« السابقةمتابعة »
I think his name was Shakspeare. I presume he soon sunk into oblivion.».
« On the contrary,» said I, « it is owing to that very man that the literature of his period has experienced a duration beyond the ordinary term of English literature. There rise authors now and then, who seem proof against the mutability of language, because they have rooted themselves in the unchanging prin. ciples of human nature. They are like gigantic trees that we sometimes see on the banks of a stream; which by their vast and deep roots, penetrating through the mere surface, and laying hold on the very foundations of the earth, preserve the soil around them from being swept away by the ever-flowing current, and hold up many a neighbouring plant, and, perhaps, worthless weed, to per. petuity. Such is the case with Sbakspeare, whom we behold defying the encroachments of time, retaining in modern use the language and literature of his day, and giving duration to many an indifferent author, merely from having flourished in his vicinity. But even he, I grieve to say, is gradually assuming the
tint of age, and his whole form is overrun by a profusion of commentators, who, like clambering vines and creepers, almost bury the noble plant that upholds them.»
Here the little quarto began to heave his sides and chuckle, until at length he broke out in a plethoric fit of laughter that had well nigh choked him, by reason of his excessive corpulency. « Mighty well!» cried he, as soon as he could recover breath, a mighty well! and so you would persuade me that the literature of an age is to be perpetuated by a vagabond deer-stealer! by a man without learning; by a poet, forsooth-a poet!» And here he wheezed forth another fit of laughter.
I confess that I felt somewhat nettled at this rudeness, which however I pardoned on account of his having flourished in a less polish
ed age. I determined, nevertheless, not to · give up my point.
« Yes,» resumed I, positively, « a poet; for of all writers he has the best chance for immortality. Others may write from the head, but he writes from the heart, and the heart will always understand him. He is the faithful pourtrayer of nature, whose features are always the same, and always interesting. Prose writers are voluminous and unwieldy; their pages are crowded with commonplaces, and their thoughts expanded into tediousness. But with the true poet every thing is terse, touching, or brilliant. He gives the choicest thoughts in the choicest language. He illustrates them by every thing that he sees most striking in nature and art. He enriches them by pictures of human life, such as it is passing before him. His writings, therefore, contain the spirit, the aroma, if I may use the phrase, of the age in which he lives. They are caskets which enclose within a small compass the wealth of the languageits family jewels, which are thus transmitted in a portable form to posterity. The setting may occasionally be antiquated, and require now and then to be renewed, as in the case of Chaucer; but the brilliancy and intrinsic value of the gems continue unaltered. Cast a look back over the long reach of literary history. What vast valleys of dulness, filled with monkish legends and academical con
troversies! What bogs of theological speculations! what dreary wastes of metaphysics ! Here and there only do we behold the heavenillumined bards, elevated like beacons on their widely-separated heights, to transmit the pure light of poetical intelligence from age to age.» (a)
I was just about to launch forth into eulogiums upon the poets of the day, when the sudden opening of the door caused me to turn my head. It was the verger, who came to inform me that it was time to close the library. I sought to have a parting word with
(a) Thorow earth and waters deepe,
The pen by skill doth passe :
And shoes us in a glasse,
Of every wight alyve;
Is not so sweet in hyve,
278 THE MUTABILITY OF LITERATURE. the quarto, but the worthy little tome was silent; the clasps were closed; and it looked perfectly unconscious of all that had passed. I have been to the library two or three times since, and have endeavoured to draw it into further conversation, but in vain; and whether all this rambling colloquy actually took place, or whether it was another of those odd daydreams to which I am subject, I have never to this moment been able to discover.