Imágenes de páginas

which the acting of Lear ever produced in me: but the Lear of Shakspeare cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery by which they mimic the storm which he goes out in, is not more inadequate to represent the horrors of the real elements, than any actor can be to represent Lear: they might more easily propose to personate the Satan of Milton upon a stage, or one of Michael Angelo's terrible figures. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimensions, but in intellectual ; the explosions of his passion are terrible as a volcano they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that sea, his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. This case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on—even as he himself neglects it. On the stage we see nothing but corporal infirmities and weakness, the impotence of rage; while we read it, we see not Lear, but we are Lear-we are in his mind - we are sustained by a grandeur which bafles the malice of daughters and storms; in the aberrations of his reason we discover a mighty irregular power of reasoning, immethodized from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers, as the wind blows where it listeth, at will upon the corruptions and abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones to do with that sublime identification of his age with that of the heavens themselves, when, in his reproaches to them for conniving at the injustice of his children, he reininds them that “they themselves are old ?” What gesture shall we appropriate to this ?—what has the voice or the eye to do with such things ? But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it show; it is too hard and stony-it must have love-scenes, and a happy ending. It is not enough that Cordelia is a daughter, she must shine as a lover too. Tate has put his hook in the nostrils of this Leviathan, for Garrick and his followers, the showmen of the scene, to draw the mighty beast about more easily. A happy ending !-as if the living martyrdom that Lear had gone through-the Aaying of his feelings alive-did not make a fair dismissal from the stage of life the only decorous thing for him. If he is to live and be happy after—if he could sustain this world's burden after-why all this pudder and preparation ?-why torment us with all this unnecessary sympathy ?-as if the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and sceptre again could tempt him to act over again his misused station-as if, at his years, and with his experience, anything was left but to die.'-Works (1818), vol. ii. p. 13.

The whole of this essay, and that “On the Artificial Comedy of the last Century,' in the first Elia, cannot be surpassed. Like the essay on the genius of Hogarth, which is now, we believe, in part at least, a constant accompaniment to every collection of Hogarth's prints, its practical excellence is such, that, when you have once read it

, you are inclined to wonder how you could ever have methodized your feelings and taste upon the subject without the light which it has imparted. It sets you right at once and for ever. One consequence of its pregnant brevity was that a swarm of imitators fastened upon it, sullying its purity and caricaturing its manner,—writers who added nothing to what Lamb had shortly yet adequately done, but who materially injured his fame by being vulgarly associated with him ; and whose showy, disproportioned, rhapsodical essays upon Shakspeare and the contemporary dramatists, disgusted all persons of sound judgment, and went very far to bury again under a prejudice what their discriminating leader had but newly recovered from oblivion. We have been more earnest in bringing forward, in the prominent light which they deserve, Lamb's merits as a critic and restorer of much of our most valuable old literature, not only to vindicate them from a derogatory association, but because they have been greatly overlooked in the more general popularity which attended and will, we predict, constantly attend the miscellaneous essays of Elia. From the same cause, and in more than an equal degree, his poetry, exquisite as much of it is, is really almost entirely forgotten; in fact, nocuit sibi,-just as the transcendant popularity of Waverley, Guy Mannering, and Old Mortality made the world almost lose sight for a time of the splendid chivalry, the minstrel ease, the Homeric liveliness of the Lady of the Lake, the Lay, and of Marmion. Lamb's poems are comparatively few in number and inconsiderable in length; but in our deliberate judgment there are amongst them some pieces as near perfection in their kinds as anything in our literature,-specimens of exceeding artifice and felicily in rhythm, metre, and diction. His poetic vein was, we think, scanty, and perhaps he exhausted it; he was not what is called great, yet was,



We may make such a distinction, eminent. He has a small, well-situated parterre on Parnassus, belonging exclusively to himself. He is not amongst the highest, but then he is alone and aloof from all others. We cite the following piece, though it may perchance not please all palates, as an instance of the very peculiar power of which the seven-syllable line, --so well used by George Wither, and sometimes by Ambrose Philips, though branded as namby-pamby by Pope and Swift,-is capable. It is, we conceive, the metre in which the most continuity of thought and feeling can be expressed in our language :

May the Babylonish curse

The plain truth will seem to be
Straight confound my stammering verse A constrained hyperbole,
If I can a passage see

And the passion to proceed
In this word-perplexity,

More from a mistress than a weed.
Or a fit expression find,
Or a language to my mind,

Sooty retainer to the vine,
(Still the phrase is wide or scant) Bacchus' black servant, negro fine ;
To take leave of thee, Great PLANT; Sorcerer, that mak'st us dote upon
Or in any terms relate

Thy begrimed complexion, Half my love or half my hate :

And, for thy pernicivus sake, For I hate, yet love, thee so,

More and greater oaths to break That, whichever thing I show,

Than reclaimed lovers take



'Gainst women :- thou thy siege dost lay
Much, too, in the female way,
Whilst thou suck'st the lab'ring breath
Faster than kisses or than death,
Thou in such a cloud dost bind us,
That our worst foes cannot find us,
And ill fortune, that would thwart us,
Shoots at rovers, shcoting at us;
While each man, thro' thy heightning

Does like a smoking Etna seem,
And all about us does express
(Fancy and wit in richest dress)
A Sicilian fruitfulness.
Thou through such a mist dost show us,
That our best friends do not know us ;
And for those allowed features,
Due to reasonable creatures,
Liken'st us to fell Chimeras,
Monsters that, who see us, fear us;
Worse than Cerberus or Geryon,
Or, who first lov'd a cloud, Ixion.
Bacchus we know, and we allow
His tipsy rites. But what art thou,
That but by reflex canst show
What his deity can do,
As the false Egyptian spell
Aped the true Hebrew miracle?
Some few vapours thou may'st raise,
The weak brain may serve to amaze,
But to the veins and nobler heart
Canst nor life nor heat impart.
Brother of Bacchus, later born,
The old world was sure forlorn,
Wanting thee, that aidest more
The god's victories than before
All his panthers, and the brawls
Of his piping Bacchanals.
These, as stale, we disallow,
Or judge of thee meant : only thou
His true Indian conquest art ;
And for ivy round his dart,
The reformed god now weaves
A finer thyrsus of thy leaves.
Scent to match thy rich perfume
Chemic art did ne'er presume
Through her quaint alembic strain,
None so sovereign to the brain.
Nature, that did in thee excel,
Framed again no second smell;
Roses, violets, but toys
For the smaller sort of boys,
Or for greener damsels meant;
Thou art the only manly scent.
Stinking'st of the stinking kind,
Filth of the mouth and fog of the mind,
Africa, that brags her foyson,
Breeds no such prodigious poison,

Henbane, nightshade, both together,
Hemlock, aconite-

Nay, rather,
Plant divine, of rarest virtue;
Blisters on the tongue would hurt you !
'T was but in a sort I blamed thee;
None e'er prosper'd who defamed thee;
Irony all and feign'd abuse,
Such as perplex'd lovers use,
At a need, when, in despair
To paint forth their fairest fair,
Or in part but to express
That exceeding comeliness
Which their fancies does so strike,
They borrow language of dislike;
And instead of Dearest Miss,
Jewel, Honey, Sweetheart, Bliss,
And those forms of old adıniring,
Call her Cockatrice, and Siren,
Basilisk, and all that's evil,
Witch, Hyena, Mermaid, Devil,
Ethiop Wench, and Blackamoor,
Monkey, Ape, and twenty more ;
Friendly Trait'ress, loving Foe,
Not that she is truly so,
But no other way they know
A contentment to express
Borders so upon excess,
That they do not rightly wot
Whether it be pain or not.
Or, as men, constrain d to part
With what's nearest to their heart,
While their sorrow 's at the height,
Lose discrimination quite,
And their hasty wrath let fall
To appease their frantic gall,
On the darling thing whatever,
Whence they feel it death to sever,
Though it be, as they, perforce,
Guiltless of the sad divorce.
For I must (nor let it grieve thee,
Friendliest of plants, that I must) leave

For thy sake, TOBACCO, I
Would do anything but die,
And but seek to extend my days
Long enough to sing thy praise.
But, as she, who once hath been
A king's consort, is a queen
Ever after, nor will bate
Any tittle of her state,
Though a widow, or divorced, -
So I, from thy converse forced,
The old name and style retain,
A right Catherine of Spain;
And a seat, too, 'mongst the joys
Of the blest Tobacco Boys;
Where, though I, by sour physician,
Am debarr'd the full fruition


Of thy favours, I may catch

And still live in the by-places Some collateral sweets, and snatch And the suburbs of thy graces; Sidelong odours, that give life

And in thy borders take delight, Like glances from a neighbour's wife; An unconquer'd Canaanite.? —

Works, vol.i. p.32. To pass to things in a very different strain-his Sonnet · On the Family Name' is another great favourite of ours :

• What reason first imposed thee, gentle name,-
Name that my father bore, and his sire's sire,
Without reproach? we trace our stream no higher ;
And I, a childless man, may end the same.
Perchance some shepherd on Lincolnian plains,
In manners guileless as his own sweet flocks,
Received thee first amid the merry mocks
And arch allusions of his fellow swains.
Perchance from Salem's holier fields return'd,
With glory gotten on the heads abhorr'd
Of faithless Saracens, some martial lord
Took his meek title, in whose zeal he burn'd.
Whate'er the fount whence thy beginnings came,

No deed of mine shall shame thee, gentle name.'-ib. p. 65. We are sensible how largely we have filled our pages


quotations ; but our object is to do justice to Lamb, and to put those of our readers,—and we fear there are many,--to whom Lamb's writings generally are unknown, in possession of specimens of his genius which may speak for themselves. The following beautiful lines must please every one :

The cheerful sabbath bells, wherever heard,
Strike pleasant on the sense, most like the voice
Of one, who from the far-off hills proclaims
Tidings of good to Zion: chiefly when
Their piercing tones fall sudden on the ear
Of the contemplant, solitary man,
Whom thoughts abstruse or bigh have chanced to lure
Forth from the walks of men, revolving oft,
And oft again, hard matter, which eludes
And bafiles his pursuit—thought-sick and tired
Of controversy, where no end appears,
No clue to his research, the lonely man
Half wishes for society again.
Him, thus engaged, the sabbath bells salute
Sudden! his heart awakes, his ears drink in
The cheering music; his relenting soul
Yearns after all the joys of social life,
And softens with the love of human kind.'-ibid.


74. Of equal, or even greater beauty are the lines On an Infant Dying as soon as Born ;'—but we can only venture to place before our readers two sonnets pre-eminently characteristic of Charles


Lamb, and condensing in little the feelings and aspirations sctatered throughout almost all his works, and especially his most charming essays in Elia. We commend the perusal, with our best wishes, to the Utilitarians of England and America :

• Who first invented Work, and bound the free
And holiday-rejoicing spirit down
To the ever-haunting importunity
Of business in the green fields, and the town-
To plough, loom, anvil, spade--and oh ! most sad,
To that dry drudgery at the desk's dead wood ?--
Who but the Being un blest, alien from good,
Sabbathless Satan! he who his unglad
Task ever plies ʼmid rotatory burnings,
That round and round incalculably reel-
For wrath divine hath made him like a wheel-
In that red realm from which are no returnings ;
Where toiling, and turmoiling, ever and aye,
He, and his thoughts, keep pensive working-day.'

• They talk of time, and of time's galling yoke,
That like a mill-stone on man's mind doth press,
Which only works and business can redress:
Of divine Leisure such foul lies are spoke,
Wounding her fair gifts with calumnious stroke.
But might I, fed with silent meditation,
Assoiled live from that fiend Occupation-
Improbus labor, which hath my spirit broke-
I'd drink of time's rich cup, and never surfeit;
Fling in more days than went to make the gem
That crown'd the white top of Methusalem ;-
Yea, on my weak neck take, and never forfeit,
Like Atlas bearing up the dainty sky,

The heaven-sweet burthen of eternity.' * Deus nobis hæc otia fecit,'—he adds, after he had retired from his labours in the India-Hlouse.

Now let the reader, curious in the characteristics of oddity and genius, turn to the essay on the Superannuated Man' in the second Elia. Hear a little of the old Clerk's account of himself shortly after his liberation :

• A fortnight has passed since the date of my first communication. At that period I was approaching to tranquillity, but had not reached it. I boasted of a calm indeed, but it was comparative only. Something of the first flutter was left; an unsettling sense of novelty ; the dazzie to weak eyes of unaccustomed light. I missed my old chains, forsooth, as if they had been some necessary part of my apparel. I was a poor Carthusian, from strict cellular discipline suddenly, by some revolution, returned upon the world. I am now, as if I had never


« AnteriorContinuar »