Page images

Misfortune has corrected the influences which, in happier moments, allowed him to forget the gentleness of his nature, and to heap unmerited abuse upon him whose badge was sufferance. The Jew is unchanged. But if Shakspere in the early scenes made us entertain some compassion for bis wrongs, he has now left him to bear all the indignation which we ought to feel against one “uncapable of pity.” But we cannot despise the Jew. His intellectual vigour rises supreme over the mere reasonings by which he is opposed. He defends his own injustice by the example of as great an injustice of everyday occurrence—and no one ventures to answer him :

" You have among you many a purchas'd slave,

Which, like your asses, and your dogs, and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them :-Shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs ?
Why sweat they under burdens ? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours, and let their palates
Be season'd with such viands? You will answer,
The slaves are ours:-So do l answer you.
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; 'tis mine, and I will have it:

IC you deny me, fye upon your law !” It would have been exceedingly difficult for the merchant to have escaped from the power of the obdurate man, so strong in the letter of the law, and so resolute to carry it out by the example of his judges in other matters, bad not the law been found here, as in most other cases, capable of being bent to the will of its administrators. Had it been the inflexible thing which Shylock required it to be, a greater injustice would have been committed than the Jew had finally himself to suffer. Mrs. Jameson has very justly and ingeniously described the struggle which Portia had, in abandoning the high ground which she took in her great address to the Jew :-“She maintains at first a calm self-command, as one sure of carrying her point in the end : yet the painful heart-thrilling uncertainty in which she keeps the whole court, until suspense verges upon agony, is not contrived for effect merely; it is necessary and inevitable. She has two objects in view : to deliver her husband's friend, and to maintain her husband's honour by the discharge of his just debt, though paid out of her own wealth ten times over. It is evident that she would rather owe the safety of Antonio to anything rather than the legal quibble with which her cousin Beilario has armed her, and which she reserves as a last resource. Thus all the speeches addressed to Shylock, in the first instance, are either direct or indirect experiments on his temper and feelings. She must be understood from the beginning to the end, as examining with intense anxiety the effect of her own words on his mind and countenance; as watching for that relenting spirit which she hopes to awaken either by reason or persuasion.”

Had Shylock relented after that most beautiful appeal to his mercy, which Shakspere has here placed as the exponent of the higher principle upon which all law and right are essentially dependent, the real moral of the drama would have been destroyed. The weight of injuries transmitted to Shylock from his forefathers, and still heaped upon him even by the best of those by whom he was surrounded, was not so easily to become light, and to cease to exasperate his nature. Nor would it have been a true picture of society in the sixteenth century had the poet shown the judges of the Jew wholly magnanimous in granting him the mercy which he denied to the Christian. We certainly do not agree with the Duke, in his address to Shylock, that the conditions upon which his life is spared are imposed

" That thou shalt see the difference of our spirit.

[ocr errors]

Nor do we think that Shakspere meant to hold up these conditions as anything better than examples of the mode in which the strong are accustomed to deal with the weak. There is still something discordant in this, the real catastrophe of the drama. It could not be otherwise, and yet be true to nature.

But how artistically has the poet restored the balance of pleasurable sensations ! Throughout the whole conduct of the play, what may be called its tragic portion has been relieved by the romance which belongs to the personal fate of Portia. But after the great business of the drama is wound up, we fall back upon a repose which is truly refreshing and harmonious. From the lips of Lorenzo and Jessica, as they sit in the "paler day” of an Italian moon, are breathed the lighter strains of the most playful poetry, mingled with the highest flights of the most elevated. Music and the odours of sweet flowers are around them. Happiness is in their hearts. Their thoughts are lifted by the beauties of the earth above the earth. This delicious scene belongs to what is universal and eternal, and takes us far away from those bitter strifes of our social state which are essentially narrow and teinporary. And then come the affectionate welcomes, the pretty, pouting contests, and the happy explanations of Portia and Nerissa with Bassanio and Gratiano. Here again we are removed into a sphere where the calamities of fortune, and the injustice of man warring against man, may be forgotten. The poor Merchant is once more happy. The "gentle spirit” of Portia is perhaps the happiest, for she has triumphantly concluded a work as religious as her pretended pilgrimage “ by holy crosses.” To use the words of Dr. Ulrici, “the sharp contrarieties of right and unright are played out."

* Characteristics of Women,' vol. i. p. 75.


[graphic][merged small]




[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the establishment of the periodical ; Alexander H. A CHOICE OF SHAKESPEARES. Everett, editor, from 1829 to 1834; and President

AM sometimes asked which is the best Felton. William Tudor, the founder, Dr. J. G. Shakespeare to buy. The question is not Palfrey, the editor from 1835 to 1842, and Caleb easily answered without a knowledge of the inCushing, have contributed more than thirty arti- quirer's habits of reading, and of the condition of cles apiece; and more than twenty each have his purse. Perhaps the ideal edition is not yet been contributed by William Hickling Prescott, produced, though it has been not a few times in by James Russell Lowell, the editor from 1864 to the opinions of various editors. There may be 1872, and by Charles Eliot Norton, the associate thirty editions, each with its distinctive qualities, of Mr. Lowell for the first year of his term. and each having its friends and upholders; with

The North American, until the present editor, others almost innumerable, which are inere re-imMr. A. Thorndyke Rice, assumed charge, has pressions or reprints of some of the commonbeen preëminently a Harvard College quarterly, er texts. Perkins, for instance, in his Best Readedited and supported by Harvard professors. Of ing, names eighteen editions, which can readily the members of the present College faculty, in be found in the market at prices ranging from addition to those already named, Professor Tor- one dollar to fifty. rey has contributed seven articles; Dr: Asa Gray

The edition de luxe, fit for the cultured gentleand John Fiske six each, Professor Dunbar six, man, is, of course, Halliwell's, in sixteen folio and Dr. Hedge two.

volumes; an edition which it took twelve years to Another interesting feature of the Index is the pass through the press, which has fac-similes of frequency with which members of the Adams early manuscripts, and of titles, and various arfamily appear in the list of contributors. In its chæological helps, and for which you may pay pages three generations of the family are repre- four hundred dollars, more or less, according as sented. John Adams has two articles; Charles

you have a fancy for India proofs or not, and then Francis Adams, thirteen ; Charles Francis Adams, have the satisfaction of knowing that there are Jr., thirteen; and Henry Adams, also the son of only, say, a hundred possessors of it beside yourCharles Francis, and the editor from 1872 to 1876, self; for I believe the edition is not all scattered has eighteen. John Quincy Adams does not ap- yet, and there were only one hundred and fifty pear among the contributors.

copies in all. Of the other writers whose work deserves spe

If your pocket admits its purchase, and your cial notice are, among the historians, Mr. Bancroft shelves can accommodate it — this last considand Mr. Francis Parkman; among the poets, eration is often a stay to the acquisition of Bryant, whose “ Thanatopsis ” was here first pub- books — you will be hardly content with it alone. lished; Dana, Longfellow and Emerson ; and You will want, with the rest of us of humbler among the statesmen of the last generation, Lewis aspirations, a convenient little edition, which will Cass and Daniel Webster.

allow you physical comfort as well as intellect. CHARLES F. THWING.

ual elevation when you read; and for such an

edition, provided the book has been well read A BIT OF CHAT.

through the press, the question whose text it is, H. — I am sorry, Mr. Editor, that you should or what it is, is really (except you are making a say “We claim no authority.”

study) not of great importance. I do not know Editor. - Where and when?

among recent editions one which combines more H. — Last month, when you claimed "no au- nearly the best size and print for a lounger thority” to decide between the words “Savants” on a couch than what is known as “Valpy's." and “Savans."

The whole book has a gentleman-like air, and the Ed. — We do not like to “claim authority.” recent impressions of it may cost twenty-five

H. — Just what the World is for is to make itself dollars or more for the fifteen volumes. The an authority in such things. And as I understand critical reader will be more content with the earli. editing, this is just the difference between we ander impression of forty-five years ago, because he 1. The reason you do not say I in an article is will find the outline prints in it, after Boydell's that as we you have an authority which as I you pictures, sharper; but he will have to pay dearer are too modest to claim.

for it. The Chiswick edition of 1826- not that Ed. — We wish the World to become such an of 1814 – is a rival of the Valpy with such a authority, very true; but you, and those like you, purchaser, but the volumes of this are somewhat must help us do it!

thicker, and are only ten in number. Hudson H. - When I edited the Microscope my sub- used this edition as the basis of his original edieditor, J., who really knew everything, said of a tion, but it is not so handsome a book, though




« PreviousContinue »