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that Mr. Morgan, forty years ago, stood forward the avowed champion, and, we may add, one of the most eloquent defenders which his country has yet produced, of England's calumniated Bard.
Speaking of the magic influence which our poet almost invariably exerts over his auditors, he remarks, that “ on such an occasion, a fellow, like Rymer, waking from his trance, shall lift up his Constable's staff, and charge this great Magician, this daring practicer of arts inhibited, in the name of Aristotle, to surrender ; whilst Aristotle himself, disowning his wretched officer, would fall prostrate at his feet and acknowledge his supremacy. — “O supreme of Dramatic excellence! (might he say) not to me be imputed the insolence of fools. The bards of Greece were confined within the narrow circle of the Chorus, and hence they found themselves constrained to practice, for the most part, the precision, and copy the details of nature. I followed them, and knew not that a larger circle might be drawn, and the drama extended to the whole reach of human genius. Convinced, I see that a more compendious nature may be obtained ; a nature of effects only, to which neither the relations of place, or continuity of time, are always essential. Nature, condescending to the faculties and apprehensions of man, has drawn through human life a regular chain of visible causes and effects : But Poetry delights in surprize, conceals her steps, seizes at once upon the heart, and obtains the sublime of things without betraying the rounds of her ascent: True Poesy is magic, not nature; an effect from causes hidden or unknown. To the Magician I prescribed no laws; his law and his power are one; his power is his law. - If his end is obtained, who shall question his course ? Means, whether apparent or hidden, are justified in Poesy by success; but then most perfect and most admirable when most concealed.'
“ • Yes,' whatever may be the neglect of some, or the censure of others, there are those, who firmly believe that this wild, this uncultivated Barbarian has not yet obtained one half of his fame; and who trust that some new Stagyrite will arise, who, instead of pecking at the surface of things, will enter into the inward soul of his compo
sitions, and expel, by the force of congenial feelings, those foreign impurities which have stained and disgraced his page.
And as to those spots which still remain, they may perhaps become invisible to those who shall seek them thro' the medium of his beauties, instead of looking for those beauties, as is too frequently done, thro' the smoke of some real or imputed obscurity. When the hand of time shall have brushed off his present Editors and Commentators, and when the very name of Voltaire, and even the memory of the language in which he has written, shall be no more, the Apalachian mountains, the banks of the Ohio, and the plains of Sciola shall resound with the accents of this Barbarian: In his native tongue he shall roll the genuine passions of nature; nor shall the griefs of Lear be alleviated, or the charms and wit of Rosalind be abated by time.”*
Since this eloquently prophetic passage was written, how has the fame of Shakspeare increased! Not only in England has the growth of a more enlightened criticism operated in his favour, but on the continent an enthusiasm for his genius has been kindled, which, we may venture to say, will never be extinguished. In Germany, the efforts of Herder t, of Goethe I, of Tieck J, and, above all, of Augustus William Schlegel, the “new Stagyrite," as he may justly be termed, the best critic on, and the best translator, of our author ||, have, as it were, naturalised the poet ; and if in France the labours of Le Mercier and Ducis have failed to produce a similar effect, yet a taste for Shakspeare in the original has been very powerfully heightened by the nervous and elegant compositions of De Stael.
Nor has Europe alone borne testimony to the progress of his reputation ; not twenty years had passed over the glowing predictions of Morgan, when the first transatlantic edition of Shakspeare appeared at Philadelphia *; nor is it too much to believe that, ere another century elapse, the plains of Northern America, and even the unexplored wilds of Australasia, shall be as familiar with the fictions of our poet, as are now the vallies of his native Avon, or the statelier banks of the Thames.
Essay on the Dramatic Character of Falstaff, pp. 69, 70, 71. and 64, 65. + In his Blättern von deutscher Art und Kunst. I In his Wilhelm Meister. ♡ Poetisches Journal, 1800.
|| For just and discriminative characters of Schlegel and his writings, see the Germany of Madame De Stael, and the Monthly and Edinburgh Reviews.
It is, indeed, a most delightful consideration for every lover and cultivator of our literature, and one which should excite, amongst our authors, an increased spirit of emulation, that the language in which they write, is destined to be that of so large a portion of the new world; a field of glory to which the genius of Shakspeare will assuredly give an unperishable permanency; for the diffusion and durability of his fame are likely to meet with no limit save that which circumscribes the globe, and closes the existence of time.
* In the year 1795. Printed and sold by Bioren and Madan. — Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 149. .
A BRIEF VIEW OF DRAMATIC POETRY AND ITS CULTIVATORS, DURING SHAK SPEARE's
CONNECTION WITH THE STAGE.
That the master-spirit which Shakspeare exhibited in the eyes of his contemporaries ; that the great improvements which he had made on the drama of Peele and Marlowe, and their associates, should excite the wonder, and call forth the emulation of his age, were events naturally to be expected. He was accordingly the founder of a school of dramatic art which continued to flourish until extinguished by those convulsions that destroyed the monarch, and overturned the government of the country, - a school to which we have since had nothing similar, or even approximating in excellence.
The fate, however, of the leader and his disciples has been widely different. During the life-time of Shakspeare, the spirit of competition forbade an open acknowledgment of his pre-eminence, and those who had run the race of glory with him, and outlived his day, had influence sufficient, either from personal interest, or the charm of novelty, to procure a more frequent representation of their own productions, however inferior, than of those of their departed luminary. But, when the grave had closed alike on their great exemplar and on themselves, apart, indeed, was their allotment in the estimation of the living; for while the former sprang from the tomb with fresh energy and beauty, over the latter dropped, comparatively, the mantle of oblivion! Yet, not for ever!
Though lost, for a time, in the effulgence of that lustre which has continued to brighten ever since its revivescence, they have nevertheless, through an intrinsic though more subdued brilliancy of their own, begun, at length, to emerge into day, and their demand upon the justice of criticism, for their station and their fame, is loud and imperative.
Let us, therefore, as far as our brief limits will permit, and in furtherance of what has been so judiciously commenced, co-operate in the endeavour to apportion to these immediate successors of our matchless bard, the honour due to their exertions. If correctly attributed, it cannot be trifling, and may assist in forming a just notion of the most valuable period of our dramatic poesy.
We shall commence with those who, in their own age, were deemed the rivals, and followed, indeed, fast upon the footsteps of Shakspeare, hesitating not to give priority of notice to the name of John FLETCHER, who, though hitherto inseparably united in fame and publication with his friend Francis Beaumont, deserves, both from the comparative number and value of his pieces, a separate and exclusive consideration.
Of the fifty-three plays which have been ascribed to these poetical friends, it appears that not more than nine or ten were the joint productions of Beaumont and Fletcher ; in still fewer was he assisted by Massinger, Rowley, and Field, and the ample residue, independent of two pieces now lost, and known to have been his sole composition, was therefore the entire product of Fletcher's genius. * With this curious fact we were first made acquainted by Sir Aston Cokain, who, speaking of the thirty-four plays of these poets, as published in the folio of 1647, informs us, that
“ Beaumont of those many writ in few;
In fact, as Sir Aston has elsewhere told us t, the bulk of the collecţion was written after Beaumont's death, which took place in 1615; the fecundity of Fletcher being so great, that in the interval between that event and his own decease in 1625, he had produced
* Vide Malone's Dryden, vol. i. part ii. p. 101.
+ Verses addressed to Mr. Humphrey Mosely, published in his Poems, Epigrams, &c. 1658.
Verses addressed to Mr. Charles Cotton.