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clothing a noble sentiment in a noble image, give the finishing touches of excellence to this most enchanting portrait.
On the whole, Imogen is a lovely compound of goodness, truth, and affection, with just so much of passion and intellect and poetry, as serve to lend to the picture that power and glowing richness of effect which it would otherwise have wanted; and of her it might be said, if we could condescend to quote from any other poet with Shakspeare open before us, that “her person was a paradise, and her soul the cherub to guard it.”"
THERE is in the beauty of Cordelia's character an effect too sacred for words, and almost too deep for tears; within her heart is a fathomless well of purest affection, but its waters sleep in silence and obscurity,+never failing in their depth, and never overflowing in their fulness. Everything in her seems to lie beyond our view, and affects us in a manner which we feel rather than perceive. The character appears to have no surface, no salient points upon which the fancy can readily seize; there is little external development of intellect, less of passion, and still less of imagination. It is completely made out in the course of a few scenes, and we are surprised to find that in those few scenes there is matter for a life of reflection, and materials enough for twenty heroines. If Lear be the grandest of Shakspeare's tragedies, Cordelia in herself, as a human being, governed by the purest and holiest impulses and motives, the most refined from all dross of selfishness and passion, approaches near to perfection; and in her adaptation, as a dramatic personage, to a determinate plan of action, may be pronounced altogether perfect. The character, to speak of it critically as a poetical conception, is not, however, to be comprehended at once, or easily; and in the same manner Cordelia, as a woman, is one whom we must have loved before we could have known her, and known her long before we could have known her truly.
Most people, I believe, have heard the story of the young German artist Müller, who, while employed in copying and engraving Raffaelle's Madonna del Sisto, was so penetrated by its celestial beauty, so distrusted his own power to do justice to it, that between admiration and despair he fell into a sadness; thence through the usual gradations, into a melancholy, thence into madness; and died just as he had put the finishing stroke to his own matchless work, which had occupied him for eight years With some slight tinge of this concentrated kind of enthusiasm I have learned to contemplate the character of Cordelia; I have looked into it till the revelation of its hidden beauty, and an intense feeling of the wonderful genius which created it, have filled me at once with delight and despair. Like poor Müller, but with more reason, I do despair of ever conveying, through a different and inferior medium, the impression made on my own mind, to the mind of another. Schlegel, the most eloquent of critics, concludes his remarks on King Lear with these words: “Of the heavenly beauty of soul of Cordelia, I will not venture to speak.” Now if I attempt what Schlegel and others have left undone, it is because I feel that this general acknowledgment of her excellence can neither satisfy those who have studied the character, nor convey a just conception of it to the mere reader. Amid the awful, the overpowering interest of the story, amid the terrible convulsions of passion and suffering, and pictures of moral and physical wretchedness which harrow up the soul, the tender influence of Cordelia, like that of a celestial visitant, is felt and acknowledged without being quite understood. Like a soft star that shines for a moment from behind a stormy cloud, and the next is swallowed up in tempest and darkness, the impression it leaves is beautiful and deep, but vague. Speak of Cordelia to a critic or to a general reader, all agree in the beauty of the portrait, for all must feel it; but when we come to details, I have heard more various and opposite opinions relative to her than any other of Shakspeare's characters— a proof of what I have advanced in the first instance, that from the simplicity with which the character is dramatically treated, and the small space it occupies, few are aware of its internal power, or its wonderful depth of purpose. It appears to me that the whole character rests upon the two sublimest principles of human action, the love of truth and the sense of duty; but these, when they stand alone (as in the Antigone), are apt to strike us as severe and cold. Shakspeare has, therefore, wreathed them round with the dearest attributes of our feminine nature, the power of feeling and inspiring affection. The first part of the play shows us how Cordelia is loved, the second part how she can love. To her father she is the object of a secret preference; his agony at her supposed unkindness, draws from him the confession, that he had loved her most, and “thought to set his rest on her kind nursery.” Till then she had been “his best object, the argument of his praise, balm of his age, most best, most dearest !” The faithful and worthy Kent is ready to brave death and exile in her defence: and afterwards a farther impression of her benign sweetness is conveyed in a simple and beautiful manner, when we are told that “since the lady Cordelia went to France, her father's poor fool had much pined away.” We have her sensibility “when patience and sorrow strove which should express her goodliest : ” and all her filial tenderness when she commits her poor father to the care of a physician, when she hangs over him as he is sleeping, and kisses him as she contemplates the wreck of grief and majesty.
O my dear father! restoration hang
Her mild magnanimity shines out in her farewell to her sisters, of whose real character she is perfectly aware:
Ye jewels of our father! with washed eyes
Prescribe not us our duties :
The modest pride with which she replies to the Duke of Burgundy is admirable; this whole passage is too illustrative of the peculiar character of Cordelia, as well as too exquisite to be mutilated.
I yet beseech your majesty
Is it but this? a tardiness of nature,