William Shakespeare.

The wisdom and genius of Shakespeare; comprising moral philosophy--delineations of character--paintings of nature and the passions--seven hundred aphorisms--and miscellaneous pieces: online

. (page 1 of 27)
Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe wisdom and genius of Shakespeare; comprising moral philosophy--delineations of character--paintings of nature and the passions--seven hundred aphorisms--and miscellaneous pieces: → online text (page 1 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook








Select antf original .States, anti Scriptural References:




Chaplain in Her Majesty's Convict Establishment at Woolwich*.






MANY works consisting of compilations from the
writings of SHAKSPEARE have already appeared under
different forms, but I am not aware that any thing
has ever been attempted on the plan of the work now
presented to the public. My principal object has
been to exhibit the Wisdom and Genius of our author,
as these are reflected in his lucid pages, which have
been justly characterized 'the richest, the purest,
the fairest, which genius uninspired ever laid open.'*

The first Section contains the Morals of Shak-
speare, which are very numerous and of an exalted
character. There is more moral knowledge con-
tained in a few lines, or a sentence of our author,
than is to be found in a whole chapter of those works
which treat expressly of Moral science. There is
one thing worthy of special observation in the Morals
of Shakspeare, which presents his character in a very
interesting light ; I refer to the strong tincture which
they have of Divine truth, affording evidence of his
mind having been deeply imbued with the pure mo-
rality of the Gospel. This highly interesting feature

* Times Newspaper, Dec. 14, 1837.



of his morals I have pointed out in many instances,
by references to particular passages of Scripture.*

Although the first part of the work is designated
Moral Philosophy, the reader must not Infer from
thence that there are no morals in the other Sections :
the truth is, morals pervade the whole work, but
many of them are so interwoven with the Characters,
Nature and the Passions, &c., as not to admit of
being separated.

Our author's paintings of the Passions are not
less deserving of our admiration than his moral
wisdom and delineations of Characters. He is the
great master of the human heart, and depicts in an
inimitable manner all the feelings of humanity, from
the almost imperceptible emotions to the most tem-
pestuous passions that agitate the breast of man.
As A. W. Schlegel justly observes, ' He lays open to
us in a single word, a whole series of preceding

In that part of the work which respects Nature,
I have exhibited to the reader those exquisitely beau-
tiful natural images which abound throughout our
author's writings, and which claim the admiration of
every cultivated mind. This excellence has been
often alluded to, and is thus beautifully expressed by
one who was capable of appreciating it: 'He was
familiar with all beautiful forms and images, with
all that is sweet or majestic in the simple aspects of
nature, of that indestructible love of flowers and
odours, and dews, and clear waters and soft airs

* See particularly page 120, No. 713, to the end of the Section.


and sounds, and bright skies and woodland solitudes,
and moonlight bowers, which are the material ele-
ments of poetry, and with that fine sense of their
undefinable relation to mental emotion, which is its
essence and vivifying soul and which, in the midst
of his most busy and atrocious scenes, falls like
gleams of sunshine on rocks and ruins contrasting
with all that is rugged and repulsive, and reminding
us of the existence of purer and brighter elements.'*
Take also the sentiments of the following writers
who speak in accordance with this work : ' To
instruct by delighting is a power seldom enjoyed
by man, and still seldomer exercised. It is in this
respect that Homer may be called the second of
men, and Shakspeare the first. The wisdom of the
Greek was not so universal as that of the Briton,
nor his genius so omnipotent in setting it forth attrac-
tively. From the several works of the latter, a single
work might be compiled little less worthy of divine
sanction than any other extant, and by the beauty of
its nature far more secure of human attention. But
Shakspeare has done so much in this way, so nearly
all that is sufficient, he has made the laws of the
Decalogue and all their corollaries so familiar, he has
exhibited the passions and propensities, the feelings
and emotions, incident to humanity, so freely, and
as we might say graphically, that another such artist
would be superfluous : Nature might create a second
Shakspeare, but it would be bad economy. What
the first has left undone, may be completed by a

* Edinburgh Review, vol. xxviii. p. 473.


much less expense of Promethean fire than would go
to the creation of a second. We are therefore not to
look for a similar being, at least until we acquire new
attributes, or are under a new moral dispensation.
Spirits of an inferior order, a Milton, a Pope, or a
Cowper, are potent enough to disseminate the re-
maining or minor truths of natural morality amongst
the people ; or rather to repeat, illustrate, and impress
them on our hearts and memories. Writers of this
class, whom we may call the lay-ministers of the
Deity, to teach from the press instead of the pulpit,
in the closet instead of the church, we may expect ;
and with them should be satisfied. Though we
cannot reasonably hope for another high -prophet
of profane inspiration to recommunicate to us the
lessons of divine wisdom which are already to be
found in Shakspeare, it is no presumption to hope
that the spirit of illumination will descend upon
humbler poets, and make them our secular guides in
morality.' *

The same remark as the above will be seen in the
following quotation. The reader will also do well to
consult the opinions of some eminent writers on the
Sectional leaves.

1 It is quite impossible to estimate the benefits
which this country has received from the eternal pro-
ductions of Shakspeare. Their influence has been
gradual, but prodigious operating at first on the
loftier intellects, but becoming in time diffused over

* London Magazine, Oct. 1, 1824.


all, spreading wisdom and charity amongst us.
There is, perhaps, no one person of any considerable
rate of mind who does not owe something to this
matchless poet. He is the teacher of all good, pity,
generosity, true courage, love. His works alone
(leaving mere science out of the question) contain,
probably, more actual wisdom than the whole body
of English learning. He is the text for the moralist
and the philosopher.* His bright wit is cut out
1 ' into little stars:" his solid masses of knowledge
are meted out in morsels and proverbs; and thus
distributed, there is scarcely a corner which he does
not illuminate, or a cottage which he does not en-
rich. His bounty is like the sea, which, though
often unacknowledged, is every where felt ; on moun-
tains and plains, and distant places, carrying its
cloudy freshness through the air, making glorious
the heavens, and spreading verdure on the earth
beneath. 'f

It is with infinite satisfaction that I am borne out
in my opinion of the nature of this work, by a similar
remark of Coleridge. He says,

'I greatly dislike beauties and selections in ge-
neral ; but as proof positive of his unrivalled excel-
lence, I should like to try Shakspeare by this criterion.
Make out your amplest catalogue of all the human
faculties, as reason or the moral law, the will, the
feeling of the coincidence of the two (a feeling sui
generis et demonstratio demonstrationum), called

* And it might be added, for the statesman, poet, and painter.
f Retrospective Review.


the conscience, the understanding or prudence, wit,
fancy, imagination, judgment, and then of the
objects on which these are to be employed, as the
beauties, the terrors, and the seeming caprices, of
nature, the realities and the capabilities, that is, the
actual and the ideal, of the human mind, conceived
as an individual or as a social being, as in innocence
or in guilt, in a play -paradise, or in a war-field of
temptation ; and then compare with Shakspeare,
under each of these heads, all or any of the writers
in prose and verse that have ever lived. Who that is
competent to judge doubts the result?'*


Woolwich, June, 1838.

* Literary Remains, vol. ii. p. 68.

A KEY to the figures at the end of each piece;
aSi> \6 iv. 2. id est, King John, act iv. xceneZ.

1 Tempest.

2 Two Gentlemen of Verona.

3 Merry Wives of Windsor.

4 Twelfth Night.

v 5 Measure for Measure.

6 Much Ado about Nothing.

v 7 Midsummer Night's Dream,

. 8 Love's Labour's Lost.

\\ 9 Merchant of Venice.

s 10 As You Like It.

^ v 1 1 All 's Well that Ends Well.

\ 12 Taming of the Shrew.

13 Winter's Tale.

14 Comedy of Errors.

15 Macbeth.

16 King John.

17 King Richard II.

18 King Henry IV. Part 1st.

19 Ditto Part 2d.

20 King Henry V.

21 King Henry VI Part 1st.

22 Ditto Part 2d.

23 Ditto Part 3d.

24 King Richard III.

. 25 King Henry VIII.

\26 Troilus and Cressida.

27 Timon of Athens.

28 Coriolanus.

29 Julius Csesar.

30 Antony and Cleopatra,

31 Cymbeline.

32 Titus Andronicus.

33 Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

34 King Lear.

35 Romeo and Juliet.

36 Hamlet.

37 Othello.

Several pieces were mislaid, and not discovered until it
was too late to have them inserted in their respec-
tive Sections: they are therefore placed in the
Miscellaneous part.


" It may be said of Shakspeare, that from his works may be collected
a system of civil and economical prudence. * *
He has himself been imitated by all succeeding writers ; and it
may be doubted, whether from all his scccessors more maxims of
theoretical knowledge, or more rules of practical prudence, can
be collected, than he alone has given to his country."



1 Gifts, not our own.

Heaven doth with us, as we with torches do ;

Not light them for themselves : for if our virtues

Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike

As if we had them not. a Spirits are not finely touch'd,

But to fine issues : nor nature never lends

The smallest scruple of her excellence,

But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines

Herself the glory of a creditor,

Both thanks and use. b ,5 i. 1.

2 The same.

Thyself and thy belongings
Are not thine own so proper, as to waste
Thyself upon thy virtues, them on thee. .5 i. I .

3 Faults, extenuation of.

Oftentimes, excusing of a fault,
Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse ;
As patches, set upon a little breach,
Discredit more, in hiding of the fault,
Than did the fault before it was so patch' d.

16 iv. 2.

4 Modern and present opinions contrasted.

In this, the antique and well-noted face
Of plain old form is much disfigured :

a Matt. v. 15, 16.
Interest Matt. xxv. 20, &c. c i.e. Blemish.


And, like a shifted wind unto a sail,

It makes the course of thoughts to fetch about ;

Startles and frights consideration ;

Makes sound opinion sick, and truth suspected,

For putting on so new a fashion' d robe. 16 iv. 2.

5 The future anticipated by the past.

There is a history in all men's lives,

Figuring the nature of the times deceased :

The which observed, a man may prophesy,

With a near aim, of the main chance of things

As yet not come to life ; which in their seeds,

And weak beginnings, lie intreasured. 19 iii. 1.

G Wise men superior to woes.

Wise men ne'er wail their present'woes,
But presently prevent the ways to wail.
To fear the foe, since fear oppresseth strength,
Gives, in your weakness, strength unto your foe,
And so your follies fight against yourself. 17 iii. 2.

7 Apathy.

Patience, unmoved, no marvel though she pause ; d

They can be meek, that have no other cause. 6

A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,

We bid be quiet, when we hear it cry ;

But were we burden' d with like weight of pain,

As much, or more, we should ourselves complain.

14 ii. 1.

8 Men's last words to be regarded.

The tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony ;
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in

For they breathe truth, that breathe their words in

He, that no more must say, is listen' d more

Than they, whom youth and ease have taught to

glose ;f

More are men's ends mark'd, than their lives before :
The setting sun, and music at the close,

d To pause is to rest, to be in quiet.
e i.e. Who have no cause to be otherwise. f Flatter.


As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last ;

Writ in remembrance, more than things long past.

17 ii. 1.
9 Self-interest, its influence.

Commodity, s the bias of the world ;
The world, who of itself is peised h well,
Made to run even, upon even ground ;
Till this advantage, this vile drawing bias,
This sway of motion, this commodity,
Makes it take head from all indifferency,
From all direction, purpose, course, intent.

16 ii. 2.

10 Assured wisdom.

They say, miracles are past; and we have our
philosophical persons, to make modern 1 and familiar
things, supernatural and causeless. Hence is it, that
we make trifles of terrors; ensconcing ourselves into
seeming knowledge, when we should submit our-
selves to an unknown fear. k 11 ii. 3.

11 Blessings undervalued, till irrecoverable.

Love, that comes too late,
Like a remorseful pardon slowly carried,
To the great sender turns a sour offence,
Crying, That 's good, that 's gone : our rash faults
Make trivial price of serious things we have,
Not knowing them, until we know their grave :
Oft our displeasures, to ourselves unjust,
Destroy our friends, and after weep their dust.

11 v. 3.

12 Wishes, unsubstantial.

'Tis pity

That wishing well had not a body in't,
Which might be felt : that we, the poorer born,
Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishe*s,
Might with effects of them follow our friends,
And shew what we alone must think ;* which ne'er
Returns us thanks. 11 i. J .

S Self-interest. h Poised, balanced.

i Ordinary. k Fear means here, the object of fear.

1 i.e. And shew by realities what we now must only think.


IS Treachery.

Though those, that are betray'd,
Do feel the treason sharply, yet the traitor
Stands in worse case of woe. 31 iii, 4,

14 Undue Grief.

To persevere

In obstinate condolement, m is a course
Of impious stubbornness ; 'tis unmanly grief:
It shews a will most incorrect" to heaven ;
A heart unfortified, or mind impatient ;
An understanding simple and unschool'd. 36 i. 2,

15 Contentment.

Blessed be those,

How mean soe'er, that have their honest wills,
Which seasons comfort.? 31 i. 7.

16 Intemperance.
As surfeit is the father of much fast,
80 every scope by the immoderate use
Turns to restraint : Our natures do pursue
(Like rats that ravine down their proper bane)

A thirsty evil, and when we drink, we die. 5 i. 3

17 JElevation, exposed to censure.

place and greatness, millions of false eyes
Are stuck upon thee ! volumes of report

Run with these false and most contrarious quests'"

Upon thy doings ! thousand 'scapes 8 of wit

Make thee the father of their idle dream,

And rack thee in their fancies ! 5 iv. 1 .

18 Human actions viewed by Heaven.

If pow'rs divine
Behold our human actions, (as they do,)

1 doubt not then, but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny

Tremble at patience. 13 iiu 2.

m Condolement, for sorrow. Incorrect, for untutored.

o 1 Thess. iv. 13. Pi Tim. vi. 6.

<J Voraciously devour. r Inquisitions, inquiries. s Sallies.


19 Certainty of Death.

That we shall die, we know ; 'tis but the time,
And drawing days out, that men stand upon.

29- iii. 1.

20 The value of Virtue.

The honour of a maid is her name ; and no legacy
is so rich as honesty. 11 iii. 5.

21 Desertion.

The service of the foot
Being once gangrened, is not then respected
For what before it was. 28 iii. 1 .

22 Durability of Fame.

Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,

Live register' d upon our brazen tombs,

And then grace us in the disgrace of death ;

When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,

Th' endeavour of this present breath may buy

That honour, which shall bate his scythe's keen edge,

And make us heirs of all eternity. 1 8 i. 1.

23 Honours not hereditary.

Honours best thrive,

When rather from our acts we them derive
Than our fore-goers : the mere word 's a slave,
Debauch' d on every tomb ; on every grave,
A lying trophy, and as oft is dumb.
Where dust, and damn'd oblivion, is the tomb
Of honour' d bones indeed. 11 ii. 3.

24 Confidence, not to be placed in man.

O momentary grace of mortal men,

Which we more hunt for than the grace of God !

Who builds his hope in air of your fair looks,

Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast ;

Heady, with every nod, to tumble down

Into the fatal bowels of the deep. 24 iii. 4.

25 Submission to Providence.
I do find it cowardly and vile,

t i.e. Through all succeeding ages.


For fear of what might fall, so to prevent"

The time of life: (arming myself with patience) .

To stay the providence of some high powers,

That govern us below. 29 v. 1 .

20 The love of Novelty.

There is so great a fever on goodness, that the
dissolution of it must cure it : novelty is only in re-
quest ; and it is as dangerous to be aged in any kind
of course, as it is virtuous to be constant in any un-
dertaking. There is scarce truth enough alive, to
make societies secure ; but security enough to make
fellowships accursed: much upon this riddle runs
the wisdom of the world. 5 iii. 2.

27 Miracles and means.

Miracles are ceased ;

And therefore we must needs admit the means,
How things are perfected. 20 i. 1.

28 The apprehension of evils.

Doubting things go ill, often hurts more

Than to be sure they do : For certainties

Either are past remedies : or, timely knowing,

The remedy then born. 31 i. 7,

29 Sincerity.

I hold it cowardice

To rest mistrustful, where a noble heart
Hath pawn'd an open hand in sign of love.

23 iv. -2

30 The effects of Sorrow.

Sorrow breaks seasons and reposing hours,

Makes the night morning, and the noon-tide night.

Princes have but their titles for their glories,

An outward honour for an inward toil ;

And, for unfelt imaginations,

They often feel a world of restless cares :

So that, between their titles, and low name,

There 's nothing differs but the outward fame.

24 i. 4.

w To anticipate.


31 Silent sincerity.

Nor are those empty-hearted, whose low sound
Reverbs w no hollowness. 34 i. 1 .

32 Pride's mirror.

He, that is proud, eats up himself: pride is his
own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle ; and
whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours the
deed in the praise. 26 ii. 3.

33 Nature and Art.
Labouring art can never ransom nature
From her unaidable estate.

Nature is made better by no mean,

But nature makes that mean : so, o'er that art,

Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art,

That nature makes. You see, we marry

A gentler scion to the wildest stock ;

And make conceive a bark of baser kind

By bud of nobler race : This is an art

Which does mend nature, change it rather : but

The art itself is nature. 11 ii. 1. & 13 iv. 3.

34 Detraction.

The greatest are misthought
For things that others do ; and,' when we fall,
We answer others' merits x in our name. 30 v. 2.

35 Dissimulation.

That we were all, as some would seem to be,
Free from our faults, as faults from seeming free !

5 iii. 2.

36 Custom, supreme in its power.

What custom wills, in all things should we do^'t,

The dust on antique time would lie unswept,

And mountainous error be too highly heap'd

For truth to over-peer.y 28 ii. 3.

37 Hardened impiety.

When we in our viciousness grow hard,
(O misery on't !) the wise gods seel 2 our eyes ;

w Reverberates.
x Merits, or demerits. y Overlook. z Close up.


In our own filth drop our clear judgments ; make us

Adore our errors ; laugh at us, while we strut

To our confusion.* 30 iii. 11.

38 Procrastination.

Fearful commenting
Is leaden servitor b to dull delay ;
Delay leads impotent and snail-paced beggary.

24 iv. 3.

39 Virtue contrasted with Vice.

What stronger breast-plate than a heart untainted ? c
Thrice is he arm'd, that hath his quarrel just ;
And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.

22 iii. 2.

40 The wretchedness of human dependence.

O how wretched

Is that poor man, that hangs on princes' favours !
There is, betwixt that smile we would aspire to,
That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,
More pangs and fears than wars or women have ;
And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again. d 25 iii. 2.

41 Prayers denied, often profitable.

We, ignorant of ourselves,

Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers
Deny us for our good ; so find we profit,
By losing of our prayers. 6 30 ii. 1 .

42 Lamentation.

Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead,
excessive grief the enemy to the living/ 11 i. 1.

43 Recreation, a preventive of Melancholy.

Sweet recreation barr'd, what doth ensue,

But moody and dull Melancholy,

(Kinsman to grim and comfortless Despair ;)

And, at her heels, a huge infectious troop

Of pale distemperatures, and foes to life ? 14 v. 1.

a Rom. i. 28. 2 Thess. ii. 1 1. Isa. xliv. 20.

b Timorous thought and cautious disquisition are the dull attendants
on delay. c Eph. vi. 14.

d Ps. cxviii. 9. Isa. xiv. 1 2. e Jas. iv. 3. f Prov. xv. 13.


44 Hope and Despair.

The instant action (a cause on foot)
Lives so in hope, as in an early spring
We see th' appearing buds ; which, to prove fruit,
Hope gives not so much warrant, as despair,
That frosts will bite them. 19 i. 3.

45 Courage.

By how much unexpected, by so much
We must awake endeavour for defence ;
For courage mounteth with occasion. 16 ii. 1.

46 Pride, its universality.

Why, who cries out on pride,
That can therein tax any private party ?
Doth it not flow as hugely as the sea,
Till that the very very means do ebb ?
What woman in the city do I name,
When that I say, The city-woman bears
The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders ?
Who can come in, and say, that I mean her,
When such a one as she, such is her neighbour ?
Or what is he of basest function,
That says, his bravery is not on my cost
(Thinking that I mean him), but therein suits
His folly to the mettle of my speech ?
There then ; How, what then ? Let me see wherein
My tongue hath wrong' d him . if it do him right,
Then he hath wrong'd himself; if he be free,
Why then, my taxing like a wild-goose flies,
Unclaim'd of any man. 10 ii. 7.

47 Contentment.

How, in one house,

Should many people, under two commands,
Hold amity ? h 34 ii. 4.

48 Effrontery of Vice.

I ne'er heard yet,

That any of these bolder vices wanted
Less impudence to gainsay what they did,
Than to perform it first. 13 iii. 2.

h Matt. vi. 24.


49 Self-delusion.
What things are we !

Merely our own traitors. And as in the common
course of all treasons, we still see them reveal them-
selves, till they attain to their abhorred ends ; so he,
that contrives against his own nobility, in his proper
stream o'erflows himself. k 11 iv. 3.

50 Calumny.

The jewel, best enamelled,

Will lose his beauty ; and though gold 'bides still,
That others touch, yet often touching will
Wear gold ; and so no man that hath a name,
But falsehood and corruption doth it shame. 1

14 ii. 1.

51 Base insinuations,

The shrug, the hum, or ha ; these petty brands,
That calumny doth use :

For calumny will sear m

Virtue itself: these shrugs, these hums, and ha's,
When you have said, she 's goodly, come between,
Ere you can say, she 's honest. 13 ii. 1.

52 Impediments increase desire.

All impediments in fancy's" course

Are motives of more fancy. 11 v. 3.

53 Reputation invaluable.

The purest treasure mortal times afford,

Is spotless reputation ; that away,

Men are but gilded loam, or painted clay.

A jewel in a ten-times-barr'd-up chest

Is a bold spirit in a loyal breast. 17 i. 1.

54 Adversity.
Foundations fly the wretched ; such, I mean,

Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe wisdom and genius of Shakespeare; comprising moral philosophy--delineations of character--paintings of nature and the passions--seven hundred aphorisms--and miscellaneous pieces: → online text (page 1 of 27)