Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

duced an effect on his mind, only as they could be translated into the language of ineasured prose. To him an excess of beauty was a fault; for it appeared to him like an excrescence; and his imagination was dazzled by the blaze of light. His writings neither shone with the beams of native genius, nor reflected them. The shifting shapes of fancy, the rainbow hues of things, made no impression on him: he seized only on the permanent and tangible. He had no idea of natural objects but “such as he could measure with a two-foot rule, or tell upon ten fin. gers :" he judged of human nature in the same way, by mood and figure: he saw only the definite, the positive, and the practical, the average forms of things, not their striking differences, their classes, not their degrees. He was a man of strong common sense and practical wisdom, rather than of genius and feeling. He retained the regular, habitual impressions of actual objects, but he could not follow the rapid flights of fancy, or the strong movements of passion. That is, he was to the poet what the painter of still life is to the painter of historý. Common sense sympathizes with the impressions of things on ordinary minds in ordinary circumstances: genius catches the glancing combinations presented to the eye of fancy, under the influence of passion. It is the province of the didactick reasoner to take cognizance of those

results of human nature which are constantly repeated and always the same, which follow one another in regular succession, which are acted upon by large classes of men, and embodied in received customs, laws, language, and institutions; and it was in arranging, comparing, and arguing on these kinds of general results, that Johnson's excellence lay. But he could not quit his hold of the cominon place and mechanical, and apply the general rule to the particular exception, or shew how the nature of man was modified by the workings of passion, or the infinite fluctuations of thought and accident. Hence he could judge neither of the heights nor depths of poetry. Nor is this all; for being conscious of great powers in himself, and those powers of an adverse tendency to those of his author, he would be for setting up a foreign jurisdiction over poetry, and making criticism a kind of Procrustes' bed of genius, where he might cut down imagination to matter of fact, regulate the passions according to reason, and translate the whole into logical diagrams and rhetorical declamation. Thus he says of Shakspeare's characters, in contradiction to what Pope had observed, and to what every one else feels, that each character is a species instead of being an individual. He in fact found the general species or didactick form in Sbakspeare's characters, which was all he sought or cared for; he

did not find the individual traits, or the dramatick distinctions which Shakspeare has engrafted on this general nature, because he felt no interest in them. Shakspeare's bold and happy flights of imagination were equally thrown away upon our author. He was not only without any particular fineness of organick sensibility, alive to all the “mighty world of ear and eye,” which is necessary to the painter or musician, but without that intenseness of passion which, seeking to exaggerate whatever excites the feelings of pleasure or power in the mind, and moulding the impressions of natural objects according to the impulses of imagination, produces a genius and a taste for poetry. According to Dr. Johnson, a mountain is sublime, or a rose is beautiful; for that their name and definition imply. But he would no more be able to give the description of Dover cliff in Lear, or the description of flowers in The Winter's Tale, than to describe the objects of a sixth sense ; nor do we think he would have any very profound feeling of the beauty of the passages here referred to. A stately common place, such as Congreve's description of a ruin in the Mourning Bride, would have answered Johnson's purpose just as well, or better than the first; and an indiscriminate profusion of scents and hues would have interfered less with the ordinary

routine of his imagination than Perdita's lines, which seem enamoured of their own sweet

ness

" Daffodils
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty ; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
Or Cytherea's breath."-

No one who does not feel the passion which these objects inspire can go along with the imagination which seeks to express that passion and the uneasy sense of delight by something still more beautiful, and no one can feel this passionate love of nature without quick natural sensibility. To a mere literal and formal apprehension, the inimitably characteristick epithet, “ violets dim,” must seem to imply a defect, rather than a beauty; and to any one, not feeling the full force of that epithet, which suggests an image like “ the sleepy eye of love," the allusion to “ the lids of Juno's eyes” must appear extravagant and unmeaning. Shakspeare's fancy lent words and images to the most refined sensibility to nature, struggling for expression : his descriptions are identical with the things themselves, seen through the fine medium of passion : strip them of that connexion, and try them by ordinary conceptions and ordinary rules, and they are as grotesque and barbarous as

you please. By thus lowering Shakspeare's genius to the standard of common place invention, it was easy to shew that his faults were as great as his beauties: for the excellence, which consists merely in a conformity to rules, is counterbalanced by the technical violation of tbem. Another circumstance which led to Dr. Johnson's indiscriminate praise or censure of Shakspeare, is the very structure of his style. Johnson wrote a kind of rhyming prose, in which he was compelled as much to finish the different clauses of his sentences, and to balance one period against another, as the writer of heroick verse is to keep to lines of ten syllables with similar terminations. He no sooner acknowledges the merits of his author in one line than tbe periodical revolution of his style carries the weight of his opinion completely over to the side of objection, thus keeping up a perpetual alternation of perfections and absurdities. We do not otherwise know how to account for such assertions as the following:-" In his tragick scenes, there is always something wanting, but his comedy often -surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and bis tragedy, for the greater part, by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct." Yet after saying that “ his tragedy was skill," he affirms in the next

« AnteriorContinuar »