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altogether unworthy of the great subject of his biography. We do sincerely wish that some one who could appreciate Lord Chatham's virtues and talents, and who could, at the same time, dispel the clouds which rest upon the history of his earlier days, would undertake the task of representing this great man in his proper colours to posterity. It would be an honourable, and, we think, a patriotic undertaking: It would be discharging a debt that has been long due ; while it held out a brilliant example to stimulate the honest independence and active patriotism of distant generations.
Englishmen owe it to themselves and their children to cherish the memory of such a statesman. It is matter of national importance that his fame should be preserved unsullied. Calumny, whether contemporary or posthumous, should be indignantly discountenanced. It is upon this principle, and because we desire that our readers should examine Lord Chatham's life for themselves, that we have made these few observations, and made them so perfectly general. We presume not to write the panegyric of such a man: it was never our intention to do so. We knew well enough, that that task had been executed already, in a manner so full as to leave nothing deficient,--so perfect, as to outstrip all competition. But we did feel a wish to deposit our humble wreath upon this altar : and we beg that the ardour of our devotion may not be measured by the value of the offering.
“ Recorded honours (said Junius, long ago) shall gather round his monument, and thicken over him. It is a solid fabric, and will support the laurels that adorn it.”
Art. X. --The Poetical Works of William Shakespeare; con
taining his Venus and Adonis, Rape of Lucrece, Sonnets, Passionate Pilgrim, and Lover's Complaint. 12mo. 1774.
In criticism, where we cater for a national taste, something more than the ordinary caution is desirable. author shine in one vein, it is odds but he will be coarse or dull in another, and the critic's acumen is sharpened by this foreknowledge of a probable infirmity, and sometimes (not unfrequently) rewarded. The writer of criticism, therefore, goes to his task with a somewhat objective spirit. However he may wish to be good-natured he must not be blind; nor is it well, either for his own sake, or for that of the author reviewed, that he should smear his page all over with base and un
relieved adulation. We ourselves are, from our station, necessarily exempt from some of the impulses of modern criticism. We have no personal feeling to satisfy, no friend to help, no foe to vanquish. There can be no enmity between us and the grave. Oblivion and the dust of coffins neutralize all critical acidity. It is not in our nature to fight with shadows, nor to spurn at a forgotten renown. In truth, our confessed object is to rescue the wise (but not the dull) from neglect, and to show the beauties, while we glance at the defects, of the worthiest of our elder writers. To this fair and gentle dealing, the poets and writers of all times must consent to be amenable. Our sway is indisputable, universal, through the wide regions of learning, and over its motley population, from Settle to Milton,—with one great and solitary exception.
When we turn to SHAKESPEARE,-we scarcely know why it is, but-we seem to lay aside a portion of our critical spirit. We survey his rising, his falling, his eclipse, his brightness, and his impetuous power, with the wonder which belongs to inferior natures. We no more oppose ourselves to his genius, than we strive to beat back the great surges of the sea. We speak of the aberrations of smaller wits, and cut down, with a remorseless hand, their flourishing absurdities,—we analyze, we except against, we praise coldly, like patrons. But before the boundless wealth of our supreme poet we bow, as to a golden idol. We receive his great gifts and think it sufficient to be grateful,—taking the bad and the good together, with little scrutiny and no objection. We seem to feel, by some extraordinary intuition, the power and splendid grace of the creature before us, and without any of the old suspicion (timev Danaos et dona ferentes) we cast ourselves into the arms of the great master of all the passions, and revel in his absolute abundance.
It is the fashion to admire Shakespeare before every other writer of our country :--and the fashion is good. He was beyond doubt the rarest spirit that ever spoke, uninspired, to man. The scholar and the antiquarian,--the Greek, the Roman, and the Italian, may contend for the high excellence of others. They may laud the originality and majesty of Homer, the grace of Virgil, and the terrible strength of Pante. We admit them all. Those great authors may (or may not) be more original than our own poet. They certainly possessed the doubtful advantage of having lived (and died) before him. But that the one is more original where he claims originality, or that the others surpassed him in occasional grace, or could compete with him in general power, we utterly deny.
VOL. VII. PART II.
Shakespeare was the profoundest thinker, the wittiest, the airiest, the most fantastic spirit (reconciling the extremes of ordinary natures) that ever condescended to teach and amuse mankind.
He plunged into the depths of speculation; he penetrated to the inner places of knowledge, plucking out “ the heart of the mystery;" he soared to the stars; he trod the earth, the air, the waters. Every element yielded him rich tribute. He surveyed the substances and the spirits of each ; he saw their stature, their power, their quality, and reduced them without an effort to his own divine command.
There is nothing more detestable in literature than the system of rating an author by his defects instead of by his merits,-of estimating him by what he does not, rather than by what he does accomplish. Because Hercules was shaken by the shirt of Nessus, shall we strip him of his courage and his strength, while the story of Antæus is ringing in our ears ?The French (and the critics who follow the French) writers say that Shakespeare is guilty of extravagance, of anachronisms, of undue jesting, and of fifty other inconsistencies ;—and so he is. But we do not build up his pyramid of fame upon such rotten and unholy ground. It is not because he has crowded tragedy and farce together, nor because he has laid prostrate the unities, that we worship him. But it is because he has outshone all writers of all nations, in dramatic skill, in fine knowledge of humanity, in sweetness, in pathos, in humour, in wit, and in poetry. It is because he has subdued every passion to his use, and explored and made visible the inequalities and uttermost bounds of the human mind, because he has embodied the mere nothings of the air, and made personal and probable the wildest anomalies of superstition, --because he has tried every thing, and failed in nothing,--because, in fine, he has displayed a more stupendous intellect, a more wonderful imagination, and has atttempted and effected more than the whole range of French dramatists, from Corneille to M. ---, of yesterday, that we bow down in silent admiration before him, and give ourselves up to a completer homage than we would descend to pay to any other created man.
So great is our regard, however, that we would not lavish undue praise upon him, nor make him the theme of an insane idolatry. We respect him according to his power; we love him in proportion to his gifts,-no further. It is impossible to forget all that he has done for us, or the world that he has laid open. He was the true magician, before whom the astrologers and Hermetic sages were nothing and the Arabian, wizards grew pale. He did not, indeed, trace the Sybil's book, nor the Runic rhyme. Nor did he drive back the raging waters or the howling winds : but his power stretched all over
the human mind, from wisdom to fatuity, from joy to despair, and embraced all the varieties of our uncertain nature. He it was, at whose touch the cave of Prosper opened and gave out its secrets. To his bidding, Ariel appeared. At his call, arose the witches and the earthy Caliban, the ghost who made
night hideous," the moonlight Fays, Titania, and Oberon, and the rest. He was the “ so potent" master, before whom bowed kings and heroes, and jewelled queens, men wise as the stars, and women fairer than the morning. All the vices of life were explained by him, and all the virtues; and the passions stood plain before him. From the cradle to the coffin he drew them all. He created, for the benefit of wide posterity and for the aggrandizement of human nature,- lifting earth to Heaven, and revealing the marvels of this lower world, and piercing even the shadowy secrets of the grave.
It is quite impossible to estimate the benefit which this country has received from the eternal productions of Shakespeare. Their influence has been gradual, but prodigious ; operating at first on the loftier intellects, but becoming in time diffused over all, spreading wisdom and charity amongst us. There is, perhaps, no one person of any considerable rate of mind who does not owe something to this matchless poet. He is the teacher of all good, -pity, generosity, true courage, love. His works alone (leaving mere science out of the question) contain, probably, more actual wisdom than the whole body of English learning. He is the text for the moralist and the philosopher. His bright wit is cut out “into little stars :" his solid masses of knowledge are meted out in morsels and proverbs; and, thus distributed, there is scarcely a corner which he does not illuminate, or a cottage which he does not enrich. His bounty is like the sea, which, though often unacknowledged, is everywhere felt; on mountains and plains and distant places, carrying its cloudy freshness through the air, making glorious the heavens, and spreading verdure on the earth beneath.
Hitherto, the reputation of Shakespeare has rested almost exclusively upon his dramatic writings. Between those and his other poetry there is confessedly no comparison; or rather, it would be impertinent to institute one, seeing that both are so excellent in themselves.
It may be said that the Poems have been relinquished by several successive generations, to almost entire neglect. But the saying of Johnson, that nothing falls into oblivion which deserves to live, is not good here. Indeed, as a general theory, it is open to great objection. Fame is a thing of uncertain growth, and the great births of wisdom may sleep undisturbed for centuries. It is often accident which calls
them up, and fashion that preserves them : and they are destroyed again by sudden revolutions, or moulder away under the influence of luxury and refinement. It was probably so with Shakespeare. The importation of French fashions was, time, prejudicial even to him. The people were attracted by the glittering wit and gaudy fancies of their neighbours, and sunk into idolaters at once. They left the high spirit who was enthroned in the hearts of their ancestors, to kneel before the Baal which Nebuchadnezzar, the King, had set up In truth, the licentious habits of Charles's court were utterly inimical to Shakespeare's fame. He can live only in the imaginations of men, and then there was no imagination. Even Dryden, with all his great powers and stinging wit, can scarcely be brought forward as evidence that the imaginative faculty was then flourishing; and there was no one else to claim the distinction when Milton died.
But, to return to Shakespeare. The Venus and Adonis was his first work ; and it is, with all its defects, and quaintness, and conceits, undoubted proof of a rare and poetical mind. The description of the horse, which has been usually brought forward as the best specimen of his minor productions, has little beyond mere truth to recommend it. It is like a catalogue. There are hundreds of finer descriptions scattered over his plays, and very many passages which excel it in the poems. The Venus and Adonis was first published in the year 1593 or 1594, and was dedicated to Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, who has made himself immortal by his princely munificence towards our great dramatist. It is written in the six-line stanza, and is in a quiet vein, seemingly without effort, sometimes quaint, and, as was the fashion of the times, studded with bright conceits, and often exceedingly sweet and poetical. To our minds, it fails most in the parts which are intended to be pathetic. This is a natural consequence, however, of the use (or abuse) of conceits. · Nevertheless, it is still somewhat remarkable, when we consider Shakespeare's great mastery over all our sympathies.- The story opens with Adonis going to the chace
“Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn."
He is way-laid, however, by Venus, who seizes upon him and his courser, in a style almost unprecedented in love annals :
“ Over one arm the lusty courser's rein,