« PreviousContinue »
THE PO EM S.
“ If the first heir of my invention prove de- their works with that lucid transparent atmoformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a god- sphere wherein every form stands out in perfect father.” These are the words which, in relation definiteness and distinctness, only beautified by to the 'Venus and Adonis,' Shakspere addressed, | the distance which idealises it. This has dein 1593, to the Earl of Southampton. Are we livered those works from the casualties of time to accept them literally? Was the.Venus and and space, and has lifted them up like stars into Adonis' the first production of Shakspere's the pure firmament of thought, so that they do imagination? Or did he put out of his view not shine on one spot alone, nor fade like earthly those dramatic performances which he had then | flowers, but journey on from clime to clime, unquestionably produced, in deference to the shedding the light of beauty on generation after critical opinions which regarded plays as works generation. The same quality, amounting to a not belonging to "invention ?" We think that total extinction of his own selfish being, so that he used the words in a literal sense. We regard his spirit became a mighty organ through which the 'Venus and Adonis' as the production of a Nature gave utterance to the full diapason of very young man, improved, perhaps, consider- her notes, is what we wonder at in our own ably in the interval between its first composi- great dramatist, and is the groundwork of all tion and its publication, but distinguished by his other powers : for it is only when purged of peculiarities which belong to the wild luxuriance selfishness that the intellect becomes fitted for of youthful power,--such power, however, as few receiving the inspirations of genius.” 2 besides Shakspere have ever possessed.
What Mr. Hare so justly considers as the great A deep thinker and eloquent writer, Julius moving principle of “classical poetry,"—what Charles Hare, thus describes “the spirit of he further notes as the pre-eminent characself-sacrifice," as applied to poetry :
teristic of “our own great dramatist," — is “ The might of the imagination is manifested abundantly found in that great dramatist's by its launching forth from the petty creek, earliest work. Coleridge was the first to point where the accidents of birth moored it, into the out this pervading quality in the Venus and wide ocean of being,-by its going abroad into Adonis;' and he has done this so admirably, the world around, passing into whatever it that it would be profanation were we to attempt meets with, animating it, and becoming one to elucidate the point in any other than his own with it. This complete union and identification words :of the poet with his poem,—this suppression of “ It is throughout as if a superior spirit, more his own individual insulated consciousness, with intuitive, more intimately conscious, even than its narrowness of thought and pettiness of feel the characters themselves, not only of every outing,-is what we admire in the great masters of ward look and act, but of the flux and reflux of that which for this reason we justly call classical the mind in all its subtlest thoughts and feelings, poetry, as representing that which is symbolical were placing the whole before our view; himself and universal, not that which is merely occa- meanwhile unparticipating in the passions, and sional and peculiar. This gives them that actuated only by that pleasurable excitement majestic calmness which still breathes upon us
The Victory of Faith; and other Sermons. By from the statues of their gods. This invests | Julius Charles Hare, M.A. 1840. P. 277.
which had resulted from the energetic fervour | tion lately presented itself to our mind, in of his own spirit in so vividly exhibiting what running through a little volume, full of talent, it had so accurately and profoundly contem published in 1825—— Essays and Sketches of plated. I think I should have conjectured from Character, by the late Richard Ayton, Esq.' these poems, that even then the great instinct | There is a paper on bunting, and especially on which impelled the poet to the drama was hare-hunting. He says—“I am not one of the secretly working in him, prompting him by a perfect fox-hunters of these realms; but having series and never-broken chain of imagery, always been in the way of late of seeing a good deal of vivid, and, because unbroken, often minute, - various modes of hunting, I would, for the by the highest effort of the picturesque in words benefit of the uninitiated, set down the results of which words are capable, higher perhaps of my observations.” In this matter he writes than was ever realised by any other poet, even with a perfect unconsciousness that he is deDante not excepted,—to provide a substitute scribing what any one has described before. for that visual language, that constant interven But as accurate an observer had been before tion and running comment by tone, look, and him : gesture, which in his dramatic works he was | “She (the hare) generally returns to the seat entitled to expect from the players. His Venus from which she was put up, running, as all the and Adonis seem at once the characters them world knows, in a circle, or something someselves, and the whole representation of those times like it, we had better say, that we may characters by the most consumate actors. You keep on good terms with the mathematical. seem to be told nothing, but to see and hear | At starting, she tears away at her utmost speed everything. Hence it is, that, from the per. for a mile or more, and distances the dogs halfpetual activity of attention required on the way : she then returns, diverging a little to the part of the reader,—from the rapid flow, the right or left, that she may not run into the quick change, and the playful nature of the mouths of her enemies--a necessity which acthoughts and images,—and, above all, from the counts for what we call the circularity of her alienation, and, if I may hazard such an expres. course. Her flight from home is direct and sion, the utter aloofness of the poet's own feel. | precipitate; but on her way back, when she has ings from those of which he is at once the | gained a little time for consideration and strapainter and the analyst,—that though the very | tagem, she describes a curious labyrinth of subject cannot but detract from the pleasure of short turnings and windings, as if to perplex a delicate mind, yet never was poem less dan- the dogs by the intricacy of her track.” gerous on a moral account." &
Compare this with Shakspere :Coleridge, in the preceding chapter of his
“ And when thou hast on foot the purblind hare, 'Literary Life,' says, “During the first year Mark the poor wretch, to overshoot his troubles, that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, How he outruns the wind, and with what care
He cranks and crosses, with a thousand doubles : our conversations turned frequently on the two
The many musits through the which he goes cardinal points of poetry--the power of exciting Are like a labyrinth to amaze his foes." the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of
Mr. Ayton thus goes on : giving the interest of novelty by the modifying
“The hounds, whom we left in full cry, concolours of imagination.” In Coleridge's Lite.tinue their music without remission as long as rary Remains' the 'Venus and Adonis' is cited they are faithful to the scent; as a summons, it as furnishing a signal example of “ that affec- should seem, like the seaman's cry, to pull togetionate love of nature and natural objects, with-| ther, or keep together, and it is a certain proof out which no man could have observed so to themselves and their followers that they are in steadily, or painted so truly and passionately, the right way. On the instant that they are ‘at the very minutest beauties of the external fault' or lose the scent, they are silent. *** world.” The description of the hare-hunt is The weather, in its impression on the scent, is there given at length as a specimen of this the great father of 'faults ;' but they may arise power. A remarkable proof of the complete from other accidents, even when the day is in ness as well as accuracy of Shakspere's descrip
every respect favourable. The intervention of
ploughed land, on which the scent soon cools or Biographia Literaria,' 1817, vol. ii. p. 15. evaporates, is at least perilous; but sheep-stains,
recently left by a flock, are fatal: they cut off the 'Venus and Adonis' is another remarkable the scent irrecoverably-making a gap, as it instance of the accuracy of the young Shakwere, in the clue, in which the dogs have not spere's observation. Not the most experienced even a hint for their guidance."
dealer ever knew the points of a horse better. Compare Shakspere again :
The whole poem is indeed full of evidence that “Sometime he runs among a flock of sheep,
the circumstances by which the writer was surTo make the cunning hounds mistake their smell, rounded, in a country district, had entered And sometime where earth-delving conies keep, deeply into his mind, and were reproduced in To stop the loud pursuers in their yell;
the poetical form. The bird “tangled in a And sometimes sorteth with a herd of deer; Danger deviseth shifts; wit waits on fear:
net"-the“ di-dapper peering through a wave” “ For there his smell with others being mingled,
--the “blue-veined violets "—the The hot scent-snuffing hounds are driven to doubt,
“Red morn, that ever yet betoken'd Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled
Wreck to the seamen, tempest to the field"With much ado the cold fault cleanly out;
Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replies, the fisher that forbears the “ungrown fry”—the As if another chase were in the skies."
sheep “gone to fold”--the caterpillars feeding One more extract from Mr. Ayton :
on the “tender leaves”-and, not to weary with “Suppose then, after the usual rounds, that examples, that exquisite image, you see the hare at last (a sorry mark for so “Look how a bright star shooteth from the sky, many foes) sorely beleaguered-looking dark So glides he in the night from Venus' eye"and draggled--and limping heavily along; then | all these bespeak a poet who had formed himstopping to listen-again tottering on a little self upon Nature, and not upon books. To and again stopping; and at every step, and understand the value as well as the rarity of every pause, hearing the death-cry grow nearer
this quality in Shakspere, we should open any and louder,”
contemporary poem. Take Marlowe's 'Hero One more comparison, and we have exhausted
and Leander,' for example. We read line after Shakspere's description :
line, beautiful, gorgeous, running over with a “By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,
satiating luxuriousness; but we look in vain for Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,
a single familiar image. Shakspere describes To hearken if his foes pursue him still; Anon their loud alarums he doth hear;
what he has seen, throwing over the real the And now his grief may be compared well
delicious tint of his own imagination. Marlowe To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.
looks at Nature herself very rarely; but he " Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch
knows all the conventional images by which the Turn and return, indenting with the way:
real is supposed to be elevated into the poetical. Each envious briar his weary legs doth scratch, Each shadow makes him stop, each murmur stay;
His most beautiful things are thus but copies For misery is trodden on by many,
of copies. The mode in which each poet And being low never reliev'd by any."
describes the morning will illustrate our meanHere then, be it observed, are not only the ing :same objects, the same accidents, the same
“Lo ! here the gentle lark, weary of rest, movement in each description, but the very From his moist cabinet mounts up on high,
And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast words employed to convey the scene to the
The sun ariseth in his majesty; mind are often the same in each. It would be
Who doth the world so gloriously behold, easy to say that Mr. Ayton copied Shakspere. The cedar-tops and hills seem burnish'd gold." We believe he did not. There is a sturdy in We feel that this is true. Comparegenuousness about his writings which would
“By this Apollo's golden harp began have led him to notice the 'Venus and Adonis'
To sound forth music to the ocean ; if he had had it in his mind. Shakspere and
Which watchful Hesperus no sooner heard
But he the day bright-bearing car prepar'd, he had each looked minutely and practically
And ran before, as harbinger of light, upon the same scene; and the wonder is, not And with his flaring beams mock'd ugly Night, that Shakspere was an accurate describer, but Til she, o'ercome with anguish, shame, and rage, that in him the accurate is so thoroughly fused
Dang'd down to hell her loathsome 'carriage." with the poetical, that it is one and the same We are taught that this is classical. life.
Coleridge has observed that, “in the 'Venus The celebrated description of the courser in and Adonis,' the first and most obvious ex
cellence is the perfect sweetness of the versifica- | produced the “first heir” of his invention. He tion; its adaptation to the subject; and the describes the 'Venus and Adonis' as “unpower displayed in varying the march of the polished lines"-lines thrown off with youthful words without passing into a loftier and more luxuriousness and rapidity. The verses of the majestic rhythm than was demanded by the 'Lucrece' are “untutored lines"-lines formed thoughts, or permitted by the propriety of pre- upon no established model. There is to our serving a sense of melody predominant." This mind the difference of eight or even ten years self-controlling power of “varying the march of in the aspect of these poems-a difference as the words without passing into a loftier and manifest as that which exists between 'Love's more majestic rhythm,' is perhaps one of the Labour 's Lost' and 'Romeo and Juliet.' Colemost signal instances of Shakspere's consum ridge has marked the great distinction between mate mastery of his art, even as a very young the one poem and the other :man. He who, at the proper season, knew how “The 'Venus and Adonis' did not perhaps to strike the grandest music within the com- | allow the display of the deeper passions. But pass of our own powerful and sonorous language, the story of Lucretia seems to favour, and even in his early productions breathes out his demand, their intensest workings. And yet we thoughts
find in Shakespeare's management of the tale " To the Dorian mood
neither pathos nor any other dramatic quality. of flutes and soft recorder.”
There is the same minute and faithful imagery The sustained sweetness of the versification is as in the former poem, in the same vivid colours, never cloying; and yet there are no violent inspirited by the same impetuous vigour of contrasts, no sudden elevations : all is equable thought, and diverging and contracting with in its infinite variety. The early comedies are the same activity of the assimilative and of the full of the same rare beauty. In 'Love's
modifying faculties; and with a yet larger disLabour 's Lost'-'The Comedy of Errors' play, a yet wider range of knowledge and re'A Midsummer Night's Dream '—we have flection : and, lastly, with the same perfect verses of alternate rhymes formed upon the dominion, often domination, over the whole same model as those of the 'Venus and Adonis,' | world of language.”a and producing the same feeling of placid delight It is in this paragraph that Coleridge has by their exquisite harmony. The same princi- marked the difference—which & critic of the ples on which he built the versification of the very highest order could alone have pointed * Venus and Adonis' exhibited to him the grace out -- between the power which Shakspere's which these elegiac harmonies would impart to mind possessed of going out of itself in a the scenes of repose in the progress of a dramatic narrative poem and the dramatic power. The action.
same mighty, and to most unattainable, power,
of utterly subduing the self-conscious to the We proceed to the ‘Lucrece. Of that poem universal, was essential to the highest excelthe date of the composition is fixed as accu- lence of both species of composition, — the rately as we can desire. In the dedication to
poem and the drama. But the exercise of that the 'Venus and Adonis'the poet says—“If your
power was essentially different in each. Colehonour seem but pleased I account myself
ridge, in another place, says, “in his very first highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all
production he projected his mind out of his idle hours till I have honoured you with some
own particular being, and felt, and made others graver labour.” In 1594, a year after the 'Venus
feel, on subjects no way connected with himself and Adonis,' 'Lucrece' was published, and was except by force of contemplation, and that dedicated to Lord Southampton. This, then, sublime faculty by which a great mind becomes was undoubtedly the "graver labour;" this was that on which it meditates.” b But this “subthe produce of the “idle hours” of 1593. lime faculty" went greatly farther when it Shakspere was then nearly thirty years of age became dramatic. In the narrative poems of --the period at which it is held by some he first
d by some he first an ordinary man we perpetually see the narrabegan to produce anything original for the tor. Coleridge, in a passage previously quoted, stage. The poet unquestionably intended the has shown the essential superiority of Shak“graver labour" for a higher effort than had
a 'Biographia Literaria,' vol. ii. p. 21. Biographia Literaria,' vol. ii. p. 14.
b Literary Remains,' vol. ii. p. 54.
spere's narrative poems, where the whole is and a half at most is given to the tragedy. placed before our view, the poet un participat- This is proper enough in a narrative, whose ing in the passions. There is a remarkable business it is to make all the circumstances example of how strictly Shakspere adhered to intelligible. But the narrative poet, who was this principle in his beautiful poem of 'A also thoroughly master of the dramatic power, Lover's Complaint. There the poet is actually concentrates all the interest upon the main present to the scene :
circumstances of the story. He places the “From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded
scene of those circumstances before our eyes at A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
the very opening :My spirits to attend this double voice accorded, And down I laid to list the sad-tun'd tale."
" From the besieged Ardea all in post,
Borne by the trustless wings of false desire, But not one word of comment does he offer
Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host,
And to Collatium bears," &c. upon the revelations of the "fickle maid full pale.” The dramatic power, however, as we The preceding circumstances which impel this have said, is many steps beyond this. It dis journey are then rapidly told. Again, after the penses with narrative altogether. It renders a
arrative altogether. It renders a crowning action of the tragedy, the poet has complicated story, or stories, one in the action.
done. He tells the consequences of it with It makes the characters reveal themselves, some
a brevity and simplicity indicating the most times by a word. It trusts for everything to
consummate art:the capacity of an audience to appreciate the
“When they had sworn to this advised doom,
They did conclude to bear dead Lucrece thence; greatest subtilties, and the nicest shades of
To show her bleeding body thorough Rome, passion, through the action. It is the very And so to publish Tarquin's foul offence: reverse of the oratorical power, which repeats Which being done with speedy diligence,
The Romans plausibly did give consent and explains. And how is it able to effect this
To Tarquin's everlasting banishment." prodigious mastery over the senses and the
He has thus cleared away all the encumbrances understanding? By raising the mind of the
to the progress of the main action. He would spectator, or reader, into such a state of poetical
have done the same had he made Lucrece the excitement as corresponds in some degree to the
subject of a drama. But he has to tell his excitement of the poet, and thus clears away
painful story and to tell it all : not to exhibit a the mists of our ordinary vision, and irradiates
portion of it, as he would have done had he the whole complex moral world in which we
chosen the subject for a tragedy. The consumfor a time live, and move, and have our being,
mate delicacy with which he has accomplished with the brightness of his own intellectual
this is beyond all praise, perhaps above all sunlight. Now, it appears to us that, although
imitation. He puts forth his strength on the the 'Venus and Adonis,' and the ‘Lucrece,' do
accessaries of the main incident. He delights not pretend to be the creations of this wonderful
| to make the chief actors analyse their own power-their forms did not demand its com
thoughts,-reflect, explain, expostulate. All plete exercise--they could not have been pro
this is essentially undramatic, and he meant it duced by a man who did not possess the power,
ver, to be so. But then, what pictures does he paint and had assiduously cultivated it in its own
of the progress of the action, which none but a proper field. In the second poem, more espe
great dramatic poet, who had visions of future cially, do we think the power has reached a
Macbeths and Othellos before him, could have higher development, indicating itself in “a yet
painted! Look, for example, at that magnifiwider range of knowledge and reflection.”
cent scene, when Malone says, “I have observed that Painter
“No comfortable star did lend his light,” has inserted the story of Lucrece in the first
of Tarquin leaping from his bed, and, softly volume of his Palace of Pleasure,' 1567, on
smiting his falchion on a flint, lighting a torch which I make no doubt our author formed his
“Which must be lode-star to his lustful eye." poem.” Be it so. The story of Lucrece in
Look, again, at the exquisite domestic incident Painter's novel occupies four pages. The first
which tells of the quiet and gentle occupation page describes the circumstances that preceded
of his devoted victim : the unholy visit of Tarquin to Lucrece; nearly
"By the light he spies the whole of the last two pages detail the events
Lucretia's glove, wherein her needle sticks; that followed the death of Lucrece. A page He takes it from the rushes where it lies."