Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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He knew that place and power do not give happiness ;
that the crowned are subject as the lowest to fate and

" For within the hollow crown,
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps death his court ; and there the antick sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp ;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable ; and, humor'd thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!"

6 5 8


So, too, he knew that gold could not bring joy; that
death and misfortune come alike to rich and poor, be-
cause :

"If thou art rich, thou'rt poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee."

In some of his philosophy there was a kind of scorn, a
hidden meaning that could not in his day and time have
safely been expressed. You will remember that Laertes
was about to kill the king, and this king was the murderer
of his own brother, and sat upon the throne by reason of
his crime. In the mouth of such a king Shakespeare puts
these words:

"There's such divinity doth hedge a king."

So in " Macbeth " :

" How he solicits Heaven

Heaven best knows : but strangely visited people,
All swollen and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despairs of surgery, he cures ;
Hanging a golden stamp about their necks.
Put on with holy prayers : and 'tis spoken,
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction. With this strange virtue,
He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy,
And sundry blessings hang about his throne,
That speak him full of grace."

Shakespeare was the master of the human heart ; knew
all the hopes, fears, ambitions, and passions that sway the
mind of man ; and thus knowing, he declared that

" Love is not love that alters
When it alteration finds."

This is the sublimest declaration in the literature of the

Shakespeare seems to give the generalization, the re-
sult, without the process of thought. He seems always to
be at the conclusion ; standing where all truths meet.


In one of the Sonnets is this fragment of a line that
contains the highest possible truth :

" Conscience is born of love."

If man were incapable of suffering, the words right and
wrong never could have been spoken. If man were desti-
tute of imagination, the flower of pity never could have
blossomed in his heart.

We suffer; we cause others to suffer those that we
love and of this fact conscience is born.

Love is the many-colored flame that makes the fireside
of the heart. It is the mingled spring and autumn the
perfect climate of the soul.

In the realm of comparison Shakespeare seems to have
exhausted the relations, parallels, and similitudes of
things. He only could have said:

" Tedious as a twice-told tale
Vexing the ears of a drowsy man."

" Duller than a great thaw."

" Dry as the remainder biscuit
After a voyage."

In the words of Ulysses, spoken to Achilles, we find the
most wonderful collection of pictures and comparisons
ever compressed within the same number of lines :

"Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes :
Those scraps are good deeds passed ; which are devour'd
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
As done. Perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honor bright : to have done, is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mockery. Take the instant way ;
For honor travels in a strait so narrow,
Where one but goes abreast: keep, then, the path,
For emulation hath a thousand sons,
That one by one pursue : if you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forthright,


Like to an enter'd tide, they all rush by,

And leave you hindmost ;

Or, like a gallant horse fallen in first rank,

Lie there for pavement to the abject rear,

O'er-run and trampled on. Then, what they do in present,

Tho' less than yours in pa?t, must o'ertop yours ;

For Time is like a fashionable host,

That slightly shakes his parting guest by th' hand,

And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly,

Grasps in the comer : welcome ever smiles,

And Farewell goes out sighing."

So the words of Cleopatra, when Charmain speaks :

" Peace, peace !

Dost thou not see my baby at my breast
That sucks the nurse asleep? "

Nothing is more difficult than a definition a crystalli-
zation of thought so perfect that it emits light. Shake-
speare says of suicide :

"It is great

To do that thing that ends all other deeds ;
Which shackles accident, and bolts up change."

He demies drama to be :

" Turning th' accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass."

Of death :

" To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot,
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod."

Of memory :

" The warder of the brain."

Of the body:

"This muddy vesture of decay."


And he declares that

"Our little life is rounded with a sleep."

He speaks of Echo as

"The babbling gossip of the air"

Romeo, addressing the poison that he is about to take.

says :

"Come, bitter conduct, come unsavory guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick, weary bark ! "

He describes the world as

"This bank and shoal of time."

He says:

"Rumor doth double, like the voice and echo."

It would take days to call attention to the perfect
definitions, comparisons, and generalizations of Shake-
speare. He gave us the deeper meanings of our words ;
taught us the art of speech. He was the lord of language,
master of expression and compression. He put the great-
est thoughts into the shortest words ; made the poor rich
and the common royal.

Production enriched his brain. Nothing exhausted
him. The moment his attention was called to any subject
comparisons, definitions, metaphors, and generalizations
filled his mind and begged for utterance. His thoughts
like bees robbed every blossom in the world, and then
with " merry march " brought the rich booty home " to
the tent royal of their emperor."

Shakespeare was the confidant of Nature. To him she
opened her " infinite book of secrecy," and in his brain
were " the hatch and brood of time."

There is in Shakespeare the mingling of laughter and
tears, humor and pathos. Humor is the rose, wit the
thorn. Wit is a crystallization, humor an efflorescence.
Wit comes from the brain, humor from the heart. Wit is
the lightning of the soul.


In Shakespeare's nature was the climate of humor. He
saw and felt the sunny side even of the saddest things.
" You have seen sunshine and rain at once." So Shake-
speare's tears fell oft upon his smiles. In moments of
peril, in the very darkness of death, there comes a touch
of humor that falls like a fleck of sunshine.

Gonzalo, when the ship is about to sink, having seen
the boatswain, exclaims :

" I have great comfort from this fellow : methinks, he hath no
drowning mark upon him ; his complexion is perfect gallows."

Shakespeare is filled with the strange contrasts of grief
and laughter. While poor Hero is supposed to be dead,
wrapped in the shroud of dishonor, Dogberry and Verges
unconsciously put again the wedding-wreath upon her
pure brow.

The soliloquy of Launcelot, great as Hamlet's, offsets
the bitter and burning words of Shylock.

There is no time to speak of Maria in " Twelfth Night,"
of Autolycus in the " Winter's Tale," of the parallel
drawn by Fluellen between Alexander of Macedon and
Harry of Monmouth, or of the marvelous humor of Fal-
staff, who never had the faintest thought of right or
wrong or of Mercutio, that embodiment of wit and
humor or of the grave-diggers who lamented that
"great folk should have countenance in this world to
drown and hang themselves, more than their even
Christian," and who reached the generalization that " the
gallows does well because it does well to those who do

There is also an example of grim humor an example
without a parallel in literature, so far as I know. Hamlet
having killed Polonius is asked :

"Where's Polonius?"

"At supper."

"At supper! where?"

"Not where he eats, but where he is eaten."

Above all others, Shakespeare appreciated the pathos
of situation.


Nothing is more pathetic than the last scene in " Lear."
No one has ever bent above his dead who did not feel the
words uttered by the mad king, words born of a despair
deeper than tears:

"Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all?"

So lago, after he has been wounded, says :

" I bleed, sir ; but not killed."

And Othello answers from the wreck and shattered
remnant 'of his life :

"I'd have thee live;
For, in my sense, 'tis happiness to die."

When Trolius finds Cressida has been false, he cries :

" Let it not be believ'd for womanhood !
Think we had mothers."

Ophelia, in her madness, " the sweet bells jangled out
o' tune," says softly:

"I would give you some violets; but they withered all when my
father died."

When Macbeth has reaped the harvest, the seeds of
which were sown by his murderous hand, he exclaims,
and what could be more pitful?

"I 'gin to be aweary of the sun."

Richard II feels how small a thing it is to be, or to
have been, a king, or to receive honors before or after
power is lost; and so, of those who stood uncovered
before him, he asks this piteous question :

" I live with bread like you ; feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king?"


Think of the salutation of Antony to the dead Caesar :

"Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth."

When Pisanio informs Imogen that he had been
ordered by Posthumus to murder her, she bares her neck
and cries :

"The lamb entreats the butcher : Where is thy knife?
Thou art too slow to do thy master's bidding
When I desire it."

Antony, as the last drops are falling from his self-
inflicted wound, utters with his dying breath to Cleopatra,
this :

" I here importune death awhile, until
Of many thousand kisses the poor last
I lay upon thy lips."

To me, the last words of Hamlet are full of pathos :

" O, I die, Horatio ;

The potent poison quite o'er crows my spirit : . . .

The rest is silence."

Some have insisted that Shakespeare must have been
a physician, for the reason that he shows such knowledge
of medicine, of the symptoms of disease and death; be-
cause he was so familiar with the brain, and with insanity
in all its forms.

I do not think he was a physician. He knew too much ;
his generalizations were too splendid. He had none of
the prejudices of that profession in his time. We might
as well say that he was a musician, a composer, because
we find in " The Two Gentlemen of Verona " nearly
every musical term known in Shakespeare's time.

Others maintain that he was a lawyer, perfectly ac-
quainted with the forms, with the expressions familiar to
that profession. Yet there is nothing to show that he
was a lawyer, or that he knew more about law than any
intelligent man should know. He was not a lawyer. His
sense of justice was never dulled by reading English law.


66 5

Some think that he was a botanist, because he named
nearly all known plants. Others, that he was an astrono-
mer, a naturalist, because he gave hints and suggestions
of nearly all discoveries.

Some have thought that he must have been a sailor,
for the reason that the orders given in the opening of
" The Tempest " were the best that could, under the cir-
cumstances, have been given to save the ship.

For my part, I think there is nothing in the plays to
show that he was a lawyer, doctor, botanist, or scientist.
He had the observant eyes that really see, the ears that
really hear, the brain that retains all pictures, all thoughts,
logic as unerring as light, the imagination that supplies
defects and builds the perfect from a fragment. And
these faculties, these aptitudes, working together, account
for what he did.

He exceeded all the sons of men in the splendor of his
imagination. To him the whole world paid tribute, and
Nature poured her treasures at his feet. In him all races
lived again, and even those to be were pictured in his

He was a man of imagination that is to say, of genius,
and having seen a leaf, and a drop of water, he could
construct the forests, the rivers, and the seas. In his
presence all the cataracts would fall and foam, the mists
rise, the clouds form and float.

If Shakespeare knew one fact, he knew its kindred and
its neighbors. Looking at a coat of mail, he instantly
imagined the society, the conditions, that produced it and
what it, in turn, produced. He saw the castle, the moat,
the drawbridge, the lady in the tower, and the knightly
lover spurring across the plain. He saw the bold baron
and the rude retainer, the trampled serf, and all the glory
and the grief of feudal life.

He lived the life of all.

He was a citizen of Athens in the days of Pericles. He
listened to the eager eloquence of the great orators, and
sat upon the cliffs, and with the tragic poet heard " the
multitudinous laughter of the sea." He saw Socrates
thrust the spear of question through the shield and heart
of falsehood. He was present when the great man drank
hemlock, and met the night of death, tranquil as a star


meets morning. He listened to the peripatetic philoso-
phers, and was unpuzzled by the sophists. He watched
Phidias as he chiseled shapeless stone to forms of love
and awe.

He lived by the mysterious Nile, amid the vast and
monstrous. He knew the very thought that wrought the
form and features of the Sphinx. He heard great Mem-
non's morning song when marble lips were smitten by
the sun. He laid him down with the embalmed and
waiting dead, and felt within their dust the expectation
of another life, mingled with cold and suffocating doubts
the children born of long delay.

He walked the ways of mighty Rome, and saw great
Caesar with his legions in the field. He stood with vast
and motley throngs and watched the triumphs given to
victorious men, followed by uncrowned kings, the cap-
tured hosts, and all the spoils of ruthless war. He heard
the shout that shook the Coliseum's roofless walls, when
from the reeling gladiator's hand the short sword fell,
while from his bosom gushed the stream of wasted life.

He lived the life of savage men. He trod the forests'
silent depths, and in the desperate game of life or death
he matched his thought against the instinct of the beast.

He knew all crimes and all regrets, all virtues and their
rich rewards. He was victim and victor, pursuer and
pursued, outcast and king. He heard the applause and
curses of the world, and on his heart had fallen all the
nights and noons of failure and success.

He knew the unspoken thoughts, the dumb desires,
the wants and ways of beasts. He felt the crouching
tiger's thrill, the terror of the ambushed prey, and with
the eagles he had shared the ecstasy of flight and poise
and swoop, and he had lain with sluggish serpents on the
barren rocks uncoiling slowly in the heat of noon.

He sat beneath the bo-tree's contemplative shade,
wrapped in Buddha's mighty thought, and dreamed all
dreams that light, the alchemist, has wrought from dust
and dew, and stored within the slumbrous poppy's subtle

He knelt with awe and dread at every shrine. He
offered every sacrifice, and every prayer ; felt the consola-
tion and the shuddering fear ; mocked and worshipped all


the gods ; enjoyed all heavens, and felt the pangs of every

He lived all lives, and through his blood and brain there
crept the shadow and the chill of every death, and his
soul, like Mazeppa, was lashed naked to the wild horse
of every fear and love and hate.

The Imagination had a stage in Shakespeare's brain,
whereon were set all scenes that lie between the morn
of laughter and the night of tears, and where his players
bodied forth the false and true, the joys and griefs, the
careless shallows and the tragic deeps of universal life.

From Shakespeare's brain there poured a Niagara of
gems spanned by Fancy's seven-hued arch. He was as
many-sided as clouds are many-formed. To him giving
was hoarding, sowing was harvest; and waste itself the
source of wealth. Within his marvelous mind were the
fruits of all thought past, the seeds of all to be. As a drop
of dew contains the image of the earth and sky, so all
there is of life was mirrored forth in Shakespeare's brain.

Shakespeare was an intellectual ocean, whose waves
touched all the shores of thought ; within which were all
the tides and waves of destiny and will ; over which swept
all the storms of fate, ambition, and revenge ; upon which
fell the gloom and darkness of despair and death and all
the sunlight of content and love, and within which was
the inverted sky, lit with the eternal stars an intellectual
ocean towards which all rivers ran, and from which now
the isles and continents of thought receive their dew and



[Lecture by Starr King, preacher and early lyceum lecturer (born
in New York City, December 17, 1824; died in San Francisco, Cal.,
March 4, 1863), delivered first in December, 1851. Mr. King began
lecturing in 1848, when he was pastor of the Hollis-street Church in
Boston, and continued in the field for eleven years ranking with the
foremost. " Substance and Show " was his second lecture in a series
of brilliant discourses ("Goethe" being the subject of the first one)
and it is said to have almost equaled in popularity Wendell Phillips'
perennial lecture on " The Lost Arts."]

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : I propose to speak on the
difference between substance and show, or the distinction
we should make between the facts of the world and life,
and the causal forces which lie behind and beneath them.
No mind which comprehends the issues involved in the
distinction will fail to see that the topic is vitally practical;
for skepticism, or mistaken conceptions of the truth upon
this point, must degrade our whole theory of life, demor-
alize our reverence, and make the region with which our
faith should be in constant contact thin, dreamy, and

Most persons, doubtless, if you place before them a
paving-stone and a slip of paper with some writing on it,
would not hesitate to say that there is as much more
substance in the rock than in the paper as there is heavi-
ness. Yet they might make a great mistake. Suppose
that the slip of paper contains the sentence, " God is
love"; or, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself";

From "Substance and Show," by permission of and special arrangement
with Houghton, Mifflin & Co., publishers of Starr King's "Christianity
and Humanity," and "Substance and Show."


or, " All men have moral rights by reason of heavenly
parentage," then the paper represents more force and
substance than the stone. Heaven and earth may pass
away, but such words can never die out or become less

The word " substance " means that which stands under
and supports anything else. Whatever then creates,
upholds, classifies anything which our senses behold,
though we cannot handle, see, taste, or smell it, is more
substantial than the object itself. In this way the soul,
which vivifies, moves, and supports the body, is a more
potent substance than the hard bones and heavy flesh
which it vitalizes. A ten-pound weight falling on your
head affects you unpleasantly as substance, much more
so than a leaf of the New Testament, if dropped in the
same direction ; but there is a way in which a page of the
New Testament may fall upon a nation and split it, or
infuse itself into its bulk and give it strength and perma-
nence. We should be careful, therefore, what test we
adopt in order to decide the relative stability of things.

There is a very general tendency to deny that ideal
forces have any practical power. But there Have been
several thinkers whose skepticism has an opposite direc-
tion. " We cannot," they say, " attribute external reality
to the sensations we feel." We need not wonder that
this theory has failed to convince the unmetaphysical
common sense of people that a stone post is merely a
stubborn thought, and that the bite of a dog is nothing
but an acquaintance with a pugnacious, four-footed con-
ception. When a man falls down stairs it is not easy to
convince him that his thought simply tumbles along an
inclined series of perceptions and comes to a conclusion
that breaks his head; least of all, can you induce a man
to believe that the scolding of his wife is nothing but the
buzzing of his own waspish thoughts, and her use of his
purse only the loss of some golden fancies from his mem-
ory. We are all safe against such idealism as Bishop
Berkeley reasoned out so logically. Byron's refutation
of it is neat and witty :

" When Bishop Berkeley says there is no matter,
It is no matter what Bishop Berkeley says."


And yet, by more satisfactory evidence than that which
the idealists propose, we are warned against confounding
the conception of substance with matter, and confining it
to things we can see and grasp. Science steps in and
shows us that the physical system of things leans on
spirit. We talk of the world of matter, but there is no
such world. Everything about us is a mixture or mar-
riage of matter and spirit. A world of matter simply
would be a huge heap of sandy atoms or an infinite conti-
nent of stagnant vapor. There would be no motion, no
force, no form, no order, no beauty, in the universe as it
now is ; organization meets us at every step and wherever
we look; organization implies spirit, something that
rules, disposes, penetrates, and vivifies matter.

See what a sermon Astronomy preaches as to the sub-
stantial power of invisible things. If the visible universe
is so stupendous, what shall we think of the unseen force
and vitality in whose arms all its splendors rest? It is no
gigantic Atlas, as the Greeks fancied, that upholds the
celestial sphere ; all the constellations are kept from fall-
ing by an impalpable energy that uses no muscles and no
masonry. The ancient mathematician, Archimedes, once
said, " Give me a foot of ground outside the globe to
stand upon, and I will make a lever that will lift the
world." The invisible lever of gravitation, however,
without any fulcrum or purchase, does lift the globe, and
make it waltz too, with its blond lunar partner, twelve
hundred miles a minute to the music of the sun, ay, and
heaves sun and systems and the milky-way in majestic
cotillions on its ethereal floor.

You grasp an iron ball, and call it hard; it is not the
iron that is hard, but cohesive force that packs the par-
ticles of metal into intense sociability. Let the force
abate, and the same metal becomes like mush; let it dis-
appear, and the ball is a heap of powder which your
breath scatters in the air. If the cohesive energy in
nature should get tired and unclench its grasp of matter,
our earth to use an expressive New England phrase
would instantly become " a great slump " ; so that what
we tread on is not material substance, but matter braced
up by a spiritual substance, for which it serves as the form
and show.


All the peculiarities of rock and glass, diamond, ice, and
crystal are due to the working of unseen military forces
that employ themselves under ground, in caverns, be-
neath rivers, in mountain crypts, and through the coldest
nights, drilling companies of atoms into crystalline bat-
talions and squares, and every caprice of a fantastic

When we turn to the vegetable kingdom, is not the
revelation still more wonderful? The forms which we
see grow out of substances and are supported by forces
which we do not see. The stuff out of which all vege-
table appearances are made is reducible to oxygen, hy-
drogen, carbon, and nitrogen. How does it happen that
this common stock is worked up in such different ways?
Why is a lily woven out of it in one place and a dahlia
in another, a grape-vine here, and a honeysuckle there,
the orange in Italy, the palm in Egypt, the olive in
Greece, and the pine in Maine ? Simply because a subtile
force of a peculiar kind is at work wherever any vegetable

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 24 of 38)