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sets before us a picture of human thought and action, as they appear to the eye of MAN. The object seen is the same, but in the one case it is contemplated from heaven, and in the other from the earth. Yet be it remembered, that though the poet stands on the earth, and has only the eye of a man, it is an eye which the heaven-born light of genius has cleared from earthly mists, and made so strong and piercing that it can see into the life of things.' This is the prerogative of the poet, and therefore chiefly of Shakspeare, the chief of poets, that he first sees things as they essentially are, penetrating to their very springs and sources of life and action, and then can so picture them as that they shall be plainly intelligible to common men, who could never have discovered them for themselves. As Ben Jonson says

Yet must I not give nature all; thy art,
My gentle Shakspeare, must enjoy a part;
For though the Poet's matter nature be,
His art doth give the fashion.-

Look how the father's face
Lives in his issue; even so the race

Of Shakspeare's mind and manners brightly shines

In his well-torned and true-filed lines;

In each of which he seems to shake a lance,

As brandished at the eyes of ignorance.

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And the like idea is finely expressed in those commendatory verses On worthy Master Shakspeare and his Poems, by the friendly admirer of his endowments,' happily conjectured to be Milton: I will only remind the reader of them, as they are too long to transfer to these pages.

They reverenced the majesty of Shakspeare's genius more, and therefore appreciated him better, then, than they did in the next age, when a comparatively blind feeling of his greatness began to take the place of an open insight into that greatness. Yet, if we are again beginning in the present day to feel a more cordial sympathy with the former than with the latter critics, let us not be so unjust to these, or so blind to the real progress of the

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY COMMENTATORS.

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world and of knowledge, as to fail to recognise the very great merits of even the cold, prosaic commentators of the 18th century. In religion, in politics, in poetry, in philosophy, in every branch of literature and art, we feel that there was a chilling ungenial spirit during that period; yet everywhere we had great men-men who have done for their country, and the world, a work that had not been done before, and which will remain a worthy as well as a lasting possession, to us and our children. And the commentators on Shakspeare are no exception: they show themselves thorough men of their age; but however much we may differ from their criticisms in some details or even principles, how can we cant about reverence, and yet speak slightingly of such men as Warburton, Johnson, Malone, Steevens, and a host of others of less note. I cannot look at the infinite, though mistaken, ingenuity which Warburton shows in his persevering efforts to discover in Shakspeare that classical character which his own learned education made him esteem the only worthy one; at the weighty sense and sturdy morality of Johnson's running commentary; or at the laborious learning of a life so cordially bestowed by Malone and Steevens on their author, without being constrained to admit that they not only loved and honoured the Poet, to whose service they devoted themselves, but that they also did to a great degree enter into his meaning. It must be allowed that they criticised and emended sundry imaginary defects and faults in a way which, to us who have been taught better, seems very irreverent, as well as absurd but while we have learnt to avoid many errors which they fell into, we must never forget that there is much wisdom which can be gained only by a previous series of blunders— that in the great onward march there are many jungles and hills to be cut down by pioneers, who, from their very position, can see but a little way before them-and that it is because these men erred, that we are able to go right,

while our comprehensive views have been opened out by the learned labour which they applied to details. "I know not," says Dr. Johnson, in a note to Hamlet, "why our editors should, with such implacable anger persecute their predecessors. Οἱ νεκροὶ μὴ δάκνουσιν, the dead, it is true, can make no resistance—they may be attacked, with great security; but since they can neither feel nor mend, the safety of mauling them seems greater than the pleasure; nor perhaps would it much misbeseem us to remember, amidst our triumphs over the nonsensical and senseless, that we likewise are men; that debemur morti; and, as Swift observed to Burnet, shall soon be among the dead ourselves." They who are more ready to sneer at their old blackletter-loving predecessors than to acknowledge their debts to them, are yet obliged in fact to derive nine-tenths of their explanations and illustrations of obscure passages from these writers; and what trash our philosophical criticisms become unless accompanied by these literal and historical ones, we have plenty of proof in the superficial, washy, comments upon Shakspeare which are deluging us in the present day, whether condensed from the vapours of our own cloudy brains, or those of our neighbours in Germany. They who would find out the philosophy-the IDEA-of Shakspeare's plays, must seek it in the way in which Guizot tells us we can alone hope to discover the philosophy of history-by the prolonged and accurate investigation of facts. And among the chief of these facts, within which (like kernels in their shells) lie the germs of the philosophy of Shakspeare's plays, are, the text with its various readings; the romances or other books which supplied the materials of the plots; the cotemporary events acting on the poet's mind while he wrote; and the cotemporary literature which shows the thoughts and feelings, the habits and manners, of the age in which he lived, and how far these

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modified, and how far they were made to subserve, the purposes of that genius which was "not for an age, but for all time." And for the investigation of all these points, the commentators of the last century give facilities for which there is no substitute. Important additions are making, and doubtless will be made, to their work, but nothing can ever supersede it. If we are to have a commentator at once worthy of Shakspeare, and suited to the wants of our own day, he must be one who can bring forth things old, as well as new, from his well-furnished stores; who can unite the philosophy of Coleridge with the learning of Malone, Steevens, and Farmer; who, rising from their solid ground of facts, can soar above the region of mists and clouds, however shaped and gilded, into that clear light of reason, that heaven of ideas, which seems to have been Coleridge's proper home. I say COLERIDGE, because his criticisms on Shakspeare are so immeasurably more profound than those of Schlegel or Goethe, or other writers of less note who have adopted the same method, or at least manner, of considering Shakspeare, that I cannot but be persuaded that he is our true guide in the study of Shakspeare,-or (that I may neither seem to contradict myself, nor to forget the fragmentary character of those too few and imperfect notes in his Literary Remains) that he is the true guide for him who would qualify himself to be our guide, and to give us the commentary we need

While men wait in hope of such a commentator, each of us is gathering more or less of the meaning of Shakspeare for himself, as he best can: and he who can help his neighbour, by telling him what he has found and where, though it be only in the imperfect fashion of the following pages, may not be without his use. And after all, let us return to where we set out from, and assert that, above and beyond all his commentators, it is Shakspeare himself that we must study; and that, because he

is the most human of writers, and opens more deeply than any other the sources of human thought and life, the humblest of us may read him, saying, Homo sum, nil humani a me alienum puto-or, in the words of our own Spenser,

By infusion sweete

Of thine own spirit, which doth in me survive,

I follow here the footing of thy feete,

That with thy meaning so I may the rather meete.

II.—What is a Play? Upon what principles must it be constructed? In what way do we find Shakspeare actually constructing his Plays?

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Poetry,' says a great writer, 'were it the rudest, so it be sincere, is the attempt, which man makes to render his existence harmonious.' We see this most plainly in the earliest and simplest form of poetry, the Lyrical. All odes, ballads, hymns, songs, of whatever kind, not only take for their subject, but originally spring out of, some vehement passion or struggle of men's hearts, which demands to be at once expressed and soothed to rest by the charm of music, and which finds the charm most powerful when it is that of the music of thoughts and words, and not only of sweet sounds. At first, no doubt, the musical instrument, or at least the tuneful voice, always accompanied the words of the bard while the feet kept time to both; though afterwards, the rythm and measure of the words came to be looked upon as sufficiently melodious without the help of the actual lyre and dance, though the former of these was retained long after the latter. For verse is itself a kind of music, and satisfies the sense of harmony, which no prose or unmeasured words can do, whatever it may be the fashion now-a-days to say about its being just as possible and as proper to write poetry without, as with, verse. And when we have simply the verse without the musical instrument, the thoughts and feelings of the poetry become more prominent, and that which would otherwise be mainly a

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