations of the mad-house, in the play and in the picture are described with almost equal force and nature.” Hogarth's Rake is all sensuality and selfishness; Timon is essentially high-minded and generous: he truly says, in the first chill of his fortunes,

"No villainous bounty yet hath pass'd my heart. Unwisely, not ignobly, have I given."

In his splendid speech to Apemantus in the fourth act, he distinctly proclaims that, in

the weakness with which he had lavished his fortunes upon the unworthy, he had not pampered his own passions

[ocr errors]

'Hadst thou, like us, from our first swath, proceeded

The sweet degrees that this brief world affords
To such as may the passive drugs of it
Freely command, thou wouldst have plunged

In general riot; melted down thy youth
In different beds of lust; and never learn'd
The icy precepts of respect, but follow'd
The sugar'd game before thee. But myself,
Who had the world as my confectionary;
The mouth, the tongues, the eyes, and hearts
of men

At duty, more than I could frame employment;

That numberless upon me stuck, as leaves
Do on the oak, have with one winter's brush
Fell from their boughs, and left me open, bare
For every storm that blows."

The all-absorbing defect of Timon-the root of those generous vices which wear the garb of virtue-is the entire want of discrimination, by which he is also characterized in Lucian's dialogue. Shakspere has seized upon this point, and held firmly to it. He releases Ventidius from prison,—he bestows an estate upon his servant,―he lavishes jewels upon all the dependants who crowd his board;

"Methinks I could deal kingdoms to my friends, And ne'er be weary."

That universal philanthropy, of which the | ne'er have use for them: and would most remost selfish men sometimes talk, is in Timon semble sweet instruments hung up in cases, an active principle; but let it be observed that keep their sounds to themselves." His that he has no preferences. It appears to false confidence is at once, and irreparably, us a most remarkable example of the pro- destroyed. If Timon had possessed one found sagacity of Shakspere, to exhibit Timon friend with whom he could have interwithout any especial affections. It is thus changed confidence upon equal terms, he that his philanthropy passes without any would have been saved from his fall, and violence into the extreme of universal hatred certainly from his misanthropy. If he had to mankind. Had he loved a single human even fallen by false confidence, he would being with that intensity which constitutes have confined his hatred to his affection in the relation of the sexes, and "Most smiling, smooth, detested parasites, friendship in the relation of man to man, Courteous destroyers, affable wolves, meek he would have been exempt from that unbears." judging lavishness which was necessary to satisfy his morbid craving for human sympathy. Shakspere, we think, has kept this

most steadily in view. His surprise at the fidelity of his steward is exhibited, as if the love for any human being in preference to another came upon him like a new sensation:

"Flav. I beg of you to know me, good my lord,

To accept my grief, and whilst this poor wealth lasts,

To entertain me as your steward still.

Tim. Had I a steward

So true, so just, and now so comfortable?
It almost turns my dangerous nature wild.
Let me behold thy face.-Surely, this man
Was born of woman.—

Forgive my general and exceptless rashness,
You perpetual-sober gods! I do proclaim
One honest man,-mistake me not,-but one;
No more, I pray,-and he is a steward.-
How fain would I have hated all mankind,
And thou redeem'st thyself! But all, save thee,
I fell with curses."

With this key to Timon's character, it appears to us that we may properly understand the "general and exceptless rashness" of his misanthropy. The only relations in which he stood to mankind are utterly destroyed. In lavishing his wealth as if it were a common property, he had believed that the same common property would flow back to him in his hour of adversity. "O, you gods, think I, what need we have any friends, if we should never have need of them? they were the most needless creatures living, should we

But his nature has sustained a complete revulsion, because his sympathies were forced, exaggerated, artificial. It is then that all social life becomes to him an object of abo


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Piety and fear,
Religion to the gods, peace, justice, truth,
Domestic awe, night-rest, and neighbourhood,
Instruction, manners, mysteries, and trades,
Degrees, observances, customs, and laws,
Decline to your confounding contraries,
And yet confusion live!-Plagues incident to

-Your potent and infectious fevers heap

On Athens, ripe for stroke! thou cold sciatica,
Cripple our senators, that their limbs may halt
As lamely as their manners! lust and liberty
Creep in the minds and marrows of our youth;
That 'gainst the stream of virtue they may

And drown themselves in riot! itches, blains,
Sow all the Athenian bosoms; and their crop
Be general leprosy; breath infect breath;

That their society, as their friendship, may
Be merely poison!"

Nothing can be more tremendous than this
imprecation,—nothing, under the circum-
stances, more true and natural.

It is observed by Ulrici that the misanthropy of Timon is as idealized as his philanthropy. "But, as that idealized philanthropy was his life's element, the equally idealized misanthropy was a choke-damp in which he could not long breathe: his destroying rage against himself, and all human kind, must of course first destroy himself." Considering Timon's artificial love of mankind and his artificial

« 上一頁繼續 »