Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

As makes it light, or heavy, in the substance,
Or the division of the twentieth part
Of one poor scruple; nay, if the scale do turn
But in the estimation of a hair;
Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate.”

But she afterwards recovers her propriety, and triumphs with a cooler scorn and a more self-possessed exultation.

It is clear that, to feel the full force and dramatic beauty of this marvellous scene, we must go along with Portia as well as with Shylock; we must understand her concealed purpose, keep in mind her noble motives, and pursue in our fancy the under-current of feeling working in her mind throughout. The terror and the power of Shylock's character—his deadly and inexorable malicewould be too oppressive, the pain and pity too intolerable, and the horror of the possible issue too overwhelming, but for the intellectual relief afforded by this double source of interest and contemplation.

I come now to that capacity for warm and generous affection, that tenderness of heart which render Portia not less lovable as a woman than admirable for her mental endowments. What an exquisite stroke of judgment in the poet to make the mutual passion of Portia and Bassanio, though unacknowledged to each other, anterior to the opening of the play! Bassanio's confession very properly comes first :Bassanio.-In Belmont is a lady richly left,

And she is fair and fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues; sometimes from her eyes

I did receive fair speechless messages;" and prepares us for Portia's half-betrayed, unconscious election of this most graceful and chivalrous admirer

Nerissa.Do you not remember, lady, in your father's time, a Venetian, a scholar, and a soldier, that camo hither in company of tlie Marquis of Montferrat?

Portia.--Yes, yes, it was Bassanio; as I think, so he was called.

Nerissa.—True, madam; he, of all the men that ever my foolish eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.

Portia.--I remember him well; and I remember him worthy of thy praise."

Our interest is thus awakened for the lovers from the very first : and what shall be said of the casket scene with Bassanio, where every line which Portia speaks is so worthy of herself, so full of sentiment and beauty, and poetry and passion ? Too naturally frank for disguise, too modest to confess her depth of love while

“I pray you tarry; pause a day or two,

Before you hazard : for, in choosing wrong,
I lose your company; therefore, forbear a while;
There's something tells me (but it is not love)
I would not lose you; and you know yourself
Hate counsels not in such a quality:
But lest you should not understand me well,
(And yet a maiden hath no tongue but thought,)
I would detain you here some month or two,
Before you venture for me. I could teach you
How to choose aright-but then I am forsworn;
So will I never be ; so you may miss me;
But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin,
That I had been forsworn. Beshrew your eyes,
They have o'erlook'd me, and divided me;
One half of me is yours, the other half yours-
Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,

And so all yours !"
The short dialogue between the lovers is exquisite :-
Bassanio.

-Let me choose;
For, as I am, I live upon the rack.
Portia.—Upon the rack, Bassanio? Then confess

What treason there is mingled with your love.
Bassanio.-None, but that ugly treason of mistrust,

Which makes me fear the enjoying of my love;
There may as well be amity and life

'Tween snow and fire, as treason and my love.
Portia.—Ay! but I fear you speak upon the rack,

Where men enforced do speak any thing.
Bassanio.--Promise me life, and I'll confess the truth.

Portia.-Well, then, confess, and live.
Bassanio.

-Confess and love
Had been the very sum of my confession !
O happy torment, when my torturer

Doth teach me answers for deliverance !" A prominent feature in Portia's character is that confiding, buoyant spirit which mingles with all her thoughts and affections. And here let me observe, that I never yet met in real life, nor ever read in tale or history, of any woman distinguished for intellect of the highest order, who was not also remarkable for this trustingness of spirit, this hopefulness and cheerfulness of temper, which is compatible with the most serious habits of thought and the most profound sensibility. Lady Wortley Montagu was one instance; and Madame de Staël furnishes another much more memorable. In her Corinne, whom she drew from herself, this natural brightness of temper is a prominent part of the character. A disposition to doubt, to suspect, and to despond, in the young, argues, in general, some inherent weakness, moral or physical, or some miserable and radical error of education; in the old, it is one of the first symptoms of age; it speaks of the influence of sorrow and experience, and foreshows the decay of the stronger and more generous powers of the soul. Portia's strength of intellect takes a natural tinge from the flush and bloom of her young

and

prosperous existence, and from her fervid imagination. In the casket-scene, she fears indeed the issue of the trial, on which more than her life is hazarded; but while she trembles, her hope is stronger than her fear. While Bassanio is contemplating the caskets, she suffers herself to dwell for one moment on the possibility of disappointment and misery :

“Let music sound, while he doth make his choice;

Then if he lose, he makes a swan-like end;
Fading in music: that the comparison
May stand more proper, my eye shall be the stream

And watery death-bed for him.” Then immediately follows that revulsion of feeling so beautifully characteristic of the hopeful, trusting, mounting spirit of this noble creature :

“ But he may win!
And what is music then ?-then music is
Even as the flourish, when true subjects bow
To a new-crown'd monarch; such it is
As are those dulcet sounds in break of day,
That creep into the dreamy bridegroom's ear,
And summon him to marriage. Now he goes
With no less presence, but with much more lovo
Than young Alcides, when he did redeem
The virgin tribute paid by howling Troy

To the sea-monster. I stand for sacrifice.” Here, not only the feeling itself, born of the elastic and sanguine spirit which had never been touched by grief, but the images in which it comes arrayed to her fancy—the bridegroom waked by music on his wedding morn—the new-crowned monarch—the comparison of Bassanio to the young Alcides, and of herself to the daughter of Laomedon—are all precisely what would have suggested themselves to the fine poetical imagination of Portia in such a moment.

Her passionate exclamations of delight, when Bassanio has fixed on the right casket, are as strong as though she had despaired before. Fear and doubt she could repel; the native elasticity of her mind bore up against them; yet she makes us feel that, as the sudden joy overpowers her almost to fainting, the disappointment would as certainly have killed her :

“How all the other passions fleet to air,
As doubtful thoughts, and rash embraced despair,
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy!
O love! be moderate, allay thy ecstasy;
In measure rain thy jov, scant this excess;
I feel too much thy blessing; make it loss,

For fear I surfeit!" Her subsequent surrender of herself, in heart and soul, of her maiden freedom and her vast possessions, can never be read without deep emotion ; for not only all the tenderness and delicacy of a devoted woman are here blended with all the dignity which becomes the princely heiress of Belmont, but the serious, measured self-possession of her address to her lover, when all suspense is over and all concealment superfluous, is most beautifully consistent with the character. It is, in truth, an awful moment—that in which a gifted woman first discovers that, besides talents and powers, she has also passions and affections; when she first begins to suspect their vast importance in the sum of her existence; when she first confesses that her happiness is no longer in her own keeping, but is surrendered for ever and for ever into the dominion of another! The possession of uncommon powers of mind is so far from affording relief or resource in the first intoxicating surprise—I had almost said terror—of such a revolution, that they render it more intense. The sources of thought multiply beyond calculation the sources of feeling; and mingled, they rush together, a torrent deep as strong. Because Portia is endued with that enlarged comprehension which looks before and after, she does not feel the less, but the more; because, from the height of her commanding intellect she can contemplate the force, the tendency, the consequences of her own sentiments; because she is fully sensible of her own situation, and the value of all she concedes—the concession is not made with less entireness and devotion of heart, less confidence in the truth and worth of her lover, than when Juliet, in a similar moment, but without

any such intrusive reflections, any check but the instinctive delicacy of her sex, flings herself and her fortunes at the feet of her lover :

“And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay,

And follow thee, my lord, through all the world."! In Portia's confession, which is not breathed from a moonlit balcony, but spoken openly in the presence of her attendants and vassals, there is nothing of the passionate self-abandonment of Juliet, nor of the artless simplicity of Miranda, but a consciousness and a tender seriousness, approaching to solemnity, which are not less touching :

“You seo mo, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,
Such as I am: though, for myself alone,
I would not be ambitious in my wish,
To wish myself much better; yet, for you
I would be trebled twenty times myself;
A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times
More rich;
That only to stand high in your account,
I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,
Exceed account: but the full sum of me
Is sum of something; which, to term in gross,
Is an unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractised;
Happy in this, she is not yet so old

1 * Romeo and Juliet," Act ii. Scene 2.

But she may learn; and happier than this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
Happiest of all, in that her gentle spirit1
Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king.
Myself, and what is mine, to you and yours
Is now converted, But now I was the lord
Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,
Queen o'er myself; and even now, but now,
This house, these servants, and this same myself
Are yours, my lord."

BRYAN WALLER PROCTOR.

BRYAN W. Procton (better known under the assumed name of Barry Cornwall) is the author of the following works:

“ Dramatic Scenes and other Poems,” 12mo. “ English Songs and other Poems," 24mo. “ Flood of Thessaly and other Poems," 8vo. “ Marian Colman, an Italian Tale, and other Poems,” 12mo. Maneren Colow “ Sicilian Story,” &c., 12mo.

“If it be the peculiar province of poetry to give delight,” says Lord Jeffrey,2 “this author should rank very high among our poots; and in spite of his neglect of the terrible passions, he does rank very high in our estimation. He has a beautiful fancy and a beautiful diction, and a fine ear for the music of verse, and great tenderness and delicacy of feeling. He seems, moreover, to be altogether free from any tincture of bitterness, rancor, or jealousy; and never shocks us with atrocity, or stiffens us with horror, or confounds us with the dreadful sublimities of demoniacal energy. His soul, on the contrary, seems filled to overflowing with images of love and beauty, and gentle sorrows, and tender pity, and mild and holy resignation. The character of his poetry is to soothe and melt and delight; to make us kind and thoughtful and imaginative; to purge away tho dregs of our earthly passions by the refining fires of a pure imagination; and to lap us up from the eating cares of life, in visions so soft and bright as to sink like morning dreams on our senses, and at the same time so distinct, and truly fashioned upon the eternal patterns of nature, as to hold their place before our eyes long after they have again been opened on the dimmer scenes of the world.”

To this I would add the remarks of D, M. Moir: “If one of the surest tests of fine poetry—and I know no better-be that of impressing the heart and fancy, Barry Cornwall must rank high ; for there are few to whose pages the young and ardent reader would more frequently and fondly recur, or which so tenderly impress themselves on the tablets of memory.”

* This line is in accordance with the reading in the margin of the recently discovered folio of 1632, by J. P. Collier.

2 ** Edinburgh Review,” xxxiv. 49. Read, also, same, xxxiii. 144.

« AnteriorContinuar »