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are villains, and both have known persecution ; yet how life-like is Shylock compared to the abortion Barabas ! Barry Cornwall has somewhat severely, but too truly, remarked, that “Marlow (although he has fine and even grand bursts of poetry) stands forth, the historian of lust, and the demonstrator of physical power; whilst Shakspere is ever the champion of humanity and intellect.”
But not merely as a great dramatist—though decidedly the greatest of all dramatists—is Shakspere immortalised. He is the poet not of Englishmen alone, but of the whole human race; and wherever human hearts are warmed with the “ruddy drops” of life—from the artic to the antartic circle—there will his delineations be found to be truthful. Because he has not drawn his Romans as mere Romans, but as men actuated by the same motives, moved by the same passions, as have in all ages reigned in human hearts, whether Roman or not, they are “not sufficiently Roman” for shallow critics like Dennis and Rhymer. Even Voltaire, whom Oliver Goldsmith* called 'the poet and philosopher of Europe"- -even this master-mind totally failed to comprehend the genius of Shakspere, and “censures his kings as not completely royal.” They would have all conventional, and allow nature no scope.
"What king,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson, "has he not taught state, as Talma taught Napoleon ? What maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy? What lover has he not outloved ? What sage has he not outseen? What gentleman has he not instructed in the rudeness of his behaviour ?!
Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his “Preface to Shakspere,” published in 1768, justly remarks :
“ Shakspere is, above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate but upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find, His persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by whieh all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets, a character is too often an individual: in those of Shakspece it is commonly a species. It is from this wide extension of design that so inuch instruction is derived. It is this which fill the plays of Shakspere with practical axioms and domestic wisdoms
* “ Letters from a Citizen of the World," letter xliii.
It was said of Euripides, that every verse was a precept ; and it may be said of Shakspere, that from his wirks may be collected a system of civil and economical prudence. Yet his real power is not shown in the splendour of particular passages, but by the progress of his fable, and the tenor of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen."
Fine, indeed, must have been the organisation of our Shakspere's brain : fully and equally must his moral and intellectual organs have been developed ! What a study would his noble head have been for a Gall or a Spurzheim, a Combe, or a Spencer Hall ! What a theme for a Lavater would his beautiful countenance have afforded ! How far the bust at his burial-place-erected within seven years after his death—may be relied upon as a likeness, I know not. "The effigy was at first coloured,” says Dr. James Dugdale, *
“the eyes, light hazel, and the hair and beard, auburn ; but, in 1793, it was painted white, at the request of Mr. Malone.” And he adds : “ It has the forehead high, the eye-brows marked, the head nearly bald, and an expression in the features of habitual serenity, not apathy ; the whole not discrediting our preconceived opinion of his mental qualifications.” Washington Irving and others bear similar testimony.
In the first collected edition of his works, the folio of 1623—printed in the same year as the death of his widow, and after the erection of his monument in the church of Stratford-upon-Avon-an engraving by Martin Droeshout was given ; and to the correctness of this portrait of Shakspere, we have the testimony of a competent and credible witness, his friend and brother dramatist, Ben Jonson :
“ This figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakspere cut,
True, it is in “his book”—the invaluable legacy he has F." The British Traveller ; or, Moderu Panorama of England and Wales." vol, iv, page 398.
left us, that we have the truest picture of the “gentle Shakspere :” the firm friend of every virtue and accomplishment; the enemy of all that is vicious and unlovely. Compared with the likeness which the judicious reader may there trace
him, all the Chandos pictures, the Stratford busts, and engravings of the first folio-much as we undoubtedly ought to value them-are indeed insignificant. Had we known no single incident in his whole career ; had every circumstance of his life been shrouded in the darkest obscurity—buried in oblivion, “deeper than did ever plummet sound;" we could still have traced his gentle disposition and universal sympathies in each of his undoubted pieces. All his writings are fragrant of the country. The sweet song of uncaged birds, and the gurging of limpid brooks,
"Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge," chime through all his productions, like silver bells in the air at eventide. He has known every sweet wild flower of his native land, and, what is better than all, he has loved them too; for all his dramas are redolent of their beauty and perfume. So many passages run to my pen, as if begging for quotation, that I must rest content with referring the reader merely to three,-to the Spring song in the last scene of “Love's Labours Lost;" to flowers o'the Spring,” woven into a sweet garland of words, by the lovely Perdita, in the fourth act of the "Winter's Tale;" and to Oberon's well-known description of a fairy bank, “whereon the wild thyme blows" for ever, in the “Midsummer Night's Dream.” And then the pleasant woodland scenes in “As You Like It"-the forest of Arden, with its antlered deer--how it lingers in one's memory, like a dream of Paradise, its leaves for ever green. There is such a rustling of oaks throughout the whole play, that one half longs for their friendly shade during the sultry days of Summer, and would fain listen to the moralising of Jaques, among the falling acorns of Autumn,
“ Under the greenwood tree.”
Was jealousy “the green-eyed-monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on”—ever more truly painted than in “Othello?” Has the folly and crime of
" Vaulting Ambition, which o'erleaps itseļf
And falls on t'other side,"
ever been fuller shown than in “Macbeth," or « Richard III.?" When was the deformity of the “monster, Ingratitude," so strikingly depicted as in “King Lear ?"
"Ingratitude ! thou marble-hearted fiend;
More hideous when thou show'st thee in a child,
Than the sea-monster!" Every one who has ever loved, can share the sorrows of a “Romeo and Juliet;" that sweet tragedy, in which Shakspere, that mighty master of the human heart, so powerfully impresses upon us the Godliness of love and friendship, by showing up, in all its hideous deformity, the fiendishness, the heart-blighting misery, of Hate, as shown in the feud, the "ancient grudge,” of the Montagues and Capulets,
" Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona," Then, again, when was Avarice so deeply scarified as in the “Merchant of Venice ?" though modern millionaires and their scribes would fain persuade us that Shakspere was a bad political-economist, forsooth, because he makes the good Antonio an enemy of usury—of taking “a breed for barren metal”—which the wealth-worshippers of this profit-mongering age regard as the very acme of civilization, as it certainly is, as they apply the word. Most assuredly these money-grubbers will never be the true critics of the inspired Shakspere : he never wrote for such as them. But ages after these poor earthworms have gone to their last account; when enfranchised Labour shall sing his holy pæans where now the night-birds of Superstition and Oppression scream their soul-polluting discords,—then will this glorious trait in the character of Antonio the merchant prove to an enlightened world, that Shakspere was indeed a poet of progress, and not a mere conventional playwright for cunping traders and greedy money-lenders. In the mean time, let those very unpoetic people, if they will, still speak of the character of the good merchant, Antonio, as Shakspere himself made their true prototype, Shylock, do before them :
"I hate him, for he is a Christian :
Even there where merchants most do congregate,
If I forgive him !" Cumberland, in his play of “The Jew," has complained of other dramatists supplying mirth for the play-goers by bringing out "a Jew to be baited through five long acts. It was not as a mere Jew or Hebrew that the bard held up Shylock to the detestation of his countrymen ; but the avaricious money-lender, the heartless creditor; the genuine representative of a too numerous class, now everywhere honoured as “respectable;" a harpy brood which prey upon society, even under the very protection of law, to an infinitely greater extent than the thirty thousand professed thieves who are said to infest the English metropolis, in this superficially-enlightened nineteenth century. That “gentle Willy” was no friend to the persecution of “the chosen race,” is evident froin the bitter, but too true, satire he has put into the mouth of Shylock in the first scene of the third act:
" Hath not a Jew eyes ? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same Winter and Summer, as a Christian is ? If you prick us, do we not bleed ? if you tickle us, do we not laugh ? if you poison us, do we not die ? and if you wrong us.. shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that? If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility ? -revenge ? if a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example ?--why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."
Shakspere is the greatest of all magicians. How we en joy the merry mood of fat old Sir John Falstaff-"unimitated, unimitable Falstaff,” as Dr. Johnson calls him--character which no other dramatist but Shakspere could have conceived; how we laugh at the happily portrayed self-importance of a Dogberry, a Justice Shallow, and a Parson Evans. We are delighted with the aerial sprite, Ariel, and even with that unearthly monster of the earth, Caliban, in “The Tempest;" and those "secret, black, and midnight hags,” the witches, in “ Macbeth,”
“ each at once her choppy finger laying upon her skinny lips”-how awful must they have appeared in an age when thousands, yea tens of thousands, of unfortunate human beings were burnt alive—the holocausts of Superstition-in retribution of an imaginary crime, which never did or can exist !Then again, the Ghost, in “Hamlet”--performed by the