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power than to strike out in a way and with a stock entirely new. And so the absorbing, quickening, creative efficacy of Shakespeare's genius is best seen in this, that, taking the Drama as it came to his hand, a thing of unsouled forms and lack-lustre eyes, all brainless and meaningless, he at once put a spirit into it, tempered its elements in the proportions of truth, informed its shapes with grace and virtue, and made it all alive, a breathing, speaking, operative power. Thus his work naturally linked in with the whole past; and in his hands the collective thought and wisdom of ages were smelted out of the earth and dross wherein they lay imbedded, and wrought into figures of undecaying beauty.
It is indeed true that the Drama shot ahead with amazing rapidity as soon as it came to feel the virtue of Shakespeare's hand. We have nothing more dreary, dismal, and hopeless than the course of the English Drama down to his time. The people would have dramatic entertainments, and hundreds of minds, apparently, were ever busy furnishing them wooden things in dramatic form. And so, century after century, through change after change, the work of preparation went on, still scarce any progress, and no apparent result, nothing that could live, or was worth keeping alive. It seemed as if no rain would ever fall, no sun ever shine, to take away the sterility of the land. Yet all of a sudden the Drama blazed up with a splendor that was to illuminate and sweeten the ages, and be at once the delight and the despair of other nations and future times. All this, too, came to pass in Shakespeare! and, which is more, the process ended with him! It is indeed a singular phenomenon, and altogether the most astonishing that the human mind has produced.
Yet even here we should be careful of attributing too much to the genius of the individual man. It was rather the genius of the age and nation springing into flowerage through him, — a flowerage all the larger and more eloquent for the long delay, and the vast accumulation of force. For it is remarkable that when the Warwickshire peasant entered upon his work, with the single exception of Chaucer, not one good English book had been written. Yet he was far from being alone in thus beginning and perfecting the great workmanship which he took in hand. Before Hamlet, Othello, and The Tempest were written, Romantic Poetry had done its best in Spenser, Philosophical Divinity in Hooker, Civil and Moral Discourse in Bacon. All these alike are unapproached and unapproachable in their several kinds. We have nothing more tuneable and melodious than Spenser's verse; no higher and nobler eloquence than Hooker's prose; no practical wisdom of deeper reach or more attractive garb than Bacon's Essays. Yet they did not learn their cunning from Shakespeare, nor did Shakespeare learn his cunning from them. The language was then just ripe for the uses of such minds; it had the wealth of much learning incorporated with it, yet had not been cast into rigidity nor dressed into primness by a technical and bookish legislation; it had gone on for centuries gathering in and assimilating stores from Nature and from Religion; it was rich with the life of a nation of brave, free, honest, full-souled, and frank-hearted men; it was at once copious, limber, and sinewy, capable alike of expressing the largest and the subtlest thought, the deepest and strongest passion, the most tender and delicate feeling; wit could sport itself for ever, humour could trim its raciest issues, imagination could body forth its sweetest and awfullest visions, in the furnishings of the English tongue. And so these four great thinkers found it equal, apparently, to all their thoughts and powers. They were all, though each in a different sort, its masters, not its slaves. They used it, but they did not make it. And the thought which they found it capable of expressing must have pre-existed in some form, else the language could not have stood ready, as it did, for their use. The truth seems to be that, for reasons which we cannot fathom, and in ways past our finding out, the time had now come, the mental life of the nation was fully grown to a head, so as to express itself in several forms at the same time; and Shakespeare, wise, true, and mighty beyond his thought, became its organ of dramatic utterance; which utterance remains, and will remain, a treasury of everlasting sweetness and refreshment to mankind.
NATURE AND USE OF ART.
Tranquillity ! the sovereign aim wert thou
In heathen schools of philosophic lore;
Heart-stricken by stern destiny of yore,
The Tragic Muse thee serv'd with thoughtful vow;
And what of hope Elysium could allow
Was fondly seiz'd by Sculpture, to restore
Peace to the Mourner. But when He who wore
The crown of thorns around His bleeding brow
Warm'd our sad being with celestial light,
Them Arts which still had drawn a softening grace
From shadowy fountains of the Infinite,
Commun'd with that Idea face to face;
And move around it now as planets run,
Each in its orbit round the central Sun." — Wordsworth.
ART is in its proper character the solidest and sincerest expression of human thought and feeling. To be much within and little without, to do all for truth, nothing for show, and to express the largest possible meaning with the least possible stress of expression, — this is its first law.
Thus artistic virtue runs down into one and the same root with moral righteousness. Both must first of all be genuine and sincere, richer and better at the heart than on the surface; as always having it for their leading aim to recommend themselves to the perfect Judge; that is, they must seek the praise of God rather than of men: for, indeed, whatsoever studies chiefly to please men will not please them long, but will soon be openly or secretly repudiated by them; whereas, "when a man's ways are pleasing unto the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him."
Such is the right form, such the normal process, of what may be called intellectual and artistic righteousness. A soul of perfect veracity lies at the bottom of the thing, and is the source and the life of all that is good and beautiful in it. And the work, like Nature herself, does not strike excitingly, but "melts into the heart"; it therefore wears well, and don't wear out. Every thing is done "in simple and pure soul," and without any thought, on the doer's part, of the figure he is making; and when he turns from the beauty he should express to his own beauty of expression, his work becomes false. And it may be justly affirmed that perfection of workmanship in Art is where the senses are touched just enough, and in just the right way, to kindle the mind; and this too without making the mind distinctly conscious of being kindled; for when the soul is moved perfectly both in kind and degree, self-consciousness is lost in the interest of that which moves it.
Hence it is that all deep and earnest feeling, all high and noble thought so naturally puts on a style of modesty and reserve. It communicates itself, not by verbal emphasis or volume, but by a sort of blessed infection too subtile and too potent for words to convey. Volubility strangles it; and it is felt to be insincere when it grows loquacious. A wordy grief is merely a grief from the throat outwards: "the grief that does not speak," this it is that "whispers the o'erfraught heart, and bids it break." And the truly eloquent speaker or writer is not he who says a multitude of fine things in finely turned language and figures, which is very easily done, but he who says just the right things, and says them in the fewest, simplest, and aptest words. As for the speaker who lives, not in the inspiration of his theme, but in the display of his eloquence, we may rest assured that he will never say any thing worth hearing: his work will naturally turn all to mere elocution; which may be described as the art of pronouncing nothing in such a way as to make it pass for something grand.
Thus there appears to be a profound natural sympathy or