Page images

cout. Самые 3-12-48 62022



THIS Letter by Prof. Spalding has always seemd to me one of the ablest (if not the ablest) and most stimulating pieces of Shakspere criticism I ever read. And even if you differ from the writer's conclusion as to Shakspere's part, or even hold that Shakspere took no part at all, in the Play, you still get almost as much good from the essay as if you accept its conclusions as to the authorship of The Two Noble Kinsmen. It is for its general, more than for its special, discussions, that I value this Letter. The close reasoning, the spirited language, the perception and distinction of the special qualities of Shakspere's work, the investigation into the nature of dramatic art, the grasp of subject, and the mixt logic and enthusiasm of the whole Letter, are worthy of a true critic of our great poet, and of the distinguisht Professor of Logic, Rhetoric, and Metaphysics, who wrote this treatise, that at once delights and informs every one who reads it. No wonder it carrid away and convinct even the calm judicial mind of Hallam.

Indeed, while reading the Letter, one can hardly resist the power of Prof. Spalding's argument, backt as it is by his well-chosen passages from the Play. But when one turns to the play itself, when one reads it aloud with a party of friends, then come doubt and hesitation. One begins to ask, 'Is this indeed Shakspere, Shakspere at the end of his glorious career, Shakspere who has just given us Perdita, Hermione and Autolycus'?

Full of the heavenly beauty of Perdita's flowers, one reads over The Two Noble Kinsmen flower-song, and asks, pretty as the fancy of a few of the epithets is, whether all that Shakspere, with the spring-flowers of Stratford about him, and the love of nature deeper than ever in his soul --whether all he has to say of the daisy-Chaucer's 'Quene of flourës alle is, that it is "smelless but most quaint "; and of marigolds, that they blow on death-beds', when one recollects his twenty-years' earlier Unsure myself as to the form of oxlip root-leaves, and knowing nothing of the use of marigolds alluded to in the lines

"Oxlips in their cradles growing,

Marigolds on death-beds blowing,"

also seeing no fancy even if there were fact in 'em, I applied to the best judge in England

[ocr errors]




use of them in Lucrece (A.D. 1594) :—

Without the bed her other fair hand was,
On the green coverlet; whose perfect white
Show'd like an April daisy on the grass,
With pearly sweat, resembling dew of night.
Her eyes, like marigolds, had sheath'd their light,
And canopied in darkness sweetly lay,

Till they might open to adorn the day.

Full of the ineffable charm and consistency of Miranda and Perdita, one asks of Emilia-Chaucer's daring huntress, virgin free, seeking no marriage-bed-whether Shakspere, at the crisis of her life, degraded her to a silly lady's-maid or shop-girl, not knowing her own mind, up and down like a bucket in a well, balancing her lovers' qualities against one another, saying she'd worn the losing Palamon's portrait on her right side, not the heart one, her left, &c.; and then (oh dear !) that Palamon might wound Arcite and spoil his figure! What a pity it would be! Arcite may win me,

And yet may Palamon wound Arcite to
The spoyling of his figure. O what pitty
Enough for such a chance!

V. iii. 68-71, p. 81, ed. Littledale.

I say, is it possible to believe that Shakspere turnd a noble lady, a frank gallant nature, whose character he had rightly seizd at first, into a goose of this kind, whom one would like to shake, or box her ears well? The thing is surely impossible. Again, is it likely and again, I say, at the end of his career, with all his experience behind him, that Shakspere would make his hero Palamon publicly urge on Venus in his prayer to her, that she was bound to protect him because he'd believd a wanton young wife's word that her old incapable husband was the father of her known to me, Dr R. C. A. Prior, author of the Popular Names of British Plants; and he says "I am quite at a loss for the meaning of cradles and death-beds in the second stanza.

"The writer did not know much about plants, or he would not have combined summer flowers, like the marigold and larkspur, with the primrose.

"I prefer the reading With hair-bells dimme'; for nobody would call the upright salver-shaped flower of the primrose a 'bell.' The poet probably means the blue-bell."

On the other hand, Mr Wm Whale of our Egham Nurseries writes: "The rootleaves of the Oxlip are cradle-shaped, but circular instead of long. The growth of the leaves would certainly give one an idea of the stem and Oxlip flowers being lodged in a cradle [? saucer].

"I have seen the marygold* in my boyish days frequently placed on coffins; and in a warm death-room they would certainly flower. The flowers named may be all called Spring-flowers, but of course some blowing rather later than others."

* This is called the Calendula officinalis, or Medicinal Marygold, not the African or French sorts which are now so improved and cultivated in gardens.



child? Is this the kind of thing that the Shakspere of Imogen, of Desdemona, of Queen Catherine, would put forward as the crown of his life and work? Again I say, it can hardly be.

Further, when at one's reading-party one turns to the cleverest and most poetic-natured girl-friend, and says, 'This is assignd to Shakspere. Do you feel it's his?' She answers, Not a bit. And no one else does either. Look how people's eyes are all off their books. They don't care for it you never see that when we're reading one of Shakspere's genuine plays.' Then when you note Prof. Spalding's own admission in his Letter, p. 81, that in Shakspere's special excellence, characterization, the play is as of course it is-weak, and that it is to be compard on the one hand with his weaker early work, and on the other with his latest Henry VIII, more than half of which Fletcher wrote, you are not surpris'd to find that in 1840,' seven years after the date of his Letter, Professor Spalding had concluded, that on Shakspere's having taken part in The Two Noble Kinsmen, his "opinion is not now so decided as it once was," and that by 1847 he was still less decided, and declared the question "really insoluble." Here is the full passage from his article on Dyce's "Beaumont and Fletcher," in the Edinb. Review, July 1847, p. 57:

"In measuring the height of Beaumont and Fletcher, we cannot take a better scale than to put them alongside Shakespeare, and compare them with him. In this manner, an imaginary supposition may assist us in determining the nature of their excellence, and almost enable us to fix its degree. Suppose there were to be discovered, in the library of the Earl of Ellesmere, or in that of the Duke of Devonshire, two dramas not known before, and of doubtful authorship, the one being 'Hamlet,' and the other The Winter's Tale.' We should be at no loss, we think, to assign the former to Shakespeare: the judgment would be warranted alike by the consideration of the whole, and by a scrutiny of particular parts. But with regard to the other play, hesitation would not be at all unreasonable. Beaumont and Fletcher (as an eminent living critic has remarked to us) might be believed to have written all its serious parts, more especially the scenes of the jealousy of Leontes, and those beautiful ones which describe the rustic festival'. Strange to say, a case of this kind has actually arisen. And the uncertainty which still hangs over it, agrees entirely with the hesitation which we have ventured to imagine as arising in the case we have supposed.

"In 1634, eighteen years after Beaumont's death, and nine after Fletcher's, there was printed, for the first time, the play called 'The Two Noble Kinsmen.' The bookseller in his title-page declared it to have

Edinb. Review, July 1840, no. 144, p. 468.

2 Surely the 'eminent living critic' made an awful mistake about this. Beaumont and Fletcher write Perdita's flowers, Florizel's description of her, Autolycus!



been written by the memorable worthies of their time, Mr John Fletcher and Mr William Shakespeare, gentlemen.' On the faith of this assertion, and on the evidence afforded by the character of the work, it has been assumed universally, that Fletcher had a share in the authorship. Shakespeare's part in it has been denied; though there is, perhaps, a preponderance of authority for the affirmative. Those who maintain the joint authorship, commonly suppose the two poets to have written together but Mr Dyce questions this, and gives us an ingenious theory of his own, which assumes Fletcher to have taken up and altered the work long after Shakespeare's labour on it had been closed.

"The question of Shakespeare's share in this play is really insoluble. On the one hand, there are reasons making it very difficult to believe that he can have had any concern in it; particularly the heavy and undramatic construction of the piece, and the want of individuality in the characters. Besides, we encounter in it direct and palpable imitations of Shakespeare himself; among which the most prominent is the wretchedly drawn character of the jailor's daughter. On the other hand, there are, in many passages, resemblances of expression (in the very particulars in which our two poets are most unlike Shakespeare) so close, that we must either admit Shakespeare's authorship of these parts, or suppose Fletcher or some one else to have imitated him designedly, and with very marvellous success. Among these passages, too, there are not a few which display a brilliancy of imagination, and a grasp of thought, much beyond Fletcher's ordinary pitch. Readers who lean to Mr Dyce's theory, will desire to learn his grounds for believing that Fletcher's labour in the play was performed in the latter part of his life. It appears to us that the piece bears a close likeness to those more elevated works which are known to have been among the earliest of our series: and if it were not an unbrotherly act to throw a new bone of contention among the critics, we would hint that there is no evidence entitling us peremptorily to assert that Fletcher was concerned in the work to the exclusion of Beaumont.

"Be the authorship whose it may, 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' is undoubtedly one of the finest dramas in the volumes before us. It contains passages which, in dramatic vigour and passion, yield hardly to anything-perhaps to nothing—in the whole collection; while for gorgeousness of imagery, for delicacy of poetic feeling, and for grace, animation, and strength of language, we doubt whether there exists, under the names of our authors, any drama that comes near to it. Never has any theme enjoyed the honours which have befallen the semi-classical legend of Palamon and Arcite. Chosen as the foundation of chivalrous narrative by Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Dryden, it has furnished one of the In the Edinburgh Review for April 1841, p. 237-8, Prof. Spalding says that in Fletcher's Spanish Curate, "The scene of defiance and threatening between Jamie and Henrique is in one of Fletcher's best keys ;-not unlike a similar scene in 'The Two Noble Kinsmen.'" Act III. sc. i.



fairest of the flowers that compose the dramatic crown of Fletcher, while from that flower, perhaps, leaves might be plucked to decorate another brow which needs them not.

"If the admirers of Fletcher could vindicate for him the fifth act of this play, they would entitle him to a still higher claim upon our gratitude, as the author of a series of scenes, as picturesquely conceived, and as poetically set forth, as any that our literature can boast. Dramatically considered, these scenes are very faulty: perhaps there are but two of them that have high dramatic merits-the interrupted execution of Palamon, and the preceding scene in which Emilia, left in the forest, hears the tumult of the battle, and receives successive reports of its changes and issue. But as a gallery of poetical pictures, as a cluster of images suggestive alike to the imagination and the feelings, as a cabinet of jewels whose lustre dazzles the eye and blinds it to the unskilful setting, in this light there are few pieces comparable to the magnificent scene before the temples, where the lady and her lovers pray to the gods: and the pathetically solemn close of the drama, admirable in itself, loses only when we compare it with the death of Arcite in Chaucer's masterpiece, 'the Iliad of the middle ages.'

All this does but show how well-founded was the judgment which that sound scholar and able Shaksperian critic, Prof. Ingram,' expresst in our Transactions for 1874, p. 454. My own words on pages 73, 64*,— written after short acquaintance with the play, and under stress of Prof. Spalding's and Mr Hickson's able Papers, and the metrical evidencewere incautiously strong. In modifying them now, I do but follow the example of Prof. Spalding himself. Little as my opinion may be worth, I wish to say that I think the metrical and æsthetic evidence are conclusive as to there being two hands in the play. I do not think the evidence that Shakspere wrote all the parts that either Prof. Spalding or Mr Hickson assigns to him, at all conclusive. If it could be shown that Beaumont' or any other author wrote the suppos'd Shakspere parts, and that Shakspere toucht them up, that theory would suit me best. It failing, I accept, for the time, Shakspere as the second author, subject to Fletcher having spoilt parts of his conception and work.

His Dublin' Afternoon Lecture' of 1863, shows that he then knew all that I in 1873 was trying in vain to find a known Shaksperian editor or critic to tell me.

2 I name Beaumont because of his run-on lines, &c., and the power I find in some of the parts of his and Fletcher's joint dramas that I attribute to him.

« PreviousContinue »