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If he spurn’d the reign of existence, he must bave plunged into some illimitable void, if there be such, in the infinity of space; and what is the idea intended to be conveyed by “ Panting time toiling after him in vain,” I will confess that I do not precisely comprehend. I conclude, however, that of these lines the first refers to the superhuman creatures of the dramatist's invention, to his fairies, his magicians, and his ghosts : and these, indeed, are proud evidences of his imaginative powers; and that the second, in the ludicrous image, which it presents, of old Time, panting and toiling in vain to catch the active and runaway Poet, must allude to the contempt occasionally discovered by our Jawless bard for probability and the limitation of time; and this, of which any scribbler may be guilty, is, in truth, the most effective dispraise. But it is more wonderful that Shakspeare, who may be regarded as the father of the English drama, accomplished so much for its perfection, than that he failed to accomplish more.
We have now considered this extraordinary man as the giver of a poetic soul to historic narration, as the framer of a dramatic fable, and excelling equally in the sublime, the pathetic, and the ludicrous; as luxuriating by himself, in a sort of inaccessible glory, in a world of his own imagination; as neglecting the dramatic unities, either from ignorance of their effect, or from an indolent dislike of their restraint. We have made, in short, a cursory survey of his excellencies and his defects. His diction only now remains to be the subject of our attention; and in this subordinate portion of the drama, we shall find him to be as superior to competition as he is in the characteristic and the imaginative. His diction is an instrument, which is admirably adapted to all his purposes. In his tragic strains, it sounds every note of the gamut; and is either sublime or tender, vehement or pathetic, with the passion of which it is the organ: in description it is picturesque, animated and glowing; and every where its numbers are so barmonious, so varied, almost to infinity, in their cadence and their pauses, that they give to the ear a perpetual
feast, in which there is no satiety. As the diction of Shakspeare rises in his bigber scenes, without effort or tumour, to the sublime of poetry, so does it fall, in bis comic, with facility and grace, into the humility of prose. It has been charged with being harsh and ungrammatical. I believe it to be harsh and unrhythmical (I confine the remark, of course, to the verse portion of it) only when it has been deformed by the perverse industry of tasteless commentators, referring us to incorrect transcriptions for authorities; and to the same cause may be ascribed, as I am satisfied, many if not all of its grosser grammatical errors. It will not, indeed, in every instance, as we are willing to allow, abide the rigid analysis of grammar; for it sometimes impresses the idea forcibly and distinctly on the mind without the aid of regular grammar, and without discovering the means by which the exploit has been achieved. As one example of this power of Shakspeare's diction, among many of a similar nature which might be adduced, we will transcribe the often-cited answer of Claudio to bis sister, in “ Measure for Measure,” respecting the unknown terrors of death. The expressions in italics convey their meaning with great accuracy to the hearer's or the reader's mind; but, if submitted to the philosophical grammarian's examination, they will not easily stand under it; and they may puzzle us to account for their effect in the communication of the poet's ideas.
" Ay, but to die, and go we know not where :
This entire passage, terminating at “ howling," is deficient in grammatical correctness, for it contains an antecedent not succeeded by a consequent: but is there a reader of taste who would wish it to be any thing but what it is ? As for those barbarisms of the double negative and the double comparative, which Malone is studious to recall from the old copies into Shakspeare's text, I have already declared my conviction that they are falsely charged upon Shakspeare. They are not to be found in those effusions of his muse which issued from the press under his own immediate inspection; and they must assuredly be considered as the illiterate errors of an illiterate transcriber.
I could now easily, and the task would be delightful to me, produce examples, from the page of Shakspeare, of all the excellencies which I have attributed to his diction; of its sublimity, its force, its tenderness, its pathos, its picturesque character, its sweet and evervarying harmony. But I have already very far transgressed the limits prescribed to me in my volume; and I must restrain myself. When, therefore, I have cited, at the close of what I am now writing, the description by Jaques, in “ As you Like it,” of the seven ages of man, as an evidence of Shakspeare's power to touch the most familiar topics into poetry, as the Phrygian monarch could touch the basest substances into gold, I shall conclude this long and, as I fear, this fatiguing treatise on Shakspeare and his works, by asking if he be not a mighty genius, sufficiently illustrious and commanding to call forth the choice spirits of a learned and intellectual century to assert his greatness, and to march in his triumph to fame?
Yes, Master of the human heart! we own
At thy command the varied tumult rolls :
These are thy wonders, Nature's darling birth !
In ages far remote, when Albion's state Hath touch'd the mortal limit, mark'd by Fate : When Arts and Science fly her naked shore : And the world's Empress shall be great no more: Then Australasia shall thy sway prolong; And her rich cities echo with thy song. There myriads still shall laugh, or drop the tear, At Falstaff's humour, or the woes of Lear : Man, wave-like, following man, thy powers admire ; And thou, my SHAKSPEARE, reign till time expire.
THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN.
- All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players : They have their exits, and their entrances ; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being SEVEN AGES.