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by writers of mark are so great as to cast a doubt upon the soundness of all critical judgment. Although Shakespeare worked not only among a throng of dramatists and poets, but even occasionally with some of them, there is in truth no more striking fact in the history of literature than the solitary position and peculiar character of his genius. Beaumont and Fletcher, and all that crew, who came after him, although more brilliant than Peele and Marlowe, and all that crew, that went before him, caught no fire from his soul, no light from his intellect. He rose upon the world eclipsing a few twinkling stars and one fitful meteor ; and after his grand career he sank like a midsummer sun, in full splendor, leaving no moon behind him to prolong his reign by shining with his reflected glory.*

May the world expect another Shakespeare ? Not unless circumstances corresponding to those which produced this Shakespeare should occur again. Shakespeare marked a stage in the world's progress, or at least in the history of a race which since his time has more than any other influenced that progress. He appeared at the period when the English character, slowly forming through centuries, had attained its typical development; when the English language had assumed a form

* Yet I remember seeing in a bookseller's catalogue, at the end of a book published at the beginning of the last century, the announcement of a tragedy, Jane Shore I believe, “in Shakespeare's style, by N. Rowe.”

from which it has not varied sensibly for three centuries, and when our race, having freed itself from the restraints of feudalism, had attained the most symmetrical and harmonious social development possible to it under an established gradation of classes. The English nobleman three centuries ago, whether called by herald lord or gentleman, was a spontaneous product of a healthy soil, a goodly tree nourished by fibres that pierced the mould of centuries. But he had flourished his appointed time; and before the prerogative of the Tudor his root began to perish, and under the sun of the Reformation his branches to wither; and since then aristocracy in England has been living, year after year, a fictitious life, and year after year has needed more props to keep its sapless form above the ground, which its decay

and fall will enrich for another spontaneous outgrowth. It was to express the spirit and give form to the ideas of such a completed period in the history of the English people, as well as to utter the eternal truths, or rather it was to speak those truths with the voice of that period, that he who was “of an age” as well as “for all time" appeared. A new Shakespeare may be born to us; but only as the fruit of new conditions. He can only appear when essential civilization, not mere outward refinement, has advanced so far as to have established radically new relations among men, and when our language has so far changed

as to be the fitting vehicle for the expression of a new philosophy, a new worldly wisdom, a new range of sympathy, new sentiment, both high and homely, and a new cast of thought. For in him of whom we speak the old has had its full expression. It may be doubted whether these conditions will, even in the new England, ever be fulfilled. But should they be, then Nature, at once chary and inexhaustible, never working in vain, but ever prompt and able to supply the needs which she creates, will produce another Shakespeare, because then, and not till then, another will be required.

313

AN ACCOUNT

OF THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF

THE ENGLISH DRAMA

TO THE TIME OF SHAKESPEARE.

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