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have with any member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and would by no means assist to deliver the one into the hands of the other. Those who cannot be persuaded to draw a veil over the foibles of ideal characters, may be suspected of wearing a mask over their own | Again, in point of understanding and attainments, Shallow sinks low enough; and yet his cousin Silence is a foil to him; he is the shadow of a shade, glimmers on the very verge of downright imbecility, and totters on the brink of nothing. “He has been merry twice and once ere now,” and is hardly persuaded to break his silence in a song. Shallow has “heard the chimes at midnight,” and roared out glees and catches at taverns and inns of court, when he was young. So, at least, he tells his cousin Silence, and Falstaff encourages the lostiness of his pretensions. Shallow would be thought a great man among his dependents and followers; Silence is nobody—not even in his own opinion; yet he sits in the orchard, and eats his carraways and pippins among the rest. Shakspeare takes up the meanest subjects with the same tenderness that we do an insect's wing, and would not kill a fly. To give a more particular instance of what I mean, I will take the inimitable and affecting, though most absurd and ludicrous dialogue, between Shallow and Silence, on the death of old Double.
“Shallow. Come on, come on, come on; give me your hand, sir; give me your hand, sir; an early stirrer, by the rood. And how doth my good cousin Silence 2 Silence. Good morrow, good cousin Shallow. Shallow. And how doth my cousin, your bedfellow 3 and your fairest daughter, and mine, my god-daughter Ellen 7 Silence. Alas, a black ouzel, cousin Shallow. Shallow. By yea and nay, sir; I dare say, my cousin William is become a good scholar: he is at Oxford still, is he not ? Silence. Indeed, sir, to my cost. Shallow. He must then to the inns of court shortly. I was once of Clement's inn; where, I think, they will talk of mad Shallow yet. Silence. You were called lusty Shallow then, cousin. Shallow. I was called anything, and I would have done anything indeed, and roundly too. There was I, and little John Doit, of Staffordshire, and black George Bare, and Francis Pickbone, and Will Squele, a Cotlswold man, you had not four such swinge-bucklers in all the inns of court again; and, I may say to you, we knew where the bonarobas were, and had the best of them all at commandment. Then was Jack Falstaff, now Sir John, a boy, and page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Silence. This Sir John, cousin, that comes hither anon about soldiers ? Shallow. The same Sir John, the very same: I saw him break Schoggan's head at the court-gate, when he was a crack, not thus high; and the very same day did I fight with one Sampson Stockfish, a fruiterer, behind Gray's inn. O, the mad days that I have spent and to see how many of mine old acquaintances are dead! Silence. We shall all follow, cousin. Sia'lour. Certain, 'tis certain, very sure, very sure: death (as the Psalmist saith) is certain to all, all shall die—How a good yoke of bullocks at Stamford fair 3 Silence. Truly, cousin, I was not there. Shallow". Death is certain. Is old Double of your town living yet? Silence. Dead, Sir. Shallow. Dead! see, see! he drew a good bow; and dead? he shot a fine shoot. John of Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on his head. Dead! he would have clapped i' th' clout at twelve score; and carried you a forehand shaft a fourteen and a half, that it would have done a man's heart good to see.—How a score of ewes now? Silence. Thereafter as they be; a score of good ewes may be worth ten pounds. Shallow. And is old Double dead?”
There is not anything more characteristic than this in all Shakspeare. A finer sermon on mortality was never preached. We see the frail condition of human life, and the weakness of the human understanding in Shallow's reflections on it; who, while the past is sliding from beneath his feet, still clings to the present. The meanest circumstances are shown through an atmosphere of abstraction that dignifies them; their very insignificance makes them more affecting, for they instantly put a check on our aspiring thoughts, and remind us that, seen through that dim perspective, the difference between the great and little, the wise and foolish, is not much. “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin:” and old Double, though his exploits had been greater, could but have had his day. There is a pathetic naireté mixed up with Shallow's common-place reflections and impertinent digressions. The reader laughs (as well he may) in reading the passage, but he lays down the book to think. The wit, however diverting, is social and humane. But this is not the distinguishing characteristic of wit, which is generally provoked by folly, and spends its venom upon vice. The fault, then, of Shakspeare's comic Muse is, in my opinion, that it is too good-natured and magnanimous. It mounts above its quarry. It is “apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes:” but it does not take the highest pleasure in making human nature look as mean, as ridiculous, and contemptible as possible. It is in this respect, chiefly, that it differs from the comedy of a later, and (what is called) a more refined period. Genteel comedy is the comedy of fash. ionable life, and of artificial character and manners. The most pungent ridicule is that which is directed to mortify vanity, and to expose affectation; but vanity and affectation, in their most exorbitant and studied excesses, are the ruling principles of society, only in a highly advanced state of civilization and manners. Man can hardly be said to be a truly contemptible animal, till, from the facilities of general intercourse, and the progress of example and opinion, he becomes the ape of the extravagances of other men. The keenest edge of satire is required to distinguish between the true and false pretensions to taste and elegance; its lash is laid on with the utmost severity, to drive before it the common herd of knaves and fools, not to lacerate and terrify the single stragglers. In a word, it is when folly is epidemic, and vice worn as a mark of distinction, that all the malice of wit and humour is called out and justified to detect the imposture, and prevent the contagion from spreading. The fools in Wycherley and Congreve are of their own, or one another's making, and deserve to be well scourged into common sense and decency: the fools in Shakspeare are of his own or nature's making; and it would be unfair to probe to the quick, or hold up to unqualified derision, the faults which are involuntary and incorrigible, or those which you yourself encourage and exaggerate, from the pleasure you take in witnessing them. Our later comic writers represent a state of manners, in which to be a man of wit and pleasure about town was become the fashion, and in which the swarms of egregious pretenders in both kinds openly kept one another in countenance, and were become a public nuisance. Shakspeare, living in ".
Lecture m.) ON SHAKSPEARE AND BEN JONSON. 39
state of greater rudeness and simplicity, chiefly gave certain characters which were a kind of grotesques, or solitary excrescences growing up out of their native soil without affectation, and which he undertook kindly to pamper for the public entertainment. For instance, Sir Andrew Aguecheek is evidently a creature of the poet's own fancy. The author lends occasion to his absurdity to show itself as much as he pleases, devises antics for him which would not enter into his own head, makes him “go to church in a galliard, and return home in a coranto;” adds fuel to his folly, or throws cold water on his courage; makes his puny extravagance venture out or slink into corners without asking his leave; encourages them into indiscreet luxuriance, or checks them in the bud, just as it suits him for the jest's sake. The gratification of the fancy, “and furnishing matter for innocent mirth,” are, therefore, the chief object of this and other characters like it, rather than reforming the moral sense, or indulging our personal spleen. But Tattle and Sparkish, who are fops cast not in the mould of fancy, but of fashion, who have a tribe of forerunners and followers, who catch certain diseases of the mind on purpose to communicate the infection, and are screened in their preposterous eccentricities by their own conceit and by the world's opinion, are entitled to no quarter, and receive none. They think themselves objects of envy and admiration, and on that account are doubly objects of our contempt and ridicule.—We find that the scenes of Shakspeare's comedies are mostly laid in the country, or are transferable there at pleasure. The genteel comedy exists only in towns, and crowds of borrowed characters, who copy others as the satirist copies them, and who are only seen to be despised. “All beyond Hyde Park is a desert” to it: while there the pastoral and poetic comedy begins to vegetate and flourish, unpruned, idle, and fantastic. It is hard to “lay waste a country gentleman" in a state of nature, whose humours may have run a little wild or to seed, or to lay violent hands on a young booby 'squire, whose absurdities have not yet arrived at years of discretion: but my Lord Foppington, who is “the prince of coxcombs.” and “proud of being at the head of so prevailing a party,” deserves his fate. I am not for going so far as to pronounce Shakspeare's “manners damnable, because he had not seen the court;” but I think that comedy does not find its richest harvest till individual infirmities have passed into general manners, and it is the example of courts, chiefly, that stamps folly with credit and currency, or glosses over vice with meretricious lustre. I conceive, therefore, that the golden period of our comedy was just after the age of Charles II, when the town first became tainted with the affectation of the manners and conversation of fashionable life, and before the distinction between rusticity and elegance, art and nature, was lost (as it afterwards was) in a general diffusion of knowledge, and the reciprocal advantages of civil intercourse. It is to be remarked, that the union of the three gradations of artificial elegance and courtly accomplishments in one class, of the affectation of them in another, and of absolute rusticity in a third, forms the highest point of perfection of the comedies of this period, as we may see in Vanbrugh's Lord Foppington, Sir Tunbelly Clumsy, and Miss Hoyden; Lady Townly, Count Basset, and John Moody; in Congreve's Millamant, Lady Wishfort, Witwoud, Sir Wilsul Witwoud, and the rest. In another point of view, or with respect to that part of comedy which relates to gallantry and intrigue, the difference between Shakspeare's comic heroines and those of a later period may be referred to the same distinction between natural and artificial life, between the world of fancy and the world of fashion. The refinements of romantic passion arise out of the imagination brooding over “airy nothing,” or over a favourite object, where “love's golden shaft hath killed the flock of all affections else:” whereas the refinements of this passion in genteel comedy, or in every-day life, may be said to arise out of repeated observation and experience, diverting and frittering away the first impressions of things by a multiplicity of objects, and producing, not enthusiasm, but fastidiousness or giddy dissipation. For the one a comparatively rude age and strong feelings are best fitted; for “there the mind must minister to itself:” to the other, the progress of society and a knowledge of the world are essential; for here the effect does not depend on leaving the mind concentred in itself, but on the wear and tear of the heart, amidst the