« ZurückWeiter »
day that brings forth the adder." Here the metaphor suggested is, that the sunshine of kingly powej will develop a venomous serpent in the hitherto noble Julius. So, again, Cleopatra, when Antony dies: "O, see, my women, the crown o' the earth doth melt"; — "O, wither'd is the garland of the war, the soldier's pole is fall'n "; — " Look, our lamp is spent, it's out." And so in Macbeth's, — " The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees is left this vault to brag of"; — " Better be with the dead than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy " ; — " Come, seeling night, scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day." Also one of the Thanes, when they are about to make their ultimate set-to against Macbeth:
"Meet we the medicine of the sickly weal;
Macbeth indeed has more of this character than any other of the Poet's dramas; he having judged, apparently, that such a style of suggested images was the best way of symbolizing such a wild-rushing torrent of crimes, remorses, and retributions as that tragedy consists of.
Near akin to these is a number of passages like the following from one of Antony's speeches:
Here we have several distinct images merely suggested, and coming so thick withal, that our powers might be swamped but for the prodigious momentum or gale of thought that carries us through. I am aware that several such passages have often been censured as mere jumbles of incongruous metaphors; but they do not so strike any reader who is so unconscientious of rhetorical formalities as to care only for the meaning of what he reads; though I admit that perhaps no mental current less deep and mighty than Shakespeare's would waft us clean over such thought-foundering passages.
There is one other trait of the Poet's style which I must briefly notice. It is the effect of some one leading thought or predominant feeling in silently modifying the language, and drawing in sympathetic words and phrases by unmarked threads of association. Thus in the hero's description of Valeria, in Coriolanus, v. 3:
"The noble sister of Publicola,
Here, of course, the leading thought is chastity; and observe how, as by a kind of silent sympathy, all the words and images are selected and toned in perfect unison with that thought, so that the whole may be said literally to relish of nothing else. Something of the same, though in a manner perhaps still better, because less pronounced, occurs in As You Like It, ii. 1, where, the exiled Duke having expressed his pain that the deer, "poor dappled fools, being native burghers ol this desert city," should on their own grounds "have their round haunches gor'd," one of the attendant lords responds:
"Indeed, my lord,
Stood on th' extremest verge of the swift brook,
Here the predominant feeling of the speaker is that of kindred or half-brotherhood with the deer; and such words as languish, groans, coat, tears, innocent, and hairy fool, dropping along so quietly, impart a sort of semi-humanizing tinge to the language, so that the very pulse of his feeling seems beating in its veins.
The Poet has a great many passages from which this feature might be illustrated. And it often imparts a very peculiar charm to his poetry; — a charm the more winning, and the more wholesome too, for being, I will not say unobtrusive, but hardly perceptible; acting like a soft undertone accompaniment of music, which we are kept from noticing by the delicate concert of thought and feeling it insensibly kindles and feeds within us. Thus the Poet touches and rallies all our most hidden springs of delight to his purpose, and makes them unconsciously tributary to the refreshment of the hour; stealing fine inspirations into us, which work their effect upon the soul without prating of their presence, and not unlike the virtue that lets not the left hand know what the right hand doeth. And all this, let me tell you, is a very different thing from merely making "the sound an echo to the sense," — as much better too as it is different.
Everybody conversant with the subject knows that an author's style, if genuine, (and it is not properly a style, but a mannerism, if ungenuine,) is a just measure of his mind, and an authentic registration of all his faculties and forces. It has indeed passed into a proverb, that "the style is the man." And there is no other English writing, probably no uninspired writing in the world, of which this is so unreservedly true as of Shakespeare's; and this, because his is the most profoundly genuine: here the style — I mean in his characteristic pieces — is all his own, — rooted perfectly in and growing entirely from the man himself, —and has no borrowed sap or flavour whatever. And as he surpasses all others alike in breadth and delicacy of perception, in sweep and subtilty of thought, in vastness of grasp and minuteness of touch, in fineness of fibre and length and strength of line; so all these are faithfully reflected in his use of language. There is none other so overwhelming in its power, none so irresistible in its sweetness. If his intellect could crush the biggest and toughest problems into food, his tongue was no less able to voice in all fitting accents the results of that tremendous digestion. Coleridge, the profoundest of critics, calls him "an oceanic mind," and this language, as expressing the idea of multitudinous unity, is none too big for him; Hallam, the severest of critics, describes him as "thousand-souled," and this has grown into common use as no more than just; another writer makes his peculiarity to consist in "an infinite delicacy of mind "; and whatsoever of truth and fitness there may be in any or all of these expressions has a just exponent in his style.
All which may suffice to explain why it is that Shakespeare's style has no imitators. He were indeed a very hardy or else a very imbecile man, who should undertake to imitate it. All the other great English poets, however, have been imitated in this respect, and some of them with no little success. Thomson's Castle of Indolence, for example, is an avowed imitation of Spenser; and that, I think, is Thomson's best poem. Beattie's Minstrel, too, is another happy imitation of the same great original. I cannot say so much for any of Milton's or Wordsworth's imitators, though both have had many of them. But no one, apparently, ever thinks of trying to tilt in Shakespeare's Titanic armour.
Much of what may need to be said on this topic will coma in more fitly in speaking of particular plays and characters. A few observations of a very inclusive scope will be sufficient here.
And I will begin by saying that soundness in this respect is the corner-stone of all artistic excellence. Virtue, or the loving of worthy objects, and in a worthy manner, is most assuredly the highest interest of mankind; — an interest so vital and fundamental, that nothing which really conflicts with it, or even postpones it to any other regards, can possibly stand the test of any criticism rooted in the principles of human nature. To oflend in this point is indeed to be guilty of all: things must be substantially right here, else there can be nothing right about them. So that, if an author's moral teaching or moral influence be essentially bad; or even if it be materially loose and unsound, so as to unstring the mind from thinking and doing that which is right; nay, even if it be otherwise than positively wholesome and elevating as a whole; then I more than admit that no amount of seeming intellectual or poetical merit ought to shield his workmanship from reprobation, and this too on the score of art. But then, on the other hand, I must insist that our grounds of judgment in this matter be very large and liberal; and that to require or to expect a poet to teach better morals than are taught by Nature and Providence argues either a disqualifying narrowness of mind in us, or else a certain moral valetudinarianism which poetry is not bound to respect. For a poet has a right to the benefit of being tried by the moral sense and reason of mankind: it is indeed to that seat of judgment that every great poet virtually appeals; and the verdict of that tribunal must be an ultimate ruling to us as well as to him.
But one of the first things to be considered here is the natural relation of Morality to Art. Now I believe Art