Page images

of his morals I have pointed out in many instances, by references to particular passages of Scripture.*

Although the first part of the work is designated Moral Philosophy, the reader must not infer from thence that there are no morals in the other Sections: the truth is, morals pervade the whole work, but many of them are so interwoven with the Characters, Nature and the Passions, &c., as not to admit of being separated.

Our author's paintings of the Passions are not less deserving of our admiration than his moral wisdom and delineations of Characters. He is the great master of the human heart, and depicts in an inimitable manner all the feelings of humanity, from the almost imperceptible emotions to the most tempestuous passions that agitate the breast of man. As A. W. Schlegel justly observes, 'He lays open to us in a single word, a whole series of preceding conditions.'

In that part of the work which respects Nature, I have exhibited to the reader those exquisitely beautiful natural images which abound throughout our author's writings, and which claim the admiration of every cultivated mind. This excellence has been often alluded to, and is thus beautifully expressed by one who was capable of appreciating it: “He was familiar with all beautiful forms and images, with . all that is sweet or majestic in the simple aspects of nature, of that indestructible love of flowers and odours, and dews, and clear waters—and soft airs

* See particularly page 120, No. 713, to the end of the Section.

and sounds, and bright skies and woodland solitudes, and moonlight bowers, which are the material elements of poetry,--and with that fine sense of their undefinable relation to mental emotion, which is its essence and vivifying soul—and which, in the midst of his most busy and atrocious scenes, falls like gleams of sunshine on rocks and ruins—contrasting with all that is rugged and repulsive, and reminding us of the existence of purer and brighter elements.'*

Take also the sentiments of the following writers who speak in accordance with this work: 'To instruct by delighting is a power seldom enjoyed by man, and still seldomer exercised. It is in this respect that Homer may be called the second of men, and Shakspeare the first. The wisdom of the Greek was not so universal as that of the Briton, nor his genius so omnipotent in setting it forth attractively. From the several works of the latter, a single work might be compiled little less worthy of divine sanction than any other extant, and by the beauty of its nature far more secure of human attention. But Shakspeare has done so much in this way, so nearly all that is sufficient, he has made the laws of the Decalogue and all their corollaries so familiar, he has exhibited the passions and propensities, the feelings and emotions, incident to humanity, so freely, and as we might say graphically, that another such artist would be superfluous: Nature might create a second Shakspeare, but it would be bad economy. What the first has left undone, may be completed by a

Edinburgh Review, vol. xxviii. p. 473.

much less expense of Promethean fire than would go to the creation of a second. We are therefore not to look for a similar being, at least until we acquire new attributes, or are under a new moral dispensation.' Spirits of an inferior order, a Milton, a Pope, or a Cowper, are potent enough to disseminate the remaining or minor truths of natural morality amongst the people; or rather to repeat, illustrate, and impress them on our hearts and memories. Writers of this class, whom we may call the lay-ministers of the Deity, to teach from the press instead of the pulpit, in the closet instead of the church, we may expect ; and, with them should be satisfied. Though we cannot reasonably hope for another high-prophet of profane inspiration to recommunicate to us the lessons of divine wisdom which are already to be found in Shakspeare, it is no presumption to hope that the spirit of illumination will descend upon humbler poets, and make them our secular guides in morality.'*

The same remark as the above will be seen in the following quotation. The reader will also do well to consult the opinions of some eminent writers on the Sectional leaves.

• It is quite impossible to estimate the benefits which this country has received from the eternal productions of Shakspeare. Their influence has been gradual, but prodigious-operating at first on the loftier intellects, but becoming in time diffused over

* London Magazine, Oct. 1, 1824.

all, spreading wisdom and charity amongst us. There is, perhaps, no one person of any considerable rate of mind who does not owe something to this matchless poet. He is the teacher of all good, -pity, generosity, true courage, love. His works alone (leaving mere science out of the question) contain, probably, more actual wisdom than the whole body of English learning. He is the text for the moralist and the philosopher. * His bright wit is cut out “into little stars:" his solid masses of knowledge are meted out in morsels and proverbs; and thus distributed, there is scarcely a corner which he does. not illuminate, or a cottage which he does not enrich. His bounty is like the sea, which, though often unacknowledged, is every where felt; on mountains and plains, and distant places, carrying its cloudy freshness through the air, making glorious 'the heavens, and spreading verdure on the earth beneath.'t

It is with infinite satisfaction that I am borne out in my opinion of the nature of this work, by a similar remark of Coleridge. He says,

“I greatly dislike beauties and selections in general; but as proof positive of his unrivalled excellence, I should like to try Shakspeare by this criterion. Make out your amplest catalogue of all the human faculties, as reason or the moral law, the will, the feeling of the coincidence of the two (a feeling sui generis et demonstratio demonstrationum), called

* And it might be added, for the statesman, poet, and painter.

# Retrospective Reviero.

the conscience, the understanding or prudence, wit, fancy, imagination, judgment, — and then of the objects on which these are to be employed, as the beauties, the terrors, and the seeming caprices, of nature, the realities and the capabilities, that is, the actual and the ideal, of the human mind, conceived as an individual or as a social being, as in innocence or in guilt, in a play-paradise, or in a war-field of temptation; and then compare with Shakspeare, under each of these heads, all or any of the writers in prose and verse that have ever lived. Who that is competent to judge doubts the result?'*

T.P. Woolwich, June, 1838.

* Literary Remains, vol. ii, p. 68.

« PreviousContinue »