Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][graphic]

This is one of the most loose and desultory of our author's plays: it rambles on just as it happens, but it overtakes, together with some indifferent matter, a prodigious number of fine things in its way. Troilus himself is no character: he is merely a common lover: but Cressida and her uncle Pandarus are hit off with proverbial truth. By the speeches given to the leaders of the Grecian host, Nestor, Ulysses, Agamemnon, Achilles, Shakespeare seems to have known them as well as if he had been a spy sent by the Trojans into the enemy's camp —to say nothing of their being very lofty examples of didactic eloquence. The following is a very stately and spirited declamation:

Ulysses. Troy, yet upon her basis, had been down, And the great Hector's sword had lack'd a master,

But for these instances.

The specialty of rule hath been neglected. ****** *****

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this center,

Observe degree, priority, and place,

Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,

Office, and custom, in all line of order:

And therefore is the glorious planet, Sol,

In noble eminence, enthron'd and spher'd

Amidst the other, whose med'cinable eye

Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,

And posts, like the commandment of a king,

Sans check, to good and bad. But, when the planets,

In evil mixture to disorder wander,

What plagues and what portents ? what mutinies?

What raging of the sea? shaking of earth?

Commotion in the winds? frights, changes, horrors,

Divert and crack, rend and deracinate

The unity and married calm of states

Quite from their fixture! O, when degree is shaken,

(Which is the ladder to all high designs)

The enterprize is sick! How could communities,

Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,

Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,

The primogenitive and due of birth,

Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,

(But by degree) stand in authentic place?

Take but degree away, untune that string,

And hark what discord follows! each thing meets

In mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters

Would lift their bosoms higher than the shores,

And make a sop of all this solid globe:

Strength would be lord of imbecility,

And the rude son would strike his father dead:

Force would be right; or rather, right and wrong

(Between whose endless jar Justice resides)

Would lose their names, and so would Justice too.

Then every thing includes itself in power,

Power into will, will into appetite;

And appetite (an universal wolf,

So doubly seconded with will and power)

Must make perforce an universal prey,

And last, eat up himself. Great Agamemnon,

This chaos, when degree is suffocate,

Follows the choking:

And this neglection of degree it is,

That by a pace goes backward, in a purpose

It hath to climb. The general's disdained

By him one step below; he, by the next;

That next, by him beneath: so every step,

Exampled by the first pace that is sick

Of his superior, grows to an envious fever

Of pale and bloodless emulation;

And 'tis this fever that keeps Troy on foot,

Not her own sinews. To end a tale of length,

Troy in our weakness lives, not in her strength."

It cannot be said of Shakespear, as was said of some one, that he was " without o'erflowing full." He was full, even to o'erflowing. He gave heaped measure, running over. This was his greatest fault. He was only in danger "of losing distinction in his thoughts" (to borrow his own expression)

"As doth a battle when they charge on heaps The enemy flying."

There is another passage, the speech of Ulysses to Achilles, shewing him the thankless nature of popularity, which has a still greater depth of moral observation and richness of illustration than the former. It is long, but worth the quoting. The sometimes giving an entire extract from the unacted plays of our author may with one class of readers have almost the use of restoring a lost passage; and may serve to convince another class of critics, that the poet's genius was not confined to the production of stage effect by preternatural means.—

"Ulysses. Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, Wherein he puts alms for Oblivion; A great-siz'd monster of ingratitudes: Those scraps are good deeds past, Which are devour'd as fast as they are made, forgot as soon as done: Persev'rance, dear my lord, Keeps Honour bright: to have done, is to hang Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail In monumental mockery. Take the instant way; For Honour travels in a strait so narrow, . Where one but goes abreast; keep then the path, For Emulation hath a thousand sons, That one by one pursue; if you give way, .Or hedge aside from the direct forth-right, Like to an entered tide, they all rush by,

And leave you hindmost;

Or, like a gallant horse fall'n in first rank,

O'er-run and trampled on: then what they do in present,

Tho' less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours:'

For Time is like a fashionable host,

That slightly shakes his parting guest by th' hand,

And with his arms out-stretch?d, as he would fly,

Grasps in the comer: the Welcome ever smiles,

And Farewel goes out sighing. O, let not virtue seek
Remuneration for the thing it was; for beauty, wit,
High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service,
Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumniating time:
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
That all, with one consent, praise new-born gauds,
Tho' they are made and moulded of things past.
The present eye praises the present object.
Then marvel not, thou great and complete man,
That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax;
Since things in motion sooner catch the eye,
Than what not stirs. The cry went out on thee,
And still it might, and yet it may again,
If thou would'st not entomb thyself alive.
And case thy reputation in thy tent."—•

The throng of images in the above lines is prodigious; and though they sometimes jostle against one another, they every where raise and carry on the feeling, which is metaphysically true and profound. The debates between the Trojan chiefs on the restoring of Helen are full of knowledge of human motives and character. Troilus enters well into the philosophy of war, when he says in answer to something that falls from Hector,

"Why there you tpuch'd the life of our design:
Were it not glory that we more affected,
Than the performance of our heaving spleens, •
I would not wish a drop of Trojan blood
Spent more in her defence. But, %vorthy Hector,

« PreviousContinue »