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authors duck to the golden fool, let them shape their sordid quills to the mercenary ends of unmerited praise, or of baser detraction ;old Jack, though deserted by princes, though censured by an ungrateful world, and persecuted from age to age by Critic and Commentator, and though never rich enough to hire one literary prostitute, shall find a Voluntary defender; and that too at a time when the whole body of the Nabobry demands and requires defence; whilst their ill-gotten and almost untold gold feels loose in their unassured grasp, and whilst they are ready to shake off portions of the enormous heap, that they may the more securely clasp the remainder.—But not to digress without end,—to the candid, to the chearful, to the elegant reader we appeal ; our exercise is much too light for the sour eye of strict severity ; it professes amusement only, but we hope of a kind more rational than the History of Miss Betsy, eked out with the Story of Miss Lucy, and the Tale of Mr. Twankum : And so, in a leisure hour, and with the good natured reader, it may be hoped, to friend, we return, with an air as busy and important as if we were engaged in the grave office of measuring the Pyramids, or settling the antiquity of Stonehenge, to converse with this jovial, this fat, this roguish, this frail, but, I think, not cowardly companion. . Though the robbery at Gads-Hill, and the supposed Cowardice of Falstaff on that occasion, are next to be considered, yet I must previously declare, that I think the discussion of this matter to be now unessential to the reestablishment of Falstaff's reputation as a man of Courage. For suppose we should grant, in form, that Falstaff was surprized with fear in this single instance, that he was off his guard, and even acted like a Coward; what will follow, but that Falstaff, like greater heroes, had his weak moment, and was not exempted from panic and surprize ? If a single exception can destroy a general character, Hector was a Coward, and Anthony a Poltroon. But for these seeming contradictions of Character we shall seldom be at a loss to account, if we carefully refer to circumstance and
d, yet I must on that occas; and the sup
situation. In the present instance, Falstaff had done an illegal act; the exertion was over ; and he had unbent his mind in security. The spirit of enterprize, and the animating principle of hope, were withdrawn : In this situation, he is unexpectedly attacked; he has no time to recall his thoughts, or bend his mind to action. He is not now acting in the Profession and in the Habits of a Soldier; he is associated with known Cowards; his assailants are vigorous, sudden, and bold ; he is conscious of guilt ; he has dangers to dread of every form, present and future; prisons and gibbets, as well as sword and fire ; he is surrounded with darkness, and the Sheriff, the Hangman, and the whole Posse Commitatus may be at his heels :-Without a moment for reflection, is it wonderful that, under these circumstances, “ he should run and roar, “ and carry his guts away with as much dexterity as possible”?
But though I might well rest the question on this ground, yet as there remains many good topics of vindication, and as I think a more minute inquiry into this matter will only bring out more evidence in support of Falstaff's constitutional Courage, I will not decline the discussion. I beg permission therefore to state fully, as well as fairly, the whole of this obnoxious transaction, this unfortunate robbery at Gads-Hill.
In the scene wherein we become first acquainted with Falstaff, his character is opened in a manner worthy of Shakespeare : We see him in a green old age, mellow, frank, gay, easy, corpulent, loose, unprincipled, and luxurious; a Robber, as he says, by his vocation ; yet not altogether so :-There was much, it seems, of mirth and recreation in the case : “ The poor abuses of the times,” he wantonly and humourously tells the Prince, “want “countenance ; and he hates to see resolution fobbed off, as “it is, by the rusty curb of old father antic, the law.”—When he quits the scene, we are acquainted that he is only passing to the Tavern : “ Farewell,” says he, with an air of careless jollity and gay content, “ You will find me in “ East-Cheap.” “Farewell,” says the Prince, “thou latter
“ spring; farewell, all-hallown summer.” But though all this is excellent for Shakespeare's purposes, we find, as yet at least, no hint of Falstaff's Cowardice, no appearance of Braggadocio, or any preparation whatever for laughter under this head.—The instant Falstaff is withdrawn, Poins opens to the Prince his meditated scheme of a double robbery ; and here then we may reasonably expect to be let into these parts of Falstaff's character. We shall see.
Poins. “ Now my good sweet lord, ride with us to“ morrow; I have a jest to execute that I cannot manage “alone. Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto, and Gadshill shall rob “ those men that we have already waylaid; yourself and I “will not be there ; and when they have the booty, if you and “ I do not rob them, cut this head from off my shoulders.”
This is giving strong surety for his words ; perhaps he thought the case required it : “ But how,” says the Prince, “shall we part with them in setting forth ? ” Poins is ready with his answer ; he had matured the thought, and could solve every difficulty :-“ They could set out before, or after ; “their horses might be tied in the wood; they could change “their visors; and he had already procured cases of buckram “ to inmask their outward garments.” This was going far; it was doing business in good earnest. But if we look into the Play we shall be better able to account for this activity; we shall find that there was at least as much malice as jest in Poins's intention. The rival situations of Poins and Falstaff had produced on both sides much jealousy and ill will, which occasionally appears, in Shakespeare's manner, by side lights, without confounding the main action; and by the little we see of this poins, he appears to be an unamiable, if not a very brutish and bad, character.—But to pass this ;—the Prince next says, with a deliberate and wholesome caution, “I doubt they will “ be too hard for us.” Poins's reply is remarkable ; “Well, “ for two of them, I know them to be as true bred Cowards as “ever turned back; and for the third, if he fights longer than “he sees cause, I will forswear arms." There is in this reply a great deal of management: There were four
persons in all, as Poins well knew, and he had himself, but a little before, named them,-Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto, and Gadshill; but now he omits one of the number, which must be either Falstaff, as not subject to any imputation in point of Courage ; and in that case Peto will be the third ;—or, as I rather think, in order to diminish the force of the Prince's objection, he artfully drops Gadshill, who was then out of town, and might therefore be supposed to be less in the Prince's notice; and upon this supposition Falstaff will be the third, who will not fight longer than he sees reason. But on either supposition, what evidence is there of a pre-supposed Cowardice in Falstaf? On the contrary, what stronger evidence can we require that the Courage of Falstaf had to this hour, through various trials, stood wholly unimpeached, than that Poins, the ill-disposed Poins, who ventures, for his own purposes, to steal, as it were, one of the four from the notice and memory of the Prince, and who shews himself, from worse motives, as skilfull in diminishing as Falstaff appears afterwards to be in increasing of numbers, than that this very Poins should not venture to put down Falstaff in the list of Cowards; though the occasion so strongly required that he should be degraded. What Poins dares do however in this sort, he does. “As to “ the third,” for so he describes Falstaff (as if the name of this Veteran would have excited too strongly the ideas of Courage and resistance), “ if he fights longer than he sees “ reason, I will forswear arms." This is the old trick of cautious and artful malice : The turn of expression, or the tone of voice does all ; for as to the words themselves, simply considered, they might be now truly spoken of almost any man who ever lived, except the iron-headed hero of Sweden.—But Poins however adds something, which may appear more decisive ; “ The virtue of this jest “ will be the incomprehensible lyes which this fat rogue will “ tell when we meet at supper; how thirty at least he fought “ with ; and what wards, what blows, what extremities, he “endured: And in the reproof of this lies the jest" :-Yes, and the malice too.—This prediction was unfortunately
Sweden.- Burver lived, excem truly spoken
fulfilled, even beyond the letter of it; a completion more incident, perhaps, to the predictions of malice than of affection. But we shall presently see how far either the prediction, or the event, will go to the impeachment of Falstaff's Courage. The Prince, who is never duped, comprehends the whole of Poins's views. But let that pass.
In the next scene we behold all the parties at Gads-Hill in preparation for the robbery. Let us carefully examine if it contains any intimation of Cowardice in Falstaff. He is shewn under a very ridiculous vexation about his horse, which is hid from him; but this is nothing to the purpose, or only proves that Falstaff knew no terror equal to that of walking eight yards of uneven ground. But on occasion of Gadshill's being asked concerning the number of the travellers, and having reported that they were eight or ten, Falstaff exclaims, “ Zounds ! will they not rob us!”. If he had said more seriously, “ I doubt they will be too hard for us,"
-he would then have only used the Prince's own words upon a less alarming occasion. This cannot need defence. But the Prince, in his usual stile of mirth, replies, “What a “ Coward, Sir 7ohn Paunch!” To this one would naturally expect from Falstaff some light answer ; but we are surprized with a very serious one ;—“I am not indeed John of “Gaunt your grandfather, but yet no Coward, Hal.” This is singular : It contains, I think, the true character of Falstaff ; and it seems to be thrown out here, at a very critical conjuncture, as a caution to the audience not to take too sadly what was intended only (to use the Prince's words) “ as argument for a week, laughter for a month, and “a good jest for ever after.” The whole of Falstaf's past life could not, it should seem, furnish the Prince with a reply, and he is, therefore, obliged to draw upon the coming hope. “Well,” says he, mysteriously, “ let the event “ try”; meaning the event of the concerted attack on Falstaff ; an event so probable, that he might indeed venture to rely on it.—But the travellers approach : The Prince hastily proposes a division of strength; that he