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As the merits of the general towards his fellow-citizens suppose more strength of character than those of the generous prodigal, their respective behaviours are no less different: Timon frets himself to death; Alcibiades regains his lost dignity by violence. If the poet very properly sides with Timon against the common practice of the world, he is, on the other hand, by no means disposed to spare Timon. Timon was a fool in his generosity; he is a madman in his discontent; he is every where wanting in the wisdom which enables man in all things to observe the due measure. Although the truth of his extravagant feelings is proved by his death, and though when he digs up a treasure he spurns at the wealth which seems to solicit him, we yet see distinctly enough that the vanity of wishing to be singular, in both parts of the plays, had some share in his liberal self-forgetfulness, as well as his anchoretical seclusion. This is particularly evident in the incomparable scene where the cynic Apemantus visits Timon in the wilderness. They have a sort of competition with each other in their trade of misanthropy: the cynic reproaches the impoverished Timon with having been merely driven by necessity to take to the way of living which he had been long following of his free choice, and Timon cannot bear the thought of being merely an imitator of the cynic. As in this subject the effect could only be produced by an accumulation of similar features, in the variety of the shades an amazing degree of understanding has been displayed by Shakspeare. What a powerfully. diversified concert of flatteries and empty testimonies of devotedness! It is highly amusing to see the suitors, whom the ruined circumstances of their patron had dispersed, immediately flock to him again when they learn that he had been revisited by fortune. In the speeches of Timon, after he is undeceived, all the hostile figures of language are exhausted,—it is a dictionary of eloquent imprecations *."
and Timandra are not in the train of Timon, but of Alcibiades. He is not so desirous of being distinguished for magnificence, as of being eminent for courteous and beneficent actions: he solicits distinction, but it is by doing good.' Johnson has remarked that the attachment of his servants in his declining fortunes could be produced by nothing but real virtue and disinterested kindness. I cannot therefore think that Shakspeare meant to stigmatize the generosity of Timon as that of a fool, or that he meant his misanthropy to convey to us any notion of the vanity of wishing to be singular.'
TIMON, a noble Athenian.
Lords, and Flatterers of Timon.
VENTIDIUS, one of Timon's false Friends.
APEMANTUS, a churlish Philosopher.
ALCIBIADES, an Athenian General.
FLAVIUS, Steward to Timon.
Two Servants of Varro, and the Servant of Isidore; two of Timon's Creditors.
CUPID and Maskers. Three Strangers.
Mistresses to Alcibiades.
Other Lords, Senators, Officers, Soldiers, Thieves, and
SCENE-Athens; and the Woods adjoining.
TIMON OF ATHENS.
SCENE, I. Athens. A Hall in Timon's House.
Enter Poet, Painter, Jeweller, Merchant, and Others, at several Doors.
GOOD day, sir.
I am glad you are well1.
Poet. I have not seen you long; How goes the
Pain. It wears, sir, as it
Poet. Ay, that's well known: But what particular rarity? what strange, Which manifold record not matches?? See, Magick of bounty! all these spirits thy power Hath conjur❜d to attend. I know the merchant. Pain. I know them both; t'other's a jeweller. Mer. O, 'tis a worthy lord!
1 It would be less abrupt and more metrical to begin the play thus:
'Poet. Good day, sir.
Pain. Good sir, I'm glad you're well.'
2 The Poet merely means to ask if any thing extraordinary or out of the common course of things has lately happened; and is prevented from waiting for an answer by observing so many conjured by Timon's bounty to attend.
Nay, that's most fix'd.
Mer. A most incomparable man; breath'd, as it
To an untirable and continuate goodness:
I have a jewel here.
Mer. O, pray, let's see't: For the Lord Timon, sir? Jew. If he will touch the estimate: But, for that
Poet5. When we for recompense have prais'd the
It stains the glory in that happy verse
Which aptly sings the good.
'Tis a good form.
Jew. And rich: here is a water, look you.
Pain. You are rapt, sir, in some work, some dedication
From whence 'tis nourished: The fire i' the flint
Breath'd is exercised, inured by constant practice, so trained as not to be wearied. To breathe a horse is to exercise him for the course: continuate for continued course. He passes, i.e. exceeds or goes beyond common bounds.
4 Touch the estimate, that is, come up to the price.
5 We must here suppose the poet busy in reciting part of his own work; and that these three lines are the introduction of the poem addressed to Timon.
6 The old copies read :
Our poesie is a gowne which uses.'
Provokes itself, and, like the current, flies
Poet. Upon the heels of my presentment, sir. Let's see your piece.
'Tis a good piece.
Poet. So 'tis: this comes off well 9 and excellent. Pain. Indifferent.
Admirable: How this grace Speaks his own standing 10! what a mental power This eye shoots forth! how big imagination Moves in this lip! to the dumbness of the gesture One might interpret 11.
Pain. It is a pretty mocking of the life. Here is a touch; Is't good?
I'll say of it,
It tutors nature: artificial strife 12
Lives in these touches, livelier than life.
7 It is not certain whether this word is chafes or chases in the folio. I think the former is the true reading. The poetaster means that the vein of a poet flows spontaneously, like the current of a river, and flies from each bound that chafes it in its course, as scorning all impediment, and requiring no excitement. In Julius Cæsar we have :
'The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores.'
8 i. e. as soon as my book has been presented to Timon.
9 This comes off well apparently means this is cleverly done, or this piece is well executed. The phrase is used in Measure for Measure ironically. See vol ii. p. 23, note 12.
10 How the graceful attitude of this figure proclaims that it stands firm on its centre, or gives evidence in favour of its own fixure. Grace is introduced as bearing witness to propriety.
11 One might venture to supply words to such intelligible action. Such significant gesture ascertains the sentiments that should accompany it. So in Cymbeline, Act ii. Sc. 4:
never saw I pictures
So likely to report themselves.'
12 i. e. the contest of art with nature. This was a very common mode of expressing the excellence of a painter. Shakspeare has it again more clearly expressed in his Venus and Adonis:His art with nature's workmanship at strife.'