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dignity, and language, power, by this decadency. Independence of the censure of the reader, gives freedom to the pen of the writer, and the desire to convey the idea, and not cover the page, condenses the style. We believe this is the secret of the excellence of Elizabethan literature. Certainly never since, has so much wisdom been written in so few words. Books now are like unsafe banks : the bullion is disproportionate to the issue of paper; and matter which might be communicated in a month, and condensed into a shilling, by a system of Circumlocution, is made to maunder through twenty months, to produce a pound,
Our conclusion is, that it would have been a disgrace to the noble Bacon to have owned himself the literary hack of the part proprietor of a paltry playhouse.
And here we may note that all the hireling writers for the players were men of education, members of the universities, and in some instances ordained clergymen. Yet in none of their works are there so frequent classical allusions as in the Shakespeare Plays; and in these latter, the references have not regard to what we may call school classics, but to authors seldom perused but by profound scholars. Nor is the classical knowledge
exhibited of a superficial character; as Pope ob
“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 man. ners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. 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.”
“ Without reviving the debated question of Shakespeare's learning,” says Hallam,* “I must venture to think that he possessed rather more acquaintance with the Latin language than many believe. The phrases, unintelligible and improper, except in the sense of their primitive roots, which occur so copiously in his plays, seem to be unaccountable on the supposition of absolute ignorance. In the Midsummer Night's Dream these are much less frequent than in his later dramas; but here we find several instances: thus, things base and vile, holding no quantity,' for value; rivers, that have overborn their continents, the continente
* Literature of Europe, part ii. chap. vi. sec. 41.
riva of Horace; compact of imagination '; 'something of great constancy,' for consistency; “sweet Pyramus translated there'; 'the law of Athens, which by no means we may extenuate.' I have considerable doubts whether any of these expressions would be found in the contemporary prose of Elizabeth's reign, which was less overrun with pedantry than that of her successor; but, could authority be produced for Latinisms so forced, it is still not very likely that one who did not understand their proper meaning would have introduced them into poetry Hallam adds in a note :
“ The celebrated essay by Farmer, on the learning of Shakespeare, put an end to such notions as we find in Warburton, and many of the elder commentators, that he had imitated Sophocles, and I know not how many Greek authors. Those, indeed, that agree with what I have said in a former chapter, as to the state of learning under Elizabeth, will not think it probable that Shakespeare could have acquired any knowledge of Greek. It was not a part of such education as he received. The case of Latin is different: we know that he was at a grammarschool, and could hardly have spent two or three years there, without bringing away a certain portion of the language." We know that there was a grammar-school at Stratford-upon-Avon; but, with all deference to Mr. Hallam, that William Shakespeare was at it, or any other school, is just what we do not know.
In an age of bigotry and religious persecution, we find Bacon and Shakespeare expressing a toleration of all creeds and religions. We find the ethics of the player and the philosopher to be identical; and we find them uniting their efforts to suppress and exterminate the fashionable, foolish, and wicked practice of duels.
We can imagine the philosopher defining it as “a fond and false disguise or puppetry of honour;*" the statesman denouncing it as “a desperate evil,” since “it troubleth peace, it disfurnisheth war, it bringeth calamity upon private men, peril upon the state, and contempt upon the law.” † But we may well be surprised, in that age, to find the dramatist never once mentioning the private duel with approval, but attacking the practice with the keenest shafts of his ridicule, and both poet and
* The charge of Sir Francis Bacon, Knight, the King's Attorney-General, touching duels, upon an information in the Star Chamber against Priest and Wright, with the decree of the Star Chamber in the same cause.
politician rejoicing in the prospect of its speedy extinction, since it cannot but be “that men of birth and quality will leave the practice when it begins to be vilified, and come so low as to barber-surgeons and butchers, and base mechanical persons.
“There is,” says Archbishop Whateley, “an ingenious and philosophical toy called a 'thaumatrope,' in which two objects painted on opposite sides of a card--for instance, a man and a horse, a bird and a cage, &c.-are, by a quick rotatory motion, made so to impress the eye in combination, as to form one picture-of the man on the horse's back, the bird in the cage, &c. As soon as the card is allowed to remain at rest, the figures of course appear as they really are, separate and on opposite sides."
Bacon and Shakespeare we know to be distinct individuals, occupying positions as opposite as the man and the horse—the bird and the cage; yet, when we come to agitate the question, the poet appears so combined with the philosopher, and the philosopher with the poet, we cannot but believe them to be identical.
* Ibid. p. 88 ante.