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him limb by limb, laid open every vein, and deliber- . ately displayed every process; but Hazlitt is a lover, fired and enraptured. As the best short estimate of Shakspeare that can be given, a part of Mr Hazlitt's felicitous criticism of his favourite poet is transferred to these pages. It is a specimen of what popular criticism should be,-a master-key to the hidden beauties of a writer,-a guide to their complete, tasteful, and safe enjoyment,not a dry, elaborate analysis of the contents of a volume, or of those principles on which the Aristarch declares it should be composed.
“The striking peculiarity of Shakspeare's mind was its generic
quality, its power of communication with all other mindsso that it contained a universe of thought and feeling within itself, and had no one peculiar bias or exclusive excellence more than another. He was just like any other man, but that he was like all other men. He was the least of an egotist that it was possible to be. He was nothing in himself; but he was all that others were, or that they would become. He not only had in himself the germs of every faculty and feeling, but he could follow them by anticipation intuitively into all their conceivable ramifications, through every change of fortune, or conflict of passion, or turn of thought. He had a mind reflecting ages past' and present all the people that ever lived are there. There was no respect of persons with him. His genius shone equally on the evil and on the good, on the wise and the foolish, the monarch and the beggar: 'All corners of the earth, kings, queens, and states, maids, matrons, nay, the secrets of the grave,' are hardly hid from his searching glance. He was like the genius of humanity, changing places with all of us at pleasure, and playing with our purposes as with his own. He turned the globe round for his amusement, and surveyed the generations of men, and the individuals as they passed, with their different concerns, passions, follies, vices, virtues, actions, and motives—as well those that they knew, as those which they did not know, or acknowledge to themselves. The dreams of childhood, the ravings of despair, were the toys of his fancy. Airy beings waited at his call, and came at his bidding. Harmless fairies nodded to him, and did him curtesies:' and the night-hag bestrode the blast at the command
of his so potent art. The world of spirits lay open to him, like the world of real men and women: and there is the same truth in his delineations of the one as of the other; for if the preternatural characters he describes could be supposed to exist, they would speak, and feel, and act, as he makes them. He had only to think of any thing in order to become that thing, with all the circumstances belonging to it. When he conceived of a character, whether real or imaginary, he not only entered into all its thoughts and feelings, but seemed instantly, and as if by touching a secret spring, to be surrounded with all the the same objects, subject to the same skyey influences,' the same local, outward, and unforeseen accidents which would occur in reality. Thus the character of Caliban not only stands before us with a language and manners of his own, but the scenery and situation of the enchanted island he inhabits, the traditions of the place, its strange noises, its hidden recesses, his frequent haunts and ancient neighbourhood,' are given with a miraculous truth of nature, and with all the familiarity of an old recollection. The whole coheres semblably together in time, place, and circumstance. In reading this author, you do not merely learn what his characters say,-you see their persons. By something expressed or understood, you are at no loss to decipher their peculiar physiognomy, the meaning of a look, the grouping, the by-play, as we might see it on the stage. A word, an epithet paints a whole scene, or throws us back whole years in the history of the person represented. So (as it has been ingeniously remarked) when Prospero describes himself as left alone in the boat with his daughter, the epithet which he applies to her, Me and thy crying self,' flings the imagination instantly back from the grown woman to the helpless condition of infancy, and places the first and most trying scene of his misfortunes before us, with all that he must have suffered in the interval. How well the silent anguish of Macduff is conveyed to the reader by the friendly expostulation of Malcolm - What ! man, ne'er pull your hat upon your brows! Again, Hamlet, in the scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, somewhat abruptly concludes his fine soliloquy on life by saying, “ Man delights not me, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.' Which is explained by their answer,- My lord, we had no such stuff in our thoughts. But we smiled to think, if you delight not in man, what lenten entertainment the players shall receive from you, whom we met on the way :'-as if while
Hamlet was making this speech, his two old schoolfellows from Wittenberg had been really standing by, and he had seen them smiling by stealth, at the idea of the players crossing their minds. It is not a combination and a form of words, a set speech or two, a preconcerted theory of a character, that will do this, but all the persons concerned must have been
present in the poet's imagination, as at a kind of rehearsal. “ The account of Ophelia's death begins thus :
* There is a willow hanging o'er a brook,
Now this is an instance of the same unconscious power of mind which is as true to nature as itself. The leaves of the willow are, in fact, white underneath, and it is this part of them which would appear 'hoary' in the reflection in the brook. The same sort of intuitive power, the same faculty of bringing every object in nature, whether present or absent, before the mind's eye, is observable in the speech of Cleopatra, when conjeeturing what were the employments of Antony in his absence : He's speaking now, or murmuring, Where's my serpent of old Nile ? How fine to make Cleopatra have this consciousness of her own character, and to make her feel that it is this for which Antony is in love with her! She says, after the battle of Actium, when Antony has resolved to risk another fight, It is my birth-day; I had thought to have held it poor: but since my lord is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra.' What other poet would have thought of such a casual resource of the imagination, or would have dared to avail himself of it? The thing happens in the play as it might have happened in fact.-That which perhaps more than any thing else distinguishes the dramatic productions of Shakspeare from all others, is this wonderful truth and individuality of conception.--His plays alone are properly expressions of the passions, not descriptions of them. His characters are real beings of flesh and blood; they speak like men, not like authors. One might suppose that he had stood by at the time, and overheard what passed. As in our dreams we hold conversations with ourselves, make remarks, or communicate intelligence, and have no idea of the answer which we shall receive, and which we ourselves make, till we hear it ; so the dialogues in Shakspeare are carried on without any consciousness of what is to follow, without any appearance of preparation or premeditation. The gusts of passion come and go like sounds of music borne on the wind. Nothing is made out by formal inference and analogy, by climax and antithesis : all comes, or seems to come, immediately from nature. Each object and circumstance exists in his mind, as it would have existed in reality : each several train of thought and feel ing goes on of itself, without confusion or effort. In the world of his imagination, every thing has a life, a place, and
being of its own! “ The passion in Shakspeare is of the same nature as his delineation of character. It is not some one habitual feeling or sentiment preying upon itself, growing out of itself, and moulding every thing to itself; it is passion modified by passion, by all the other feelings to which the individual is liable, and to which others are liable with him ; subject to all the fluctuations of caprice and accident ; calling into play all the resources of the understanding and all the energies of the will; irritated by obstacles or yielding to them ; rising from small beginnings to its utmost height; now drunk with hope, now sunk in de spair, now blown to air with a breath, now raging like a torrent. "The mortal instruments are then at war, and all the state of man suffers an insurrection. The human soul is made the sport of fortune, the prey of adversity: it is stretched on the wheel of destiny, in restless ecstacy. The passions are in a state of projection. Years are melted down to moments, and every instant teems with fate. We know the results, we also see the process. Thus after Iago has been boasting to himself of the effect of his poisonous suggestions on the mind of Othello,' which, with a little act upon the blood, will work like mines of sulphur,' he adds,
• Look where he comes ! not poppy, nor mandragora,
And he enters at this moment, like the crested serpent, crowned with his wrongs, stung to madness, and raging for revenge! The whole depends upon the turn of a thought. A word, a look, blows the spark of jealousy into a flame; and the explosion is immediate and terrible as a volcano. The dialogues in Lear, in Macbeth, that between Brutus and Cassius, and nearly all those in Shakspeare, where the interest is wrought up to its highest pitch, afford examples of this dramatic fluctuation
of passion. « Shakspeare's imagination is of the same plastic kind as his con
ception of character or passion. It glances from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. Its movement is rapid and devious. It ünites the most opposite extremes; or, as Puck says, in boasting of his own feats, puts a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes. He seems always hurrying from his subject, even while describing it; but the stroke, like the lightning's, is sure as it is sudden. He takes the widest possible range, but from that very range he has his choice of the greatest variety and aptitude of materials. He brings together images the most alike, but placed at the greatest distance from each other; that is, found in circumstances of the greatest dissimilitude. From the remoteness of his combinations, and the celerity with which they are effected, they coalesce the more indissolubly together. The more the thoughts are strangers to each other, and the longer they have been kept asunder, the more intimate does their union seem to become.
Their felicity is equal to their force. Their likeness is made more dazzling by their novelty. They startle, and take the fancy prisoner in the same instant. I will mention one or two which are very striking, and not much known, out of Troilus and Cressida. Æneas says to Agamemnon,
. I ask that I may waken reverence,
Ulysses, urging Achilles to shew himself in the field, says,
No man is the lord of any thing,
Patrocles gives the indolent warrior the same advice,
• Rouse yourself ; and the weak wanton Cupid
Shakspeare's language and versification are like the rest of him.