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Upon perceiving the nakedness and wretchedness of this figure, the poor king asks a question that I never could read without strong emotions of pity and admiration :
What! have bis daughters broaght him to this pass?
And when Keut assures him that the beggar has no daughters; he hastily answers;
Death, traitor, nothing could have subdued nature
To such a lowness, but his unkind daughters. Afterwards, upon the calm contemplation of the misery of Edgar, he breaks out into the following serious and pathetic reflection : “ Thou wert better in thy grave than to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies. Is man no more than this ? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no bide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three of us are sophisticated. Thou art the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more than such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings! Come, unbutton here.”
Shakspeare has no where exhibited more inimitable strokes of his art than in this uncommon scene; where he has so well conducted even the natural jargon of the beggar, and the jestings of the fool, wbich in other hands must have sunk into burlesque, that they contribute to heighten the pathetic to a very high degree.
The heart of Lear having been agitated and torn by a conflict of such opposite and tumultuous passions, it is not wonderful that his “ wits should now begin to unsettle.” The first plain indication of the loss of his reason is his calling Edgar a “ learned Theban;" and telling Kent, that “ he will keep still
with bis philosopher.” When he next appears, he imagines he is punishing his daughters. The imagery is extremely strong, and chills one with horror to read it;
To have a thousand with red burning spits
Come hissing in upon them ! As the fancies of lunatics have an extraordinary force and liveliness, and render the objects of their frenzy as it were present to their eyes, Lear actually thinks himself suddenly restored to his kingdom, and seated in judgment to try his daughters for their cruelties :
I'll see their trial first; bring in the evidence.
What store her heart is made ofHere he imagines that Regan escapes out of his hands, and he eagerly exclaims,
-Stop her there. Arms, arms, swords, fire-Corruption in the place! False justicer, why bast thou let her 'scape ? A circumstance follows that is strangely moving indeed: for he fancies that his favourite domestic creatures, that used to fawn upon and caress him, and of wbich he was eminently fond, have now their tempers changed, and joined to insult him :
-The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart, see! they bark at me. He again resumes his imaginary power, and orders them to anatomize Regan; “ See what breeds about her heart-Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts? You, sir,” speaking to Edgar, “I entertain for one of my hundred;" a circumstance most artfully introduced to remind us of the first affront he received, and to fix our thoughts on the causes of his distraction.
General criticism is on all subjects useless and unentertaining; but is more than commonly absurd with respect to Shakspeare, who must be accompanied step by step, and scene by scene, in his gradual developements of characters and passions, and whose finer features must be singly pointed out, if we would do complete justice to his general beauties. It would have been easy to have declared, in general terms that the madness of Lear was very natural and pathetic;" and the reader might then have escaped, what he may, perhaps, call a multitude of well known quotations: but then it had been impossible to exhibit a perfect picture of the secret workings and changes of Lear's mind, which vary in each succeeding passage, and which render an allegation of each particular sentiment absolutely necessary.
No. 117. TUESDAY, DEC. 18, 1753.
Nequicquam patrias tentásti lubricus artes. Virg.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
SIR, “I will not anticipate the subject of this letter by relating the motives from which I have written it'; nor shall I expect it to be published, if, when you have read it, you do not think that it contains more than one topic of instruction.
My mother has been dead so long that I do not remember her; and when I was in my eighteenth year, I was left an orphan with a fortune of twenty thousands pounds at my own disposal. I have been often told, that I am bandsome; and I have some reasons to believe it to be true, which are very far from gratifying my vanity or conferring happiness.
“ I was soon addressed by many lovers, from among whom I selected Hilario, the elder brother of a good family, whose paternal estate was something
more than equivalent to my fortune. “ Hilario was universally admired as a man of sense; and, to confess the truth, not much less a man of pleasure. His character appeared to rise in proportion as it was thought to endanger those about him ; he derived new dignity not only from the silence of the men, but the blushes of the ladies; and those, whose wit or virtue did not suffer by the admission of such a guest, were honoured as persons who could treat upon equal terms with a hero, who was become formidable by the number of his conquests : his company, therefore, was courted by all whom their fears did not restrain ; the rest considered him as moving in a sphere above them, and in proportion as they were able to imitate him, they became vicious and petulant in their own circle.
“ I was myself captivated with his manner and conversation; I hoped that upon understanding I should be able to engraft Virtue: I was rather encouraged than cautioned by my friends; and after a few months' courtship I became his wife.
During a short time all my expectations were gratified, and I exulted in my choice.
Hilario was at once tender and polite ; present pleasures were heightened by the anticipation of future; my imagination was perpetually wandering among the scenes of poetry and romance; I appropriated every luxurious description of happy lovers; and believed that whatever time should take from desire, would be added to complacency; and that in old age we should only exchange the tumultuous ecstasy of love for the calm, rational, and exalted delights of friendship, which every year would increase by new reciprocations of kindness, more tried fidelity, and implicit confidence.
* But from this pleasing dream it was not long before I awaked. Although it was the whole study of my life to unite my pleasures with those of Hilario, to regulate my conduct by his will, and thus prolong the felicity which was reflected from his bosom to mine; yet his visits abroad, in which I was not a party, became more frequent, and his general behaviour less kind. I perceived, that when we were alone, his mind was often absent, and that my prattle became irksome: my assiduities to recover his attention, and excite him to cheerfulness, were sometimes suffered with a cold civility, sometime wholly neglected,
and sometimes peevishly repressed as ill timed officiousness, by which he was rather disturbed than obliged. I was, indeed, at length convinced, with whatever reluctance, that neither my person nor my mind had any
charm that could stand in competition with variety; and though, as I remember, I never even with my looks upbraided him, yet I frequently lamented myself, and spent those hours in which I was forsaken by Hilario, in solitude and tears. But my
distress still increased, and one injury made way for another. Hilario, almost as soon as he ceased to be kind, became jealous; he knew that disappointed wishes, and the resentment which they produce, concur to render beauty less solicitous to avoid temptation, and less able to resist it; and as I did not complain of that which he knew I could