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allow that his images were incomparably less so than those of his contemporaries; even the letters of females in high life were coarser than his writings.
The writings of Beaumont and Fletcher bear no comparison; the grossest passages of Shakspeare were purity to theirs; and it should be remembered that, though he might occasionally disgust a sense of delicacy, he never injured the mind; he caused no excitement of passion which he flattered to degrade; never used what was faulty for a faulty purpose; carried on no warfare against virtue, by which wickedness may be made to appear as not wickedness, and where our sympathy was to be entrapped by the misfortunes of vice: with him vice never walked, as it were, in twilight. He never inverted the order of nature and propriety, like some modern writers, who suppose every magistrate to be a glutton or a drunkard, and every poor man humane and temperate; with .him we had no benevolent braziers or sentimental rat-catchers. Nothing was purposely out of place.
If a man speak injuriously of a friend, our vindication of him is naturally warm : Shakspeare had been accused of profaneness; he (Mr. C.), from the perusal of him, had acquired a habit of looking into his own heart, and perceived the goings on of his nature; and confident he was, Shakspeare was a writer of all others the most
calculated to make his readers better as well as
This outline of an Introductory Lecture by Mr. Coleridge, delivered in 1813, on the Characteristics of Shakspeare, has been taken from a report published in a newspaper of the day. It has condensed into a small compass, and with much felicity of imagery and diction, all the leading features of the great dramatist; forming a picture which, as coming from one of the most original and imaginative poets of the present times, has on that account, likewise, a peculiar claim to our notice.
ON THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE GENIUS OF SHAK
SPEARE, AND ON HIS IRREGULARITIES IN RELATION TO DRAMATIC UNITY.
SHAKSPEARE created our romantic drama, or, if the assertion is to be qualified, it requires but a small qualification. There were undoubtedly prior occupants of the dramatic ground in our language; but they appear only like unprosperous settlers on the patches and skirts of a wilderness which he converted into a garden. He is therefore never compared with his native predecessors. Criticism goes back for names worthy of being put in competition with his, to the first great masters of dramatic invention; and even in the points of dissimilarity between them and him, discovers some of the highest indications of his genius. Compared with the classical composers of antiquity, he is to our conceptions nearer the character of an universal poet; more acquainted with man in the real world, and more terrific and bewitching in the preternatural. He expanded the magic circle of the drama beyond the limits that belonged to it in antiquity; made it embrace more time and locality; filled it with larger business and action, with vicissitudes of
and serious emotion, which classical taste had kept divided; with characters which developed humanity in stronger lights and subtler movements; and with a language more wildly, more playfully diversified by fancy and passion, than was ever spoken on any stage. Like nature herself, he presents alternations of the gay and the tragic; and his mutability, like the suspense and precariousness of real existence, often deepens the force of our impressions. He converted imitation into illusion. To say that, magician as he was, he was not faultless, is only to recal the flat and stale truism, that every thing human is imperfect. But how to estimate his imperfections! To praise him is easy-In facili causa cuivis licet esse diserto ;-but to make a special, full, and accurate estimate of his imperfections, would require a delicate and comprehensive discrimination, and an authority, which are almost as seldom united in one man as the powers of Shakspeare himself. He is the poet of the world. The magnitude of his genius puts it beyond all private opinion to set defined limits to the admiration which is due to it. We know, upon the whole, that the sum of blemishes to be deducted from his merits is not great, and we should scarcely be thankful to one who should be anxious to make it. No other poet triumphs só anomalously over eccentricities and peculiarities in composition, which would appear blemishes in others; so that his blemishes and beauties have an affinity which we are jealous of trusting any hand with the task of separating. We dread the interference of criticism with a fascination so often inexplicable
by critical laws, and justly apprehend that any man in standing between us and Shakspeare may show, for pretended spots upon his disk, only the shadows of his own opacity.
Still it is not a part even of that enthusiastic creed, to believe that he has no excessive mixture of the tragic and comic, no blemishes of language in the elliptical throng and impatient pressure of his images, no irregularities of plot and action, which another Shakspeare would avoid, if “nature had not broken the mould in which she made him," or if he should come back into the world to blend experience with inspiration.
The bare name of the dramatic unities is apt to excite revolting ideas of pedantry, arts of poetry, and French criticism. With none of these do I wish to annoy the reader. the reader. I conceive that it
may be said of those unities as of fire and water, that they are good servants, but bad masters. fect rigour they were never imposed by the Greeks, and they would be still heavier shackles if they were closely rivetted on our own drama. It would be worse than useless to confine dramatic action literally and immoveably to one spot, or its imaginary time to the time in which it is represented. On the other hand, dramatic time and place cannot surely admit of indefinite expansion. It would be better, for the sake of illusion and probability, to change the scene from Windsor to London, than from London to Pekin; it would look more like reality, if a messenger, who went and returned in