Page images
PDF
EPUB

Wordsworth, who, in his Ode on the Progress of Human Life, has introduced the platonic notion of a pre-existent state.

He takes considerable pains to instruct that gentleman that, in point of fact, there is no such state, and that therefore to talk about it in poetry is - idle.' It is well that he did not take Shakspeare to task for a similar mistake, derived from the same source.

where, in the Merchant of Venice, he alludes to the music of the spheres. Mr. Hazlitt, we have no doubt, could have informed the

poet

that after a diligent perusal of Sir John Hawkins's History, he could not discover that there was any such music.

His observations on King Lear commence with an acknowledgment remarkable for its naiveté and its truth. With a wider application, it might have served as an introduction to his whole work, but could never have found a more appropriate situation than where he has placed it.

' To attempt to give a description of the play itself, or of its effect upon the mind, is mere impertinence : yet we must say something.'

P. 153.

Having satisfied himself that it was necessary he should say something where he had nothing to say, (though whence this necessity arose we know not,) and given the reader fair warning that it would be very absurd, he proceeds to fulfil his promise. It is then the best of all Shakespear's plays, for it is the one in which he was most in earnest;' (Macbeth and Othello were mere jeux d'esprit

, we presume ;) he was here fairly caught in the web of his own imagination. The character of the aged king is then illustrated by a string of similes which have as little resemblance to Lear as they have to one another.

• The mind of Lear, staggering between the weight of attachment and the hurried movements of passion, is like a tall ship driven about by the winds, buffetted by the furious waves, but that still rides above the storm, having its anchor fixed in the bottom of the sea; or it is like the sharp rock circled by the eddying whirlpool that foams and beats against it; or like the solid promontory pushed from its basis by the force of an earthquake.'--p. 154. and very like a whale, he might have added.

Having pointed out the deliberate hypocrisy of Regan and Gonerill, he subjoins, it is the absence of this detestable quality that is the only relief in the character of Edmund the bastard? Had he not sat dowu with a declared determination to write nousense, we might have been tempted from this passage to pay him the compliment of believing that he had not read the play. We question if, in the whole range of the drama, hypocrisy is more strongly marked than in this very character. He tells us himself that his practices ride easy upon the credulous Gloster and the

noble

noble Edgar; he is a hypocrite to his father, a hypocrite to his brother, and by his hypocrisy towards Gonerill and Regan outwits them both.

We are almost weary of Mr. Hazlitt, and, in truth, he seems to be somewhat tired himself; he has run through his set of phrases, such as, Shakspeare'is caught in the web of his own imagination; Northumberland is caught in the web of his own dilatory policy;' Hamlet . is the prince of philosophical speculators ;' Jaques the prince of philosophical idlers: and is completely at a stand. In what remains he is simply dull. In the Merchant of Venice indeed we have a laboured paradox in defence of the character of Shylock, who, he says, is a half favourite with the philosophical part of the audience; but his kindness for the Jew is balanced by his dislike to other persons in the drama. Portia is no great favourite' with him; he is not in love with her maid Nerissa ;. and he objects entirely' to a personage of whom we never heard before, the black prince Marocchius. With this piece of blundering ignorance which, with a thousand similar instances of his intimate acquaintance with the poet, clearly prove that his enthusiasm for Shakspeare is all affected, we conclude what we have to say of his folly: it remains to say a few words of his mischief. When he quotes the description of Imogen,

On her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted like the crimson drops

l'the bottom of a cowslip;' he observes there is a moral sense in the proud beauty of this last image.' We were at first disposed to think there was something whimsical in this choice of an epithet, but as we came to know him better we found that he never uses the word ' moral in its usual acceptation, but adapts it to his own way of thinking, in which he endeavours to make Shakspeare coincide.

• Shakespear was in one sense the least moral of all writers ; for morality (commonly so called) is made up of antipathies; and his talent consisted in sympathy with human nature, in all its shapes, degrees, depressions, and elevations. The object of the pedantic moralist is to find out the bad in every thing: his was to shew that " there is some soul of goodness in things evil.”—In one sense, Shakespear was no moralist at all : in another, he was the greatest of all moralists. He was a moralist in the same sense in which nature is one.

He taught what he had learnt from her. He shewed the greatest knowledge of humanity with the greatest fellow-feeling for it.'-pp. 322, 323. Mr. Hazlitt's notions of natural morality may be gathered from a passage immediately preceding. We do not see why the philosophical German writer Schlegel should be so severe on those pleasant persons Lucius Pompey and Master Froth as to call them wretches. They appear all mighty comfortable. in their occupations, and determined to pursue them “ as the flesh and fortune should serve;"' and, in the same spirit, he praises Pandarus for his disinterested willingness to serve his friend.'

In one respect Mr. Hazlitt is on very bad terms with our great poet, whose genuine English sentiments are extremely repulsive to his feelings. Shakspeare was a patriot in the old and genuine sense of the word; Mr. Hazlitt is one according to the new nomenclature, in which it signifies one who is not a friend to his country. The speech of John of Gaunt, in praise of England, he allows to be eloquent, but we should perhaps hardly be disposed to feed the pampered egotism of our countrymen by quoting his description, were it not' (adds this poor cankered creature) that the conclusion of it, which looks prophetic, may qualify any improper degree of exultation. The mention of a king or court always throws bim into a fit of raviny.

It has been said of Shakespear--" No maid could live near such a man.” It might with as good reason be said.“ No king could live near such a man.” His eye would have penetrated through the ponip of circumstance and the veil of opinion. As it is, he has represented such persons to the life---his plays are in this respect the glass of history - he has done them the same justice as if he had been a privy counsellor all his life, and in each successive reign. Kings ought never to be seen upon the stage. In the abstract, they are very disagreeable characters: it is only while living that they are “ the best of kings." It is their power, their splendour, it is the apprehension of the personal consequences of their favour or their hatred, that dazzles the imagination and suspends the judgment of their favourites or their vassals; but death cancels the bond of allegiance and of interest; and seen as they were, their

power and their pretensions look monstrous and ridiculous. The charge brought against modern philosophy as inimical to loyalty is unjust, because it might as well be brought against other things. No reader of history can be a lover of kings. We have often wondered that Henry VIII. as he is drawn by Shakespear, and as we have seen bim represented in all the bloated deformity of mind and person, is not hooted from the English stage.'-pp. 241, 242. We need not answer this gabble; Mr. Hazlitt has done it himself. In his remarks upon Coriolanus, which contain the concentrated venom of his malignity, he has libelled our great poet as a friend of arbitrary power, in order that be may introduce an invective against human nature.

Shakespear himself seems to have had a leaning to the arbitrary side of the question, perhaps from some feeling of contempt for his own origin; and to have spared no occasion of baiting the rabble.'-p. 69.

Shall we not be dishonouring the gentle Shakspeare by answering such calumny, when every page of his works supplies its refutation? Who has painted with more cordial feelings the tranquil innocence of bumble life? Who has furnished more instructive lessons to

the

the great upon the insolence of office'— the oppressors wrong'or the abuses of brief authority;' or who has more severely stigmatised those who crook the pregnant hinges of the knee, where thrift may follow fawning? It is true he was not actuated by an envious hatred of greatness; he was not at all likely, had he lived in our time, to be an orator in Spa-tields, or the editor of a seditious Sunday newspaper; he knew what discord would follow if degree were taken away ; and therefore, with the wise and good of every age, he pointed out the injuries that must arise to society frem a turbulent rabble instigated to mischief by men not much more enlightened, aud intinitely more worthless than themselves.

But it was not Shakspeare alone that was disposed to favour arbitrary power; it is the general tendency of poetry to encourage such feelings.

• The principle of poetry is a very anti-levelling principle. It shews its head turreited, crowned, and crested. Its front is gilt and bloodstained. Before it “it carries noise, and behind it tears.” It has its altars and its victims, sacrifices, human sacrifices. Kings, priests, nobles, are its train-bearers, tyrants and slaves its executioners.—" Carnage is its daughter.”—Poetry is right royal. It puts the individual for the species, the one above the infinite many, might before right. A lion hunting a flock of sheep or a herd of wild asses is a more poetical object than they; and we even take part with the lordly beast, because our vanity or some other feeling makes us disposed to place ourselves in the situation of the strongest party::—pp. 70, 71. Nor is this the case with works of fiction only.

• The history of mankind is a romance, a mask, a tragedy, constructed upon the principles of poetical justice; it is a noble or royal hunt, in which what is sport to the few, is death to the many, and in which the spectators halloo and encourage the strong to set upon the weak, and cry havoc in the chase, though they do not share in the spoil. We may depend upon it that what men delight to read in books, they will put in practice in reality. ---p. 75.

That a lion is considered as a nobler animal than an ass we will readily admit; and if we were to describe a hero routing his foes, we should rather illustrate it by a lion hunting a herd of wild asses than a herd of wild asses hunting a lion. But are these the only topics that afford delight in poetry? Do we read with more pleasure of the ravages of a beast of prey than of the shepherd's pipe upon the inountain ? If we look to the history of mankind we shall learn from this new theory of the pleasures of the imagination,' that it is not natural for us to sympathise in the distresses of suffering virtue, but that whatever we may pretend, we are, in truth, gratified by the cruelties of Domitian or Nero. The crimes of revolutionary France were of a still blacker dye; but we cannut recollect that they were heard of with much satisfaction in this

country,

country, nor had we the misfortune to know any individual (thougti we will not take upon us to deny that Mr. Hazlitt may have been of that description) who cried havoc, and enjoyed the atrocities of Robespierre and Carnot.

We should not have condescended to notice the senseless and wicked sophistry of this writer, or to point out to the contempt of the reader his didactic forms' and • logical diagrams,' had we not considered him as one of the representatives of a class of men by whom literature is more than at any former period disgraced, who are labouring to effect their mischievous purposes non vi sed sæpe cadendo; and therefore conceived that it might not be unprofitable to show how very small a portion of talent and literature was necessary for carrying on the trade of sedition. The few specimens which we have selected of his ethics and his criticism are more than sufficient to prove that Mr. Hazlitt's knowledge of Shakspeare and the English language is exactly on a par with the purity of his morals and the depth of his understanding.

Art. X.--Origin of the Pindaries; preceded by Historical No

tices on the Rise of the different Mahratta States. By an Officer in the Service of the Honourable East India Company,

London. 1918. Svo. pp. 172. THE 'HE rise and progress of the Mahratta States have been fully

detailed by us in the course of our critical labour from more elaborate works than the little volume before us, which, though compiled with praiseworthy diligence and accuracy, possesses not sufficient novelty of research to induce us to resume their history. We

pass therefore to a topic of nearly equal importance, of much greater originality, and, perhaps, under existing circumstances, of no secondary consequence either in the struggle afoot or in the future fate of Hindostan.

The Pindaries, or rather Pindarries, are a singular race; singular in their formation, in their habits, in their physical qualities, in their moral attributes, and in their social system. Chance made them a people; plunder and robbery constitute the bands of their union; cunning and courage are their patents of nobility, and superior talent for intrigue and military skill the sole title to command.

The name of Pindarrie occurs as early as the beginning of the last century in the Indian annals; several bands of these freebooters are mentioned by Ferishta as having followed the Mahrattas in their early wars in Hindostan, and fought against Zoolfeccar Khan, and the other generals of Aurengzebe. One of their chiefs, Hool Sewar, commanded 15,000 horse in the battle of Paniput, and under him they assumed a more regular organization. They were divided

« PreviousContinue »