Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

the tragedy before us is composed These incidents are, upon the whole, well calculated to form a tragick drama ; but we think Mr. Lewis has not rendered his heroine, Adelgitha, so interesting as such a plot requires. Her conflicting passions, though necessarily strong, should have more of tenderness and less of extravagance. It is also, in our opinion, a capital errour to represent her as wrung with so much remorse, and deemed guilty of mur. der, for an act which, however repugnant to female gentleness, appears to have been (by the law of nature, and certainly our las) justifiable on the principle of self-defence. She should either have assassinated the emperour merely to prevent the discovery of her former guilt. or her distress should hare arisen wholly from the danger of her son. In other respects the conduct of this tragedy is not unworthy of the reputation of the author. He has not, however, yet learned to write tragedies with genuine pathos, or in pure, unaffected, poetical language; though, undoubtedly, marks of genius appear in this, as in most of his works.

FROM THE LITERARY PANORAMA.

1

Illustrations of Shakspeare, and of ancient manners : with Dissertations on the Clowns

and Fools of Shakspeare; on the collection of Popular Tales entitled Gesta Romanorum; and on the English Morris Dance. By Francis Douce. The engravings 09 wood, by J. Berryman, London. In 2 vols. 8vo. price 36s.

ENGLISH antiquities in general, and the customs, manners, and phraseology of our forefathers, are much indebted to the celebrity of our great dramatick poet. The various attempts to illustrate Shakspeare have farnished a rich treasury of antiquarian lore ; and although we sometimes see with regret the margins of some editions of our bard's immortal works, crowded with notes, which, while they inform the understanding of the reader, certainly distract his attention; yet we are free to confess, that we should be sorry to see them expunged. Now and then a trifling annotation occurs-rifling, however, as it may appear to some persons, it no doubt conveys material information to others. Sometimes different explanations of the same passage occur; and the last note, not unfrequently, renders the preceding ones of little importance to the elucidation of the author. Yet even bence we derive information and amusement These notes may be, perhaps, irrelevant to the purpose for which they have been introduced ; but very curious in themselves; while the ingenuity with which critick after critick offers his opinion, and supports his interpretation, supplies materials for a very curious section in the history of the human mind. In this instance the editors of Shakspeare have done exactly as those who have edited ancient works:

“ Criticks I saw, that other names deface,
And fix their own, with labour, in their place ;
Their own, like others, soon their place resign'd,
Or disappeared, and left the first behind.”

Pope's Temple of Fame.
Mr. Douce writes as becomes a scholar and a gentleman. He points
out the mistakes of some of his predecessors, but it is without asperity.
He makes liberal allowance for the peculiarity of their feelings, arising from
bducation, complexion, local situation, or the course of study, which has
principally occupied their attention. We evidently see that he enters into
the true character of Stevens, of Johnson, of Ritson, and of Warburton ;
bat he contents himself with laying the result of his own reading before us,
without indulging that bitter spirit of reprehension, which, treating mis-

FOL. I.

M

takes like crimes, has disgraced so many criticks. In his preface, his language, now and then, manifests a degree of stiffness which surprises us: -" The practice, and also the necessity of explaining the writings of Shakspeare, have already been so ably defended by former commentators, that no other apology on the part of those who may elect to persevere in this kind of labour seems to be necessary than with regard to the qualifi. cations of the writer.” This is part of the first sentence : and afterwards, p. xiii, he says, the “ Gesta Romanorum had been already disserted on by Mr. Wharton.” 'The word “ dissert" does not occur in Johnson's Dictionary. But these are trifles.

The indefatigable exertions of Messrs. Stevens, Malone, Tyrwhitt, and Mason, will ever be duly appreciated by the true and zealous admirers of Shakspeare's pages. If the name of a celebrated critick and moralist be not included on this occasion, it is because he was certainly unskilled in the knowledge of obsolete customs and expressions. His explanatory notes, therefore, are, generally speaking, the most controvertible of any: but no future editor will discharge his duty to the publick, who shall omit a single sentence of this writer's masterly preface, or of his sound and tasteful characters of the plays of Shakspeare. Of all the commentators, Dr. Warburton was surely the worst. His sentiments, indeed, have been seldom exhi. bited in modern editions, but for the purpose of confuting them.

This last is one of the severest things in the book. Certainly the lovers of Shakspeare are much beholden to the commentators here enumerated ; but the name of Farmer might have been mentioned; nor should Theobald's name have been omitted.

Although the strict restitution of the old orthography is not meant to be insisted on, nor would, indeed, accommodate the generality of readers, there are many instances in which it should be stated in the notes; and such will occur to every skilful editor.

We have ever lamented the tampering with the orthography of our ancient writers. Except in Capel's edition, we do not read Shakspeare's language in any which has been published for these hundred years. Even the orthography of the once authorized translation of the Bible, which has been said to have given a fixedness to our tongue, has been modernized again and again, without authority, as it has passed through the press from time to time. This is pulling up the foundations, and removing the landmarks of language. This is mixing things new and old, and making the English Bible speak the dialect, and adhere to the spelling of no age whatever.

Tempest, sc. 2, p. 11.
Mira.

-or e'er It should the good ship, &c. This word should always be written ere, and not ever, nor contractedly e'er, with which it has no connexion. It is pure Saxon. The corruption in Ecclesiastes cited in the note is as old as the time of Henry the Eighth; but in Wicliffe, we have properly“ er be to broke the silveren corde,” and so it is given by Chaucer.

In Cranmer's, or the Great Bible, 1539, we read « or ever the sylver lace be taken away." We shall here give a similar use of the word ever in the sixth of Daniel" so the lyons had the mastry of them, and brake all theyr bones asonder, or ever they came at the ground.” Cranmer's bible. “ Or ever” 1639, and all copies following king James's revisal. Is there not an essential difference between Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, and En. glish? We should print as Shakspeare wrote English Now the word « ever” (contractedly c'er) has held its place in our tongue, in the sense which this passage supplies from Henry viii's to the present time

By way of specimen of Mr. Douce's diligence, and the extent of his reading, we give the following note:

Tempest, sc. 2.

p.

26.
Ari.

-sometimes I'd divide
And burn in many places ; on the topmast,
The yards and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,

Then meet and joinThis is a very elegant description of a meteor well known to sailors. It has been called by the several names of the fire of Saint Helen, Saint Elm, Saint Herm, Saint Clare, Saint Peter and Saint Nicholas. Whenever it appeared as a single flame, it was supposed by the ancients to be Helena, the sister of Castor and Pollux, and in this state to bring ill luck, from the calamities which this lady is known to have caused in the Trojan war. When it came double it was called Castor and Pollux and accounted a good omen. It has been described as a little blaze of fire, sometimes appearing by night on the tops of soldiers' lances, or at sea on masts and sail yards, whirling and leaping in a moment from one place to another. Some have said, but erroneously, that it never appears but after a tempest. It is also supposed to lead people to suicide by drowning

Merchant of Venice, sc. 3, p. 441. Enter Shylock. His stage dress should be a scarlet hat lined with black Taffetas This is the manner in which the Jews of Venice were formerly distinguished.

Did not Macklin dress Shylock in this very manner? We remember that dramatick veteran relating, with no small pride. the reforms he had introduced in stage costume. He related his going into Duke's Place, and finding out an Italian Jew, who told him how the Jews were habited at Venice. Before Macklin's time, Shylock was dressed exactly like a Jew broker about the change. Macklin first dressed Maebeth in the Scottish habit. Before Macklin played the character, he had always appeared in a general's uniform. Mr. Douce, in his 2d. vol. has an essay “ on the anachronisms, and some other incongruities of Shakspeare ;" in which he mentions some absurdities of this kind; and speaks of Garrick's playing Hamlet " in a common French suit of black velvet.” Does not Kemble continue to dress the Prince of Denmark in the same style ? Much is yet to be done, in order to increase stage effect. Certainly the clowns are all erroneously dressed. In page 310, Mr. Douce points out the absurdity of Touchstone's three-cornered hat. The expenses of stage decoration, and the costly splendour of stage dresses, are very great Perhaps, to consult some person skilled in the architecture of ancient times, such as Mr. Carter, particularly, would save a great deal of money, in the formation of scenery; for there are no bounds to the lavish extravagances of fancy i and to ask the opinion of some antiquary of taste, would save no inconsiderable sums in providing habiliments; for appropriate habits would eventually cost less than the gaudy vestures invented by playhouse taylors and mantua-makers. Mr. Douce has supplied several plates of the dresses and baubles of ancient clowns; and it would almost immortalize any one of our Laurents, our Grimaldis, our Bolognas, or our Montgomeries, who should have sense enough first to revive and adopt them.

Having given some account of the first volume of this interesting book; we now proceed to bring our readers acquainted, in a similar way, with the contents of the second.

King Henry VI. part II. act 3. sc. 3.
King Hen. O beat away the busy meddling fiend,

That lays strong siege unto this wretch's soul. It was the belief of our pious ancestors, that when a man was on his death-bed, the devil or his agents attended, in the hope of getting possession of the soul, if it should happen that the party died without receiving the sacrament of the eucharist, or without confessing his sins. Accordingly, in the ancient representations of this subject, and more particularly in those which occur in such printed services of the church as contain the vigils or office of the dead, these busy meddling fiends appear,

and with great anxiety besiege the dying man; but on the approach of the priest and his attendants, they betray symptoms of horrible despair at their impending discomfiture. In an ancient manuscript book of devotions, written in the reign of Ilenry the sixth, there is a prayer addressed to Saint George, with the following very singular passage : "judge for me when the moste hedyous and damnable dragons of helle shall be redy to take my poor soule and engloute it in to theyr infernall belyes."

Shakspeare, who in many instances has proved himself to have been well acquainted with the forms and ceremonies of the Romish church, has, without doubt, on the present occasion, availed himself of the above opinion. Whether this had happened to that preeminent painter, who, among the numerous monuments of his excellence that have immortalized himself and done honour to his country, has depicted the last inoments of Cardinal Beaufort with all the powers of his art, cannot now be easily ascertained. He has been censured for personifying the fiend, on the supposition that the poet's language is merely figurative; with what justice, this note may, perhaps, assist in deciding. Some might disapprove the renovation of popish ideas; whilst others, more attentive to ancient costume, and regardless of popular or other prejudices, might be disposed to defend the painter on the ground of strict adhe. rence to the manners of the times.

Mr. Douce subjoins two prints copied from ancient engravings on wood; on one of which, various fiends surround the bed of a dying man; and on another, an angel is represented on one side of the bed of a person yielding up the ghost, and a demon on the other This latter, says Mr. D.

Is copied from an engraving in wood, by an unknown artist of considerable merit; and from the striking semblance which it bears to the picture of our great painter above alluded to, much cannot be hazarded in supposing that he might have taken some hints from it, as it is well known that he collected many prints with the view of making such use of preceding excellence as the most exalted genius will ever condescend to do.

The print (where, however, no fiend appears) which most resembles the admirable painting of the death of Cardinal Beaufort, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is the frontispiece to the second part of Henry VI. in Tonson's edition of Shakspeare's works, 8vo. printed in the year 1714. The position in which Beaufort lies on his couch, and the manner in which the specta. tors stand round, much resemble the arrangement in the admirable picture of our great artist. The mechanical construction of the piece was probably supplied by this print, which is very much at Mr. Douce's service, it he shall think fit to apply for it at our publisher's.

King Richard III. act 1. sc. 1.
Glo. He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute. The question with Dr. Johnson is, whether it be war that capers, or York. And he justly remarks, that if the latter, the antecedent is at an almost forgotten dis. tance. The amorous temper of Edward the fourth is well known; and there cannot be a doubt that by the lascivious pleasing of a lute, he is directly alluded to. The subsequent description, likewise, that Richard gives of himself, is in comparison with the king. Dr. Jobnson thought the image of war capering poetical; yet it is not easy to conceive how grim-visaged war could caper in a lady's chamber.

We must recollect that “ grim-visaged war" had “ SMOOTH'D HIS WRINKLED FRONT," before he presumed 10 “ caper nimbly in a lady's chamber;" and dressed in the habiliments of peace, had “ hung up his bruised arms for monuments.” This last expression was derived, no doubl, from the suspending of his shield, sword, gauntlets, helmet, spurs and banner, over the monument of a deceased warriour.

King Richard III. act 2. sc. 3.

2 Cit. Ill news by'r lady; seldom comes the better. Well miglit the author of the book quoted by Mr. Reed say, “ that proverb, indeed. is auncient,” as will appear from the following curious account of its origin, ex

tracted from a manuscript collection of stories, compiled about the time of king Henry the Third.

We should have been glad if Mr. Douce had told us where this MS. is preserved. We translate the Latin quotation which he gives from it. “ There was a certain abbot who allowed his monks three messes. The monks said : “ This man does not provide sufficiently for us; let us pray that he may be speedily removed.” Whether their prayers were heard, or however it happened, the abbot died. Another came in his place, who allowed them only two messes. The monks, angry and vexed, exclaimed: “ Now have we more cause than ever to pray for a change; for this man has abridged our allowance.” At length the second abbot breathed his last, and a third succeeded, who took away the messes which his predecessor had left. The monks enraged cried out : “ This is the worst of all; he perfectly kills us with meagre diet: let us petition Heaven to take him from among us." One of the brotherhood differed in opinion with them, and advised them rather to pray that his days might be lengthened, and that he might be spared long to govern them. The rest, astonished, demanded a reason for the unaccountable advice he gave. Says he: “ The first was a bad one ; the second worse ; and the third worst of all : it is to be feared that in case he should follow the others, another may come worse still, who may absolutely kill us with hunger.” Hence comes the proverb, “ Seilde comed se betere."

Timon of Athens, act 4. sc. 3.
Tim. The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves

The moon into salt tears. Some difficulty has arisen in the course of the notes on this passage, to account for the manner in which the sea could despoil the moon of its moisture, and change it into saline tears. It has been judiciously remarked by one of the commentators, that we are not to attend, on these occasions, merely to philosophical truth; but to consider what might have been the received or vulgar notions of the time: yet no ex. ample of such notions, applicable to the present occasion, has been produced. The following may, perhaps, serve to supply this defect, and to establish, at the same time, the genuineness of the text : “ The moone gathereth deawe in the aire, for she printeth the vertue of hir moysture in the aire, and chaungeth the aire, in a manner that is unseene, and breedeth and gendereth deawe in the utter part thereof.” Bartholomæus de propriet. rerum, lib. viii. c. 29.

“ It should seem that this passage has been misconstrued, owing to an inversion of phrase in the location of the words. « Resolves the moon," i. e. the moon resolver. The meaning of the passage is, perhaps, this The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge the moon resolves into salt tears. If the attraction of the moon be the cause of the tides, much more may it occasion the vapours of the sca to rise, or the surge of the sea, when dashing against the rocks, the spray is resolved separated, into tears. Mr. Tollett proposes to read for “ the moon," " the main”—that is, the main land.

Antony and Cleopatra, act 2. sc. 4.
Ant.

-and his quails

Ever beat mine, inhoop'd at odds. It may be doubted whether quail-fighting was practised in Shakspeare's time, though Dr. Farmer appears to have thought so; but when our poet speaks of their being inhgop'd, he might suppose that Cesar's or Antony's quails, which he found in Plutarch, were trained to battle, like game cocks, in a ring or circle. Hanmer plausi. bly reads incoop'd—but no change is necessary. Quail combats were well known among the ancients, and especially at Athens. Julius Pollux relates, that a circle was made in which the birds were placed, and he whose quail was driven out of this circle lost the stake, which was sometimes money, and occasionally the quails themselves. Another practice was to produce one of these birds, which being first smitten or fillipped with the middle finger, a feather was then plucked from its

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »