« PreviousContinue »
of a Wife.” The “Wife" is didactic in its nature, and though containing many good precepts, has little grace, fancy, or ornament. Two verses will suffice to give an idea of his manner :
Give me, next good, an understanding wife,
By nature wise, not learned by much art;
More scope of conversation impart,
Woman's behavior is a surer bar
Than is their no; that fairly doth deny
Safe ev'n from hope in part to blame is she,
He comes too near, who comes to be denied. But as a prose writer, Sir Thomas Overbury takes higher rank. His “Characters or Witty Descriptions of the Properties of Sundry Persons," display the fertile and ingenious character of his mind. Of the following beautiful picture of “ A Fair and Happy Milkmaid," a judicious critic remarks: “We hardly know any passage in English prose which inspires the mind of the reader with so many pleasing recollections, and which spreads so calm and purifying a delight over the spirit, as it broods over the idea of the innocent girl whose image Sir Thomas has here bodied forth :-It will scent all the year long of June, like a new-made hay-cock.'”.
A FAIR AND HAPPY MILKMAID Is a country wench, that is so far from making herself beautiful by art, that one look of hers is able to put all face-physic out of countenance. She knows a fair look is but a dumb orator to commend virtue, therefore minds it not. All her excellencies stand in her so silently, as if they had stolen upon her without her knowledge. The lining of her apparel, which is herself, is far better than outsides of tissue; for though she be not arrayed in the spoil of the silkworm, she is decked in innocence, a far better wearing. She doth not, with lying long in bed, spoil both her complexion and conditions : nature hath taught her too, immoderate sleep is rust to the soul; she rises therefore with Chanticlere, her dame's cock, and at night makes the lamb her curfew. In milking a cow, and straining the teats through her fingers, it seems that so sweet a milk-press makes the milk whiter or sweeter; for never came almond-glore or aromatic ointment on her palm to taint it. The golden ears of corn fall and kiss her feet when she reaps them, as if they wished to be bound and led prisoners by the same hand that felled them. Her breath is her own, which scents all the year long of June, like a new-made haycock. She makes her hand hard with labor, and her heart soft with pity; and when winter evenings fall early, sitting at her
merry wheel, she sings defiance to the giddy wheel of fortune. She doth all things with so sweet a grace, it seems ignorance will not suffer her to do ill, being her mind is to do well. She bestows her year's wages at next fair, and in choosing her garments, counts no bravery in the world like decency. The garden and bee-hive are all her physic and surgery, and she lives the longer for it. She dares go alone and unfold sheep in the night, and fears no manner of ill, because she means none; yet, to say truth, she is nerer alone, but is still accompanied with old songs, honest thoughts, and prayers, but short ones; yet they have their efficacy, in that they are not palled with ensuing idle cogitations. Lastly, her dreams are so chaste, that she dare tell them; only ą Friday's dream is all her superstition; that she conceals for fear of anger. Thus lives she, and all her care is, she may die in the spring-time, to have store of flowers stuck upon her winding-sheet.
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. 1564–1616.
Far from the sun and summer gale,
To him the mighty mother did unveil
GRAY'S PROGRESS OF POEST. WILLIAM SAAKSPEARE, the great dramatic poet, not of England only, but of the world, was born at Stratford on the Avon, in the county of Warwick, April 23, 1564. Of his early life, of his education, of his personal appearance, manners, and habits, we know scarcely any thing. “No letter of his writing," says Hallam, “no record of his conversation, no character of him drawn with any fulness by a contemporary, can be produced.” He was sent for a short period to the free-school at Stratford, where, in the language of Ben Jonson, « he acquired small Latin and less Greek.” But that he was early a
1 Read-Drake's “Shakspeare and his Times," full of most instructive and interesting matterJohnson's "Preface to Shakspeare," Hazlitt's “Characters of Shakspeare's Plays," Campbell's “Essay on English Poetry,” Richardson's “ Analysis of Shakspeare," Schlegel's "Lectures on Dramatic Litera. ture," Pope's "Preface to Shakspeare," Dodd's “Beauties," Price's “Wisdom and Genius of Shakspeare.” The best family edition is Bowdler's "Family Shakspeare," 8 vols. 8vo, recently printed in one large octavo. The best critical edition is the variorum of Isaac Reed, London, 1813, 23 vols., with the Prolegomena and Addenda. "The proof-sheets of this edition were corrected by Mr. Harris, Librarian of the Royal Institution.”-Lowndes. Especially, read Mrs. Jameson's "Characteristics of Women, moral, political, and historical,” the most tasteful and discriminating analysis of Shakspeare's female characters ever written. The preliminary remarks to each play, and the notes in Knight's “ Pictorial Shakspeare," are also replete with instruction.
1 "If it were asked from what sources Shakspeare drew his abundant streams of wisdom, carrying with their current the fairest and most unfading flowers of poetry, I should be tempted to say, that he had what would now be considered a very reasonable portion of Latin; he was not wholly igno. rant of Greek; he had a knowledge of French so as to read it with ease, and I believe not less of the Italian. He was habitually conversant in the chronicles of his country. He lived with wise and highly cultivated men; with Jonson, Essex, and Southampton, in familiar friendship. HE HAD DEEPLY IMBIBED THE SCRIPTURES; and his own most acute, profound, active, and original genius must take the lead in the solution.” Croft's Preface to his “Aphorisms from Shakspeare."
2 I have said nothing of the traditional story of his deer-stealing, because there is not a particle of historical evidence of its truth.
8 "It is impossible to contemplate Shakspeare's removal from his native town, without pausing to reflect upon the consequences that followed that event. Had he not left his humble occupation in Warwickshire, how many matchless lessons of wisdom and morality, how many unparalleled displays of wit and imagination, of pathos and sublimity, had been buried in oblivion ; pictures os emotion, of character, of passion, more profound than mere philosophy had ever conceived, more impressive than poetry had ever yet embodied.” Drake's “Shakspeare and his Times," i. 412.
4 The following is a chronological list of his plays, taken from Drake's “Shakspeare and his Times," omitting of course Titus Andronicus:
CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE. 1. Pericles, . . . . . . 1590. 19. Much Ado about Nothing,.
1599. 2. Comedy of Errors, . . . . 1591. 20. As You Like It, . . . . . 1600. 3. Love's Labor's Lost, . . . . 1591. 21. Merry Wives of Windsor, . . • 1601. 4. King Henry the Sixth, Part I. . . 1592. 22. Troilus and Cressida, . . 1601. 6. King Henry the Sixth, Part II. . . 1592. 23. King Henry the Eighth, . . 1602. 6. Midsummer-Night's Dream, . . 1593. 24. Timon of Athens, .
1602. 7. Romeo and Juliet, . . 1593. 25. Measure for Measure, .
• 1603. 8. Taming of the Shrew, . . 1594. 26. King Lear,. . .
. 1604. 9. Two Gentlemen of Verona, . .
, 1605. 10. King Richard the Third,. . .
1606. 11. King Richard the Second, . . . 1596. 29. Julius Cæsar, . . . . . 1607. 12. King Henry the Fourth, Part I. . 1596. 30. Antony and Cleopatra,. . 1608. 13. King Henry the Fourth, Part II. 1596. 31. Coriolanus, . . . . · 1609. 14. The Merchant of Venice, . . . 1597. 32. The Winter's Tale,. .
1610. 15. Hamlet, . . . . . . . 1597. 33. The Tempest, . . . . . 1611. 16. King John, . . . . 1598. 34. Othello, . . . .
. 1612. 17. All's Well that Ends Well,. . . 1598. 35. Twelfth Night, .
. . 1613 18. King Henry the Fifth, . . . 1599.
Though Titus Andronicus is bound up in all the editions of Shakspeare, yet there is no probability that he wrote it. Drake says it should be expunged from every edition of the great bard.
from which he received a very ample income-estimated as equivalent to about five thousand dollars of our money now. Though he lived in familiar intercourse with the nobles, the wits, and the poets of his day, he looked forward to the time when he should retire to his native town, and with this view he purchased New Place, the principal house in Stratford, with more than a hundred acres of ground attached. “The year 1612 has been assigned as the date of his final retirement to the country. In the fulness of his fame, with a handsome competency, and before age had chilled the enjoyment of life, the poet returned to his native town to spend the remainder of his days among the quiet scenes and the friends of his youth. Four years were spent by Shakspeare in this dignified retirement, and the history of literature scarcely presents another such picture of calm felicity and satisfied ambition. He died on the 23d of April, 1616, having just completed his fifty-second year. His widow survived him seven years. He had three children, one son and two daughters. The former died in 1596. Both the latter were married, and one had three sons, but all these died without issue, and there now remains no lineal representative of the great poet."
So many authors having written upon Shakspeare and his dramas, some of whom are referred to in the note, it is deemed unnecessary here to go into a critical examination of his character. Indeed it would be hardly possible to say any thing new. The subject seems to be exhausted. And to write in eulogy would be somewhat presumptuous, when he has so exquisitely pronounced his own :
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
One of his contemporaries, Ben Jonson, thus characterizes him :- I loved the man, and do honor to his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature : had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary it should be stopped. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too! But he redeemed his vices with his virtues; there was even more in him to be praised than pardoned.”
But Dryden has portrayed his genius in the following nervous and masterly lines, which have been served up to us in a diluted state by many a modern critic: To begin, then, with Shakspeare. He was the man who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them, not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it-you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him; no
man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna capressi. 1 The consideration of this, made Mr. Hales of Eaton say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever wrote, but he would produce it much better done in Shakspeare,”
The difficulty of making selections from Shakspeare must be obvious to every one. So numerous and diversified are his characters, so varied his style, suited to every description of poetry and of fiction, and so many gems of wit, humor, satire, and pathos, everywhere present themselves, that the mind is perplexed what to choose. But we must begin.
THE THREE CASKETS. Portia, a beautiful and accomplished heiress, is sought in marriage by a large number of suitors, whose fate is to be determined by the choice they make of one of three caskets, “ gold, silver, and base lead." The following are the comments of three of the suitors
Enter Portia, with the Prince of Morocco.
Mor. The first, of gold, who this inscription bears;
Por. The one of them contains my picture, prince:
Mor. Some god direct my judgment! Let me see,
1 As the cypresses are wont to do among the slender shrubs.
That is, as gross as the dull metal.