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natural passions and most frequent incidents; so that he who contemplates them in the book will not know them in the world : SHAKSPEARE approximates the remote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he represents will not happen, but, if it were possible, its effects would probably be such as he has assigned ; and it may be said, that he has not only shown human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials to which it cannot be exposed.” To the same purpose HazLITT, already quoted : “ He was like the genius of humanity changing places with us all at pleasure, and playing with our purposes as with his own. He turned the globe round for our amusement; and surveyed the generations of men, and the individuals as they passed, with their different concerns, passions, follies, vices, virtues, actions, and motives—as well those that they knew, as those which they did not know, or acknowledge to themselves. The dreams of childhood, the ravings of despair, were the toys of his fancy. Airy beings waited at his call, and came at his bidding. Harmless fairies nodded to him, and did him curtesies ;' and the night-hag bestrode the blast, at the command of his so potent art.'
The world of spirits lay open to him, like the world of real men and women: and there is the same truth in his delineations of the one as of the other; for, if the preternatural characters he describes could be supposed to exist, they would speak, and feel, and act, as he makes them. *** Thus the character of CALIBAN not only stands before us with a language and manner of his own, but the scenery and situation of the enchanted island he inhabits, the traditions of the place, its strange noises, its hidden recesses, his frequent haunts and ancient neighbourhood,' are given with a miraculous truth of nature, and with all the familiarity of an old recollection.”
These quotations are rather long, but they so well express the true cause of that delight we take in our immortal countryman that I could not hesitate to find a place for them. We recognise our own thoughts and feelings in the Characters of his Imagination, and sympathize with the motives that move them, and make them what they are. We seem to read our own history in reading theirs, and are affected with all the feelings that such a seeming community of interests inspires.
Some who have passed the period of their education, little benefitted by all the means of improvement bestowed upon them, natures uncouth, ungentle, unmoved to excellence, might, we are fond to think, have relented under the humanizing influences of this great Teacher: The access and passage' to their souls unknown to others might have been laid open to him. Chilled, blighted, and barren, there yet was hope for them in SHAKSPEARE's power. Taste, fancy, feeling, a soaring spirit, a brighter vision might have evinced his triumph, together with whatever of enjoyment is embodied in the beautiful lines of the poet:
“ For he hath waking empire, wide as dreams;
An ample sovereignty of eye and ear.
* WORDSWORTH'S SONNETS.
Do we, then, exalt SHAKSPEARE into a minister of Religion? Far from it. The vigorous use of the mental powers, the sweet sense of the beautiful and the true in nature, the capacity for intellectual enjoyment, however important, are not to be confounded with that “ well of living water springing up into everlasting life,” that “new man which is renewed after the image of Him that created him in righteousness and true holiness.” This is a principle of far other character, and due to far other sources. But, still, we may believe that in the exhumation (so to speak) of our intellectual powers, one great end of religion is served; which is, undoubtedly, to exalt the intellect, and enlighten the reason of man. This praise will not be denied to SHAKSPEARE;-nor is this the only way in which this Author (rightly used) acts in harmony with religion, and lends a concurring efficacy to revealed truth. The charming pictures he has given us of the moral virtues, political, social, domestic, must have a kindly influence on a heart of flesh. For models of courtesy, gentleness, grace, and every combination of moral beauty, witness IMÖGEN, DESDEMONA, OPHELIA, PERDITA, ARIEL, and a host of others. Ethereal Essences ! Never has the human imagination bodied forth creations more pure, more lovely, and soul-subduing.
One great characteristic of SHAKSPEARE's geniusnot to be passed over in enumerating his claims on Youth-iş his entire freedom from Mannerism.' We cannot be insensible to this virtue in him. It is the very condition of his mental being, as it is that of all endowed with the highest order of genius, and it is not the least of the causes that invest him with such paramount influence over us. Assimilated to this spirit we shall sedulously eschew the demon affectation—the pedantry of learning, the pride of intellect, the coxcombry of business, the insolence of office, and the thousand’ infirmities—all springing from this one root of bitterness—that "flesh is heir to,' and that deform and mar the pleasant intercourse of life.
Beautiful are the words of the late CHARLES LAMB, when pressing these Plays on the attention of Youth.* He calls them “ enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach you courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity; for, of examples teaching these virtues his pages are full.”
With these impressions I have prepared the following Plays for the use of Young Persons. The Plays I have selected seemed recommended as well for their uncommon merit, singly, as a combination of merit with historical interest. In the propriety of the choice I flatter myself there can be but one opinion.
KENSINGTON, 27th September, 1836.
* Preface to TALES FROM SHAKSPEARE.