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Atlantic Monthly Vol. 3, No. 16, February, 1859 by Various

Part 5 out of 5

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joined with a verb in the singular,--as _dealings, doings, tidings,
odds_, and as is still the case with _news_. It is not impossible that
the French termination in _esse_ helped to make the confusion. We have
in the opposite way made a plural of _riches_, which was once singular.
Some persons used the strong preterites, and some the weak,--some said
_snew, thew, sew_, and some _snowed, thawed, sowed_. Bishop Latimer
used the preterite _shew_, which Mr. Bartlett, in his "Dictionary of
Americanisms," pronounces to be the _shibboleth_ of Bostonians. But such
differences were orthoepic, and not syntactic.

We regret Mr. White's glossological excursions the more because they are
utterly supererogatory, and because they seem to imply a rashness of
conclusion which can very seldom be laid to his charge as respects the
text. He volunteers, without the least occasion for it, an opinion that
_abye_ and _abide_ are the same word, (which they are not,) suggests
that _vile_ and _vild_ (whose etymology, he says, is obscure) may
be related to the Anglo-Saxon _hyldan_, and tells us that _dom_ is
Anglo-Saxon for house. He pronounces _ex cathedra_ that _besides_ is
only a vulgar form of _beside_, though the question is still _sub
judice_, and though the language has contrived adverbial and
prepositional forms out of the distinction, as it has, in the case of
the compounds with _ward_ and _wards_, adverbial and adjectival ones.[J]
He declares that the distinction between _shall_ and _will_ was
imperfectly known in Shakspeare's time, though we believe it would not
be difficult to prove that the distinction was more perfect in some
respects than now. We the less value his opinion on these points as he
himself shows an incomplete perception of the difference between _would_
and _should_. (See Vol. V. pp. 114, 115, "We _would_ now say, 'all
liveliness,'" and "We _would_ now write, 'the traits of,'" etc.) He says
that the pronunciation _commandement_ was already going out of use two
centuries and a half ago. Mr. Pegge speaks of it as a common Cockneyism
at the beginning of this century. Sometimes this hastiness, however,
affects the value of an elucidatory note, as where he tells us that a
principality is "an angel of the highest rank next to divinity" [deity],
and quotes St. Paul, breaking off the passage at the word in question.
But St. Paul goes on to say _powers_,--and there were, in fact, three
orders of angels above the principalities, the highest being the
Seraphim. An editor should be silent or correct, especially where there
is no need of saying anything.

[Footnote J: It is singular, if the _s_ be a corruption, that the
Germans should have fallen into the same in their _vorwaerts_ and
_rueckwaerts_. We are inclined to conjecture the _s_ a genitival one,
supplying the place of a missing _of_ and _von_ respectively. We
formerly said, "of this side," "of that side," etc.; but the idiomatic
sense of _of_ is so entirely lost, that Mr. Craik (_English of
Shakspeare_) actually supposes _o'clock_ and _o'nights_ to be
contractions of "_on_ the clock," "_on_ nights," and that, although we
still say habitually, "_of_ late," "_of_ old." The French use of _de_,
and the Italian of _di_, is parallel. The Italians have also their
_avanti_ and _davante_, and no one forgets Dante's

"Di qua, di la, di su, di giu, gli mena."

But it is after Mr. White has been bitten by the _oestrum_ of
Shakspearian pronunciation that he becomes thoroughly contradictory of
himself, especially after he has taken up the notion that "Much Ado
about Nothing" is "Much Ado about Noting," and that the _th_ was
not sounded in the England of Shakspeare. After that, his theory of
rhetorical variety seems to become that of Geoffroy, "_dire, redire, et
se contredire_." First he tells us, (Vol. II. p. 94,) that "the old form
'murther' should be retained because it is etymologically correct, and
because it was the uniform orthography of the day, [a hasty assumption,]
_and the word was pronounced in accordance with it_." Next, (in order to
sustain his anti-_th_ theory,) he says, (Vol. III. p. 227,) that "the
last syllable of 'murder,' then written _mur_th_er_, _seems to have been
pronounced somewhat like the same syllable_ of the French _meurtre_."
He assures us (Vol. III. p. 340) that _raisin_ was pronounced as we now
pronounce _reason_, and adds, "The custom has not entirely passed
away." Certainly not, as any one who knows Thackeray's "Mulligan of
Ballymulligan" is aware. But Mr. White (having forgotten for a moment
his conclusion that _swears_ was anciently _sweers_) quotes (Vol. V. pp.
399-400) from the "Haven of Health" as follows:--"Among us in England
they be of two sorts, that is to say, great _Raysons_ and small
_Raysons_" (the Italics are our own). In "Love's Labor's Lost," he
spells Biron _Birone_, (Chapman spelt it _Byron_,) as being nearer the
supposed pronunciation of Shakspeare's day; but finding it rhyming with
_moon_, he is obliged also to assume that _moon_ was called _mown_, and
is severe on Mr. Fox for saying _Touloon_. He forgets that we have other
words of the same termination in English for whose pronunciation Mr. Fox
did not set the fashion. The French termination _on_ became _oon_ in
_bassoon, pontoon, balloon, galloon, spontoon, raccoon_, (Fr. _raton_,)
_Quiberoon, Cape Bretoon_, without any help from Mr. Fox. So also
_croon_ from (Fr.) _carogne_,--of which Dr. Richardson (following
Jamieson) gives a false etymology. The occurrence of _pontoon_ in
Blount's "Glossographia," published before Mr. Fox was born, shows the
tendency of the language.[K] Or did Mr. Fox invent the word _boon_?

[Footnote K: Let us remark, in passing, that the spellings "Berowne,"
"Petruchio," and "Borachio" are strong indications that the manuscript
copies of the plays in which they occur were dictated to an amanuensis.]

The pronunciation of words in Shakspeare's time is a matter of no
particular consequence, except that it may be made the basis of
conjectural emendation. This consideration gives the question some
importance, and, as error is one of those plants which propagate
themselves from the root, it is well to attempt its thorough eradication
at the outset.

Autolycus sings,--

"If tinkers may have leave to live,
And bear the sow-skin _bowget_;

Then my account I well may give,
And in the stocks _avouch it_."

Upon this Mr. White has the following note:--

"'The sow-skin bowget':--i.e. budget; the change of orthography being
made for the sake of the rhyme; about which our early writers, contrary
to the received opinion, were very particular. Even Ben Jonson, scholar
and grammarian as he was, did not hesitate to make radical changes in
orthography to obtain a perfect, in place of an imperfect rhyme. The
fact is important in the history of our language," (Vol. V. pp. 398-9.)

Readers of our older literature are familiar with what the early writers
of treatises on poetry say upon this subject, concerning which, under
the head of _licentia poetica_, they give some rather minute directions.
But we think Mr. White's expression "_radical_ changes" a little strong.
The insurmountable difficulty, however, in the way of forming a decided
judgment, is plain at the first glance. You have not, as Dr. Kitchener
would say, caught your hare; you have no standard. _Quis custodiet ipsos
custodes_? How shall you determine how your first word is pronounced?
and which of two rhyming words shall dominate the other? In the present
instance how do we know that _avouch_ was sounded as it is now? Its
being from the French would lead us to doubt it. And how do we know that
_bowget_ was not pronounced _boodget_, as it would be, according to Mr.
White, if spelt _budget_? Bishop Hall makes _fool_ rhyme with _cowl_.
That _ou_ was sometimes pronounced _oo_ is certain. Gill (of whom
_infra_) says that the _Boreales_ pronounced _wound, waund_, and _gown,
gaun_ or _geaun_.

Mr. White supposes that _ea_ was sounded like _ee_. We are inclined to
question it, and to think that here again the French element in our
language has made confusion. It is certain that _ea_ represents in many
words the French _e_ and _ai_,--as in _measure_ and _pleasure_. The
Irish, who were taught English by Anglo-Normans, persist in giving
the _ea_ its original sound (as _baste_ for _beast_); and we Northern
Yankees need not go five miles in any direction to hear _maysure_ and
_playsure_. How long did this pronunciation last in England? to how
many words did it extend? and did it infect any of Saxon root? It
is impossible to say. Was _beat_ called _bate_? One of Mr. White's
variations from the Folio is "bull-baiting" for "bold-beating." The
mistake could have arisen only from the identity in sound of the _ea_
in the one with _ai_ in the other. Butler, too, rhymes _drum-beat_ with
_combat_. But _beat_ is from the French. When we find _least_, (Saxon,)
then, rhyming with _feast_, (French,) and also with _best_, (Shakspeare
has _beast_ and _blest_,) which is more probable, that _best_ took the
sound of _beest_, or that we have a slightly imperfect rhyme, with the
[=a] somewhat shorter in one word than the other? We think the latter.
One of the very words adduced by Mr. White (_yeasty_) is spelt _yesty_
in the Folio. But will rhymes help us? Let us see. Sir Thomas Wyat
rhymes _heares_ and _hairs_; Sir Walter Raleigh, _teares_ and
_despairs_; Chapman, _tear_ (verb) with _ear_ and _appear_; Shakspeare,
_ear_ with _hair_ and _fear_, _tears_ with _hairs_, and _sea_ with
_play_; Bishop Hall, _years_ with _rehearse_ and _expires_, and _meales_
with _quailes_. Will Mr. White decide how the _ea_ was sounded? We think
the stronger case is made out for the [=a] than for the _ee_,--for
_swears_ as we now pronounce it, than for _sweers_; though we fear our
tired readers may be tempted to perform the ceremony implied by the verb
without much regard to its orthoepy.

Mr. White tells us that _on_ and _one_ were pronounced alike, because
Speed puns upon their assonance. He inclines to the opinion that _o_ had
commonly the long sound, as in _tone_, and supposes both words to have
been pronounced like _own_. But was absolute identity in sound ever
necessary to a pun, especially in those simpler and happier days?
Puttenham, in his "English Poesy," gives as a specimen of the art in
those days a play upon the words _lubber_ and _lover_, appreciable
now only by Ethiopian minstrels, but interesting as showing that the
tendency of _b_ and _v_ to run together was more sensible then than
now.[L] But Shakspeare unfortunately rhymes _on_ with _man_, in which
case we must either give the one word the Scotch pronunciation of _mon_,
or Hibernicize the other into _ahn_. So we find _son_, which according
to Mr. White would be pronounced _sone_, coquetting with _sun_; and Dr.
Donne, who ought to have called himself Doane, was ignorant enough to
remain all his life Dr. Dunn. But the fact is, that rhymes are no safe
guides, for they were not so perfect as Mr. White would have us believe.
Shakspeare rhymed _broken_ with _open_, _sentinel_ with _kill_, and
_downs_ with _hounds_,--to go no farther. Did he, (dreadful thought!) in
that imperfect rhyme of _leap_ and _swept_, (_Merry Wives_,) call the
former _lape_ and the latter (_Yankice_) _swep'_? This would jump with
Mr. White's often-recurring suggestion of the Elizabethanism of our
provincial dialect.

[Footnote L: Everybody remembers how Scaliger illustrated it in the case
of the Gascons,--_Felices, quibus vivere est bibere_.]

Mr. White speaks of the vowels as having had their "pure sound" in the
Elizabethan age. We are not sure if we understand him rightly; but have
they lost it? We English have the same vowel-sounds with other nations,
but indicate them by different signs. Slight changes in orthoepy we
cannot account for, except by pleading the general issue of custom. Why
should _foot_ and _boot_ be sounded differently? Why _food_ and _good_?
Why should the Yankee mark the distinction between the two former words,
and blur it in the case of the latter, thereby incurring the awful
displeasure of the "Autocrat," who trusses him, falcon-like, before his
million readers and adorers? Why should the Frenchman call his wooden
shoe a _sabot_ and his old shoe a _savate_, both from the same root?
Alas, we must too often in philology take Rabelais's reason for Friar
John's nose! With regard to the pronunciation of the vowels in Queen
Bess's days, so much is probable,--that the _a_ in words from the French
had more of the _ah_ sound than now, if rhymes may be trusted. We find
_placed_ rhyming with _past_; we find the participle _saft_ formed
from _save_. One relic of this occurs to us as still surviving in
that _slang_ which preserves for us so many glossologic
treasures,--_chauffer_,--_to chafe_, (in the sense of angering,)--_to
chaff_. The same is true of our Yankee _ch[)a]mber, d[)a]nger_, and
_m[)a]nger_, cited by Mr. White.

If we have apprehended the bearing of Mr. White's quotation from
Butler's English Grammar, we think he has misapprehended Butler. We wish
he had not broken the extract off so short, with an _etc_. What did
Butler mean by "_oo_ short"? Mr. White draws the inference that _Puck_
was called _Pook_, and that, since it was made to rhyme with _luck_,
that word and "all of similar orthography" were pronounced with an _oo_.
Did our ancestors have no short _u_, answering somewhat to the sound of
that vowel in the French _un_? We have little doubt of it; and since Mr.
White repeats so often that we Yankees have retained the Elizabethan
words and sounds, may we not claim their pronunciation of _put_ (like
_but_) and _sut_ for _soot_, as relics of it? If they had it not, how
soon did it come into the language? Already we find Lord Herbert of
Cherbury using _pundonnore_, (_point d'honneur_,) which may supply Dr.
Richardson with the link he wants between _pun_ and _point_, for the
next edition of his Dictionary. Alexander Gill, head-master of St.
Paul's School and Milton's teacher, published his "Logonomia Anglica" in
1621, a book which throws more light on the contemporary pronunciation
of English than any other we know of. He makes three forms of _u_:
the _tenuis_, as in _use_,--the _crassa brevis_, as in _us_,--and the
_longa_, as in _ooze_. The Saxons had, doubtless, two sounds of _oo_,
a long and a short; and the Normans brought them a third in the French
liquid _u_, if they had it not before. We say _if_, because their organs
have boggled so at the sound in certain combinations, ending in such
wine-thick success as _piktcher, portraitcher_.

"On earth's green _cinkcher_ fell a heavy _Jew_!"

That the _u_ had formerly, in many cases, the sound attributed to it by
Mr. White, we have no question; that it had that sound when Shakspeare
wrote "Midsummer Night's Dream," and in such words as _luck_, is not so
clear to us. We suspect that form of it was already retreating into the
provincial dialects, where it still survives.

Another of Mr. White's theories is that _moon_ was pronounced _mown_.
Perhaps it was; but, if so, it is singular that this pronunciation
is not found in any dialect of our language where almost every other
archaism is caught skulking. And why was it spelt _moon_? When did
_soon_ and _spoon_ take their present form and sound? That _oo_ was not
sounded like _o_ long is certain from Webbe's saying, that, to make
_poore_ and _doore_ rhyme with _more_, they must be written _pore_ and
_dore_. Mr. White says also that _shrew_ was pronounced _shrow_, and
cites as parallel cases _sew_ and _shew_. If New England authority be
worth anything, we have the old sound here in the pronunciation _soo_,
once universal, and according both with Saxon and Latin analogy.
Moreover, Bishop Hall rhymes _shew_ with _mew_ and _sue_; so that it
will not do to be positive.

We come now to the theory on which Mr. White lays the greatest stress,
and for being the first to broach which he even claims credit. That
credit we frankly concede him, and we shall discuss the point more fully
because there is definite and positive evidence about it, and because
we think we shall be able to convince even Mr. White himself that he is
wrong. This theory is, that the _th_ was sounded like _t_ in the
word _nothing_, and in various other words, at the beginning of the
seventeenth century. This certainly seems an unaccountable anomaly at
very first sight; for we know that two sounds of _th_ existed before
that period, and exist now. What singular frost was it that froze the
sound in a few words for a few years and left it fluent in all others?

Schoolmaster Gill, in his "Logonomia," already referred to, gives an
interesting and curious reason for the loss from our alphabet of the
Anglo-Saxon signs for the grave and acute _th_. He attributes it to the
fact, that, when Henry VII. invited Wynken de Word over from Germany
to print for the first time in English, the foreign fount of types was
necessarily wanting in signs to express those Saxon sounds. Accordingly,
the form _th_ was required to stand for both. For the Germans, he says,
call _thing, Ding_, and _father, Vater_.[M] In his alphabet he gives
_though_ and _thistle_ as expressing the two sounds, which is precisely
consonant with present usage. On page 152, speaking of the difficulties
of English pronunciation to a foreigner, he says, "Etenim si has quinque
voculas, _What think the chosen judges_? quid censent electi judices?
recte protuleris, omnem loquendi difficultatem superasti." Ben Jonson in
his Grammar gives similar examples, and speaks also of the loss of the
Saxon signs as having made a confusion. It is certain, then, at least,
that Shakspeare did not pronounce _thing, ting_,--or, if he did, that
others did not, as we shall presently show.

[Footnote M: Praefatio, p. 6. We abridge his statement.]

Most of Mr. White's arguments in support of his opinion are theoretic;
the examples by which he endeavors to sustain it tell, with one
exception, against him. That exception is his quoting from one of
Shakspeare's sonnets the rhyme _doting_ and _nothing_. But this proves
nothing (noting?); for we have already shown that Shakspeare, like all
his contemporaries, was often content with assonance, where identity
could not be had, in rhyming. Generally, indeed, the argument from
rhymes is like that of the Irishman who insisted that _full_ must be
pronounced like _dull_, because he found it rhyming with _b[)u]ll_. Mr.
White also brings forward the fact, that _moth_ is spelt _mote_, and
argues therefrom that the name of the Page Moth has hitherto been
misconceived. But how many _th_ sounds does he mean to rob us of? And
how was _moth_ really pronounced? Ben Jonson rhymes it with _sloth_ and
_cloth_; Herrick, with _cloth_. Alexander Gill tells us (p. 16) that it
was a Northern provincialism to pronounce _cloth_ long (like _both_),
and accordingly we are safe in believing that _moth_ was pronounced
precisely as it is now. Mr. White again endeavors to find support in the
fact that _Armado_ and _renegado_ are spelt _Armatho_ and _renegatho_
in the Folio. Of course they were, (just as the Italian _Petruccio_ and
_Boraccio_ are spelt _Petruchio_ and _Borachio_,) because, being
Spanish words, they were so pronounced. His argument from the frequent
substitution of _had_ for _hath_ is equally inconclusive, because we
may either suppose it a misprint, or, as is possible, a mistake of the
printer for the Anglo-Saxon sign for _th_, which, as many contractions
certainly did, may have survived in writing long after it was banished
from print, and which would be easily confounded with _d_. Can Mr.
White find an example of _dod_ for _doth_, where the word could not be
doubtful to the compositor? The inability of foreigners to pronounce the
_th_ was often made a source of fun on the stage. Puttenham speaks of
_dousand_ for _thousand_ as a vulgarism. Shakspeare himself makes Caius
say _dat_, and "by my _trot_"; and in Marston's "Dutch Courtezan," (Act
ii. Sc. 1,) we find Francischina, (a Dutch woman,) saying, "You have
brought mine love, mine honor, mine body, all to _noting_!"--to which
her interlocutrix answers, "To nothing!" It is plain that Marston did
not harden his _th_s into _t_s, nor suppose that his audience were in
the habit of doing so. How did Ben Jonson pronounce the word? He shall
answer for himself (_Vision of Delight_).--

"Some that are proper find signify o'thing,
And some another, and some that are _nothing_."

But perhaps he pronounced _thing, ting_? If _he_ did, Herrick as surely
did not, for he has

"Maides should say, or virgins sing,
Herrick keeps, as holds, _nothing_,"

where the accent divides the word into its original elements, and where
it is out of the question that he should lay the emphasis on a bit of
broken English. As to the _h_s which Mr. White adduces in such names as
_Anthony_ and such words as _authority_, they have no bearing on the
question, for those words are not English, and the _h_ in them is
perhaps only a trace of that tendency in _t_ to soften itself before
certain vowels and before _r_, as _d_ also does, with a slight sound of
_theta_, especially on the thick tongues of foreigners. Shakspeare makes
Fluellen say _athversary_; and the Latin _t_ was corrupted first to _d_
and then to _dth_ in Spanish. The _h_ here has not so much meaning as
the _h_ which has crept into _Bosporus_, for that is only the common
change of _p_ to _f_, corresponding to _v_ for _b_. So when Mr. White
reads _annotanize_ rather than _anatomize_, because the Folio has
_annothanize_, we might point him to Minsheu's "Spanish Dictionary,"
where, in the earlier editions, we find _anathomia_. In _lanthorn_,
another word adduced by Mr. White, the _h_ is a vulgarism of spelling
introduced to give meaning to a foreign word, the termination being
supposed to be derived from the material (horn) of which lanterns were
formerly made,--like _Bully Ruffian_ for _Bellerophon_ in our time, and
_Sir Piers Morgan_ for _Primaguet_ three centuries ago. As for _t'one_
and _t'other_, they should be _'tone_ and _'tother_, being elisions
for _that one_ and _that other_, relics of the Anglo-Saxon declinable
definite article, still used in Frisic.

We have been minute in criticizing this part of Mr. White's notes,
because we think his investigations misdirected, the results at which he
arrives mistaken, and because we hope to persuade him to keep a tighter
rein on his philological zeal in future. Even could he show what the
pronunciation of Shakspeare's day was, it is idle to encumber his
edition with such disquisitions, for we shall not find Shakspeare
clearer for not reading him in his and our mother-tongue. The field of
philology is famous for its mare's-nests; and, if imaginary eggs are
worth little, is it worth while brooding on imaginary chalk ones,
nest-eggs of delusion?

Life is short and Shakspeare long. We believe the pronunciation of
Shakspeare's day to have been so qualified with perfectly understood
provincialisms as to have allowed puns and rhymes impossible now. It is
not eighty years since you could tell the county[N] of every country
member of Parliament by his speech. Speculations like Mr. White's would
be better placed in a monograph by themselves. We have subjected his
volumes to a laborious examination such as few books receive, because
the text of Shakspeare is a matter of common and great concern, and
they have borne the trial, except in these few impertinent particulars,
admirably. Mr. Dyce and Mr. Singer are only dry commonplace-books of
illustrative quotations; Mr. Collier has not wholly recovered from his
"Corr. fo."-madness; Mr. Knight (with many eminent advantages as an
editor) is too diffuse; and we repeat our honest persuasion, that Mr.
White has thus far given us the best extant text, while the fulness of
his notes gives his edition almost the value of a _variorum_. We shall
look with great interest for his succeeding volumes.

[Footnote N: Mr. White is mistaken in thinking that to say "my country"
for "my county" was a peculiarity of Shallow. It was common in the last
century in England. He is wrong also in thinking that he was restoring a
characteristic vulgarism in _aleven_. Gabriel Harvey uses it, and says
there is no difference in sound between that and _a leaven_.]

* * * * *

In the introductory part of this article, we said that it was doubtful
if Shakspeare had any conscious moral intention in his writings. We
meant only that he was purely and primarily poet. And while he was
an English poet in a sense that is true of no other, his method was
thoroughly Greek, yet with this remarkable difference,--that, while the
Greek dramatists took purely national themes and gave them a universal
interest by their mode of treatment, he took what may be called
cosmopolitan traditions, legends of human nature, and nationalized them,
by the infusion of his perfectly Anglican breadth of character and
solidity of understanding. Wonderful as his imagination and fancy are,
his perspicacity and artistic discretion are more so. This country
tradesman's son, coming up to London, could set high-bred wits, like
Beaumont, uncopiable lessons in drawing gentlemen such as are seen
nowhere else but on the canvas of Titian; he could take Ulysses away
from Homer and expand the shrewd and crafty islander into a statesman
whose words are the pith of history. But what makes him yet more
exceptional was his utterly unimpeachable judgment, and that poise of
character which enabled him to be at once the greatest of poets and so
unnoticeable a good citizen as to leave no incidents for biography. His
material was never far-sought; (it is still disputed whether the fullest
head of which we have record were cultivated beyond the range of
grammar-school precedent!) but he used it with a poetic instinct which
we cannot parallel, identified himself with it, yet remained always its
born and question-less master. He finds the Clown and Fool upon the
stage,--he makes them the tools of his pleasantry, his satire, and even
his pathos; he finds a fading rustic superstition, and shapes out of
it ideal Pucks, Titanias, and Ariels, in whose existence statesmen and
scholars believe forever. Always poet, he subjects all to the ends
of his art, and gives in Hamlet the churchyard-ghost, but with the
cothurnus on,--the messenger of God's revenge against murder; always
philosopher, he traces in Macbeth the metaphysics of apparitions,
painting the shadowy Banquo only on the o'erwrought brain of the
murderer, and staining the hand of his wife-accomplice (because she was
the more refined and higher nature) with the disgustful blood-spot that
is not there. We say he had no moral intention, for the reason, that,
as artist, it was not his to deal with the realities, but only with
the shows of things; yet, with a temperament so just, an insight so
inevitable as his, it was impossible that the moral reality, which
underlies the _mirage_ of the poet's vision, should not always be
suggested. His humor and satire are never of the destructive kind; what
he does in that way is suggestive only,--not breaking bubbles with
Thor's hammer, but puffing them away with the breath of a Clown, or
shivering them with the light laugh of a genial cynic. Men go about to
prove the existence of a God! Was it a bit of phosphorus, that brain
whose creations are so real, that, mixing with them, we feel as if we
ourselves were but fleeting magic-lantern shadows?

But higher even than the genius, we rate the character of this unique
man, and the grand impersonality of what he wrote. What has he told
us of himself? In our self-exploiting nineteenth century, with its
melancholy liver-complaint, how serene and high he seems! If he had
sorrows, he has made them the woof of everlasting consolation to his
kind; and if, as poets are wont to whine, the outward world was cold
to him, its biting air did but trace itself in loveliest frost-work of
fancy on the many windows of that self-centred and cheerful soul.

* * * * *


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