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HAVE always been disposed to think that collaboration on the part of several authors in the production of a work of importance
should, where it is possible, be I
avoided; since the probable incompatibility of their views, to say nothing of the inequality of their style, thus only increases the confused estimate concerning Literature already too prevalent in the present Age. But to write of
Shakespeare, under whatever conditions, is a privilege for any one, and for the writer of this Introduction to have an opportunity of doing so for American readers is a peculiarly attractive temptation.'
1 What may be considered to be the well-established facts concerning the life and writings of Shakespeare are, in the opinion of the writer, to be found in Mr. Sidney Lee's erudite, comprehensive, and wholly admirable work on
The germs of Shakespeare's mature and fully developed genius are to be traced in his earliest acknowledged writings, “Venus and Adonis,” « The Rape of Lucrece,” and the “Sonnets ”; for, while these unmistakably manifest both striking dramatic power and a copious rhetoric, the most majestic and terrible of his Tragedies exhibit, in the construction and music of their blank verse, the lyrical note running so bewitchingly through the first utterances of his Muse, which resembles the nightingale, that most variously gifted of songbirds, in its power to express the singing quality equally in the rise, the prolongation, and the fall of its voice, in its sadness no less than in its joy, in its most woeful as in its most amorous and exultant descants. This persistently lyrical quality in Shakespeare's blank verse has not, as far as I have observed, ever been indicated as it should be; and this can be done only by comparing it with the blank verse of other greatly esteemed English Poets, and likewise with the rhymed verse of Shakespeare himself. A few examples must here suffice, by reason of the limited dimensions of space at one's disposal. Let us open Milton and Shakespeare quite accidentally, and cite the passages on which one's eye happens first to fall.
“ Thus talking, hand in hand alone they passed
On to their blissful bower; it was a place
the subject ; and, in all I shall say, will be assumed that the reader is familiar with that volume. Those who are not, if there be such, should become so, at
Of thickest covert was inwoven shade,
“Paradise Lost," Book IV.
prayers than winds and seas, yet winds to seas
“ The Merchant of Venice,” Act V, sc. 1. “ Lear. Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
“King Lear,” Act III, sc. 2.
If a person, after comparing the above first and second with the third and fourth citations, does not note an essential musical difference between them, there is nothing more to be said to him, and one only thinks to oneself that he has an imperfect ear for the delicacies and distinctions in the structure and sound of verse. The first and second quotations march steadily on, like welldrilled battalions, at a majestic even pace. The third and fourth undulate, as they rush, pause, loiter, hurry on, like the course of a river. The former have a certain stately inflexibility in them. The latter are throughout flexible even in their potency; flexible as is also the following passage, equally selected at chance from “Venus and Adonis ":
“ Torches are made to light, jewels to wear,
Dainties to taste, fresh beauty for the use,
Seeds spring from seeds and beauty breedeth beauty;
Thou wast begot; to get it is thy duty.” If one had space in which to quote passages from the blank verse of Wordsworth, Tennyson, and even Shelley, all of whom are exquisite lyrical poets, when writing what are called lyrics proper, the same distinction would be observed by those who are capable of such observation. It might be interesting, on some suitable occasion, to enter more minutely and exhaustively into the radical causes of this difference in the blank verse of Shakespeare and that of most other English poets of eminence. Here it must suffice to remark that, while there is a certain artistic
craft and conscious intention discernible in the latter, Shakespeare's blank verse is a perfectly natural utterance, as natural to him as the most ordinary prose utterances are to other people. I remember that, sitting one afternoon with Tennyson in his garden at Aldworth, and citing with sincere admiration two lines of " Locksley Hall,” I ventured to add that there was in one of them what I feared he would now regard as a slight blemish, though I myself did not regard it as such. “ What is that?” he asked with solicitude, and I indicated it. “You are quite right,” he observed. No, I am not,” I ventured to reply, “and you are quite wrong,
my opinion, for regarding it as a blemish. But
have laid an additional burden, for some time to come, on all English poets, by your craving for perfection and finish." With quick sensitiveness, he pressed my arm, and said, “ But it is n't artificial, is it? Well aware of his sensitiveness, I answered, “ Yes, it is; but I suppose it is the
artifice.” In Shakespeare there was no artifice. He is the most natural of writers, and fortunately for himself, as for us, he could afford to be so. In him," the art itself is nature.”
It would be just as easy to establish the other proposition that, in the rhymed and more confessedly lyrical verse of his earlier poems, Shakespeare manifested the germs of that dramatic or objective power, and that copious rhetoric, so conspicuous in his dramas. That the bulk of the “Sonnets” represent not what Shakespeare himself personally felt at the time of writing them, but rather what other people would feel in the circumstances supposed,