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therefore, not have come to the hands of many of our readers, we have been rather profuse of extracts; but we trust that the value and interest they possess will be their apology. Upon the whole, making some abatement for too strong a Toryism in his politics, too great a proneness to credulity in his philosophy, something too much of the courtier in his manners, and some little shade of personal vanity, the life and deportment of Mr. Evelyn presents an interesting and amiable specimen, with a sort of living freshness and verdure of expression, of the fine gentleman of the old English school;—such as we find him drawn in the Spectator, full of Christian politeness, cheerfulness, and dignity.
ART. VIII.-Shakspeare and his Times. By Nathan Drake, M.D.
author of “ Literary Hours, ” and of Essays on Periodical
Literature.” 2 vols. 4to. Cadell and Davies. London, 1818. VARIOUS causes might be assigned why the state of manners and literature in the time of Elizabeth was peculiarly favourable to the growth of genius. The age of chivalry, though its institutions had been supplanted by the establishments of improved social order and legal security, had not faded from the recollection: and its spirit still lingered in the manners, and coloured the thoughts, of gallant nobles, of ladies, and of poets. The tournament was slowly displaced: and all the associations of courtesy, enterprize, and honour, remained with it and continued after it. The metrical romances of the Provençals, composed in an age
of wandering minstrelsy, like that of “blind Melesigenes," and partaking of the fancy and the freshness of his rhapsodies, had stamped their impress on the national poetry from the days of Gower and Chaucer; the chivalrized tales of Troy were still read; the Gothic mythologies retained their sway; the Gothic superstitions were blended with the popular faith. The high romantic tenderness of the poets of Italy, and the gay inventive turn of her novelists, added their exciting influence to that of the old French minstrels, with a cast of the same chivalric genius, but with purer abstractions of sentiment, and a more refined delicacy of imagination. The tomes of ancient literature, which had slept in the dust of monasteries, brought accessions of knowledge and new lights of taste to mingle their chastening power with the spirit of romantic fiction; and many of them had become naturalized in the English tongue. The collision of master-spirits; the stir of inMellect; the renovation of all those mental energies which the
spell of a debasing superstition had weighed down to the dust; the bold and ardent zeal of inquiry, and generous liberty of thought, which marked the great and memorable epoch of the Reformation, must be allowed their indirect co-operating aid. Nor must we forget the re-action of national power and external greatness; of magnificence in arts, and glory in arms; and the influence of growing political freedom on the domestic and individual character of a people, With the advance of national greatness the march of intellect had kept pace; not in genius only, but in science; and while Chaucer had opened the sources of native English pathos and humour, Bacon, to borrow a fanciful similitude of the ingenious Cowley, had shown us, “ from the Pisgah of his exalted wit,” the promised land of inductive philosophy. Under these auspices arose the Elizabethan era; an era crowded with “ statesmen old in bearded majesty,” with chivalrous warriors and with poets, who, like the ancient men of Homer, exceeded in stature the mortals of our own degenerate days.
The influx of Italian concetti, and subsequently of French common-places, came like a deluge over our poetry; and the noble originalities of our older writers, marked with sterling, unborrowed, vigorous excellencies of English thought, fancy, and passion, lay hidden under it, or showed their golden pinnacles with a dim and partial reflection like the city in Kahamah over which the ocean rolled its waters. Again the convulsion caused by the Revolution of France has operated like the Reformation in giving a new impulse to the national mind; greatly as it has disfigured and blackened the moral world, it has shaken off the deadening influence of mere authority. The questioning of established opinions stimulated curiosity; the excess of licence pointed the road to regulated liberty; the disturbing of ancient opinions; the grappling encounter of minds; the state of intense and agitating expectations; the craving after the new, the wonderful, and the appalling, which grew by the food that constantly supplied it; the fearful looking forward to contingencies that might shake altars and prostrate thrones; the summoning up the strong and saving help of principle; the buckling on of the armour of patriotism and of faith; all these external causes, continually pressing upon and impelling the national mind, produced an intellectual commotion and excitement, favourable in the highest degree to the expansion of genius; and, like the shock of electricity, touched and thrilled all within contact of their operation. The knowlege and argumentative force, displayed in the various literature of the period in which our lot is cast, are the visible effects of this state of popular excitement; and no era
since the age of our great dramatic worthies has been distinis guished by so many contemporary poets, so diversified in character, yet so similar in spontaneous power.
The taste of the public, favouring these efforts of originality, has naturally reverted to those ancient fountains, whence our poets have filled their urns with fresher and purer waters. In miscellaneous poetry, the successive researches, collections, and criticisms of Percy, Warton, Ellis, and Headley, have gradually awakened a sensibility to the beauties of the old writers. The revival of a taste for the works of our predecessors has led to a natural interest in the circumstances of their lives, and the character of their times; and various works of literary biography, combining critical and antiquarian discussion, have been received with sufficient favour to prove the existing taste for these illustrations of ancient literature, and to encourage similar enterprize.
Notwithstanding Mr. Godwin's too great use of theory and fanciful conjecture, his life of Chaucer contained much that was both interesting and valuable; and was calculated, both from its plan and execution, to stimulate a corresponding industry of research and disquisition in others. That Shakspeare should not earlier have been made the subject of this sort of mixed biography, though his plays have been repeatedly analyzed in critical essays, commented upon by annotators, and illustrated by antiquaries, is perhaps matter of surprise. Living in an extraordinary age, he exhibits in himself a character of native and unassisted greatness; a concentration of mental qualities, of which no other age or nation can furnish an exactly parallel example. Equally powerful in philosophical analysis of passion; in the realization of individual character, however delicate its minuter shades, or however complicated the springs of action and feeling; in the discernment of moral truth, in playfulness of fancy and force of imagination, he appears to unite the faculties of many within his own mind. The discoveries of the depth of his understanding and the wide extent of his knowledge have kept pace with those which have been made in the science of mental philosophy; and his seizure of those numberless indirect or complex circumstances, which it requires an accurate observation and experience of human emotion and feelings to discern or comprehend, seems less the effect of meditation than of intuition.
In a work of this nature we do not so much look for profoundness of thinking, as for diligence of research and the power of comparison and arrangement. For the estimation of the merits of Shakspeare, the biographer must indeed have qualified himself by the cultivation of a sound and manly taste in criticism, and by some attention to moral metaphysics; but his chief object
is to place Shakspeare conspicuously in the midst of the age in which his character was formed, his genius matured, and from which his mind gathered its stores of intellectual imagery, of practical and meditative wisdom, and of the knowledge of man.
The merits of Shakspeare have been so frequently canvassed that a new adventurer in the field of analysis labours under serious disadvantages. They have been canvassed also on principles which have been ascertained from a more accurate study of philosophical criticism: and the investigations of his poetical character have been carried further than in former periods; and have been conducted with such eminent success as to render the discovery of any new lights almost hopeless, and the attempt to illustrate the peculiarities of his genius a work of supererogation. This reflexion should entitle any writer who finds such an inquiry indispensable to a plan, embracing various and more comprehensive objects, to great indulgence. Perhaps it were vain to expect a more acute insight into the laws which govern the human mind, as exemplified in Shakspeare's delineations, than has been shown in the “ Essays of Professor Richardson; a work inferior to the Lectures of Schlegel in the imposing enthusiasm of style, and therefore less attractive and less popular; but possessing at least equal claims to the praise of philosophical observation. In this delicate and difficult part of his task, Dr. Drake has acquitted himself with credit; and he has spared no labour in collecting from all the sources, which his range of reading had laid open to him, copious information on every point, whether of manners or literature, which might contribute to render his work a faithful retrospect of Shakspeare's times.
In literary biography there is always a risk of enthusiasm; not that enthusiasm should absolutely be excluded; but it should vigilantly be kept in check by the judgment; otherwise history disappears, and we have romance in its stead.
When the age of the writer is remote, and the register of his private actions meagre, a temptation almost irresistibly presents itself to supply the vacuum by hypothetical facts; and it is the more difficult to resist this inclination as it borrows the self-flattering colour of philosophy. The biographer reasons himself into the persuasion that in connecting his hero immediately and personally with every passing event, and studying to deduce from them the necessary impressions which they must have made on a mind so constituted, he is enlarging our knowledge of the individual character, and of the mental phenomena of general human nature ; and his vanity and self-pleasing activity prevent him from suspecting that he is only swelling his book, and building up an imaginary fabric on a foundation of air.
From this sort of metaphysical guess-work, which produces a species of inferential biography, Dr. Drake has in general abstained with very commendable steadiness. But as a total abstinence from the custom of biographic gossiping may now subject a writer to the suspicion of deficiency in the necessary art of philosophizing, he seems a little to have been led astray by the ignis fatuus of a pageant and a festival at Kenelworth Castle. Perhaps he did not seek it, but “ it lay in his way and he found it :” Queen Elizabeth, it seems, paid a visit to the “ magnificent Earl of Leicester” at Kenelworth Castle; and Bishop Percy, in his “ Essay on the Origin of the English Stage,” speaking of the old Coventry play of Hock Tuesday (a kind of titling match representing in dumb show the defeat of the Danes by King Ethelred) being performed before the Queen, presumes that all the inhabitants of the surrounding country attended these princely pleasures, and logically infers that Shakspeare, then in his twelfth year, made one; and if our bard gained admission into the castle to see this play, we may imagine the impression on his infant mind. We may so; but though “ the gorgeous splendour and elaborate pageantry” of this fête continued nineteen days, we cannot concur with Dr. Drake, however fashionable may be this method of accounting for the determination of genius to a particular point, in supposing that the bear-baitings, and fire-works, and Italian tumblers, and morris-dancers, though backed by the lady of the lake in person, the savage man in Troy, Arion on his dolphin, and Triton on a mermaid (a somewhat extraordinary mode of equitation), had much effect in moulding and determining the bias of Shakspeare's imaginative powers.
Whatever “ exquisite delight this grand festival must have imparted to the ardent and opening mind of our youthful bard," if he were then present, Dr. Drake has contributed all in his power to remove the probability of the impression having been lasting, by lending himself to the quiddities of Mr. Malone, who will have it that Shakspeare practised as an attorney; and not only so, but taught the art of engrossing. We can only recover the shock of this horribly anti-poetic association, by recollecting that the forger of Rowley had sat at a solicitor's desk. How this is made out, the reader may be curious to know. In Aubrey's manuscript anecdotes of Shakspeare, “ collected at an early period from the information of the neighbours of the port," it is asserted that Shakspeare “understood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a school-master in the country.” But because Shakspeare uses technical terms of law, as he uses all others, with an adroit familiarity resembling that