« PreviousContinue »
nets. "I do not feel any great propensity to stand forth as the champion of these compositions. However, as it appears to me that they have been somewhat underrated, I think it incumbent on me to do them that justice to which they seem entitled.” No wonder he speaks timidly. The great poetical lawgiver of his time — the greater than Shakspeare, for he undertook to mend him, and refine him and make him fit to be tolerated by the super-elegant intellects of the days of George III. --- had pronounced that the Sonnets were too bad even for his genius to make tolerable. He, Steevens, who would take up a play of Shakspeare's in the condescending spirit with which a clever tutor takes up a smart boy's verses, --- altering a word here, piecing out a line there, commending this thought, shaking his head at this false prosody, and acknowledging upon the whole that the thing is pretty well, seeing how much the lad has yet to learn, — he sent forth his decree that nothing less than an act of parliament could compel the reading of Shakspeare's Sonnets. For a long time mankind bowed before the oracle, and the Sonnets were not read. Wordsworth has told us something about this :
“ There is extant a small volume of miscellaneous poems, in which Shakspeare expresses his feelings in his own person.
It is not difficult to conceive that the editor, George Steevens, should have been insensible to the beauties of one portion of that volume, the Sonnets; though there is not a part of the writings of this poet where is found, in an equal compass, a greater number of exquisite feelings felicitously expressed. But, from regard to the critic's own credit, he would not have ventured to talk of an act of parliament not being strong enough to compel the perusal of these, or any production of Shakspeare, if he had not known that the people of England were ignorant of the treasures contained in those little pieces." *
That ignorance has been removed ; and no one has contributed more to its removal, by creating a school of poetry
* Preface to Poetical Works.
founded upou Truth and Nature, than Wordsworth him-
" Peor and Baälim
By the operation of what great sustaining principle is it that
" There never has been a period, and perhaps never will
• Past and future are the wings
The voice that issues from this spirit is that vox populi
- transitory though it be for years, local though from a nation! Still more lamentable is his error who can believe that there is any thing of divine infallibility in the clamor of that small, though loud portion of the community, ever governed by factitious influence, which, under the name of the Public, passes itself, upon the unthinking, for the PEOPLE.
99* It is this perpetual mistake of the public for the people that has led to the belief that there was a period when Shakspeare was neglected. He was always in the heart of the people. There, in that deep, rich soil, have the Sonnets rested during two centuries, and here and there in remote places have the seeds put forth leaves and flowers. All young imaginative minds now rejoice in their hues and their fragrance. But this preference of the fresh and beautiful of poetical life to the pot-pourri of the last age must be a regulated love. Those who, seeing the admiration which now prevails for these outpourings of "exquisite feelings felicitously expressed," talk of the Sonnets as equal, if not superior, to the greatest of the poet's mighty dramas, compare things that admit of no comparison. Who would speak in the same breath of the gem of Cupid and Psyche, and the Parthenon? In the Sonnets, exquisite as they are, the poet goes not out of himself, (at least in the form of the composition,) and he walks, therefore, in a narrow circle of art. In the Venus and Adonis, and the Lucrece, the circle widens. But in the Dramas, the centre is the Human Soul, the circumference the Universe.
* Preface to Poetical Works
***AVANA AV. Rw.240.Troyes
The German critic, Horn, concludes some remarks upon Shakspeare's King John with a passage that may startle those who believe that the truth of history, and the truth of our great dramatic teacher of history, are altogether different things:
" The hero of this piece stands not in the list of personages, and could not stand with them ; for the idea should be clear without personification. The hero is England.
“What the poet chose to express of his view of the dignity and worth of his native land he has confided to the Bastard to embody in words:
* This England never did, nor never shall,
But Shakspeare is immeasurably more than Falconbridge,