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revel in the seductive witchery of its volup- more, which penetrates into the abysses of tuous emotion and contemplation. Art guilt and degradation, and shows that there should employ this manifold richness of its is no true peace, and no real resting-place, subject matter to supply on the one hand for what separates us from our fellow men the deficiencies of our actual experience of and from our God. This is not to be effected external life, and on the other hand to excite by didactic precepts not dropped casually; in us those passions which shall cause the by false representations of the course of actual events of life to move us more deeply worldly affairs and the workings of man's and awaken our susceptibility for receiving secret heart. The mind comprehends the impressions of all kinds."*
whole truth, when it is elevated by the art This is something higher than Johnson's of the poet into a fit state for its comprenotion of Shakspere's art-higher as that hension. The whole moral purpose is then notion was than the mechanical criticism of evolved, through a series of deductions in the age which preceded him. But the in- | the mind of him who is thus moved. This consistencies into which the critic is betrayed is the highest logic, because it is based upon show the narrowness and weakness of his the broadest premises. Rymer sneers at foundations. The drama of Shakspere is Shakspere when he says that the moral of “a mirror of life;" and yet, according to 'Othello' is, that maidens of quality should the critic, it is the great sin of Sbakspere not run away with blackamoors. The sarthat he is perpetually violating “poetical casm only tells upon those who demand any justice.” Thus Johnson says in the preface, literal moral in a high work of art. “He makes no just distribution of good or Because Johnson only saw in Shakspere's evil, nor is always careful to show in the dramas “a mirror of life," he prefers his virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he comedy to his tragedy. “ His tragedy seems carries his persons indifferently through right to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.” When and wrong, and at the close dismisses them the poet is working with grander materials without further care, and leaves their ex- than belong to the familiar scenes of life, amples to operate by chance." Johnson however natural and universal, the critic could not have avoided seeing that, if Shak- does not see that the region of literal things spere had not carried his persons “indiffer- is necessarily abandoned—that skill must ently though right and wrong," he would be more manifest in its effects. We are then not have exhibited “the real state of sub- in a world of higher reality than every-day lunary nature.” But there was something reality. “In tragedy he often writes with much higher that Shakspere would not then great appearance of toil and study what is have done. Had he gone upon the principle written at last with little felicity.” This of teaching an impracticable and therefore now strikes the most superficial student of an unnatural theory of rewards and punish- Shakspere as monstrous. We open 'Irene,' ments in human affairs, if he had not in- and we understand it. “He omits opportended that“his precepts and axioms” should tunities of instructing or delighting which “ drop casually from him,” he would have the train of his story seems to force upon lost his supereminent power of gradually him, and apparently rejects those exhibitions raising the mind into a comprehension of which would be more affecting for the sake what belongs to the spiritual part of our of those which are more easy.” It is a great nature; of exciting a deep sympathy with privilege of the art of Shakspere, that in strong emotion and lofty passion ; of pro- his most tragical scenes he never takes us ducing an expansion of the heart, which out of the region of pleasurable emotions. embraces all the manifestations of human It was his higher art, as compared with the goodness and human sorrow; and, what is lower art of Otway. He does reject “ those
exhibitions which would be more affecting," * We quote this from a very able article in the British
but not “for the sake of those which are and Foreign Review,' on Hegel's ' Æsthetics.' The passage is Hegel's.
more easy.” Let any one try which is the
more easy,“ to touch a soul to the quick, to the poetical art. He has here narrowed the lay upon fear as much as it can bear, to question to an absurdity. wean and weary a life till it is ready to We may observe, from what Johnson says drop," as Charles Lamb describes the tragic of “the minute and slender criticism of art of Webster; or to make a Desdemona, VOLTAIRE,” that the English critics fancied amidst the indignities which are heaped that, doing Shakspere ample justice themupon her, and the fears which subdue her selves, they were called upon to defend him soul, move tranquilly in an atmosphere of from the mistaken criticisms of a foreign poetical beauty, thinking of the maid that school. Every Englishman, from the period
of Johnson, who has fancied himself absolved "had a song of—willow;
from the guilt of not admiring and underAn old thing 'twas, but it express'd her for
standing Shakspere has taken up a stone to tune, And she died singing it.”
cast at Voltaire. Those who speak of Voltaire
as an ignorant and tasteless calumniator of It is a rude conception which Johnson has of Shakspere forget that his hostility was based Shakspere's art, when he says of the play of upon a system of art which he conceived, ‘Hamlet,” “The scenes are interchangeably di- and rightly so, was opposed to the system versified with merriment and solemnity. ....of Shakspere. He had been bred up in the The pretended madness of Hamlet causes school of Corneille and Racine, the glories of much mirth; the mournful distraction of his countrymen; and it is really a remarkOphelia fills the heart with tenderness; and able proof of the vigour of his mind that he every personage produces the effect intended.” | tolerated so much as he did in Shakspere, True. But it was no intended effect of the and admired so much; in this respect geing madness of Hamlet to cause “much mirth.” farther perhaps than many of our Every word that Hamlet utters has some- countrymen of no mean reputation, such thing in it which sounds the depths of our as Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke in 1730. intellectual being, because every word is In his ‘Discourse on Tragedy,' prefixed to consistent with his own character, which, ‘Brutus,' and addressed to Bolingbroke in of all poetical creations, sends us most to that
year, “Not being able, my lord, search into the mysteries of our own in- to risk upon the French stage verses without dividual natures. This, if we understand rhyme, such as are the usage of Italy and of it aright, is poetry. But Johnson says, England, I have at least desired to transport “ Voltaire expresses his wonder that our to our scene certain beauties of yours. It is author's extravagances are endured by a na- true, and I avow it, that the English theatre tion which has seen the tragedy of Cato.' is very faulty. I have heard from your mouth Let him be answered, that Addison speaks the that you have not a good tragedy. But in com
guage of poets, and Shakspeare of men. pensation you have some admirable scenes in We find in 'Cato’innumerable beauties which these very monstrous pieces. Until the preenamour us of its author, but we see nothing sent time almost all the tragic authors of that acquaints us with human sentiments or your nation have wanted that purity, that human actions; we place it with the fairest regular conduct, those bienséances of action and noblest progeny which judgment pro- and style, that elegance, and all those repagates by conjunction with learning ; but finements of art, which have established the ‘Othello' is the vigorous and vivacious off- reputation of the French theatre since the spring of observation, impregnated with ge- great Corneille. But the most irregular of nius." If Addison speaks “the language of your pieces have one grand merit—it is that poets," properly so called, 'Cato' is poetry. of action.” In the same letter we have If Shakspere speaks the language of men, as his opinion of Shakspere, which is certainly distinct from the language of poets, 'Othello' not that of a cold critic, but of one who is not poetry. It needs no further argument admired even where he could not approre, to show that the critic has a false theory of and blamed as we had been accustomed to
blame:-“With what pleasure have I seen as it is, of more value than the vague homage in London your tragedy of ‘Julius Cæsar,' of those who, despising, or affecting to despise, which for a hundred and fifty years has Voltaire's system, have embraced no system been the delight of your nation! I assuredly of their own, and thus infallibly come to be do not pretend to approve the barbarous more dogmatical, more supercilious, in their irregularities with which it abounds. It is abuse, and more creeping in their praise, only astonishing that one finds not more than the most slavish disciple of a school of them in a work composed in an age of wholly opposed to Shakspere, but consecrated ignorance, by a man who even knew not by time, by high example, and by national Latin, and who had no master but his own opinion. The worst things which Voltaire genius. But, in the midst of so many gross has said of Shakspere are conceived in this faults, with what ravishment have I seen spirit, and therefore ought not in truth to Brutus," &c. All this is perfectly intel- offend Shakspere's warmest admirers. “He ligible, and demands no harsher censure had a genius full of power and fruitfulness, than we have a right to apply to Dryden, of the natural and the sublime ”—this is who says nearly as strong things, and writes the praise. The dispraise is linked to it:most of his own tragedies in the spirit of “Without the least spark of good taste, and a devoted worshipper of the French school. without the slightest knowledge of rules.” In 1761, some thirty years after his letter to We may dissent from this, but it is not Bolingbroke, Voltaire writes ! An Essay on fair to quarrel with it. He then goes on :the English Theatre,' in which he expresses | “I will say a hazardous thing, but true, the wonder, which Johnson notices, that the that the merit of this author has ruined the nation which has 'Cato' can endure Shak- English theatre. There are so many fine spere. In this essay he has a long analysis scenes, so many grand and terrible passages of 'Hamlet,' in which, without attempting to spread through his monstrous farces which penetrate at all into the real idea of that they call tragedies, that his pieces have drama, he gives such an account of the always been represented with extreme sucplot as may exaggerate what ne regards as
We smile at the man's power of its absurdities. He then says, “We cannot ridicule when he travesties a plot of Shakhave a more forcible example of the differ- spere, as in the dissertation prefixed to ence of taste among nations. Let us, after Semiramis.' But his object is so manifest this, speak of the rules of Aristotle, and the —that of the elevation of his own theory of three unities, and the bienséances, and the art—that he cannot outrage us. For what necessity of never leaving the scene empty, is his conclusion ? That Shakspere would and that no person should go out or come have been a perfect poet if he had lived in in without a sensible reason. Let us talk, the time of Addisont. after this, of the artful arrangement of the The famous ‘Letter to the Academy,' in plot and its natural development; of the ex- 1776, was the crowning effort of Voltaire's pressions being simple and noble; of making hostility to Shakspere. In that year was princes speak with the decency which they announced a complete translation of Shakalways have, or ought to have ; of never spere ; and several of the plays were pubviolating the rules of language. It is clear lished as a commencement of the underthat a whole nation may be enchanted with-taking. France, according to Grimm, was out giving oneself such trouble.” No one in a ferment I. The announcement of this can be more consistent than Voltaire in the translation appears to have enraged Voltaire. expression of his opinions. It is not the It said that Shakspere was the creator of the individual judgment of the man betraying sublime art of the theatre, which received him into a doubtful and varying tone, but from his hands existence and perfection ; his uniform theory of the poetical art, which directs all his censure of Shakspere ; and
** Lettres Philosophiques.' Lettre 18.
+ Dictionnaire Philosophique.' which therefore makes his admiration, such
I'Correspondance,' Zme partie, tome 1re.
in that age.
and, what was personally offensive, it added | Take a specimen :-“Our author, by followthat Shakspere was unknown in France, or, ing minutely the chronicles of the times, rather, disfigured. Voltaire tells the Academy has embarrassed his dramas with too great that he was the first who made Shakspere a number of persons and events. The hurlyknown in France, by the translation of some burly of these plays recommended them to of his passages; that he had translated, too, a rude, illiterate audience, who, as he says, the ‘Julius Cæsar.' But he is indignant that loved a noise of targets. His poverty, and the new translators would sacrifice France to the low condition of the stage (which at that England, in paying no homage to the great time was not frequented by persons of rank), French dramatists, whose pieces are acted obliged him to this complaisance; and, unthroughout Europe. He notices, then, the fortunately, he had not been tutored by any four plays which they have translated, and rules of art, or informed by acquaintance calls upon them, of course in his tone of ex- with just and regular dramas."* aggeration and ridicule, to render faithfully a speech of Lear, and says, Thus it is certain passages which they have slurred that Shakspeare redeems the nonsense, the over. But Voltaire avows the support which indecorums, the irregularities of his plays." he receives from the English themselves in Again, in her criticism on Macbeth :'-“Our his condemnation of what he holds to be author is too much addicted to the obscure the absurdities of Shakspere, quoting from bombast much affected by all sorts of writers Marmontel in this matter :-“The English
... There are many bombast have learned to correct and abridge Shak- speeches in the tragedy of Macbeth, and spere.
Garrick has banished from his scene the these are the lawful prize of the critic." Grave-diggers in ‘Hamlet,' and has omitted The exhibition of the fickle humour of the nearly all the fifth act.” Voltaire then adds, mob in Julius ‘Cæsar' is not to be “ entirely -“The translator agrees not with this truth; condemned.” “The quarrel between Brutus he takes the part of the gravediggers ; he and Cassius does not, by any means, deserve would preserve them as a respectable monu- the ridicule thrown upon it by the French ment of an unique genius.” The critic then critic: ...... but it rather retards than gives a scene of 'Bajazet,' contrasting it brings forward the catastrophe, and is usewith the opening scene of ‘Romeo and Juliet.' ful only in setting Brutus in a good light." “It is for you,” he says to the Academicians, One more extract from Mrs. Montagu, and “to decide which method we ought to follow we have done :-"It has been demonstrated -that of Shakspere, the god of tragedy, or with great ingenuity and candour that he of Racine.” In a similar way he contrasts was destitute of learning: the age was rude a passage in Corneille and 'Lear:'—"Let the and void of taste; but what had a still more Academicians judge if the nation which has pernicious influence on his works was, that produced ‘Iphigénie' and 'Athalie' ought to the court and the universities, the statesabandon them, to behold men and women men and scholars, affected a scientific jargon. strangled upon the stage, street-porters, An obscurity of expression was thought the sorcerers, buffoons, and drunken priests—if veil of wisdom and knowledge ; and that our court, so long renowned for its politeness mist, common to the morn and eve of and its taste, ought to be changed into an literature, which in fact proves it is not at alehouse and a wine-shop.” In this letter to its high meridian, was affectedly thrown over the Academy Voltaire loses his temper and the writings, and even the conversation of his candour. He is afraid to risk any ad- the learned, who often preferred images dismiration of Shakspere. But this intolerance torted or magnified, to a simple exposition is more intelligible than the apologies of of their thoughts. Shakspeare is never more Shakspere's defenders in England. We must worthy of the true critic's censure than in confess that we have more sympathy with those instances in which he complies with Voltaire's earnest attack upon Shakspere this false pomp of manner. than with Mrs. Montagu's maudlin defence.
Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shašspeare
It was par
donable in a man of his rank not to be scarcely emerging out of barbarism.”* But more polite and delicate than his contem- Mrs. Montagu is not alone in this. Others, poraries ; but we cannot so easily excuse as angry with Voltaire as prodigal of their such superiority of talents for stooping to admiration of Shakspere, quietly surrender any affectation.” This half-patronising, half- what Voltaire really attacks, forgetting that vindicating tone is very well meant; and we his praises have been nearly as strong, and respect Mrs. Montagu for coming forward sometimes a little more judicious than their to break a lance with the great European own. Hear Martin SHERLOCK apostrophizing critic; but the very celebrity of Shakspere's Shakspere :"fair warrior" is one of the proofs that there
“ Always therefore study Nature. was no real school of criticism amongst us. Apologies for Shakspere, lamentations over
“It is she who was thy book, 0 Shakhis defects, explanations of the causes of speare; it is she who was thy study day and them, – rude age, unlettered audience, the night; it is she from whom thou hast drawn poet himself working without knowledge,-all those beauties which are at once the glory this, the invariable language of the English and delight of thy nation. Thou wert the critics, is eagerly laid hold of, not only to eldest son, the darling child, of nature; and justify the hostility of Voltaire, but to like thy mother, enchanting, astonishing, perpetuate the reign of a system altogether sublime, graceful, thy variety is inexhaustible. opposed to the system of Shakspere, up to the Always original, always new, thou art the present hour. M. Villemain, in the new only prodigy which nature has produced. edition of his “Essay upon Shakspeare,' Homer was the first of men, but thou art published in 1839, gives us as much inter
more than man. The reader who thinks this jectional eulogy of our national poet as might eulogium extravagant is a stranger to my satisfy the most eager appetite of those subject. To say that Shakspeare had the admirers who think such praise worth any- imagination of Dante, and the depth of thing. The French critic, of nearly a century Machiavel, would be a weak encomium : he later than Voltaire, holds that Shakspere has had them and more. To say that he posno other system than his genius. It is in sessed the terrible graces of Michael Angelo, this chaos that we must seek his splendour. and the amiable graces of Correggio, would His absurdities, his buffooneries, belong to be a weak encomium : he had them, and the gross theatre of his period. In judging more. To the brilliancy of Voltaire he added Shakspere we must reject the mass of bar- the strength of Demosthenes ; and to the barism and false taste with which he is simplicity of La Fontaine the majesty of surcharged. But then, apart from any
Virgil.-But, say you, we have never seen system,“ quelle passion ! quelle poésie ! quelle such ‘a being.' You are in the right; éloquence !" “ This rude and barbarous Nature made it, and broke the mould.” genius discovers an unknown delicacy in the
This is the first page of 'A Fragment on development of his female characters.” And Shakspeare' (1786). The following is an why ? “ The taste which is so often missing extract from the last page :- -“ The only view in him is here supplied by a delicate instinct, of Shakspeare was to make his fortune, and which makes him even anticipate what was
for that it was necessary to fill the playwanting to the civilization of his time.” The house. At the same time that he caused a critic reposes somewhat on English authority: duchess to enter the boxes, he would cause
-“ Mrs. Montagu has repelled the contempt her servants to enter the pit. The people of Voltaire by a judicious criticism of some
have always money; to make them spend it, defects of the French theatre, but she cannot they must be diverted; and Shakspeare palliate the enormous extravagancies of the forced his sublime genius to stoop to the pieces of Shakspere. Let us not forget, she gross taste of the populace, as Sylla jested says, that these pieces were played in a
with his soldiers." miserable inn before an unlettered audience,
*Essai sur Shakspeare, Paris, 1839.