Page images

The hand to which that glove belongs is de- to Shakspere to try the 'Venus and Adonis,' scribed in the very perfection of poetry :

and Lucrece,' by such a standard of “poetical "Without the bed her other fair hand was,

excellence.” But we have outlived that period. On the green coverlet; whose perfect white By way of apology for Shakspere, Malone adds, Show'd like an April daisy on the grass."

“that few authors rise much above the age in In the chamber of innocence Tarquin is painted which they live.” He further says, “ The poems with terrific grandeur, which is overpowering of 'Venus and Adonis' and the ‘Rape of Luby the force of contrast :

crece,' whatever opinion may be now entertained “ This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,

of them, were certainly much admired in ShakWhich, like a falcon towering in the skies,

spere's lifetime." This is consolatory. In Coucheth the fowl below with his wings' shade."

Shakspere's lifetime there were a few men that The complaint of Lucrece after Tarquin has the world has since thought somewhat qualified departed was meant to be undramatic. The

to establish an “idea of poetical excellence”— action advances not. The character develops

Spenser, Drayton, Jonson, Fletcher, Chapman, not itself in the action. But the poet makes

for example. These were not much valued in his heroine bewail her fate in every variety of

| Malone's golden age of "more modern and lament that his boundless command of ima

polished productions ;”—but let that pass. We gery could furnish. The letter to Collatine is

are coming back to the opinions of this obsolete written ;-a letter of the most touching sim

school; and we venture to think the majority plicity :

of readers now will not require us to make an « Thou worthy lord Of that unworthy wife that greeteth thee,

apology for Shakspere's poems. Health to thy person ! Next vouchsafe to afford (If ever, love, thy Lucrece thou wilt see)

If Malone thought it necessary to solicit inSome present speed to come and visit me:

dulgence for the 'Venus and Adonis,' and 'LuSo I commend me from our house in grief;

My woes are tedious, though my words are brief." crece,' he drew even a more timid breath when Again the action languishes, and again Lucrece

he ventured to speak of the “Sonnets. “I do surrenders herself to her grief. The

not feel any great propensity to stand forth as "Skilful painting, made for Priam's Troy,"

| the champion of these compositions. However, is one of the most elaborate passages of the

as it appears to me that they have been somepoem, essentially cast in an undramatic mould.

what underrated, I think it incumbent on me But this is but a prelude to the catastrophe,

to do them that justice to which they seem where, if we mistake not, a strength of passion

entitled.” No wonder he speaks timidly. is put forth which is worthy him who drew the

The great poetical lawgiver of his time-the terrible agonies of Lear:

greater than Shakspere, for he undertook to “Here with a sigh, as if her heart would break,

mend him, and refine him, and make him fit She throws forth Tarquin's name: 'He, he,' she says,

to be tolerated by the super-elegant intellects But more than he' her poor tongue could not speak; of the days of George III.—had pronounced that Till after many accents and delays,

the “Sonnets' were too bad even for his genius Untimely breathings, sick and short assays, She utters this: "He, he, fair lords, 't is he,

to make tolerable. He, Steevens, who would That guides this hand to give this wound to me."" take up a play of Shakspere's in the condescendMalone, in his concluding remarks upon the ing spirit with which a clever tutor takes up a 'Venus and Adonis,' and ‘Lucrece,' says, “We smart boy's verses, -altering a word here, should do Shakspeare injustice were we to try piecing out a line there, commending this them by a comparison with more modern and thought, shaking his head at this false prosody, polished productions, or with our present idea and acknowledging upon the whole that the of poetical excellence." This was written in the thing is pretty well, seeing how much the lad year 1780—the period which rejoiced in the has yet to learn-he sent forth his decree that “polished productions” of Hayley and Miss nothing less than an act of parliament could Seward, and founded its “idea of poetical ex- | compel the reading of Shakspere's Sonnets.' cellence" on some standard which, secure in its For a long time mankind bowed before the conventional forms, might depart as far as oracle; and the Sonnets' were not read. possible from simplicity and nature, to give us Wordsworth has told us something about words without thought, arranged in verses this :without music. It would be injustice indeed! “There is extant a small volume of miscellaneous poems in which Shakspeare expresses | individual quickly perishes; the object of his feelings in his own person. It is not difficult present admiration vanishes, being supplanted to conceive that the editor, George Steevens, by some other as easily produced, which, though should have been insensible to the beauties of no better, brings with it at least the irritation one portion of that volume, the “Sonnets;' of novelty, with adaptation, more or less though there is not a part of the writings of skilful, to the changing humours of the majority this poet where is found, in an equal compass, of those who are most at leisure to regard a greater number of exquisite feelings felicitously poetical works when they first solicit their expressed. But, from regard to the critic's own attention. Is it the result of the whole, that, in credit, he would not have ventured to talk of an the opinion of the writer, the judgment of the act of parliament not being strong enough to people is not to be respected ? The thought is compel the perusal of these, or any production most injurious; and could the charge be brought of Shakspere, if he had not known that the against him, he would repel it with indignation. people of England were ignorant of the treasures The people have already been justified, and contained in those little pieces." a

their eulogium pronounced by implication, when That ignorance has been removed ; and no it is said above—that, of good poetry, the one has contributed more to its removal, by individual, as well as the species, survives. And creating a school of poetry founded upon Truth how does it survive but through the people?

critics of the last century have passed away :- wisdom? “Peor and Baälim

• Past and future are the wings • Forsake their temples dim."

On whose support, harmoniously conjoin'd, By the operation of what great sustaining prin

Moves the great spirit of human knowledge.'-MS. ciple is it that we have come back to the just “ The voice that issues from this spirit is appreciation of "the treasures contained in that vox populi which the Deity inspires. Foolthose little pieces "? The poet-critic will ish must he be who can mistake for this a local answer :

acclamation, or a transitory outcry-transitory “There never has been a period, and perhaps though it be for years, local though from a nation! never will be, in which vicious poetry, of some Still more lamentable is his error who can kind or other, has not excited more zealous believe that there is anything of divine infalliadmiration, and been far more generally read, bility in the clamour of that small though loud than good; but this advantage attends the good, portion of the community, ever governed by that the individual as well as the species, factitious influence, which, under the name of survives from age to age; whereas, of the the Public, passes itself, upon the unthinking, depraved, though the species be immortal, the for the PEOPLE." a • Preface to Poetical Works.

* Preface to Poetical Works.

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]


I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burthen; only if your honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after eara so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a barvest. I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honourb to your heart's content; which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world's bopeful expectation.

Your Honour's in all duty,


Honour. As a duke is now styled “your grace," so "your honour” was formerly the usual mode of address to noblemen in general.

« PreviousContinue »