Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

I am determined to prove a villain,

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” And yet in the very next scene he wooes and wins Anne, though both she and Elizabeth had told him very frankly that they knew he was a devil. It would be a mistake to compare this betraying of himself by Richard with the cynical and almost indecent frankness of Iago. Iago was an Italian of the Renaissance as Shakespeare might have divined him through that penetrating psychology of his; and I have been told that even now Italians who see Salvini's version of Othello sympathize rather with Iago than with the Moor, whom they consider to be a dull-witted fellow, deserving the dupery of which he was the victim.

Nevertheless “Richard III.” is a most effective acting play. There are, certainly, what seem to be unmistakable traces of Shakespeare in some of the worst scenes, though I am not sure that if the play had been lost, and should be discovered in our day, this would pass without question. The soliloquy of Clarence can hardly be attributed to any other hand, and there are gleams from time to time that look like manifest records of his kindling touch. But the scolding mob of widow queens, who make their billingsgate more intolerable by putting it into bad blank verse, and the childish procession of eleven ghosts seem to me very little in Shakespeare's style. For in nothing, as I have said, is he more singular and preëminent than in his management of the supernatural.

I find that my time has got the better of me.

I shall merely ask you to read “Richard III.” with attention, and with a comparison such as I have hinted at between this and other plays which are most nearly contemporary with it, and I therefore shall not trouble you

with further

passages. It seems to me that an examination of “Richard III.” plainly indicates that it is a play which Shakespeare adapted to the stage, making additions, sometimes longer and sometimes shorter; and that, towards the end, either growing weary of his work or pressed for time, he left the older author, whoever he was, pretty much to himself. It would be interesting to follow out minutely a question of this kind, but that would not be possible within the limits of an occasion like this. It will be enough if I have succeeded in interesting you to a certain extent in a kind of discussion that has at least the merit of withdrawing us for a brief hour from the more clamorous interests and questions of the day to topics which, if not so important, have also a perennial value of their own.

While I believe in the maintenance of classical learning in our universities, I never open my Shakespeare but I find myself wishing that there might be professorships established for the expounding of his works as there used to be for those of Dante in Italy. There is nothing in all literature so stimulating and suggestive as the thought he seems to drop by chance, as if his hands were too full; nothing so cheery as his humor; nothing that laps us in Elysium so quickly as the lovely images which he marries to the music of his verse. He is also a

great master of rhetoric in teaching us what to follow, and sometimes quite as usefully what to avoid. I value him above all for this: that for those who know no language but their own there is as much intellectual training to be got from the study of his works as from that of the works of any, I had almost said all, of the great writers of antiquity.

THE STUDY OF MODERN LANGUAGES.1

1889.

THREE years ago I was one of those who gathered in the Sanders Theatre to commemorate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of a college founded to perpetuate living learning chiefly by the help of three dead languages, the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin. I have given them that order of precedence which they had in the minds of those our pious founders. The Hebrew came first because they believed that it had been spoken by God himself, and that it would have been the common speech of mankind but for the judicial invention of the modern languages at Shinar. Greek came next because the New Testament was written in that tongue, and Latin last as the interpreter between scholars. Of the men who stood about that fateful cradle swung from bough of the primeval forest, there were probably few who believed that a book written in any living language could itself live.

For nearly two hundred years no modern language was continuously and systematically taught , here. In the latter half of the last century a stray

1 An address before the Modern Language Association of America.

[ocr errors]

Frenchman was caught now and then, and kept as long as he could endure the baiting of his pupils. After failing as a teacher of his mother-tongue, he commonly turned dancing-master, a calling which public opinion seems to have put on the same intellectual level with the other. Whatever haphazard teaching of French there may have been was, no doubt, for the benefit of those youth of the better classes who might go abroad after taking their degrees. By hook or by crook some enthusiasts managed to learn German, but there was no official teacher before Dr. Follen about sixty years ago. When at last a chair of French and Spanish was established, it was rather with an eye to commerce than to culture.

It indicates a very remarkable, and, I think, wholesome change in our way of looking at things that I should now be addressing a numerous Society composed wholly of men engaged in teaching thoroughly and scientifically the very languages once deemed unworthy to be taught at all except as a social accomplishment or as a commercial subsidiary. There are now, I believe, as many teachers in that single department of Harvard College as sufficed for the entire undergraduate course when I took my first degree. And this change has taken place within two generations.

1 Mr. George Bancroft told me that he learned German of Professor Sydney Willard, who, himself self-taught, had no notion of its pronunciation. One instructor in French we had, a little more than a century ago, in Albert Gallatin, a Swiss, afterwards eminent as a teacher in statesmanship and diplomacy. There was no regularly appointed tutor in French before 1806.

« ZurückWeiter »