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still practically shewn, even by those whom time and chance have made familiar with their consecrated names. That the “divine philosophy," the “ still small voice” of humanity, so exquisitely breathed by Wordsworth, should not at once fall on the ear of a world whose finer sense is stifled by the din of its own bustle, is sufficiently intelligible; but that the poet of the universe, whose genius traversed every region of imagination, and permeated every living thing, leaving its glowing impress on every scene of life, on every modification of character, should not have created an instant sympathy in every bosom that beats with human pulses, is indeed passing strange; yet such is the fact, and it may be whole. some to record it. The age of Shakspeare was an age highly poetical; yet even the slender popularity he enjoyed, not more than Mr Reynolds or Mr Kenny does now, declined on his retiring to the country. After his death, Beaumont and Fletcher's plays were much more frequently acted; and till the Restoration, or, more correctly, till the Revolution, his dramas were seldom seen, and had given place to the most turgid and bombastic trash that ever disgraced the stage of a polished nation. The name of Shakspeare does not once occur in the multifarious writings of his great contemporary Bacon, nor is there any allusion made to his dramas. Dryden, who admired Shakspeare so far as he understood him, says, “ he was becoming a little obsolete;" and Shaftesbury objects to his “ rude unpolished style, and antiquated phrase and wit.” During a whole century only four small editions of his works were published ; and when Pope edited an edition of his plays, he found it necessary to point out the beauties of the obscure and antiquated author by placing his finest passages within inverted commas. It does not appear that, though there were lions in those days, Shakspeare was ever even a “ lion." But the Queen, who relished dramatic performances, was gracious to him; and James the First wrote him a complimentary letter. This was fame enough, and probably much less would have sufficed ; for no writer ever appeared so little solicitous about reputation. He wrote dramas, for this was necessary to gain a living; and he made them the finest the world ever saw, for to this he was constrained by the “ so potent mastery" of his astonishing genius. His name, popular among the frequenters of the theatre, was often put to trash, as a bait to draw an audience, and, like Raleigh, to whom the same trick was sometimes played, he fathered the spurious brood with the most edifying indifference. While contemporary and succeeding writers were conciliating friends, flattering patrons, and talking big of themselves, their works, and their admirers, not a line, not a letter, public or private, not a single reference on his own affairs, does the world possess of Shakpeare; not a single anecdote or bon mot remains of him who must have been the most bewitching of social companions. To the courtiers he was probably best known as a theatrical manager; by the learned he was quite disregarded. He appears to have attracted social regard more by his candid, happy, and genial character, than by his genius ; and though connected for many years with the most ticklish and irascible of human beings-players, authors, and patrons-he does not appear to have been involved in a single squabble, or to have made
any honest man his enemy. Ben Jonson, it is alleged, was somewhat jealous of this unlettered, “ wild, irregular, genius;" but Jonson, who had experienced his generous kindness, felt and acknowledged his superiority. It is impossible that Shakspeare could have been unconscious of his own genius :
“ Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes,
Shall outlive this powerful rhyme," is one of his fervid expressions in one of those sonnets from which, as he frequently speaks in his own person, much of his genuine character may be gathered ; as, for example, in the sonnet beginning, “Oh! for my sake, do you with Fortune chide,” But singular happiness of temper did for him what a lofty indifference did for Milton; and he not only disregarded contemporary applause beyond the walls of his theatre, but probably never dreamed of posthumous fame. “He wrote for the great vulgar and the small," says one of the most eloquent of his panegyrists, “not for, posterity. If Queen Elizabeth and the maids of honour laughed at his worst jokes, and the catcalls in the gallery were silent at his best passages, he went home and slept the night well." He did not trouble himself about Voltaire's criticism nor Schlegel's praise. Accused of violating all the laws of dramatic unity in Lear or the Winter's Tale, his apology was the rapid composition of Macbeth or Othello; again, if it so pleased him, annihilating both time and space, and filling the void with his own magic creations, till the plastic world of enchantment becomes for the time more seeming true, more teeming and various, than the world of reality. The language has been exhausted in the praise of Shakspeare. From Dryden downward every great writer has bowed to his illustrious shade, and “ done it courtesies.” Even his faults, like blemishes on the face of a beloved mistress, have come to be admired, if not as positive beauties, yet as points of identity which the enthusiastic lover could not see removed without some confusion of his feeling of his charmer's indivi. duality allied to pain. Of all the modern critics of Shakspeare, the palm must be yielded to Mr Hazlitt, as much for the fervid and cordial heartiness of his admiration, as for his delicate perception of the more exquisite beauties, and subtle and intricate movements of the genius of his author. Other critics have admired Shakspeare, and have discoursed him feature by feature, and anatomized him limb by limb, laid open every vein, and deliberately displayed every process; but Hazlitt is a lover, fired and enraptured. As the best short estimate of Shakspeare that can be given, a part of Mr Hazlitt's felicitous criticism of his favourite poet is transferred to these pages. It is a specimen of what popular criticism should be,-a master-key to the hidden beauties of a writer,--a guide to their complete, tasteful, and safe enjoyment,not a dry, elaborate analysis of the contents of a volume, or of those principles on which the Aristarch declares it should be composed.
“The striking peculiarity of Shakspeare's mind was its generic
quality, its power of communication with all other mindsso that it contained a universe of thought and feeling within itself, and had no one peculiar bias or exclusive excellence more than another. He was just like any other man, but that he was like all other men. He was the least of an egotist that it was possible to be. He was nothing in himself; but he was all that others were, or that they would become. He not only had in himself the germs of every faculty and feeling, but he could follow them by anticipation intuitively into all their conceivable ' ramifications, through every change of fortune, or conflict of passion, or turn of thought. He had “a mind reflecting ages past and present :-all the people that ever lived are there. There was no respect of persons with him. His genius shone equally on the evil and on the good, on the wise and the foolish, the monarch and the beggar: 'All corners of the earth, kings, queens, and states, maids, matrons, nay, the secrets of the grave,' are hardly hid from his searching glance. He was like the genius of humanity, changing places with all of us at pleasure, and playing with our purposes as with his own. He turned the globe round for his amusement, and surveyed the generations of men, and the individuals as they passed, with their different concerns, passions, follies, vices, virtues, actions, and motives—as well those that they knew, as those which they did not know, or acknowledge to themselves. The dreams of childhood, the ravings of despair, were the toys of his fancy. Airy beings waited at his call, and came at his bidding. Harmless fairies ‘nodded to him, and did him curtesies:' and the night-hag bestrode the blast at the command
of "his so potent art.' The world of spirits lay open to him, like the world of real men and women: and there is the same truth in his delineations of the one as of the other; for if the preternatural characters he describes could be supposed to exist, they would speak, and feel, and act, as he makes them. He had only to think of any thing in order to become that thing, with all the circumstances belonging to it. When he conceived of a character, whether real or imaginary, he not only entered into all its thoughts and feelings, but seemed instantly, and as if by touching a secret spring, to be surrounded with all the the same objects, subject to the same skyey influences,' the same local, outward, and unforeseen accidents which would occur in reality. Thus the character of Caliban not only stands before us with a language and manners of his own, but the scenery and situation of the enchanted island he inhabits, the traditions of the place, its strange noises, its hidden recesses, his frequent haunts and ancient neighbourhood,' are given with a miraculous truth of nature, and with all the familiarity of an old recollection. The whole coheres semblably together in time, place, and circumstance. In reading this author, you do not merely learn what his characters say,-you see their persons. By something expressed or understood, you are at no loss to decipher their peculiar physiognomy, the meaning of a look, the grouping, the by-play, as we might see it on the stage. A word, an epithet paints a whole scene, or throws us back whole years in the history of the person represented. So (as it has been ingeniously remarked) when Prospero describes himself as left alone in the boat with his daughter, the epithet which he applies to her, Me and thy crying self,' flings the imagination instantly back from the grown woman to the helpless condition of infancy, and places the first and most trying scene of his misfortunes before us, with all that he must have suffered in the interval. How well the silent anguish of Macduff is conveyed to the reader by the friendly expostulation of Malcolm - What ! man, ne'er pull your hat upon your brows! Again, Hamlet, in the scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, somewhat abruptly concludes his fine soliloquy on life by saying, “ Man delights not me, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.' Which is explained by their answer,— My lord, we had no such stuff in our thoughts. But we smiled to think, if you delight not in man, what lenten entertainment the players shall receive from you, whom we met on the way:'-as if while