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this observation refers to the fact, and is founded in reason. Nor ought we to reject what in another place he says to the Chief Justice, as it is in the nature of an appeal to his knowledge. “There is not a dangerous “ action,” says he, “ can peep out his head but I am thrust “ upon it.” The Chief Justice seems by his answer to admit the fact. “Weil, be honest, be honest, and heaven “bless your expedition.” But the whole passage may deserve transcribing.
Ch. Just. “ Well, the King has served you and Prince “ Henry. I hear you are going with Lord John of Lancaster “ against the Archbishop and the Earl of Northumberland.”
“Fals. Yes, I thank your pretty sweet wit for it; but “ look you pray, all you that kiss my lady peace at home, “ that our armies join not in a hot day; for I take but two “shirts out with me, and I mean not to sweat extraordinarily: “ If it be a hot day, if I brandish any thing but a bottle, “would I might never spit white again. There is not a “ dangerous action can peep out his head but I am thrust “upon it. Well I cannot last for ever. But it was always “the trick of our English nation, if they have a good thing “ to make it too common. If you will needs say I am an “old man you should give me rest: I would to God my name “were not so terrible to the enemy as it is. I were better “to be eaten to death with a rust than to be scour'd to “ nothing with perpetual motion."
“Ch. Just. Well be honest, be honest, and heaven bless “your expedition.”
Falstaff indulges himself here in humourous exaggeration ;—these passages are not meant to be taken, nor are we to suppose that they were taken, literally ;-but if there was not a ground of truth, if Falstaff had not had such a degree of Military reputation as was capable of being thus humourously amplified and exaggerated, the whole dialogue would have been highly preposterous and absurd, and the acquiescing answer of the Lord Chief Justice singularly improper.—But upon the supposition of Falstaff's being considered, upon the whole, as a good and
gallant Officer, the answer is just, and corresponds with the acknowledgment which had a little before been made, “ that his day's service at Shrewsbury had gilded over his “ night's exploit at Gads Hill.—You may thank the unquiet “ time,” says the Chief Justice, “ for your quiet o'erposting of “ that action”; agreeing with what Falstaff says in another place ;—“Well, God be thanked for these Rebels, they offend “none but the virtuous; I laud them, I praise them.”Whether this be said in the true spirit of a Soldier or not, I do not determine ; it is surely not in that of a mere Coward and Poltroon.
It will be needless to shew, which might be done from a variety of particulars, that Falstaff was known and had consideration at Court. Shallow cultivates him in the idea that a friend at Court is better than a penny in purse : Westmorland speaks to him in the tone of an equal : Upon Falstaff's telling him that he thought his lordship had been already at Shrewsbury, Westmorland replies,—“Faith “ Sir John, 'tis more than time that I were there, and you too; “ the King I can tell you looks for us all; we must away all “ to night.”_“ Tut,” says Falstaff, “never fear me, I am as “ vigilant as a cat to steal cream.”—He desires, in another place, of my lord John of Lancaster, “ that when he goes “ to Court, he may stand in his good report." His intercourse and correspondence with both these lords seem easy and familiar. “Go,” says he to the page, “bear this “ to my Lord of Lancaster, this to the Prince, this to the Earl “ of Westmorland, and this (for he extended himself on all “sides) to old Mrs. Ursula,” whom, it seems, the rogue ought to have married many years before.—But these intimations are needless : We see him ourselves in the Royal Presence; where, certainly, his buffooneries never brought him ; never was the Prince of a character to commit so high an indecorum, as to thrust, upon a solemn occasion, a mere Tavern companion into his father's Presence, especially in a moment when he himself deserts his looser character, and takes up that of a Prince indeed. -In a very important scene, where Worcester is expected
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with proposals from Percy, and wherein he is received, is treated with, and carries back offers of accommodation from the King, the King's attendants upon the occasion are the Prince of Wales, Lord yohn of Lancaster, the Earl of Westmorland, Sir Walter Blunt, and Sir John Falstaff. What shall be said to this ? Falstaff is not surely introduced here in vicious indulgence to a mob audience ;—he utters but one word, a buffoon one indeed, but aside, and to the Prince only. Nothing, it should seem, is wanting, if decorum would here have permitted, but that he should have spoken one sober sentence in the Presence (which yet we are to suppose him ready and able to do if occasion should have required ; or his wit was given him to little purpose) and Sir John Falstaff might be allowed to pass for an established Courtier and counsellor of state. "If I do grow great,” says he, “ I'll grow less, “purge and leave sack, and live as a nobleman should do." Nobility did not then appear to him at an unmeasurable distance; it was, it seems, in his idea, the very next link in the chain.
But to return. I would now demand what could bring Falstaff into the Royal Presence upon such an occasion, or justify the Prince's so public acknowledgment of him, but an established fame and reputation of Military merit? In short, just the like merit as brought Sir Walter Blunt into the same circumstances of honour.
But it may be objected that his introduction into this scene is a piece of indecorum in the author. But upon what ground are we to suppose this? Upon the ground of his being a notorious Coward ? Why, this is the very point in question, and cannot be granted : Even the direct contrary I have affirmed, and am endeavouring to support. But if it be supposed upon any other ground, it does not concern me; I have nothing to do with Shakespeare's indecorums in general. That there are indecorums in the Play I have no doubt : The indecent treatment of Percy's dead body is the greatest ;—the familiarity of the significant, rude, and even ill disposed Poins with the Prince, is another ;—but the admission of Falstaff into the Royal Presence (supposing, which I have a right to suppose, that his Military character was unimpeached) does not seem to be in any respect among the number. In camps there is but one virtue and one vice ; Military merit swallows up or covers all. But, after all, what have we to do with indecorums? Indecorums respect the propriety or impropriety of exhibiting certain actions ;—not their truth or falshood when exhibited. Shakespeare stands to us in the place of truth and nature : If we desert this principle, we cut the turf from under us; I may then object to the robbery and other passages as indecorums, and as contrary to the truth of character. In short we may rend and tear the Play to pieces, and every man carry off what sentences he likes best.-But why this inveterate malice against poor Falstaff ? He has faults enough in conscience without loading him with the infamy of Cowardice; a charge, which, if true, would, if I am not greatly mistaken, spoil all our mirth.—But of that hereafter.
It seems to me that, in our hasty judgment of some particular transactions, we forget the circumstances and condition of his whole life and character, which yet deserve our very particular attention. The author, it is true, has thrown the most advantageous of these circumstances into the back ground, as it were, and has brought nothing out of the canvass but his follies and buffoonery. We discover, however, that in a very early period of his life he was familiar with John of Gaunt; which could hardly be, unless he had possessed much personal gallantry and accomplishment, and had derived his birth from a distinguished at least, if not from a Noble family.
It may seem very extravagant to insist upon Falstaff's birth as a ground from which, by any inference, Personal courage may be derived, especially after having acknowledged that he seemed to have deserted those points of honour which are more peculiarly the accompanyments of rank. But it may be observed that in the Feudal ages rank and wealth were not only connected with the point of honour, but with personal strength and natural courage. It is observable that Courage is a quality which is at least as transmissible to one's posterity as features and complexion. In these periods men acquired and maintained their rank and possessions by personal prowess and gallantry; and their marriage alliances were made, of course, in families of the same character: And from hence, and from the exercises of their youth, we must account for the distinguished force and bravery of our antient Barons. It is not therefore beside my purpose to inquire what hints of the origin and birth of Falstaff, Shakespeare may have dropped in different parts of the Play; for tho' we may be disposed to allow that Falstaff in his old age might, under particular influences, desert the point of honour, we cannot give up that unalienable possession of Courage, which might have been derived to him from a noble or distinguished stock.
But it may be said that Falstaff was in truth the child of invention only, and that a reference to the Feudal accidents of birth serves only to confound fiction with reality : Not altogether so. If the ideas of courage and birth were strongly associated in the days of Shakespeare, then would the assignment of high birth to Falstaff carry, and be intended to carry along with it, to the minds of the audience the associated idea of Courage, if nothing should be specially interposed to dissolve the connection ;-and the question is as concerning this intention, and this effect.
I shall proceed yet farther to make a few very minute observations of the same nature: But if Shakespeare meant sometimes rather to impress than explain, no circumstances calculated to this end, either directly or by association, are too minute for notice. But however this may be, a more conciliating reason still remains : The argument itself, like the tales of our Novelists, is a vehicle only; theirs, as they profess, of moral instruction; and mine of critical amusement. The vindication of Falstaff's Courage deserves not for its own sake the least sober discussion; Falstaff is the word only, Shakespeare is the Theme: And if thro' this