« PreviousContinue »
• Here lie I Timon, who alive all living men did hate : Pass by, and curse thy fill; but pass, and stay not here iby
Many other things could we tell you of this Timon, but this little shall suffice at this present."
The account as given in the Palace of Pleasure agrees in all material respects with this. Of course there can be no doubt that one of these sources furnished the idea of Apemantus, as also of the “ tree which grows here in my close," and of the “everlasting mansion upon the beached verge of the salt flood ;” neither of these being found in the place from whence other materials of the drama were drawn.
The rest of the story was derived, directly or indirectly, from Lucian's dialogue entitled “ Timon, or the Man-hater.” Malone, in the remarks quoted above, thinks the Poet could not have borrowed directly from Lucian, because there was then no English translation of the dialogue in question. In the first place, however, it would be something hard to prove this, the only evidence being, that no such translation of that date has come down to us. In the second place, there is known to have been both a Latin and an Italian version of Lucian at that time, and there can be little doubt that Shakespeare understood enough of both those languages to be able to read a piece of that description. We subjoin such a sketch and abstract of the dialogue as will exhibit the nature and amount of the Poet's indebtedness to the Greek satirist.
The piece opens with an address of Timon to Jupiter, the guardian of friendship and hospitality, complaining that his godship has grown sleepy or indifferent; so that he no longer punishes the baseness and ingratitude of men, but has suffered his firebrands to dwindle into nothing, a mere poetical smoke, a heap of idle names, so that nobody fears being burned by them; that he neither hears the perjured nor observes the wicked, being blind to every thing about him, and having his ears stopped, like an old dotard. He calls on the god to make ready those far-shooting thunderbolts. which have been so much beversed, against the guilty, lest he be at last dethroned by their violence. He then comes to his own case : “ I, who have raised so many from poverty to riches, helped the needy, and spent my substance to make my friends happy, am now left poor and destitute : those, who once adored me and hung upon my nod, will not so much as look upon me; but if I chance to meet any of them, they pass by me, as if they had never seen me, or turn away as from a loathsome spectacle. Reduced, at length, to the utmost misery, and clothed with skins, I dig this little spot of earth. Here I philosophise, in the desert, with my spade, all my happiness being that I no longer behold the prosperity of the wicked.”
Jupiter, being thus berated, asks Mercury who it is that bellows so from the foot of Hymettus, speaks of him as some bold prating fellow who seems to be digging, and infers him to be a philosopher from his uttering such profane speeches. Mercury answers that he is Timon, the rich man who so often has offered whole hec. atombs to the gods. That his goodness of heart and kindness to the poor, or rather his folly and want of judgment in the choice of friends, have been the ruin of him; he having never discovered that he was lavishing his all on wolves and vultures. That, having ate his bones bare, and, if there was any marrow in them, sucked it all out, they left him, and, so far from relieving him in turn, would not even look upon him. That for this cause he has turned digger, refusing to show himself in the city, and venting his rage against those who, having been enriched by him, now proudly pass along, not knowing whether his name be Timon.
Jupiter forthwith orders Mercury and Plutus to visit Timon and bestow new wealth upon him ; at the same time apologising for his remissness of late, that he has been kept busy with thieves and plunderers, and that his ears have been so stunned with the noisy disputes and squabbles of philosophers blabbing about virtue and spirituality and he knows not what, that he could not hear the prayers of mortals; and promising to give those ungrateful parasites their due, as soon as he shall have repaired his damaged lightning : whereupon Mercury remarks how necessary 'tis to be impudent ; for this Timon has now got Jupiter over to his side by diut of clamour and abuse, while, if he had said nothing, he might have kept on digging through life, without being noticed. Plutus is very loth to do the bidding of Jupiter, because Timon has so recklessly squandered his gifts on the unworthy, and lest, if restored to wealth, he should again become the prey of parasites.
Here follows at some length a keen encounter of wits between Mercury and Plutus, touching the use of riches and the folly of men in regard to them. On coming near the place of Timon, Plutus hearing a noise like the clinking of iron against stone, and asking what it is, Mercury answers, “ It is Timon, digging up a piece of rocky land hard by us ;" adding, “ And see, along with him are Poverty, Labour, Courage, Wisdom, and all the virtues that go in the train of indigence; a stronger body-guard, I fear, than yours.” Plutus thereupon begs to be off at once, alleging that they can do no good to a man who has such an army about him. The god of riches being held to the task by Mercury, Poverty then interferes in behalf of her charge : « Shall Plutus, then.” says she, “come to Timon, after I have taken him under my discipline, spoiled as he was with luxury and sloth ? thus rob me of the man whom, with so much care, I have formed to virtue, and put him into the hands of Plutus, who will soon make him as idle and wicked as ever, and, when he is spoiled, give him back to me again ? Soon shall he know the worth of her whom he has lost; who has blessed him with a sound mind
and a healthy body, taught him to live as he ought, and to look upon things as they really are.”'
At first Timon rejects the offer of their godships, calls them rascals, upbraids them for disturbing him, and threatens to pelt them handsomely with stones: whereupon Plutus entreats for heaven's sake to be gone, declaring that the fellow appears to be stark mad. Being further urged and exhorted, Timon persists that he has no need of them ; that his spade is all the riches he desires; and that he shall deem himself the happiest of men, if none come near him. That Plutus had been the cause of all bis past troubles, having given him up to flatterers, undermined him with temptations, made him an object of envy and hate, and then hasely deserted him ; while Poverty, on the other hand, had been his best friend, exercising him with wholesome labours, supplying him with what was needful, and teaching him what true riches were, such as neither time-servers, nor sycophants, nor tyrants could ever wrest from him. But the arguments of Plutus, backed up by the prospect which Mercury holds out, of making his rascally flatterers burst with envy, prove too much for him ; and he at last consents to be rich again, since the gods will have it so; though still fearing that so much wealth, on a sudden, and so much care will make him miserable.
The gods thereupon leave him, Plutus having first exhorted him to keep on digging, and having commanded treasure to put itself in his way. Timon then resumes his spade, and presently over. hauls a mass of treasure, whereupon he breaks forth as follows : “ It is, it must be gold, fine, yellow, noble gold; heavy, sweet to Jook upon. Burning like fire, thou shinest day and night: come to me, thou dear delightful treasure! Now do I believe that Jove himself was once turned into gold : what virgin would not spread forth her bosom to receive yo beautiful a lover ? You, my spade and blanket, shall be hung up as my votive acknowledgement 10 the great deity. I will purchase some retired spot, and there build a tower to keep my gold in : this shall be my habitation, and, when dead, my grave also. From this time forth I will despise acquaintance, friendship, compassion ; lo pity the distressed, to relieve the indigent, I shall hold a crime : my life, like the beasts of the field, shall be spent in solitude ; and Timon alone shall be Timon's friend: all others I will treat as enemies and betrayers; to converse with them, or to herd with them, were a sin : accursed be the day that brings them to my sight; I will make no truce, have no dealings with them. Kindred, friends, and country are empty names, respected by none but fools. Let Timon only be rich, and despise all the world besides : abhorring praise and Aattery, I will have pleasure in myself alone ; alone I will sacrifice to the gods, feast alone, be my own neighbour and companion ; and, when I am dead, the fairest name I would be stinguished by is mis. anthrope. Asperity of manners, moroseness, cruelty, savageness,
these are my virtues : were I to see a man perishing in the flames, I would throw on pitch or oil, 10 increase them; or, if I saw one overwhelmed with the winter flood and stretching out his hands to me for help, I would plunge him in deeper, that he might never rise again. This is Timon's law, this hath Timon ratified; and thus shall I be revenged on mankind. Yet I would that all might know how rich I am, as this would heighten their misery. But hush! whence all this noise and hurry? what crowds are here, all covered with dust, and out of breath? They have smelt out the gold! Shall I mount this hill, and pelt them with stones, or shall I for once hold some parley with them? It will make them more unhappy, when they find how I despise them; therefore I will stay and receive them.”
He is then approached, first, by Gnathon, a parasite, who brings him a new song; and of whom he says, -« The other day, when I asked him for a supper, he held out a rope, though he had emptied many a cask with me.” Next comes Philiades, a flatterer ; " to whom,” says Timon, “ I gave a large piece of ground, and two talents for his daughter's portion; yet, afterwards, when I was sick and begged his help, the wretch fell upon me and beat me.” The third comer is Demeas, an orator : “ He,” says 'Timon, “ was bound to the state for seventeen talents, and, being unable to pay it, I took pity on him and redeemed him; yet, when he was distributing the public money to our tribe, and I asked him for my share, he declared he did not know ine." The fourth is Thrasycles, a philosopher, of whom Timon speaks thus : “ 'This fellow, if you meet him in the morning, shall be well clad, modest and humble, and will talk to you by the hour about piety and virtue, condemn luxury and praise frugality ; but, when he comes to supper in the evening, will forget all he has said in the morning, devour every thing before him, crowd his neighbours, and lean upon the dishes, as if he expected to find the virtue he talked so much of at the bottom of them. Then he gets drunk, dances, sings, scolds, and abuses every body; always talking in his cups, and haranguing others about temperance, though himself so drunk as to be the laughing-stock of all about him. Even when sober, he is the most sordid, impudent, lying fellow on earth; the meanest of flatterers, notorious for oaths, insolence, and imposture; and, on the whole, a most perfect character.” To these succeed Laches, Blepsias, Gniphon, and “a whole heap of scoundrels;
" and all of them are treated to thwackings with the spade or pelting with stones, till they are content to leave him alone; whereupon the dialogue closes.
It may be observed that neither Lucian nor Plutarch furnishes any hint towards the banquet which Timon gets up for his false friends. In the old anonymous play, mentioned above, 'Timon is represented as inviting them to a feast, and setting before them stones painted to look like artichokes, with which he afterwards pelts them and drives them out. How Shakespeare's Timon came to resemble the other in respect of this incident, is a question for those who have the curiosity and the leisure to pursue it. On the other hand, the resemblance between Lucian and Shakespeare is especially close in the apostrophe of Timon upon finding the gold; and as the anonymous play has no such resemblance, this argues that the Poet's borrowings from Lucian were not made through that medium.
In the Shakespearian gallery of art, the Timon of Athens forms a distinct class by itself. Of dramatic merit, the piece, as already observed, has very little, though probably as much as could well be made out of the subject. Nevertheless, the play is one that we would not willingly be without; and its chief value in respect of the Poet lies in that it exhibits him in an entirely new character, and yields fresh argument of the seemingly-unlimited scope and variety of his genius; displaying in him a set of powers which he has elsewhere kept unused, but which, even though possessed in a lower degree, have sufficed to render several other writers immortal. « The satirist's terrible scourge” has been often wielded with a power that still defies the eatings of time; divers authors live and will live, whose greatest excellence stands in this : in Shakespeare it is among the least, if not the least; yet literature has nothing that comes up to Timon in the eloquence of invective and denunciation ; wherein we have satire idealized up to the highest pitch of sublimity and awfulness, yet so glorified with the interfasings of imagination as to charm and fascinate while it causes to shudder.
The life of the play is almost wholly concentrated in Timon himself; indeed there is little else that deserves to be regarded as a representation of character, unless an exception should be made in favour of Apemantus. The character of Timon was substantially formed from the Poet's own mind acting upon hints and materials drawn from the sources we have indicated ; so that the whole cast and impression of it is original. His bearing, at first, is full of manly grace and nobleness, showing the spirit of an accomplished, high-minded, most disinterested gentleman. His freeheartedness and open-handedness, though undiscriminating, are without any touch of selfishness; he is ready, and even eager, to knit himself into a friendship with any or with all, who hold out an occasion for the lavishing of his bounty, regardless of their personal qualities. But his profuse and unrespective liberality proceeds altogether upon an ideal and perhaps somewhat selfwilled view of mankind : he speaks and acts like one whose powers of experience are overborne by the impulses of an undisciplined imagination; thus evermore attributing, not finding, the character which he loves : so that perhaps the worst we can say of him that he sec ns to be moved by an ambition such would have the reasons or the causes of his generosity rest en