Part 7 out of 13
his purpose. He prolongs and repeats his burthens, till the whole
action echoes with them, till 'the groves, the fountains, every region
near, seem all one mutual cry.' He has indeed the Teacher's trick of
repetition, but then he is 'so rare a wondered teacher,' so rich in
magical resources, that he does not often find it necessary to weary
_the sense_ with sameness. He is prodigal in variety. It is a Proteus
repetition. But his charge to his Ariel in getting up his Masques,
'Bring a corollary,
Rather than want a spirit.'
Nay, it would be dangerous, not wearisome merely, to make the text of
this living commentary continuous, or to bring too near together
'those short and pithy sentences' wherein the action unwinds and
fashions into its immortal groups. And the curtain must fall and rise
again, ere the outcast duke,--his eyes gouged out by tyranny, turned
forth to smell his way to Dover,--can dare to echo, word by word, the
thoughts of the outcast king.
Led by one whose qualification for leadership is, that he is 'Madman
and Beggar, too,'--for as Gloster explains it to us, explaining also
at the same time much else that the scenic language of the play, the
dumb show, the transitory hieroglyphic of it presents, and _all_ the
criticism of it,
''T IS THE TIME'S PLAGUE WHEN MADMEN LEAD THE BLIND'--
groping with such leadership his way to Dover--'smelling it out'--thus
it is that his secret understanding with the king, in that mad and
wondrous philosophical humour of his, betrays itself.
_Gloster_. Here, take this purse [to Tom o'Bedlam], _thou whom the
Have humbled to all strokes_: that I am wretched
Makes thee the happier:--_Heavens, deal so still_!
Let the _superfluous_ and lust-dieted man
That _slaves_ your ordinance, that will not SEE
_Because_ he doth not FEEL, feel your power quickly;
_So distribution should undo excess,
And each man have enough_.
_Lear_. O I have taken
_Too little care of this._ Take physic, Pomp;
Expose thyself to FEEL what wretches FEEL,
_That_ thou may'st shake the _superflux to them,
And show the Heavens more just_.
Truly, these men would seem to have been taking lessons in the same
school. But it is very seldom that two men in real life, of equal
learning on any topic, coincide so exactly in their trains of thought,
and in the niceties of their expression in discussing it. The emphasis
is deep, indeed, when _this_ author graves his meaning with _such_ a
repetition. But Regan's stern school-master is abroad in this play,
enforcing the philosophic subtleties, bringing home to the _senses_
the neglected lessons of nature; full of errands to '_wilful men_,'
charged with coarse lessons to those who will learn through the senses
only great Nature's lore--that '_slave_ Heaven's ordinance--that will
not SEE, because they do not FEEL.'
THE KING AND THE BEGGAR.
_Armado_. Is there not a ballad, boy, of the King and the Beggar?
_Moth_. The world was very guilty of such a ballad some three ages
since: but, I think, now 'tis not to be found; or, if it were, it
would neither serve for the writing, _nor for the tune_.
_Armado_. I will have the subject newly writ over, _that I
may example my digression
by some mighty precedent_.
_Love's Labour's Lost._
But the king's philosophical studies are not yet completed; for he is
in the hands of one who does not rely on general statements for his
effects; one who is pertinaciously bent on exploring those
subterranean social depths, that the king's prayer has just glanced
at--who is determined to lay bare to the utmost, to carry the torch of
his new science into the lowest recess of that wild, nameless mass of
human neglect and misery, which the regal sympathy has embraced for
him in the general; though not, indeed, without some niceties of
detail, which shew that the eye of a true human pity has collected the
terms in which he expresses it.
That vast, immeasurable mass of social misery, which has no learned
speech, no tragic dialect--no, or 'it would bear such an emphasis,'
that 'its phrase of sorrow might conjure the wandering stars, and bid
them stand like wonder-wounded hearers'--that misery which must get a
king's robe about it, ere, in the Poet's time, it could have an
audience, must needs be produced here, ere all this play was played,
in its own native and proper shape and costume, daring as the attempt
The author is not satisfied with the picturesque details of that
misery which he has already given us, with its 'looped and windowed
raggedness,' its 'houseless head,' its 'unfed sides'; it must be yet
more palpably presented. It must be embodied and dramatically
developed; it must be exhibited with its proper moral and intellectual
accompaniments, too, before the philosophic requisitions of this
design can be fulfilled.
To the lowest deeps of the lowest depths of the unfathomed social
misery of that time, the new philosopher, the Poet of the Advancement
of Learning, will himself descend; and drag up to the eye of
day,--undeterred by any scruple of poetic sensibility,--in his own
unborrowed habiliments, with all the badges of _his_ position in the
state upon him, the creature he has selected as one of the
representatives of the social state as he finds it;--the creature he
has selected as the representative of those loathsome, unpenetrated
masses of _human_ life, which the unscientific social state must needs
For the design of this play, in its exhibition of the true human need,
in its new and large exhibition of the ground which the Arts of a true
and rational human civilization must cover, could not but include the
_defects_ of that, which passed for civilization then. It involved
necessarily, indeed, the most searching and relentless criticisms of
the existing institutions of that time. That cry of social misery
which pervades it, in which the natural, and social, and artificial
evils are still discriminated through all the most tragic bursts of
passion--in which the true social need, in all its comprehension, is
uttered--that wild cry of human anguish, prolonged, and repeated, and
reverberated as it is--is all one outcry upon the social wisdom of the
Poet's time. It constitutes one continuous dramatic expression and
embodiment of that so deeply-rooted opinion which the New Philosopher
is known to have entertained, in regard to the practical knowledge of
mankind as he found it; his opinion of the real advances towards the
true human ends which had been made in his time; an opinion which he
has, indeed, taken occasion to express elsewhere with some
distinctness, considering the conditions which hampered the expression
of his philosophical conclusions; but it is one which could hardly
have been produced from the philosophic chair in his time, or from the
bench, or at the council-table, in such terms as we find him launching
out into here, without any fear or scruple.
For those who persuade themselves that it was any part of this
player's intention to bring out, for the amusement of his audiences,
an historical exhibition of the Life and Times of that ancient Celtic
king of Britain, whose legendary name and chronicle he has
appropriated so effectively, will be prevented by that view of the
subject from ever attaining the least inkling of the matter here. For
this Magician has quite other work in hand. He does not put his
girdles round the earth, and enforce and harass with toil his delicate
spirits,--he does not get out his book and staff, and put on his
Enchanter's robe, for any such kind of effect as that. For this is not
any antiquary at all, but the true Prospero; and when a little more
light has been brought into his cell, his garments will be found to
be, like the disguised Edgar's--'_Persian_.'
It is not enough, then, in the wild revolutionary sweep of this play,
to bring out the monarch from his palace, and set him down at the
hovel's door. It is not enough to open it, and shew us, by the light
of Cordelia's pity--that sunshine and rain at once--the '_swine_' in
that human dwelling, and 'the short and musty-straw' there. For the
poet himself will enter it, and drag out its living human tenant into
the day of his immortal verse. He will set him up for all ages, on his
great stage, side by side with his great brother. He will put the feet
of these two men on one platform, and measure their stature--for all
their senses have the like conditions, as we have heard already; and
he will make the king himself own the KINDRED, and interpret for him.
For this group must needs be completed _'to the eye_'; these two
extremes in the social scale must meet and literally embrace each
other, before this Teacher's doctrine of 'MAN'--'man as distinguished
from other species'--can be artistically exhibited. For it is this
picture of the unaccommodated man--'unaccommodated' still, with all
his empiric arts, with all his wordy philosophy--it is this picture of
man '_as he is_,' in the misery of his IGNORANCE, in his blind
struggle with his law of KIND, which is his law of 'BEING,'--
unreconciled to his place in the universal order, where he must
live or have no life--for the beast, obedient to his law, rejects
from his kinds the _degenerate_ man--it is this vivid, condensed,
scientific exhibition, this scientific collection of the fact of man
as he is, in his empiric struggle with the law which universal nature
enforces, and will enforce on him with all her pains and penalties
till he learns it--it is this '_negation_' which brings out the true
doctrine of man and human society in this method of inquiry. For the
scientific method begins with negations and exclusions, and concludes
only after every species of rejection; the other, the common method,
which begins with 'AFFIRMATION,' is the one that has failed in
practice, the one which has brought about just this state of things
which science is undertaking to reform.
But this _levelling_, which the man of the new science, with his new
apparatus, with his 'globe and his machines,' contrives to exhibit
here with so much '_facility_,' is a scientific one, designed to
answer a scientific purpose merely. The experimenter, in this case, is
one who looks with scientific forebodings, and not with hope only, on
those storms of violent political revolution that were hanging then on
the world's horizon, and threatening to repeat this process,
threatening to overwhelm in their wild crash, all the ancient social
structures--threatening 'to lay all flat'! That is not the kind of
change he meditates. His is the subtle, all-penetrating Radicalism of
the New Science, which imitates the noiseless processes of Nature in
its change and _Re-formation_.
There is a wild gibberish heard in the straw. The fool shrieks,
'Nuncle, come not in here,' and out rushes 'Tom o Bedlam'--the naked
creature, as Gloster calls him--with his 'elf locks,' his 'blanketed
loins,' his 'begrimed face,' with his shattered wits, his madness,
real or assumed--there he stands.
We know, indeed, in this instance, that there is gentle, nay, noble
blood, there, under that horrid guise. It is the heir of a dukedom, we
are told, but an out-cast one, who has found himself compelled, for
the sake of prolonging life, to assume that shape, as other wretches
were in the Poet's time for that same purpose,--men who had lost
_their_ dukedoms, too, as it would seem, such as they were, in some
way, and their human relationships, too. But notwithstanding this
alleviating circumstance which enables the audience to endure the
exhibition in this instance, it serves not the less effectually in the
Poet's hand, as 'THE CONSPICUOUS INSTANCE' of that lowest human
condition which this grand Social Tragedy must needs include in its
Here are some of the prose English descriptions of this creature,
which we find already included in the commentaries on this tragedy;
and which shew that the Poet has not exaggerated his portrait, and
that it is not by way of celebrating any Anglo-Saxon or Norman triumph
over the barbarisms of the _joint_ reigns of REGAN _and_ GONERIL, that
he is produced here.
'I remember, before the civil wars, Tom o' Bedlams went about
begging,' Aubrey says. Randle Holme, in his 'Academy of Arms and
Blazon,' includes them in his descriptions, as a class of vagabonds
'feigning themselves mad.' 'The Bedlam is in the same garb, with a
long staff,' etc., 'but his cloathing is more fantastic and
ridiculous; for being a madman, he is madly decked and dressed all
over with _rubans, feathers, cuttings_ of _cloth,_ and what not, to
make him _seem_ a madman, when he is no other than a _dissembling
In the Bellman of London, 1640, there is another description of
him--'He sweares he hath been in Bedlam, and will talk frantickely _of
purpose; you see pinnes_ stuck in sundry places of his _naked flesh_,
especially in his armes, _which paine he gladly puts himselfe to_;
calls himself by the name of _Poore Tom_; and coming near anybody,
cries out, '_Poor Tom's a cold_.' Of these Abraham men, _some be
exceeding merry_, and doe nothing but sing songs, fashioned out of
their own braines; some will dance; others will doe nothing but either
laugh or weepe; _others are dogged_, and so _sullen_, both in looke
and speech, that spying but a small company in a house, they bluntly
and boldly enter, compelling the servants, through fear, to them what
This seems very wicked, very depraved, on the part of these persons,
especially the sticking of pins in their bare arms; but even our young
dukeling Edgar says--
'While I may scape,
I _will preserve myself_: and am bethought
To take _the basest_ and _most poorest shape_,
That ever _penury_, in _contempt_ of MAN,
_Brought near to beast_: my face I'll grime with filth;
Blanket my loins; elf all my hair in knots;
And with presented nakedness outface
The winds, and _persecutions of the sky_.
The _country gives_ me PROOF and PRECEDENT
Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices,
_Strike_ in _their numb'd and mortified bare arms,
Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary_;
And with this horrible object, from low farms,
Poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes and mills,
_Sometime with lunatic bans_, sometime with prayers,
Enforce their charity.--'Poor Turlygood!' 'poor Tom!'
_Thats something yet, Edgar I nothing am_.
But the poet is not contented with the minuteness of this description.
This character appears to have taken his eye as completely as it takes
King Lear's, the moment that _he_ gets a glimpse of him; and the poet
betrays throughout that same philosophical interest in the study,
which the monarch expresses so boldly; for beside the dramatic
exhibition, and the philosophical review of him, which King Lear
institutes, here is an autographical sketch of him, and of his mode of
'_What_ are you there? Your _names_?'
cries Gloster, when he comes to the heath, with his torch, to seek out
the king and his party; whereupon Tom, thinking that an occasion has
now arrived for defining his social outline, takes it upon him to
answer, for his part--
'Poor Tom; that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, the
wall-newt, and the water-[newt]; that in the fury of his heart, when
the _foul fiend rages_, swallows the old rat, and the ditch-dog;
drinks the green mantle of the standing pool; _who is whipped_ from
_tything_ to _tything_' [this is an Anglo-Saxon institution one sees];
'and stocked, punished, and imprisoned; who _hath had_ three suits to
his back' [fallen fortunes here, too] 'six shirts to his body, horse
to ride, and weapon to wear.'
The Jesuits had been, then, recently and notoriously at work in
England, endeavouring professedly to cast out '_the fiend_' from many
possessed persons; and it appeared, to this great practical
philosopher, that this creature he has fetched up here from the
subterranean social abysses of his time, presented a very fitting
subject for the operations of practitioners professing any miraculous
or superior influence over the demons that infest human nature, or
those that have power over human fortunes. He has brought him out here
thus distinctly, for the purpose of inquiring whether there is any
exorcism which can meet his case, or that of the great human
multitude, that no man can number, of whose penury and vice he stands
here as the elected, pre-eminent, royal representative. In that survey
and report of human affairs, which this author felt himself called
upon to make, the case of this poor creature had attracted his
attention, and appeared to him to require looking to; and,
accordingly, he has made a note of it.
He is admirably seconded in his views on this subject, by the king
himself, who, in that fine philosophic humour which his madness and
his misery have served to develop in him, stands ready to lend himself
to the boldest and most delicate philosophical inquiries. For the
point to be noted here,--and it is one of no ordinary importance,--is,
that this mad humour for philosophical investigation, which has seized
so strangely the royal mind, does not appear to be at all in the vein
of that old-fashioned philosophy, which had been rattling its
abstractions in the face of the collective human misery for so many
ages. For the helplessness of the human creature in his struggle with
the elements, and those conditions of his nature which put him so
hopelessly at the mercy of his own kind and kindred, seem to suggest
to the royal sufferer, who has the advantage of a fresh experience to
stimulate his apprehension, that there ought to be some relief for the
human condition from _this source_, that is, from PHILOSOPHY; and his
inquiries and discoveries are all stamped with the unmistakeable
impress of that fire new philosophy, which was not yet out of the mint
elsewhere--which was yet undergoing the formative process in the mind
of its great inventor;--that philosophy, which we are told elsewhere
'has for its principal object, to make _nature subservient to the
wants and state of Man_';--and which concerns itself for that purpose
with ideas as they exist in nature, as _causes_, and not as they exist
in the mind of man as _words_ merely.
If there had been, indeed, any intention of paying a marked compliment
to the philosophy which still held all the mind of the world in its
grasp, at that great moment in history, in which Tom o' Bedlam makes
his first appearance on any stage, it is not likely that _that_ sage
would have been just the person appointed to hold the office of
Philosopher in Chief, and Councillor extraordinary to his Majesty.
The selection is indeed made on the part of the king, in perfect good
faith, whatever the Poet's intent may be; for from the moment that
this creature makes his appearance, he has no eyes or ears for
anything else. And he will not be parted from him. For this startling
juxtaposition was not intended by the Poet to fulfil its effect as a
mere passing _tableau vivant_. The relation must be dramatically
developed; that astounding juxtaposition must be prolonged, in spite
of the horror of the spectators, and the disgust and rude displeasure
of the king's attendants. They seek in vain to _part_ these two men.
The king refuses to stir without him. 'He will _still keep with his
philosopher_.' He has a vague idea that his regal administration
stands in need of some assistance, and that philosophy ought to be
able to give it, and that the Bedlamite is in some way connected with
the subject, but confused as the association is, it is a pertinacious
one; and, in spite of their disgust the king's friends are obliged to
take this wretch with them. For Gloster does not know, after all, it
is 'his own flesh and blood' he sees there. He cannot even recognize
the common kindred in that guise, as the king does, when he
philosophises on his condition. And the rough aristocratic contempt
and indifference which is manifested by the king's party, as a matter
of course, for this poor human victim of wrong and misfortune, is made
to contrast with their boundless sympathy and tenderness for the
_king_, while the poet aiming at broader relationships, finds the
mantle of _his_ humanity wide enough for them, _both_.
As for the king,--startled in the midst of those new views of human
wretchedness which his own sufferings have occasioned, and while those
desires to _remedy it_, with which his penitence is accompanied, are
still on his lip, by this wild apparition and embodiment of his
thought, in that new accession of his mental disorder, which the
presence of this object seems to occasion, that confounding of
proximate conceptions, which leads him to regard this man as a source
of new light on human affairs, is one of those exquisite physiological
exhibitions of which only this scientific artist is capable.
And, in fact, it must be confessed, that this 'learned Theban'
himself, notwithstanding the unexpected dignity of his promotion, does
not appear to be altogether wanting in a taste, at least, for that new
kind of philosophical investigation, which seems to be looked for at
his hands. The king's inquiries appear to fall in remarkably with the
previous train of his pursuits. In the course of his experiments, he
seems himself to have struck upon that new philosophic proceeding,
which has been called 'putting philosophy upon the right road again.'
Only the philosophic domain which that new road in philosophy leads
to, appears to be very considerably broader, as 'Tom' takes it, than
that very vivid, but narrow limitation of its fields, which Mr.
Macaulay has set down in our time, would make it. Indeed, this
'philosopher,' that _Lear_ so much inclines to, appears to have
included in his investigations the two _extremes_ of the new science
of practice. He has sounded it apparently 'from its lowest note to the
top of its key.'
'What is your study?' says the king to him, eyeing him curiously, and
apparently struck with the practical result--anxious to have a word
with him in private, but obliged to conduct the examination on the
'How to prevent THE FIEND,' is Tom's reply. 'How to prevent the fiend
_and_ to kill vermin.'
This is the Poet who says elsewhere, 'that without _good_ nature,
_men_ are themselves but a nobler kind of vermin.'
One cannot but observe, however, that Poor Tom's researches in this
quite new field of a practical philosophy, do not appear to have been
followed up since his time with any very marked success. _One_ of
these departments of 'his _study_' has indeed been seized, and is now
occupied by whole troops of modern philosophers; but their inquiries,
though very interesting and doubtlessly useful, do not appear to
exhibit that direct and palpable bearing on practice, to which Tom's
programme so severely inclines. For he is one who would make 'the art
and practic part of life, the mistress to his theoric.' And as to that
other mysterious object of his inquiries, Mr. Macaulay is not the only
person who appears to think, that that does not come within the range
of anything human. Many of our scholars are still of the opinion that,
'court holy water' is the best application in the world for _him_; and
the fact that he does not appear to get '_prevented_' with it; it is a
fact which of course has nothing to do with the logical result. For
our philosophers are still determined to reason it 'thus and thus,'
without taking into account the circumstance, that 'the sequent
effect' with which 'nature finds itself scourged,' is not touched by
King Lear's own inquiries seem also to include with great
distinctness, the two great branches of the new philosophical inquiry.
His mind is indeed very eagerly bent on the pursuit of _causes_. And
though in the paroxysms of his mental disorder, he is apt to confound
them occasionally, this very confusion, as it is managed, only serves
to develop the breadth of the philosophic conception beneath it.
'He hath no daughters, Sir.' '_Death, traitor_! Nothing could have
subdued nature to such a lowness, but--his UNKIND _daughters_.' It is,
of course, his own new and terrible experience which points the
inquiry, and though the physical causes are not omitted in it, it is
not strange that the moral should predominate, and that his mind
should seem to be very curiously occupied in tracking the _ethical_
phenomena to their sources '_in nature_.'
In the midst of the uproar of the Tempest, he does indeed begin with
the physical investigation. He puts to his 'learned Theban' the
question, which no learned Theban had then ever suspected of lying
within the range of the scholar's investigations--that question which
has been put to some purpose since--'What is the cause of _thunder_?'
But his philosophic inquiry does not stop there,--where all the new
philosophy has stopped ever since, and where some of our scholars
declare it was meant to stop, notwithstanding the plainest
declarations of its inventor to the contrary--with the investigation
of physical causes.
For, after all, it is 'the tempest in his _mind_' that most concerns
him. _His_ philosopher, his _practical_ philosopher, must be able to
explore the conditions of that, and find the conductors for its
lightnings. 'For where the greater malady is fixed, the lesser is
scarce felt.' 'Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are his daughters.'
After all, it is _Regan's_ heart that appears to him to be the
trouble--it is that which must first be laid on the table; and as soon
as he decides to have a philosopher among 'his hundred,' he gives
orders to that effect.
'Then let them anatomise Regan; see what breeds about her heart: Is
there any CAUSE IN NATURE that makes _these hard hearts_?'
A very fair subject for philosophical inquiry, one would say; and, on
the whole, as profitable and interesting a one, perhaps, as some of
those that engage the attention of our men of learning so profoundly
at present. In these days of enlightened scientific procedure, one
would hardly undertake the smallest practical affair with the aid of
any such vague general notions or traditional accounts of the
properties to be dealt with, as those which our learned Thebans appear
to find all-sufficient for their practices, in that particular
department which Lear seems inclined to open here as a field for
And it is perfectly clear that the author, whoever he may be, is very
much of Lear's mind on this point, for he does not depend upon Lear
alone to suggest his views upon it. There is never a person of this
drama that does not do it.
THE USE OF EYES.
'All that follow their noses are led by their eyes, but--_blind men_.'
The Play is all strewn throughout, and tinctured in the grain, with
the finest natural philosophy, of that new and very subtle and
peculiar kind, which belongs to the earlier stages of the physical
inquiry, and while it was still in the hands of its original
inventors. Even in physics, there are views here which have not been
developed any further since this author's time. It is not merely in
the direct discourse on questions of physical science, as in the
physician's report of the resources of his art, or in Cordelia's
invocation to 'all the _blessed secrets_--the _unpublished_ virtues of
the earth,' that the track of the new physiological science, which
this work embodies, may be seen. It runs through it all; it betrays
itself at every turn. But the subtle and occult relations of the moral
and physical are noted here, as we do not find them noted elsewhere,
in less practical theories of nature.
That there is something in the design of this play which requires an
elaborate and systematic exhibition of the '_special_' human
relationships, natural and artificial, political, social, and
domestic, almost any reading of it would show. And that this design
involves, also, a systematic exhibition of the social _consequences_
arising from the violation of the natural laws or duties of these
relationships, and that this violation is everywhere systematically
aggravated,--carried to its last conceivable extreme, so that all the
play is filled with the uproar of one continued outrage on _humanity_;
this is not less evident for the Poet is not content with the material
which his chronicle offered him, already invented to his hands for
this purpose, but he has deliberately tacked to it, and intricately
connected with it throughout, another plot, bearing on the surface of
it, and in the most prominent statements, the author's intention in
this respect; which tends not only in the most unequivocal manner to
repeat and corroborate the impressions which the story of Lear
produces, but to widen the dramatic exhibition, so as to make it
capable of conveying the whole breadth of the philosophic conception.
For it is the scientific doctrine of MAN that is taught here; and that
is, that man must be _human_ in _all_ his relations, or '_cease to
be_.' It is the violation of the ESSENTIAL humanity. It is a
DEGENERACY which is exhibited here, and the 'SEQUENT EFFECTS' which
belong naturally to the violation of a law that has the force of the
universe to sustain it. And it is not by accident that the story of
the illegitimate Edmund begins the piece; it is not for nothing that
we are compelled to stop to hear that, before even Lear and his
daughters can make their entrance. The whole story of the _base_ and
base-born one, who makes what he calls _nature_--the rude, brutal,
spontaneous nature--his goddess and his law, and ignores the human
distinction; this part was needed in order to supply the deficiences
in the social diagrams which the original plot presented; and, indeed,
the whole story of the Duke of Gloster, which is from first to last a
clear Elizabethan invention, and of which this of Edmund is but a
part, was not less essential for the same purpose.
Neither does one need to go very far beneath the surface, to perceive
a new and extraordinary treatment of the ethical principle in this
play throughout; one which the new, artistic, practical 'stand-point'
here taken naturally suggested, but one which could have proceeded
only from the inmost heart of the new philosophy. It is just the kind
of treatment which the proposal to introduce the Inductive method of
inquiry into this department of the human practice inevitably
involved. A disposition to go behind the ethical phenomena, to pursue
the investigation to its scientific conclusion, a refusal to accept
the facts which, to the unscientific observation, appear to be the
ultimate ones--a refusal to accept the coarse, vague, spontaneous
notions of the dark ages, as the solution of these so essential
phenomena, is everywhere betraying and declaring itself. Cordelia's
agonised invocation and summons to the unpublished forces of nature,
to be aidant and remediate to the good man's distress, is continually
echoed by the poet, but with a broader application. It is not the
bodily malady and infirmity only--it is not that kind of madness, only
with which the poor king is afflicted in the later stages of the play,
which appears to him to need scientific treatment--it is not for the
cure of these alone that he would open his Prospero book, 'nature's
infinite book of secresy,' as he calls it in Mark Antony--'the true
magic,' as he calls it _elsewhere_--the book of the unpublished
laws--the scientific book of 'KINDS'--the book of 'the historic
laws'--'the book of God's power.'
All the _interior_ phenomena which attend the violation of duty are
strictly omitted here. That psychological exhibition of it belongs to
other plays; and the Poet has left us, as we all know, no room to
suspect the tenderness of his moral sensibility, or the depth of his
acquaintance with these subjective phenomena. The _social_
consequences of the violation of duty in all the human relationships,
the consequence to _others_, and the _social reaction_, limits the
exhibition here. The object on which our sympathies are chiefly
concentrated is, as he himself is made to inform us--
'One more sinned _against_, than sinning.'
'Oh, these eclipses do portend these divisions,'
says the base-born Edmund, sneeringly. '_Fa sol la mi_,' he continues,
producing that particular conjunction of sounds which was forbidden by
the ancient musicians, on account of its unnatural discord. The
monkish writers on music call it diabolical. It is at the conclusion
of a very long and elaborate discussion on this question, that he
treats us to this prohibited piece of harmony; and a discussion in
which Gloster refers to the influence of the _planets_, this
_unnaturalness_ in all the human relations--this universal
jangle--'this ruinous disorder, that hunts men disquietly to their
graves.' But the 'base' Edmund is disposed to acquit the celestial
influences of the evil charged on them. He does not believe in men
'Fools, by heavenly compulsion; knaves and thieves, by spherical
predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced
obedience of planetary influence; and all that they are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on.'
He has another method of accounting for what _he_ himself is. He does
not think it necessary to go quite so far, to find the origin of his
own base, lawless, _inhuman, unconscionable_ dispositions. But the
inquiries, which are handled so boldly in the soliloquies of Edmund,
are started again and again elsewhere; and the recurrence is too
emphatic, to leave any room to doubt that the author's intention in
the play is concerned in it; and that this question of 'the several
dispositions and characters of men,' and the inquiry as to whether
there be '_any causes in_ nature' of these _degenerate_ tendencies,
which he is at such pains to exhibit, is, for some reason or other, a
very important point with him. That which in _contemplative
philosophy_ corresponds to the _cause_, in _practical philosophy_
becomes the _rule_, the _founder_ of it tells us. But the play cannot
be studied effectually without taking into account the fact, that the
author avails himself of the date of his chronicle to represent that
stage of human development in which the mysterious forces of nature
were still blindly deified; and, therefore, the religious invocations
with which the play abounds, are _not_, in the modern sense of the
term, _prayers_, but only vague, poetic appeals to the unknown,
unexplored powers in nature, which we call _second causes_. And when,
as yet, there was no room for science in the narrow premature theories
which men found imposed on them--when the new movement of human
thought was still hampered by the narrowness of 'preconceived
opinions,' the poet was glad to take shelter under the date of his
legend now and then, here, as in Macbeth and other poems, for the sake
of a little more freedom in this respect. He is very far from
condemning '_presuppositions_' and '_anticipations_' but only wishes
them kept in their proper places, because to bring them into the
region of fact and induction, and so to falsify the actual condition
of things--to undertake to face down the powers of nature with them,
is a merely mistaken mode of proceeding; because these powers are
powers which do not yield to the human beliefs, and the _practical_
doctrine must have respect to them. The great battle of that age--the
battle of the second causes, which the new philosophers were compelled
to fight in behalf of humanity at the peril of their lives--the battle
which they fought in the open field with Aristotle and Plato--fills
all this magnificent poetry with its reverberations.
It must be confessed, that those terrible appeals to the heavens, into
which King Lear launches out in his anguish now and then, are anything
but pious; but the boldness which shocks our modern sensibilities
becomes less offensive, if we take into account the fact that they are
not made to the object of our present religious worship, but are mere
vague appeals, and questioning addresses to the unknown, unexplored
causes in nature--the powers which lie behind the historical
For that divine Ideal of Human Nature to which 'our large temples,
crowded with the shows of peace,' are built now, had not yet appeared
at the date of this history, in that form in which we now worship it,
with its triumphant assurance that it came forth from the heart of
God, and declared Him. Paul had not yet preached his sermon at Athens,
in the age of this supposed King of Britain; and though the author was
indeed painting his own age, and not that, it so happened that there
was such a heathenish and inhuman, and, as he intimates, indeed, quite
'_fiendish_' and diabolical state of things to represent here then,
that this discrepancy was not so shocking as it might have been if he
had found a divine religion in full operation here.
'If it be you,' says Lear, falling back upon the theory, which Edmund
has already discarded, of a divine thrusting on--
'If it be _you_ that _stir these daughters' hearts_
Against their father, fool _me_ not so much
To bear it tamely; _touch me_ with noble anger.'
And here is an echo of the 'spherical predominance' which Gloster goes
into so elaborately in the outset, confessing, much to the amusement
of his graceless offspring, that he is disposed to think, after all,
there may be something in it. 'For,' he says, 'though the _wisdom_ of
_nature_ [the spontaneous wisdom] can REASON IT _thus and thus, yet_
nature _finds itself scourged_ by THE SEQUENT EFFECT;' and he is
talking under the dictation of a philosopher who, though he ridicules
the pretensions of astrology in the next breath, lays it down as a
principle in the scientific Art, as a chief point in the science of
Practice and Relief, that the _sequent effects_, with which nature
finds itself scourged, are a better guide to the _causes_ which the
_practical_ remedy must comprehend, than anything which the wisdom of
nature can undertake to reason out _beforehand_, without any respect
to the sequent effect--'_thus_, and--_thus_.' But here is the
confirmation of Gloster's view of the subject, which the sound-minded
Kent, who is not at all metaphysical, finds himself provoked to utter;
and though this is in the Fourth Act, and Gloster's opinions are
advanced in the First, the passages do, notwithstanding, 'look towards
'It is _the stars_.
The stars above us govern our conditions,
Else one self mate and mate could not beget
Such different issues.'
Of course, it is not the astrological theory of the constitutional
original differences in the human dispositions which the honest Kent
is made to advocate here, literally and in earnest. It is rather the
absence of any known cause, and the necessity of supposing one in a
case where this difference is so obtrusive and violent, which he
expresses; the stars being the natural resort of men in such
circumstances, and when other solutions fail; though Poor Tom appears
to be in possession of a much more orthodox theory for the peculiar
disorders in _his_ moral constitution: but, at the same time, it must
be conceded that it is one which does not appear to have led, in his
case, to any such felicitous practical results as the supposed origin
of it might have seemed to promise.
For, indeed, this point of natural differences in the human
dispositions, though, of course, quite overlooked in the moral regimen
which is based on _a priori_ knowledge, and is able to dispense with
science, and ride over the actual laws; this point of _difference_--
not in the dispositions of individuals only, but the differences
which manifest themselves under the varying conditions of age and
bodily health, of climate, or other physical differences in the same
individual, as well as under the varying moral conditions of
differing social and political positions and relations; this so
essential point, overlooked as it is in the ordinary practice, has
seized the clear eye of this great scientific practitioner, this
Master of Arts, and he is making a radical point of it in his new
speculation; he is making collections on it, and he will make a main
point of it in 'the part operative' of his New Science, when he comes
to make out the outline of it elsewhere, referring us distinctly to
this place for his collections in it, for his collections on this
point, as well as on others not less radical.
Lear himself, in his madness, appears, as we have seen already, much
disposed to speculate upon this same particular question, which
Gloster and Edmund and Kent have already indicated as 'a necessary
question of the play'; namely, the question as to '_the causes in
nature_' of the phenomena which the social condition of man exhibits;
that is, the causes of that degeneracy, that violation of the
essential human law to which all the evil is tracked here; and it is
the scientific doctrine, that the _nature_ of a thing cannot be
successfully studied in itself alone. It is not in water or in air
only, or in any other single substance, that we find the nature of
_oxygen_, or _hydrogen_, or any other of those principles in nature,
which the application of this method to another department evolves
from things which present themselves to the unscientific experience as
most dissimilar. 'It is the greatest proof of want of skill to
investigate _the nature_ of any object in itself alone; for _the same
nature_ which seems concealed and hidden in some instances, is
manifest and almost palpable in others; and, in general, those very
things which are considered as secret, are manifest and common in
other objects, but will never be clearly seen if the experiments and
conclusions of men be directed to themselves alone': for it is a part
of this doctrine, that man is not omitted in the order of nature--that
the term HUMAN NATURE is _not_ a misnomer. The doctrine of this Play
is, that those same powers which are at work in man's life, are at
work without it also; that they are powers which belong, in their
highest form, to the nature of things in general; and that man
himself, with all his special distinctions, is under the law of that
universal constitution. The scientific remedy for the state of things
which this play exhibits is the knowledge of 'causes in nature,' which
must be found here, as in the other case, by scientific
investigation--the spontaneous method leading to no better result here
than in the other case. Under cover of the excitements of this play,
this inquiry is boldly opened, and the track of the new science is
clearly marked in it.
Poor Lear is, indeed, compelled to leave the practical improvement of
_his_ hints for another; and when it comes to the open question of the
remedy for this state of things, which is the term of the inquiry,
when he undertakes to put his absolute power in motion for the avowed
purpose of effecting an improvement here, he appears indeed disposed
to treat the subject in the most savage and despairing manner--that
is, on his own account; but the vein of the scientific inquiry still
runs unbroken through all this burst of passion. For in his scorn for
that failure in human nature and human life of which society, as he
finds it, stands convicted--that failure to establish the distinctive
law of the human kind--that failure from which he is suffering so
deeply--and in his struggle to express that disgust, he proposes, as
an improvement on the state of things he finds, a law which shall
obliterate that human distinction; though certainly _that_ is anything
but the Poet's remedy; and the poor king himself does not appear to be
in earnest, for the moral disgust in which the distinctive sentiment
of the nobler nature, and the knowledge of _human_ good and evil
betrays itself, breaks forth in floods of passion that overflow all
the bounds of articulation before he can make an end of it.
But the radical nature of this question of _natural causes_, which the
practical theory of the social arts must comprehend, is already
indicated in this play, in the very beginning of the action.
This author is everywhere bent on graving the scientific distinction
between those instinctive affections in which men degenerate, and tend
to the rank of lower natures, and the noble natural, distinctively
human affections; and when, in the first scene, the king betrays the
selfishness of that fond preference for his younger daughter,--tender,
and paternal, and deep as it was,--and the depth of those hopes he was
resting on her kind care and nursery, by the very height of that
frenzied paroxysm of rage and disappointment, which her unflattering
and, as it seems to him, her unloving reply, creates;--when that
'small fault, which showed,' he tells us, 'so ugly' in _her_ whom 'he
loved _most_'--which turned, in a moment, all the sweetness of his
love for her '_to gall_, and like an engine, wrenched his _nature from
its firm place_';--these are the terms in which he undertakes to annul
the natural tie, and _disown_ her--
_Lear_. So young, and so untender?
_Cordelia_. So young, my lord, and true.
_Lear_. Let it be so.--Thy truth then be thy dower:
For, by the _sacred radiance of the sun_;
_The mysteries_ of _Hecate_, and _the night_;
_By all the operations_ of _the orbs,
From whom we do exist, and cease to be,
Here I disclaim all my paternal care_,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be _as well neighboured, pitied, and relieved_,
As thou, _my sometime daughter_.
'This even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of his poisoned chalice
To his own lips'--
when his 'dog-hearted daughters' have returned to his own bosom the
cruel edge of that _unnatural_ wrong which he has impiously dared to
summon nature herself--violated nature--to witness, this is the
greeting which the _unnatural_ Goneril receives, on her return to her
husband, when she complains to him of her welcome--
_Goneril_. I have been worth the whistle.
_Albany_. O Goneril!
You are not worth _the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face_.--I fear your _disposition:
That nature, which contemns_ ITS ORIGIN,
CANNOT BE BORDERED CERTAIN IN ITSELF;
She that herself will _sliver and disbranch_
From her MATERIAL SAP, PERFORCE MUST WITHER,
_And come to deadly use_.
[_Prima Philosophia_. Axioms which are not limited to the particular
parts of sciences, but 'such as are more common, and of a higher
_Goneril_. No more; _the text_ is foolish.
_Albany_. Tigers, not daughters,--
[You have practised on yourself--you have destroyed in yourself the
nobler, fairer nature which the law of _human_ kind--the law of human
duty and affection--would have given you. Not DAUGHTERS,--_Tigers_.]
'A _father, and a gracious aged man_,
Whose reverence the head-lugged bear would lick,
Most barbarous, most DEGENERATE!'--
[_degenerate_--that is the point--most degenerate]--
'have you _madded_.
If that the _heavens_ do not _their_ visible spirits
Send quickly down, to _tame these vile offences_
HUMANITY _must perforce prey on itself_,
Like monsters of the deep.'
[the land refuses a parallel.]
And it is the scientific distinction between man and the brute
creation--it is the law of nature in the human kind, which the Poet is
getting out scientifically here, in the face of that terrific failure
and degeneration in the kind--which he paints so vividly, for the
purpose of inquiring whether there is not, perhaps, after all, some
more potent provisioning and arming of man for his place in nature,
than this state of things would lead one to suppose--whether there are
not, perhaps, some more efficacious 'humanities' than those mild ones
which appear to operate so lamely on this barbaric, _degenerate_
thing. 'Milk-liver'd man!' replies Goneril, speaking not on her own
behalf only, for the words have a double significance; and the Poet
glances through them at that sufferance with which the state of things
he has just noted was endured--
That bear'st a _cheek for blows_, a HEAD _for_ WRONGS;
Who hast not _in thy brows an eye_ discerning
Thine honour from thy sufferance; that not know'st,
FOOLS do those villains pity, _who are punished
Before they have done their mischief_. Where's thy _drum_?
France spreads his banners in _our noiseless land;
With plumed helm_ thy _slayer_ begins threats;
_Whilst thou_, a _Moral Fool_, sit'st still, and _cry'st,
Alack_! why does he so?'
This is found to be an appeal of the Poet's own when all is done, and
one that goes far into the necessary questions of the play.
But Albany, in his rejoinder, returns to the idea of the lost,
_degenerate_, dissolute _Humanity_ again. He has talked of tigers, and
_head-lugged_ bears (and it was necessary to combine the proverbial
sensitiveness of that animal to that particular mode of treatment,
with the natural amiability of his disposition in general, in order to
do justice to the Poet's conception here);--he has called upon 'the
monsters of the deep,' and quoted the laws of their societies, in
illustration of the state of things to which the unscientific human
combination appears to him to be visibly tending. But this human
_degeneracy_ and deformity, which the action of the play exhibits in
diagrams--the _descent_ to the _lower_ nature from the higher; the
_voluntary_ descent; the voluntary blindness and narrowness; the
rejection of the distinctive human law--of VIRTUE and DUTY, as reason
and conscience interpret it--appears to the scientific mind to require
yet _other_ terms and comparisons. These conceits and comparisons,
drawn from the habits of innocent, though not to man agreeable,
animals, who have no law but blind instinct, do not suffice to convey
the Poet's idea of this human failing; and, accordingly, he instructs
this gentle and noble man, whom this criticism best becomes, to
complete this view of the subject, in his attempt to express the
disgust with which this _inhuman_, this _more_ than brutal conduct, in
his high-born, and gorgeously-robed, and delicately-featured spouse,
'See thyself, devil!'--
nay, he corrects himself--
_Proper deformity_ [DE-FORMITY] seems _not_ in the _fiend_
_So_ horrid, as in woman.
_Goneril_. O vain fool!
_Albany_. Thou _changed_ and _self-covered thing_. For shame,
Be-monster not thy _feature_. Were it my FITNESS'--
for here it is the _human_, and not the instinctive element--not '_the
blood_' element that rules--
'Were it my FITNESS
To _let_ these hands _obey_ my blood,
_They_ are _apt_ enough to _dislocate_ and _tear_
Thy _flesh_ and _bones_,'
Rather tiger-like impulses for so mild a gentleman to own to; but the
process which he confesses his hands are already inclined to
undertake, is not half so cruel as the one which this woman has
practised on herself while she was meditating only wrong to another,
and pursuing her 'horrible pleasure' at the expense of madness and
death to another; not half so cruel and injurious, for in that act she
has trampled down, and torn, and dislocated, she has slaughtered in
cold blood, the divine, angelic form of womanhood--that form of worth
and celestial aspiration which great nature stamped upon her, and gave
to her for her law in nature, her type, her essence, her ORIGINAL. She
has desecrated, not that common form of humanity only which the common
human sentiment of reason, which the human sentiment of duty is
everywhere struggling to fulfil, but that lovelier soul of
humanity--that softer, subtler, more gracious, more celestial, more
commanding spirit of it, which the form of womanhood in its integrity
must carry with it--which the form of womanhood will carry with it, if
it be not counterfeit or degenerate, gone down into a lower range,
'be-monstered'--'a changed and _self-covered_ thing.' That is the
'Howe'er,' the Duke of Albany concludes, after that struggle with his
hands he speaks of--chivalrously refusing to let them obey that
impulse of 'blood,' as a gentleman in such circumstances, under any
amount of provocation, should--true to himself, true to his manliness
and to his gentle breeding, though his wife is false to hers, and
'false to her nature'--
'Howe'er thou _art_ a, _fiend,
A woman's shape doth shield thee.
Goneril_. Marry! YOUR MANHOOD NOW.'
This is indeed a discourse in which the reader must have '_the text_,'
or ever he can begin to catch the meaning of those philosophic points
with which this orator, who _talks_ so 'pressly,' studs his lines.
For the passage which Goneril dismisses with such scorn is indeed the
text, or it will be, when the word which her commentary on it contains
has been added to it: for it is '_the foolishness_' of struggling with
great Nature, and her LAW of KINDS--it is the folly of ignorance, the
stupidity of living without respect to nature and its sequent effects,
as well as its preformed decree--
(_'Perforce must_ wither,
And come to deadly use'--)
which this discourse is intended to illustrate. And one who has once
tracked the dramatic development of this text, through all this moving
exhibition of human society, and its violated rule in nature, will be
at no loss to conjecture out of what 'New' book it comes, if indeed
that book has ever been opened to him.
The whole subject is treated here scientifically--that is, from
without. The generalizations of the higher stages of philosophy--the
axioms of a universal philosophy--with all the force of their
universality, must be brought to bear upon it, through all its
developments. The universal historical laws, in that modification of
them which the speciality of the human kind creates, must be
impartially set forth here. The law of DUTY, as the NATURAL LAW of
human society; the law of humanity, as the law, nay, THE FORM, of the
HUMAN kind, stamped on it with the Creator's stamp, that _order_ from
the universal law of kinds that gives to all life its SPECIAL bounds,
its '_border_ in _itself_'--that form so _essential_, that there is no
_humanity_ or _kind-ness_ where that is not--that law which we hear so
much of, in its narrower aspects, under various names, in all men's
speech, is produced here, in its broader relations, as the necessary
basis of a scientific social art. And it is this author's deliberate
opinion as a Naturalist, it is the opinion of this School in Natural
Science, from which this work proceeds, that those who undertake to
compose human societies, large or small, whether in families, or
states, or empires, without recognising this principle--those who
undertake to compose UNIONS, human unions and societies, on any other
principle--will have a diabolical jangle of it when all is done. For
this law of _unity_, which is written on the soul of man, this law of
CONSCIENCE _within, is written without also_; and to erase it _within_
is to get the lesson from _without_ in that universal and downright
speech and language which the axioms of nature are taught in--it is to
get it in that fearful school in which nature _repeats_ the doctrine
of her violated law, for those who are not able to solve and
comprehend the science of it as it is _written_--written
beforehand--in the natural law and constitutions of the human soul.
'That nature which, contemns its ORIGIN
Cannot be _bordered_ certain _in itself_.'
[These are the mysteries of day and night, that Lear, in his
ignorance, vainly invokes, the operations of the orbs from _whom we do
exist and cease to be_.]
'She that herself will _sliver_ and _disbranch_
From her _material_ sap, _perforce must_ wither,
And come to _deadly_ use.'
'The text is--FOOLISH.'
The teacher who takes it upon himself to get out this text from the
text-book of Universal Laws, for the purpose of conducting it to its
practical application in human affairs, for the purpose of suggesting
the true remedy for those great human wants which he exhibits here, is
_not_ one of those 'Milk-livered men,' those _Moral Fools_, that
_Goneril_ delicately alludes to, who bear a cheek for blows, a _head_
for wrongs; who have not in their brows an _eye_ discerning their
_honour_ from their sufferance; who think it enough to sit still under
the murderous blows of what they call misfortune, fate, _Providence_,
when it is their own im-_providence_; who think it is enough to sit
still, and cry, _Alack_! without inquiring what it is that makes that
_lack_; without ever putting the question in earnest, '_Why does he
so_?' His Play is all full of the _practical application_ of the text,
the application of it which Gloster sums up in a word--
''T is the Time's plague when MADMEN _lead_ THE BLIND.'
'I will preach to thee. Mark me: [says Lear]
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of FOOLS. [Mark me!']
The whole Play is one magnificent intimation, on the part of the Poet,
that eyes are made to see with; and that there is no so natural and
legitimate use of them as that which human affairs were crying for,
through all their lengths and breadths, in his time. It is that _eye_
which is one of the distinctive features of the human kind; that eye
which looks before and after, which extends human vision so far beyond
individual sensuous experience, which is able to converge the light of
universal truth upon particular experience, which is able to bring the
infallible guidance of universal axioms into all the particulars of
human conduct--that is the eye which he finds wanting in human
affairs. The play is pointing everywhere with the Poet's scorn of
'_Blind Men_,' 'who will not see because they do not feel,'--who wait
for the blows of 'fortune,' to teach them the lesson of Nature's
laws--who wait to be scourged, or dashed to pieces with 'the sequent
effect,' instead of making use of their faculty of reason to ascend to
causes, and _so_ 'to trammel up the consequence.'
It is that same combination of human faculties, that same combination
of sense and reason, which the Novum Organum provides for; it is that
same scorn of abstract wordy speculation, on the one hand, and blind
experimental groping, on the other, that is everywhere _suggested_
here. But with the aid of the persons of the Drama, and their
suggestions, the new philosophy is carried into departments which it
would have cost the Author of the Novum Organum and the Advancement of
Learning his head to look into. He might as well have proposed to
impeach the Government in Parliament outright, as to offer to advance
his Novum Organum into these fields; fields which it enters safely
enough under the cover of a spontaneous, inspired, dramatic
philosophy, though it is a philosophy which overflows continually with
those practical axioms, those aphorisms, which the Author of the
Advancement of Learning assures us 'are made of the pith and heart of
sciences'; and that 'no man can write who is not sound and grounded.'
But then, if they are only written in 'with a goose-pen,' they pass
well enough for unconscious, unmeaning, spontaneous felicities.
'Canst thou tell why one's nose stands in the middle of his face?'
says the Fool, in the First Act, by way of entertaining his master,
when the poor king's want of foresight and 'prudence' begins to tell
on his affairs a little. 'Canst thou tell why one's nose stands in the
middle of his face?' 'No.' 'Why, to keep his eyes on either side of
it, that what a man _cannot smell out_ he may _spy into_.'
_Fool_. Canst tell how _an oyster_ makes _his_ shell?'
_Fool_. Nor I neither; but I can tell why a snail has a house.
_Fool_. Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his
daughters, and leave his horns without a case.
_Lear_. ... Be my horses ready?
_Fool_. Thy asses are gone about 'em. The reason why the seven stars
are no more than seven, is a pretty reason.
_Lear_. Because they are not eight?
_Fool_. Yes, indeed: Thou wouldest make a good--fool.
He cannot tell how an _oyster_ makes his shell, but the nose has not
stood in the middle of _his_ face for nothing. There has been some
prying on either side of it, apparently; and he has pried to such good
purpose, that some of the prime secrets of the new philosophy appear
to have turned up in his researches. 'To take it again _perforce_,'
mutters the king. 'If thou wert my fool, Nuncle, I'd have thee beaten
_for being_ OLD _before thy time_.' [This is a wit 'of the self-same
colour' with that one who discovered that the times from which the
world's practical wisdom was inherited, were the times when the world
was young. 'They told me I had white hairs in my beard ere the black
ones were there!'] 'I'd have thee beaten for being old before thy
time.'--'_How's_ that?'--'Thou shouldst _not_ have been OLD _before
thou hadst been_ WISE.'
And it is in the Second Act that poor Kent, in his misfortunes,
furnishes occasion for another avowal on the part of this same learned
critic, of a preference for a practical philosophy, though borrowed
from the lower species. He comes upon the object of his criticism as
he sits in the stocks, because he could not adopt the style of his
time with sufficient earnestness, though he does make an attempt 'to
go out of his dialect,' but was not more happy in it than some other
men of his politics were, in the Poet's time.
'Sir, in good sooth, in sincere verity,
_Under the allowance of your grand aspect,
Whose influence, like the wreath of radiant fire
On flickering Phebus' front--_
_Cornwall_. 'What mean'st by this?'
_Kent_. 'To go out of my dialect, _which you discommend so much_.
[Halting in his blank verse for the explanation]:--It is from that
seat, to which the plainness of this man, with the official dignities
of his time, has conducted him, that he puts the inquiry to that keen
observer, whose observations in natural history have just been
_Kent_. How chances that the _king comes with so small a train_?
_Fool_. An thou had'st been set in the stocks for that question,
_thou, had'st well deserved it_.
_Kent_. Why, fool?
_Fool_. We'll set thee _to school to an ant_, to teach thee there
is no labouring in the winter. All that follow their noses are _led
by their eyes_, but--BLIND MEN.
_Kent_. Where learned'st thou _that_, fool?
_Fool_. Not in the stocks, _fool_.
[Not from being punished with the sequent effect; not in consequence
of an improvidence, that an _ant_ might have taught me to avoid.]
'I have no _way_, and _therefore_ want no eyes,' says another duke,
who is also the victim of that '_absolute_' authority which is abroad
in this play. 'I stumbled when I _saw_,' and this is _his prayer_.
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man
That slaves your ordinance; that will not SEE
Because he doth not FEEL, _feel_ your power quickly.
'Thou seest how this world goes,' says the outcast king, meeting this
poor outcast duke, just after his eyes had been taken out of his head,
by the persons then occupying the chief offices in the state. 'Thou
seest how this world goes.' 'I SEE it FEELINGLY,' is the duke's reply.
_Lear_. What! art _mad_? A man may _see_ how this world goes with
_no_ eyes. Look with thine _ears_.
And his account of how it goes is--as we shall see--one that requires
to be looked at with _ears_, for it contains, what one calls elsewhere
in this play,--_ear-kissing_ arguments.--'Get thee _glass_ eyes,' he
says, in conclusion, 'and like a scurvy _politician_ pretend to SEE,
the things thou dost not.' And that was not the kind of politician,
and that was not the kind of political eye-sight, to which this
statesman, and seer, proposed to leave the times, that his legacy
should fall on, whatever he might be compelled to tolerate in his own.
'Upon _the crown_ o' the cliff. What _thing_ was that
Which parted from you?'
'_A poor unfortunate beggar_.' [Softly.]
'_As I stood here_ BELOW, methought his eyes
Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses.
Horns welked and waved, like the enridged _sea_.'
'Now, Sir, what are you?' says the poor outcast duke to his true son,
when in disguise he offers to attend him. 'A most poor man,' is the
reply, 'made _lame_ by fortune's blows; who, by the ART of KNOWN AND
FEELING SORROWS, am _pregnant_ to _good_ PITY. Give me your hand,
_I'll_ lead you to some BIDING. Bear _free_ and _patient thoughts_,'
is his whisper to him.
Surely this is a poet that has got an inkling, in some way, of the new
idea of an _experimental philosophy_,--of a combination of the human
faculties of sense and reason in some organum; one, too, whose eye
passes lightly over the architectonic gifts of _univalves_ and
_bivalves_, and _entomological_ developments of skill and forethought,
intent on that great chrysalis, which has never been able to publish
yet its Creator's glory. Here is a naturalist who would not think it
enough to combine reason with experiment, in wind, and rain, and fire,
and thunder, who would not think it enough to bring all the
unpublished virtues of the earth, to the relief of the bodily human
maladies. It is the Poet, who says elsewhere, 'Can'st thou not
minister to a _mind_ diseased? No? Throw physic to the dogs, I'll none
of it.' It is the poet who says, 'Nor wind, rain, fire, thunder, are
my daughters.' '_Nothing_ could have brought him to such a lowness in
nature, but his un-_kind_ daughters.' It is the naturalist who says,
'Then let Regan's heart be anatomized, and see what _it_ is that
breeds about it. Is there any cause in NATURE that makes these hard
In short, this play is from the hand of one who thinks that the human
affairs are of a kind to require scientific investigation, scientific
foresight and conduct. He is much of Lear's opinion on many points,
and evidently judges that there would be no harm in getting a
philosopher enrolled among the king's hundred. Not a logician, not a
metaphysician, according to the common acceptance of these terms; not
merely a natural philosopher, in the low and limited sense of that
term, in which we use it; but a man of science--one who is able, by
some method or other, to ascend to the actual principles of things,
and so to base his remedies for the social evils, on the forms which
are _forms_, which have efficacy in nature as _such_, instead of
basing them on certain chimeras, or so-called logical conclusions of
the human mind--conclusions which the logic of nature contradicts--
conclusions to which the universal consent of _things_ is wanting.
_Nature_, in the sense in which _Edmund_ uses that term, is _not_ this
poet's _goddess_, or his LAW; though he regards 'the plague of CUSTOM'
and 'the curiosity of nations,' and all their fantastic and arbitrary
sway in human affairs, with an eye quite as critical--though he looks
at 'that old Antic, the law,' as he expresses it elsewhere, with an
eye quite as severe, on the world's behalf, as that which Edmund turns
on it, on his own; he is very far from contending for the freedom of
that savage, selfish, unreclaimed, spontaneous nature,--that lawless
nature, to which the natural son of Gloster claims 'his services are
due.' The poet teaches that the true and successful Social Art is, and
must be scientific. That it must be based on the science of nature in
general, and on the science of human nature in particular, on a
science that recognizes the double _nature_ in man, that takes in, its
heights as well as its depths, and its depths as well as its heights,
that sounds it 'from its lowest note to the top of its key;' but it is
one thing to quarrel with the unscientific, _imperfect_ social arts,
and it is another to prefer nature in man _without_ arts. The picture
of 'the Unaccommodated Man,' which forms so prominent a part of the
representation here,--'the _thing itself_,' stripped of its social
lendings, or setting at nought the social restraints, is not by any
means an attractive one, as this philosopher does it for us. The
scientific artist is no better pleased, than the king is with this
kind of '_nature_.' It is the imperfection of the civilization which
still generates, or leaves unchecked these savage evils, that he
But it is impossible, that the true social arts should be smelt out,
or stumbled on, by accident, or arrived at by any kind of empirical
groping; just as impossible as it is, on the other hand, that 'the
wisdom of nature,' by throwing itself on its own internal resources,
and reasoning it '_thus and thus_,' without taking into account the
actual forces, should be able to invent them. Those forces which enter
into all the plot of our human life, unworthy of philosophic note as
they had seemed hitherto, those terrific, unmeasured strengths,
against which the human kind are continually dashing themselves in
their blind experiments,--those engines on which the human heart is
racked, 'and stretched out so long,'--those rocky structures on which
its choicest treasures are so wildly wrecked, these natural
forces,--no matter what artificial combinations of them may have been
accomplished,--'the causes _in nature_,' of the phenomena of human
life, appeared to this philosopher a very fitting subject for
philosophy, and one quite too important in its relation to human
well-being and the Arts that promote it, to be left to mere blundering
experiment; quite too subtle to be reached by any kind of empirical
groping, quite too subtle to be entangled with the conclusions of the
_philosophy_ which he found in vogue in his time, whose social
efficacies and gifts in exorcisms, he has taken leave to connect in
some way, with the appearance of Tom o' Bedlam in his history; a
philosophy which had built up its system in defiant scorn of the
nature of things; as if 'by reasoning it _thus_ and _thus_,' without
any respect to the actual conditions, it could undertake to bridle the
might of nature, and put a hook in the nose of her oppositions.
It did not seem to this philosopher well, that men who have eyes--eyes
that are great nature's gift to them,--her gift to them in
chief,--eyes that were meant to see with, should go on in this
groping, star-gazing, fatally-stumbling fashion any longer.
_Lear_. [To the Bedlamite.] I do not like the fashion of your
garments. _You will say that they are--Persian:--but_ let them be
THE STATESMAN'S NOTE-BOOK--AND THE PLAY.
_Brutus._ How I have thought of this, and of _these times_,
I shall recount _hereafter_.
_Hamlet_. The Play's the thing.
_Brutus_. Tell us the manner of it, gentle Casca.
_Casca_. I can as well _be hanged_ as tell _the manner_
_Posthumus_. 'Shall's have _a Play of this_.--
The fact that the design of this play, whatever it may be, is one deep
enough to go down to that place in the social system which Tom o'
Bedlam was then peacefully occupying,--thinking of anything else in
the world but a social revolution on his behalf--to bring him up for
observation; and that it is high enough to go up to that apex of the
social structure on which the crown was then fastened, to fetch down
the impersonated state itself, for an examination not less curious and
critical; the fact, too, that it was subtle enough to penetrate the
retirement of the domestic life, and bring out its innermost passages
for scientific criticism;--the fact that the relation of the Parent to
the Child, and that of the Child to the Parent, the relation of
Husband and Wife, and Sister and Brother, and Master and Servant, of
Peasant and Lord, nay, the transient relation of Guest and Host, have
each their place and part here, and the question of their duty marked
not less clearly, than that prominent relation of the King and his
Subjects;--the fact that these relations come in from the first, along
with the political, and demand a hearing, and divide throughout the
stage with them; the fact of the mere range of this social criticism,
as it appears on the surface of the play, in these so prominent
points,--is enough to show already, that it is a _Radical_ of no
ordinary kind, who is at work behind this drop-scene.
It was evident, at a glance, that this so extensive bill of grievances
was not one which any immediate or violent political revolution, or
any social reformation which was then in contemplation, would be able
to meet; and that very circumstance gave to the whole essay its
profoundly quiet, conservative air. It passed only for one of those
common outcries on the ills of human life, which men in general are
expected, or permitted to make, according to their several abilities;
one of those 'Alacks!'--'why does he so'? which, by relieving the mind
of the complainant, tend to keep things quiet on the whole. This Poet,
whoever he was, was making rather more ado about it than usual,
apparently: but Poets are useful for that very purpose; they express
other men's emotions for them, in a higher key than they could manage
It was the breadth then,--the philosophic comprehension of this great
philosophic design, which made it possible for the Poet to introduce
into it, and exhibit in it, so glaringly, those evils of his time that
were crying out to Heaven then, for redress, and could not wait for
philosophic revolutions and reformations.
Tom o' Bedlam, strictly speaking, does appear, indeed, to have been
one of those Elizabethan institutions which were modified or annulled,
in the course of the political changes that so soon followed this
exhibition of his case. 'Tom' himself, in his own proper person,
appears to have been left--by accident or otherwise--on the other side
of the Revolutionary gulf. 'I remember,' says Aubrey, '_before the
civil wars_, Tom o' Bedlams went about begging,' etc.--but one cannot
help remarking that a very numerous family connection of the
collateral branches of his house--bearing, on the whole, a
sufficiently striking family resemblance to this illustrious subject
of the Poet's pencil,--appear to have got safely over all the
political and social gulfs that intervene between our time and that.
And, as to some of those other social evils which are exhibited here
in their ideal proportions, they are not, perhaps, so entirely among
the former things which have passed away with our reformations, that
we should have to go to Aubrey's note book to find out what the Poet
means. As to some of these, at least, it will not be necessary to hunt
up an antiquary, who can remember whether any such thing ever was
really in existence here, '_before the civil wars_.' And,
notwithstanding all our advancements in Natural Science, and in the
Arts which attend these advancements; notwithstanding the strong
recommendations of the inventors of this Science,--Regan's heart, and
that which breeds about it, appear, by a singular oversight, to have
escaped, hitherto, any truly scientific inquiry; and the arts for
improving it do not appear, after all, to have been very materially
advanced since the time when this order was issued.
But notwithstanding that the subject of this piece appears to be so
general,--notwithstanding the fact, that the social evils which are
here represented include, apparently, the universal human conditions,
and include evils which are still understood to be inherent in the
nature of man, and, irreclaimable, or not, at least a subject for
Art,--and notwithstanding the fact that this exhibition professes to
borrow all its local hues and exaggerations from the barbaric times of
the Ancient Britons--it is not very difficult to perceive that it
does, in fact, involve a local exhibition of a different kind; and
that, under the cover of that great revolution in the human estate,
which the philosophic mind was then meditating,--_so broad_, that none
could perceive its _project_,--another revolution,--that revolution
which was then so near at hand, was clearly outlined; and that this
revolution, too, is, after all, one towards which this Poet appears to
'_incline_,' in a manner which would not have seemed, perhaps,
altogether consistent with his position and assumptions elsewhere, if
these could have been produced here against him; and in a manner,
perhaps, somewhat more decided than the general philosophic tone, and
the spirit of those large and peaceful designs to which he was chiefly
devoted, might have led us to anticipate. This Play was evidently
written at a time when the conviction that the state of things which
it represents could not endure much longer, had taken deep hold of the
Poet's mind; at a time when those evils had attained a height so
unendurable--when that evil which lay at the heart of the commonweal,
poisoning all the social relations with its infection, had grown so
fearful, that it might well seem, even to the scientific mind, to
require the fierce '_drug_' of the political revolution,--so fearful
as to make, even to such a mind, the rude surgery of the civil wars at
For, indeed, it cannot be denied that the state of things which this
Play represents, is that with which the author's own experience was
conversant; and that all the terrible tragic satire of it, points--not
to that age in the history of Britain in which the Druids were still
responsible for the national culture,--not to that time when the
Celtic Triads, clothed with the sanctities of an unknown past, still
made the standard works and authorities in learning, beyond which
there was no going,--not to the time when the national morality was
still mystically produced at Stonehenge, in those national colleges,
from whose mysterious rites the awful sanctities of the oak and the
mistletoe drove back in confusion the sacrilegious inquirer,--not to
that time, but to the _Elizabethan_.
That instinctive groping and stumbling in all human affairs, that
pursuit of human ends without any science of the natures to be
superinduced, and without any science of the natures that were to be
subjected,--those eyes of moonshine speculation, those glass eyes with
which the scurvy politician affects to see the things he does
not--those thousand noses that serve for eyes, and horns welked and
waved like the enridged sea, and all the wild misery of that unlearned
fortuitous human living, that waits to be scourged with the sequent
effect, and knows not how to ascend to the cause--colossally
exaggerated as it seems here--heightened everywhere, as if the Poet
had put forth his whole power, and strained his imagination, and
availed himself of his utmost poetic license, to give it, through all
its details, its last conceivable hue of violence, its pure ideal
shape, is, after all, but a copy an historical sketch. The ignorance,
the stupidity, 'the _blindness_,' that this author paints, was his own
'Time's plague'; 'the madness' that 'led it,' was the madness of which
he was himself a mute and manacled spectator.
By some singular oversight or caprice of tyranny, or on account of
some fastidious scruple of the imagination perhaps, it does _not_
appear, indeed, to have been the fashion, either in the reigns of the
Tudors or the Stuarts, to pluck out the living human eye as Gloster's
eyes were plucked out; and that of itself would have furnished a
reason why this poor duke should have been compelled to submit to that
particular operation, instead of presenting himself to have his ears
cut off in a sober, decent, civilized, Christian manner; or to have
them grubbed out, if it happened that the operation had been once
performed already; or to have his hand cut off, or his head, with his
eyes in it; or to be roasted alive some noon-day in the public square,
eyes and all, as many an honest gentleman was expected to present
himself in those times, without making any particular demur or fuss
about it. _These_ were operations that Englishmen of every rank and
profession, soldiers, scholars, poets, philosophers, lawyers,
physicians, and grave and reverend divines, were called on to undergo
in those times, and for that identical offence of which the Duke of
Gloster stood convicted, opposition to the will of a lawless usurping
tyranny,--to its merest caprice of vanity or humour, perhaps,--or on
grounds slighter still, on bare suspicion of a disposition to oppose
But then that, of course, was a thing of _custom_; so much so, that
the victims themselves often took it in good part, and submitted to it
as a divine institution, part of a sacred legacy, handed down to them,
as it was understood, from their more enlightened ancestors.
Now, if the Poet, in pursuance of his more general philosophic
intention, which involved a moving representation of the helplessness
of the Social Monad--that bodily as well as moral susceptibility and
fragility, which leaves him open to all kinds of personal injury, not
from the elements and from animals of other species merely or chiefly,
but chiefly from his own kind,--if the Poet, in the course of this
exhibition, had caused poor Gloster to be held down in his chair on
the stage, for the purpose of having his _ears_ pared off, what kind
of sensation could he hope to produce with that on the sensibility of
an audience, who might have understood without a commentator an
allusion to 'the tribulation of Tower Hill'--spectators accustomed to
witness performances so much more thrilling, and on a stage where the
Play was in earnest. And as to that second operation before referred
to, which might have answered the poetic purpose, perhaps; who knows
whether that may not have been a refinement in civilization peculiar
to the reign of that amiable and handsome Christian Prince, who was
still a minor when this Play was first brought out at Whitehall? for
it was in _his_ reign that that memorable instance of it occurred,
which the subsequent events connected with it chanced to make so
notorious. It was a learned and very conscientious lawyer, in the
reign of Charles the First, whose criticism upon some of the
fashionable amusements of the day, which certain members of the royal
family were known to be fond of, occasioned the suggestion of this
mode of satisfying the outraged Majesty of the State, when the prying
eye of Government discovered, or thought it did, remains enough of
those previously-condemned appendages on this author's person, to
furnish material for a second operation. 'Methinks Mr. Prynne _hath_
ears!' does not, after all, sound so very different from--'going to
pluck out Gloster's _other_ eye,' as that the governments under which
these two speeches are reported, need to be distinguished, on that
account only, by any such essential difference as that which is
supposed to exist between the human and _divine_. Both these
operations appear, indeed to the unprejudiced human mind, to savour
somewhat of the diabolical--or of the Dark Ages, rather, and of the
Prince of Darkness. And, indeed, that '_fiend_' which haunts the
Play--which the monster, with his moonshine eyes, appeared to have a
vague idea of--seems to have been as busy here, in this department, as
he was in bringing about poor Tom's distresses.
But in that steady persevering exhibition of the liabilities of
individual human nature, the COMMON liabilities which throw it upon
the COMMON, the distinctive law of humanity for its WEAL--in that
continuous picture of the suffering and ignominy, and mutilation to
which it is liable, moral and intellectual, as well as physical, where
that law of humanity is not yet scientifically developed and
scientifically sustained--the Poet does not always go quite so far to
find his details. It is not from the Celtic Regan's time that he
brings out those ancient implements of state authority into which the
feet of the poor Duke of Kent, travelling on the king's errands, are
ignominiously thrust; while the Poet, under cover of the Fool's jests,
shows prettily their relation to the human dignity.
But then it is a Duke on whom this indignity is practised; for it is
to be remarked, in passing, that though this Poet is evidently bent on
making his exhibition a thorough one, though he is determined not to
leave out anything of importance in his diagrams, he does not appear
inclined to soil his fingers by meddling with the lower orders, or to
countenance any innovation in his art in that respect. Whenever he has
occasion to introduce persons of this class into his pieces, they come
in and go out, and perform their part in his scene, very much as they
do elsewhere in his time. Even when his Players come in, they do not
speak many words on their own behalf. They stand civilly, and answer
questions, and take their orders, and fulfil them. That is all that is
looked for at their hands. For this is not a Poet who has ever given
any one occasion in his own time, to distinguish him as the Poet of
the People. It is always from the highest social point of observation
that he takes those views of the lower ranks, which he has occasion to
introduce into his Plays, from the mobs of 'greasy citizens' to the
details of the sheep-shearing feast; and even in Eastcheap he keeps it
There never was a more aristocratic poet apparently, and though the
very basest form of outcast misery 'that ever penury in contempt of
man brought near to beast,' though the basest and most ignoble and
pitiful human liabilities, are every where included in his plan; he
will have nothing but the rich blood of dukes and kings to take him
through with it--he will have nothing lower and less illustrious than
these to play his parts for him.
It is a king to whom 'the _Farm House_,' where _both_ fire and food
are waiting, becomes a royal luxury on his return from the _Hovel's_
door, brought in chattering out of the tempest, in that pitiful stage
of human want, which had made him ready to share with Tom o' Bedlam,
nay, with the _swine_, their rude comforts. 'Art cold? I am cold
myself. Where is this straw, my fellow. Your _hovel_:--come bring us
to your _hovel_.'
It is a king who gets an ague in the storm, who finds the tyranny of
the night too rough for nature to endure; it is a king on whose
desolate outcast head, destitution and social wrongs accumulate their
results, till his wits begin to turn, till his mind is shattered, and
he comes on to the stage at last, a poor bedlamite.
Nay, 'Tom' himself, is a duke's son, we are told; though that
circumstance does not hinder him from giving, with much frankness and
scientific accuracy, the particulars of those personal pursuits, and
tastes, and habits, incidental to that particular station in life to
which it has pleased Providence to call _him_.
And so by means of that poetic order, which is the Providence of this
piece, and that design which 'tunes the harmony of it,' it is a duke
on whom that low correction, 'such as basest and most contemned
wretches are punished with,' is exhibited, in spite of his indignant
_Kent_. Call not your stocks for me. _I_ serve the king,
On _whose employment_ I was sent to you.
You shall do small _respect_, show too bold malice
Against the _grace_ and _person_ of my master,
Stocking his messenger.
_Cornwall_. Fetch forth the stocks.
As I have life and honour, there shall he sit till noon.'
_Regan_. Till noon,--till night my lord, and all night too.
[In vain the prudent and loyal Gloster remonstrates]
--The king must take it ill
That _he_, so slightly valued in his messenger,
Should have him thus restrained.
_Cornwall_. I'll answer that.
_Regan_. Put in his legs.
But then it must be confessed that the poet was not without some kind
of precedent for this bold dramatic proceeding. He had, indeed, by
means of the culture and diligent use of that gift of forethought,
with which nature had so largely endowed him, been enabled thus far to
keep his own person free from any such tangible encumbrance, though
the '_lameness_' with which fortune had afflicted him personally, is
always his personal grievance; but he had seen in his own time,
ancient men and reverend,--men who claimed to be the ministers of
heaven, and travelling on its errands, arrested, and subjected to this
ludicrous indignity: he had seen this open stop, this palpable,
corporeal, unfigurative arrest put upon the activity of scholars and
thinkers in his time, conscientious men, between whose master and the
state, there was a growing quarrel then, a quarrel that these
proceedings were not likely to pacify. From noon till night, they,
too, had sat thus, and all night too, they had endured that shameful
'When a man is _over_ lusty at legs,' says the Fool, who arrives in
time to put in an observation or two on this topic, and who seems
disposed to look at it from a critical point of view, concluding with
the practical improvement of the subject, already quoted--'When a man
is over lusty at legs'--(when his will, or his higher intelligence,
perhaps, is allowed to govern them too freely,) 'he wears wooden
nether stocks,' or 'cruel garters,' as he calls them again, by way of
bestowing on this institution of his ancestors as much variety of
poetic imagery as the subject will admit of. '_Horses_ are tied by the
head, _dogs_ and _bears_ by the neck, _monkeys_ by the loins, and
_men_ by the legs'; and having ransacked his memory to such good
purpose, and produced such a pile of learned precedents, he appears
disposed to rest the case with these; for it is a part of the play to
get man into his place in the scale of nature, and to draw the line
between him and the brutes, if there be any such thing possible; and
the Fool seems to be particularly inclined to assist the author in
this process, though when we last heard of him he was, indeed,
proposing to send the principal man of his time 'to school to an ant,'
to improve his sagacity; intimating, also, that another department of
natural science, even conchology itself, might furnish him with some
rather more prudent and fortunate suggestions than those which his own
brain had appeared to generate; and it is to be remarked, that in his
views on this point, as on some others of importance, he has the
happiness to agree remarkably with that illustrious yoke-fellow of his
in philosophy, who was just then turning his attention to the 'practic
part of life' and _its_ 'theoric,' and who indulges himself in some
satires on this point not any less severe, though his pleasantries are
somewhat more covert. But the philosopher on this occasion, having
produced such a variety of precedents from natural history, appears to
be satisfied with the propriety and justice of the proceeding,
inasmuch as beasts and men seem to be treated with impartial
consideration in it; and though a certain distinction of form appears
to obtain according to the species, the main fact is throughout
'Then comes the time,' he says, in winding up that knotted skein of
prophecy, which he leaves for Merlin to disentangle, for 'he lives
before his time,' as he takes that opportunity to tell us--
'Then comes the time, who lives to see't,
That _going shall be used with feet_.'
Yes, it is a duke who is put in the stocks; it is a duke's son plays
the bedlamite; it is a king who finds the hovel's shelter 'precious';
and it is a queen--it is a king's wife, and a daughter of kings--who
is hanged; nay more, it is Cordelia--it is Cordelia, and none other,
whom this inexorable Poet, primed with mischief, bent on outrage,
determined to turn out the heart of his time, and show, in the
selectest form, the inmost lining of its lurking humanities--it is
Cordelia whom he will hang--And we forgive him still, and bear with
him in all these assaults on our taste--in all these thick-coming
blows on our outraged sensibilities; we forgive him when at last the
poetic design flashes on us,--when we come to understand the
providence of this piece, at least,--when we come to see at last that
there is a meaning in it _all_, a meaning deep to justify even this
'We are not the _first_ who, with _the best_ meaning, have _incurred
the worst_,' says the captive queen herself; nor was she the last of
that good company, as the Poet himself might have testified;--
Upon such sacrifices the gods themselves _throw incense_.
We forgive the Poet here, as we forgive him in all these other pitiful
and revolting exhibitions, because we know that he who would undertake
the time's cure--he who would undertake the relief of the human estate
in any age, must probe its evil--must reach, no matter what it costs,
its deadliest _hollow_.
And in that age, there was no voice which could afford to lack 'the
courtier's glib and oily art.' 'Hanging was the word' then, for the
qualities of which this princess was the impersonation, or almost the
impersonation, so predominant were they in her poetic constitution.
There was no voice, gentle and low enough, to speak outright such
truth as hers; and 'banishment' and 'the stocks' would have been only
too mild a remedy for 'the plainness' to which Kent declares, even to
the teeth of majesty, 'honour's bound, when majesty stoops to folly.'
The kind, considerate Gloster, with all his loyalty to the powers
which are able to show the divine right of possession, and with all
his disposition to conform to the times, is greatly distressed and
perplexed with the outrages which are perpetrated, as it were, under
his own immediate sanction and authority. He has a hard struggle to
reconcile his duty as the subject of a state which he is not prepared
to overthrow, with his humane impulses and designs. He goes pattering
about for a time, remonstrating, and apologizing, and trying 'to
smooth down,' and 'hush up,' and mollify, and keep peace between the
offending parties. He stands between the blunt, straightforward
manliness of the honest Kent on the one hand, and the sycophantic
servility and self-abnegation, which knows no will but the master's,
as represented by the Steward, on the other.
'I am sorry for thee,' he says to Kent, after having sought in vain to
prevent this outrage from being perpetrated in his own court--
'I am sorry for thee, friend: _tis the duke's pleasure,
Whose disposition all the world well knows,
Will not be rubbed or stopped_'--
as he found to his cost, poor man, when he came to have his own eyes
gouged out by it. He 'saw it _feelingly_' then, as he remarked
'I'll entreat for thee,' he continues, in his conversation with the
disguised duke in the stocks. 'The duke's to blame in this. '_Twill be
And when the king, on his arrival, kept waiting in the court, in his
agony of indignation and grief, is told that Regan and Cornwall are
'sick,' 'they are weary,' 'they have travelled hard to-night,'
denounces these subterfuges, and bids Gloster fetch him a better
answer, this is the worthy man's reply to him--
'My dear lord,
You know the fiery quality of the duke,
How unremovable and fixed he is
In his own course.'
But Lear, who has never had any but a subjective acquaintance hitherto
with reasons of that kind, does not appear able to understand them
from this point of view--
_Lear_. Vengeance! plague! death! confusion!
_Fiery_?--what _quality_? Why Gloster, Gloster,
I'd speak with the Duke of Cornwall and his wife.
_Gloster_. Well, my good lord, I have informed them so.
_Lear_. Informed them? Dost thou understand me?
_Gloster_. Ay, my good lord.
But though Gloster is not yet ready to break with tyranny, it is not
difficult to see which way he secretly inclines; and though he still
manages his impulses cautiously, and contrives to succour the
oppressed king by stealth, his courage rises with the emergency, and
grows bold with provocation. For he is himself one of the finer and
finest proofs of the times which the Poet represents; one, however,
which he keeps back a little, for the study of those who look at his
work most carefully. This man stands here in the general, indeed, as
the representative of a class of men who do not belong exclusively to
this particular time--men who do not stand ready, as Kent and his
class do, to fly in the face of tyranny at the first provocation; they
are not the kind of men who 'make mouths,' as Hamlet says, 'at the
invisible event;'--they are the kind who know beforehand that to break
with the powers that are, single-handed, is to sit on the stage and
have your eyes gouged out, or to undergo some process of mutilation
and disfigurement, not the less painful and oppressive, by this Poet's
own showing, because it does not happen, perhaps, to be a physical
one, and not the less calculated, on that account, to impair one's
usefulness to one's species, it may be.
But besides that more general bearing of the representation, the part
and disposition of Gloster afford us from time to time, glimpses of
persons and things which connect the representation more directly with
the particular point here noted. Men who found themselves compelled to
occupy a not less equivocal _position_ in the state, look through it a
little now and then; and here, as in other parts of the play, it only
wants the right key to bring out suppressed historical passages, and a
finer history generally, than the chronicles of the times were able to
'Alack, alack, Edmund,' says Gloster to his natural son, making _him_
the confidant of his nobler nature, putting what was then the perilous
secret of his humanity, into the dangerous keeping of the base-born
one--for this is the Poet's own interpretation of his plot; though
Lear is allowed to intimate on his behalf, that the loves and
relations which are recognised and good in courts of justice, are not
always secured by that sanction from similar misfortune; that they are
not secured by that from those penalties which great Nature herself
awards in those courts in which her institutes are vindicated.
'Alack, alack, Edmund, I like not THIS UNNATURAL DEALING! When I
desired _their leave that I might pity him_, they took from me _the
use of mine own house_, and charged me on pain of their perpetual
displeasure, _neither to speak_ of him, _entreat for him, nor in any
way to sustain him_.'
_Edmund_. Most _savage and unnatural_.
_Gloster_. Go to, say you nothing.
[And say you nothing, my contemporary reader, if you perceive that
this is one of those passages I have spoken of elsewhere, which
carries with it another application besides that which I put it to].
'There is division between the dukes--and a worse matter than that: I
have received a letter this night,--'tis dangerous to be spoken;--I
have _locked_ the letter in my _closet: these injuries the king now
bears_, will be revenged _at home_' [softly--say you nothing].
'_There_ is _part of a power already footed_: we _must incline to the
king. I_ will seek him and _privily relieve him_. _Go you and maintain
talk with the duke_, that my charity be not of him perceived. If he
ask for me, I am ill, and gone to bed. If I die for it,--_as no less
is threatened me_,--_the king, my old master_--MUST BE RELIEVED. There
is some strange thing toward, Edmund. Pray you be careful.'
Even Edmund himself professes to be not altogether without some
experience of the perplexity which the claims of apparently clashing
duties, and relations in such a time creates, though he seems to have
found an easy method of disposing of these questions. _Nature_ is his
goddess and his law (that is, as _he_ uses the term, the baser nature,
the degenerate, which is not nature for man, which is _unnatural_ for
the human kind), and in his own 'rat'-like fashion, 'he bites the holy
'How, my lord,' he says, in the act of betraying his father's secret
to the Duke of Cornwall, in the hope of 'drawing to himself what his
father loses'--'how I may be censured that NATURE, thus gives way to
LOYALTY, _something fears me to think of_.' And again, 'I will
persevere in my course of _loyalty_, though the conflict be sore
between that and my _blood_.'
'_Know thou this_,' he says afterwards, to the officer whom he employs
to hang Cordelia, 'THAT MEN ARE AS THE TIME IS. Thy great employment
will not bear question. About it, I say, instantly, and carry it so as
I have set it down.' 'I cannot _draw a cart_, nor _eat dried oats_,'
is the officer's reply, who appears to be also in the poet's secret,
and ready to aid his intention of carrying out the distinction between
the human kind and the brute, 'I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried
oats;--if it be MAN'S WORK I will do it.'
But it is the steward's part, as deliberately explained by Kent
himself, which furnishes in detail the ideal antagonism of that which
Kent sustains in the piece; for beside those active demonstrations of
his disgust, which the poetic order tolerates in him, though some of
the powers within appear to take such violent offence at it, besides
these tangible demonstrations, and that elaborate criticism, which the
poet puts into his mouth, in which the steward is openly treated as
the representative of a class, who seem to the poet apparently, to
require some treatment in his time, Kent himself is made to notice
distinctly this literally striking opposition.
'No _contraries_ hold more _antipathy_ than I, and such a knave,' he
says to Cornwall, by way of explaining his apparently gratuitous
attack upon the steward.
No one, indeed, who reads the play with any care, can doubt the poet's
intention to incorporate into it, for some reason or other, and to
bring out by the strongest conceivable contrasts, his study of loyalty
and service, and especially of regal counsel, and his criticism of it,
as it stood in his time in its most approved patterns. 'Such smiling
rouges as these' ('that _bite_ the _holy cords atwain_').
'Smooth every _passion_
That in the _nature of their lord rebels_;
Bring oil to fire, snow _to their_ colder moods;
Revenge, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks
With every _gale_ and _vary_ of their masters,
As _knowing nought_ like _dogs_ but--_following_.'
Such ruses as this would not, of course, be wanting in such a _time_
as that in which this piece was planned, if Edmund's word was, indeed,
the true one. 'Know thou this, _men_ are as the time is.'
And even amidst the excitement and rough outrage of that scene--in
which Gloster's trial is so summarily conducted, even in that so rude
scene--the relation between the _guest_ and his _host_, and the
relation of the _slave_ to his _owner_, is delicately and studiously
touched, and the human claim in both is boldly advanced, in the face
of an absolute authority, and _age_ and _personal dignity_ put in
their claims also, and demand, even at such a moment, their full
rights of reverence.
[_Re-enter servants with_ GLOSTER.]
_Regan_. Ingrateful fox! 'tis he.
_Cornwall_. Bind fast his _corky_ arms.
_Gloster_. What mean your graces?--Good my friends, _consider_.
_You are my guests_: do me no foul play, _friends_.
_Cornwall_. Bind him, I say.
_Regan_. Hard, hard:--O filthy traitor!
_Gloster_. Unmerciful lady as you are, I am none.
_Cornwall_. To this chair bind him:--Villain, thou shalt
find--[REGAN _plucks his beard_].
_Gloster_. By the KIND gods [_for these are the gods, whose
'Commission' is sitting here_]'tis most _ignobly_ done,
To pluck me by the beard.
_Regan_. So white, and such a traitor!
_Gloster_. Naughty lady,
_These hairs_, which thou dost ravish from my chin,
Will quicken and accuse thee.
_I am your host_:
With _robber hands_, my hospitable favours
You should not _ruffle_ thus.
Tied to the stake, questioned and cross-questioned, and insulted,
finally, beyond even his faculty of endurance, he breaks forth, at
last, in strains of indignation that overleap all arbitrary and
conventional bounds, that are only the more terrible for having been
so long suppressed. Kent himself, when he 'came between the dragon and
his wrath,' was not so fierce.
_Cornwall_. Where hast thou sent the king?
_Gloster_. _To Dover_.
To Dover, was't thou not charged at peril?--
_Cornwall. Wherefore to Dover?_ Let him first answer that.
_Regan_. Wherefore _to Dover?_
_Gloster_. Because I would not see thy cruel nails
Pluck out his poor old eyes, _nor thy fierce sister_
In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs.
_Regan_. One side will mock another; the other too.
_Cornwall_. If you 'see vengeance.'
_Servant_. Hold your hand, my lord:
_I have served you ever since I was a child_;
But _better service_ have I never done you,
Than now _to bid you hold_.
_Regan_. How now, you _dog_?
_Servant_. If you did wear a beard upon your chin,
I'd shake it on this quarrel: _What do you mean_?
[_Arbitrary power called to an account, requested to explain
_Cornwall. My_ villain!
_Regan_. A PEASANT _stand up thus_?
Thus too, indeed, in that rude scene above referred to, in which the
king finds his messenger in the stocks, and Regan's door, too, shut
against him, the same ground of criticism had already been revealed,
the same delicacy and rigour in the exactions had already betrayed the
depth of the poetic design, and the real comprehension of that _law_,
whose violations are depicted here, the scientific law, the scientific
sovereignty, the law of universal nature; commanding, in the human,
that specific human excellence, for the _degenerate_ movement is in
violation of nature, that is not _nature_ but her profanation and
This is one of those passages, however, which admit, as the modern
reader will more easily observe than the contemporary of the Poet was
likely to of a second reading.
_Goneril_. Why might not you, my lord, receive attendance
From those that she calls servants, or from mine?
* * * * *
What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five,
To _follow_ in a _house_, where twice so many
_Have a command to tend you_?
_Regan_. What need one?
_Lear_. O reason not the _need_: our basest beggars
Are in the poorest things superfluous.
[_Poor Tom must have his 'rubans_.']
Allow not NATURE more than NATURE needs,
MAN'S LIFE were cheap as BEASTS [_and that's not nature_]
Thou art _a lady_;
If only to go warm were _gorgeous_,
Why, _nature_ needs not what _thou gorgeous_ wear'st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm.--But, for TRUE NEED,
You heavens, give me THAT patience.--_Patience I need_.