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But dust was thrown upon his sacred head !
IN TWO PARTS.
and the diaphragm with all the force of animal
HENRY IV. IF
F Shakspeare's fondness for the ludicrous some. times led to faults in his tragedies (which was not often the case) he has made us amends by the character of Falstaff. This is perhaps the most substantial comick character that ever was invented. Sir John carries a most portly presence in the mind's eye; and in him, not to speak it profanely, we behold the fullness of the spirit of wit and humour bodily.” We are as well acquainted with his person as his mind, and his jokes come upon us with double force and relish from the quantity of flesh through which they make their way, as he shakes his fat sides with laughter, or "lards the lean earth as he walks along.”. Other comick characters seem, if we approach and handle them, to resolve themselves into air, “ into thin air;" but this is embodied and palpable to the grossest apprehension : it lies “ three fingers deep upon the ribs," it plays about the lungs
enjoyment. His body is like a good estate to
his mind, from which he receives rents and reve-
good cheer, of his ease, of his vanity, in the ideal exaggerated descriptions which he gives of them, than in fact. He never fails to enrich his discourse with allusions to eating and drinking, but we never see him at table. He carries his own Jarder about with him, and he is himself “a tun of man. His pulling out the bottle in the field of battle is a joke to shew bis contempt for glory accompanied with danger, his systematick adherence to his Epicurean philosophy in the most trying circumstances. Again, such is his deliherate exaggeration of his own vices, that it does not seem quite certain whether the account of his hostess's bill, found in his pocket, with such an out of the way charge for capons and sack, with only one halfpenny-worth of bread, was not put there by himself as a trick to humour the jest upon his favourite propensities, and as a conscious caricature of himself. He is represented as a liar, a braggart, a coward, a głutton, &c. and yet we are not offended but delighted with him ; for he is all these as much to amuse others as to gratify himself. He openly assumes all these characters to shew the humorous part of them. The unrestrained indulgence of his own ease, appetites, and convenience, has neither malice nor hypocrisy in it. In a word, he is an actor in himself almost as much as upon the stage, and
no more object to the character of Falstaff, in a moral point of view, than we should think of bringing an excellent comedian, who should represent bim to the life, before one of the police officers. We only consider the number of pleasant lights in wbich he puts certain foibles, (the more
pleasant as they are opposed to the received rules and necessary restraints of society) and do not trouble ourselves about the consequences resulting from them, for no mischievous consequences do result. Sir John is old as well as fat, which gives a melancholy retrospective tinge to the character; and, by the disparity between his inclinations and his capacity for enjoyment, makes it still more ludicrous and fantastical.
The secret of Falstaff's wit is, for the most part, a masterly presence of mind, an absolute self-posses. sion, which nothing can disturb. His repartees are involuntary suggestions of his self-love; instinctive evasions of every thing that threatens to interrupt the career of his triumphant jollity and self-complacency. His very size floats him out of all his difficulties in a sea of rich conceits; and he turns round on the pivot of his convenience, with every occasion, and at a moment's warning. His natural repugnance to every unpleasant thought or circumstance of itself makes light of objections, and provokes the most extravagant and licentious answers in his own justification. His indifference to truth puts no check upon his invention, and the more improbable and unexpected his contrivances are, the more happily does he seem to be delivered of them, the anticipation of their effect acting as a stimulus to the gayety of his fancy. The success of one adventurous gally gives him spirits to undertake another: he deals always in round numbers, and his exaggerations and excuses are “open, palpable, monstrous as the father that begets them.” His dissolute carelessness of what he says discovers itself in the first dialogue with the Prince.