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If Bacon educated the reason, Shakspeare educated the heart; yet not alone the heart but the reason also. He knew that by conquering the affections one great road to the intellect would be won. Moreover, in letting loose his imagination, he liberated at the same time the imaginations of other men; lifting them, as it were, to his own height and point of vision, and teaching them how to soar, and think, and speculate, in a manner never displayed before. He united the wisdom of the historian and the moralist. To the subtlety of a metaphysician he joined the acuteness of a writer on dialectics. He surpassed Æschylus in grandeur, Euripides in pathos, Aristophanes in wit. If the dramas of Shakspeare were resorted to as mere exercises of the intellect, they would be beyond all value. There is no school in which so much, or things so various, may be taught. There is in them, it is true, neither Latin nor Greek, neither hexameter nor pentameter. We hear nothing of the steam-engine, nor of the north-west passage (although sounds come to us
“From the still vexed Bermoothes ");
nothing of geometry or arithmetic, except that Michael Cassio was “an arithmetician." But we behold the living world before us, teeming with its hopes and desires, its joys and throes, and agonies; the passions in all their forms; evil in its many shapes; and good intermixed with evil. We see the means and ends of government; the springs and effects of conduct; faction and loyalty; slavery and independence; confidence, envy, mistrust; all (as they are called) the accidents of life, mingled and interwoven with each other, and forming, if rightly read, a rule of conduct, a profound lesson, for every character and condition of life, from the beggar up to the king.
Various opinions have been formed as to the particular quality of mind for which Shakspeare was most eminent. I think, however, as I have heretofore said, that in all the cases where critics have attempted to distinguish him by any one particular excellence of intellect, they have failed. One writer has brought forward his imagination; another his sublimity or humor; whilst Mr. Gifford refers to his wit, — in which he has surely been equaled. If I myself were desired to point out any one quality as predominant above the rest, I should be inclined to fix upon the infinite delicacy of his mind, which (with equal subtlety and judgment) defined the thousand shades and varieties of human character, — all that lies between the good and the bad, the strong and the weak, the lofty and the low; or I might, perhaps, rest on that marvelous freedom from egotism, which enabled him to create so many beings (all with the true stamp or humanity upon them) without betraying a single touch of any humor or infirmity peculiar to himself. But I should do neither. For his great merit, as it appears to me, is, that he had no peculiar or prominent merit. His mind was so well constituted, so justly and admirably balanced, that it had nothing in excess. It was the harmonious combination, the well-adjusted powers, aiding and answering to each other as occasion required, that produced his completeness, and constituted, as I think, the secret of his great entire intellectual strength.
Something remains to be said, touching the moral effect of Shakspeare's writings. A few words must suffice.
The critics, with illustrious exceptions, and the sectarians of modern times, are continually striving to exalt authors of the didactic class above the rest of their brethren, by the distinguishing title of " moral writers." In this category (which includes sometimes the great name of Milton), Cowper and Young, together with Mr. Pollock and some other inferior writers, are ranked; and none but these favored few are admitted into the houses of the stricter sects. The gates of those un-catholic temples are shut against the large body of poets, who are excluded as a lost or perilous race. And yet, between the so called) pious and profane, the interval is not extremely wide. Nay, the object of each may be, and in fact often is, the same. No healthy poet or sensible man, I apprehend, ever meditated a story with a view of deducing from it a pernicious moral. Instances have arisen, in which a book having a good and honest design, has been marred in some degree by coarse and voluptuous passages; but these are comparatively rare; and after all, the parts to be reprehended must be taken into account, and balanced with the positive good which the works contain, before such works can be fairly set aside, or condemned as injurious to the general reader. The writingsof Shakspeare himself, however, are singularly free from these objections. There is occasionally a coarseness of phrase which must be attributed to the age in which he lived: but he never tampered with truth, -- never threw down the boundaries between vice and virtue, - never strove by voluptuous images to excite the passions, — nor by fallacious arguments to ensnare the mind or confuse the intellect upon any subject whatsoever.
The objections to the greater number of poets and fabulists (and to the dramatists in particular) lie, I imagine, not so much in their want of a good moral, as in their mode of illustrating it, — not so much in the end as in their means of arriving at the end. The bustling incidents of a story, the bright pictures of human happiness, the terrible truths which escape with throes out of our erring nature, and in a word the passions and absorbing interests of life, with whatever purpose presented, are all too real and stimulative to be tolerated by any sect who are “exclusives” in their own opinion, and in whose cold creed Charity (in its extensive sense) does not prevail. Yet the beautiful and touching parables of Scripture are surely as holy and as pregnant with wisdom, as the most moral proverb which the wisest of sages has bequeathed. It is well argued by Sir Philip Sidney — "Even our Saviour, Christ, could as well have given the moral common-places of uncharitableness and humbleness, as the divine narration of Dives and Lazarus; or of disobedience and mercy, as the heavenly discourse of the lost child and the gracious father; but that his thorough-searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives burning in hell, and of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, would more constantly, as it were, inhabit both the memory and judginent.”
Shakspeare, like all other great imaginative writers, thought thus, and is therefore seldom didactic. He does not always paint even the virtues triumphant. It is by enlisting our sympathies on the side of those who are good, by exciting our pity for the injured, and our hatred towards the knave and the oppressor, that his moral effects are produced; not by merely predicting and insisting on a moral or consequence, as necessarily flowing from certain premises; for that may be insisted on and elaborated without producing any effect at all.
For my own part, I have no doubt but that Shakspeare (banished as he may be from some good men's tables) was right, — right in his philosophy, right in his extensive charity, right in his morals, and right in his mode of demonstrating all. Had he ventured upon any other mode than the one he has chosen, he would have slighted, unwisely, the impulse of his genius, and would not have effected one-hundredth part of the good that he has produced. The soundness as well as importance of a writer may generally be learned from the number and quality of his admirers, better than from any labored analysis of his works, or any contrast drawn between him and others. A man who is at the head of a small Sect, is probably a person of small and eccentric mind, - influencing a few others, of a similar mean and distorted intellect. But the founder of a RELIGION must always be a mighty Spirit. No one who is the theme of reverence with a million intelligent minds, but must have propounded in his writings or doctrines much both of the good and the true. Throughout the language in which he wrote, Shakspeare is all supreme. There is not a sceptic or dissentient whose arguments are worth refutation.
That our great author may be imperfect, as he is said to be, is merely saying that he belonged to imperfect humanity. The flaws and errors of his dramas are few, however, and possibly owe their origin to interpolators; besides which, I must protest against such a process of judging. It is not by what a man occasionally fails or omits to do (for that may arise from hurry or accident) but by what he has done, that his capability and value must be decided. It is by the profound wisdom of Shakspeare, by his wonderful imagination, displayed in a thousand varieties of character, by his subtle and delicate fancies, his grand thoughts, his boundless charity, — nay, even by the music that steals into our souls, with the countless changes and fluctuations, from strength to sweetness, of his charming verse, that we must learn to regard him truly. But all this eulogy would be superfluous, except for a limited class of thinkers; for Shakspeare is now making his way through foreign countries and distant regions; vanquishing race after race, like the great conquerors of old; in spite of ignorance and prejudice, and imperfect teachers; and in the midst of dim and obscure interpretations, that would check the progress of any Spirit less potent and catholic than his own!
In the summer time, when the world is cheerful and full of life, let us regale ourselves with the laughing scenes and merry songs of SHAKSPEARE. In the winter evenings, when sadder thoughts come forth, let us rest upon his grave, philosophic page, and try to gather comfort as well as wisdom from the deep speculations which may be found there. At all times, let his Book of Miracles" be near at hand: for, be sure that the more we read therein, the greater must our reverence be. And, if any intruder should tell us that all we ponder on and admire is mere matter of imagination and fancy; is shadowy, unreal, without profit; and that the end is — nought: bid him shew you the thing that is eternal, — or any effort of the human mind that has outlasted the dreams of Poetry. Have I said that they are dreams ? Alas! what is there here that is so far heyond a dream? We ourselves (so our great poet says)
“ Are of such stuff
FROM THE ORIGINAL, IN THE OFFICE OF THE PREROGATIVE COURT OF CANTERBURY.
Vicesimo quinto die Martii, Anno Regni Domini nostri Jacobi nunc Regis Angliæ, fc., decimo quarto, et Scotice
quadragesimo nono. Anno Domini, 1616.
In the name of God, Amen. I, WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, Gent., in perfect health and memory (God be praised !) do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament, in manner and form following; that is to say:
First, I commend my soul into the hands of God, my Creator, hoping, and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ, my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting; and my body to the earth whereof it is made.
Item, I give and bequeath unto my daughter, Judith, one hundred and fifty pounds of lawful English money, to be paid unto her in manner and form following; that is to say, one hundred pounds in discharge of her marriage portion within one year after my decease, with consideration after the rate of two shillings in the pound for so long time as the same shall be unpaid unto her after my decease; and the fifty pounds residue thereof, upon her surrendering of, or giving of such sufficient security as the overseers of this my will shall like of, to surrender or grant all her estate and right that shall descend or come unto her after my decease, or that she now hath, of, in, or to, one copyhold tenement, with the appurtenances, lying and being in Stratford-upon-Avon aforesaid, in the said county of Warwick, being parcel or holden of the manor of Rowington, unto my daughter, Susanna Hall, and her heirs for ever.
Item, I give and bequeath unto my said daughter Judith, one hundred and fifty pounds more, if she, or any issue of her body, be living at the end of three years next ensuing the day of the date of this my will, during which time my executors to pay her consideration from my decease, according to the rate aforesaid: and if she die within the said term without issue of her body, then my will is, and I do give and bequeath one hundred pounds thereof to my niece, Elizabeth Hall, and the fifty pounds to be set forth by my executors during the life of my sister, Joan Hart, and the use and profit thereof coming, shall be paid to my sister, Joan, and after her decease the said fifty pounds shall remain amongst the children of my said sister, equally to be divided amongst them; but if my said daughter, Judith, be living at the end of the said three years, or any issue of her body, then my will is, and so I devise and bequeath the said hundred and fifty pounds to be set out by my executors and overseers for the best benefit of her and her issue, and the stock not to be paid unto her so long as she shall be married and covert baron; but my will is that she shall have the consideration yearly paid unto her during her life; and after her decease the said stock and consideration to be paid to her children, if she have any, and if not, to her executors or assigns, she living the said term after my decease: provided that if such husband as she shall at the end of the said three years be married unto, or at any [time] after, do sufficiently assure unto her, and the issue of her body, lands answerable to the portion by this my will given unto her, and to be adjudged so by my executors and overseers, then my will is that the said hundred and fifty pounds shall be paid to such husband as shall make such assurance, to his own use.
Item, I give and bequeath unto my said sister, Joan, twenty pounds, and all my wearing apparel, to be paid and delivered within one year after my decease; and I do will and devise unto her the house, with the appurtenances, in Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life, under the yearly rent of twelve pence.
Item, I give and bequeath unto her three sons, William Hart, — Hart, and Michael Hart, five pounds a-piece, to be paid within one year after my decease.
Item, I give and bequeath unto the said Elizabeth Hall, all my plate (except my broad silver and gilt bowl), that I now have at the date of this my will.
Item, I give and bequeath unto the poor of Stratford, aforesaid, ten pounds; to Mr. Thomas Combe, my sword; to Thomas Russell, Esq., five pounds; and to Francis Collyns, of the borough of Warwick, in the county of Warwick, Gent., thirteen pounds six shillings and eightpence, to be paid within one year after my decease.
Item, I give and bequeath to Hamlet (Hamnet) Sadler, twenty-six shillings eightpence, to buy him a ring; to William Reynolds, Gent., twenty-six shillings eightpence, to buy him a ring; to my godson, William Walker, twenty shillings in gold: to Anthony Nash, Gent., twenty-six shillings eightpence; and to Mr. John Nash, twenty shillings eightpence; and to my fellows, John Hemynge, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell, twenty-six shillings eightpence a-piece, to buy them rings.
Item, I give, will, bequeath, and devise unto my daughter, Susanna Hall, for better enabling of her to perform this my will, and towards the performance thereof, all that capital messuage or tenement, with the appurtenances, in Stratford aforesaid, called The New Place, wherein I now dwell, and two messuages or tenements, with the appurtenances, situate, lying, and being in Henley Street, within the borough of Stratford aforesaid, and all my barns, stables, orchards, gardens, lands, tenements, and hereditaments whatsoever, situate, lying, and being, or to be had, received, perceived, or taken, within the towns, hamlets, villages, fields, and grounds of Stratford-uponAvon, Old Stratford, Bishopton, and Welcome, or in any of them, in the said county of Warwick; and also all that messuage or tenement, with the appurtenances, wherein one John Robinson dwelleth, situate, lying, and being in the Blackfriars in London, near the Wardrobe: and all other my lands, tenements, and hereditaments whatsoever: to have and to hold all and singular the said premises, with their appurtenances, unto the said Susanna Hall, for and during the term of her natural life; and after her decease, to the first son of her body lawfully issuing, and to the heirs-males of the body of the said first son lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue, to the second son of her body lawfully issuing, and to the heirs-males of the body of the said second son lawfully issuing; and for default of such heirs, to the third son of the body of the said Susanna lawfully issuing, and to the heirs-males of the body of the said third son lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue, the same so to be and remain to the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sons of her body lawfully issuing, one after another; and to the heirs-males of the bodies of the said fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sons lawfully issuing, in such manner as it is before limited to be and remain to the first, second, and third sons of her body, and to their heirs-males; and for default of such issue, the said premises to be and remain to my said niece, Hall, and the heirs-males of her body lawfully issuing ; and for default of such issue, to my daughter, Judith, and the heirs males of her body lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue, to the right heirs of me the said William Shakspeare for ever.
Item, I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture.
Item, I give and bequeath to my said daughter, Judith, my broad silver-gilt bowl. All the rest of my goods, chattels, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuff whatsoever, after my debts and legacies paid, and my funeral expenses discharged, I give, devise, and bequeath to my son-in-law, John Hall, Gent., and my daughter, Susanna, his wife, whom I ordain and make executors of this my last will and testament. And I do entreat and appoint the said Thomas Russell, Esq., and Francis Collyns, Gent., to be overseers hereof. And do revoke all former wills, and publish this to be my last will and testament. In witness whereof, I have hereunto put my hand, the day and year first above written.
WILLIAM SHAK SPEARE.
Witness to the publishing hereof,
Probatum fuit testamentum apud London, coram Magistro William Byrde, Legem Doctore, fc., vicesimo secundo die
mensis Junii, Anno Domini, 1616, juramento Johannis Hall unius ex. cui. fc., de bene, fc., jurat reservata potestate, fc., Susanna Hall, alt ex., fc., eam cum venerit, fc., petitur, fc.
AN EPITAPH ON THE ADMIRABLE DRAMATIC POET,
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. What needs my Shakspeare for his honored bones, The labor of an age in piled stones : Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid Under a star-y pointing pyramid ? Dear son of memory, great heir of fame, What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name? Thou, in our wonder and astonishment, Hast built thyself a live-long monument. For whilst to th’ shame of slow endeavoring art Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book Those Delphic lines with deep impression took, Then thou our fancy of itself bereaving, Dost make us marble with too much conceiving, And so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie, That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.
TO THE MEMORY OF THE DECEASED AUTHOR,
MASTER WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. Shakspeare, at length thy pious fellows give The world thy works; thy works, by which outlive Thy tomb, thy name must; when that stone is rent, And time dissolves thy Stratford monument, Here we alive shall view thee still; this book, When brass and marble fade, shall make thee look Fresh to all ages; when posterity Shall loath what's new, think all is prodigy That is not Shakspeare's, every line, each verse Here shall revive, redeem thee from thy hearse. Nor fire, nor cank'ring age, -as Naso said Of his, — thy wit-fraught book shall once invade : Nor shall I e'er believe or think thee dead, Though missed, until our bankrout stage be sped (Impossible) with some new strain to out-do Passions “of Juliet, and of Romeo;" Or till I hear a scene more nobly take, Than when thy half-sword parleying Romans spake: Till these, till any of thy volume's rest, Shall with more fire, more feeling be expressed, Be sure, our Shakspeare, thou canst never die, But crowned with laurel, live eternally.
UPON THE LINES AND LIFE OF THE FAMOUS SCENIC POET,
MASTER WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. Those hands which you so clapped, go now and wring,
You Britons brave, for done are Shakspeare's days, His days are done that made the dainty plays,
Dried is that vein, dried is the Thespian spring,
Turned all to tears; and Phæbus clouds his rays;
That corpse, that coffin, now bestick those bays, Which crowned him Poet first, then Poets' king. If tragedies might any prologue have,
All those he made would scarce make one to this; Where fame, now that he gone is to the grave
(Death's public tiring-house), the Nuntius is : For though his line of life went soon about, The life yet of his lines shall never out.
ON THE PORTRAIT OF SHAKSPEARE. Prefixed as a Frontispiece to the first edition of his works in
TO THE READER.