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exercitations of speculative men, whether of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits.
JOHNSON.-VOLTAIRE.-MRS. MONTAGU.-MARTIN SHERLOCK.-HUME.
It was in the year 1741 that David Garrick
Rule a Wife and Have a Wife,' of Beaumont
When Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous
fame, Nor wish'd for Jonson's art, or Shakspeare's
Vice always found a sympathetic friend; eighteenth century, when, according to the They pleas'd their age, and did not aim to epitaph, the poet's forms were sunk in death mend.
and lay in night, there had been thirteen Yet bards like these aspir’d to lasting praise, editions of Shakspere's collected works, nine And 'proudly hop'd to pimp in future days.
of which had appeared during the preceding Their cause was gen’ral, their supports were forty years. Of Ben Jonson there had been strong;
three editions in the seventeenth century, Their slaves were willing, and their rcign was
and one in the eighteenth ; of Beaumont and long :
Fletcher two in the seventeenth century, and Till Shame regain'd the post that Sense be
one in the eighteenth. Yet, absurd and tray'd,
impertinent as it may be to talk of immortal And Virtue call’d Oblivion to her aid.
Garrick calling the plays of Shakspere back “ Then, crush'd by rules, and weakend as
to day, it cannot be denied that the very refin'd, For years the pow'r of Tragedy declin'd;
power of those plays to create a school of From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,
great actors was in itself a cause of their Till declamation roard whilst passion slept ;
extension amongst readers. The most monYet still did Virtue deign the stage to tread,
strous alterations, perpetrated with the worst Philosophy remain'd though Nature fled.
taste, and with the most essential ignorance But forc’d, at length, her ancient reign to quit, of Shakspere's art, were still in some sort She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of Wit;
tributes to his power. The actors sent many Exulting Folly hail'd the joyous day, to read Shakspere with a true delight; and
And pantomime and song confirm'd her sway." then it was felt how little he needed the It is tolerably evident, from the whole tenour aid of acting, and how much indeed of his of this celebrated prologue, that of the early highest excellence could only be received dramatists Shakspere reigned upon the stage into the mind by reverent meditation. supreme, if not almost alone. It has been In 1765 appeared, in eight volumes octavo, the fault of actors, and the flatterers of The Plays of William Shakspeare, with the actors, to believe that a dramatic poet is Corrections and Illustrations of various Comonly known to the world through their lips. mentators: to which are added Notes by Garrick was held to have given life to Shak Samuel Johnson.' This was the foundation spere. The following inscription on Garrick's of the variorum editions, the principle of tomb in Westminster Abbey has been truly which has been to select from all the comheld by Charles Lamb to be “a farrago of mentary, or nearly all, that has been profalse thoughts and nonsense :”.
duced, every opinion upon a passage, however “ To paint fair Nature, by divine command,
conflicting. The respective value of the Her magic pencil in her glowing hand,
critics who had preceded him are fully A Shakspeare rose; then, to expand his fame discussed by Johnson in the latter part of Wide o'er this breathing world, a Garrick
his Preface: this branch of the subject
was only of temporary interest. But the Though sunk to death the forms the Poet larger portion of Johnson's Preface not only drew,
to a certain extent represented the tone of The Actor's genius bade them breathe anew; opinion in Johnson's age, but was written with Though, like the bard himself, in night they so much pomp of diction, with such apparent lay,
candour, and with such abundant manifestaImmortal Garrick call'd them back to day : tions of good sense, that, perhaps more than And till Eternity with power sublime
any other production, it has influenced the Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time,
public opinion of Shakspere up to this day. Shakspeare and Garrick like twin stars shall
That the influence has been, for the most shinc, And earth irradiate with a beam divine."
part, evil, we have no hesitation in believing.
This celebrated Preface is accessible to most Up to the end of the first half of the readers of Shakspere.
It was observed by Warburton, in 1747, | Johnson himself, in some of his critical that the fit criticism for Shakspere was not opinions upon individual plays, is not very such“ as may be raised mechanically on the far above the good lady whom he patronized. rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Bossu have What shall we think of the prosaic approcollected from antiquity : and of which such bation of 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream ?kind of writers as Rymer, Gildon, Dennis, “Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the and Oldmixon, have only gathered and parts in their various modes are well written.” chewed the husks.” But he goes on to infer What of his praise of ‘Romeo and Juliet ?'that “crude and superficial judgments on “His comic scenes are happily wrought, but books and things” had taken the place of his pathetic strains are always polluted with the older mechanical criticism ; and that some unexpected depravations.” What of there was “a deluge of the worst sort of the imputed omissions in 'As You Like It ?critical jargon—that which looks most like “By hastening to the end of this work Shaksense. The rules of art, as they were called, speare suppressed the dialogue between the having been rejected as inapplicable to usurper and the hermit, and lost an opporShakspere, a swarm of writers arose who tunity of exhibiting a moral lesson in which considered that he was to be judged without he might have found matter worthy of his the application of any general principles at highest powers.” What of the pompous seeall. They held that he wrote without a sawing about ‘Macbeth ?'—"It has no nice system ; that the absence of this system discriminations of character. .. .. The produced his excellences and his faults ; danger of ambition is well described. that his absurdities were as striking as his The passions are directed to the true end. beauties; that he was the most careless and Lady Macbeth is merely detested ; and, hasty of writers ; and that therefore it was though the courage of Macbeth preserves the business of all grave and discreet critics some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his to warn the unenlightened multitude against fall.” What, lastly, shall we say to the his blunders, his contradictions, his viola- bow-wow about 'Cymbeline ??—“ To remark tions of sense and decency. This was the the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the critical school of individual judgment, which conduct, the confusion of the names and has lasted for more than a century amongst manners of different times, and the imus; and which, to our minds, is a far more possibility of the events in any system of corrupting thing than the pedantries of all life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting the Gildons and Dennises who have eat paper imbecility—upon faults too evident for deand drunk ink. Before the publication of tection, and too gross for aggravation.” All Johnson's preface (which, being of a higher that we can in truth say of these startling order of composition than what had pre. things is this—that this learned, sensible, viously been produced upon Shakspere, sometimes profound, and really great man, seemed to establish fixed rules for opinion), having trampled upon the unities and other the impertinences which were poured out tests of poetical merit, the fashion of Dryby the feeblest minds upon Shakspere's den's age but not of his own, is perpetually merits and demerits surpass all ordinary groping about in the mists of his private belief. Mrs. Charlotte Lennox, in whose judgment, now pursuing a glimmering of 'Shakespear Illustrated' Johnson himself light, now involved in outer darkness. This is reputed to have had some hand, is an system of criticism upon Shakspere was average specimen of the insolence of that rotten to the foundation. It was based upon critical jargon “which looks most like an extension and a misapplication of Ben sense.” Mrs. Lennox was evidently a very Jonson's dogmatic assertion—“He wanted small-minded person attempting to form a art." The art of Shakspere was not revealed judgment upon a very high subject. But it to the critics of the last century. Let us was not only the small minds which uttered hear one to whom the principles of this art such babble in the last century. Samuel were revealed :—“It is a painful truth, that
not only individuals, but even whole nations, sions,” then he is bewildered ; and he geneare ofttimes so enslaved to the habits of rally ends in blaming his author. The chatheir education and immediate circumstances, racteristic excellence, he says, of the tragedy as not to judge disinterestedly even on those of “Hamlet,' is “variety.” According to his subjects the very pleasure arising from which notion that in all Shakspere's dramas we consists in its disinterestedness, namely, on find "an interchange of seriousness and subjects of taste and polite literature. In- merriment, by which the mind is softened at stead of deciding concerning their own modes one time and exhilarated at another,” he and customs by any rule of reason, nothing holds, that “the pretended madness of Hamappears rational, becoming, or beautiful to let causes much mirth.” But, in the conthem but what coincides with the peculiari- duct of the plot, the business of life and ties of their education. In this narrow the course of the passions do not proceed circle individuals may attain to exquisite with the regularity which he desires :-“ Of discrimination, as the French critics have the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears done in their own literature ; but a truc no adequate cause. . . . . Hamlet is, through critic can no more be such, without placing the whole piece, rather an instrument than himself on some central point, from which an agent. After he has by the stratagem of he may command the whole,—that is, some the play convicted the king, he makes no general rule, which, founded in reason, or attempt to punish him. The catathe faculties common to all men, must there-strophe is not very happily produced.” fore apply to each,—than an astronomer can Where is the mistake in all this? It is in explain the movements of the solar system taking a very limited view of the object and without taking his stand in the sun.”* scope of Art. “It is its object and aim to
Samuel Johnson proposes to inquire, in bring within the circle of our senses, perhis preface, “ by what peculiarities of ex- ceptions, and emotions, everything which cellence Shakspeare has gained and kept has existence in the mind of man. Art the favour of his countrymen.” He answers should realize in us the well-known saying, the question at considerable length, by dis- Nihil humani a me alienum puto. Its applaying what he holds to be the great pecu- pointed aim is to awake and give vitality to liarity of his excellence :-“Shakspeare is, all slumbering feelings, affections, and pasabove all writers, at least above all modern sions; to fill and expand the heart; and to writers, the poet of nature; the poet that make man, whether developed or undeholds up to his readers a faithful mirror of veloped, feel in every fibre of his being all manners and of life. ... This, therefore, that human nature can endure, experience, is the praise of Shakspeare-that his drama and bring forth in her innermost and most is the mirror of life.” Such is the leading secret recesses—all that has power to move idea of the critic. He sees nothing higher and arouse the heart of man in its proin Shakspere than an exhibition of the real. foundest depths, manifold capabilities, and “He who has mazed his imagination in fol- various phases ; to garner up for our enjoylowing the phantoms which other writers ment whatever, in the exercise of thought raise up before him may here be cured of his and imagination, the mind discovers of high delirious ecstacies, by reading human senti- and intrinsic merit, the grandeur of the ments in human language ; by scenes from lofty, the eternal, and the true, and present which a hermit may estimate the transac- it to our feeling and contemplation. In like tions of the world, and a confessor predict manner, to make pain and sorrow, and even the progress of the passions.” When John- | vice and wrong, become clear to us; to bring son is unable to trace this actual picture of the heart into immediate acquaintance with life in Shakspere, when he perceives any the awful and the terrible, as well as with deviations from the regular“ transactions of the joyous and pleasurable ; and, lastly, to the world,” or the due“ progress of the pas- lead the fancy to hover gently, dreamily, on
* Coleridge's Literary Remains,' vol. ii. p. 63. the wing of imagination, and entice her to
revel in the seductive witchery of its volup- | more, which penetrates into the abysses of tuous emotion and contemplation. Art guilt and degradation, and shows that there should employ this manifold richness of its is no true peace, and no real resting-place, subject matter to supply on the one hand for what separates us from our fellow men the deficiencies of our actual experience of and from our God. This is not to be effected external life, and on the other hand to excite by didactic precepts not dropped casually; in us those passions wbich shall cause the by false representations of the course of actnal events of life to move us more deeply worldly affairs and the workings of man's and awaken our susceptibility for receiving secret heart. The mind comprehends the impressions of all kinds.”*
uchole truth, when it is elevated by the art This is something higher than Johnson's of the poet into a fit state for its comprenotion of Shakspere's art-higher as that hension. The whole moral purpose is then notion was than the mechanical criticism of evolved, through a series of deductions in the age which preceded him. But the in- the mind of him who is thus moved. This consistencies into which the critic is betrayed is the highest logic, because it is based upon show the narrowness and weakness of his the broadest premises. Rymer sneers at foundations. The drama of Shakspere is Shakspere when he says that the moral of “a mirror of life;" and yet, according to 'Othello' is, that maidens of quality should the critic, it is the great sin of Shakspere not run away with blackamoors. The sarthat he is perpetually violating “poetical casm only tells upon those who demand any justice.” Thus Johnson says in the preface, literal moral in a high work of art. “ He makes no just distribution of good or Because Johnson only saw in Shakspere's evil, nor is always careful to show in the dramas “a mirror of life,” he prefers his virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he comedy to his tragedy. “ His tragedy seems carries his persons indifferently through right to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.” When and wrong, and at the close dismisses them the poet is working with grander materials without further care, and leaves their ex than belong to the familiar scenes of life, amples to operate by chance." Johnson however natural and universal, the critic could not have avoided seeing that, if Shak- does not see that the region of literal things spere had not carried his persons “indiffer- | is necessarily abandoned—that skill must ently though right and wrong,” he would be more manifest in its effects. We are then not have exhibited “the real state of sub- in a world of higher reality than every-day lunary nature.” But there was something reality. “In tragedy he often writes with much higher that Shakspere would not then great appearance of toil and study what is have done. Had he gone upon the principle written at last with little felicity.” This of teaching an impracticable and therefore now strikes the most superficial student of an unnatural theory of rewards and punish- Shakspere as monstrous. We open 'Irene,' ments in human affairs, if he had not in- and we understand it. “He omits opportended that “ his precepts and axioms” should tunities of instructing or delighting which
drop casually from him," he would have the train of his story seems to force upon lost his supereminent power of gradually him, and apparently rejects those exhibitions raising the mind into a comprehension of which would be more affecting for the sake what belongs to the spiritual part of our of those which are more easy.” It is a great nature; of exciting a deep sympathy with privilege of the art of Shakspere, that in strong emotion and lofty passion ; of pro- his most tragical scenes he never takes us ducing an expansion of the heart, which out of the region of pleasurable emotions. embraces all the manifestations of human It was his higher art, as compared with the goodness and human sorrow; and, what is lower art of Otway. He does reject “those
exhibitions which would be more affecting," * We quote this from a very able article in the British
but not “for the sake of those which are and Foreign Review,' on Hegel's • Æsthetics.' The passage is Hegel's.
more easy." Let any one try which is the