Imagens das páginas

more apt than the poet's advice* to the writer of plays, where human life is at once placed upon the stage, and a fitness of dramatic delineation for each period is truly and delicately traced? We might even turn to the Greek philosophers and moral poets for similar illustrations. Probably, however, the earliest writer who has spoken of the "Seven Ages" in so distinct and definite a manner as to be compared with Shakspeare, is quoted by Hurwitz in his Hebrew Tales:



"The first commences in the first year of human existence, when the infant lies like a king on a soft couch, with numerous attendants about him, all ready to serve him, and

"Etatis cujusque notandi sunt tibi mores,
Mobilibusque decor naturis dandus et annis.
Reddere qui voces jam scit puer et pede certo
Signat humum, gestit paribus colludere, et iram
Colligit ac ponit temere, et mutatur in horas.
Imberbis juvenis, tandem custode remoto,
Gaudet equis canibusque et aprici gramine campi ;

Cereus in vitium flecti, monitoribus asper,

Utilium tardus provisor, prodigus æris,

Sublimis, cupidusque, et amata relinquere pernix.

Conversis studiis ætas animusque virilis
Quærit opes et amicitias, inservit honori,
Commisisse cavet quod mox mutare laboret.

Multa senem circumveniunt incommoda ; vel quod
Quærit, et inventis miser abstinet, ac timet uti;
Vel quod res omnes timide gelideque ministrat ;
Dilator, spe longus, iners avidusque futuri,
Difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti
Se puero, censor castigatorque minorum."

eager to testify their love and attachment by kisses and


"The second commences about the age of two or three years, when the darling child is permitted to crawl on the ground, and, like an unclean animal, delights in dirt and filth.

"Then, at the age of ten, the thoughtless boy, without reflecting on the past or caring for the future, jumps and skips about, like a young kid on the enamelled green, contented to enjoy the present moment.

"The fourth stage begins about the age of twenty, when the young man, full of vanity and pride, begins to set off his person by dress, and, like a young unbroken horse, prances and gallops about in search of a wife.

"Then comes the matrimonial state, when the poor man, like the patient ass, is obliged, however reluctantly, to toil and labour for a living.

"Behold him now in the parental state, when surrounded by helpless children craving his support, and looking to him for bread, he is as bold, as vigilant, and as fawning too, as the faithful dog; guarding his little flock, and snatching at everything that comes in his way in order to provide for his offspring.

"At last comes the final stage, when the decrepid old man, like the unwieldy though sagacious elephant, becomes grave, sedate, and distrustful. He then also begins to hang down his head towards the ground, as if surveying the place where all his vast schemes must terminate, and where ambition and vanity are finally humbled to the dust." *

When travelling through Italy, a few years ago, we found in the cathedral of Sienna a curious proof that the division of human life into seven periods, from infancy to extreme


age, with a view to draw a moral inference, was common before Shakspeare's time.

The person who was showing us that fine church, directed our attention to the large and bold designs of Beccafumi, which are inlaid in black and white on the pavement, entirely neglecting some works of a much older date, which appeared to us to be still more interesting on account of the simplicity and elegance with which they are designed. Several of these represented Sibyls and other figures of a mixed moral and religious character; but in one of the side chapels we were both surprised and pleased to find seven figures, each in a separate compartment, inlaid on the pavement, representing the Seven Ages of Man. Our time was so very short, that it was only possible to make a slight sketch by way of memorandum of the subjects; that sketch accompanies this letter, in order that you may compare it with Shakspeare's poetry, and the Hebrew parable.

The division of human life into seven periods, appears to have been a common theme among the elder moralists; it may possibly have arisen from considering threescore and ten years as the term of our natural life, and portioning it out into seven tens accordingly.

The Sienna floor gives countenance to this idea; the youngest figure is almost infantile, but yet too old both for the "mewling infant" of Shakspeare, and the soft nursling of the Medrash. The boy just turned of ten years old is evidently designed in the next figure, and the cloaked youth of twenty approaches to a manly appearance. At thirty, with his hawk upon his fist, he goes on to middle age in perfect vigour; til at forty he attends to business, and with book in hand, may be supposed to have entered

* Lanzi says they are by Federigi of Sienna, who flourished in 1482.

into the mercantile or senatorial dignity.

He is now of greater bulk, and more self-important. From fifty to sixty, he declines; he has a staff, but he has also a purse, whose weight he not unwillingly bears. From sixty to seventy, supported on crutches, he is creeping towards the grave, which is open to receive him, when he shall have accomplished his threescore and ten years.

Thus the designer of Sienna has differed, in detail, from our delightful poet and from the venerable Hebrew Rabbi; but the general intent of all is the same, namely, to moralize on that vanity of vanities"*-Human Life.


Several of the early designers have employed themselves on similar themes. Tobias Stimmer, in his clever woodcuts, gives man ten periods of ten years each, making human life extend to a hundred years. Each of his cuts contains two decades, five of men and five of women; the very ornamental leaves are indicative of the changes that years bring with them, and the gradual improvement and decay are marked with a power deserving the praise bestowed by Fuseli on T. Stimmer's compositions.

It were to be wished that Henley had mentioned the name of either the inventor or engraver of the old print referred to in the notes in Johnson's and Steevens's Shakspeare, on Jaques' speech. As it is, we are left quite in the dark as to the age and author of the prints said to have been "stuck up in the generality of houses," at so early a period as before Shakspeare's time. What has become of all these prints? was that of which Steevens says that he

* The Medrash says, that Rabbi Simon in this verse accounts for the allusion to the Seven Ages of human life thus. The word occurs twice in the plural, which the Rabbi considers as equal to four, and three times in the singular, making altogether seven. Vanity of Vanities," saith the Preacher; "Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity."


« AnteriorContinuar »