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The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IV by Editor-in-Chief: Kuno Francke

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gave lectures on philosophy, and attempted another journal. Here he
began his enthusiastic studies of the Sanskrit language and
literature, which proved to have an important influence on the
development of modern philology. This is eminently true of his work
_On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians_ (1808). In 1804 he removed
to Cologne, where he entered with great eagerness into the work of
re-discovering the medieval Lower Rhenish School of religious art and
Gothic architecture. In 1808 he, with his wife Dorothea (the daughter
of Moses Mendelssohn, who years before this time had left her home and
family to become his partner for life), entered the Roman Catholic
church, the interests of which engaged much of his energies for the
remainder of his life.


He lived most of the time in Vienna, partly engaged in the literary
service of the Austrian government, partly in lecturing on history and
literature. He died in 1829 in Dresden, whither he had gone to deliver
a course of lectures.

Friedrich Schlegel's philosophy of life was based upon the theory of
supremacy of the artist, the potency of poetry, with its incidental
corollaries of disregard for the Kantian ideal of Duty, and aversion
to all Puritanism and Protestantism. "There is no great world but that
of artists," he declared in the _Athenaeum_; "artists form a higher
caste; they should separate themselves, even in their way of living,
from other people." Poetry and philosophy formed in his thought an
inseparable unit, forever joined, "though seldom together--like Castor
and Pollux." His interest is in "Humanity," that is to say, a superior
type of the species, with a corresponding contempt for "commonness,"
especially for the common man as a mere machine of "duty." On
performances he set no great store: "Those countenances are most
interesting to me in which Nature seems to have indicated a great
design without taking time to carry it out."

August Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767-1845), more simply known as
"Wilhelm," was the more balanced, dignified, and serene nature, and
possessed in a far higher degree than Friedrich the art of steering
his course smoothly through life. Of very great significance in his
training were his university years at Goettingen, and his acquaintance
there with the poet Buerger, that early apostle of revolt from a formal
literature, whose own life had become more and more discredited and
was destined to go out in wretchedness and ignominy; the latter's
fecundating activities had never been allowed full scope, but
something of his spirit of adventure into new literary fields was
doubtless caught by the younger man. Buerger's attempts at naturalizing
the sonnet, for instance, are interesting in view of the fact that
Wilhelm Schlegel became the actual creator of this literary form among
the Germans. Schlegel's own pursuits as a student were prevailingly
in the field of Hellenism, in which his acquisitions were astounding;
his influence was especially potent in giving a philological character
to much of the work of the Romanticists. In Goettingen he became
acquainted with one of the most gifted women which Germany has ever
produced, Caroline, the daughter of the Goettingen professor Michaelis,
at the time a young widow in the home of her father, and destined to
become not only his wife, but the Muse of much of his most important
work. This office she performed until the time of their unfortunate

After finishing his university studies, Wilhelm was for a while
private tutor in a wealthy family at Amsterdam, where conditions of
living were most agreeable, but where a suitable stimulus to the
inborn life of his mind was lacking. He accordingly gave up this
position and returned, with little but hopes, to Germany. Then came a
call which was both congenial and honorable. Schiller's attention had
been drawn, years before, to a review of his own profound
philosophical poem, _The Artists_, by an unknown young man, whom he at
once sought to secure as a regular contributor to his literary
journal, _The New Thalia_. Nothing came of this, chiefly because of
Schlegel's intimate relations to Buerger at the time. Schiller had
published, not long before, his annihilatory review of Buerger's poems,
which did so much to put that poet out of serious consideration for
the remainder of his days. In the meantime Schiller had addressed
himself to his crowning enterprise, the establishing of a literary
journal which should be the final dictator of taste and literary
criticism throughout the German-speaking world. In 1794 the plan for
_The Hours_ was realized under favorable auspices, and in the same
year occurred the death of Buerger. In 1796 Schiller invited Wilhelm to
become one of the regular staff of _The Hours_, and this invitation
Schlegel accepted, finding in it the opportunity to marry Caroline,
with whom he settled in Jena in July of that year. His first
contribution to _The Hours_ was a masterful and extended treatise on
_Dante_, which was accompanied by translations which were clearly the
most distinguished in that field which the German language had ever
been able to offer. Schlegel also furnished elaborated poems, somewhat
in Schiller's grand style, for the latter's _Almanac of the Muses_.
During the years of his residence at Jena (which continued until 1801)
Schlegel, with the incalculable assistance of his wife, published the
first eight volumes of those renderings of Shakespeare's plays into
German which doubtless stand at the very summit of the art of
transferring a poet to an alien region, and which have, in actual
fact, served to make the Bard of Avon as truly a fellow-citizen of the
Germans as of the Britons. Wilhelm's brother Friedrich had remained
but a year with him in Jena, before his removal to Berlin and his
establishment of the _Athenaeum_. Although separated from his brother,
Wilhelm's part in the conduct of the journal was almost as important
as Friedrich's, and, in effect, they conducted the whole significant
enterprise out of their own resources. The opening essay, _The
Languages_, is Wilhelm's, and properly, for at this time he was by far
the better versed in philological and literary matters. His cultural
acquisitions, his tremendous spoils of reading, were greater, and his
judgment more trustworthy. In all his work in the _Athenaeum_ he
presents a seasoned, many-sided sense of all poetical, phonetic and
musical values: rhythm, color, tone, the lightest breath and aroma of
an elusive work of art. One feels that Wilhelm overhauls the whole
business of criticism, and clears the field for coming literary
ideals. Especially telling is his demolition of Klopstock's violent
"Northernism," to which he opposes a far wider philosophy of grammar
and style. The universality of poetry, as contrasted with a narrow
"German" clumsiness, is blandly defended, and a joyous abandon is
urged as something better than the meticulous anxiety of chauvinistic
partisanism. In all his many criticisms of literature there are charm,
wit, and elegance, an individuality and freedom in the reviewer, who,
if less penetrating than his brother, displays a far more genial
breadth and humanity, and more secure composure. His translations,
more masterly than those of Friedrich, carry out Herder's demand for
complete absorption and re-creation.

In 1801 Schlegel went to Berlin, where for three successive winters he
lectured on art and literature. His subsequent translations of
Calderon's plays (1803-1809) and of Romance lyrics served to
naturalize a large treasure of southern poetry upon German soil. In
1804, after having separated from his wife, he became attached to the
household of Madame de Stael, and traversed Europe with her. It is
through this association that she was enabled to write her brilliant
work, _On Germany_. In 1808 he delivered a series of lectures on
dramatic art and literature in Vienna, which enjoyed enormous
popularity, and are still reckoned the crowning achievement of his
career; perhaps the most significant of these is his discourse on
Shakespeare. In the first volume of the _Athenaeum_, Shakespeare's
universality had already been regarded as "the central point of
romantic art." As Romanticist, it was Schlegel's office to portray the
independent development of the modern English stage, and to defend
Shakespeare against the familiar accusations of barbaric crudity and
formlessness. In surveying the field, it was likewise incumbent upon
him to demonstrate in what respects the classic drama differed from
the independently developed modern play, and his still useful
generalization regards antique art as limited, clear, simple, and
perfected--as typified by a work of sculpture; whereas romantic art
delights in mingling its subjects--as a painting, which embraces many
objects and looks out into the widest vistas. Apart from the clarity
and smoothness of these Vienna discourses, their lasting merit lies in
their searching observation of the import of dramatic works from their
inner soul, and in a most discriminating sense of the relation of all
their parts to an organic whole.

In 1818 Schlegel accepted a professorship at the University of Bonn,
in which place he exercised an incalculable influence upon one of the
rising stars of German literature, young Heinrich Heine, who derived
from him (if we may judge from his own testimony at the time; Heine's
later mood is a very different matter) an inspiration amounting to
captivation. The brilliant young student discovered here a stimulating
leader whose wit, finish, and elegance responded in full measure to
the hitherto unsatisfied cravings of his own nature. Although Heine
had become a very altered person at the time of writing his _Romantic
School_ (1836), this book throws a scintillating illumination upon
certain sides of Schlegel's temperament, and offers a vivid impression
of his living personality.

In these last decades of his life Schlegel turned, as had his younger
brother, to the inviting field of Sanskrit literature and philology,
and extracted large and important treasures which may still be
reckoned among mankind's valued resources. When all discount has been
made on the side of a lack of specific gravity in Wilhelm Schlegel's
character, it is only just to assert that throughout his long and
prolific life he wrought with incalculable effect upon the
civilization of modern Europe as a humanizer of the first importance.

Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) is reckoned by many students of the Romantic
period to be the best and most lasting precipitate which the entire
movement has to show. For full sixty years a most prolific writer, and
occupied in the main with purely literary production, it is not
strange that he came to be regarded as the poetic mouthpiece of the

His birth was in a middle-class family of Berlin. A full university
training at Halle, Goettingen and Erlangen was accorded him, during
which he cannot be said to have distinguished himself by any triumph
in the field of formal studies, but in the course of which he
assimilated at first hand the chief modern languages of culture,
without any professional guidance. At an early stage in his growth he
discovered and fed full upon Shakespeare. As a university student he
also fell in love with the homely lore of German folk-poetry. In 1794
he came back to Berlin, and turned to rather banal hack-writing for
the publisher Nicolai, chief of all exponents of rationalism.
Significant was his early rehabilitation of popular folk-tales and
chapbooks, as in _The Wonderful Love-Story of Beautiful Magelone and
Count Peter of Provence_ (1797). The stuff was that of one of the
prose chivalry-stories of the middle ages, full of marvels, seeking
the remote among strange hazards by land and sea. The tone of Tieck's
narrative is childlike and naive, with rainbow-glows of the bliss of
romantic love, glimpses of the poetry and symbolism of Catholic
tradition, and a somewhat sugary admixture of the spirit of the
_Minnelied_, with plenty of refined and delicate sensuousness. With
the postulate that song is the true language of life, the story is
sprinkled with lyrics at every turn. The whole adventure is into the
realm of dreams and vague sensations.

Tieck must have been liberally baptized with Spree-water, for the
instantaneous, corrosive Berlin wit was a large part of his endowment.
His cool irony associated him more closely to the Schlegels than to
Novalis, with his life-and-death consecrations. His absurd
play-within-a-play, _Puss in Boots_ (1797), is delicious in its
bizarre ragout of satirical extravaganzas, where the naive and the
ironic lie side by side, and where the pompous seriousness of certain
complacent standards is neatly excoriated.

Such publications as the two mentioned were hailed with rejoicing by
the Schlegels, who at once adopted Tieck as a natural ally. Even more
after their own hearts was the long novel, _Franz Sternbald's
Wanderings_ (1798), a vibrant confession, somewhat influenced by
_Wilhelm Meister_, of the Religion of Art (or the Art of Religion):
"Devout worship is the highest and purest joy in Art, a joy of which
our natures are capable only in their purest and most exalted


Sternbald, a pupil of Albrecht Duerer, makes a roving journey to the
Low Countries, the Rhine, and Italy, in order to deepen his artistic
nature. The psychology of the novel is by no means always true to the
spirit of the sixteenth century; in fact a good part of the story
reflects aristocratic French chateau-life in the eighteenth century.
The intensities of romantic friendship give a sustained thrill, and
the style is rhythmic, though the action is continually interrupted by
episodes, lyrics, and discourses. In the unworldliness, the delicacy
of sensibility, and the somewhat vague outlines of the story one may
be reminded, at times, of _The Marble Faun_. Its defense of German
Art, as compared with that of the Italian Renaissance, is its chief

This novel has been dwelt upon because of its direct influence upon
German painting and religion. A new verb, "_sternbaldisieren_," was
coined to parody a new movement in German art toward the medieval,
religious spirit. It is this book which Heine had in mind when he
ridiculed Tieck's "silly plunge into medieval naivete." Overbeck and
Cornelius in Rome, with their pre-Raphaelite, old-German and
catholicizing tendencies, became the leaders of a productive school.
Goethe scourged it for its "mystic-religious" aspirations, and
demanded a more vigorous, cheerful and progressive outlook for German

Having already formed a personal acquaintance with Friedrich Schlegel
in Berlin, Tieck moved to Jena in 1799, came into very close relations
with Fichte, the Schlegels, and Novalis, and continued to produce
works in the spirit of the group, notably the tragedy _Life and Death
of Saint Genoveva_ (1800). His most splendid literary feat at this
period, however, was the translation of _Don Quixote_ (1799-1801), a
triumph over just those subtle difficulties which are well-nigh
insurmountable, a rendering which went far beyond any mere literalness
of text, and reproduced the very tone and aura of its original.

In 1803 he published a graceful little volume of typical
_Minnelieder_, renewed from the middle high-German period. The note of
the book (in which Runge's copperplate outlines are perhaps as
significant as the poems) is spiritualized sex-love: the utterance of
its fragrance and delicacy, its unique place in the universe as a
pathway to the Divine--a point of view to which the modern mind is
prone to take some exceptions, considering a religion of erotics
hardly firm enough ground to support an entire philosophy of living.
All the motives of the old court-lyric are well represented--the
torments and rewards of love, the charm of spring, the refinements of
courtly breeding--and the sophisticated metrical forms are handled
with great virtuosity. Schiller, it is true, compared them to the
chatter of sparrows, and Goethe also paid his compliments to the
"sing-song of the Minnesingers," but it was this same little book
which first gave young Jakob Grimm the wish to become acquainted with
these poets in their original form.

That eminently "Romantic" play, _Emperor Octavian_ (1804), derived
from a familiar medieval chap-book, lyric in tone and loose in form,
is a pure epitome of the movement, and the high-water mark of Tieck's
apostleship and service. Here Tieck shows his intimate sense of the
poetry of inanimate nature; ironic mockery surrenders completely to
religious devotion; the piece is bathed in--

The light that never was on sea or land,
The consecration and the poet's dream.

It is in the prologue to this play that personified Romance declares
her descent from Faith, her father, and Love, her mother, and
introduces the action by the command:

"Moonshine-lighted magic night
Holding every sense in thrall;
World, which wondrous tales recall,
Rise, in ancient splendors bright!"

During a year's residence in Italy Tieck applied himself chiefly to
reading old-German manuscripts, in the Library of the Vatican, and
wavered upon the edge of a decision to devote himself to Germanic


The loss to science is not serious, for Tieck hardly possessed the
grasp and security which could have made him a peer of the great
pioneers in this field. From the time of his leaving for Italy,
Tieck's importance for the development of Romanticism becomes
comparatively negligible.

After a roving existence of years, during which he lived in Vienna,
Munich, Prague and London, he made a settled home in Dresden. Here he
had an enviable place in the very considerable literary and artistic
group, and led an existence of almost suspiciously "reasonable"
well-being, from a Romantic view-point. The "dramatic evenings" at his
home, in which he read plays aloud before a brilliant gathering, were
a feature of social life. For seventeen years he had an influential
position as "dramaturg" of the Royal Theatre, it being his duty to
pass on plays to be performed and to decide upon suitable actors for
the parts.

During his long residence in Dresden Tieck produced a very large
number of short stories (_Novellen_) which had a decided vogue, though
they differ widely from his earlier writings in dealing with real,
contemporary life.

It is pleasant to record that the evening of Tieck's long life was
made secure from anxieties by a call to Berlin from Friedrich Wilhelm
IV., the "Romantic king." His last eleven years were spent there in
quiet and peace, disturbed only by having to give dramatic readings
before a self-sufficient court circle which was imperfectly equipped
for appreciating the merits of Tieck's performances.

The early Romantic movement found its purest expression in the person
and writings of Friedrich von Hardenberg, better known under his
assumed literary name Novalis (1772-1801). Both his father, Baron von
Hardenberg (chief director of the Saxon salt-works), and his mother
belonged to the Moravians, that devoted group of mystical pietists
whose sincere consecration to the things of the spirit has achieved a
deathless place in the annals of the religious history of the
eighteenth century, and, more particularly, determined the beginnings
and the essential character of the world-wide Methodist movement. His
gentle life presents very little of dramatic incident: he was a
reserved, somewhat unsocial boy, greatly devoted to study and to the
reading of poetry. He was given a most thorough education, and, while
completing his university career, became acquainted with Friedrich
Schlegel, and remained his most intimate friend. He also came to know
Fichte, and eagerly absorbed his _Doctrine of Science_. A little later
he came into close relations with Wilhelm Schlegel and Tieck in Jena.
He experienced a seraphic love for a delicate girl of thirteen, whose
passing away at the age of fifteen served to transport the youth's
interests almost exclusively to the invisible world: "Life is a
sickness of the spirit, a passionate Doing." His chief conversation
lay in solitude, in seeking for a mystic inner solution of the secrets
of external nature. He loved to discourse on these unseen realms, and
to create an ideal connection between them all. The testimony of his
friend Tieck, who in company with Friedrich Schlegel edited his works
in a spirit of almost religious piety, runs: "The common life
environed him like some tale of fiction, and that realm which most men
conceive as something far and incomprehensible was the very Home of
his Soul." He was not quite twenty-nine years old at the time of his
peaceful death, which plunged the circle of his Romantic friends into
deepest grief.

The envelope of his spiritual nature was so tenuous that he seemed to
respond to all the subtler influences of the universe; a sensitive
chord attuned to poetic values, he appeared to exercise an almost
mediumistic refraction and revelation of matters which lie only in the
realm of the transcendental--

"Weaving about the commonplace of things
The golden haze of morning's blushing glow."

In reading Novalis, it is hardly possible to discriminate between
discourse and dreaming; his passion was for remote, never-experienced

"Ah, lonely stands, and merged in woe,
Who loves the past with fervent glow!"

His homesickness for the invisible world became an almost sensuous
yearning for the joys of death.

In the first volume of the _Athenaeum_ (1798) a place of honor was
given to his group of apothegms, _Pollen_ (rather an unromantic
translation for "_Bluethenstaub_"); these were largely supplemented by
materials found after his death, and republished as _Fragments_. In
the last volume of the same journal (1800) appeared his _Hymns to
Night_. Practically all of his other published works are posthumous:
his unfinished novel, _Henry of Ofterdingen_; a set of religious
hymns; the beginnings of a "physical novel," _The Novices at Sais_.

Novalis's aphoristic "seed-thoughts" reveal Fichte's transcendental
idealistic philosophy as the fine-spun web of all his observations on
life. The external world is but a shadow; the universe is in us;
there, or nowhere, is infinity, with all its systems, past or future;
the world is but a precipitate of human nature.

_The Novices at Sais_, a mystical contemplation of nature reminding us
of the discourses of Jakob Boehme, has some suggestion of the
symbolistic lore of parts of Goethe's _Wilhelm Meister_, and proves a
most racking riddle to the uninitiated. The penetration into the
meaning of the Veiled Image of Nature is attempted from the point of
view that all is symbolic: only poetic, intuitive souls may enter in;
the merely physical investigator is but searching through a
charnel-house. Nature, the countenance of Divinity, reveals herself to
the childlike spirit; to such she will, at her own good pleasure,
disclose herself spontaneously, though gradually. This seems to be the
inner meaning of the episodic tale, _Hyacinth and Rose-Blossom_. The
rhythmic prose _Hymns to Night_ exhale a delicate melancholy, moving
in a vague haze, and yet breathing a peace which comes from a
knowledge of the deeper meanings of things, divined rather than
experienced. Their stealing melody haunts the soul, however dazed the
mind may be with their vagueness, and their exaltation of death above
life. In his _Spiritual Poems_ we feel a simple, passionate intensity
of adoration, a yearning sympathy for the hopeless and the
heavy-laden; in their ardent assurance of love, peace, and rest, they
are surely to be reckoned among the most intimate documents in the
whole archives of the "varieties of religious experience."

The unfinished novel _Henry of Ofterdingen_ reaches a depth of
obscurity which is saved from absurdity only by the genuinely fervent
glow of a soul on the quest for its mystic ideals: "The blue flower it
is that I yearn to look upon!" No farcical romance of the nursery
shows more truly the mingled stuff that dreams are made on, yet the
intimation that the dream is not all a dream, that the spirit of an
older day is symbolically struggling for some expression in words,
gave it in its day a serious importance at which our own age can
merely marvel. It brings no historical conviction; it is altogether
free from such conventional limits as Time and Space. Stripped of its
dreamy diction, there is even a tropical residue of sensuousness, to
which the English language is prone to give a plainer name. It
develops into a fantastic _melange_ which no American mind can
possibly reckon with; what its effect would be upon a person relegated
to reading it in close confinement, it would not be safe to assert,
but it is quite certain that "this way madness lies."

To generalize about the Romantic movement, may seem about as practical
as to attempt to make a trigonometrical survey of the Kingdom of
Dreams. No epoch in all literary history is so hopelessly entangled in
the meshes of subtle philosophical speculation, derived from the most
complex sources. To deal with the facts of classic art, which is
concerned with seeking a clearly-defined perfection, is a simple
matter compared with the unbounded and undefined concepts of a school
which waged war upon "the deadliness of ascertained facts" and
immersed itself in vague intimations of glories that were to be. Its
most authorized exponent declared it to be "the delineation of
sentimental matter in fantastic form." A more elaborated authoritative
definition is given in the first volume of the _Athenaeum_:

"Romantic poetry is a progressive universal-poetry. Its aim is not
merely to reunite all the dispersed classes of poetry, and to place
poetry in touch with philosophy and rhetoric; it aims and ought to aim
to mingle and combine poetry and prose, genius and criticism, artistic
and natural poetry; to make poetry lively and social, to make life and
society poetic; to poetize wit, to saturate all the forms of art with
worthy materials of culture and enliven them by the sallies of humor.
It embraces everything that is poetic, from the greatest and most
inclusive system of art, to the sigh, the kiss, that the poetic child
utters in artless song. Other classes of poetry are complete, and may
now be exhaustively dissected; romantic poetry is still in process of
becoming--in fact this is its chief characteristic, that it forever
can merely become, but never be completed. It can never be exhausted
by any theory, and only an intuitive criticism could dare to attempt
to characterize its ideals. It alone is endless, as it alone is free,
and asserts as its first law that the whim of the poet tolerates no
law above itself. Romantic poetry is the only sort which is more than
a class, and, as it were, the art of poetry itself."

We may in part account for Romanticism by recalling that it was the
product of an age which was no longer in sympathy with its own tasks,
an age of political miseries and restrained powers, which turned away
from its own surroundings and sought to be free from all contact with
them, striving to benumb its sensations by an auto-intoxication of

Romanticism is built upon the imposing corner-stone of the unique
importance of the Individual: "To become God, to be man, to develop
one's own being, these are expressions for the same thing." As
personality is supreme, it is natural that there should follow a
contempt for the mediocrity of current majorities, standards and
opinions. It abhorred universal abstractions, as opposed to the truth
and meaning of individual phenomena. It stoutly believed in an
inexpugnable right to Illusions, and held clarity and earnestness to
be foes of human happiness. "The poem gained great applause, because
it had so strange, so well-nigh unintelligible a sound. It was like
music itself, and for that very reason attracted so irresistibly.
Although the hearers were awake, they were entertained _as though in a

Hence a purely lyric attitude toward life, which was apprehended only
on transcendent, musical valuations. Poetry was to be the heart and
centre of actual living; modern life seemed full of "prose and
pettiness" as compared with the Middle Ages; it was the doctrine of
this Mary in the family of Bethany to leave to the Martha of dull
externalists the care of many things, while she "chose the better
part" in contemplative lingering at the vision of what was essentially
higher. A palpitant imagination outranks "cold intelligence;"
sensation, divorced from all its bearings or functions, is its own
excuse for being. Of responsibility, hardly a misty trace; realities
are playthings and to be treated allegorically.

The step was not a long one to the thesis that "disorder and confusion
are the pledge of true efficiency"--such being one of the
"seed-thoughts" of Novalis. In mixing all species, Romanticism amounts
to unchartered freedom, "_die gesunde, kraeftige Ungezogenheit_." It is
no wonder that so many of its literary works remain unfinished
fragments, and that many of its exponents led unregulated lives.

"Get you irony, and form yourself to urbanity" is the counsel of
Friedrich Schlegel. The unbridgeable chasm between Ideal and Life
could not be spanned, and the baffled idealist met this hopelessness
with the shrug of irony. The every-day enthusiasm of the common life
invited only a sneer, often, it is true, associated with flashing wit.

Among its more pleasing manifestations, Romanticism shows a remarkable
group of gifted, capable women, possibly because this philosophy of
intuition corresponds to the higher intimations of woman's soul. Other
obvious fruits of the movement were the revival of the poetry and
dignity of the Middle Ages, both in art and life--that colorful,
form-loving musical era which the Age of Enlightenment had so crassly
despised. That this yearning for the beautiful background led to
reaction in politics and religion is natural enough; more edifying are
the rich fruits which scholarship recovered when Romanticism had
directed it into the domains of German antiquity and philology, and
the wealth of popular song. In addition to these, we must reckon the
spoils which these adventurers brought back from their quest into the
faery lands of Poetry in southern climes.

When all is said, and in spite of Romanticism's weak and unmanly
quitting of the field of duty, in spite of certain tendencies to
ignore and supersede the adamant foundations of morality upon which
the "humanities" as well as society rest, one cannot quite help hoping
that somehow good may be the final hint of it all. Like Mary Stuart,
it is, at least, somewhat better than its worst repute, as formulated
by its enemies. Estimates change; even the excellent Wordsworth was
held by the English reviewers to be fantastic and vague in his _Ode to
Duty_. We should not forget that the most shocking pronouncements of
the Romanticists were uttered half-ironically, to say the least. After
its excursion into the fantastic jungle of Romanticism, the world has
found it restful and restorative, to be sure, to return to the limited
perfection of the serene and approved classics; yet perchance it _is_
the last word of all philosophy that the astounding circumambient
Universe is almost entirely unperceived by our senses and reasoning

Let us confess, and without apology, that the country which claims a
Hawthorne, a Poe, and a youthful Longfellow, can never surrender
unconditionally its hold upon the "True Romance:"

"Through wantonness if men profess
They weary of Thy parts,
E'en let them die at blasphemy
And perish with their arts;
But we that love, but we that prove
Thine excellence august,
While we adore discover more
Thee perfect, wise, and just....

A veil to draw 'twixt God His Law
And Man's infirmity;
A shadow kind to dumb and blind
The shambles where we die;
A sum to trick th' arithmetic
Too base of leaguing odds;
The spur of trust, the curb of lust--
Thou handmaid of the Gods!"


* * * * *




Comparison of the English and Spanish Theatres--Spirit of the Romantic
Drama--Shakespeare--His age and the circumstances of his Life.

In conformity with the plan which we laid down at the first, we shall
now proceed to treat of the English and Spanish theatres. We have
been, on various occasions, compelled in passing to allude cursorily,
sometimes to the one and sometimes to the other, partly for the sake
of placing, by means of contrast, many ideas in a clearer light, and
partly on account of the influence which these stages have had on the
theatres of other countries. Both the English and Spaniards possess a
very rich dramatic literature, both have had a number of prolific and
highly talented dramatists, among whom even the least admired and
celebrated, considered as a whole, display uncommon aptitude for
dramatic animation and insight into the essence of theatrical effect.
The history of their theatres has no connection with that of the
Italians and French, for they developed themselves wholly out of the
abundance of their own intrinsic energy, without any foreign
influence: the attempts to bring them back to an imitation of the
ancients, or even of the French, have either been attended with no
success, or not been made till a late period in the decay of the
drama. The formation of these two stages, again, is equally
independent of each other; the Spanish poets were altogether
unacquainted with the English; and in the older and most important
period of the English theatre I could discover no trace of any
knowledge of Spanish plays (though their novels and romances were
certainly known), and it was not till the time of Charles II. that
translations from Calderon first made their appearance.

So many things among men have been handed down from century to century
and from nation to nation, and the human mind is in general so slow to
invent, that originality in any department of mental exertion is
everywhere a rare phenomenon. We are desirous of seeing the result of
the efforts of inventive geniuses when, regardless of what in the same
line has elsewhere been carried to a high degree of perfection, they
set to work in good earnest to invent altogether for themselves; when
they lay the foundation of the new edifice on uncovered ground, and
draw all the preparations, all the building materials, from their own
resources. We participate, in some measure, in the joy of success,
when we see them advance rapidly from their first helplessness and
need to a finished mastery in their art. The history of the Grecian
theatre would afford us this cheering prospect could we witness its
rudest beginnings, which were not preserved, for they were not even
committed to writing; but it is easy, when we compare AEschylus and
Sophocles, to form some idea of the preceding period. The Greeks
neither inherited nor borrowed their dramatic art from any other
people; it was original and native, and for that very reason was it
able to produce a living and powerful effect. But it ended with the
period when Greeks imitated Greeks; namely, when the Alexandrian poets
began learnedly and critically to compose dramas after the model of
the great tragic writers. The reverse of this was the case with the
Romans; they received the form and substance of their dramas from the
Greeks; they never attempted to act according to their own discretion,
or to express their own way of thinking; and hence they occupy so
insignificant a place in the history of dramatic art. Among the
nations of modern Europe, the English and Spaniards alone (for the
German stage is but forming) possess as yet a theatre entirely
original and national, which, in its own peculiar shape, has
arrived at maturity.


Those critics who consider the authority of the ancients, as models,
to be such that in poetry, as in all the other arts, there can be no
safety out of the pale of imitation, affirm that, as the nations in
question have not followed this course, they have brought nothing but
irregular works on the stage, which, though they may possess
occasional passages of splendor and beauty, must yet, as a whole, be
forever reprobated as barbarous and wanting in form. We have already,
in the introductory part of these Lectures, stated our sentiments
generally on this way of thinking; but we must now examine the subject
somewhat more closely.

If the assertion be well founded, all that distinguishes the works of
the greatest English and Spanish dramatists, a Shakespeare and a
Calderon, must rank them far below the ancients; they could in no wise
be of importance for theory, and would at most appear remarkable, on
the assumption that the obstinacy of these nations in refusing to
comply with the rules may have afforded a more ample field to the
poets to display their native originality, though at the expense of
art. But even this assumption, on a closer examination, appears
extremely questionable. The poetic spirit requires to be limited, that
it may move with a becoming liberty within its proper precincts, as
has been felt by all nations on the first invention of metre; it must
act according to laws derivable from its own essence, otherwise its
strength will evaporate in boundless vacuity.

The works of genius cannot therefore be permitted to be without form;
but of this there is no danger. However, that we may answer this
objection of want of form, we must understand the exact meaning of the
term "form," since most critics, and more especially those who insist
on a stiff regularity, interpret it merely in a mechanical, and not in
an organical sense. Form is mechanical when, through external force,
it is imparted to any material merely as an accidental addition
without reference to its quality; as, for example, when we give a
particular shape to a soft mass that it may retain the same after its
induration. Organical form, again, is innate; it unfolds itself from
within, and requires its determination contemporaneously with the
perfect development of the germ. We everywhere discover such forms in
nature throughout the whole range of living powers, from the
crystallization of salts and minerals to plants and flowers, and from
these again to the human body. In the fine arts, as well as in the
domain of nature, the supreme artist, all genuine forms are organical,
that is, determined by the quality of the work. In a word, the form is
nothing but a significant exterior, the speaking physiognomy of each
thing, which, as long as it is not disfigured by any destructive
accident, gives a true evidence of its hidden essence.

Hence it is evident that the spirit of poetry, which, though
imperishable, migrates, as it were, through different bodies, must, so
often as it is newly born in the human race, mold to itself, out of
the nutrimental substance of an altered age, a body of a different
conformation. The forms vary with the direction taken by the poetical
sense; and when we give to the new kinds of poetry the old names, and
judge of them according to the ideas conveyed by these names, the
application which we make of the authority of classical antiquity is
altogether unjustifiable. No one should be tried before a tribunal to
which he is not amenable. We may safely admit that most of the English
and Spanish dramatic works are neither tragedies nor comedies in the
sense of the ancients; they are romantic dramas. That the stage of a
people in its foundation and formation, who neither knew nor wished to
know anything of foreign models, will possess many peculiarities, and
not only deviate from, but even exhibit a striking contrast to, the
theatres of other nations who had a common model for imitation before
their eyes, is easily supposable, and we should only be astonished
were it otherwise.

[Illustration: #CAROLINE SCHLEGEL#]

But when in two nations, differing so widely as the English and
Spanish in physical, moral, political, and religious respects, the
theatres (which, without being known to one another, arose about the
same time) possess, along with external and internal diversities, the
most striking features of affinity, the attention even of the most
thoughtless cannot but be turned to this phenomenon; and the
conjecture will naturally occur that the same, or, at least, a kindred
principle must have prevailed in the development of both. This
comparison, however, of the English and Spanish theatre, in their
common contrast with every dramatic literature which has grown up out
of an imitation of the ancients, has, so far as we know, never yet
been attempted. Could we raise from the dead a countryman, a
contemporary and intelligent admirer of Shakespeare, and another of
Calderon, and introduce to their acquaintance the works of the poet to
which in life they were strangers, they would both, without doubt,
considering the subject rather from a national than a general point of
view, enter with difficulty into the above idea and have many
objections to urge against it. But here a reconciling criticism[12]
must step in; and this, perhaps, may be best exercised by a German,
who is free from the national peculiarities of either Englishmen or
Spaniards, yet by inclination friendly to both, and prevented by no
jealousy from acknowledging the greatness which has been earlier
exhibited in other countries than his own.

The similarity of the English and Spanish theatres does not consist
merely in the bold neglect of the Unities of Place and Time, or in the
commixture of comic and tragic elements; that they were unwilling or
unable to comply with the rules and with right reason (in the meaning
of certain critics these terms are equivalent), may be considered as
an evidence of merely negative properties. The ground of the
resemblance lies far deeper, in the inmost substance of the fictions
and in the essential relations through which every deviation of form
becomes a true requisite, which, together with its validity, has also
its significance. What they have in common with each other is the
spirit of the romantic poetry, giving utterance to itself in a
dramatic shape. However, to explain ourselves with due precision, the
Spanish theatre, in our opinion, down to its decline and fall in the
commencement of the eighteenth century, is almost entirely romantic;
the English is completely so in Shakespeare alone, its founder and
greatest master; but in later poets the romantic principle appears
more or less degenerated, or is no longer perceivable, although the
march of dramatic composition introduced by virtue of it has been,
outwardly at least, pretty generally retained. The manner in which the
different ways of thinking of the two nations, one a northern and the
other a southern, have been expressed; the former endowed with a
gloomy, the latter with a glowing imagination; the one nation
possessed of a scrutinizing seriousness disposed to withdraw within
itself, the other impelled outwardly by the violence of passion--the
mode in which all this has been accomplished will be most
satisfactorily explained at the close of this section, when we come to
institute a parallel between Shakespeare and Calderon, the only two
poets who are entitled to be called great.

Of the origin and essence of the romantic I treated in my first
Lecture, and I shall here, therefore, merely briefly mention the
subject. The ancient art and poetry rigorously separate things which
are dissimilar; the romantic delights in indissoluble mixtures; all
contrarieties--nature and art, poetry and prose, seriousness and
mirth, recollection and anticipation, spirituality and sensuality,
terrestrial and celestial, life and death, are by it blended in the
most intimate combination. As the oldest law-givers delivered their
mandatory instructions and prescriptions in measured melodies; as this
is fabulously ascribed to Orpheus, the first softener of the yet
untamed race of mortals; in like manner the whole of ancient poetry
and art is, as it were, a rhythmical _nomos_ (law), a harmonious
promulgation of the permanently established legislation of a world
submitted to a beautiful order and reflecting in itself the eternal
images of things. Romantic poetry, on the other hand, is the
expression of the secret attraction to a chaos which lies concealed in
the very bosom of the ordered universe, and is perpetually striving
after new and marvelous births; the life-giving spirit of primal love
broods here anew on the face of the waters. The former is more simple,
clear, and like to nature in the self-existent perfection of her
separate works; the latter, notwithstanding its fragmentary
appearance, approaches nearer to the secret of the universe. For
Conception can only comprise each object separately, but nothing in
truth can ever exist separately and by itself; Feeling perceives all
in all at one and the same time.

Respecting the two species of poetry with which we are here
principally occupied, we compared the ancient Tragedy to a group in
sculpture, the figures corresponding to the characters, and their
grouping to the action; and to these two, in both productions of art,
is the consideration exclusively directed, as being all that is
properly exhibited. But the romantic drama must be viewed as a large
picture, where not merely figure and motion are exhibited in larger,
richer groups, but where even all that surrounds the figures must also
be portrayed; where we see not merely the nearest objects, but are
indulged with the prospect of a considerable distance; and all this
under a magical light which assists in giving to the impression the
particular character desired.

Such a picture must be bounded less perfectly and less distinctly than
the group; for it is like a fragment cut out of the optic scene of
the world. However, the painter, by the setting of his foreground, by
throwing the whole of his light into the centre, and by other means of
fixing the point of view, will learn that he must neither wander
beyond the composition nor omit anything within it.

In the representation of figure, Painting cannot compete with
Sculpture, since the former can exhibit it only by a deception and
from a single point of view; but, on the other hand, it communicates
more life to its imitations by colors which in a picture are made to
imitate the lightest shades of mental expression in the countenance.
The look, which can be given only very imperfectly by Sculpture,
enables us to read much deeper in the mind and perceive its lightest
movements. Its peculiar charm, in short, consists in this, that it
enables us to see in bodily objects what is least corporeal, namely,
light and air.

The very same description of beauties are peculiar to the romantic
drama. It does not (like the Old Tragedy) separate seriousness and the
action, in a rigid manner, from among the whole ingredients of life;
it embraces at once the whole of the chequered drama of life with all
its circumstances; and while it seems only to represent subjects
brought accidentally together, it satisfies the unconscious
requisitions of fancy, buries us in reflections on the inexpressible
signification of the objects which we view blended by order, nearness
and distance, light and color, into one harmonious whole; and thus
lends, as it were, a soul to the prospect before us.

The change of time and of place (supposing its influence on the mind
to be included in the picture and that it comes to the aid of the
theatrical perspective, with reference to what is indicated in the
distance, or half-concealed by intervening objects); the contrast of
gayety and gravity (supposing that in degree and kind they bear a
proportion to each other); finally, the mixture of the dialogical and
the lyrical elements (by which the poet is enabled, more or less
perfectly, to transform his personages into poetical beings)--these,
in my opinion, are not mere licenses, but true beauties in the
romantic drama. In all these points, and in many others also, the
English and Spanish works, which are preeminently worthy of this title
of Romantic, fully resemble each other, however different they may be
in other respects.

Of the two we shall first notice the English theatre, because it
arrived at maturity earlier than the Spanish. In both we must occupy
ourselves almost exclusively with a single artist, with Shakespeare in
the one and Calderon in the other; but not in the same order with
each, for Shakespeare stands first and earliest among the English; any
remarks we may have to make on earlier or contemporary antiquities of
the English stage may be made in a review of his history. But Calderon
had many predecessors; he is at once the summit and almost the close
of dramatic art in Spain.

The wish to speak with the brevity which the limits of my plan demand,
of a poet to the study of whom I have devoted many years of my life,
places me in no little embarrassment. I know not where to begin; for I
should never be able to end, were I to say all that I have felt and
thought, on the perusal of his works. With the poet, as with the man,
a more than ordinary intimacy prevents us, perhaps, from putting
ourselves in the place of those who are first forming an acquaintance
with him: we are too familiar with his most striking peculiarities to
be able to pronounce upon the first impression which they are
calculated to make on others. On the other hand, we ought to possess,
and to have the power of communicating, more correct ideas of his mode
of procedure, of his concealed or less obvious views, and of the
meaning and import of his labors, than others whose acquaintance with
him is more limited.

Shakespeare is the pride of his nation. A late poet has, with
propriety, called him "the genius of the British isles." He was the
idol of his contemporaries during the interval, indeed, of puritanical
fanaticism, which broke out in the next generation and rigorously
proscribed all liberal arts and literature, and, during the reign of
the second Charles, when his works were either not acted at all, or,
if so, very much changed and disfigured, his fame was awhile obscured,
only to shine forth again about the beginning of the last century with
more than its original brightness; but since then it has only
increased in lustre with the course of time; and for centuries to come
(I speak it with the greatest confidence) it will, like an Alpine
avalanche, continue to gather strength at every moment of its
progress. Of the future extension of his fame, the enthusiasm with
which he was naturalized in Germany, the moment that he was known, is
a significant earnest. In the South of Europe,[13] his language and
the great difficulty of translating him with fidelity will be,
perhaps, an invincible obstacle to his general diffusion. In England,
the greatest actors vie with one another in the impersonation of his
characters; the printers in splendid editions of his works; and the
painters in transferring his scenes to the canvas. Like Dante,
Shakespeare has received the perhaps inevitable but still cumbersome
honor of being treated like a classical author of antiquity. The
oldest editions have been carefully collated, and, where the readings
seemed corrupt, many corrections have been suggested; and the whole
literature of his age has been drawn forth from the oblivion to which
it had been consigned, for the sole purpose of explaining the phrases
and illustrating the allusions of Shakespeare. Commentators have
succeeded one another in such number that their labors alone, with the
critical controversies to which they have given rise, constitute of
themselves no inconsiderable library. These labors deserve both our
praise and gratitude--more especially the historical investigations
into the sources from which Shakespeare drew the materials of his
plays and also into the previous and contemporary state of the
English stage, as well as other kindred subjects of inquiry. With
respect, however, to their merely philological criticisms, I am
frequently compelled to differ from the commentators; and where, too,
considering him simply as a poet, they endeavor to enter into his
views and to decide upon his merits, I must separate myself from them
entirely. I have hardly ever found either truth or profundity in their
remarks; and these critics seem to me to be but stammering
interpreters of the general and almost idolatrous admiration of his
countrymen. There may be people in England who entertain the same
views of them with myself, at least it is a well-known fact that a
satirical poet has represented Shakespeare, under the hands of his
commentators, by Actaeon worried to death by his own dogs; and,
following up the story of Ovid, designated a female writer on the
great poet as the snarling Lycisca.

We shall endeavor, in the first place, to remove some of these false
views, in order to clear the way for our own homage, that we may
thereupon offer it the more freely without let or hindrance.

From all the accounts of Shakespeare which have come down to us it is
clear that his contemporaries knew well the treasure they possessed in
him, and that they felt and understood him better than most of those
who succeeded him. In those days a work was generally ushered into the
world with Commendatory Verses; and one of these, prefixed to an early
edition of Shakespeare, by an unknown author, contains some of the
most beautiful and happy lines that were ever applied to any poet.[14]
An idea, however, soon became prevalent that Shakespeare was a rude
and wild genius, who poured forth at random, and without aim or
object, his unconnected compositions. Ben Jonson, a younger
contemporary and rival of Shakespeare, who labored in the sweat of his
brow, but with no great success, to expel the romantic drama from the
English stage and to form it on the model of the ancients, gave it as
his opinion that Shakespeare did not blot enough, and that, as he did
not possess much school-learning, he owed more to nature than to art.
The learned, and sometimes rather pedantic Milton was also of this
opinion, when he says--

Our sweetest Shakespeare, fancy's child,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild.

Yet it is highly honorable to Milton that the sweetness of
Shakespeare, the quality which of all others has been least allowed,
was felt and acknowledged by him. The modern editors, both in their
prefaces, which may be considered as so many rhetorical exercises in
praise of the poet, and in their remarks on separate passages, go
still farther. Judging them by principles which are not applicable to
them, not only do they admit the irregularity of his pieces, but, on
occasion, they accuse him of bombast, of a confused, ungrammatical,
and conceited mode of writing, and even of the most contemptible
buffoonery. Pope asserts that he wrote both better and worse than any
other man. All the scenes and passages which did not square with the
littleness of his own taste, he wished to place to the account of
interpolating players; and he was on the right road, had his opinion
been taken, of giving us a miserable dole of a mangled Shakespeare. It
is, therefore, not to be wondered at if foreigners, with the exception
of the Germans latterly, have, in their ignorance of him, even
improved upon these opinions.[15] They speak in general of
Shakespeare's plays as monstrous productions, which could have been
given to the world only by a disordered imagination in a barbarous
age; and Voltaire crowns the whole with more than usual assurance
when he observes that _Hamlet_, the profound masterpiece of the
philosophical poet, "seems the work of a drunken savage." That
foreigners, and, in particular, Frenchmen, who ordinarily speak the
most strange language of antiquity and the middle ages, as if
cannibalism had been terminated in Europe only by Louis XIV., should
entertain this opinion of Shakespeare, might be pardonable; but that
Englishmen should join in calumniating that glorious epoch of their
history,[16] which laid the foundation of their national greatness, is

Shakespeare flourished and wrote in the last half of the reign of
Queen Elizabeth and first half of that of James I.; and, consequently,
under monarchs who were learned themselves and held literature in
honor. The policy of modern Europe, by which the relations of its
different states have been so variously interwoven with one another,
commenced a century before. The cause of the Protestants was decided
by the accession of Elizabeth to the throne; and the attachment to the
ancient belief cannot therefore be urged as a proof of the prevailing
darkness. Such was the zeal for the study of the ancients that even
court ladies, and the queen herself, were acquainted with Latin and
Greek, and taught even to speak the former--a degree of knowledge
which we should in vain seek for in the courts of Europe at the
present day. The trade and navigation which the English carried on
with all the four quarters of the world made them acquainted with the
customs and mental productions of other nations; and it would appear
that they were then more indulgent to foreign manners than they are
in the present day. Italy had already produced nearly all that still
distinguishes her literature, and, in England, translations in verse
were diligently, and even successfully, executed from the Italian.
Spanish literature also was not unknown, for it is certain that _Don
Quixote_ was read in England soon after its first appearance. Bacon,
the founder of modern experimental philosophy, and of whom it may be
said that he carried in his pocket all that even in this eighteenth
century merits the name of philosophy, was a contemporary of
Shakespeare. His fame as a writer did not, indeed, break forth into
its glory till after his death; but what a number of ideas must have
been in circulation before such an author could arise! Many branches
of human knowledge have, since that time, been more extensively
cultivated, but such branches as are totally unproductive to
poetry--chemistry, mechanics, manufactures, and rural and political
economy--will never enable a man to become a poet. I have
elsewhere[17] examined into the pretensions of modern enlightenment,
as it is called, which looks with such contempt on all preceding ages;
I have shown that at bottom it is all small, superficial, and
unsubstantial. The pride of what has been called "the existing
maturity of human intensity" has come to a miserable end; and the
structures erected by those pedagogues of the human race have fallen
to pieces like the baby-houses of children.

With regard to the tone of society in Shakespeare's day, it is
necessary to remark that there is a wide difference between true
mental cultivation and what is called polish. That artificial polish
which puts an end to everything like free original communication and
subjects all intercourse to the insipid uniformity of certain rules,
was undoubtedly wholly unknown to the age of Shakespeare, as in a
great measure it still is at the present day in England. It possessed,
on the other hand, a fulness of healthy vigor, which showed itself
always with boldness, and sometimes also with coarseness. The spirit
of chivalry was not yet wholly extinct, and a queen, who was far more
jealous in exacting homage to her sex than to her throne, and who,
with her determination, wisdom, and magnanimity, was in fact well
qualified to inspire the minds of her subjects with an ardent
enthusiasm, inflamed that spirit to the noblest love of glory and
renown. The feudal independence also still survived in some measure;
the nobility vied with one another in splendor of dress and number of
retinue, and every great lord had a sort of small court of his own.
The distinction of ranks was as yet strongly marked--a state of things
ardently to be desired by the dramatic poet. In conversation they took
pleasure in quick and unexpected answers; and the witty sally passed
rapidly like a ball from mouth to mouth, till the merry game could no
longer be kept up. This, and the abuse of the play on words (of which
King James was himself very fond, and we need not therefore wonder at
the universality of the mode), may, doubtless, be considered as
instances of a bad taste; but to take them for symptoms of rudeness
and barbarity is not less absurd than to infer the poverty of a people
from their luxurious extravagance. These strained repartees are
frequently employed by Shakespeare, with the view of painting the
actual tone of the society in his day; it does not, however, follow
that they met with his approbation; on the contrary, it clearly
appears that he held them in derision. Hamlet says, in the scene with
the gravedigger, "By the Lord, Horatio, these three years I have taken
note of it: the age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant
comes so near the heel of the courtier, he galls his kibe." And
Lorenzo, in the _Merchant of Venice_, alluding to Launcelot:

O dear discretion, how his words are suited!
The fool hath planted in his memory
An army of good words: and I do know
A many fools, that stand in better place,
Garnish'd like him, that for a tricksy word
Defy the matter.

Besides, Shakespeare, in a thousand places, lays great and marked
stress on a correct and refined tone of society, and lashes every
deviation from it, whether of boorishness or affected foppery; not
only does he give admirable discourses on it, but he represents it in
all its shades and modifications by rank, age, or sex. What foundation
is there, then, for the alleged barbarity of his age, its offences
against propriety? But if this is to be admitted as a test, then the
ages of Pericles and Augustus must also be described as rude and
uncultivated; for Aristophanes and Horace, who were both considered as
models of urbanity, display, at times, the coarsest indelicacy. On
this subject, the diversity in the moral feeling of ages depends on
other causes. Shakespeare, it is true, sometimes introduces us to
improper company; at others, he suffers ambiguous expressions to
escape in the presence of women, and even from women themselves. This
species of indelicacy was probably not then unusual. He certainly did
not indulge in it merely to please the multitude, for in many of his
pieces there is not the slightest trace of this sort to be found; and
in what virgin purity are many of his female parts worked out! When we
see the liberties taken by other dramatic poets in England in his
time, and even much later, we must account him comparatively chaste
and moral. Neither must we overlook certain circumstances in the
existing state of the theatre. The female parts were not acted by
women, but by boys; and no person of the fair sex appeared in the
theatre without a mask. Under such a carnival disguise, much might be
heard by them, and much might be ventured to be said in their
presence, which in other circumstances would have been absolutely
improper. It is certainly to be wished that decency should be observed
on all public occasions, and consequently also on the stage. But even
in this it is possible to go too far. That carping censoriousness
which scents out impurity in every bold sally, is, at best, but an
ambiguous criterion of purity of morals; and beneath this hypocritical
guise there often lurks the consciousness of an impure imagination.
The determination to tolerate nothing which has the least reference to
the sensual relation between the sexes, may be carried to a pitch
extremely oppressive to a dramatic poet and highly prejudicial to the
boldness and freedom of his compositions. If such considerations were
to be attended to, many of the happiest parts of Shakespeare's plays,
for example, in _Measure for Measure_, and _All's Well that Ends
Well_, which, nevertheless, are handled with a due regard to decency,
must be set aside as sinning against this would-be propriety.

Had no other monuments of the age of Elizabeth come down to us than
the works of Shakespeare, I should, from them alone, have formed the
most favorable idea of its state of social culture and enlightenment.
When those who look through such strange spectacles as to see nothing
in them but rudeness and barbarity cannot deny what I have now
historically proved, they are usually driven to this last resource,
and demand, "What has Shakespeare to do with the mental culture of his
age? He had no share in it. Born in an inferior rank, ignorant and
uneducated, he passed his life in low society, and labored to please a
vulgar audience for his bread, without ever dreaming of fame or

In all this there is not a single word of truth, though it has been
repeated a thousand times. It is true we know very little of the
poet's life; and what we do know consists for the most part of
raked-up and chiefly suspicious anecdotes, of about such a character
as those which are told at inns to inquisitive strangers who visit the
birthplace or neighborhood of a celebrated man. Within a very recent
period some original documents have been brought to light, and, among
them, his will, which give us a peep into his family concerns. It
betrays more than ordinary deficiency of critical acumen in
Shakespeare's commentators, that none of them, so far as we know, has
ever thought of availing himself of his sonnets for tracing the
circumstances of his life. These sonnets paint most unequivocally the
actual situation and sentiments of the poet; they make us acquainted
with the passions of the man; they even contain remarkable confessions
of his youthful errors. Shakespeare's father was a man of property,
whose ancestors had held the office of alderman and bailiff in
Stratford; and in a diploma from the Heralds' Office for the renewal
or confirmation of his coat of arms, he is styled _gentleman_. Our
poet, the oldest son but third child, could not, it is true, receive
an academic education, as he married when hardly eighteen, probably
from mere family considerations. This retired and unnoticed life he
continued to lead but a few years; and he was either enticed to London
from wearisomeness of his situation, or banished from home, as it is
said, in consequence of his irregularities. There he assumed the
profession of a player, which he considered at first as a degradation,
principally, perhaps, because of the wild excesses[18] into which he
was seduced by the example of his comrades. It is extremely probable
that the poetical fame which, in the progress of his career, he
afterward acquired, greatly contributed to ennoble the stage and to
bring the player's profession into better repute. Even at a very early
age he endeavored to distinguish himself as a poet in other walks than
those of the stage, as is proved by his juvenile poems of _Adonis and
Lucrece_. He quickly rose to be a sharer or joint proprietor, and also
manager, of the theatre for which he wrote. That he was not admitted
to the society of persons of distinction is altogether incredible. Not
to mention many others, he found a liberal friend and kind patron in
the Earl of Southampton, the friend of the unfortunate Essex. His
pieces were not only the delight of the great public, but also in
great favor at court; the two monarchs under whose reigns he wrote
were, according to the testimony of a contemporary, quite "taken" with
him.[19] Many plays were acted at court; and Elizabeth appears herself
to have commanded the writing of more than one to be acted at her
court festivals. King James, it is well known, honored Shakespeare so
far as to write to him with his own hand. All this looks very unlike
either contempt or banishment into the obscurity of a low circle. By
his labors as a poet, player, and stage-manager, Shakespeare acquired
a considerable property, which, in the last years of his too short
life, he enjoyed in his native town in retirement and in the society
of a beloved daughter. Immediately after his death a monument was
erected over his grave, which may be considered sumptuous for those

In the midst of such brilliant success, and with such distinguished
proofs of respect and honor from his contemporaries, it would be
singular indeed if Shakespeare, notwithstanding the modesty of a great
mind, which he certainly possessed in a peculiar degree, should never
have dreamed of posthumous fame. As a profound thinker he had quite
accurately taken the measure of the circle of human capabilities, and
he could say to himself with confidence that many of his productions
would not easily be surpassed. What foundation then is there for the
contrary assertion, which would degrade the immortal artist to the
situation of a daily laborer for a rude multitude? Merely this, that
he himself published no edition of his whole works. We do not reflect
that a poet, always accustomed to labor immediately for the stage, who
has often enjoyed the triumph of overpowering assembled crowds of
spectators and drawing from them the most tumultuous applause, who the
while was not dependent on the caprice of crotchety stage directors,
but left to his own discretion to select and determine the mode of
theatrical representation, naturally cares much less for the closet of
the solitary reader. During the first formation of a national theatre,
more especially, we find frequent examples of such indifference. Of
the almost innumerable pieces of Lope de Vega, many undoubtedly were
never printed, and are consequently lost; and Cervantes did not print
his earlier dramas, though he certainly boasts of them as meritorious
works. As Shakespeare, on his retiring from the theatre, left his
manuscripts behind with his fellow-managers, he may have relied on
theatrical tradition for handing them down to posterity, which would
indeed have been sufficient for that purpose if the closing of the
theatres, under the tyrannical intolerance of the Puritans, had not
interrupted the natural order of things. We know, besides, that the
poets used then to sell the exclusive copyright of their pieces to the
theatre:[20] it is therefore not improbable that the right of property
in his unprinted pieces was no longer vested in Shakespeare, or had
not, at least, yet reverted to him. His fellow-managers entered on the
publication seven years after his death (which probably cut short his
own intention), as it would appear on their own account and for their
own advantage.


Ignorance or Learning of Shakespeare--Costume as observed by Shakespeare,
and how far necessary, or may be dispensed with in the Drama--Shakespeare
the greatest drawer of Character--Vindication of the genuineness of his
pathos--Play on words--Moral delicacy--Irony--Mixture of the Tragic and
Comic--The part of the Fool or Clown--Shakespeare's Language and

Our poet's want of scholarship has been the subject of endless
controversy, and yet it is surely a very easy matter to decide.
Shakespeare was poor in dead school-cram, but he possessed a rich
treasury of living and intuitive knowledge. He knew a little Latin,
and even something of Greek, though it may be not enough to read with
ease the writers in the original. With modern languages also, the
French and Italian, he had, perhaps, but a superficial acquaintance.
The general direction of his mind was not to the collection of words
but of facts. With English books, whether original or translated, he
was extensively acquainted: we may safely affirm that he had read all
that his native language and literature then contained that could be
of any use to him in his poetical avocations. He was sufficiently
intimate with mythology to employ it, in the only manner he could
wish, in the way of symbolical ornament. He had formed a correct
notion of the spirit of Ancient History, and more particularly of that
of the Romans; and the history of his own country was familiar to him
even in detail. Fortunately for him it had not as yet been treated in
a diplomatic and pragmatic spirit, but merely in the chronicle-style;
in other words, it had not yet assumed the appearance of dry
investigations respecting the development of political relations,
diplomatic negotiations, finances, etc., but exhibited a visible image
of the life and movement of an age prolific of great deeds.
Shakespeare, moreover, was a nice observer of nature; he knew the
technical language of mechanics and artisans; he seems to have been
well traveled in the interior of his own country, while of others he
inquired diligently of traveled navigators respecting their
peculiarity of climate and customs. He thus became accurately
acquainted with all the popular usages, opinions, and traditions which
could be of use in poetry.

The proofs of his ignorance, on which the greatest stress is laid, are
a few geographical blunders and anachronisms. Because in a comedy
founded on an earlier tale, he makes ships visit Bohemia, he has been
the subject of much laughter. But I conceive that we should be very
unjust toward him, were we to conclude that he did not, as well as
ourselves, possess the useful but by no means difficult knowledge that
Bohemia is nowhere bounded by the sea. He could never, in that case,
have looked into a map of Germany, but yet describes elsewhere, with
great accuracy, the maps of both Indies, together with the discoveries
of the latest navigators.[21] In such matters Shakespeare is faithful
only to the details of the domestic stories. In the novels on which he
worked, he avoided disturbing the associations of his audience, to
whom they were known, by novelties--the correction of errors in
secondary and unimportant particulars. The more wonderful the story,
the more it ranged in a purely poetical region, which he transfers at
will to an indefinite distance. These plays, whatever names they bear,
take place in the true land of romance and in the very century of
wonderful love stories. He knew well that in the forest of Ardennes
there were neither the lions and serpents of the torrid zone, nor the
shepherdesses of Arcadia; but he transferred both to it,[22] because
the design and import of his picture required them. Here he considered
himself entitled to take the greatest liberties. He had not to do with
a hair-splitting, hypercritical age like ours, which is always seeking
in poetry for something else than poetry; his audience entered the
theatre, not to learn true chronology, geography, and natural history,
but to witness a vivid exhibition. I will undertake to prove that
Shakespeare's anachronisms are, for the most part, committed of set
purpose and deliberately. It was frequently of importance to him to
move the exhibited subjects out of the background of time and bring it
quite near us. Hence in _Hamlet_, though avowedly an old Northern
story, there runs a tone of modish society, and in every respect the
customs of the most recent period. Without those circumstantialities
it would not have been allowable to make a philosophical inquirer of
Hamlet, on which trait, however, the meaning of the whole is made to
rest. On that account he mentions his education at a university,
though, in the age of the true Hamlet of history, universities were
not in existence. He makes him study at Wittenberg, and no selection
of a place could have been more suitable. The name was very popular:
the story of _Dr. Faustus of Wittenberg_ had made it well known; it
was of particular celebrity in Protestant England, as Luther had
taught and written there shortly before, and the very name must have
immediately suggested the idea of freedom in thinking. I cannot even
consider it an anachronism that Richard the Third should speak of
Machiavelli. The word is here used altogether proverbially the
contents, at least, of the book entitled _Of the Prince_ (_Del
Principe_) have been in existence ever since the existence of tyrants;
Machiavelli was merely the first to commit them to writing.

That Shakespeare has accurately hit the essential custom, namely, the
spirit of ages and nations, is at least acknowledged generally by the
English critics; but many sins against external costume may be easily
remarked. Yet here it is necessary to bear in mind that the Roman
pieces were acted upon the stage of that day in the European dress.
This was, it is true, still grand and splendid, not so silly and
tasteless as it became toward the end of the seventeenth century.
(Brutus and Cassius appeared in the Spanish cloak; they wore, quite
contrary to the Roman custom, the sword by their side in time of
peace, and, according to the testimony of an eye witness,[23] it was,
in the dialogue where Brutus stimulates Cassius to the conspiracy,
drawn, as if involuntarily, half out of the sheath). This does in no
way agree with our way of thinking: we are not content without the

The present, perhaps, is not an inappropriate place for a few general
observations on costume, considered with reference to art. It has
never been more accurately observed than in the present day; art has
become a slop-shop for pedantic antiquities. This is because we live
in a learned and critical, but by no means poetical age. The ancients
before us used, when they had to represent the religions of other
nations which deviated very much from their own, to bring them into
conformity with the Greek mythology. In Sculpture, again, the same
dress, namely, the Phrygian, was adopted, once for all, for every
barbaric tribe. Not that they did not know that there were as many
different dresses as nations; but in art they merely wished to
acknowledge the great contrast between barbarian and civilized: and
this, they thought, was rendered most strikingly apparent in the
Phrygian garb. The earlier Christian painters represent the Savior,
the Virgin Mary, the Patriarchs, and the Apostles in an ideal dress,
but the subordinate actors or spectators of the action in the dresses
of their own nation and age. Here they were guided by a correct
feeling: the mysterious and sacred ought to be kept at an
awe-inspiring distance, but the human cannot be rightly understood if
seen without its usual accompaniments. In the middle ages all heroical
stories of antiquity, from Theseus and Achilles down to Alexander,
were metamorphosed into true tales of chivalry. What was related to
themselves spoke alone an intelligible language to them; of
differences and distinctions they did not care to know. In an old
manuscript of the _Iliad_, I saw a miniature illumination representing
Hector's funeral procession, where the coffin is hung with noble coats
of arms and carried into a Gothic church. It is easy to make merry
with this piece of simplicity, but a reflecting mind will see the
subject in a very different light. A powerful consciousness of the
universal validity and the solid permanency of their own manner of
being, an undoubting conviction that it has always so been and will
ever continue so to be in the world--these feelings of our ancestors
were symptoms of a fresh fulness of life; they were the marrow of
action in reality as well as in fiction. Their plain and affectionate
attachment to everything around them, handed down from their fathers,
is by no means to be confounded with the obstreperous conceit of ages
of mannerism, for they, out of vanity, introduce the fleeting modes
and fashion of the day into art, because to them everything like noble
simplicity seems boorish and rude. The latter impropriety is now
abolished: but, on the other hand, our poets and artists, if they
would hope for our approbation, must, like servants, wear the livery
of distant centuries and foreign nations. We are everywhere at home
except at home. We do ourselves the justice to allow that the present
mode of dressing, forms of politeness, etc., are altogether
unpoetical, and art is therefore obliged to beg, as an alms, a
poetical costume from the antiquaries. To that simple way of thinking,
which is merely attentive to the inward truth of the composition,
without stumbling at anachronisms or other external inconsistencies,
we cannot, alas! now return; but we must envy the poets to whom it
offered itself; it allowed them a great breadth and freedom in the
handling of their subject.

Many things in Shakespeare must be judged of according to the above
principles, respecting the difference between the essential and the
merely learned costume. They will also in their measure admit of an
application to Calderon.

So much with respect to the spirit of the age in which Shakespeare
lived, and his peculiar mental culture and knowledge. To me he appears
a profound artist, and not a blind and wildly luxuriant genius. I
consider, generally speaking, all that has been said on the subject a
mere fable, a blind and extravagant error. In other arts the assertion
refutes itself; for in them acquired knowledge is an indispensable
condition of clever execution. But even in such poets as are usually
given out as careless pupils of nature, devoid of art or school
discipline, I have always found, on a nearer consideration of the
works of real excellence they may have produced, even a high
cultivation of the mental powers, practice in art, and views both
worthy in themselves and maturely considered. This applies to Homer as
well as to Dante. The activity of genius is, it is true, natural to
it, and, in a certain sense, unconscious; and, consequently, the
person who possesses it is not always at the moment able to render an
account of the course which he may have pursued; but it by no means
follows that the thinking power had not a great share in it. It is
from the very rapidity and certainty of the mental process, from the
utmost clearness of understanding, that thinking in a poet is not
perceived as something abstracted, does not wear the appearance of
reflex meditation. That notion of poetical inspiration, which many
lyrical poets have brought into circulation, as if they were not in
their senses, and, like Pythia when possessed by the divinity,
delivered oracles unintelligible to themselves--this notion (a mere
lyrical invention) is least of all applicable to dramatic composition,
one of the most thoughtful productions of the human mind. It is
admitted that Shakespeare has reflected, and deeply reflected, on
character and passion, on the progress of events and human destinies,
on the human constitution, on all the things and relations of the
world; this is an admission which must be made, for one alone of
thousands of his maxims would be a sufficient refutation of any who
should attempt to deny it. So that it was only for the structure of
his own pieces that he had no thought to spare? This he left to the
dominion of chance, which blew together the atoms of Epicurus. But
supposing that, devoid of any higher ambition to approve himself to
judicious critics and posterity, and wanting in that love of art which
longs for self-satisfaction in the perfection of its works, he had
merely labored to please the unlettered crowd; still this very object
alone and the pursuit of theatrical effect would have led him to
bestow attention to the structure and adherence of his pieces. For
does not the impression of a drama depend in an especial manner on the
relation of the parts to one another? And, however beautiful a scene
may be in itself, if yet it be at variance with what the spectators
have been led to expect in its particular place, so as to destroy the
interest which they had hitherto felt, will it not be at once
reprobated by all who possess plain common sense and give themselves
up to nature? The comic intermixtures may be considered merely as a
sort of interlude, designed to relieve the straining of the mind after
the stretch of the more serious parts, so long as no better purpose
can be found in them; but in the progress of the main action, in the
concatenation of the events, the poet must, if possible, display even
more expenditure of thought than in the composition of individual
character and situations, otherwise he would be like the conductor of
a puppet-show who has so entangled his wires that the puppets receive
from their mechanism quite different movements from those which he
actually intended.

The English critics are unanimous in their praise of the truth and
uniform consistency of his characters, of his heartrending pathos, and
his comic wit. Moreover, they extol the beauty and sublimity of his
separate descriptions, images, and expressions. This last is the most
superficial and cheap mode of criticising works of art. Johnson
compares him who should endeavor to recommend this poet by passages
unconnectedly torn from his works, to the pedant in Hierocles, who
exhibited a brick as a sample of his house. And yet how little, and
how very unsatisfactorily does he himself speak of the pieces
considered as a whole! Let any man, for instance, bring together the
short characters which he gives at the close of each play, and see if
the aggregate will amount to that sum of admiration which he himself,
at his outset, has stated as the correct standard for the appreciation
of the poet. It was, generally speaking, the prevailing tendency of
the time which preceded our own, and which has showed itself
particularly in physical science, to consider everything having life
as a mere accumulation of dead parts, to separate what exists only in
connection and cannot otherwise be conceived, instead of penetrating
to the central point and viewing all the parts as so many irradiations
from it. Hence nothing is so rare as a critic who can elevate himself
to the comprehensive contemplation of a work of art. Shakespeare's
compositions, from the very depth of purpose displayed in them, have
been especially liable to the misfortune of being misunderstood.
Besides, this prosaic species of criticism requires always that the
poetic form should be applied to the details of execution; but when
the plan of the piece is concerned, it never looks for more than the
logical connection of causes and effects, or some partial and trite
moral by way of application; and all that cannot be reconciled
therewith is declared superfluous, or even a pernicious appendage. On
these principles we must even strike out from the Greek tragedies most
of the choral songs, which also contribute nothing to the development
of the action, but are merely an harmonious echo of the impressions
the poet aims at conveying. In this they altogether mistake the rights
of poetry and the nature of the romantic drama, which, for the very
reason that it is and ought to be picturesque, requires richer
accompaniments and contrasts for its main groups. In all Art and
Poetry, but more especially in the romantic, the Fancy lays claims to
be considered as an independent mental power governed according to its
own laws.

In an essay on _Romeo and Juliet_,[24] written a number of years ago,
I went through the whole of the scenes in their order and demonstrated
the inward necessity of each with reference to the whole; I showed why
such a particular circle of characters and relations was placed around
the two lovers; I explained the signification of the mirth here and
there scattered, and justified the use of the occasional heightening
given to the poetical colors. From all this it seemed to follow
unquestionably that, with the exception of a few criticisms, now
become unintelligible or foreign to the present taste (imitations of
the tone of society of that day), nothing could be taken away, nothing
added, nothing otherwise arranged, without mutilating and disfiguring
the perfect work. I would readily undertake to do the same for all the
pieces of Shakespeare's maturer years, but to do this would require a
separate book. Here I am reduced to confine my observations to tracing
his great designs with a rapid pencil; but still I must previously be
allowed to deliver my sentiments in a general manner on the subject of
his most eminent peculiarities.

Shakespeare's knowledge of mankind has become proverbial: in this his
superiority is so great that he has justly been called the master of
the human heart. A readiness to remark the mind's fainter and
involuntary utterances, and the power to express with certainty the
meaning of these signs, as determined by experience and reflection,
constitute "the observer of men;" but tacitly to draw from these still
further conclusions and to arrange the separate observations according
to grounds of probability into a just and valid combination--this, it
may be said, is to know men. The distinguishing property of the
dramatic poet who is great in characterization, is something
altogether different here, and which, take it which way we will,
either includes in it this readiness and this acuteness, or dispenses
with both. It is the capability of transporting himself so completely
into every situation, even the most unusual, that he is enabled, as
plenipotentiary of the whole human race, without particular
instructions for each separate case, to act and speak in the name of
every individual. It is the power of endowing the creatures of his
imagination with such self-existent energy that they afterward act in
each conjuncture according to general laws of nature: the poet, in his
dreams, institutes, as it were, experiments which are received with as
much authority as if they had been made on waking objects. The
inconceivable element herein, and what moreover can never be learned,
is, that the characters appear neither to do nor to say anything on
the spectator's account merely; and yet that the poet, simply by means
of the exhibition, and without any subsidiary explanation,
communicates to his audience the gift of looking into the inmost
recesses of their minds. Hence Goethe has ingeniously compared
Shakespeare's characters to watches with crystalline plates and cases,
which, while they point out the hours as correctly as other watches,
enable us at the same time to perceive the inward springs whereby all
this is accomplished.

Nothing, however, is more foreign to Shakespeare than a certain
anatomical style of exhibition, which laboriously enumerates all the
motives by which a man is determined to act in this or that particular
manner. This rage of supplying motives, the mania of so many modern
historians, might be carried at length to an extent which would
abolish everything like individuality, and resolve all character into
nothing but the effect of foreign or external influences, whereas we
know that it often announces itself most decidedly in earliest
infancy. After all, a man acts so because he is so. And what each man
is, that Shakespeare reveals to us most immediately: he demands and
obtains our belief even for what is singular, and deviates from the
ordinary course of nature. Never perhaps was there so comprehensive a
talent for characterization as Shakespeare. It not only grasps every
diversity of rank, age, and sex, down to the lispings of infancy; not
only do the king and the beggar, the hero and the pickpocket, the sage
and the idiot, speak and act with equal truthfulness; not only does he
transport himself to distant ages and foreign nations, and portray
with the greatest accuracy (a few apparent violations of costume
excepted) the spirit of the ancient Romans, of the French in the wars
with the English, of the English themselves during a great part of
their history, of the Southern Europeans (in the serious part of many
comedies), the cultivated society of the day, and the rude barbarism
of a Norman fore-time; his human characters have not only such depth
and individuality that they do not admit of being classed under common
names, and are inexhaustible even in conception: no, this Prometheus
not merely forms men, he opens the gates of the magical world of
spirits, calls up the midnight ghost, exhibits before us the witches
with their unhallowed rites, peoples the air with sportive fairies and
sylphs; and these beings, though existing only in the imagination,
nevertheless possess such truth and consistency that even with such
misshapen abortions as Caliban, he extorts the assenting conviction
that, were there such beings, they would so conduct themselves. In a
word, as he carries a bold and pregnant fancy into the kingdom of
nature, on the other hand he carries nature into the region of fancy
which lie beyond the confines of reality. We are lost in astonishment
at the close intimacy he brings us into with the extraordinary, the
wonderful, and the unheard-of.

Pope and Johnson appear strangely to contradict each other, when the
first says, "all the characters of Shakespeare are individuals," and
the second, "they are species." And yet perhaps these opinions may
admit of reconciliation. Pope's expression is unquestionably the more
correct. A character which should be merely a personification of a
naked general idea could neither exhibit any great depth nor any great
variety. The names of genera and species are well known to be merely
auxiliaries for the understanding, that we may embrace the infinite
variety of nature in a certain order. The characters which Shakespeare
has so thoroughly delineated have undoubtedly a number of individual
peculiarities, but at the same time they possess a significance which
is not applicable to them alone: they generally supply materials for a
profound theory of their most prominent and distinguishing property.
But even with the above correction, this opinion must still have its
limitations. Characterization is merely one ingredient of the dramatic
art, and not dramatic poetry itself. It would be improper in the
extreme, if the poet were to draw our attention to superfluous traits
of character at a time when it ought to be his endeavor to produce
other impressions. Whenever the musical or the fanciful preponderates,
the characteristical necessarily falls into the background. Hence many
of the figures of Shakespeare exhibit merely external designations,
determined by the place which they occupy in the whole: they are like
secondary persons in a public procession, to whose physiognomy we
seldom pay much attention; their only importance is derived from the
solemnity of their dress and the duty in which they are engaged.
Shakespeare's messengers, for instance, are for the most part mere
messengers, and yet not common, but poetical messengers: the message
which they have to bring is the soul which suggests to them their
language. Other voices, too, are merely raised to pour forth these as
melodious lamentations or rejoicings, or to dwell in reflection on
what has taken place; and in a serious drama without chorus this must
always be more or less the case, if we would not have it prosaic.

If Shakespeare deserves our admiration for his characters, he is
equally deserving of it for his exhibition of passion, taking this
word in its widest signification, as including every mental condition,
every tone, from indifference or familiar mirth to the wildest rage
and despair. He gives us the history of minds; he lays open to us, in
a single word, a whole series of their anterior states. His passions
do not stand at the same height, from first to last, as is the case
with so many tragic poets, who, in the language of Lessing, are
thorough masters of the legal style of love. He paints, with
inimitable veracity, the gradual advance from the first origin; "he
gives," as Lessing says, "a living picture of all the slight and
secret artifices by which a feeling steals into our souls, of all the
imperceptible advantages which it there gains, of all the stratagems
by which it makes every other passion subservient to itself, till it
becomes the sole tyrant of our desires and our aversions." Of all the
poets, perhaps, he alone has portrayed the mental diseases,
melancholy, delirium, lunacy, with such inexpressible and, in every
respect, definite truth, that the physician may enrich his
observations from them in the same manner as from real cases.

And yet Johnson has objected to Shakespeare that his pathos is not
always natural and free from affectation. There are, it is true,
passages, though comparatively speaking very few, where his poetry
exceeds the bounds of actual dialogue, where a too soaring
imagination, a too luxuriant wit, rendered a complete dramatic
forgetfulness of himself impossible. With this exception, the censure
originated in a fanciless way of thinking, to which everything appears
unnatural that does not consort with its own tame insipidity. Hence an
idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos, which consists in
exclamations destitute of imagery and nowise elevated above everyday
life. But energetical passions electrify all the mental powers, and
will consequently, in highly-favored natures, give utterance to
themselves in ingenious and figurative expressions. It has been often
remarked that indignation makes a man witty; and as despair
occasionally breaks out into laughter, it may sometimes also give vent
to itself in antithetical comparisons.

Besides, the rights of the poetical form have not been duly weighed.
Shakespeare, who was always sure of his power to excite, when he
wished, sufficiently powerful emotions, has occasionally, by indulging
in a freer play of fancy, purposely tempered the impressions when too
painful, and immediately introduced a musical softening of our
sympathy.[25] He had not those rude ideas of his art which many
moderns seem to have, as if the poet, like the clown in the proverb,
must strike twice on the same place. An ancient rhetorician delivered
a caution against dwelling too long on the excitation of pity; for
nothing, he said, dries so soon as tears; and Shakespeare acted
conformably to this ingenious maxim without having learned it. The
paradoxical assertion of Johnson that "Shakespeare had a greater
talent for comedy than tragedy, and that in the latter he has
frequently displayed an affected tone," is scarcely deserving of
lengthy notice. For its refutation, it is unnecessary to appeal to the
great tragical compositions of the poet, which, for overpowering
effect, leave far behind them almost everything that the stage has
seen besides; a few of their less celebrated scenes would be quite
sufficient. What to many readers might lend an appearance of truth to
this assertion are the verbal witticisms, that playing upon words,
which Shakespeare not unfrequently introduces into serious and sublime
passages and even into those also of a peculiarly pathetic nature.

I have already stated the point of view in which we ought to consider
this sportive play upon words. I shall here, therefore, merely deliver
a few observations respecting the playing upon words in general, and
its poetical use. A thorough investigation would lead us too far from
our subject, and too deeply into considerations on the essence of
language, and its relation to poetry, or rhyme, etc.

There is in the human mind a desire that language should exhibit the
object which it denotes, sensibly, by its very sound, which may be
traced even as far back as in the first origin of poetry. As, in the
shape in which language comes down to us, this is seldom perceptibly
the case, an imagination which has been powerfully excited is fond of
laying hold of any congruity in sound which may accidentally offer
itself, that by such means he may, for the nonce, restore the lost
resemblance between the word and the thing. For example, how common
was it and is it to seek in the name of a person, however arbitrarily
bestowed, a reference to his qualities and fortunes--to convert it
purposely into a significant name. Those who cry out against the play
upon words as an unnatural and affected invention, only betray their
own ignorance of original nature. A great fondness for it is always
evinced among children, as well as with nations of simple manners,
among whom correct ideas of the derivation and affinity of words have
not yet been developed, and do not, consequently, stand in the way of
this caprice. In Homer we find several examples of it; the Books of
Moses, the oldest written memorial of the primitive world, are, as is
well known, full of them. On the other hand, poets of a very
cultivated taste, like Petrarch, or orators, like Cicero, have
delighted in them. Whoever, in _Richard the Second_, is disgusted with
the affecting play of words of the dying John of Gaunt on his own
name, should remember that the same thing occurs in the _Ajax_ of
Sophocles. We do not mean to say that all playing upon words is on all
occasions to be justified. This must depend on the disposition of
mind, whether it will admit of such a play of fancy, and whether the
sallies, comparisons, and allusions, which lie at the bottom of them,
possess internal solidity. Yet we must not proceed upon the principle
of trying how the thought appears after it is deprived of the
resemblance in sound, any more than we are to endeavor to feel the
charm of rhymed versification after depriving it of its rhyme. The
laws of good taste on this subject must, moreover, vary with the
quality of the languages. In those which possess a great number of
homonymes, that is, words possessing the same, or nearly the same,
sound, though quite different in their derivation and signification,
it is almost more difficult to avoid, than to fall on such a verbal
play. It has, however, been feared, lest a door might be opened to
puerile witticism, if they were not rigorously proscribed. But I
cannot, for my part, find that Shakespeare had such an invincible and
immoderate passion for this verbal witticism. It is true, he sometimes
makes a most lavish use of this figure; at others, he has employed it
very sparingly; and at times (for example, in _Macbeth_) I do not
believe a vestige of it is to be found. Hence, in respect to the use
or the rejection of the play upon words, he must have been guided by
the measure of the objects and the different style in which they
required to be treated, and probably have followed here, as in
everything else, principles which, fairly examined, will bear a strict

The objection that Shakespeare wounds our feelings by the open display
of the most disgusting moral odiousness, unmercifully harrows up the
mind, and tortures even our eyes by the exhibition of the most
insupportable and hateful spectacles, is one of greater and graver
importance. He has, in fact, never varnished over wild and
bloodthirsty passions with a pleasing exterior--never clothed crime
and want of principle with a false show of greatness of soul; and in
that respect he is every way deserving of praise. Twice he has
portrayed downright villains, and the masterly way in which he has
contrived to elude impressions of too painful a nature may be seen in
Iago and Richard the Third. I allow that the reading, and still more
the sight, of some of his pieces, is not advisable to weak nerves, any
more than was the _Eumenides_ of AEschylus; but is the poet, who can
reach an important object only by a bold and hazardous daring, to be
checked by considerations for such persons? If the effeminacy of the
present day is to serve as a general standard of what tragical
composition may properly exhibit to human nature, we shall be forced
to set very narrow limits indeed to art, and the hope of anything like
powerful effect must at once and forever be renounced. If we wish to
have a grand purpose, we must also wish to have the grand means, and
our nerves ought in some measure to accommodate themselves to painful
impressions, if, by way of requital, our mind is thereby elevated and
strengthened. The constant reference to a petty and puny race must
cripple the boldness of the poet. Fortunately for his art, Shakespeare
lived in an age extremely susceptible of noble and tender impressions,
but which had yet inherited enough of the firmness of a vigorous olden
time not to shrink with dismay from every strong and forcible
painting. We have lived to see tragedies of which the catastrophe
consists in the swoon of an enamored princess: if Shakespeare falls
occasionally into the opposite extreme, it is a noble error,
originating in the fulness of a gigantic strength. And this tragical
Titan, who storms the heavens and threatens to tear the world off its
hinges, who, more terrible than AEschylus, makes our hair stand on end
and congeals our blood with horror, possessed at the same time the
insinuating loveliness of the sweetest poesy; he toys with love like a
child, and his songs die away on the ear like melting sighs. He unites
in his soul the utmost elevation and the utmost depth; and the most
opposite and even apparently irreconcilable properties subsist in him
peaceably together. The world of spirits and nature have laid all
their treasures at his feet: in strength a demi-god, in profundity of
view a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a guardian spirit of a higher
order, he lowers himself to mortals as if unconscious of his
superiority, and is as open and unassuming as a child.

If the delineation of all his characters, separately considered,
is inimitably bold and correct, he surpasses even himself in so
combining and contrasting them that they serve to bring out one
anothers' peculiarities. This is the very perfection of dramatic
characterization: for we can never estimate a man's true worth if we
consider him altogether abstractedly by himself; we must see him in
his relations with others; and it is here that most dramatic poets are
deficient. Shakespeare makes each of his principal characters the
glass in which the others are reflected, and by like means enables us
to discover what could not be immediately revealed to us. What in
others is most profound, is with him but surface. Ill-advised should
we be were we always to take men's declarations respecting themselves
and others for sterling coin. Ambiguity of design with much propriety
he makes to overflow with the most praiseworthy principles; and sage
maxims are not infrequently put in the mouth of stupidity, to show how
easily such commonplace truisms may be acquired. Nobody ever painted
so truthfully as he has done the facility of self-deception, the half
self-conscious hypocrisy toward ourselves, with which even noble minds
attempt to disguise the almost inevitable influence of selfish motives
in human nature. This secret irony of the characterization commands
admiration as the profound abyss of acuteness and sagacity; but it is
the grave of enthusiasm. We arrive at it only after we have had the
misfortune to see human nature through and through, and after no
choice remains but to adopt the melancholy truth that "no virtue or
greatness is altogether pure and genuine," or the dangerous error that
"the highest perfection is attainable." Here we therefore may perceive
in the poet himself, notwithstanding his power to excite the most
fervent emotions, a certain cool indifference, but still the
indifference of a superior mind, which has run through the whole
sphere of human existence and survived feeling.

The irony in Shakespeare has not merely a reference to the separate
characters, but frequently to the whole of the action. Most poets who
portray human events in a narrative or dramatic form themselves take a
part, and exact from their readers a blind approbation or condemnation
of whatever side they choose to support or oppose. The more zealous
this rhetoric is, the more certainly it fails of its effect. In every
case we are conscious that the subject itself is not brought
immediately before us, but that we view it through the medium of a
different way of thinking. When, however, by a dextrous manoeuvre, the
poet allows us an occasional glance at the less brilliant reverse of
the medal, then he makes, as it were, a sort of secret understanding
with the select circle of the more intelligent of his readers or
spectators; he shows them that he had previously seen and admitted the
validity of their tacit objections; that he himself is not tied down
to the represented subject, but soars freely above it; and that, if he
chose, he could unrelentingly annihilate the beautiful and
irresistibly attractive scenes which his magic pen has produced. No
doubt, wherever the proper tragic enters, everything like irony
immediately ceases; but from the avowed raillery of Comedy, to the
point where the subjection of mortal beings to an inevitable destiny
demands the highest degree of seriousness, there are a multitude of
human relations which unquestionably may be considered in an ironical
view, without confounding the eternal line of separation between good
and evil. This purpose is answered by the comic characters and scenes
which are interwoven with the serious parts in most of those pieces of
Shakespeare where romantic fables or historical events are made the
subject of a noble and elevating exhibition. Frequently an intentional
parody of the serious part is not to be mistaken in them; at other
times the connection is more arbitrary and loose, and the more so, the
more marvelous the invention of the whole and the more entirely it has
become a light reveling of the fancy. The comic intervals everywhere
serve to prevent the pastime from being converted into a business, to
preserve the mind in the possession of its serenity, and to keep off
that gloomy and inert seriousness which so easily steals upon the
sentimental, but not tragical, drama. Most assuredly Shakespeare did
not intend thereby, in defiance to his own better judgment, to humor
the taste of the multitude: for in various pieces, and throughout
considerable portions of others, and especially when the catastrophe
is approaching, and the mind consequently is more on the stretch and
no longer likely to give heed to any amusement which would distract
their attention, he has abstained from all such comic intermixtures.
It was also an object with him, that the clowns or buffoons should not
occupy a more important place than that which he had assigned them: he
expressly condemns the extemporizing with which they loved to enlarge
their parts.[26] Johnson founds the justification of the species of
drama in which seriousness and mirth are mixed, on this, that in real
life the vulgar is found close to the sublime, that the merry and the
sad usually accompany and succeed each other. But it does not follow
that, because both are found together, therefore they must not be
separable in the compositions of art. The observation is in other
respects just, and this circumstance invests the poet with a power to
adopt this procedure, because everything in the drama must be
regulated by the conditions of theatrical probability; but the mixture
of such dissimilar, and apparently contradictory, ingredients, in the
same works, can be justifiable only on principles reconcilable with
the views of art which I have already described. In the dramas of
Shakespeare the comic scenes are the antechamber of the poetry, where
the servants remain; these prosaic attendants must not raise their
voices so high as to deafen the speakers in the presence-chamber;
however, in those intervals when the ideal society has retired they
deserve to be listened to; their bold raillery, their presumption of
mockery, may afford many an insight into the situation and
circumstances of their masters.

Shakespeare's comic talent is equally wonderful with that which he has
shown in the pathetic and tragic: it stands on an equal elevation, and
possesses equal extent and profundity; in all that I have hitherto
said, I only wished to guard against admitting that the former
preponderated. He is highly inventive in comic situations and motives:
it will be hardly possible to show whence he has taken any of them,
whereas, in the serious part of his dramas, he has generally laid hold
of some well-known story. His comic characterization is equally true,
various, and profound, with his serious. So little is he disposed to
caricature, that rather, it may be said, many of his traits are almost
too nice and delicate for the stage, that they can be made available
only by a great actor and fully understood only by an acute audience.
Not only has he delineated many kinds of folly, but even of sheer
stupidity has he contrived to give a most diverting and entertaining
picture. There is also in his pieces a peculiar species of the
farcical, which apparently seems to be introduced more arbitrarily,
but which, however, is founded on imitation of some actual custom.
This is the introduction of the merrymaker, the fool with his cap and
bells and motley dress, called more commonly in England "clown," who
appears in several comedies, though not in all, but, of the tragedies,
in _Lear_ alone, and who generally merely exercises his wit in
conversation with the principal persons, though he is also sometimes
incorporated into the action. In those times it was not only usual for
princes to have their court fools, but many distinguished families,
among their other retainers, kept such an exhilarating house-mate as a
good antidote against the insipidity and wearisomeness of ordinary
life, and as a welcome interruption of established formalities. Great
statesmen, and even ecclesiastics, did not consider it beneath their
dignity to recruit and solace themselves after important business with
the conversation of their fools; the celebrated Sir Thomas More had
his fool painted along with himself by Holbein. Shakespeare appears to
have lived immediately before the time when the custom began to be
abolished; in the English comic authors who succeeded him the clown is
no longer to be found. The dismissal of the fool has been extolled as
a proof of refinement; and our honest forefathers have been pitied for
taking delight in such a coarse and farcical amusement. For my part, I
am rather disposed to believe that the practice was dropped from the
difficulty in finding fools able to do full justice to their
parts:[27] on the other hand, reason, with all its conceit of itself,
has become too timid to tolerate such bold irony; it is always careful
lest the mantle of its gravity should be disturbed in any of its
folds; and rather than allow a privileged place to folly beside
itself, it has unconsciously assumed the part of the ridiculous; but,
alas! a heavy and cheerless ridicule.[28] It would be easy to make a
collection of the excellent sallies and biting sarcasms which have
been preserved of celebrated court fools. It is well known that they
frequently told such truths to princes as are never now told to
them.[29] Shakespeare's fools, along with somewhat of an overstraining
for wit, which cannot altogether be avoided when wit becomes a
separate profession, have for the most part an incomparable humor and
an infinite abundance of intellect, enough indeed to supply a whole
host of ordinary wise men.

I have still a few observations to make on the diction and
versification of our poet. The language is here and there somewhat
obsolete, but on the whole much less so than in most of the
contemporary writers--a sufficient proof of the goodness of his
choice. Prose had as yet been but little cultivated, as the learned
generally wrote in Latin--a favorable circumstance for the dramatic
poet; for what has he to do with the scientific language of books? He
had not only read, but studied, the earlier English poets; but he drew
his language immediately from life itself, and he possessed a masterly
skill in blending the dialogical element with the highest poetical
elevation. I know not what certain critics mean, when they say that
Shakespeare is frequently ungrammatical. To make good their assertion,
they must prove that similar constructions never occur in his
contemporaries, the direct contrary of which can, however, be easily
shown. In no language is everything determined on principle; much is
always left to the caprice of custom, and if this has since changed,
is the poet to be made answerable for it? The English language had not
then attained to that correct insipidity which has been introduced
into the more recent literature of the country, to the prejudice,
perhaps, of its originality. As a field when first brought under the
plough produces, along with the fruitful shoots, many luxuriant weeds,
so the poetical diction of the day ran occasionally into extravagance,
but an extravagance originating in the exuberance of its vigor. We may
still perceive traces of awkwardness, but nowhere of a labored and
spiritless display of art. In general, Shakespeare's style yet remains
the very best model, both in the vigorous and sublime, and the
pleasing and tender. In his sphere he has exhausted all the means and
appliances of language. On all he has impressed the stamp of his
mighty spirit. His images and figures, in their unsought, nay,
uncapricious singularity, have often a sweetness altogether peculiar.
He becomes occasionally obscure from too great fondness for compressed
brevity; but still, the labor of poring over Shakespeare's lines will
invariably meet an ample requital.

The verse in all his plays is generally the rhymeless iambic of ten or
eleven syllables, only occasionally intermixed with rhymes, but more
frequently alternating with prose. No one piece is written entirely in
prose; for even in those which approach the most to the pure Comedy,
there is always something added which gives them a more poetical hue
than usually belongs to this species. Many scenes are wholly in prose,
in others verse and prose succeed each other alternately. This can
appear an impropriety only in the eyes of those who are accustomed to
consider the lines of a drama like so many soldiers drawn up rank and
file on a parade, with the same uniform, arms, and accoutrements, so
that when we see one or two we may represent to ourselves thousands as
being every way like them.

In the use of verse and prose Shakespeare observes very nice
distinctions according to the ranks of the speakers, but still more
according to their characters and disposition of mind. A noble
language, elevated above the usual tone, is suitable only to a certain
decorum of manners, which is thrown over both vices and virtues and
which does not even wholly disappear amidst the violence of passion.
If this is not exclusively possessed by the higher ranks, it still,
however, belongs naturally more to them than to the lower; and
therefore, in Shakespeare, dignity and familiarity of language,
poetry, and prose, are in this manner distributed among the
characters. Hence his tradesmen, peasants, soldiers, sailors,
servants, but more especially his fools and clowns, speak, almost
without exception, in the tone of their actual life. However, inward
dignity of sentiment, wherever it is possessed, invariably displays
itself with a nobleness of its own, and stands not in need, for that
end, of the artificial elegancies of education and custom; it is a
universal right of man, of the highest as well as the lowest; and
hence also, in Shakespeare, the nobility of nature and morality is
ennobled above the artificial nobility of society. Not infrequently
also he makes the very same persons express themselves at times in the
sublimest language, and at others in the lowest; and this inequality
is in like manner founded in truth. Extraordinary situations, which
intensely occupy the head and throw mighty passions into play, give
elevation and tension to the soul: it collects all its powers and
exhibits an unusual energy, both in its operations and in its
communications by language. On the other hand, even the greatest men
have their moments of remissness, when to a certain degree they forget
the dignity of their character in unreserved relaxation. This very
tone of mind is necessary before they can receive amusement from the
jokes of others, or, what surely cannot dishonor even a hero, from
passing jokes themselves. Let any person, for example, go carefully
through the part of Hamlet. How bold and powerful the language of his
poetry when he conjures the ghost of his father, when he spurs himself
on to the bloody deed, when he thunders into the soul of his mother!
How he lowers his tone down to that of common life, when he has to do
with persons whose station demands from him such a line of conduct;
when he makes game of Polonius and the courtiers, instructs the
player, and even enters into the jokes of the grave-digger. Of all the
poet's serious leading characters there is none so rich in wit and
humor as Hamlet; hence he it is of all of them that makes the greatest
use of the familiar style. Others, again, never do fall into it;
either because they are constantly surrounded by the pomp of rank, or
because a uniform seriousness is natural to them; or, in short,
because through the whole piece they are under the dominion of a
passion calculated to excite, and not, like the sorrow of Hamlet, to
depress the mind. The choice of the one form or the other is
everywhere so appropriate, and so much founded in the nature of the
thing, that I will venture to assert, even where the poet in the very
same speech makes the speaker leave prose for poetry, or the converse,
this could not be altered without danger of injuring or destroying
some beauty or other. The blank verse has this advantage, that its
tone may be elevated or lowered; it admits of approximation to the
familiar style of conversation, and never forms such an abrupt
contrast as that, for example, between plain prose and the rhyming

Shakespeare's iambics are sometimes highly harmonious and
full-sounding; always varied and suitable to the subject, at one time
distinguished by ease and rapidity, at another they move along with
ponderous energy. They never fall out of the dialogical character,
which may always be traced even in the continued discourses of
individuals, excepting when the latter run into the lyrical. They are
a complete model of the dramatic use of this species of verse, which,
in English, since Milton, has been also used in epic poetry; but in
the latter it has assumed a quite different turn. Even the
irregularities of Shakespeare's versification are expressive; a verse
broken off, or a sudden change of rhythmus, coincides with some pause
in the progress of the thought, or the entrance of another mental
disposition. As a proof that he purposely violated the mechanical
rules, from a conviction that a too symmetrical versification does not
suit with the drama, and, on the stage has in the long run a tendency
to lull the spectators to sleep, we may observe that his earlier
pieces are the most diligently versified, and that, in the later
works, when through practice he must have acquired a greater facility,
we find the strongest deviations from the regular structure of the
verse. As it served with him merely to make the poetical elevation
perceptible, he therefore claimed the utmost possible freedom in the
use of it.

The views or suggestions of feeling by which he was guided in the use
of rhyme may likewise be traced with almost equal certainty. Not
infrequently scenes, or even single speeches, close with a few rhyming

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