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like and determined resentment of Alcibiades against his countrymen, who have banished him, though this forms only an incidental episode in the tragedy.
The fable consists of a single event;-of the transition from the highest pomp and profusion of artificial refinement, to the most abject state of savage life, and privation of all social intercourse. The change is as rapid as it is complete; nor is the description of the rich and generous Timon, banquetting in gilded palaces, pampered by every luxury, prodigal of his hospitality, courted by crowds of flatterers, poets, painters, lords, ladies, who
"Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance,
And through him drink the free air"—
more striking than that of the sudden falling off of his friends and fortune, and his naked exposure in a wild forest digging roots from the earth for his sustenance, with a lofty spirit of self-denial, and bitter scorn of the world, which raise him higher in our esteem than the dazzling gloss of prosperity could do. He grudges himself the means of life, and is only busy in preparing his grave. How forcibly is the difference between what he was, and what he is described in Apemantus's taunting questions, when he comes to reproach him with the change in his way of life!
66 What, think'st thou,
That the bleak air, thy boisterous chamberlain,
Will put thy shirt on warm? will these moist trees
That have out liv'd the eagle, page thy heels,
And skip when thou point'st out? will the cold brook,
To cure thy o'er night's surfeit? Call the creatures,
Of wreakful heav'n, whose bare unhoused trunks,
Answer mere nature, bid them flatter thee."
The manners are every where preserved with distinct truth. The poet and painter are very skilfully played off against one another, both affecting great attention to the other, and each taken up with his own vanity, and the superiority of his own art. Shakspeare has put into the mouth of the former a very lively description of the genius of poetry and of his own in particular.
"A thing slipt idly from me.
Our poesy is as a gum, which issues
From whence 'tis nourish'd. The fire i' th' flint
The hollow friendship and shuffling evasions of the Athenian lords, their smooth professions and pitiful ingratitude, are very satisfactorily exposed, as well as the different disguises to which the meanness of self-love resorts in such cases to hide a want of generosity and good faith. The lurking selfishness of Apemantus does not pass undetected amidst the grossness of his sarcasms and his contempt for the pretensions of others. Even the two courtezans who accompany Alcibiades to the cave of Timon are very characteristically sketched; and
the thieves who came to visit him are also "true men" in their way. An exception to this general picture of selfish depravity is found in the old and honest steward Flavius, to whom Timon pays a full tribute of tenderness. Shakspeare was unwilling to draw a picture" all over ugly with hypocrisy." He owed this character to the good natured solicitations of his Muse. His mind was well said by Ben Jonson to be the "sphere of humanity."
The moral sententiousness of this play equals that of Lord Bacon's Treatise on the Wisdom of the Ancients, and is indeed seasoned with greater variety. Every topick of contempt or indignation is here exhausted; but while the sordid licentiousness of Apemantus, which turns every thing to gall and bitterness, shews only the natural virulence of his temper and antipathy to good or evil alike, Timon does not utter an imprecation without betraying the extravagant workings of disappointed passion, of love altered to hate. Apemantus sees nothing good in any object, and exaggerates whatever is disgusting: Timon is tormented with the perpetual contrast between things and appearances, between the fresh, tempting outside, and the rottenness within, and invokes mischiefs on the heads of mankind proportioned to the sense of his wrongs and of their treacheries. He impatiently cries out, when he finds the gold,
"This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions; bless the accurs'd;
That makes the wappen'd widow wed again;
She, whom the spital house
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices
To th' April day again."
One of his most dreadful imprecations is that which occurs immediately on his leaving Athens.
"Let me look back upon thee, O thou wall,
Do't in your parents' eyes. Bankrupts, hold fast;
On Athens, ripe for stroke! Thou cold sciatica,
Timon is here just as ideal in his passion for ill, as he had before been in his belief of good. Apemantus was satisfied with the mischief existing in the world, and with his own ill-nature. One of the most decisive intimations of Timon's morbid jealousy of appearances is in his answer to Apemantus, who asks him,
"What things in the world can'st thou nearest compare with thy flatterers?
Timon. Women nearest: but men, men are the things themselves."
Apemantus, it is said, "loved few things better than to abhor himself." This is not the case with Timon, who neither loves to abhor himself nor others. All his vehement misanthropy is forced, uphill work. From the slippery turns of fortune, from the turmoils of passion and adversity, he wishes to sink into the quiet of the grave. On that subject his thoughts are intent, on that he finds time and place to grow romantick. He digs his own grave by the sea shore; contrives his funeral ceremonies amidst the pomp of desolation, and builds his mausoleum of the elements.
"Come not to me again; but say to Athens,
The turbulent surge shall cover.-Thither come,
And let my gravestone be your oracle."
And again, Alcibiades, after reading his epitaph, says of him,