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ON THE INFLUENCE OF SHAKSPEARE OVER THE
SHAKSPEARE was the profoundest thinker, the wittiest, the airiest, the most fantastic spirit, (reconciling the extremes of ordinary natures,) that ever condescended to teach and amuse mankind. He plunged into the depths of speculation; he penetrated to the inner places of knowledge, plucking out the heart of the mystery; he soared to the stars; he trod the earth, the air, the waters. Every element yielded him rich tribute. He surveyed the substances and the spirits of each; he saw their stature, their power, their quality, and reduced them without an effort to his own divine command.
It is impossible to forget all that he has done for us, or the world that he has laid open. He was the true magician, before whom the astrologers and Hermetic sages were nothing, and the Arabian wizards grew pale. He did not, indeed, trace the Sybil's book, nor the Runic rhyme; nor did he drive back the raging waters or the howling winds; but his power stretched all over the human mind, from wisdom to fatuity, from joy to despair, and embraced all the varieties of our uncertain nature. He it was, at whose touch the cave of Prosper opened and gave out its secrets. To his bidding, Ariel appeared. At his call, arose the witches and the earthy Caliban, the ghost who made “night hideous,” the moonlight Fays, Titania, and Oberon, and the rest. He was the “so potent" master before whom bowed kings and heroes, and jewelled queens, men wise as the stars, and women fairer than the morning. All the vices of life were explained by him, and all the virtues; and the passions stood plain before him. From the cradle to the coffin he drew them all. He created, for the benefit of wide posterity, and for the aggrandizement of human nature; lifting earth to heaven, and revealing the marvels of this lower world, and piercing even the shadowy secrets of the grave.
There is, perhaps, no one person of any considerable rate of mind who does not owe something to this matchless poet. He is the teacher of all good-pity, generosity, true courage, love. His works alone (leaving mere science out of the question) contain, probably, more actual wisdom than the whole body of English learning. He is the text for the moralist and the philosopher. His bright wit is cut out “into little stars ;” his solid masses of knowledge are meted out in morsels and proverbs; and, thus distributed, there is scarcely a corner which he does not illuminate, or a cottage which he does not enrich. His bounty is like the sea, which, though often unacknowledged, is every where felt; on mountains and plains and distant places, carrying its cloudy freshness through the
air, making glorious the heavens, and spreading verdure on the earth beneath.
It is because he has thus outshone all writers of all nations in dramatic skill, in fine knowledge of humanity, in sweetness, in pathos, in humour, in wit, and in poetry ;-it is because he has subdued every passion to his use, and explored and made visible the inequalities and uttermost bounds of the human mind, because he has embodied the mere nothings of the air, and made personal and probable the wildest anomalies of superstition, because he has tried every thing, and failed in nothing,—that we bow down in silent admiration before him, and give ourselves up to a completer homage than we would descend to pay to any other created man.
RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW, Vol. 7th, pp. 380, 381.
ON SHAKSPEARE, AND ON THE CHARACTER OF
There are beauties of the first order to be found in Shakspeare, relating to every country and every period of time. His faults are those which belonged to the times in which he lived; and the singularities then so prevalent among the English, , are still represented with the greatest success upon their theatres.
Shakspeare did not imitate the ancients; nor, like Racine, did he feed his genius upon the Grecian tragedies. He composed one piece upon a Greek subject, Troilus and Cressida ; in which the manners in the time of Homer are not at all observed. He excelled infinitely more in those tragedies which were taken from Roman subjects. But history, and the Lives of Plutarch, which Shakspeare appears to have read with the utmost attention, are not purely a literary study; we may therein trace the man almost to a state of exist
When an author is solely penetrated with the models of the dramatic art of antiquity, and when he imitates imitations, he must of course have less originality: he cannot have that genius which draws from Nature ; that immediate genius, if I may so express myself, which so particularly characterizes Shakspeare. From the times of the Greeks down to this time, we see every species of literature derived one from another, and all arising from the same source. Shakspeare opened a new field of literature : it was borrowed, without doubt, from the general spirit and colour of the North ; but it was Shakspeare who gave to the English literature its impulse, and to their dramatic art its character.
A nation which has carved out its liberty through the horrors of civil war, and whose passions have been strongly agitated, is much more susceptible of the emotion excited by Shakspeare, than that which is caused by Racine. When misfortune lies heavy and for a long time upon a nation, it creates a character, which even succeeding prosperity can never entirely efface. Shakspeare was the first who painted moral affliction in the highest degree: the bitterness of those sufferings of which he gives us the idea, might pass for the phantoms of imagination, if Nature did not recognise her own picture in them.
The ancients believed in a fatality, which came upon them with the rapidity of lightning, and de
stroyed them like a thunderbolt. The moderns, Tand more especially Shakspeare, found a much
deeper source of emotion in a philosophical distress, which was often composed of irreparable misfortunes, of ineffectual exertions, and blighted hopes. But the ancients inhabited a world yet in its infancy, were in possession of but very few histo