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but by the proper means; he only can rationally presume that he understands a subject who has read and compared the writers that have hitherto discussed it, familiarized their arguments to himself by long meditation, consulted the foundations of different systems, and separated truth from error by a rigorous examination.
In like manner he only has a right to suppose that he can express his thoughts, whatever they are, with perspicuity or elegance, who has carefully perused the best authors, accurately noted their diversities of style, diligently selected the best modes of diction, and familiarized them by long habits of attentive practice.
No man is a rhetorician or philosopher by chance. He who knows that he undertakes to write on questions which he has never studied may, without hesitation, determine that he is about to waste his own time and that of his reader, and expose himself to the derision of those whom he aspires to instruct: he that without forming his style by the study of the best models hastens to obtrude his compositions on the public may be certain, that whatever hope or flattery may suggest, he shall shock the learned ear with barbarisms, and contribute, wherever his work shall be received, to the deprivation of taste and the corruption of language.
No. 116. SATURDAY, DEC. 15, 1753.
Thunder and a ghost have been frequently introduced into tragedy by barren and mechanical playwrights, as proper objects to impress terror and astonishment, where the distress has not been important enough to render it probable that nature would interpose for the sake of the sufferers, and where these objects themselves have not been supported by suitable sentiments. Thunder has, however, been made use of with great judgment and good effect by Shakspeare, to heighten and impress the distresses of Lear.
The venerable and wretched old king is driven out by both his daughters, without necessaries and without attendants, not only in the night, but in the midst of a most dreadful storm, and on a bleak and barren heath. On his first appearance in this situation, he draws an artful and pathetic comparison betwixt the severity of the tempest and of his daughters :
Rumble thy belly full! spit, fire! spout, rain !
The storm continuing with equal violence, he drops for a moment the consideration of his own miseries, and takes occasion to moralize on the terrors which such.commotions of nature should raise in the breast of secret and unpunished villany :
-Tremble, thou wretch,
-Close peni-up guilts
These dreadful summoners grace!
I am a man More sinn'd against than sinning. Kent most earnestly entreats him to enter a hovel which he had discovered on the heath; and on pressing him again and again to take shelter there, Lear exclaims,
Wilt break my heart! Much is contained in these four words; as if he had said, “ the kindness and the gratitude of this servant exceeds that of my own children. Though I have given them a kingdom, yet they have basely discarded me, and suffered a head so old and white as mine to be exposed to this terrible tempest, while this fellow pities and would protect me from its rage. I cannot bear this kindness from a perfect stranger; it breaks my heart.” All this seems to be included in that short exclamation, which another writer, less acquainted with nature, would have displayed at large: such a suppression of sentiments, plainly inplied, is judicious and affecting. The reflections that follow are drawn likewise from an intimate knowledge of man:
When the mind's free,
Here the remembrance of his daughters' behaviour rushes upon him, and he exclaims, full of the idea of its unparalleled cruelty,
-Filial ingratitude !
He then changes his style, and vows with impotent menaces, as if still in possession of the power he had resigned, to revenge himself on his oppressors, and to steal his breast with fortitude:
- But I'll puñish bome. No, I will weep no more !But the sense of his sufferings returns again, and he forgets the resolution he had formed the moment before :
In such a night,
In such a night as this?At which, with a beautiful apostrophe, he suddenly addresses himself to his absent daughters, tenderly reminding them of the favours he had so lately and so liberally conferred
-O Regan, Gonerill,
The turns of passion in these few lines are so quick and so various, that I thought they merited to be minutely pointed out by a kind of perpetual commentary.
The mind is never so sensibly disposed to pity the misfortunes of others as when it is itself subdued and softened by calamity. Adversity diffuses a kind of sacred calm over the breast, that is the parent of thoughtfulness and meditation. The following reflections of Lear in his next speech, when his passion has subsided for a short interval, are equally proper and striking:
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er ye are,
From seasons such as these ! He concludes with a sentiment finely suited to his condition, and worthy to be written in characters of gold in the closet of
earth: O! I have ta'en Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp! Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel; That thou may'st shake the superflux to them, And shew the Heavens more just !Lear being ablast persuaded to take shelter in the hovel, the poet has artfully contrived to lodge there Edgar, the discarded son of Gloucester, who counterfeits the character and habit of a mad beggar, haunted by an evil demon, and whose supposed sufferings are enumerated with an inimitable wildness of fancy; • Whom the foul fiend hath led through fire, and through flame, through ford and whirlpool, o'er bog and quagmire; that hath laid knives under his pillow, and halters in his pew; set ratsbane by his porridge; made him proud of heart, to ride on a bay trotting horse over four inch'd bridges, to course his own shadow for a traitor.Bless thy five wits, Tom's a-cold!" The assumed madness of Edgar, and the real distraction of Lear, form a judicious contrast.