« PreviousContinue »
whole before our view; himself meanwhile upparticipating in the passions, and actuated only by that pleasurable excitement, which had resulted from the energetic fervor of his own spirit in so vividly exhibiting, what it had so accurately and profoundly contemplated. I think, I should have conjectured from these poems, that even then the great instinct, which impelled the poet to the drama, was secretly working in him, prompting him by a series and never broken chain of imagery, always vivid and because unbroken, often minute; by the highest effort of the picturesque in words, of which words are capable, higher perhaps than was ever realized by any other poet, even Dante not excepted ; to provide a substitute for that visual language, that constant intervention and running com. ment by tone, look and gesture, which in his dramatic works he was entitled to expect from the players. His “ Venus and Adonis" seem at once the characters themselves, and the whole representation of those characters by the most consummate actors. You seem to be told nothing, but to see and hear every thing. Hence it is, that from the perpetual activity ofattention required on the part of the reader; from the rapid flow, the quick change, and the playful nature of the thoughts and images ; and above all from the alienation, and, if I may hazard such an expression, the utter aloofness of the poet's own
feelings, from those of which he is at once the painter and the analyst; that though the very subject cannot but detract from the pleasure of a delicate mind, yet never was poem less dangerous on a moral account. Instead of doing as Ariosto, and as, still more offensively, Wieland
, has done, instead of degrading and deforming passion into appetite, the trials of love into the struggles of concupiscence ; Shakspeare has here represented the animal impulse itself, so as to preclude all sympathy with it, by dissipating the reader's notice among the thousand outward images, and now beautiful, now fanciful circumstances, which form its dresses and its scenery ; or by diverting our attention from the main sub. ject by those frequent witty or profound reflections, which the poet's ever active mind has deduced from, or connected with, the imagery and the incidents. The reader is forced into too much action to sympathize with the merely passive of our nature. As litrie can a mind thus roused and awakened be brooded on by mean and indistinct emotion, as the low, lazy mist can creep upon the surface of a lake, while a strong gale is driving it onward in waves and billows.
3. It has been before observed, that images however beautiful, though faithfully copied from nature, and as accurately represented in words, do not of themselves characterize the poet. They become proofs of original genius only
as far as they are modified by a predominant passion; or by associated thoughts or images awakened by that passion; or when they have the effect of reducing multitude to unity, or succession to an instant; or lastly, when a human and intellectual life is transferred to them from the poet's own spirit,
“ Which shoots its being through earth, sea, and air.”
In the two following lines for instance, there is nothing objectionable, nothing which would preclude them from forming, in their proper place, part of a descriptive poem :
“ Behold yon row of pines, that shorn and bow'd
Bend from the sea-blast, seen at twilight eve." But with the small alteration of rhythm, the same words would be equally in their place in a book of topography, or in a descriptive tour. The same image will rise into a semblance of poetry if thus conveyed : “ Yon row of bleak and visionary pines, By twilight-glimpse discerned, mark! how they flee From the fierce sea-blast, all their tresses wild Streaming before them.” I have given this as an illustration, by no means as an instance, of that particular excel-. lence which I had in view, and in which Shakspeare even in his earliest, as in his latest works, surpasses all other poets. It is by this, that he still gives a dignity and a passion to the ob
jects which he presents. Unaided by any previous excitement, they burst upon us at once in life and in power.
“ Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Shakspeare's Sonnet 33rd. “ Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endur'd,
Sonnet 107. As of higher worth, so doubtless still more characteristic of poetic genius does the imagery become, when it moulds and colors itself to the circumstances, passion, or character, present and foremost in the mind. For unrivalled instances of this excellence, the reader's own memory will refer him to the LEAR, OTHELLO, in short to which not of the “ great, ever living, dead man's” dramatic works ? Inopem me copia fecit. How true it is to nature, he has himself finely expressed in the instance of love in Sonnet 98.
“From you have I been absent in the spring,
Scarcely less sure, or if a less valuable, not less indispensable mark
Γονιμο μέν Ποιητα
osos enfea yeyvalloy haxob, will the imagery supply, when, with more than the power of the painter, the poet gives us the liveliest image of succession with the feeling of simultaneousness !
With this he breaketh from the sweet embrace
4. The last character I shall mention, which would prove indeed but little, except as taken conjointly with the former; yet without which the former could scarce exist in a high degree, and (even if this were possible) would give promises only of transitory flashes and a meteoric power;