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The clever French writer M. Philarète Chasles, giving a slightly paradoxical expression to the same idea, declares that Shakespeare invented nothing, that what he did was to bestow a sublime and delicate setting upon the jewels he obtained from others, and that the very vocation of genius is to arrange and imitate, to study and to examine, but not to invent.

The rough imperfect works by which the masterpieces of art are almost invariably preceded may be compared to the abortive attempts, in which Nature seems to try her hand as a prelude to the formation of more perfect beings.

“It really looks," says Sainte-Beuve, in speaking of a precursor of Lamartine, “ as if literary history, when on the eve of a grand creation and about to produce and bring forth some fresh great personality, made experiments, as Nature seems to do, in crude preliminary attempts on a smaller scale, and in approximate but uncertain and undetermined models, which dimly foreshadow the coming genius, at whose advent they all crumble to pieces as useless before ever arriving at final completion."

All trace of a Greek spirit and of the local colouring of Greece are as absent in “ Timon of Athens” as in “ Troilus and Cressida;” the names of the characters are Latin, and Alcibiades, the practical man intended as an antithesis to the idealism of Timon, has none of his well-known characteristics. It is strange that, as far as Greek antiquity is concerned, all that Shakespeare borrowed from Plutarch should consist in an incidental passage in the “Life of Antonius.” Neither the heroes of the Median wars, nor the century of Pericles, nor Cimon, nor Pelopidas, nor Alexander stirred his poetic imagination; he felt more at home with Rome and the ruder character of the Roman people.

CHAPTER XIV.

TIMON OF ATHENS. LITERARY CRITICISM. SHAKESPEARE'S

PERSONALITY IN HIS PLAYS.

“ TIMON of Athens” would make a grand libretto for an cpera, but it fails as a play. It presents the single instance amongst Shakespeare's tragedies of a play characterized by qualities of a more brilliant than solid description; the mind at first is dazed by its grandeur, but like all works of factitious brightness it loses greatly on a second reading. The impression it makes is the very reverse of that produced by “ Troilus and Cressida,” which, when we first read it, strikes us as so extraordinary and so iinpertinent that we are shocked and repelled by it, and it is only after a time that we become aware of the charming treasures that lie hidden in its fantastic depths. “Timon of Athens" is not unlike a drama of the French romantic school; and is the only one of Shakespeare's plays of which this could be said: picturesque and sonorous, it appeals to the eye and to the ear, with the rich and gorgeous setting of its scenes, and with the lyrical ring of its poetry, its eloquence and declamation. Forsaking his accustomed mode of proceeding,—the close and careful following of moral reality and truth, of human nature and individual character,—Shakespeare here gives way to exaggeration, after the manner of the Romantic idealists; the knowledge shown of the hearts and minds of men is shallow, and the hero walks upon stilts. Excessively simple in structure, it is the triumph of antitheses; the action confining itself to the development of the most violent contrasts to be met with on the stage—a frenzied misanthropy succeeding a fanatical philanthropy, the palace of a lively and courteous host suddenly changing to the cave of a wild beast, love and hatred, laughter and weeping, joy and rage, and, as Victor Hugo would say, light and darkness. What magnificent scenes, and what a poem for the music of a Meyerbeer or a Beethoven ! Considered as an opera, the very points that constitute its poverty as a play, change into so many advantages,-no complication of plot, situations most clearly and distinctly drawn in symmetrical contrast, more feeling than thought, more of a lyrical cry in its voice than a strict rendering of human nature, a mood too exalted or too intense for the articulate language of prose or verse, and which can only find its true utterance in that art of which Victor Hugo has so well said, "Music expresses that which cannot be said and yet cannot be kept silent.” What a subject for the musical interpretation of a Wagner is presented by the Banquet Scene, when Timon's anger, which for a time he has dissembled under a courteous and smiling exterior, all at once bursts forth like a thunder-clap. It is easy to imagine the suggestions of vague disquietude that the orchestra would shed over this false gaiety, through which the rumbling of the approaching storm would be dimly heard.

And after the dazzling splendour of his last banquet, and the terrible crash and din of his farewell to the world, we are transported to the silence of night, to the woods, and the gloomy cave of the misanthrope—all of which would furnish motives for a majestic overture to the first act. And, for the grand and solemn finale, we have Timon's tomb, chosen by himself, on the sea-beach where once a day the rising tide shall sweep over it, and where this great soul has at last attained eternal rest! “ Timon of Athens” possesses every qualification necessary to tempt a great composer, even down to the suggestion of a ballet when Cupid and a group of Amazons dance before Timon and his guests.

It is natural to draw a parallel between this tragedy and "King Lear,” just as two pictures by the same master might be compared, in which the emotions and situations are the same, although the figures are different; and every Shakespearian critic has been struck by the resemblance.

“ There is the same vivid contrast of light and darkness," writes M. Francois V. Hugo, who develops the antithesis with great talent and ability, “Lear and Timon are both precipitated by a like catastrophe from the radiant summit of prosperity into the unfathomable night of misery. As in Lear's case, Timon suddenly exchanges princely wealth for the miserable condition of a vagabond; he is scourged by the same tempest, blinded by the same hurricane. The morbid melancholy that has its issue with King Lear in raging madness, bursts out with Timon into a furious misanthropy. In this frightful delirium, the one receives the like powerless devotion from his steward Flavius, that the other finds in his vassal, Kent. And they both die of grief, equally betrayed by those whom they have loved.”

The effect produced by these two tragedies as of a destructive hurricane sweeping by, is finely given in this passage ; but there is a still further analogy between Lear and Timon in that they are both equally unreasonable, equally senseless, not only after the blow has been struck, but before—very madmen from the outset. Nothing can be more childish than the conduct of King Lear in the first scene, when he divides his kingdom as he might a cake, between his daughters, promising the largest share to the one that loves him most. “In this scene," says Goethe, “Lear's folly is so great that later on, we cannot but feel that his two eldest daughters and their husbands have some right on their side.” Timon acts in precisely the same manner.

“He resembles a man,” says Rümelin, “who throws all his goods and his money out of window to the passers-by in the street, and who, when his treasures are exhausted, innocently looks to the passersby to give him back what he threw to them. He is deceived in his expectation, and thereupon loses what little reason he ever had.” “In fact,” he adds, in the same key as Goethe when speaking of Lear's daughters, “it is impossible to help feeling that the persons act very reasonably who refuse to give money to one who threw it about so wildly until he had squandered it all away.”

This is the chief defect of the play. “King Lear” at all events presents an interesting and very carefullystudied picture of the progressive stages of mental malady; while Timon, on the contrary, falls from one extreme to the other with a passionate impetuosity that does away with any sort of gradation and degree. The absence of culture, of common sense, of knowledge of the ways of mankind, places Shakespeare's Misanthrope far beneath the Alceste of Molière: he has less distinction of mind, and his moral nature is narrower and poorer; he is at once less attractive and less worthy of esteem. The misanthropy of Alceste has its roots in a keen, strong sense of what is true and upright; that of Timon is but the rage of a spoilt child, who sees his dream crumble into pieces. The general good feeling and right-mindedness of Alceste so completely overbalance the peculiar twist in his mind which Molière pretends to be ridiculing, that we admire and respect him in spite of it. He reasons with Philinte, and discusses the merits of Oronte's sonnet; Eliante especially honours him with her regard, and Célimène distinguishes him from among the crowd of her lovers, and acknowledges that she treats him very badly. Timon inspires no feeling but that of pity. No one dares approach him, and even if any did, the most skilful physician of either

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