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BORN, 1564-DIED, 1616.
SHAKSPEARE is here in his purely poetical creations, apart (as much as it is possible for such a thinker and humanist to be) from thought and humanity. There is nothing wanting either to the imagination or fancy of Shakspeare. The one is lofty, rich, affecting, palpable, subtle; the other full of grace, playfulness, and variety. He is equal to the greatest poets in grandeur of imagination; to all in diversity of it; to all in fancy; to all in everything else, except in a certain primæval intensity, such as Dante's and Chaucer's; and in narrative poetry, which (to judge from Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece) he certainly does not appear to have had a call to write. He overinformed it with reflection. It has been supposed that when Milton spoke of Shakspeare as
the genealogy did him injustice. But the critical distinction between Fancy and Imagination was hardly determined till of late. Collins himself, in his Ode on the Poetical Character, uses the word Fancy to imply both, even when speaking of Milton; and so did Milton, I conceive, when speaking of Shakspeare. The propriety of the words, "native wood-notes wild," is not so clear. I take them to have been hastily said by a learned man of an unlearned. But Shakspeare, though he had not a college education, was as learned as any man, in the highest sense of the word, by a scholarly intuition. He had the spirit of learning. He was aware of the education he wanted,
and by some means or other supplied it. Milton's own Greek and Latin ;
He could anticipate
Tortive and errant from his course of growth-
In fact, if Shakspeare's poetry has any fault, it is that of being too learned; too over-informed with thought and allusion. His wood-notes wild surpass Haydn and Bach. His wild roses were all twenty times double. He thinks twenty times to another. man's once, and makes all his serious characters talk as well as he could himself,-with a superabundance of wit and intelligence. He knew, however, that fairies must have a language of their own; and hence, perhaps, his poetry never runs in a more purely poetical vein than when he is speaking in their persons ;-I mean it is less mixed up with those heaps of comments and reflections which, however the wilful or metaphysical critic may think them suitable on all occasions, or succeed in persuading us not to wish them absent, by reason of their stimulancy to one's mental activity, are assuredly neither always proper to dramatic, still less to narrative poetry; nor yet so opposed to all idiosyncrasy on the writer's part as Mr. Coleridge I would have us believe. It is pretty manifest, on the contrary, that the over-informing intellect which Shakspeare thus carried into all his writings, must have been a personal as well as literary peculiarity; and as the events he speaks of are sometimes more interesting in their nature than even a superabundance of his comments can make them, readers may be pardoned in sometimes wishing that he had let them speak a little more briefly for themselves. Most people would prefer Ariosto's and Chaucer's narrative poetry to his; the Griselda, for instance, and the story of Isabel,—to the Rape of Lucrece. The intense passion is enough. The misery is enough. We do not want even the divinest talk about what Nature herself tends to petrify into silence. Cura ingentes stupent. Our divine poet had not quite outlived the times when it was thought proper for a writer to say everything that came into his head. He was a student of Chaucer: he beheld the living fame of Spenser; and his
fellow-dramatists did not help to restrain him. The players told Ben Jonson that Shakspeare never blotted a line; and Ben says he was thought invidious for observing, that he wished he had blotted a thousand. He sometimes, he says, required stopping. (Aliquando sufflaminandus erat.) Was this meant to apply to his conversation as well as writing? Did he manifest a like exuberance in company? Perhaps he would have done so, but for modesty and self-knowledge. To keep his eloquence altogether within bounds was hardly possible; and who could have wished it had been? Would that he had had a Boswell a hundred times as voluminous as Dr. Johnson's, to take all down! Bacon's Essays would have seemed like a drop out of his ocean. He would have swallowed dozens of Hobbeses by anticipation, like larks for his supper.
If Shakspeare, instead of proving himself the greatest poet in the world, had written nothing but the fanciful scenes in this volume, he would still have obtained a high and singular reputation, that of Poet of the Fairies. For he may be said to have invented the Fairies; that is to say, he was the first that turned them to poetical account; that bore them from clownish neighborhoods to the richest soils of fancy and imagination.
ENCHANTMENT, MONSTROSITY, AND LOVE.
The whole story of the Tempest is really contained in this
A most auspicious star: whose influence,
Will ever after droop :-here cease more questions;
Come away, servants, come; I am ready now;
Ari. All hail, great master! grave sir, hail! I come To answer thy best pleasure: be 't to fly,
To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
On the curl'd clouds; to thy strong bidding, task
Hast thou, spirit,
I boarded the king's ship; now on the beak,
Why that's my spirit!
But was not this nigh shore?
Not a hair perish'd;
But fresher than before: and as thou bad'st me,
Of the king's ship, how thou hast dispos'd,
Supposing that they saw the king's ship wreck'd,
Past the mid season.
Pro. At least two glasses: the time 'twixt six and now, Must by us both be spent most preciously.
Ari. Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains, Let me remember thee what thou hast promis'd,
Which is not yet performed me.
What is 't thou canst demand?
How now! moody?
Dost thou forget
It much to tread the ooze of the salt deep,