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the world without, in order to present them back to their own view with the satisfying degree of clearness, distinctness, and individuality. These in tranquil times are formed to exhibit a perfect poem in palace, or temple, or landscape-garden; or a tale of romance in canals that join sea with sea, or in walls of rock, which, shouldering back the billows, imitate the power, and supply the benevolence of nature to sheltered navies; or in aqueducts that, arching the wide vale from mountain to mountain, give a Palmyra to the desert. But alas! in times of tumult they are the men destined to come forth as the shaping spirit of ruin, to destroy the wisdom of ages in order to substitute the fancies of a day, and to change kings and kingdoms, as the wind shifts and shapes the clouds.' The records of biography seem to confirm this theory. The men of the greatest genius, as far as we can judge from their own works or from the accounts of their contemporaries, appear to have been of calm and tranquil temper in all that related to themselves. In the inward assurance of permanent fame, they seem to have been either indifferent or resigned with regard to immediate reputation. Through all the works of Chaucer there reigns a cheerfulness, a manly hilarity,
1 Of old things all are over old,
Of good things none are good enough :-
I too will have my kings, that take
Wordsworth's Rob Roy.*
* Poet. Works. vol. III. p. 127.
which makes it almost impossible to doubt a correspondent habit of feeling in the author himself." Shakespeare's evenness and sweetness of temper were almost proverbial in his own age. That this did not arise from ignorance of his own comparative greatness, we have abundant proof in his Sonnets, which could scarcely have been known to Pope,3 when he asserted, that our great bard—
2 [I take unceasing delight in Chaucer. His manly cheerfulness is especially delicious to me in my old age. How exquisitely tender he is, and yet how perfectly free from the least touch of sickly melancholy or morbid drooping! The sympathy of the poet with the subjects of his poetry is particularly remarkable in Shakespeare and Chaucer; but what the first effects by a strong act of imagination and mental metamorphosis, the last does without any effort, merely by the inborn kindly joyousness of his nature. Table Talk, March 15, 1834, p. 290, 2nd edit. Ed.]
› Pope was under the common error of his age, an error far from being sufficiently exploded even at the present day. It consists (as I explained at large, and proved in detail in my public lectures,*) in mistaking for the essentials of the Greek stage certain rules, which the wise poets imposed upon themselves, in order to render all the remaining parts of the drama consistent with those, that had been forced upon them by circumstances independent of their will; out of which circumstances the drama itself arose. The circumstances in the time of Shakespeare, which it was equally out of his power to alter, were different, and such as, in my opinion, allowed a far wider sphere, and a deeper and more human interest. Critics are too apt to forget, that rules are but means to an end; consequently, where the ends are different, the rules must be likewise so. We must have ascertained what the end is, before we can determine what the rules ought to be. Judging under this im
[See the Author's Literary Remains, vol. II. p. 60, and generally the fragments of his lectures and notes on Shakespeare collected in that volume. Ed.]
-grew immortal in his own despite.*
Speaking of one whom he had celebrated, and contrasting the duration of his works with that of his personal existence, Shakespeare adds:
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
pression, I did not hesitate to declare my full conviction, that the consummate judgment of Shakespeare, not only in the general construction, but in all the details, of his dramas, impressed me with greater wonder, than even the might of his genius, or the depth of his philosophy.* The substance of these lectures I hope soon to publish; and it is but a debt of justice to myself and my friends to notice, that the first course of lectures, which differed from the following courses only, by occasionally varying the illustrations of the same thoughts, was addressed to very numerous, and I need not add, respectable audiences at the Royal Institution, before Mr. Schlegel gave his lectures on the same subjects at Vienna.
Epist. to Augustus.
[These extraordinary sonnets form, in fact, a poem of so many stanzas of fourteen lines each; and, like the passion which inspired them, the sonnets are always the same, with a variety of expression,-continuous, if you regard the lover's soul,— distinct, if you listen to him, as he heaves them sigh after sigh.
These sonnets, like The Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece, are characterised by boundless fertility, and laboured
I have taken the first that occurred; but Shakespeare's readiness to praise his rivals, ore pleno, and the confidence of his own equality with those whom he deemed most worthy of his praise, are alike manifested in another Sonnet.
Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
In Spenser, indeed, we trace a mind constitutionally tender, delicate, and, in comparison with his three great compeers, I had almost said, effeminate; and this additionally saddened by the unjust persecution of Burleigh, and the severe calamities, which overwhelmed his latter days. These causes have diffused over all his compositions "a melancholy grace," and have drawn forth occasional strains, the more pathetic from their gentleness. But no where do we find the least trace of irritability, and still less of quarrelsome or affected contempt of his censurers.
condensation of thought, with perfection of sweetness in rhythm and metre. These are the essentials in the budding of a great poet. Afterwards habit and consciousness of power teach more ease-præcipitandum liberum spiritum. Table Talk, May 14, 1835, p. 231, 2nd. edit. Ed.]
The same calmness, and even greater self-possession, may be affirmed of Milton, as far as his poems, and poetic character are concerned. He reserved his anger for the enemies of religion, freedom, and his country. My mind is not capable of forming a more august conception, than arises from the contemplation of this great man in his latter days;-poor, sick, old, blind, slandered, persecuted,-"
Darkness before, and danger's voice behind,— in an age in which he was as little understood by the
6 [In illustration of Milton's magnanimity of patience I cannot refrain from quoting the conclusion of his letter to Leonard Philaras, the Athenian:
"At present every species of illumination being, as it were, extinguished, there is diffused around me nothing but darkness, or darkness mingled and streaked with an ashy brown. Yet the darkness in which I am perpetually immersed, seems always, both by night and day, to approach nearer to white than black, and when the eye is rolling in its socket, it admits a little particle of light as through a chink. And though this may perhaps offer to your physician a like ray of hope, yet I make up my mind to the malady as quite incurable; and I often reflect, that as the wise man admonishes, days of darkness are destined to each of us, the darkness which I experience, less oppressive than that of the tomb, is, owing to the singular goodness of the Deity, passed amid the pursuits of literature and the cheering salutations of friendship. But if, as is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God, why may not any one acquiesce in the privation of his sight, when God has so amply furnished his mind and his conscience with eyes? While He so tenderly provides for me, while He so graciously leads me by the hand and conducts me on the way, I will, since it is his pleasure, rather rejoice than repine at being blind. And, my dear Philaras, whatever may be the event, I wish you adieu with no less courage and composure than if I had the eyes of a lynx."
Westminster, September 28, 1654.
What a proof is it of the firmness of Milton's mind to the last