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THE favour with which the attempt to illustrate the Elegy of Gray was received led to the following series of illustra
The notes in explanation of this celebrated passage in the works of Shakspeare are so copious that the editor would have been contented with reference to them, hopeless of being able to add anything to what is there collected; but the kindness of Lady Callcott has furnished him with the following interesting illustration of the subject, which cannot fail to be perused with the pleasure and satisfaction always derived from whatever proceeds from her pen :
ON reading over the names of the commentators on Shakspeare, particularly of those who have turned their attention to the often-quoted passage in "As You Like it," comparing the world with a stage, and the Seven Ages of Man to its exits and its entrances," it would be natural to conclude that all that learning and sagacity could do to illustrate the passage had been already accomplished.
It appears, however, that there are still some passages, even among the classical writers, which those commentators have not pointed out, bearing closely on the subject. To go no further than Horace's Art of Poetry, can anything be
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: thus
"THE SEVEN AGES.
"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,
Utilium tardus provisor, prodigus æris,
eager to testify their love and attachment by kisses and embraces.
"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 * Medrash Koheloth.
old 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.