Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

*

So distribution should undo excess,
And each man have enough.

Act iv. Sc. I. These concluding lines may remind us of S. Paul's argument in favour of alms-giving, that there may be an equality' between rich and poor, in 2 Cor. viii. 13-15.

Once more, in the same play, Edgar, who had been made to drink deeply of the 'physic'adversity, tells the happy effect which it had produced upon him.

When asked, “Now, good sir, what are you ?' he answers:

A most poor man, made tame by fortune's blows :
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,
Am pregnant to good pity. Give me your hand,
I'll lead you to some biding. +

Act iv. Sc. 6. I have already I had occasion to quote the wellknown speech of Portia, in the Merchant of Venice, which bears upon this point :

We do
pray
for

mercy:
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

Act iv. Sc. I. And if we fail to act thus, first the Duke, and then Portia again, warn us what we may expect :

How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none ?

As thou urgest justice, be assur'd Thou shalt have justice, more than thou desir'st. See also Lord Say, K. Henry V1., 2nd Part, Act

iv. Sc. 7.

Compare S. James ii. 13.

* Either feeling 'is used for 'felt,' as Malone is inclined to think, or • known and feeling' is to be understood of past and present sorrows,' as Warburton interprets. ✓ Place to abide in.

See p. 110.

We know that, according to the teaching of Scripture, and especially of S. Paul, charity or love is the sum of all virtue. There is something singularly striking in the way in which our poet carries on the idea, and makes kindness the sum not only of all virtue, but of all beauty :

In nature there's no lilemish, but the mind;
None can be called deformed, but the unkind :
Virtue is BEAUTY,

Twelfth Night, Act iii. Sc. 5.

Shakspeare was doubtless no stoic; but by some means or other he has contrived to appropriate and improve upon the best ideas of the stoical philosophy.

Flowing from a kindly and considerate disposition, the duty of hospitality is one which the Bible, we know, frequently enjoins and commends. See i Peter iv. 9; Hebrews xiii. 2; Romans xii. 13. But there is

a passage more solemn and more impressive than any of these, spoken by our Lord Himself with reference to the great day of account, 'I was a stranger, and ye took me in ;' and 'I was a stranger, and ye took me not in,' Matt. xxv. 35, 43; which I cannot help thinking was present to our poet's mind when he made Corin say, in As you like it :

My master is of churlish disposition,
And little recks to find the way to heaven,
By doing deeds of hospitality.

Act ii. Sc. 4.

Copious, however, and emphatic as the Bible is in giving us lessons upon all the parts and exercises of duty which relate to charity and brotherly love, it does not omit to prescribe, at the same time, all needful caution in regard to the mistakes that may be made and the danger incurred by the indulgence of kind feelings, or a social disposition, without discretion and respect of persons. We are to be careful in the choice of those with whom we associate; careful in making and trusting friends; careful, above all, not to 'walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful.' I feel that it is carrying out the subject of this section somewhat beyond its proper limit to extend it to points such as these ; I shall not, therefore, attempt to illustrate them in detail ; only, as a warning upon the choice of friends, I venture to quote the dying speech of the Duke of Buckingham, in King Henry VIII. :

You that hear me,
This from a dying man receive as certain:
Where you are liberal of your loves and counsels,
Be sure you be not loose, for those you make friends,
And give your hearts to, when they once perceive
The least rub in your fortunes, fall away
Like water * from ye, never found again,
But where they mean to sink ye.

Act ii. Sc. i. Falstaff gives us another and still weightier reason for the same precept:

It is certain that either wise bearing or ignorant carriage is

* See Psalm lviii. 6, Prayer-Book version ; and Job vi. 15.

caught, as men take diseases, one of another : therefore let men take heed of their company.

King Henry IV., 2nd Parl, Act v. Sc. I.

Or, as Cassius expresses it, in Julius Cæsar :

'Tis meet That noble minds keep ever with their likes : For who so firm that cannot be seduced ?

Act i. Sc, 2.

Compare with this sentiment the verse of Menander quoted by S. Paul in i Cor. xv. 33.

And that a multitude is not to be followed in doing evil, where could we find a more just, though laughable, illustration than in the words of Fluellen in the English Camp before the battle of Agincourt?

If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating corcomb :-in your own conscience now?

K. Henry V., Activ. Sc. 1.

But to return. Shakspeare extends the duty of mercifulness, as the Scriptures also do, to the brute creation. It may suffice to refer to his touching description of the wounded stag in As you like it, Act ii. Sc. 1 ; and as we read in Isaiah i. 3, that 'the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib,' so Sicinius says, in Coriolanus, Act ii. Sc. 1 :

Nature teaches beasts to know their friends.

Sect. 10. Of Diligence, Sobriety, and Chastity.

I have already been led to speak, in the eighth section of this chapter, on the sacred character and manifold obligations of the Conjugal Relationship. It is a relationship whereby the wife becomes, in the highest and noblest sense, the property of the husband, and the husband the property of the wife. A British Churchman may be allowed to please himself in fancying Shakspeare as an occasional hearer of Bp. Andrewes *—the greatest poet listening to the greatest preacher of the age—and had he been present when that admirable divine delivered his 'Exposition of the Seventh Commandment,' he could not have laid down its first principles more accurately than he has done in Troilus and Cressida, where Hector thus speaks respecting the duty of restoring Helen to her husband Menelaus :

Nature craves
All dues be rendered to their owners ; now,
What nearer debt + in all humanity
Than wife is to the husband ? If this law
Of nature be corrupted thro' affection,

There is a law in each well-order'd nation,

* Born in 1555, died in 1626; one of the translators of the Bible.

+ Mr. Malone interprets the word 'propriety' as used by Olivia in Twelfth Night, Act v. Sc. 2, in this sense, viz., to mean the right of property which a married couple have in each other, and which Milton speaks of as the sole propriety in Paradise ;' but I rather think it means in that place, proper state.'

« ZurückWeiter »