Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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member, was the proper parallel to Shakespeare among the ancient
tragedians: AEschylus - hear, O heaven, and give ear, O earth! - _AEschylus
was only a Marlowe_.

The hand which here transcribes this most transcendant utterance has
written before now many lines in verse and in prose to the honour and
glory of Christopher Marlowe: it has never - be the humble avowal thus
blushingly recorded - it has never set down as the writer's opinion that
he was only an AEschylus. In other words, it has never registered as my
deliberate and judicial verdict the finding that he was only the equal of
the greatest among all tragic and all prophetic poets; of the man who
combined all the light of the Greeks with all the fire of the Hebrews;
who varied at his will the revelation of the single gift of Isaiah with
the display of the mightiest among the manifold gifts of Shakespeare.


{30} Reprinted by Dr. Grosart in his beautiful and valuable edition of
Greene's works.

{33} One thing is certain: that damnable last scene at which the gorge
rises even to remember it is in execution as unlike the crudest phase of
Shakespeare's style as in conception it is unlike the idlest birth of his
spirit. Let us hope that so foul a thing could not have been done in
even tolerably good verse.

{42} It is not the least of Lord Macaulay's offences against art that he
should have contributed the temporary weight of his influence as a critic
to the support of so ignorant and absurd a tradition of criticism as that
which classes the great writer here mentioned with the brutal if "brawny"
Wycherley - a classification almost to be paralleled with that which in
the days of our fathers saw fit to couple together the names of Balzac
and of Sue. Any competent critic will always recognise in _The Way of
the World_ one of the glories, in _The Country Wife_ one of the
disgraces, of dramatic and of English literature. The stains discernible
on the masterpiece of Congreve are trivial and conventional; the mere
conception of the other man's work displays a mind so prurient and
leprous, uncovers such an unfathomable and unimaginable beastliness of
imagination, that in the present age at least he would probably have
figured as a virtuous journalist and professional rebuker of poetic vice
or artistic aberration.

{63} Since this passage first went to press, I have received from Dr.
Grosart the most happy news that he has procured a perfect copy of this
precious volume, and will shortly add it to his occasional issues of
golden waifs and strays forgotten by the ebb-tide of time. Not even the
disinterment of Robert Chester's "glorified" poem, with its appended
jewels of verse from Shakespeare's very hand and from others only less
great than Shakespeare's, all now at last reset in their strange original
framework, was a gift of greater price than this.

{89} Compare with Beaumont's admirable farce of Bessus the wretched
imitation of it attempted after his death in the _Nice Valour_ of
Fletcher; whose proper genius was neither for pure tragedy nor broad
farce, but for high comedy and heroic romance - a field of his own
invention; witness _Monsieur Thomas_ and _The Knight of Malta_: while
Beaumont has approved himself in tragedy all but the worthiest disciple
of Shakespeare, in farce beyond all comparison the aptest pupil of
Jonson. He could give us no _Fox_ or _Alchemist_; but the inventor of
Bessus and Calianax was worthy of the esteem and affection returned to
him by the creator of Morose and Rabbi Busy.

{92} A desperate attempt has been made to support the metrical argument
in favour of Fletcher's authorship by the production of a list in which
such words as _slavery, emperor, pitying, difference_, and even
_Christians_, were actually registered as trisyllabic terminations. To
such unimaginable shifts are critics of the finger-counting or syllabic
school inevitably and fatally reduced in the effort to establish by rule
of thumb even so much as may seem verifiable by that rule in the province
of poetical criticism. Prosody is at best no more than the skeleton of
verse, as verse is the body of poetry; while the gain of such painful
labourers in a field they know not how to till is not even a skeleton of
worthless or irrelevant fact, but the shadow of such a skeleton reflected
in water. It would seem that critics who hear only through their fingers
have not even fingers to hear with.

{108} "La dynastie du bon sens, inauguree dans Panurge, continuee dans
Sancho Panca, tourne a mal et avorte dans Falstaff." (_William
Shakespeare_, deuxieme partie, livre premier, ch. ii,)

{125} Possibly some readers may agree with my second thoughts, in
thinking that one exception may here be made and some surprise be here
expressed at Shakespeare's rejection of Sly's memorable query - "When will
the fool come again, Sim?" It is true that he could well afford to spare
it, as what could he not well afford to spare? but I will confess that it
seems to me worthy of a place among his own Sly's most admirable and
notable sallies of humour.

{129} _History of English Dramatic Poetry_, ed. 1879, vol. ii. pp.437-
447. In a later part of his noble and invaluable work (vol. iii. p.188)
the author quotes a passage from "the induction to _A Warning for Fair
Women_, 1599 (to which Shakespeare most assuredly contributed)." It will
be seen that I do not shrink from admitting the full weight of authority
which can be thrown into the scale against my own opinion. To such an
assertion from the insolent organs of pretentious ignorance I should be
content with the simple rejoinder that Shakespeare most assuredly did
nothing whatever of the sort; but to return such an answer in the present
case would be to write myself down - and that in company to which I should
most emphatically object - as something very decidedly more - and
worse - than an ass.

{137} Not for the first and probably not for the last time I turn, with
all confidence as with all reverence, for illustration and confirmation
of my own words, to the exquisite critical genius of a long honoured and
long lamented fellow-craftsman. The following admirable and final
estimate of the more special element or peculiar quality in the
intellectual force of Honore de Balzac could only have been taken by the
inevitable intuition and rendered by the subtlest eloquence of Charles
Baudelaire. Nothing could more aptly and perfectly illustrate the
distinction indicated in my text between unimaginative realism and
imaginative reality.

"I have many a time been astonished that to pass for an observer should
be Balzac's great popular title to fame. To me it had always seemed that
it was his chief merit to be a visionary, and a passionate visionary. All
his characters are gifted with the ardour of life which animated himself.
All his fictions are as deeply coloured as dreams. From the highest of
the aristocracy to the lowest of the mob, all the actors in his _Human
Comedy_ are keener after living, more active and cunning in their
struggles, more staunch in endurance of misfortune, more ravenous in
enjoyment, more angelic in devotion, than the comedy of the real world
shows them to us. In a word, every one in Balzac, down to the very
scullions, has genius. Every mind is a weapon loaded to the muzzle with
will. It is actually Balzac himself. And as all the beings of the outer
world presented themselves to his mind's eye in strong relief and with a
telling expression, he has given a convulsive action to his figures; he
has blackened their shadows and intensified their lights. Besides, his
prodigious love of detail, the outcome of an immoderate ambition to see
everything, to bring everything to sight, to guess everything, to make
others guess everything, obliged him to set down more forcibly the
principal lines, so as to preserve the perspective of the whole. He
reminds me sometimes of those etchers who are never satisfied with the
biting-in of their outlines, and transform into very ravines the main
scratches of the plate. From this astonishing natural disposition of
mind wonderful results have been produced. But this disposition is
generally defined as Balzac's great fault. More properly speaking, it is
exactly his great distinctive duality. But who can boast of being so
happily gifted, and of being able to apply a method which may permit him
to invest - and that with a sure hand - what is purely trivial with
splendour and imperial purple? Who can do this? Now, he who does not,
to speak the truth, does no great thing."

Nor was any very great thing done by the author of _A Warning for Fair

{141} I do not know or remember in the whole radiant range of
Elizabethan drama more than one parallel tribute to that paid in this
play by an English poet to the yet foreign art of painting, through the
eloquent mouth of this enthusiastic villain of genius, whom we might
regard as a more genuinely Titianic sort of Wainwright. The parallel
passage is that most lovely and fervid of all imaginative panegyrics on
this art, extracted by Lamb from the comedy of _Doctor Dodipoll_; which
saw the light or twilight of publication just eight years later than
_Arden of Feversham_.

{154} I remember to have somewhere at some time fallen in with some
remark by some commentator to some such effect as this: that it would be
somewhat difficult to excuse the unwomanly violence of this demand.
Doubtless it would. And doubtless it would be somewhat more than
difficult to extenuate the unmaidenly indelicacy of Jeanne Darc.

{179} What would at least be partly lust in another man is all but
purely hatred in Iago.

Now I do love her too:
Not out of absolute lust, (though, peradventure,
I stand accountant for as great a sin)
But partly led to diet my revenge.

For "partly" read "wholly," and for "peradventure" read "assuredly," and
the incarnate father of lies, made manifest in the flesh, here speaks all
but all the truth for once, to himself alone.

{205} I add the proof in a footnote, so as to take up no more than a
small necessary space of my text with the establishment of a fact which
yet can seem insignificant to no mortal who has a human ear for lyric
song. Shakespeare's verse, as all the wide world knows, ends thus:

But my kisses bring again,
bring again,
Seals of love, but sealed in vain,
sealed in vain.

The echo has been dropped by Fletcher, who has thus achieved the
remarkable musical feat of turning a nightingale's note into a sparrow's.
The mutilation of Philomela by the hands of Tereus was a jest compared to
the mutilation of Shakespeare by the hands of Fletcher: who thereby
reduced the close of the first verse into agreement if not into
accordance with the close of his own. This appended verse, as all the
world does not and need not know, ends thus:

But first set my poor heart free,
Bound in those icy chains by thee.

Even an earless owner of fingers enough to count on may by their help
convince himself of the difference in metre here. But not only does the
last line, with unsolicited and literally superfluous liberality, offer
us a syllable over measure; the words are such as absolutely to defy
antiphonal repetition or reverberation of the three last in either line.
Let us therefore, like good scriptural scholars, according equally to the
letter and the spirit of the text, render unto Fletcher the things which
be Fletcher's, and unto Shakespeare the things which be Shakespeare's.

{210} It is worth remark that in a still older sample of an older and
ruder form of play than can have been the very earliest mould in which
the pristine or pre-Shakespearean model of _Pericles_ was cast, the part
of Chorus here assigned to Gower was filled by a representative of his
fellow-poet Lydgate.

{217} Except perhaps one little word of due praise for the pretty
imitation or recollection of his dead friend Beaumont rather than of
Shakespeare, in the description of the crazed girl whose "careless
tresses a wreath of bullrush rounded" where she sat playing with flowers
for emblems at a game of love and sorrow - but liker in all else to
Bellario by another fountain-side than to Ophelia by the brook of death.

{220} On the 17th of September, 1864.

{232} The once too celebrated crime which in this play was exhibited on
the public stage with the forcible fidelity of a wellnigh brutal realism
took actual place on the private stage of fact in the year 1604. Four
years afterwards the play was published as Shakespeare's. Eight years
more, and Shakespeare was with AEschylus.

{237} Written in 1879.

{239} Capell has altered this to "proud perfumes"; marking the change in
a note, with the scrupulous honesty which would seem to have usually
distinguished him from more daring and more famous editors.

{245a} The feeble archaic inversion in this line is one among many small
signs which all together suffice, if not to throw back the date of this
play to the years immediately preceding the advent of Marlowe or the full
influence of his genius and example, yet certainly to mark it as an
instance of survival from that period of incomposite and inadequate
workmanship in verse.

{245b} Or than this play to a genuine work of Shakespeare's. "Brick to
coral" - these three words describe exactly the difference in tone and
shade of literary colour.

{246} Here for the first time we come upon a verse not unworthy of
Marlowe himself - a verse in spirit as in cadence recalling the deep
oceanic reverberations of his "mighty line," profound and just and simple
and single as a note of the music of the sea. But it would be hard if a
devout and studious disciple were never to catch one passing tone of his
master's habitual accent. - It may be worth while to observe that we find
here the same modulation of verse - common enough since then, but new to
the patient auditors of _Gorboduc_ and _Locrine_ - which we find in the
finest passage of Marlowe's imperfect play of _Dido_, completed by Nash
after the young Master's untimely death.

Why star'st thou in my face? If thou wilt stay,
Leap in my arms: mine arms are open wide:
If not - turn from me, and I'll turn from thee;
For though thou hast the power to say farewell,
I have not power to stay thee.

But we may look long in vain for the like of this passage, taken from the
crudest and feeblest work of Marlowe, in the wide and wordy expanse of
_King Edward III_.

{247} A pre-Shakespearean word of single occurrence in a single play of
Shakespeare's, and proper to the academic school of playwrights.

{248} _The First Part of Tamburlaine the Great_, Act v. Sc. ii.

{252} It may be worth a remark that the word _power_ is constantly used
as a dissyllable; another note of archaic debility or insufficiency in

{255} Yet another essentially non-Shakespearean word, though doubtless
once used by Shakespeare; this time a most ungraceful Gallicism.

{256} It may obviate any chance of mistake if I observe that here as
elsewhere, when I mention the name that is above every name in English
literature, I refer to the old Shakespeare, and not to "the new
Shakspere"; a _novus homo_ with whom I have no acquaintance, and with
whom (if we may judge of a great - or a little - unknown after the
appearance and the bearing of those who select him as a social sponsor
for themselves and their literary catechumens) I can most sincerely
assert that I desire to have none.

{261} Surely, for _sweet'st_ we should read _swift'st_.

{262a} This word occurs but once in Shakespeare's plays -

And speaking it, he wistly looked on me;

(_King Richard II_. Act v. Sc. 4.)

and in such a case, as in the previous instances of the words _invocate_
and _endamagement_, a mere [Greek text] can carry no weight of evidence
with it worth any student's consideration.

{262b} This form is used four times by Shakespeare as the equivalent of
Bretagne; once only, in one of his latest plays, as a synonym for

{263a} Another word indiscoverable in any genuine verse of
Shakespeare's, though not (I believe) unused on occasion by some among
the poets contemporary with his earlier years.

{263b} This word was perhaps unnecessarily altered by our good Capell to

{264a} Yet another and a singular misuse of a word never so used or
misused by Shakespeare.

{264b} Qu. Why, so is your desire: If that the law, etc.?

{264c} _Sic_. I should once have thought it impossible that any mortal
ear could endure the shock of this unspeakable and incomparable verse,
and find in the passage which contains it an echo or a trace of the
"music, wit, and oracle" of Shakespeare. But in those days I had yet to
learn what manner of ears are pricked up to listen "when rank Thersites
opes his mastiff jaws" in criticism of Homer or of Shakespeare. In a
corner of the preface to an edition of "Shakspere" which bears on its
title-page the name (correctly spelt) of Queen Victoria's youngest son
prefixed to the name I have just transcribed, a small pellet of dry dirt
was flung upwards at me from behind by the "able editor" thus irritably
impatient to figure in public as the volunteer valet or literary lackey
of Prince Leopold. Hence I gathered the edifying assurance that this
aspirant to the honours of literature in livery had been reminded of my
humbler attempts in literature without a livery by the congenial music of
certain four-footed fellow-critics and fellow-lodgers of his own in the
neighbourhood of Hampstead Heath. Especially and most naturally had
their native woodnotes wild recalled to the listening biped (whom partial
nature had so far distinguished from the herd) the deep astonishment and
the due disgust with which he had discovered the unintelligible fact that
to men so ignorant of music or the laws of music in verse as my
presumptuous and pitiable self the test of metrical harmony lay not in an
appeal to the fingers but only in an appeal to the ear - "the ear which
he" (that is, which the present writer) "makes so much of - AND WHICH
Shakespearean secret is out at last. Had I but known in time my lifelong
error in thinking that a capacity to estimate the refinements of word-
music was not to be gauged by length of ear, by hairiness of ear, or by
thickness of ear, but by delicacy of ear alone, I should as soon have
thought of measuring my own poor human organs against those of the
patriarch or leader of the herd as of questioning his indisputable right
to lay down the law to all who agree with his great fundamental
theorem - that the longest ear is the most competent to judge of metre.
_Habemus confitentem asinum_.

{266} A Latin pun, or rather a punning Latinism, not altogether out of
Shakespeare's earliest line. But see the note preceding this one.

{269} The simple substitution of the word "is" for the word "and" would
rectify the grammar here - were that worth while.

{270} Qu. So there is but one France, etc.?

{271} Non-Shakespearean.

{273} I choose for a parallel Shakespeare's use of Plutarch in the
composition of his Roman plays rather than his use of Hall and Holinshed
in the composition of his English histories, because Froissart is a model
more properly to be set against Plutarch than against Holinshed or Hall.

{278} This brilliant idea has since been borrowed from the Chairman - and
that without acknowledgment - by one of those worthies whose mission it is
to make manifest that no burlesque invention of mere man's device can
improve upon the inexhaustible capacities of Nature as shown in the
production and perfection of the type irreverently described by Dryden as
'God Almighty's fool.'

{279} This word was incomprehensibly misprinted in the first issue of
the Society's Report, where it appeared as "foulness." To prevent
misapprehension, the whole staff of printers was at once discharged.

{291} When the learned member made use of this remarkable phrase he
probably had in his mind the suggestive query of Agnes, _si les enfants
qu'on fait se faisaient pas l'oreille_? But the flower of rhetoric here
gathered was beyond the reach of Arnolphe's innocent ward. The
procreation in such a case is even more difficult for fancy to realise
than the conception.


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Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneA Study of Shakespeare → online text (page 17 of 17)