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contingency, than from an intention to leceire. He foresees, apparently, that uch eccentricities and aberrations will be fie natural result of his condition; that, bough he can avoid them if he will, it will equire an effort to do so; that though epressible, it will not be easy, perhaps ot safe, to repress them. Foreseeing, loreover, that by giving nature free course nd indulging these aberrations as they ise, he can turn them to a useful purpose, e therefore determines neither to seek or shnn them, but to let them come when iey will, and use them when they come.
The character of Hamlet seems designed J exemplify, among other things, the rare ut not unnatural contradiction between be inward and the outward, the real and lie apparent, whereby men come to seem recisely the reverse of what they are. or, as bad men are generally compelled ) appear good, notwithstanding and even ecanse they are bad, so good men are imetimes compelled to appear bad, even ecause they are good. Thus in Hamlet >e have apparent weakness springing from eal strength ; apparent badness, from real oodness; apparent insanity, from real sany. In like manner, his unkind treatment f Ophelia, in the famous eaves-dropping cene, appears to spring from his exceed>g tenderness of feeling. An arrangeicnt has been made whereby Hamlet and 'phelia are to have an interview, the king ad Polonius being behind the curtains lean while to overhear what passes bereen them, with a view to ascertain, if os&ible, the cause of his supposed insanity; hich cause Polonius thinks, and the king opes, to be disappointed love. Hamlet Haunters her there: "Nymph, in thy orins be all my sins remembered ;" perfectly ind and gentle towards her. Presently, owever, his deportment changes, and be>mes exceedingly harsh and rude. The uestion is, why this so sudden and viont change? Now Ophelia is here thrown ito a position where she is forced to tell, r act, a falsehood. In her perfect innomee and artlessness, having probably ever told, much less acted, a lie in her ft. she is of course unable to go smoothly irough the part assigned her; she falters, r-autes, becomes embarrassed, and thus etrayg by her manner the very secret she
trying to hide. From this involuntary
embarrassment Hamlet doubtless instantaneously perceives that something is wrong, and suspects himself to be watched; and his subsequent remarks, though addressed to Ophelia, are rather intended for those who are watching him. To clear up this difficulty on the stage, the king and Polonius are sometimes made to come forward where Hamlet can see them. This, we beg leave to say with all due deference, precludes the chief beauty of the scene, which is, that Ophelia should be so innocent as to betray by her manner, and Hamlet so quick-sighted as to detect, precisely what is going on.
But, though Hamlet's uncivil speeches on this occasion be rather intended for the eaves-droppers than for Ophelia, still he cannot but know she will take them as meant for herself, and accordingly be hurt by them; so that, without other grounds than this, wc cannot reconcile his conduct with the assurance, that
"Forty thousand brothers Could not, with all this quantity of love, Make up his sum."
The discovery of the trick attempted upon him may be a sufficient reason for resuming his antic disposition, but not for using unkind and uncourteous expressions to her. What, then, can be Hamlet's motive in using them? Few circumstances in the play have been so perplexing to critics as this. It seems never to have occurred to them, to seek for the motives of Hamlet's conduct in the result. Now Ophelia comes out of the interview fully convinced that his mind is hopelessly wrecked. Is it not fair to presume, then, that this result is precisely what he intended? Knowing that her heart is entirely his own, and fearing the effects of his unexplainable desertion of her, he therefore wishes to detach and alienate her feelings gradually, and so prevent the danger of a too sudden and violent rupture. In a word, he treats her rudely and unkindly in order to save her. Thus we have apparent harshness springing from real tenderness; and Hamlet's conduct becomes reconcilable with his professions, on the ground of its being, in the words of Lamb, "an ingenious device of love, gradually to prepare her mind, by affected discm-rtesies under the guise of insanity, for the breaking up of an attachment which he knows can never be consummated."
After all, however, it must be confessed, as was intimated in the outset, that there is a mystery about Hamlet, which baffles' the utmost efforts of criticism. The deepest and subtilest analysis has hitherto proved unable to clear up the apparent inconsistencies of his character. The central principle, from which these inconsistencies radiate, and in which they are reconciled, lies perhaps beyond any insight less piercing than Shakspeare's. We cannot see, Hamlet himself cannot see, the why and wherefore of his being and doing thus and so. He is subject to impulses below our penetration, and even below his own consciousness. We feel the truth and consistency of the character, but the grounds of this feeling reach beyond our depth; for in such matters the heart always feels much deeper than the head sees. In the words of another," Hamlet is a being with springs of thought, and feeling, and action, deeper than we can search. These springs rise up from an unknown depth; a depth in which we feel and know there is a unity of being, though we cannot distinctly perceive it; so that the superficial contradictions of his character have no power to make us doubt its perfect truth." And the character undoubtedly cleaves to us the closer for that, while it includes much of our own consciousness, it also reflects the mystery of our own being. We can neither see through Hamlet nor yet away from him, and the same is the case with ourselves; indeed, this is about all that we know of ourselves.
The idea of Hamlet, which we have been trying to unfold, is, conscious plenitude of intellect, united with exceeding fineness and fullness of sensibility, and guided by a predominant sentiment of moral rectitude. In spite of himself his mind is a perennial spring of "thoughts that wander through eternity;" he is perpetually losing the present in the eternal, the particular in the universal, as genius is apt to do; for genius is, in some sort, intuition of universal truth. His mind, however, is by no means in a healthy state; indeed, no healthy mind could well retain its health in his circumstances. When all was joyous and promising before him, he had sufficient resources
without, and his faculties were gemallf occupied with external objects; but amid his later trials and perplexities, he is forced to seek within himself resources which the world cannot furnish, and his faculties are thrown back upon themselves. Thus his great genius becomes intensely self-conscious, and introspection settles into a sort of chronic disease.
"By abstruse research to steal From his own nature all the natural man— This was his sole resource, his only plan; Till that which suits a part infects the whole, And now is grown the very habit of his sod"'
It is in this morbid consciousness of his own powers, that he exclaims: "Whata piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties! in form and motion how express and admirable' in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!" Haunted with a sense of the supernatural in his experience. persecuted with duties which he can neither forget nor perform ; with all the natural issues of his being closed up, so that he can neither act nor let it alone; and mistaking his outward difficulties for inward deficiency; his mind of course becomes abstracted from surrounding object8, and absorbed in itself; he can do nothing but think, and think, and "eat his own heart;" his self-contemplation causing him to marvel the more at his inactivity, and his inactivity plunging him still deeper in self- contemplation.
And perhaps his consciousness of " genius given and knowledge won in vain," is one source of his overwrought distress. Educated with the noble prospect, and inspired with the noble ambition of blessing other-, everything he now meets but stings him with remembrance of the precious opportunity whereof another's crimes have deprived him. In his calmer moments, when his energies are not engrossed in controlling his emotions, he revels amid the very regalities of poetry and philosophy; ha mind, rich with the spoils of nature and of art, smiles forth its treasures with the gentleness of a ohild and the composure of« god; unbending itself in the labors of » giant! In the happiness of youthful confidence, his genius has plucked the flowers which carpet the fields of antiquity, to enwreath the brows of Truth, its modest and •dutiful bride; and the melodies of Eden mm stealing upon us, when, escaping for moment from the tempest which hath vertaken him, he unclasps to the ear of riendslup the record of his intellectual humph.
Polonius is, in nearly all respects, the ntithesis of Hamlet, though Hamlet doubtfss includes him, as the heavens include be earth. He is a sort of political ossifiation or petrifaction, whose soul, if he ver had one, has got wholly absorbed in lis understanding. A man of but one oethod, that of intrigue, and of but one active, that of interest; wholly given up o the arts of management; with his fin;en always itching to pull the wires of <>me intricate plot; and without any sense >r perception of the fitness of times and •ccasions; he is called to act in a matter (here such arts and methods are especially ^appropriate and unavailing, and therefore Ik only succeeds, of course, in overrcachng and circumventing himself. In this aaalieism of intrigue, surviving the pow■n from which it originally sprung, lies he explanation, not only of his character, Ijai of a class of characters, which is as Timortal as human folly. Thus in Polorum we have the type of a politician in his dotage; and all his follies and blunders arise from his undertaking to act the politician where he is especially required to be a man. This, we are aware, is making him out a caricature, rather than a aaracter, for a man of but one motive or •* feature is a caricature; but it is such a »ricature as is occasionally to be met <vith in actual life.
True to the principles and practices of hk order, Polonius studies and deals with men, not to make them wiser or better, but only to make himself better off out of them; and has therefore acquired, in the greatest perfection and greatest abundance, jii&t such a knowledge of human nature as >iegrades himself, and enables him to dei,Tade others;—the same knowledge, for all the world, that politicians now-a-days seek —wd get, and use too. His very trade, indeed, brings him to know men only in '■•.■nditions where the springs and causes of iheir actions he out of themselves. For there is a mechanical as well as a dynami1»' part in our nature, and few things are aure common than for men to get so en
grossed in one of these parts, as to lose sight of the other; as, on the one hand, certain physicians, absorbed in the study of our material frame, have come to the conclusion that we had no souls; and, on the other hand, certain metaphysicians, absorbed in studying our spiritual being, have concluded we had no bodies. In certain spheres of action, in the court, the cabinet, the counting-room, and the exchange, among the arts, the games, the interests and the ambitions of life, men are but a sort of machines, to be moved by certain outward, definite, tangible forces: dispose those forces after a certain manner, and you can pretty nearly calculate the results; but in certain other spheres of action, at the fireside and the altar, where the affections, the religions, the dynamics of our nature, are called into play—here men are something far better and nobler than machines; and as they are moved by certain inward, vital, self-determining powers, so we cannot possibly anticipate or control, their movements.
Now, it is only in the former spheres of life that Polonius has any real acquaintance with men. Of those innate and original springs of action, which originate and shape the movements of men in spheres of disinterestedness, he has no insight, or even conception. Always looking through his politician's spectacles, he sees men only where, and when, and so far, as they are machines, capable of being played into a given set of motions by a given set of motives; and a long course of observation and experiment has taught him how to adjust and apply, with wonderful precision, the forces and influences which will set them agoing as he desires. From studying nothing but the mechanics of human nature, he has come to regard men as nothing but machines; for what is itself divine, is not to be discerned but by divine faculties; and he presumes men to be nothing but accountants, because, forsooth, he has none but counting-house faculties to view them with.
In matters of calculation, therefore, Polonius is a sage; in matters of sentiment and imagination he is a dunce. He always succeeds in arts of policy, because he never tries to rise above them; like the demagogue who leads the people by first watching their course, and then adroitly rushing ahead of them; a tiling that requires but long legs, a short head, and little or no heart. Polonius, accordingly, has made success his test of merit, and success has made him self-conceited. For such is apt to be the case with artful, intriguing men; generally succeeding, as the world counts success, they naturally estimate merit by success, and thus become as conceited as they are successful. They deserve to be conceited!
From books, also, Polonius has gleaned maxims, but not gained development; can repeat, but not reproduce, their contents; equips, not feeds his mind out of them; uses them, in short, not as spectacles to read nature with, but only as blinds or goggles to protect his own eyes with. He has, therefore, made books his idols, and books have made him pedantic. For he is a conceited old pedant. An exceedingly practical man, he is too fond of the dirt to be in any danger of getting up into the clouds. Craving truth only for the stomach's sake, ■ of course he always has food enough, and his understanding is too enpeptic to think of living by faith; he believes in living on realities: there is no romance about him; no, indeed, he cultivates solider things than that!
To such a mind, or rather, half-mind, the character of Hamlet must needs be a profound enigma. It takes a whole man to know such a being as Hamlet; and Polonius is but the attic story of a man! Of course he cannot find a heart or a soul in Hamlet, because he has none himself to find them with: for it always takes a heart to find a heart, a soul to find a soul; those who have them not always think, and deserve to think, that others are without them. As, in Polonius's mind, the calculative faculties have eaten out the perceptive faculties, so, of course, his premises are seldom right, and his inferences seldom wrong. Assuming Hamlet to be thus and thus, he reasons and acts most admirably in regard to him; but the fact is, he has no eye for the true premises of the case; he cannot tee Hamlet, cannot understand him; and his premises being wrong, the very correctness of his logic makes him seem but the more ridiculous.
Wherefore, knowing the prince can hope to make nothing by marrying his daughter, he cannot conceive why he should woo her, unless from dishonorable intentions.
And he falls into a similar mistake k regard to Ophelia. He thinks she is in danger from Hamlet's addresses to her, that sb> will fall a victim to some inhuman am. because he is insensible to her real power to him she appears all weakness and exposure, because he has no eye to discern her true strength. But, to such a man u Hamlet, a man of heart, of soul, of honor of religion, of manhood, she is the concentration of whatever is most powerful and most formidable: her virgin innocence, ber gentleness, her maiden honor, her sweet sacred defencelessness, "create an a»f about her as a guard angelic placed;" all Heaven, in short, is set for the protection of such a being; but Heaven, alas! is no protection against a brute, much less against a selfish, heartless, soulless man ■ Coleridge has very happily remarked that "good terrestrial charts can be constructed only by celestial observations. As it is only by the aid of the stars that men can direct their course securely and profitably over the earth, so some men observe the stars only for the sake of proSi and security; they look upwards, not, indeed, to learn what is above them, but only that they may the better avail themselves of what is around or beneath them Such appears to be the ease with Poloniu5 in the few precepts with which he accompanies the farewell blessing upon Laertes. Coming from another man, these precept*, it must be confessed, would seem the very perfection of prudential morality, containing here and there a trace of manly, £*»■ erous sentiment. Coming from Polonius they seem but the extraction and quintessence of Chesterfieldism, of which the first and great commandment is, act and spe«> to conceal, not to express, thy thoughts, and avoid to do anything that may injuf thyself; for on this commandment undoubtedly hang all the law and the prophets \i his morality; and if in this brief abstract of policy, he sprinkles a few elements » manly honor and generosity, jt is only t<i make the compound more palatable to * young mind, that has not so far desiccatw itself of heart and soul as to take up w^b mere policy. The precept,
"■ To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be falee to any man," cans, in his mouth, be true to thine own terest, and but expresses the common ,tiun. that injustice to others is injurious * one's self. This precept, indeed, has >metimes been urged as redeeming the aulor from that utter baseness and selfishess which the rest of his conduct so l&inly indicates; but to us it seems ither to confirm the view we hare taken of im; for it must obviously mean one of wo things: either, be true to thine own leart, which is, perhaps, the best morality, T, be true to thine own interest, which is h>! worst morality; and all the rest of the character seems to warrant, if not to re|uire, the latter construction. What does :uch a man naturally mean by self? his teart? he don't know that he has one; >erhaps he has not; interest being all the icart he has or deserves to have. It has been suggested, that Polonius here forgets himself, and, speaking from memory, unwittingly drops a better sentiment than he is iware of. To which we can only reply, mch men as he are seldom guilty of any thing » good as forgetting themselves; indeed, lit'ir chief misery and meanness is, that they ■eldom think of anything but themselves. Polonius would, doubtless, have his son strain at a gnat of indiscretion, and swallow a camel of insincerity; sit up nights to make himself a gentleman, but take no pains to make himself a man. Of course we mean a fashionable gentleman; for a true gentleman is, we take it, the finest pwe of work that God has yet shown us —except a true lady. Polonius aims, not to plant high principles, nor kindle noble lessons, but only to lodge shrewd practical maxims in his son. The whole gist of ku» instructions to Laertes is, to study and discipline all spontaneousness out of liim«lf; and for those involuntary and unconKtou* transpirations of character, which retril that one has a heart, though perhaps withiome flaws in it, he would leave no room whatever. In his view "the dictates of M> inward sense, whose voice outweighs the world," are but bugbears to frighten children withal; and a virtue which cannot pnte about itself, which, moved by secret, viul forces, goes so smoothly, and sweetly, uxl silently, as not to hear itself, or be conscious of its workings, is not to be thought of or trusted in, much less sought tfter or approved. In a word, his mo
rality and religion spring altogether from the understanding, not from the conscience nor the heart, and therefore are, in reality and in effect, but two chapters of political economy, one for this world, and one for the next.
And yet Polonius is a great man in his way; many of the world's parasites arc but diminutives of him; several modern politicians might, we suspect, bo cut out of him. He has the lower faculties, the calculative, in the highest degree; the higher faculties, the imaginative, he has not at all. He is virtuous inasmuch as he keeps below vice, (for there is a place down there, and some people in it;) is honest, because he thinks honesty to be the best policy—a maxim which, by the way, is far from being universally true: for honesty sometimes carries people to the stake, (queer policy that!) and perhaps it would carry more of us to the stake, if we had it; and if it did not carry us to the stake, it might carry us to poverty, and that, some people think, is the next thing to the stake. Polonius, indeed, is free alike from princi-. pie and from passion, so that he goes straight ahead, merely from want of susceptibilities for temptation to lay hold of, and keeps himself transparent, because he has got so crystallized, that no dust can stick to him.
Shakspeare's matchless skill, in revealing a character through its most characteristic transpirations, is nowhere more finely displayed than in the instructions Polonius gives his servant, Reynaldo, for detecting the habits and practices of his absent son. In framing plans to "get at truth, though it lie hid within the centre;" how, "with the bait of falsehood, he may take the carp of truth;" and how, "of wisdom and of reach, with windlasses and with assays of bias," he may "by indirections find directions out;" here the old politician is perfectly at home; his mind seems to revel in the mysteries of wirepulling and trap-setting; and schemes fly together in his head and troll out of his mouth as if they could not help it. In Hamlet, however, he finds an impracticable subject; here all his strategy and sagacity are effectually nonplussed; and the trap with which he essays to catch tho truth only springs on himself. The mero torch of policy, nature, or Hamlet, who is