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individual traits, or the dramatic distinctions which Shakspeare has engrafted on this general nature, because he felt no interest in them. Shakspeare's bold and happy flights of imagination were equally thrown away upon our author. He was not only without any particular fineness of organic sensibility, alive to all the "mighty world of ear and eye," which is necessary to the painter or musician, but without that intenseness of passion which, seeking to exaggerate whatever excites the feelings of pleasure or power in the mind, and moulding the impressions of natural objects according to the impulses of imagination, produces a genius and a taste for poetry. According to Dr. Johnson, a mountain is sublime, or a rose is beautiful; for that their name and definition imply. But he would no more be able to give the description of Dover cliff in Lear, or the descrip tion of flowers in The Winter's Tale, than to describe the objects of a sixth sense ; nor do we think he would have any very profound feeling of the beauty of the passages here referred to. A stately common-place, such as Congreve's description of a ruin in The Mourning Bride, would have answered Johnson's purpose just as well, or better than the first ; and an indiscriminate profusion of scents and hues would have interfered less with the ordinary rootine of his imagination than Perdita's lines, which seem enamored of their own sweetness
- " Daffodils
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 characteristic 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 show 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 heroic 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 tragic 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 endeavored, like other tragic writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show 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 terror and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity." In all this, our critic seems more bent on maintaining the equilibrium of his style than the consistency or truth of his opinions. If Dr. Johnson's opi nion 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.
APRIL 3. 1918
CYMBELINE is one of the most delightful of Shakspeare's histori. cal plays. It may be considered as a dramatic romance, in which the most striking parts of the story are thrown into the form of a dialogue, and the intermediate circumstances are ex. plained by the different speakers, as occasion renders it necessary. The action is less concentrated in consequence; but the interest becomes more aerial and refined from the principle of perspective introduced into the subject by the imaginary changes of scene as well as by the length of time it occupies. The reading of this play is like going a journey with some uncertain object at the end of it, and in which the suspense is kept up and heightened by the long intervals between each action. Though the events are scattered over such an extent of surface, and relate to such a variety of characters, yet the links which bind the dif. ferent interests of the story together are never entirely broken. The most straggling and seemingly casual incidents are contriv. ed in such a manner as to lead at last to the most complete de. velopment of the catastrophe. The ease and conscious uncon. cern with which this is effected only makes the skill more wonder. ful. The business of the plot evidently thickens in the last act : the story moves forward with increasing rapidity at every step ; its various ramifications are drawn from the most distant points to the same centre; the principal characters are brought together, and placed in very critical situations; and the fate of almost every person in the drama is made to depend on the solution of a single circumstance—the answer of lachimo to the question of Imogen respecting the obtaining of the ring from Posthumus. Dr. Johnson is of opinion that Shakspeare was generally inatten.
tive to the winding up of his plots. We think the contrary is true; and we might cite in proof of this remark not only the present play, but the conclusion of Lear, of Romeo and Juliet, of Macbeth, of Othello, even of Hamlet, and of other plays of less moment, in which the last act is crowded with decisive events brought about by natural and striking means.
The pathos in CYMBELINE is not violent or tragical, but of the most pleasing and amiable kind. A certain tender gloom overspreads the whole. Posthumus is the ostensible hero of the piece, but its greatest charm is the character of Imogen. Posthumus is only interesting from the interest she takes in him, and she is only interesting herself from her tenderness and constancy to her husband. It is the peculiar characteristic of Shakspeare's hero. ines, that they seem to exist only in their attachment to others. They are pure abstractions of the affections. We think as little of their persons as they do themselves, because we are let into the secrets of their hearts, which are more important. We are too much interested in their affairs to stop to look at their faces, except by stealth and at intervals. No one ever hit the true perfection of the female character, the sense of weakness leaning on the strength of its affections for support, so well as Shakspeare - no one ever so well painted natural tenderness free from affecta. tion and disguise--no one else ever so well showed how delicacy and timidity, when driven to extremity, grow romantic and ex. travagant; for the romance of his heroines (in which they abound) is only an excess of the habitual prejudices of their sex, scrupulous of being false to their vows, truant to the affections, and taught by the force of feeling when to forego the furins of propriety for the essence of it. His women are in this respect exquisite logicians; for there is nothing so logical as passion, They know their own minds exactly; and only follow up a fa. vorite idea which they have sworn to with their tongues, and which is engraven on their hearts, into its untoward consequences. They are the prettiest little set of martyrs and confessors on record. -Cibber in speaking of the early English stage, ac. counts for the want of prominence and theatrical display in Shakspeare's female characters from the circumstance, that wo. men in those days were not allowed to play the parts of women,