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they were stuck on by the sciolists, wbo sent in their accounts for travelling expenses, attendance at consultations, copies made, and sundries, to the treasury of Pisistratus.
“In this way they put out of court for ever, on the motion of Counsellor Hermann, or Lachmann, or some other of his understrappers, whatever has signally familiarized and brought home to us the most masculine of Homer's characters; whatever has made us sympathize with the flesh and blood, and be merciful to the frailties of others; whatever, in short, has made them living types of human nature and the despair of all the poets of 3,000 years-save one. Apply the same sort of process to that one ;—but let us be merciful-apply it only to the most learned, adroit, and artistical (in the doctor's own sense of that last word) among Homer's or Shakspeare's successors. What fortunate riddances, now, in the case of Virgil how many of his crack paragraphs are manifest panni !-think of fathering on such an expert as that such a gross interpolation as the purposeless episode of Euryalus, or such a transparent clumsiness as a piece of flattery about Marcellus! Such superfætations will not bear a touch of the scalpel.
« or take Milton :- what a swoop of his pretty eaglets ! What a world of stuffed-in abortive excrescences about Pagan mythology, mediæval romance, blindness of an ex Latin secretary of Oliver Cromwell-evil days of the Cabal-and Lely's bevies ! Imagine the gravest of Christian poets mixing up Eve and Proserpine, the fall of the angels with discharges of artillery—Galaphron and his city of Albracca—Charlemagne and all his chivalry at Fontarabia. So treated, no doubt, poets may be shorn of their most troublesome beans and reduced by safe manipulation within the comprehension of the critical lens."*
The remoteness of the era in which Homer lived
Quarterly Review, vol. 87, No. 174, p. 445.
afforded these professors an excellent opportunity for attempting to destroy him altogether. They had no sooner stowed away the glorious father of epic poetry in safety among the myths, than the keen-eyed vultures of the criticism of annibilation cast their greedy eyes upon our own sweet Shakespeare. With him they were compelled to deal in a different manner; the proofs of his having actually existed were too numerous to admit of the application to his case of this summary process of annihilation.
The man William Shakespeare had been a rather important personage in his day and generation, and what is more, bad left several evidences of the part he had played, that could not be explained away ; so the extin. guisher was laid aside, and the critics grasped the tomahawk; although they could not crush out his existence, they thought they might manage to bew his reputation to pieces. So to work they went; and mighty were the results. They could not annihilate the man Shakespeare, but they might reduce the poet within reasonable dimensions. This was the expedient by which they hoped to gain their ends.
To overrate the merits of his contemporaries, and to depreciate his, was their solution of the difficulty. Zealously did they labour at this new hobby, terrible were their efforts to pull down Shakespeare, and to erect their own blocks of wood and stone in his place. They plied their oars vigorously against the stream of common sense and honest truth, imagining that, because the water flowed past them, they were making rapid advances. But the German dreamers had hit upon something like a real difficulty at last; and they found Shakespeare possessed of a vitality which they had little suspected. They could not demolish a réputation that had taken root in every quarter of the globe; a fame which, like the air, pervaded the universe. The sagacious writer in the Quarterly, to whom we
have already referred, has administered a castigation upon these offenders, from the effects of which they are not likely to recover. He says: “ First of all, they never see—we really doubt if any even of their better men, except Schlegel and Goëthe (who never went leisurely into the subject), had the least glimpse of—the immense gulf that intervenes between Shakspeare and those whom it has been too common to speak of as the other great dramatists of the Elizabethan period. One makes every allowance for the purblind ecstasies of professed black-letter moles and grubs at home or abroad; but what are we to say when we find persons enjoying the reputation in their own country, not only of universal critics, but of original poets, who painfully translate, edit, and comment upon the Fore-school of Shakspeare,' that is, the limping poetasters that wrote plays before Shakspeare produced his master-pieces, and from whom he occasionally borrowed the thread of a story, or the dim and tremulous outline of a character; and gravely proceed, from first to last, on the notion that these worthies have been comparatively neglected here, not because they are poetasters, but because Shakspeare is with us a blind, bigoted, intolerant superstition? In like manner, when they grapple with the great bard himself, the mark nine times out of ten is to saddle him with some play which he had nothing to do with, or at most, in his capacity of Globe proprietor, had gone over pen in hand, touching up the dialogue here and there, and perhaps sticking in some vivid speech or scene of his own, ad captandum ; or else it is to prove that what his benighted countrymen have voted a blot, is one of his sublimest beauties; to elucidate the profound philosophy lurking under what Warburton and Johnson took for a mere pun ; or how completely all English readers, for two hundred and fifty years, have mistaken one of his really simplest and most elementary characters; that men had always read him, in fact, straightforward, or
from left to right, or at best boustrophedon--never in the real authentic way—that is, upside down--until salvation flashed on the world from some farthing candle at Heidelberg. For example, one luminous professor makes it clear as mud, that ‘Arden of Feversham' was penned wholly by Shakspeare, and ranks with his very first master-pieces ; to wit, not • Macbeth' or Othello,' but “Titus Andronicus,' or 'Pericles, Prince of Tyre,' or the “Two Noble Kinsmen.' Another establishes, in one hundred and fifty pages of text, with footnotes as long but not so light as Bayle's, that the same poet never could have created both a Lear and a Falstaff. Another delivers as the result of a not less laborious investigation, that we are wholly wrong about Dolly Tearsheet, whose genuine affection for Sir John ought to cover a multitude of early indiscretions, and who was uttering the deepest emotion of a true heart when she declared that she would never dress herself handsome again, till her little tidy boar-pig came back from the
“Then there is a whole school who consider it as a capital blunder to take Shakspeare's dramas for the best of his performances, but fight lustily among themselves as to whether that character belongs righteously to his Sonnets or his 'Venus and Adonis ;' but we think the Sonneteers are now the topping sect, though what half the Sonnets are about, hardly two are agreed. Such is the art of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, exhibited with equal success in the Homeric and Shakspearian departments. Much of the same happy discrimination is to be admired in their estimates of British authors generally-dead or living Ossian has stood his ground : they are not to be gulled with the vulgar romances about Macpherson ; the originals were examined and approved by Sir John Sinclair, and published in extenso by the Highland Society. Ossian is infinitely the greatest as well as the oldest of our insular bards; he can never be too much studied,
ONSLAUGHT UPON HOMER AND SHAKESPEARE.
whether for mythology, history, manners, or metres. Richardson, too, flourishes ; he, not Fielding, is the real ' life-painter' of George the Second's time. Blackmore is not without friends. Hervey (not Sporus, but the Meditator) is in great feather. There are two charms which never fail — dulness and finery ; choose between drab and pink, but with either you are sure of immortality. "Creep, or walk on stilts. If you dance, let it be on a barn-floor, or a tight-rope; if you fiddle, play on one string, or with your toes. Nature vibrates between truism and conceit; these are the legitimate alphabet, the rest intrusive, not real Cadmus. If any gifted son of any Muse be vilipended at home, whether on pretence of platitudes or of affectations, let him be of good cheer,-few prophets are honoured in their own land. If Germany should by any miraculous infelicity overlook him, America will not ; but commonly the critical sentiment of these grand arbiters will be in unison. Look at any Leipzig catalogue, and consider what sort of English books are most translated. The only thing you may be confident of, is that, if you see one author worried among half a dozen rival oversetters, you had never heard of him in England. And so in the other high appeal court of Parnassuswhen Sir Charles Lyell last arrived at Boston, he found all the town agog about some Professor's course of lectures (we think the name was Professor Peabody) on the poetry of Miss Eliza Cook,—the Sappho, or Corinna, we believe, of the ‘London Weekly Dispatch. We cannot doubt that she has also been illustrated by Frescoists of Düsseldorff.” *
Such was one kind of that fierce warfare waged against Shakespeare and his productions, until Mr. William Henry Smith discovered a fresh method of assault, in comparison with which all former systems may be called mild and benevolent.
Quarterly Review, vol. 87, No. 174, p. 440. The whole article is well worth perusal.