Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

affection for Helen, we are bound to inquire if there is any apology for such ungallant behaviour on the part of the bridegroom; and in this our duty we must, as is usual, previously insist on the fault being all on his side. Well, even in this one-eyed view of the question, we are inclined to acquit him on the score of mere accident,—the coronet having slipped over his forehead, and blinded his eyes to Helen's pera fections. He knew not she was “a maid too virtuous for the contempt of empire;" and it was utterly out of his comprehension " that twenty such rude boys (as himself) might tend upon, and call her hourly, mistress." All his knowledge was comprised in her being “a poor physician's daughter, who had her breeding at his father's charge;" and his farewell to her at the castle shews he regarded her somewhat in the light of a menial, when he concludes his speech with, “ Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, and make much of her.” To regard the poor girl with so little consideration is certainly very wrong; but at the same time it is very lordly, and Bertram is a lord. Besides, is the compulsion nothing ? Suppose, reader, (if thou art a parlourgentleman) that an act of Parliament were to pass, enforcing thee to take Dolly from the kitchen as thy wife. Truly, whatever deserving qualities Dolly might possess, or however good her education might be, we fear thou wouldest not perceive them, partly owing to her inferior station, and partly to thine own indignation at so tyrannical a law.

The Count likewise had a bad adviser constantly at his elbow, one Monsieur Parolles. Nor does the fostering of so adroit a parasite cast any reproach on the understanding of an inexperienced youth. Parolles is not a bully, like captain Bobadil, or ancient Pistol, whose swaggering could only deceive a Master Matthew or a Dame Quickly. He talks like a soldier of "very valiant approof," and wears not his sword clumsily, but with a grace. Such a counterfeit may pass for one of the s'irrent coin of Mars. He goes through the ordeal of the French Court without suspicion, save from one man. “He was first smoked by the old Lord Lafeu ;" and he, with all his cunning, did not immediately discover him to be “a snipt taffata fellow,” whose "soul was in his clothes.” When this play was last acted, Liston was Parolles. Liston! what an egregious blunder! Why, the part is cold and pompous. Parolles is neither a droll nor a fop. We look upon him as a gentleman of most serious deportment. It is not for the love of distinction that he assumes the character of a man of courage, but for the sake of a livelihood; and therefore there is no touch of vanity in his composition. He acts his part well, as a labourer works well when he knows he shall be well paid. It is remarkable that Helen is the only one at the Castle who saw through his disguise. She says~

And yet I know him a notorious liar,

Think him a great way fool, solely a coward;

Yet these fix'd evils sit so fit in him, &c." This delineation does credit to Helen's discernment, and may be brought forward as an evidence of the truth of the Vicar of Wakefield's observation, that “the two sexes seem placed as spies on each other, and are furnished with different abilities, adapted for mutual inspection,"

An overweening pride of birth is Bertram's great foible. "To cure him of this, Shakspeare sends him to the wars, that he may earn a fame for himself, and thus exchange a shadow for a reality. There “ the great dignity that his valour acquired for him" places him on an equality with any one of his ancestors, and he is no longer beholden to them alone for the world's observance. Thus, in his own person, he discovers there is something better than mere hereditary honour ; and his heart is prepared to acknowledge that the entire devotion of a Helen's love is of more worth than the court-bred stately smiles of a princess. He will not again turn a deaf ear, nor give a peevish reply to those arguments which had been made use of in behalf of the “ poor physician's daughter;" and which, by the by, might be sculptured, (without offence, we hope,) over the door of the Heralds College, on Bennet's Hill :

Strange is it, that our bloods,
Of colour, weight, and heat, pour'd all together,
Would quite confound distinction, yet stand off
In differences so mighty:-

-That is honour's scorn,
Which challenges itself as honour's born,
And is not like the sire. Honours best thrive,
When rather from our acts we them derive
Than our foregoers: the mere word 's a slave,
Debauch'd on every tomb; on every grave
A lying trophy; and as oft is dumb,
Where dust, and damn'd oblivion is the tomb

Of honour'd bones, indeed.”
We know not how to palliate the conduct of our young soldier, in
his love for that pretty Florentine lass Diana. He was yet in his mi-
nority, to be sure ; and that Parolles, “ a very tainted fellow, and full
of wickedness," did his utmost to further the affair; yet still we find it
difficult to excuse him. After our utmost moral consideration, we feel
it impossible to do any thing better than yield him up to the judgment
of the pure and spotless; and they, perhaps, may be merciful, thougu
those, the most conversant in his crime, should, as by usage established,
plead in aggravation. But, let it be observed, while Shakspeare chro-
nicles this fault, he allows it to be canvassed, ay, and sharply censured!
by others :--not by greybeards, who may have forgotten their similar
delinquencies, or grown envious of what they but faintly remember, but
by the gay, the youthful gallants of the camp; who, while they exclaim
against it in bitter reproof, mingle his shame with a fearful conscious.
ness of their own frailty. What severe justice, and what charity here
meet together! Shakspeare is not the man to let a libertine escape.
In pourtraying male characters, while he is bound to give them the
manners of the age, (and they suit the present age as well,) he does
not spare the lash; and generally introduces some loving girl, in whose
expressions of persevering affection we read the deepest satire on the
injustice, the cruelty of the master-sex.

The learned Doctor goes on to tell us, that “he sneaks home to a second marriage;" which is as contrary to the text, as that he travelled in a balloon. The war being ended, he is enforced to return to France, and agrees to marry the Lord Lafeu's daughter, rather as an expiation, than a choice. He will do any thing prescribed for him, otherwise his case is hopeless. In the fifth act Diana enters, accusing him of a breach of promise of marriage, with as much archness as modesty

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

can possibly assume, backed by a string of riddling impossibilities, very pleasant to the reader, but wondrously perplexing to the parties concerned. Throughout this trying scene Bertram never. defends himself by falsehood.” He neither confesses nor denies the promise. If we look back to the interview between him and Diana, where she laughs at his promise, and begs his diamond ring, we cannot be surprised at the low estimation in which he holds her virtue. There is a plot against him, and the part Diana takes in it necessarily involves her in his worst thoughts. He is guilty of no“ falsehood," except as touching a certain ring upon his finger; and challenged as he is, before the king and the whole court, how could he tell the truth? In all intrigues, whether amatory or political, it is held infamous for the parties not to be true to each other, at the expense of truth towards the rest of the world. Why then should Bertram be seriously blamed? It was rather his care for Diana's good name, than his own, that induced him to forge that foolish tale of the ring being thrown to him from a casement. But he is at last " dismissed to happiness!"--and why not? His faults are as venial as any Doctor's in Christendom; perhaps more so: for he makes no pretence to morality. We find him acutely sensible of all his follies; and he weeps for Helen, who is “supposed dead,"--why then, in the name of the most straight-laced 'virtue, should he not be happy?

We have written thus much in favour of a play, which is certainly seldom read, and, we believe, little understood. It is called one of the Poet's minor plays ; and as far as it has no communion with the sublimer passions, the appellation is correct; in other respects it may rank with his best. That Dr. Johnson should have passed sentence on Bertram, according to his scholastic and abstract notions of perfection, instead of charitably considering the positive imperfections of our nature, is, at least, short-sighted. How he, so good a man, could have read the following beautiful passage in favour of our frail fellow beings, and yet remained inexorable, we cannot imagine, unless, as we have previously hinted, his doctrine and his practical morality took two opposite roads:

* The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together : our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipt them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.” S.

SONNET
Why, when with thee, dost thou complain, my fair,

Thy servant absent, silent, and distraught?
While thou art by, can he have other thought
Than muse upon thy goodness list the air
Thou breathest forth-gaze on thy faxen hair-

Inhale thy breath, richer than perfumes brought

By Zephyr from the scented heath-or, taught
By Love himself to woo thee, press that rare,

That matchless form, all purity-or taste
Thy necťrous lip? Then smile those frowns away,

No, not one moment pass'd with thee is waste;
But, every sense full strain’d by thy sweet sway,

Thy lover is thy prisoner, and, graced
With flowery chains, passive, lets glide the day.

A. R.

THE WORLD.

Nibil est dulcius his literis, quibus cælum, terram, maria, cognoscimus. THERE is a noble passage in Lucretius, in which he describes a savage in the early stages of the world, when men were yet contending with beasts the possession of the earth, flying with loud shrieks through the woods from the pursuit of some ravenous animal, unable to fabricate arms for his defence, and without art to staunch the streaming wounds inflicted on him by his four-footed competitor. But there is a deeper subject of speculation, if we carry our thoughts back to that still earlier period when the beasts of the field and forest held undivided sway; when Titanian brutes, whose race has been long extinct, exercised a terrific despotism over the subject earth; and that “ bare forked animal,” who is pleased to dub himself the Lord of the Creation, had not been called up out of the dust to assume his soi-disant supremacy. Philosophers and geologists discover in the bowels of the earth itself indisputable proofs that it must have been for many centuries nothing more than a splendid arena for monsters.

We have scarcely penetrated beyond its surface; but, whenever any convulsion of nature affords us a little deeper insight into her recesses, we seldom fail to discover fossil remains of gigantic creatures, though, amid all these organic fragments, we never encounter the slightest trace of any human relics. How strange the thought, that for numerous, perhaps innume rable centuries, this most beautiful pageant of the world performed its magnificent evolutions, the sun and moon rising and setting, the seasons following their appointed succession, and the ocean uprolling its invariable tides, for no other apparent purpose than that lions and tigers might retire howling to their dens as the shaking of the ground proclaimed the approach of the mammoth, or that the behemoth migh perform his unwieldy flounderings in the deep! How bewildering the idea that the glorious firmament and its constellated lights, and ule varicoloured clouds that hang like pictures upon its sides, and the perfume which the flowers scatter from their painted censers, and the blushing fruits that delight the eye not less than the palate, and the perpetual music of winds, waves, and woods, should have been formed for the recreation and embellishment of a vast menagerie!

And yet we shall be less struck with wonder that all this beauty, pomp, and delight, should have been thrown away upon undiscerning and unreasoning brutes, if we call to mind that many of those human bipeds, to whom nature has given the “ os sublime," have little more perception or enjoyment of her charms than a.“ cow on a common, or goose on a green. Blind to her more obvious wonders, we cannot expect that they should be interested in the silent but stupendous miracles which an invisible hand is perpetually performing around themthat they should ponder on the mysterious, and even contradictory metamorphoses which the unchanged though change-producing earth is unceasingly effecting. She converts an acorn into a majestic oak, and they heed it not, though they will wonder for whole months how harlequin changed a porter-pot into a nosegay ;-she raises from a little bulb a stately tulip, and they only notice it to remark, that it would bring a good round sum in Holland ;– from one seed she elaborates an exquisite flower, which diffuses a delicious perfume, while to another by its side she imparts an offensive odour: from some she extracts a poison, from others a balm, while from the reproductive powers of a small grain she contrives to feed the whole populous earth; and yet these matter-of-course gentry, because such magical paradoxes are habitual, see in them nothing more strange than that they themselves should cease to be hungry when they have had their dinners, or that two and two should make four, when they are adding up their Christmas bills. It is of no use to remind such obtuse plodders, when recording individual enthusiasm, that

“ My charmer is not mine alone; my sweets,

And she that sweetens all my bitters too,
Nature, enchanting Nature, in whose form
And lineaments divine I trace a hand
That errs not, and find raptures still renew'd,

Is free to all men- -universal prize”for though she may be free to them, she sometimes presents them, instead of a prize, " an universal blank.” The most astounding manifestations, if they recur regularly, are unmarked; it is only the trifling deviations from their own daily experience that set them gaping in a stupid astonishment.

For my own part, I thank Heaven that I can never step out into this glorious world, I can never look forth upon the flowery earth, and the glancing waters, and the blue sky, without feeling an intense and ever new delight; a physical pleasure that makes mere existence delicious. Apprehensions of the rheumatism may deter me from imitating the noble fervour of Lord Bacon, who, in a shower, used sometimes to take off his hat, that he might feel the great spirit of the universe descend upon him; but I had rather gulp down the balmy air than quaff the richest ambrosia that was ever tippled upon Olympus; for while it warms and expands the heart, it produces no other intoxication than that intellectual abandonment which gives up the whole soul to a mingled overflowing of gratitude to heaven, and benevolence towards man.“ Were I not Alexander," said the Emathian madman, “ I would wish to be Diogenes;" so, when feasting upon this aërial beverage, which is like swallowing so much vitality, I have been tempted to ejaculate–Were I not a man, I should wish to be a chameleon. In Pudding Lane, and the Minories, I am aware that this potation, like Irish whisky, is apt to have the smack of the smoke somewhat too strong; and even the classic atmosphere of Conduit Street may occasionally require a little filtering: but I speak of that pure, racy, elastic element which I have this morning been in. haling in one of the forests of France, where, beneath a sky of inconceivable loveliness, I reclined upon a mossy bank, moralizing like Jaques; when, as if to complete the scene, a stag emerged from the trees, gazed at me for a moment, and dashed across an opening into the far country. Here was an end of every thing Shakspearian, for presently the sound of horns made the welkin ring, and a set of grotesque figures bedizened with lace-dresses, cocked hats, and jack-boots, deployed from the wood, and followed the chace with praiseworthy regularity, the nobles taking the lead, and the procession being brought up by the “ valets des chiens à pied.”—Solitude and silence again succeeded to this temporary interruption, though in the amazing clearness

« AnteriorContinuar »