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routine of his imagination than Perdita's lines, which seem enamoured of their own sweet
That come before the swallow dares, and take
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
No one who does not feel the passion which these objects inspire can go along with the imagination which seeks to express that passion and the uneasy sense of delight by something still more beautiful, and no one can feel this passionate love of nature without quick natural sensibility. To a mere literal and formal apprehension, the inimitably characteristick epithet, "violets dim," must seem to imply a defect, rather than a beauty; and to any one, not feeling the full force of that epithet, which suggests an image like "the sleepy eye of love," the allusion to "the lids of Juno's eyes" must appear extravagant and unmeaning. Shakspeare's fancy lent words and images to the most refined sensibility to nature, struggling for expression: - his descriptions are identical with the things themselves, seen through the fine medium of passion strip them of that connexion, and try them by ordinary conceptions and ordinary rules, and they are as grotesque and barbarous as
you please. By thus lowering Shakspeare's genius to the standard of common place invention, it was easy to shew that his faults were as great as his beauties: for the excellence, which consists merely in a conformity to rules, is counterbalanced by the technical violation of them. Another circumstance which led to Dr. Johnson's indiscriminate praise or censure of Shakspeare, is the very structure of his style. Johnson wrote a kind of rhyming prose, in which he was compelled as much to finish the different clauses of his sentences, and to balance one period against another, as the writer of heroick verse is to keep to lines of ten syllables with similar terminations. He no sooner acknowledges the merits of his author in one line than the periodical revolution of his style carries the weight of his opinion completely over to the side of objection, thus keeping up a perpetual alternation of perfections and absurdities. We do not otherwise know how to account for such assertions as the following:-" In his tragick scenes, there is always something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy, for the greater part, by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct." Yet after saying that "his tragedy was skill," he affirms in the next
page," His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature: when he endeavoured, like other tragick writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to shew how much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader." Poor Shakspeare ! Between the charges here brought against him, of want of nature in the first instance, and of want of skill in the second, he could hardly escape being condemned. And again, "But the admirers of this great poet have most reason to complain when he approaches nearest to his highest excellence, and seems fully resolved to sink them in dejection, or mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. What he does best, he soon ceases to do. He no sooner begins to move than he counteracts himself; and terrour and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity." In all this, our critick seems more bent on maintaining the equilibrium of his style than the consistency or truth of his opinions. If Dr. Johnson's opinion was right, the following observations on Shakspeare's Plays must be greatly exaggerated, if not ridiculous. If he was wrong, what has been said
may perhaps account for his being so, without detracting from his ability and judgment in other things.
It is proper to add, that the account of the Midsummer Night's Dream has appeared in another work.
April 15, 1817.