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thought of them in his mighty men I do not find: it is not usually in the nature of such men; and if he had loved the flowers the least better himself, he would assuredly have been offended at this, and given a botanical turn of mind to Caesar or Othello. And it is even among the most curious proofs of the neces. sity to all high imagination that it should paint straight from the life, that he has not given such a turn of mind to some of his great men;—Henry the Fifth, for instance. Doubtless some of my readers, having been accustomed to hear it repeated thoughtlessly from mouth to mouth that Shakespere conceived the spirit of all ages, were as much offended as surprised at my saying that he only painted human nature as he saw it in his own time. They will find, if they look into his work closely, as much antiquarianism as they do geogra phy, and no more. The commonly received notions about the things that had been, Shakespere took as he found them, animating them with pure human nature, of any time and all time; but inquiries into the minor detail of temporary feeling, he despised as utterly as he did maps; and wheresoever the temporary feeling was in anywise contrary to that of his own day, he errs frankly, and paints from his own time. For instance in this matter of love of flowers; we have traced
Gui. Prithee, have done,
Imogen herself afterwards in deeper passion, will give weeds—not flowers —and something more:
already, far enough for our general purposes, the mediaeval interest in them, whether to be enjoyed in the fields, or to be used for types of ornamentation in dress. If Shakespere had cared to enter into the spirit even of the early fifteenth cen. tury, he would assuredly have marked this affection in some of his knights, and indicated, even then, in heroic tempers, the peculiar respect for loveliness of dress which we find constantly in Dante. But he could not do this; he had not seen it in real life. In his time dress had become an affectation and absurdity. Only fools, or wise men in their weak moments, showed much concern about it; and the facts of human nature which appeared to him general in the matter were the soldier's disdain, and the coxcomb's care of it. Hence Shakespere's good soldier is almost always in plain or battered armor; even the speech of Vernon in Henry the Fourth, which, as far as I remember, is the only one that bears fully upon the beauty of armor, leans more upon the spirit and hearts of men—“bated, like eagles having lately bathed;” and has an under-current of slight contempt running through the following line, “Glittering in golden coats, like images,” while the beauty of the young Harry is essentially the beauty of fiery and perfect youth, answering as much to the Greek, or Roman, or Elizabethan knight as to the mediaeval one; whereas the definite interest in armor and dress is opposed by Shakespere in the French (meaning to depreciate them), to the English rude soldierliness:
“Con. Tut, I have the best armor of the world. Would it were day Orl. You have an excellent armor, but let my horse have his due.”
“My lord constable, the armor that I saw in your tent to-night, are those stars, or suns, upon it?”
while Henry, half proud of his poorness of array, speaks of armorial splendor scornfully; the main idea being still of its being a gilded show and vanity—
“Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched.”
This is essentially Elizabethan. The quarterings on a knight's shield, or the inlaying of his armor, would never have been thought of by him as mere “gayness or gilt” in earlier days.” In like manner, throughout every scale of rank or feeling, from that of the French knights down to Falstaff’s “I looked he should have sent me two-and-twenty yards of satin, as I am true knight, and he sends me security l’” care for dress is always considered by Shakespere as contemptible; and Mrs. Quickly distinguishes herself from a true fairy by her solici. tude to scour the chairs of order—and “each fair instalment, coat, and several crest;” and the association in her mind of the flowers in the fairy rings with the
“Sapphire, pearl, and rich embroidery,
while the true fairies, in field simplicity, are only anxious to “sweep the dust behind the door;” and
“With this field dew consecrate,
Note the expression “Field dew consecrate.” Shakspere
* If the reader thinks that in Henry the Fifth's time the Elizabethan tem per might already have been manifesting itself, let him compare the English herald's speech, act 2, scene 2, of King John; and by way of specimen of Shakspere's historical care, or regard of mediaeval character, the large use of artillery in the previous scene.
loved courts and camps; but he felt that sacredness and peace were in the dew of the Fields only. There is another respect in which he was wholly incapable of entering into the spirit of the middle ages. He had no great art of any kind around him in his own country, and was, consequently, just as powerless to conceive the general influence of former art, as a man of the most inferior calibre. Therefore it was, that I did not care to quote his authority when speaking on a former occasion respecting the power of imitation. If it had been needful to add his testimony to that of Dante), I might have quoted multitudes of passages wholly concurring with that, of which the “fair Portia's counterfeit,” with the following lines, and the implied ideal of sculpture in the Winter's Tale, are wholly unanswerable instances. But Shakespere's evidence in matters of art is as narrow as the range of Elizabethan art in England, and resolves itself wholly into admiration of two things,—mockery of life (as in this instance of Hermione as a statue), or absolute splendor, as in the close of Romeo and Juliet, where the notion of gold as the chief source of dignity of aspect, coming down to Shakespere from the times of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and, as I said before, strictly Elizabethan, would interfere seriously with the pathos of the whole pas. sage, but for the sense of sacrifice implied in it:
“As rich shall Romeo by his lady lie,
And observe, I am not giving these examples as proof of any smallness in Shakespere, but of his greatness; that is to say, of his contentment, like every other great man who ever breathed, to paint nothing but what he saw ; and therefore giving perpetual evidence that his sight was of the sixteenth, and not of the thirteenth century, beneath all the broad and eternal humanity of his imagination. How far in these modern days, emptied of splendor, it may be necessary for great men having certain sympathies for those earlier ages, to act in this differently from all their predecessors; and how far they may succeed in the resuscitation of the past by habi tually dwelling in all their thoughts among vanished genera tions, are questions, of all practical and present ones concerning art, the most difficult to decide; for already in poetry several of our truest men have set themselves to this task, and have indeed put more vitality into the shadows of the dead than most others can give the presences of the living. Thus Longfellow, in the Golden Legend, has entered more closely into the temper of the Monk, for good and for evil, than ever yet theological writer or historian, though they may have given their life's labor to the analysis: and, again, Robert Browning is unerring in every sentence he writes of the middle ages.
At the close of the last century, the architecture, domestic life and manners were gradually getting more and more artificial; all natural beauty had ceased to be permitted in architectural decoration, while the habits of society led them more and more to live, if possible, in cities; and the dress, language, and manners of men, in general, were approximating to that horrible and lifeless condition in which you find them, just before the outbreak of the French Revolution.
Now, observe: exactly as hoops, and starch, and false hair, and all that in mind and heart these things typify and betray, as these, I say, gained upon men, there was a necessary reaction in favor of the natural. Men had never lived so utterly in defiance of the laws of nature before; but they could not do this without feeling a strange charm in that which they defied;