صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

He seems, at no time, to have had any personal or peculiar interest in them; both during and after his life, they appear to have been the property of the stage, and "published by the players, doubtless according to their notions of acceptability with the visitants of the theatre." No Plays bearing Shakespeare's name, were published between the years 1609 and 1622; but in the year 1623 (seven years after Shakespeare's death) a folio of thirtysix plays was brought out as “ The Workes of Mr. William Shakespeare."

Of the numerous plays which had appeared and been considered his during his life, thirteen only were admitted into this folio, the rest being entirely ignored; but twenty-three other plays were added, none of which had ever previously been published.

This volume contains what we now recognise as Shakespeare's Plays”—works of which it has been said by competent judges, that “they are, beyond comparison, the greatest productions which man's intellect, not divinely inspired, has yet achieved.”

That the works now admitted into our editions are all the productions of the same mind, no one at the present day, dreams of disputing; but if they had descended to us without any tradition as

to the name of the author, and our only information respecting them had been an exact knowledge of the period at which they were written, that we should in that case have attributed them to William Shakespeare, is in the highest degree doubtful.

To consider the probability of these plays having been written by William Shakespeare, and to attack the evidence by which the assertion that they were is supported, is our present object.

Proof that they were written by some other person, we do not yet hope to be able to adduce, but merely such evidence of the probability of this being the case, as may induce some active inquiry in the direction indicated.

To acquaint ourselves with the qualifications which Shakespeare must have possessed to have enabled him to write these plays, we propose to quote the observations of Pope and Coleridge; then to give a brief outline of the lives of Shakespeare and Bacon; and then to note some of the peculiarities of the genius of Bacon.

To begin then with Pope, he says :-"If ever an author deserved the name of an original it was Shakespeare. The poetry of Shakespeare was inspiration indeed; he is not so much an imitator

[ocr errors]

as an instrument of Nature; and ’tis not so just to say, that he speaks from her as that she speaks through him. His characters are so much Nature herself, that 'tis a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances ; yet all along, there is no labour, no pains to raise them, no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or to be perceived to lead towards it; but the heart swells, and the tears burst out just at the proper places. We are surprised the moment we weep, and yet, upon reflection, find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.* The passions directly opposite to these are no less at his command. Nor does he only excel in the passions : in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between penetration and felicity, he hits

* Of Bacon, Jonson says in his Discoveries—"His language (when he could spare or pass by a jest) was nobly censorious. He commanded when he spoke, and had his judges, angry and pleased, at his devotion. No man had their affections more in

his power.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing from a man of no education or experience in those great and public scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts. So that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion —that the philosopher and even the man of the world may be born, as well as the poet."

With regard to his learning, Pope says:-“There is certainly a vast difference between learning and languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had much reading, at least, if they will not call it learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one language or another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a taste of natural history, mechanics, ancient and modern history, poetical learning, and mythology. We find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæsar, not only the spirit but manners of the Romans are exactly drawn; and still a nicer distinction is shown between the manners of the Romans in the


time of the former and of the latter. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c., are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature or branch of science he either speaks of or describes, it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge: his descriptions are still exact, all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject. When he treats of ethics or politics, we may constantly observe a wonderful justness of distinction, as well as extent of comprehension. No one is more a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it. Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this last particular) has not shown more learning this way than Shakespeare. We have translations from Ovid, published in his name, among those poems which pass for his. He appears also to have been conversant in

. Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays; he follows the Greek authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another (although I will not pretend to say in what language he read them). The modern Italian writers of novels he was manifestly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no less conversant with the

« السابقةمتابعة »