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of the trans.), in which he claims for Shakspeare the distinction of exhibiting in his plays the Christian theory with greater purity, distinctness, and completeness! The writer of that very
foolish book on the 'Religion and Philosophy of Shakspeare, in which the poet is made an Atheist, is not more hopelessly wrong than Ulrici is in making Shakspeare, above all things, a Calvinist. Charles Butler and others have imagined that they could discover symptoms of his having been a Roman Catholic. So much for these suppositions. But let us grant for a moment that all Ulrici says about Shakspeare's Christian view of life is true; what has that, we ask, to do with the question of dramatic art? If Shakspeare were a philosopher, and his plays had been only meant for treatises, Ulrici's attempt would have been dull, indeed, but justifiable: but to look at plays in this light could only occur to a German professor. We knew before that a German was not easily satisfied with looking directly at a thing ; his tendency is always to look beyond it: but such specimens of profundity' as we meet with in Ulrici, at every turn, are gems which shine all the brighter from their leaden “setting.' Here is one in which he detects the profound significance of Shakspeare's quibbles : - If, then, we go back
to the origin of this verbal play, and further reflect that Shak-' 'speare never kept up this game of rejoinder and antithesis emptily and unmeaningly, but that with him it has always some meaning, and not unfrequently a most profound significance, we shall see good reason for the whole representation being pervaded by it. For in this discrepancy between the indicated • matter and its indication, and the inappropriateness of the same or similar words to express wholly different objects, we have the revelation of the deep fundamental and original dis
agreement between human life and its true idea ; as well as the . inadequacy of human cognition and knowledge of which lan'guage is the expression, for the wide range of objective truth
and reality, — and consequently of the weakness entailed upon 'man's noblest intellectual power by the fall and the first lie.' Philosophy which enables a man to penetrate depths like these, can serenely smile down the laughter of Englishmen, who, it is notorious, are totally wanting in the philosophic sense.'
This much, however, we must say for Dr. Ulrici, that he is not, like Schlegel, guilty of the gross inconsistency of laying down abstract principles, and forgetting to apply them when he
* English Trans. p. 150. Original, p. 159. We quote the English version to obviate any suspicion of having tampered with the passages.
comes to the separate plays. On the contrary, he sturdily proceeds to apply his philosophy; and each play serves him as the text for a moral sermon. The sermon indeed is not good; but at any rate it is a sermon. We are not much édified, to be sure, by learning that in Othello,- wedlock, so far as it is the chief • element and a leading motive in the social development of the • human race, is the position of life from which the poet has “surveyed the horizon of the tragic view of the world and pro'vidence;'* nor will it much increase our sympathy with, and delight in, that tragic masterpiece, to learn that Othello, unhappy man, " like Romeo, misemploys his divine gifts; and, forgetting “their true destination, devotes himself to this earthly life.' Othello had indeed noble qualities; but they were dashed to pieces, were 'powerless and unsupported, so soon as he looked - upon this earth alone as his abiding stay, and not as a passing moment of the eternal life of humanity.
The title of Ulrici's book is a misnomer : it should have been called • Sermons on Shakspeare.' And yet, serious as are its defects, it would be unjust to deny that it has also merits ; the greatest of which we take to be the suggestiveness, which every grave examination of such a subject must possess. Few people will feel that they have learned anything from Dr. Ulrici; but he may have stimulated inquiry and originated many thoughts. As a contribution to the theory of dramatic art, in any sense of the term, his book is worthless. It has been successful however in England, far beyond its merits —owing, we presume, to the prevailing mania for German philosophy: while in Germany it has been followed by numerous essays still more extravagant. Among these, the most remarkable are, Dr. Rötscher's · Abhandlungen zur Philosophie der Kunst,' which, for those who desire to see how Shakspeare taught German metaphysics, will be very curious. Not a glimmer of poetic or dramatic criticism peers through the mist. We should except, however, as one of the best and most sensible essays in their recent criticism, an essay on Hamlet, by Professor Gans, reprinted in his · Vermischte Schriften.' How long philosophical criticism will continue in vogue, nobody can venture to predict; but we are certain that, so long as it continues, Shakspeare will be judged from a point of view altogether false.
In England, we are glad to think, the Philosophy of Art, as taught in Germany, though much admired, has been little adopted. We have talked grandly enough about 'principles,' but, after all, it is only detached passages and isolated portions
* Trans. p. 164. Orig. p. 174.
from the German school, which have attracted any real attention. Coleridge, who introduced it among us, has himself treated Shakspeare in a merely fragmentary manner; he contributed, however, greatly towards giving a new tone to Shakspearian criticism. What was original in him in this particular, and what of German extraction, it is not easy to say. That tone was speedily taken up, because it flattered our national vanity, and reconciled the discrepancy between our admiration and our opinions. A storm of ridicule, which has not yet passed away, forthwith assailed the critics of the preceding age; and newspaper writers, who accepted upon trust the dictum that Shakspeare was a profound artist (though they could not have said in what his art consisted), cast every epithet of scorn upon the Johnsons and Popes of a benighted era. They have not given us, it is true, any substantive work upon Shakspeare of much pretension; but an immense mass of valuable observation pervades our modern literature: And the influence of Germany, and of Coleridge and his contemporaries, has been a healthy influence on the whole. If it has encouraged our idolatry, as idolatry, it is equally true that. our general appreciation of Shakspeare is much more intelligent than in the last century.
Of Mr. Hudson's Lectures,' though our friends in America have deemed them worthy of a second edition, and the North • American Review' worthy of an elaborate notice, we cannot. speak favourably. They profess indeed to contain nothing new; and they are as good as they profess. Perhaps, as lectures, their rhetorical style may have been acceptable; but what does the reader say to this, an average specimen ?
For if this strongest, yet calmest, this greatest, yet gentlest, of mortals, makes us tremble when he but breathes upon us the melodies. and fragrancies of his soul, he must perforce overwhelm us when he opens the floodgates of his power, and lets loose his tempests and cataracts upon us. Too much for criticism even when he smiles like some protecting spirit of humanity, and sheds the sunlight of his. genius round its sweetest and gentlest transpirations, he may well strike criticism dumb with amazement when, like a divinity in the transports of his might, he rides upon the whirlwind and directs the storm of human passion. (Vol. ii. p. 44.)
In this country such writing is called “fine writing, and is. not much esteemed. Nor is the matter of the lectures' superior to the manner. The translation of Macbeth, named at the head of this
papers recals us once more to France. A change has come over the spirit of its Shakspearian criticism, almost as great as that which has come over our own; and from the same cause the intro
duction of German ideas. The herald of this new revolution was Madame de Stael. By making German literature fashionable she helped to break through the barriers of classical rules, and forced a new opening for Shakspeare. Madame de Stael really admired his genius. But she was too much of a Frenchwoman of the old school, not to think his taste' defective; and she fol. . lowed the common opinion in attributing his faults to his age. The daring innovator who had first cleared the way for l'école romantique, was left behind by those who followed. The history of that school we cannot now stop to trace: But, as might be expected, every phase of it brought the glory of the English drama more prominently forward. In combating the authority of Racine (whom Madame de Stael still considered indisputably the first of poets), the romanticists were glad to shield themselves under the authority of Shakspeare.
In 1822 M. Guizot revised Le Tourneur's translation, and prefixed to it a calm, sagacious, and every way remarkable life. He argued the question like a philosopher of a higher order. Openly disavowing that narrow criticism which presumes to limit the drama to one form, he maintained that the drama in France had lost the true sense of its destination, by its aristocratic exclusiveness. In the following excellent passage the fundamental principle of criticism is clearly stated. If the romantic system has its beauties, it has necessarily its art and its rules. Every thing which men acknowledge as beautiful in art, owes its effect to certain combinations, of which our reason can always detect the secret, when our emotions have attested its power. The science - or the employment of these combinations - consti'tutes what we call art. Shakspeare had his own. We must detect it in his works, and examine the means he employs and the results he aims at.'
About the same period M. de Barante published his critique on Hamlet (reprinted in his Mélanges, 1825); the influence of German ideas is very visible in it. He ingeniously and more Germanico defends the obviously defective dénouement by saying, • Il était difficile de le dénouer, puisqu'il n'avait pas de neud, et que l'action marchait comme au hazard. .... Le doute . a présidé à tout son ensemble, et pèse encore sur le dénoue* ment.' So completely does he give up all the classic rules, that he says: • The encounter of Hamlet with that army which • is about to shed its blood for a few acres of land, and the * famous scene of the gravediggers, too obviously enter into *the general plan of the piece — they are in too strict harmony * with the unity of impression which Shakspeare has sought, to necessitate our insisting on their propriety, and to show that
they are not bizarreries or barbarisms, but the consequences of a whole dramatic system.'
Guizot and De Barante were followed by Villemain, who in 1827 published his essay on Shakspeare's life and genius (Nouveaux Mélanges Historiques et Littéraires). Inferior to the essay of Guizot in distinct enunciation of principles, it had greater effect upon France; perhaps because France was then better prepared to accept its doctrines. Villemain's mind is of an academic cast, and is peculiarly alive to the beauties of the classic school. His acknowledgment of Shakspeare, therefore, came with greater force; and his defence of the grave-diggers was not the defence of an advocate anxious for license for its own sake. There was an earnest recognition of the poet's * beauties, and a recognition of the fact that the drama is not necessarily of one form only; but there was none of that idolatry
Shakspeare's faults, which the Germans have made an rticle of faith. All the absurd improbabilities,' he says, "all the buf'fooneries of which Shakspeare is so lavish, were common to the
rude theatre which we possessed at the same era; it was the mark • of the times : why should we now admire in Shakspeare the defects which are every where else buried in oblivion, and which have survived in the English poet, only on account of the sublime traits of genius with which he has surrounded them.' This differs as widely from Schlegel and Ulrici, who--seeing in those improbabilities and buffooneries the results of mature deliberation, and the deep significance of a profound thinker-persuaded themselves that faults were beauties, as it differs from the earlier French critics, by whom these faults had been exaggerated, travestied, and caricatured. • It is necessary,' adds Villemain, in * judging Shakspeare, first to reject the mass of rude and false • taste which oppresses him; it is, perhaps, also necessary to avoid building systems applicable only to our own times with these old monuments of the age of Elizabeth. If a new form of • tragedy should proceed from our actual manners, and from the
genius of some great poet, this form would no more resemble • the tragedy of Shakspeare than that of Racine. In his · Cours' • de Littérature,' Villemain has some admirable remarks on Shakspeare; whom he contrasts with Voltaire, and triumphantly shows that not only in depth and truth of passion, but also in bon gôut, Shakspeare is greatly the superior!
From this time downwards, the Shakspeare mania has continued to spread. In 1829 Alfred de Vigny produced his careful translation of Othello on the stage of the Théâtre
* It has been translated in Drake's Memorials of Shakspeare.'