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I have received a great deal of pleasure from some of the modern novels, especially Captain Marryat's “Peter Simple." * That book is nearer Smollett than any I remember. And 6 Tom Cringle's Log" in Blackwood is also most excellent.
March 15. 1834.
CHAUCER. - SHAKSPEARE.— BEN JONSON.
- BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.-DANIEL. - MASSINGER.
I TAKE unceasing delight in Chaucer. His manly cheerfulness is especially delicious to me in my old age. + How exquisitely tender
* Mr. Coleridge said, he thought this novel would have lost nothing in energy if the author had been more frugal in his swearing. — ED.
+ Eighteen years before, Mr. Coleridge entertained the same feelings towards Chaucer :-" Through all the works of Chaucer there reigns a cheerfulness, a manly hilarity, which makes it almost impossible to doubt a correspondent habit of feeling in the author himself.” B. Lit, vol, i, p. 32. -- Ed.
he is, and yet how perfectly free from the least touch of sickly melancholy or morbid drooping! The sympathy of the poet with the subjects of his poetry is particularly remarkable in Shakspeare and Chaucer ; but what the first effects by a strong act of imagination and mental metamorphosis, the last does without any effort, merely by the inborn kindly joyousness of his nature. How well we seem to know Chaucer ! How absolutely nothing do we know of Shakspeare !
I cannot in the least allow any necessity for Chaucer's poetry, especially the Canterbury Tales, being considered obsolete. Let a few plain rules be given for sounding the final è of syllables, and for expressing the termination of such words as océan, and natiön, &c. as dissyllables, — or let the syllables to be sounded in such cases be marked by a competent metrist. This simple expedient would, with a very few trifling exceptions, where the errors are inveterate, enable any reader to feel the perfect smoothness and harmony of Chaucer's verse. As to understanding his language, if you read twenty pages with a good glossary, you surely can find no further difficulty, even as it is; but I should have no objection to see this done: — Strike out those words which are now obsolete, and I will venture to say that I will replace every one of them by words still in use out of Chaucer himself, or Gower his disciple. I don't want this myself: I rather like to see the significant terms which Chaucer unsuccessfully offered as candidates for admission into our language; but surely so very slight a change of the text may well be pardoned, even by black-letterati, for the purpose of restoring so great a poet to his ancient and most deserved popularity.
Shakspeare is of no age. It is idle to endeavour to support his phrases by quotations from Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, &c. His language is entirely his own, and the younger dramatists imitated him. The construction of Shakspeare's sentences, whether in verse or prose, is the necessary and homogeneous vehicle of his peculiar manner of thinking. His is not the style of the age. More particularly, Shakspeare's blank verse is an absolutely new creation. Read Daniel * - the admirable Daniel—in his “Civil Wars,” and “Triumphs of Hymen.” The style and language are just such as any very pure and manly writer of the present day — Wordsworth, for example — would use; it seems quite modern in comparison with the style of Shakspeare. Ben Jonson's blank verse is very masterly and individual, and perhaps Massinger's is even
* “ This poet's well-merited epithet is that of the ' well-languaged Daniel ; ' but, likewise, and by the consent of his contemporaries, no less than of all succeeding critics, the prosaic Daniel.' Yet those who thus designate this wise and amiable writer, from the frequent incorrespondency of his diction with his metre, in the majority of his compositions, not only deem them valuable and interesting on other accounts, but willingly admit that there are to be found throughout his poems, and especially in his Epistles and in his Hymen's Triumph, many and exquisite specimens of that style, which, as the neutral ground of prose and verse, is common to both.” — Biog. Lit., vol. ij. p. 82.
still nobler. In Beaumont and Fletcher it is constantly slipping into lyricisms.
I believe Shakspeare was not a whit more intelligible in his own day than he is now to an educated man, except for a few local allusions of no consequence. As I said, he is of no age — nor, I may add, of any religion, or party, or profession. The body and substance of his works came out of the unfathomable depths of his own oceanic mind: his observation and reading, which was considerable, supplied him with the drapery of his figures. *
As for editing Beaumont and Fletcher, the task would be one immensi laboris. The
* Mr. Coleridge called Shakspeare “ the myriadminded man,” ävne uvplovoős — “a phrase,” said he, “ which I have borrowed from a Greek monk, who applies it to a patriarch of Constantinople. I might have said, that I have reclaimed, rather than borrowed it, for it seems to belong to Shakspeare de jure singulari, et ex privilegio naturæ.” See Biog. Lit. vol. ii. p. 13. I have sometimes thought that Mr. C. himself had no inconsiderable claim to the same appellation. -ED.