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GENIUS OF SHAKESPEARE,
In writing the following essay on the genius of our immortal bard, I dare say I shall meet some readers who will tell me that I have been pervaded too much with those kind of favourable ideas which look on the works of such a poet as faultless. Minds uninfluenced by the melody of poetry, (melody too such as his) and uncaptivated by the charms which his scenes present, will necessarily agree in thinking, that my admiration is somewhat too warm, and my eulogy too high. To such readers, I own I should feel but little pleasure in addressing myself. I blame them not, however. Business, and a thousand other avoactions must, necessarily, prevent their having
either time or inclination to look into his works, or admire his beauties. Interest in them they cannot take-then why should they in his praise ; however, if apology is necessary to severer critics or duller minds, I must only say, that somewhat of warmth and eulogy must be allowed when writing on such a theme as the praise of Shakespeare.
I am blamed, perhaps, by many as one who is led away, by too delightedly listening to the tones of a harp, struck by such a mighty master as Shakespeare. The melody has been flung too harmoniously on my ear, and the breathings of its chords has been thrown too hurriedly on a mind, perhaps too sensible to the beauty which rings from it, and the sweetness which pervades it. To this charge I own. Perhaps I am too fond both of him and the temple where he is worshipped. Sincerity though I claim.
His worshipper is not a cold one; and if I am lavish in my praises of him, I feel convinced they are deserved.
I address myself then to those who can take an interest in subjects such as the present. If any should find fault with it, who do not exactly belong to this class, their censure, I should imagine, would be unfair. Like the laws of my country, I
claim a right to be tried by my peers, and though I have no doubt that many will be willing enough to blame me, I yet shall not much heed their opinion, unless it has judgment to give it weight. To legitimate critics I commit myself. I cannot say that I will claim much merit for writing on the genius of Shakespeare. It is a subject fertile in itself, and abundant and sufficient for him who would draw materials from it. Many have spoken of it, but it yet remains a fund rich and inexhausted, from which the sons of genius can yet draw themes to hand down to latest ages. Though I readily admit that the subject has been most ably handled before, yet I may, in some measure, skreen myself from the charge of temerity, in writing on what such able critics have gone through, by remarking, that the perusal of the plays of this master have been a source of the most infinite delight to me.
Thus would I endeavour to do away the idea that I am wrong in speaking on a subject, which has been so often and so critically passed over. It is yet though inexhausted. It is a path and a region of sweets. Flowers spring around you at every turn, scattered by that hand, whose touch has thrilled on the high harp of poetry, and whose fingers leave on them the sweetness which they for ever will breathe of. The laurel here blooms fresh and fair-blooms brightest too; for Shakespeare hallows its soil. To pluck a branch I will dare. My merit, I own, may not be equivalent to the boldness of the attempt, but the theme of Shakespeare's praise is fertile in itself; it can enlarge and invigorate the most torpid mind, and even on the leaden gravity of dulness, can bind the airy wing of fancy.
Above all those poets who have, in any age or nation shed a lustre on mankind, Shakespeare stands unrivalled in the power of painting with the energy and fidelity of truth and nature ; his pictures live before you; they strike at once on the heart, enter into all its feelings, and enchain all its attentions. Let the eye throw but a cursory glance on them, 'tis irresistibly impelled to fix its most earnest gaze. While engaged in his scenes, you think no longer of him who writes, but of those who act and speak; you weep for their distresses, and rejoice at their happiness; you follow them through all the variety of their fortunes, and sympathize in all their feelings; you watch over them with anxious solicitude for their welfare when good, and burn against them with indignation and hatred when bad. Whence does this proceed? Why is it that his representations thus seem realities, and that they find their way at once to the heart, with such immediate and resistless force? Whence is it, that while the works of other poets are at once overwhelmed beneath the ocean of time, or at best feebly resist the gulphs of oblivion, the blasts of prejudice, or the rocks of criticism; that those of Shakespeare still bear up triumphant and unimpaired? Tis because he wrote from the inspiration of nature herself; 'tis because she filled his whole soul, and made it her temple to dwell in. She guided every idea, warmed and perfected every description, and fired every effusion and passion. She made him acquainted with all her wide extended kingdom, laid before him all its various views, led him through every path, and to every hidden recess; displayed to him the gardens of her roses and flowers, and made him copy the loveliest scenes of hill and dale, of beauteous skies, of gloomy forests, and stupendous rocks, and lay them before the charmed and ravished eye of man! She showed to him the ample and irregular province of the human heart; gave him to trace with penetrative sagacity through all its mazy windings, and look through its most secret ways; and as his eye glowed from the view, she commanded him to stamp each living image that he drew, with the