ther notes as the pre-eminent characteristic of “our own great dramatist,”—is abundantly found in that great dramatist's earliest work. Coleridge was the first to point out this pervading quality in the “Venus and Adonis ; and he has done this so admirably, that it would be profanation were we to attempt to elucidate the point in any other than his own words :

“ It is throughout as if a superior spirit, more intuitive, more intimately conscious, even than the characters themselves, not only of every outward look and act, but of the flux and reflux of the mind in all its subtlest thoughts and feelings, were placing the whole before our view; himself meanwhile unparticipating in the passions, and actuated only by that pleasurable excitement which had resulted from the energetic fervour of his own spirit in so vividly exhibiting what it had so accurately and profoundly contemplated. I think I should have conjectured from these poems, that even then the great instinct which impelled the poet to the drama was secretly working in him, prompting him by a series and never-broken chain of imagery, always vivid, and, because unbroken, often minute,—by the highest effort of the picturesque in words of which words are capable, higher perhaps than was ever realised by any other poet, even Dante not excepted,—to provide a substitute for that visual language, that constant intervention and running comment by tone, look, and gesture, whiich in his dramatic works he was entitled to expect from the players. His Venus and Adonis seem at once the characters themselves, and the whole representation of those characters by the most consummate actors. You

seem to be told nothing, but to see and hear everything. Hence it is, that, from the perpetual activity of attention required on the part of the reader,-from the rapid flow, the quick change, and the playful nature of the thoughts and images,-and, above all, from the alienation, and, if I may hazard such an expression, the utter aloofness of the poet's own feelings from those of which he is at once the painter and the analyst,—that though the very subject cannot but detract from the pleasure of a delicate mind, yet never was poem less dangerous on a moral account.

Coleridge, in the preceding chapter of his ‘Literary Life,' says, “During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry—the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination." In Coleridge's ' Literary Remains' the Venus and Adonis ’is cited as furnishing a signal example of " that affectionate love of nature and natural objects, without which no man could have observed so steadily, or painted so truly and passionately, the very minutest beauties of the external world.” The description of the hare-hunt is there given at length as a specimen of this power. A remarkable proof of the conpleteness as well as accuracy of Shakspere's description lately presented itself to our mind, in running through a little volume, full of talent, published in 1825_Essays and Sketches of Character, by the late Richard Ayton,

* Biographia Literaria,'1817, vol. ii. p. 15.

[ocr errors]


But as

Esq. There is a paper on hunting, and especially on hare-hunting. He says_“I am not one of the perfect fox-hunters of these realms; but having been in the way of late of seeing a good deal of various modes of hunting, I would, for the benefit of the uninitiated, set down the results of my observations.” In this matter he writes with a perfect unconsciousness that he is describing what any one has described before. accurate an observer had been before him :

“She (the hare) generally returns to the seat from which she was put up, running, as all the world knows, in a circle, or something sometimes like it, we had better say, that we may keep on good terms with the mathematical. At starting, she tears away at her utmost speed for a mile or more, and distances the dogs half-way: she then returns, diverging a little to the right or left, that she may not run into the mouths of her enemies--a necessity which accounts for what we call the circularity of her course. Her flight from home is direct and precipitate; but on her way back, when she has gained a little time for consideration and stratagem, slie describes a curious labyrinth of short turnings and windings, as if to perplex the dogs by the intricacy of her track.” Compare this with Sliakspere :* And when thou hast on foot the purblind hare,

Mark the poor wretch, to overshoot his troubles,
How he outruns the wind, and with what care
He cranks and crosses, with a thousand doubles :

The many musits through the which he goes
Are like a labyrinth to amaze his foes.”




[ocr errors]

Mr. Ayton thus goes on :

“ The hounds, whom we left in full cry, continue their music without remission as long as they are faithful to the scent; as a summons, it should seem, like the seaman's cry, to pull together, or keep together, and it is a certain proof to themselves and their followers tha? they are in the right way. On the instant that they

at fault,' or lose the scent, they are silent. The weather, in its impression on the scent, is the great father of faults ;' but they may arise from other accidents, even when the day is in every respect favourable. The intervention of ploughed land, on which the scent soon cools or evaporates, is at least perilous; but sheepstains, recently left by a flock, are fatal : they cut off the scent irrecoverably-making a gap, as it were, in the clue, in which the dogs have not even a hint for their guidance." Compare Shakspere again :“ Sometime he runs among a flock of sheep,

To make the cunning hounds mistake their smell
And sometime where earth-delving conies keep,
To stop the loud pursuers in their yell;

And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;

Danger deviseth shifts ; wit waits on fear:
" For there his smell with others being mingled,

The hot scent-snuffing hounds are driven to doubt,
Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled
With much ado the cold fault cleanly out;
Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replies,

As if another chase were in the skies."
One more extract from Mr. Ayton :-

Suppose then, after the usual rounds, that you see the hare at last (a sorry mark for so many foes) sorely beleaguered-looking dark and draggled—and limping heavily along; then stopping to listen-again tottering on a little and again stopping; and at every step, and every pause, hearing the death-cry grow nearer and louder."

One more comparison, and we have exhausted Shakspere's description :

By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,

Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,
To hearken if his foes


him still; Anon their loud alarums he doth hear;

And now his grief may be compared well

To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.
“ Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch

Turn and return, indenting with the way:
Each envious briar his weary legs doth scratch,
Each shadow makes him stop, each murmur stay ;

For misery is trodden ou by many,
And being low never reliev'd by any."

Here, then, be it observed, are not only the same objects, the same accidents, the same movement, in each description, but the very words employed to convey the scene to the mind are often the same in each. It would be easy to say that Mr. Ayton copied Shakspere. We believe he did not. There is a sturdy ingenuousness about his writings which would have led him to notice the

Venus and Adonis' if he had had it in his mind. Shakspere and he had each looked minutely and practically upon the same scene ; and the wonder is, not that Shakspere was an accurate describer, but that in

« VorigeDoorgaan »