Изображения страниц

give some better authority than mere use and wont, which can only be looked on as the senseless perpetuation of an error. Mr Staunton says that it is now too late to change the old and familiar form of Shakespeare, and he seems to be followed in this idea by “ The Globe” and “ Cambridge” editors. The question, however, recurs, has any particular form of the name ever yet been made familiar by age or authority? Rowe writes Shakespere, Pope Shakespear, and Johnson Shakspeare, whilst in modern times the editors of Tyas's edition and Mr Charles Knight have adopted what we believe to be the really correct form of Shakspere. It is surely anything but complimentary to this critical age, with its Shaksperian societies in almost every town, that scholars have not yet been able to settle the smallest of all possible questions connected with Britain's greatest writer.

Another small point of explanation, and the author's slight preface is concluded. At page 4 a note is made to say that particular references to passages quoted from the works were deemed unnecessary. As the writer proceeded, however, he found that this rule could not be adhered to without risking the infliction of some labour on those who, like himself, had learned to be curious and particular in references, and hence these were made when they seemed to be necessary.

E. F. Inverness, December 1866.




1.—“THE QUALITY OF MERCY.” In regard to the ordinary writers of books, little or no difficulty exists in making out the nature and character of the man from his works. This rule, indeed, is so universal that unless in the case of Homer, it admits of perhaps no exception. Should our modern poets be taken as tests, the affirmation may be confidently made that had they, each and all, lived in a solitude so complete that no one knew a particle regarding their personal lives, thus rendering biography in the ordinary sense impossible, no great difficulty would have existed in the way of discovering, from a careful perusal of the works they laid before the world, a very complete and satisfactory psychology of the men as thinking human beings, clothed in flesh and animated by the blood common to all mankind. In this way, supposing that the materials for personal history had been altogether nonexistent, we should still have been able, by means of their writings, self-revealing as they are more or less, to see clearly enough the mental peculiarities of such men as Scott, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Moore; and in like manner the attentive reader of their works could without difficulty educe the intellectual lineaments of Burns, Goldsmith, Pope, Cowper, or Milton-even, as we believe, far beyond these, and going backwards through all literature to those authors of antiquity whose productions have come down to us in sufficient fullness to permit any idea of self

portraiture. This being the case, there should exist a fair prima facie reason, founded on the nature of things, for the belief that Shakspere would prove no exception to a rule of such universal application. But it has at once to be admitted that in endeavouring to apply the rule to our greatest writer, we are met at the outset by an entirely novel set of conditions. No other writer that we know of displays anything like the same amount of studied reticence regarding self. All our poets- perhaps excluding Homer alone-speak frequently in their own persons-it may be in praise or it may be in disparagement, yet is the ego with them so paramount that the living man is perpetually appearing on the surface. They conceal much, but they reveal more—with this result, that the attentive reader of their works can be at small loss in making out for the authors distinct personalities, not infrequently to the insignificant points of personal appearance, as well as what they eat and drink and wherewithal they choose to clothe themselves. With Shakspere all this becomes changed. In place of a human being, freighted with joys and sorrows and endued with the high-throbbing heart and brain of the poet, we can discover-at first sight and on a casual glance-only as it were a spectre or a shadow-not even the c questionable" and familiar ghost of Hamlet, for speak it will not of itself. Very closely indeed must it be looked at; otherwise, it has no tale to tell us, either to melt the heart or to harrow up the soul. Like the scenic manipulator in the modern theatre, whom the spectators know only by the results of his achievements, the Great Magician shows to us innumerable visions of truth, glory, and beauty, never to depart from the memory, himself all the time hidden in the inner obscurity. Yet while this is unfortunately too much the case, the patient onlooker will get more revealed to his curiosity than a mere passing glance would permit him to believe. Let him only watch carefully enough, and he will see that there are slight rents in the drop-scene through which the hand which moves the mechanism, the intelligence which directs the puppets, may be partially discovered. Were it otherwise-were the man himself absolutely unrecognisable--the productions of Shakspere would certainly be-as perhaps in the largest sense they are—the most perfect anomaly in the entire world of letters.

The prime difficulty in the matter is at once apparent. No other poet has so entirely and exclusively devoted himself to the same description of art, as assuredly no one

lutely up be-as perha in the entire ter is at once a dev

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »