That by a pace goes backward, in a purpose
It hath to climb. The general's disdained
By him one step below ; he, by the next ;
That next, by him beneath : 80 every step,
Exampled by the first pace that is sick
Of his superiour, grows to

envious fever
Of pale and bloodless emulation;
And 'tis this fever that keeps Troy on foot,
Not her own sinews. To end a tale of length,
Troy in our weakness lives, not in her strength."

It cannot be said of Shakspeare, as was said of some one, that he was “ without o’erflowing full." He was full, even to o’erflowing. He gave heaped measure, running over. This was his greatest fault. He was only in danger “ of losing distinction in his thoughts” (to borrow his own expression)

“ As doth a battle when they charge on beaps
The enemy flying."

There is another passage, the speech of Ulysses to Achilles, shewing him the thankless nature of popularity, which bas a still greater depth of moral observation and richness of illustration than the former. It is long, but worth the quoting. The sometimes giving an entire extract from the unacted plays of our author may, with one class of readers, have almost the use of restoring a lost passage ; and may serve to convince another class of criticks, that the poet's genius was not confined to the production of stage effect by preternatural means.

Ulysses. Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for Oblivion ;
A great-siz'd monster of ingratitudes :


Those scraps are good deeds past,
Which are devour'd as fast as they are made,
Forgot as soon as done : Persev'rance, dear my lord,
Keeps Honour bright: to have done, is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mockery. Take the instant way;
For Honour travels in a strait 80 narrow,
Where one but goes abreast; keep then the path,
For Emulation hath a thousand sons,
That one by one pursue; if you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forth-right,
Like to an entered tide, they all rush by,
And leave

you hindmost
Or, like a gallant horse fall’n in first rank,
O’errun and trampled on : then what they do in present,
Tho' less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours :
For Time is like a fashionable host,
That slightly shakes his parting guest by th' hand,
And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly,
Grasps in the comer : the Welcome ever smiles,
And Farewell goes out sighing. O, let not virtue seek
Remuneration for the thing it was; for beauty, wit,
High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service,
Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumniating time:
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
That all, with one consent, praise new born gauds,
Tho' they are made and moulded of things past.
The present eye praises the present object.
Then marvel not, thou great and complete man,
That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax;
Since things in motion sooper catch the eye,
Than what not stirs. The cry went out on thee,
And still it might, and yet it may again,
If thou would'st not entomb thyself alive,
And case thy reputation in thy tent."-

[ocr errors]

The throng of images in the above lines is prodigious; and though they sometimes jostle against one another, they every where raise and carry on the feeling, which is metaphysically true and profound. The debates between the Trojan chiefs on the restoring of Helen are full of knowledge of human motives and character. Troilus enters well into the philosophy of war, when he says in answer to something that falls from Hector,

“ Why there you touch'd the life of our desigo :
Were it not glory that we more affected,
Than the performance of our heaving spleens,
I would not wish a drop of Trojan blood
Spent more in her defence. But, worthy Hector,
She is a theme of honour and renown,
A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds."


The character of Hector, in the few slight indications which appear of it, is made very amiable. His death is sublime, and shews in a striking light the mixture of barbarity and heroism of the age. The threats of Achilles are fatal; they carry their own means of execution with them.

“Come here about me, you, ny Myrmidons,
Mark what I say.-Attend me where I wheel :
Strike not a stroke, but keep yourselves in breath ;
And when I have the bloody Hector found,
Empale him with your weapons round about :
In fellest manner execute your arms.
Follow me, sirs, and my proceeding eye."

[ocr errors]

He then finds Hector and slays him, as if he had been hunting down a wild beast. There is something revolting as well as terrifick in the ferocious coolness with wbich he singles out his prey: nor does the splendour of the achievement reconcile us to the cruelty of the meang.

The characters of Cressida and Pandarus are very amusing and instructive. The disinterested willingness of Pandarus to serve his friend in an affair which lies next his heart is immediately brought forward. “ Go thy way, Troilus, go thy way; had I a sister were a Grace, or a daughter were a Goddess, he should take bis choice. O admirable man! Paris, Paris is dirt to him, and I warrant Helen, to change, would give money to boot.” This is the language he addresses to his piece: nor is she much behindhand in coming into the plot. Her head is as light and fluttering as her heart. “It is the prettiest villain, she fetches her breath so short as a new ta'en sparrow.” Both characters are originals, and quite different from what they are in Chaucer. In Chaucer, Cressida is represented as a grave, sober, considerate personage, (a widow-he cannot tell her age, por whether she has children or no) who has an alternate eye to her character, her interest, and her pleasure : Sbakspeare's Cressida is a giddy girl, an unpractised jilt, who falls in love with Troilus, as she afterwards deserts him, from mere levity and thoughtlessness of temper. She may be wooed and won to any thing and from any thing, at a moment's warning: the other koows very well what she would be at, and sticks to it, and is more governed by substantial reasons than by caprice or vanity. Pandarus again, in Chaucer's story, is a friendly sort of gobetween, tolerably busy, officious, and forward in bringing matters to bear: but in Shakspeare be has

a stamp exclusive and professional :" he wears the badge of his trade; he is a regular knight of the game. The difference of the manner in which the subject is treated arises perhaps less from intention, than from the different genius of the two poets. There is no double entendre in the characters of Chaucer: they are either quite serious or quite comick. In Shakspeare the ludicrous and ironical are constantly blended with the stately and the impassioned. We see Chaucer's characters as they saw themselves, not as they appeared to others or might have appeared to the poet. He is as deeply implicated in the affairs of his personages as they could be themselves. He had to go a long journey with each of them, and became a kind of necessary confidant. There is little relief, or light and shade in his pictures. The conscious smile is not seen lurking under the brow of grief or impatience. Every thing with him is intense and continuous--a working out of what went before.-Shakspeare never committed himself to his characters. He trifled, laughed, or wept with them as he chose. He has no prejudices for or against them; and it seems a matter of perfect indifference whether he shall be in jest or earnest. According to him “the web of our lives is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” His genius was dramatick, as Chaucer's was historical. He saw both sides of a question, the different views taken of it according to the different interests of the parties concerned, and he was at once an actor and spectator in the scene.

If any thing, he is too various and flexible ; too full of transitions, of glancing lights, of

« VorigeDoorgaan »