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Heart and spirit he instinctively kept for his verse ; and for admittance to his privacy we must go thither. In that wide and flowery region he wandered without fear or shy restraint. Fancy there opened its gates to him freely and largely; and he trod its precincts as a master. We view him in it as he would, we may be sure, have most desired to be seen-as he most really was. It is a pleasant sight :consoling, also in the lurid light of after miseries—bereavement, penury, hunger, despair—too probable in the general outline, though coloured perhaps by posthumous pity and shame. At all events, the creator of The Faerie Queene, the Epithalamion, Colin Clout, cannot but have dreamt, in numberless waking hours, a host of happy visions.
The Works of Edmund Spenser, ed. Rev. H. J. Todd, Archdeacon of Cleveland E. Moxon, 1845.
1 The Faerie Queene, Book II, Canto xii, st. 23.
Epithalamion, vv. 74–91. 6 Amoretti, or Sonnets, No. 64. ? An Hymne in Honour of Beautie, vv. 99-112. 8 Amoretti, or Sonnets, No. 69.
9 Ibid., No. 68. 10 The Faerie Queene, Book II, Canto xii, st. 71. 11 Prothalamion, vv. 11-15.
12 Ibid., vv. 127-31. 13 The Faerie Queene, Book IV, Canto xi, st. 34. 14 Colin Clout 's Come Home Againe, vv. 58–9. 15 The Ruines of Time, vv. 281--7. 16 Colin, &c., yv. 61-2 and 69-71
SHAKESPEARE, the poet of the Plays, and Shakespeare, the poet of the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, and Lucrecehow is it possible that the two should have shared one mind !
In the dramas he is open, clear, direct, reckless with method, natural. The wondrous mixture of high and low, the variety-cloud and sunshine—the abundance of words, not one too many, the touches transmuting into gold the
ad of the stories, which, after the fashion of his period, he preferred improving to inventing, the single illuminating sentences, the adorable simplicity, thought as wide as it is deep! Never was writer more impersonal, less, apparently, capable of egotism. It does not seem to have occurred to him to blot or polish. Nowhere are there serpentine writhings, and knot-tyings of wit. How, it might be thought, must the Euphuists have deplored the waste of opportunities by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark !
He is a grand moralist without affectation of austerity: Occasional coarsenesses are never in the grain. No playwright has ever framed finer or more honest models of family life. He enables us to picture to ourselves struggling human nature; common, not vulgar, and without the prosaic hardness of reality. He probes hearts, as no professed philosopher ever could. And the intelligibility of it all! Its transparent, absolute plainness to average minds—its infinite suggestiveness, its mysteries, to the metaphysician ! Contemporaries found the successive tragedies and comedies entirely of their own time. For each subsequent generation
they have been as unaffectedly modern. The secret has been neither mere nature, nor mere art. Mainly it has lain from age to age in a continuing collaboration between author and public. His public has been prompting him for more than three centuries, and he it. He and it have been breathing the same air, been impelled by the same emotions.
As remarkable are the Songs. Elizabethan lyrics have a trick, happily not invariable in them, of ingenuity and artifice. Shakespeare's,, unless, perhaps, in Love's Labour Lost, shook themselves free. They grow without an effort out of the action, spirit, and character. Up they start, wild spring flowers, wherever we set our feet. All show a delicious naïveté, a bird-like liberty. Take as instances the Fairy's air in A Midsummer Night's Dream :
I serve the fairy queen,
In those freckles live their savours ;
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear;
Who is Silvia ? What is she,
That all our swains commend her ?
The heavens such grace did lend her,
That she might admired be ; 2 Balthasar's song in Much Ado About Nothing :
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more ;
Men were deceivers ever ;
To one thing constant never ; &
that of Amiens in As You Like It :
Under the greenwood tree,
Who loves to lie with me,
Unto the sweet bird's throat,
Here shall he see
But winter and rough weather ; the boy's song, though the authorship is less certain, in Measure for Measure :
Take, O take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn ;
Lights that do mislead the morn :
my kisses bring again, bring again ;
Seals of love, but sealed in vain, sealed in vain ; 5 the air-music in The Tempest :
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands ; 6 Ariel's farewell to serfdom :
Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie ;
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough ;? and the serenade in Cymbeline :
Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,
And Phoebus 'gins arise,
On chaliced flowers that lies ;
To ope their golden eyes ;
Arise, arise ! 8
The grace and daintiness are wonderful. The variety would be yet more amazing were it not become to us a matter of course that each song should accord with its environings. In the whole range of English poetry nothing produces a fuller sense of the joy of life, the breadth of life, its completeness, than the whole lovely company. My trouble is that, while I labour to praise, and am sensible that I cannot enough, I feel I am a trespasser on the Plays, and, after a sort, utterly beside the mark. The songs do not ask, and indeed scarcely suffer, eulogies on their poetical perfection. Those airy lyrics are not rightly to be viewed as aught in themselves. They just are effluences, native emanations from the movement of the dramas on which they bloom, with less substance than a blossom, with no more of tangibility than the blossom's fragrance. Strictly, as I am well aware, I ought not to have been picking and choosing at all, and certainly not with a view to intrinsic beauty. Catches like,
Joan doth keel the pot,
'Tis merry in hall when beards wag all, are as opportune where they occur as Ariel's carollings. The only plea I can offer in extenuation is, that, for the present purpose, my concern is with Shakespeare the Poet, not with Shakespeare the Dramatist.
While he was shedding, fast and carelessly, these double miracles, the Plays and their Songs, he must have been dreaming over his Lucrece, his Venus and Adonis, and his Sonnets. Throughout them, if especially in the Sonnets, he is recondite, introspective, demonstratively subtle, selfconscious, sensitively, sensuously, eager to call attention to his personal feelings and idiosyncrasies, scrupulous