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(READ 19TH JANUARY, 1865.)

I NOW Come to the second part of my subject, the merry greenwood and its inhabitants, and Shakspeare's intense love of the beauties of the country and wonderful power in describing them, a power so great that the Puritan poet of the next generation speaks of him as

Sweetest Shakspeare, Fancy's child,

Warbling his native wood notes wild.

In the forest in that most poetical of plays, the MidsummerNight's Dream, the two bands of lovers meet with their extraordinary adventures; thither the rustics resort for their rehearsal, choosing a green plot for their stage, and a hawthorn brake for their tyring-house; there the Queen of the Amazons is led by her lover to hear the music of the hounds. Again, in As You Like It, the various characters find refuge in sylvan fastnesses from the tyranny of an usurping Duke, and there

Exempt from public haunt,

Found tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.*

To a similar scene Sir Valentine fled, having forfeited the favour of the Duke of Milan-there he became the leader of a band of outlaws, and found consolation for the disappointment of his hopes, as he says:

This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,

I better brook, than flourishing peopled towns:
Here can I sit alone, unseen of any,
And, to the nightingale's complaining notes,
Tune my distresses, and record my woes.+

• As You Like It, Act ii, Scene 1.
+ Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act v, Scene 4.

There, in Love's Labour's Lost, the King of Navarre and his courtiers receive the embassy of the Princess of France and 'her ladies; there, beneath the spreading trees, they forswear their vows of woman hate, reading their sonnets to their lady loves, and engaging in a merry fight of words. It was beneath the avenue near Portia's house that Lorenzo and Jessica, looking upwards to the starry firmament, "thick "inlaid with patines of bright gold," whispered the pretty words of love and joined their touches of sweet harmony to the orbs of heaven,

Still quiring to the young-ey'd cherubins.

It was whilst hiding in

the pleached bower,

Where honey-suckles, ripen'd by the sun,
Forbid the sun to enter,+

that Beatrice first heard the strange tale that she was beloved by Benedick, the witty bachelor. The scene of Cymbeline is laid partly in the forests of South Wales. Lear on a heath in the south of Britain. Several of the historical or chronicle plays lead us into the woodland. And it was beneath the blasted oak of Herne the hunter, that the wicked old knight received the last punishment from the satyrs and fairies of Windsor.

Having so often laid the scene of his plays in the forest, we need not wonder that Shakspeare has many times recounted the sights and sounds of the woods.

The birds chaunt melody on every bush ;
The snake lies rolled in the cheerful sun;
The green leaves quiver with the cooling wind,
And make a checquer'd shadow on the ground:
Under their sweet shade, Aaron, let us sit,

And whilst the babbling echo mocks the hounds,
Replying shrilly to the well-tun'd horns,

* Merchant of Venice, Act v, Scene 1.

+ Much Ado About Nothing, Act iii, Scene 1.

As if a double hunt were heard at once,

Let us sit down, and mark their yelling noise :

Whiles hounds and horns, and sweet melodious birds,

Be unto us, as is a nurse's song

Of lullaby.*

Shakspeare is ever ready to remove his actors from the busy hum of men to the silent forest glade or open champaign, and to preserve in immortal verse the simple scenes of the English common, or the hedgerow, or the sports of the woodland. He is entitled to the place of a prince among the true lovers of nature; but the scientific man, whose enjoyment is confined to the classification and elaboration of his subject, to cataloguing varieties and inventing formidable names, must not look to our poet for sympathy. For instance, in Love's Labour's Lost, he says,

These earthly godfathers of heaven's lights,

That give a name to every fixed star,

Have no more profit of their shining nights

Than those that walk, and wot not what they are.+

First, a few words on the birds of Shakspeare. His poetry shows that he was well acquainted with them and their habits; it is evident that,

From these wandering minstrels,

He had learnt the art of song.

Even Bottom the weaver, when he was belated in the Fairies' wood, cannot refrain from breaking out into a chanson in praise of the feathered choristers of the grove

The ousel cock, so black of hue,

With orange-tawny bill,

The throstle with his note so true,

The wren with little quill,

The finch, the sparrow, and the lark,

The plain-song cuckoo grey,

Whose note full many a man doth mark,
And dares not answer, nay.‡

* Titus Andronicus, Act ii, Scene 3.

+ Love's Labour's Lost, Act i, Scene 1.

Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act iii, Scene 1.


Perhaps Shakspeare is rarely more successful in any of his illustrations than in those taken from the habits of birds. For instance, in Titus Andronicus, the wicked Queen of the Goths declares

The eagle suffers little birds to sing,

And is not careful what they mean thereby;
Knowing that with the shadow of his wings,
He can at pleasure stint their melody.*

Again, in Macbeth, where Lady Macduff speaks of the flight of her husband, she says

He loves us not;

He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren,

The most diminutive of birds, will fight,

Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.+

In Richard III, when the spiteful hump-backed Gloster denounces his enemies, he says

The world is grown so bad,

That wrens may prey where eagles dare not perch.‡

In Henry IV, where Westmoreland brings the king intelligence of the utter defeat of his enemies, the latter replies

O Westmoreland, thou art a summer-bird,
Which ever in the haunch of winter sings
The lifting up of day.§

In the closing scene of the life of the gentle monarch Henry VI, he turns on the murderer of his son, with bolder words than were his wont :

The bird, that hath been limed in a bush,

With trembling wings misdoubteth every bush :

And I, the hapless male to one sweet bird,

Have now the fatal object in my eye,

Where my poor young was lim'd, was caught, and kill'd.

As the altercation becomes warmer, he upbraids Gloster with all the evil omens which attended his birth:

Titus Andronicus, Act iv, Scene 4.
Richard III, Act i, Scene 3.

+ Macbeth, Act iv, Scene 2. § 2 Henry IV, Act iv, Scene 4.

The owl shriek'd at thy birth, an evil sign;

The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time;

Dogs howl'd, and hideous tempests shook down trees;
The raven rook'd her on the chimney's top,

And chattering pies in dismal discords sung.*

One of the most beautiful passages relating to birds is in Macbeth, a play which contains more allusions to the feathered fowl than any other; it is where Banquo speaks of Macbeth's castle:

This guest of summer,

The temple-haunting martlet, does approve,
By his lov'd mansionry, that the heaven's breath,
Smells wooingly here: no jutty, frieze, buttress,
Nor coigne of vantage, but this bird hath made
His pendent bed, and procreant cradle: Where they
Most breed and haunt, I have observ'd, the air
Is delicate.+

But Shakspeare's illustrations are not confined to the beautiful songsters of the grove, the harbingers of spring, the sign to man that he must soar upwards to another and a purer world. The crawling things of the ground, the insects flitting through the air, find a place in his verses. Thus he mentions "the tender horns of cockled snails," "the poor harmless fly "with his pretty buzzing melody," "the red-hipp'd humble-bee

on the top of a thistle," "the gilded butterflies,"" the shard"borne beetle with his drowsy hums," "the snake and her "enamell'd skin," "the adder's fork and blind-worm's sting." The band of fairies in their chorus warn the hosts of insects from the haunt of their sylvan queen; the two bands seem to be brought together for the sake of comparison, and they seem in some respects to dispute the rule of the night.

Perhaps the finest passage on any branch of the insect world is Shakspeare's account of the social policy of the bees. Many poets ancient and modern have described their order and industry and economy and regal form of government, * 3 Henry VI, Act v, Scene 6.

+ Macbeth, Act i, Scene 6.

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