« PreviousContinue »
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 be the 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 Ipower, 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
means ?” *
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 80 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
Dennis argues :-“The good and the bad For every pelting, petty officer perishing promiscuously in the best of Shake- Would use his heaven for thunder: nothing spear's tragedies, there can be either none but thunder. or very weak instruction in them.” In this Merciful heaven! spirit Dennis himself sets to work to remodel Thou rather, with thy sharp and sulphurous • Coriolanus:'-—“Not only Aufidius, but the
bolt, Roman tribunes Sicinius and Brutus, appear
Splitt'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak,
Than the soft myrtle.” to me to cry aloud for poetic vengeance ; for they are guilty of two faults, neither of This is Davenant's :which ought to go unpunished.” Dennis is not only a mender of Shakspere's cata
“If men could thunder strophes, but he applies himself to make As great Jove does, Jove ne'er would quiet Shakspere's verses all smooth and proper, according to the rules of art. One example
For every choleric petty officer, will be sufficient. He was no common man
Would use his magazine in heaven for
thunder: who attempted to reduce the following lines to classical regularity :
We nothing should but thunder hcar. Sweet
Heaven ! “ Boy! False hound ! Thou rather with thy stiff and sulph'rous If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there,
bolt That, like an eagle in a dovecote, I
Dost split the knotty and obdurate oak, Flutter'd your Volsces in Corioli.
Than the soft myrtle.” Alone I did it-Boy!”
• The Law against Lovers' was in prinJohn Dennis has accomplished the feat :
ciple one of the worst of these alterations; " This boy, that, like an eagle in a dovecote,
for it was a hash of two plays—of 'Measure Flutter'd a thousand Volsces in Corioli,
for Measure,' and of 'Much Ado about NoAnd did it without second or acquittance,
thing. This was indeed to destroy the orThus sends their mighty chief to mourn in
ganic life of the author. But it is one of hell."
the manifestations of the vitality of Shak
spere that, going about their alterations in The alteration of The Tempest' by
the regular way, according to the rules of Davenant and Dryden was, as we have men
art, the most stupid and prosaic of his imtioned, an attempt to meet the taste of the
provers have been unable to deprive the town by music and spectacle. Shadwell
natural man of his vigour, even by their went farther, and turned it into a regular most violent depletions. His robustness was opera ; and an opera it remained even in too great even for the poetical doctors to Garrick's time, who tried his hand upon the
destroy it. Lord Lansdowne actually stripped same experiment. Dennis was a reformer the flesh off Shylock, but the anatomy both in comedy and tragedy. He metamor- walked about vigorously for sixty years, till phosed “The Merry Wives of Windsor' into
Macklin put the muscles on again. Colley “The Comical Gallant,' and prefixed an Cibber turned ‘King John'into · Papal Tyessay to it on the degeneracy of the taste
ranny,' and the stage 'King John' was made for poetry. Davenant changed ‘Measure for to denounce the Pope and Guy Faux for a Measure' into “The Law against Lovers.' It century, till Mr. Macready gave us back is difficult to understand how a clever man
again the weak and crafty king in his oriand something of a poet should have set
ginal truth of character. Nahum Tate deabout his work after this fashion. This is posed the ‘Richard II.' of Shakspere wholly Shakspere’s Isabella :
and irredeemably, turning him into “The “ Could great men thunder
Sicilian Usurper.' How Cibber manufacAs Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be tured Richard III.' is known to all men. quiet,
Durfey melted down Cymbeline' with no
slight portion of alloy. Tate remodelled In The Spectator,' 419, amongst the pa'Lear,'—and such a ‘Lear!' Davenant man- pers on “The Pleasures of the Imagination,' gled “Macbeth;' but we can hardly quarrel Shakspere's delineations of supernatural with him for it, for he gave us the music of beings are thus mentioned :-“ Among the Locke in company with his own verses. It English, Shakspeare has incomparably exhas been said, as a proof how little Shak- celled all others. That noble extravagance spere was once read, that Davenant’s altera- of fancy, which he had in so great perfection, tion is quoted in 'The Tatler' instead of thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak the original. This is the reasoning of Stee- superstitious part of his reader's imaginavens; but he has not the candour to tell us, tion; and made him capable of succeeding that in “The Tatler,' No. 111, there is a where he had nothing to support him besides quotation from ‘Hamlet,' with the following the strength of his own genius. There is remarks :-“ This admirable author, as well something so wild, and yet so solemn, in the as the best and greatest men of all ages and speeches of his ghosts, fairies, witches, and of all nations, seems to have had his mind the like imaginary persons, that we cannot thoroughly seasoned with religion, as is forbear thinking them natural, though we evident by many passages in his plays, that have no rule by which to judge of them ; would not be suffered by a modern audience.” and must confess, if there are such beings Steevens infers, that Steele, or ADDison, was in the world, it looks highly probable they not a reader of Shakspere, because ‘Macbeth' should talk and act as he has represented is quoted from an acted edition ; and that, them.” therefore, Shakspere was not read generally. We have again an instance of Addison's If a hurried writer in a daily paper (as "The good taste in his remarks upon the critical Tatler' was) were to quote from some acted notions of poetical justice, which he calls editions at the present day, he might fall
“a ridiculous doctrine in modern criticism." into the same error; and yet he might be of the best plays which end unhappily he an ardent student of Shakspere, in a nation mentions Othello,' with others, and adds, of enthusiastic admirers. The early Essayists | “King Lear' is an admirable tragedy of the offer abundant testimonies, indeed, of their same kind, as Shakspeare wrote it ; but as general admiration of the poet. In No. 68 | it is reformed, according to the chimerical of “The Tatler,' he is “the great master notion of poetical justice, in my humble who ever commands our tears." In No. 160 opinion it has lost half its beauty.” All of “The Spectator'Shakspere is put amongst this exhibits a better taste than we find in the first class of great geniuses, in company Gildon and Dennis ; and it certainly is very with Homer; and this paper contains a remarkable that Addison, who in his own remarkable instance of a juster taste than tragedy was laboriously correct, as it was one might expect from the author of 'Cato:' called, should have taken no occasion to _“We are to consider that the rule of ob- comment upon the irregularities of Shakserving what the French call the bienséance spere. Mr. De Quincey says of Addison, in an allusion has been found out of later | “ The feeble constitution of the poetic faculty years, and in the colder regions of the world; as existing in himself forbad him sympawhere we could make some amends for our thising with Shakespear.” The feebleness want of force and spirit, by a scrupulous of the poetic faculty makes the soundness of nicety and exactness in our compositions.". the judgment more conspicuous.
any reference to Shakspear." No. 160 bears the signature * Mr. De Quincey is certainly mistaken when he says, of C., and immediately follows · The Vision of Mirza,' that " Addison has never in one instance quoted or made bearing the saine signature.
The commencement of the eighteenth cen- , 'Worthies,' "The Cabbala, or Collections of tury produced the first of the critical Letters of State,' and a little book, “Delices editions of Shakspere. In 1709 appeared de Hollande,' with another little book or 'Shakespeare's Plays Revised and Corrected, two, all of good use or serious pleasure ; with an Account of his Life and Writings, and 'Hudibras,' both parts, the book now by N. Rowe.' We should mention that the in greatest fashion for drollery, though I third edition of Shakspere's Comedies, His- cannot, I confess, see enough where the wit tories, and Tragedies, in folio, appeared in lies.” These two folio editions supplied the 1664. It has been said that the greater readers of Shakspere for more than forty number of the copies of this edition were years, but we are not hence to conclude that destroyed in the fire of London; and a he was neglected. Of Ben Jonson during writer whom we must once more quote says, the same period there was only one edi“During a whole century, only four editions tion ; of Beaumont and Fletcher only one; of his complete works, and these small, were of Spenser only one. Rowe's edition of published; and there would only have been Shakspere, we doubt not, supplied a general three, but for the destructive Fire of London want. Its critical merits were but small. in 1666."* The destruction by the fire is The facts of the 'Life' which he prefixes just as much proved as the smallness of the have been sufficiently noticed by us in edition. One of our best bibliographers, Mr. another place. The opinions expressed in Lowndes, whose 'Bibliographer's Manual' is that ‘Life' are few, and are put forth with a model of accuracy, doubts the statement little pretension. As might be expected, they of the destruction by the fire, “though it has fully admit the excellence of Shakspere, but been frequently repeated.” Upon the face of they somewhat fall into the besetting sin it the statement is improbable. If it were a of attempting to elevate his genius by degood speculation to print the book two years preciating his knowledge :—" It is without before the fire, and the stock so printed had controversy that in his works we scarce find been destroyed in the fire, it would have any traces of anything that looks like an been an equally good speculation to have re- imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of printed it immediately after the fire; and yet his taste, and the natural bent of his own the fourth edition did not appear till 1685. great genius (equal, if not superior, to some Some of the copies of the third edition bear of the best of theirs), would certainly hare the date of 1663; and we have no doubt led him to read and study them with so that the book was then generally published; much pleasure that some of their fine images for Pepys, under the date of December 10th, would naturally have insinuated themselves 1663, has a curious bibliographical entry :- into, and been mixed with, his own writings; “To St. Paul's Churchyard, to my bookseller's, so that his not copying at least something and could not tell whether to lay out my from them may be an argument of his never money for books of pleasure, as plays, which having read them. Whether his ignorance my nature was most earnest in; but at last, of the ancients were a disadvantage to him after seeing Chaucer, Dugdale's 'History of or no, may admit of a dispute: for, though Paul's,' Stow's 'London, Gesner, ‘History the knowledge of them might have made of Trent,' besides Shakespeare, Jonson, and him more correct, yet it is not improbable Beaumont's plays, I at last chose Dr. Fuller's but that the regularity and deference for • Life of Shakespear in. Lardner's Cyclopædia.'
them, which would have attended that cor