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The Second Lecture 
Readers may be divided into four classes : 
1. Sponges, who absorb all they read, and return it 
nearly in the same state, only a little dirtied. 
2. Sand-glasses, who retain nothing, and are content to 
get through a book for the sake of getting through the 
3. Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what 
they read. 
4. Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who 
profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by 
it also.i 
I adverted in my last lecture to the prevailing laxity in 
the use of terms : this is the principal complaint to which 
the moderns are exposed ; but it is a grievous one, inas- 
much as it inevitably tends to the misapplication of words, 
and to the corruption of language. I mentioned the word 
" taste," but the remark applies not merely to substantives 
and adjectives, to things and their epithets, but to verbs : 
thus, how frequently is the verb " indorsed " strained 
from its true signification, as given by Milton in the ex- 
pression — " And elephants indorsed with towers." Again 
" virtue " has been equally perverted : originally it 
signified merely strength ; it then became strength of 
mind and valour, and it has now been changed to the 
class term for moral excellence ^ in all its various species. 
I only introduce these as instances by the way, and nothing 
could be easier than to multiply them. 
1 In " Notes and Queries," July 22. 1854, I quoted this four-fold division of readers ; 
and in a friendly letter to me, the Rev. S. R. Maitland pointed out the following 
passage in the Mishna {Cap. Patrum, v. § 15), which Coleridge clearly had in his 
mind, but to which my shorthand note does not state that he referred. It is very 
possible that I did not catch the reference ; but more probable that he omitted it, 
thinking it not necessary, in an extetnporaneous lecture, to quote chapter and verse for 
whatever he delivered. Had Coleridge previously written, or subsequently printed, 
his Lectures, he would, most likel}', not have omitted the information : — 
" Quadruplices conditiones (inveniunt) in his qui sedent coram sapientibus (audiendi 
causa) videlicet conditio spongiae, clepsydrae, sacci lecinacei, et cribri. Spongia 
sugendo attrahit omnia. Clepsydra, quod ex una parte attrahit, ex altera rursum 
effundit. Saccus fecinaceus effundit vinum, el colligi: feces. Cribrum emittit 
farinam, et colligit similam." — J. P. C. 
2 My shorthand note of this part of the sentence strongly illustrates the point 
adverted to in the Preface, viz. , how easy it is for a person, somewhat mechanically 
taking down words uttered vivd voce, to mishear what is said. I am confident that 
Coleridge's words were 'moral excellence" — there cannot be a doubt about it — but 
in my note it stands ^^ vtodern excellence." My ear deceived me, and I thought he 
said tnodcrn, when in tact he said "moral." — J. P. C. 
The Second Lecture 397 
At the same time, while I recommend precision both 
of thought and expression, I am far from advocating a 
pedantic niceness in the choice of language : such a course 
would only render conversation stiff and stilted. Dr. 
Johnson used to say that in the most unrestrained dis- 
course he always sought for the properest word, — that 
which best and most exactly conveyed his meaning : to a 
certain point he was right, but because he carried it too 
far, he was often laborious where he ought to have been 
light, and formal where he ought to have been familiar. 
Men ought to endeavour to distinguish subtilely, that they 
may be able afterwards to assimilate truly. 
I have often heard the question put whether Pope 
is a great poet, and it has been warmly debated on both 
sides, some positively maintaining the affirmative, and 
others dogmatically insisting upon the negative ; but it 
never occurred to either party to make the necessary 
preliminary inquiry — What is meant by the words " poet " 
and " poetry ? " Poetry is not merely invention : if 
it were, Gulliver's Travels would be poetry ; and before 
you can arrive at a decision of the question, as to Pope's 
claim, it is absolutely necessary to ascertain what people 
intend by the words they use. Harmonious versification 
no more makes poetry than mere invention makes a poet ; 
and to both these requisites there is much besides to be 
added. In morals, politics, and philosophy no useful 
discussion can be entered upon, unless we begin by ex- 
plaining and understanding the terms we employ. It is 
therefore requisite that I should state to you what I mean 
by the word " poetry," before I commence any considera- 
tion of the comparative merits of those who are popularly 
called " poets." 
Words are used in two ways : — 
1. In a sense that comprises everything called by that 
name. For instance, the words " poetry " and " sense " 
are employed in this manner, when we say that such a 
line is bad poetry or bad sense, when in truth it is neither 
poetry nor sense. If it be bad poetry, it is not poetry ; if 
it be bad sense, it is not sense. The same of " metre " : 
bad metre is not metre. 
2. In a philosophic sense, which must include a defini- 
tion of what is essential to the thing. Nobody means 
mere metre by poetry ; so, mere rhyme is not poetry. 
398 The Second Lecture 
Something more is required, and what is that something ? 
It is not wit, because we may have wit where we never 
dream of poetry. Is it the just observation of human 
hfe ? Is it a pecuUar and a feUcitous selection of words ? 
This, indeed, would come nearer to the taste of the present 
age, when sound is preferred to sense ; but I am happy 
to think that this taste is not likely to last long. 
The Greeks and Romans, in the best period of their 
literature, knew nothing of any such taste. High-flown 
epithets and violent metaphors, conveyed in inflated 
language, is not poetry. Simplicity is indispensable, and 
in Catullus it is often impossible that more simple language 
could be used ; there is scarcely a word or a line, which a 
lamenting mother in a cottage might not have employed.^ 
That I may be clearly understood, I will venture to give 
the following definition of poetry. 
It is an art (or whatever better term our language may 
afford) of representing, in words, external nature and 
human thoughts and affections, both relatively to human 
affections, by the production of as much immediate 
pleasure in parts, as is compatible with the largest sum 
of pleasure in the whole. 
Or, to vary the words, in order to make the abstract 
idea more intelligible : — 
It is the art of communicating whatever we wish to 
communicate, so as both to express and produce excite- 
ment, but for the purpose of immediate pleasure ; and 
each part is fitted to afford as much pleasure, as is com- 
patible with the largest sum in the whole. 
You will naturally ask my reasons for this definition of 
poetry, and they are these : — 
"It is a representation of nature ; " but that is not 
enough : the anatomist and the topographer give repre- 
sentations of nature ; therefore I add : 
" And of the human thoughts and affections." Here 
the metaphysician interferes : here our best novelists 
interfere Ukewise, — excepting that the latter describe 
with more minuteness, accuracy, and truth, than is con- 
sistent with poetry. Consequently I subjoin : 
" It must be relative to the human affections." Here 
1 It appears by my shorthand note that Coleridge here named some particular poem 
by Catullus ; but what it was is not stated, a blank having been left for the title. It 
would not be difficult to fill the chasm speculatively ; but I prefer to give my memo- 
randum as it stands.— J. P. C. 
The Second Lecture 399 
my chief point of difference is with the novel-writer, the 
historian, and all those who describe not only nature, and 
the human affections, but relatively to the human affec- 
tions : therefore I must add : 
" And it must be done for the purpose of immediate 
pleasure." In poetry the general good is to be accom- 
plished through the pleasure, and if the poet do not do 
that, he ceases to be a poet to him to whom he gives it 
not. Still, it is not enough, because we may point out 
many prose writers to whom the whole of the definition 
hitherto furnished would apply. I add, therefore, that it 
is not only for the purpose of immediate pleasure, but — 
" The work must be so constructed as to produce in 
each part that highest quantity of pleasure, or a high 
quantity of pleasure." There metre introduces its claim, 
where the feeling calls for it. Our language gives to 
expression a certain measure, and will, in a strong state 
of passion, admit of scansion from the very mouth. The 
very assumption that we are reading the work of a poet 
supposes that he is in a continuous state of excitement ; 
and thereby arises a language in prose unnatural, but in 
poetry natural. 
There is one error which ought to be peculiarly guarded 
against, which young poets are apt to fall into, and which 
old poets commit, from being no poets, but desirous of the 
end which true poets seek to attain. No : I revoke the 
words ; they are not desirous of that of which their little 
minds can have no just conception. They have no desire 
of fame — that glorious immortality of true greatness — 
" That lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes, 
And perfect witness of all judging Jove ; " 
Milton's Lycidas. 
but they struggle for reputation, that echo of an echo, in 
whose very etymon its signification is contained. Into 
this error the author of " The Botanic Garden " has fallen, 
through the whole of which work, I will venture to assert, 
there are not twenty images described as a man vv^ould 
describe them in a state of excitement. The poem is 
written with aU the tawdry industry of a milliner anxious 
to dress up a doll in silks and satins. Dr. Darwin laboured 
to make his style fine and gaudy, by accumulating and 
applying all the sonorous and handsome-looking words 
400 The Second Lecture 
in our language. This is not poetry, and I subjoin to my 
definition — 
That a true poem must give " as much pleasure in each 
part as is compatible with the greatest sum of pleasure in 
the whole." We must not look to parts merely, but to the 
whole, and to the effect of that whole. In reading Milton, 
for instance, scarcely a line can be pointed out which, 
critically examined, could be called in itself good : the 
poet would not have attempted to produce merely what 
is in general understood by a good line ; he sought to pro- 
duce glorious paragraphs and systems of harmony, or, as 
he himself expresses it, 
" Many a winding bout 
Of linked sweetness long drawn out." 
L'A llegro. 
Such, therefore, as I have now defined it, I shall consider 
the sense of the word " Poetry " : pleasurable excitement 
is its origin and object ; pleasure is the magic circle out 
of which the poet must not dare to tread. Part of my 
definition, you will be aware, would apply equally to the 
arts of painting and music, as to poetry ; but to the last 
are added words and metre, so that my definition is strictly 
and logically applicable to poetry, and to poetry only, 
which produces delight, the parent of so many virtues. 
When I was in Italy, a friend of mine, who pursued painting 
almost with the enthusiasm of madness, believing it 
superior to every other art, heard the definition I have 
given, acknowledged its correctness, and admitted the 
pre-eminence of poetry. 
I never shall forget, when in Rome, the acute sensation 
of pain I experienced on beholding the frescoes of Raphael 
and Michael Angelo, and on reflecting that they were in- 
debted for their preservation solely to the durable material 
upon which they were painted. There they are, the per- 
manent monuments (permanent as long as waUs and 
plaster last) of genius and skill, while many others of their 
mighty works have become the spoils of insatiate avarice, 
or the victims of wanton barbarism. How grateful ought 
mankind to be, that so many of the great hterary produc- 
tions of antiquity have come down to us — that the works 
of Homer, Euclid, and Plato, have been preserved — while 
we possess those of Bacon, Newton, Milton, Shakspeare, 
The Second Lecture 401 
and of so many other living-dead men of our own island. 
These, fortunately, may be considered indestructible : 
they shall remain to us till the end of time itself — till time, 
in the words of a great poet of the age of Shakspeare, has 
thrown his last dart at death, and shall himself submit to 
the final and inevitable destruction of all created matter.^ 
A second irruption of the Goths and Vandals could not 
now endanger their existence, secured as they are by the 
wonders of modern invention, and by the affectionate 
admiration of myriads of human beings. It is as nearly 
two centuries as possible since Shakspeare ceased to write, 
but when shall he cease to be read ? When shall he cease 
to give light and delight ? Yet even at this moment he is 
only receiving the first-fruits of that glory, which must 
continue to augment as long as our language is spoken. 
English has given immortality to him, and he has given 
immortality to English. Shakspeare can never die, and 
the language in which he wrote must with him live for ever. 
Yet, in spite of all this, some prejudices have attached 
themselves to the name of our illustrious countryman, 
which it will be necessary for me first to endeavour to over- 
come. On the continent, we may remark, the works of 
Shakspeare are honoured in a double way — by the admira- 
tion of the Germans, and by the contempt of the French. 
Among other points of objection taken by the French, 
perhaps, the most noticeable is, that he has not observed 
the sacred unities, so hallowed by the practice of their own 
extolled tragedians. They hold, of course after Corneille 
and Racine, that Sophocles is the most perfect model for 
tragedy, and Aristotle its most infallible censor ; and that 
as Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and other dramas by Shakspeare 
are not framed upon that model, and consequently not 
subject to the same laws, they maintain (not having im- 
partiality enough to question the model, or to deny the 
rules of the Stagirite) that Shakspeare was a sort of 
irregular genius — that he is now and then tasteful and 
touching, but generally incorrect ; and, in short, that he 
1 Alluding, of course, to Ben Jonson's epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke : 
'* Underneath this sable herse 
Lies the subject of all verse, 
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother. 
Death 1 ere thou hast slain another, 
Learn 'd, and fair, and good as she. 
Time shall throw a dart at thee." 
Ben /onsen's IVorks ; edit. Gifford, viii. 337.— J. P. C 
402 The Second Lecture 
was a mere child of nature, who did not know any better 
than to write as he has written. 
It is an old, and I have hitherto esteemed it a just, Latin 
maxim, Oportet discentem credere, edoctum judicare ; but 
modern practice has inverted it, and it ought now rather 
to stand, Oportet discentem judicare, edoctum credere. To 
remedy this mistake there is but one course, namely the 
acquirement of knowledge. I have often run the risk of 
applying to the ignorant, who assumed the post and pro- 
vince of judges, a ludicrous, but not inapt simile : they 
remind me of a congregation of frogs, involved in darkness 
in a ditch, who keep an eternal croaking, until a lantern is 
brought near the scene of their disputation, when they 
instantly cease their discordant harangues. They may be 
more politely resembled to night-flies, which flutter round 
the glimmering of a feeble taper, but are overpowered by 
the dazzling splendour of noon-day. Nor can it be other- 
wise, until the prevalent notion is exploded, that know- 
ledge is easily taught, and until the conviction is general, 
that the hardest thing learned is that people are ignorant. 
All are apt enough to discover and expose the ignorance of 
their friends, but their blind faith in their own sufficiency 
is something more than marvellous. 
Some persons have contended that mathematics ought 
to be taught by making the illustrations obvious to the 
senses. Nothing can be more absurd or injurious : it ought 
to be our never-ceasing effort to make people think, not 
feel ; and it is very much owing to this mistake that, to 
those who do not think, and have not been made to think, 
Shakspeare has been found so difficult of comprehension. 
The condition of the stage, and the character of the times 
in which our great poet flourished, must first of all be taken 
into account, in considering the question as to his judgment. 
If it were possible to say which of his great powers and 
qualifications is more admirable than the rest, it unques- 
tionably appears to me that his judgment is the most 
Vv'onderful ; and at this conviction I have arrived after a 
careful comparison of his productions with those of his best 
and greatest contemporaries. 
If indeed " King Lear " were to be tried by the laws 
which Aristotle established, and Sophocles obeyed, it must 
be at once admitted to be outrageously irregular ; and 
supposing the rules regarding the unities to be founded on 
The Second Lecture 403 
man and nature, Shakspeare must be condemned for array- 
ing his works in charms with which they ought never to 
have been decorated. I have no doubt, however, that both 
were right in their divergent courses, and that they arrived 
at the same conclusion by a different process. 
Without entering into matters which must be generally 
known to persons of education, respecting the origin of 
tragedy and comedy among the Greeks, it may be observed, 
that the unities grew mainly out of the size and construc- 
tion of the ancient theatres : the plays represented were 
made to include within a short space of time events which 
it is impossible should have occurred in that short space. 
This fact alone establishes, that all dramatic performances 
were then looked upon merely as ideal. It is the same 
with us : nobody supposes that a tragedian suffers real 
pain when he is stabbed or tortured ; or that a comedian is 
in fact transported with delight when successful in pre- 
tended love. 
If we want to witness mere pain, we can visit the 
hospitals : if we seek the exhibition of mere pleasure, we 
can find it in ball-rooms. It is the representation of it, 
not the reality, that we require, the imitation, and not the 
thing itself ; and we pronounce it good or bad in pro- 
portion as the representation is an incorrect, or a correct 
imitation. The true pleasure we derive from theatrical 
performances arises from the fact that they are unreal and 
fictitious. If djring agonies were unfeigned, who, in these 
days of civilisation, could derive gratification from behold- 
ing them ? 
Performances in a large theatre made it necessary that 
the human voice should be unnaturally and unmusically 
stretched ; and hence the introduction of recitative, for 
the purpose of rendering pleasantly artificial the distortion 
of the face, and straining of the voice, occasioned by the 
magnitude of the building. The fact that the ancient 
choruses were always on the stage made it impossible 
that any change of place should be represented, or even 
The origin of the English stage is less boastful than that 
of the Greek stage : like the constitution under which we 
live, though more barbarous in its derivation, it gives more 
genuine and more diffused liberty, than Athens in the 
zenith of her political glory ever possessed. Our earUest 
404 The Second Lecture 
dramatic performances were religious, founded chiefly 
upon Scripture history ; and, although countenanced by 
the clergy, they were filled with blasphemies and ribaldry, 
such as the most hardened and desperate of the present 
day would not dare to utter. In these representations 
vice and the principle of evil were personified ; and hence 
the introduction of fools and clowns in dramas of a m^ore 
advanced period. 
While Shakspeare accommodated himself to the taste 
and spirit of the times in which he lived, his genius and his 
judgment taught him to use these characters with terrible 
effect, in aggravating the misery and agony of some of his 
most distressing scenes. This result is especially obvious 
in " King Lear " : the contrast of the Fool wonderfully 
heightens the colouring of some of the most painful situa- 
tions, where the old monarch in the depth and fury of his 
despair, complains to the warring elements of the ingrati- 
tude of his daughters. 
Spit, fire ! spout, rain ! 
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters : 
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness, 
I never gave you kingdom, call'd you children ; 
You owe me no subscription : then, let fall 
Your horrible pleasure ; here I stand, your slave, 
A poor, infirm, weak, and despis'd old man." 
King Lear, Act iii.. Scene 2. 
Just aftenvards, the Fool interposes, to heighten and 
inflame the passion of the scene. 
In other dramas, though perhaps in a less degree, our 
great poet has evinced the same skill and felicity of treat- 
ment ; and in no instance can it be justly alleged of him, 
as it may be of some of the ablest of his contemporaries, 
that he introduced his fool, or his clown, merely for the 
sake of exciting the laughter of his audiences. Shakspeare 
had a loftier and a better purpose, and in this respect 
availed himself of resources, which, it would almost seem, 
he alone possessed.^ 
1 I most deeply regret, that I have not recovered any of my notes of the third, fourth^ 
and fifth Lectures.— J. P. C. 
The Sixth Lecture 405 
The recollection of what has been said by some of his 
biographers, on the supposed fact that Milton received 
corporal punishment at college, induces me to express my 
entire dissent from the notion, that flogging or caning has 
a tendency to degrade and debase the minds of boys at 
school. In my opinion it is an entire mistake ; since this 
species of castigation has not only been inflicted time out 
of mind, but those who are subjected to it are well aware 
that the very highest persons in the realm, and those to 
whom people are accustomed to look up with most respect 
and reverence, such as the judges of the land, have quietly 
submitted to it in their pupilage. 
I well remember, about twenty years ago, an advertise- 
ment from a schoolmaster, in which he assured tender- 
hearted and foolish parents, that corporal punishment was 
never inflicted, excepting in cases of absolute necessity ; 
and that even then the rod was composed of lilies and 
roses, the latter, I conclude, stripped of their thorns. 
What, let me ask, has been the consequence, in many cases, 
of the abolition of flogging in schools ? Reluctance to 
remove a pimple has not unfrequently transferred the 
disease to the vitals : sparing the rod, for the correction of 
minor faults, has ended in the commission of the highest 
crimes. A man of great reputation (I should rather say 
of great notoriety) sometimes punished the pupils under his 
care by suspending them from the ceiling in baskets, 
exposed to the derision of their school-fellows ; at other 
times he pinned upon the clothes of the offender a number 
of last dying speeches and confessions, and employed 
another boy to walk before the culprit, making the usual 
monotonous lamentation and outcry. 
On one occasion this absurd, and really degrading 
punishment was inflicted because a boy read with a tone, 
although, I may observe in passing, that reading with 
intonation is strictly natural, and therefore truly proper, 
excepting in the excess. ^ 
1 This was the Lecturer's own mode of reading verse, and even in prose there was 
an approach to intonation. I have heard him read Spenser with such an excess (to use 
his own word) in this respect, that it almost amounted to a song. In blank verse it was 
less, but still apparent. Milton's "Liberty of unlicensed Printing" was a favourite 
piece of rhetorical writing, and portions of it I have heard Coleridge recite, never with- 
out a sort of habitual rise and fall of the voice. — J. P. C. 
4o6 The Sixth Lecture 
Then, as to the character and effect of the punishment 
just noticed, what must a parent of well regulated and 
instructed mind think of the exhibition of his son in the 
manner I have described ? Here, indeed, was debasement 
of the worst and lowest kind ; for the feelings of a child 
were outraged, and made to associate and connect them- 
selves with the sentence on an abandoned and shameless 
criminal. Who would not prefer the momentary, but 
useful, impression of flogging to this gross attack upon the 
moral feelings and self-respect of a boy ? Again, as to the 
proper mode of reading : why is a tone in reading to be 
visited as a criminal offence, especially when the estimate 
of that offence arises out of the ignorance and incom- 
petence of the master ? Every man who reads with true 
sensibility, especially poetry, must read with a tone, since 
it conveys, with additional effect, the harmony and rhythm 
of the verse, without in the slightest degree obscuring the 
meaning. That is the highest point of excellence in reading 
which gives to every thing, whether of thought or language, 
its most just expression. There may be a wrong tone, as 
a right, and a wrong tone is of course to be avoided ; but 
a poet writes in measure, and measure is best made ap- 
parent by reading with a tone, which heightens the verse, 
and does not in any respect lower the sense. I defy any 
man, who has a true relish of the beauty of versification, 
to read a canto of " the Fairy Queen," or a book of 
** Paradise Lost," without some species of intonation. 
In various instances we are hardly sensible of its exist- 
ence, but it does exist, and persons have not scrupled to 
say, and I believe it, that the tone of a good reader may be 
set to musical notation. If in these, and in other remarks 
that fall from me, I appear dogmatical, or dictatorial, it is 
to be borne in mind, that every man who takes upon him- 
self to lecture, requires that he should be considered by his 
hearers capable of teaching something that is valuable, or 
of saying something that is worth hearing. In a mixed 
audience not a few are desirous of instruction, and some 
require it ; but placed in my present situation I consider 
myself, not as a man who carries moveables into an empty 
house, but as a man who entering a generally well furnished 
dwelling, exhibits a light which enables the owner to see 
what is still wanting. I endeavour to introduce the means 
of ascertaining what is, and is not, in a man's own mind. 
The Sixth Lecture 407 
Not long since, when I lectured at the Royal Institution, 
I had the honour of sitting at the desk so ably occupied by 
Sir Humphry Davy, who may be said to have elevated the 
art of chemistry to the dignity of a science ; who has dis- 
covered that one common law is applicable to the mind 
and to the body, and who has enabled us to give a full and 
perfect Amen to the great axiom of Lord Bacon, that 
knowledge is power. In the delivery of that course I 
carefully prepared my first essay, and received for it a cold 
suffrage of approbation : from accidental causes I was 
unable to study the exact form and language of my second 
lecture, and when it was at an end, I obtained universal 
and heart-felt applause. What a lesson was this to me not 
to elaborate my materials, nor to consider too nicely the 
expressions I should employ, but to trust mainly to the 
extemporaneous ebullition of my thoughts. In this con- 
viction I have ventured to come before you here ; and may 
I add a hope, that what I offer will be received in a similar 
spirit ? It is true that my matter may not be so accurately 
arranged : it may not dovetail and fit at all times as nicely 
as could be wished ; but you shall have my thoughts warm 
from my heart, and fresh from my understanding : you 
shall have the whole skeleton, although the bones may not 
be put together with the utmost anatomical skill. 
The immense advantage possessed by men of genius 
over men of talents can be illustrated in no stronger 
manner, than by a comparison of the benefits resulting to 
mankind from the works of Homer and of Thucydides. 
The merits and claims of Thucydides, as a historian, are 
at once admitted ; but what care we for the incidents of 
the Peloponnesian War ? An individual may be ignorant 
of them, as far as regards the particular narrative of 
Thucydides ; but woe to that statesman, or, I may say, 
woe to that man, who has not availed himself of the wisdom 
contained in " the tale of Troy divine ! " 
Lord Bacon has beautifully expressed this idea, where he 
talks of the instability and destruction of the monuments 
of the greatest heroes, and compares them with the ever- 
lasting writings of Homer, one word of which has never 
been lost since the days of Pisistratus. Like a mighty ship, 
they have passed over the sea of time, not leaving a mere 
ideal track, which soon altogether disappears, but leaving a 
train of glory in its wake, present and enduring, daily acting 
The Sixth Lecture 
upon our minds, and ennobling us by grand thoughts and 
images : to this work, perhaps, the bravest of our soldiery 
may trace and attribute some of their heroic achievements. 
Just as the body is to the immortal mind, so are the actions 
of our bodily powers in proportion to those by which, 
independent of individual continuity,^ we are governed 
for ever and ever ; by which we call, not only the narrow 
circle of mankind (narrow comparatively) as they now 
exist, our brethren, but by which we carry our being into 
future ages, and call all who shall succeed us our brethren, 
until at length we arrive at that exalted state, when we 
shall welcome into Heaven thousands and thousands, who 
will exclaim — " To you I owe the first development of my 
imagination ; to you I owe the withdrawing of my mind 
from the low brutal part of my nature, to the lofty, the 
pure, and the perpetual." 
Adverting to the subject more immediately before us, 
I may observe that I have looked at the reign of Elizabeth, 
interesting on many accounts, with peculiar pleasure and 
satisfaction, because it furnished circumstances so favour- 
able to the existence, and to the full development of the 
powers of Shakespeare. The Reformation, just completed, 
had occasioned unusual activity of mind, a passion, as it 
were, for thinking, and for the discovery and use of words 
capable of expressing the objects of thought and invention. 
It was, consequently, the age of many conceits, and an age 
when, for a time, the intellect stood superior to the moral 
The difference between the state of mind in the reign 
of Elizabeth, and in that of Charles I. is astonishing. In 
the former period there was an amazing development of 
power, but all connected with prudential purposes — an 
attempt to reconcile the moral feeling with the full exercise 
of the powers of the mind, and the accomplishment of 
certain practical ends. Then lived Bacon, Burghley, Sir 
Walter Raleigh, Sir Philip Sidney, and a galaxy of great 
men, statesmen, lawyers, politicians, philosophers, and 
poets ; and it is lamentable that they should have degraded 
1 I give this passage exactly as I find it in my notes ; but it strikes me that something 
explanatory must have been accidentally omitted, and perhaps that the word I have 
written " continuity " ought to be contiguity. I might have left out the whole from 
"Just as the body " down to '* the pure and the perpetual," but 1 preferred showing 
my own imperfectness to omitting what may be clear to others, though, at this distance 
of time, not so evident to me. The general point and bearing of what Coleridge said 
will be easily understood. — J. P. C. 
The Sixth Lecture 409 
their mighty powers to such base designs and purposes, 
dissolving the rich pearls of their great faculties in a 
worthless acid, to be drunken by a harlot. What was 
seeking the favour of the Queen, to a man like Bacon, but 
the mere courtship of harlotry ? 
Compare this age with that of the republicans : that 
indeed was an awful age, as compared with our own. 
England may be said to have then overflowed from the 
fulness of grand principle — from the greatness which men 
felt in themselves, abstracted from the prudence with which 
they ought to have considered, whether their principles 
were, or were not, adapted to the condition of mankind at 
large. Compare the revolution then effected with that of 
a day not long past, when the bubbling-up and overflowing 
was occasioned by the elevation of the dregs — when there 
was a total absence of all principle, when the dregs had 
risen from the bottom to the top, and thus converted into 
scum, founded a monarchy to be the poisonous bane and 
misery of the rest of mankind. 
It is absolutely necessary to recollect, that the age in 
which Shakspeare hved was one of great abilities applied 
to individual and prudential purposes, and not an age of 
high moral feeling and lofty principle, which gives a man 
of genius the power of thinking of all things in reference 
to all. If, then, we should find that Shakspeare took 
these materials as they were presented to him, and yet to 
aU effectual purposes produced the same grand result as 
others attempted to produce in an age so much more 
favourable, shall we not feel and acknowledge the purity 
and holiness of genius — a light, which, however it might 
shine on a dunghill, was as pure as the divine effluence 
which created all the beauty of nature ? 
One of the consequences of the idea prevalent at the 
period when Shakspeare flourished, viz., that persons must 
be men of talents in proportion as they were gentlemen, 
renders certain characters in his dramas natural with 
reference to the date when they were drawn : when we 
read them we are aware that they are not of our age, and 
in one sense they may be said to be of no age. A friend 
of mine well remarked of Spenser, that he is out of space : 
the reader never knows where he is, but still he knows, 
from the consciousness within him, that all is as natural 
and proper, as if the country where the action is laid were 
4IO The Sixth Lecture 
distinctly pointed out, and marked down in a map. Shak- 
speare is as much out of time, as Spenser is out of space ; 
yet we feel conscious, though we never knew that such 
characters existed, that they might exist, and are satisfied 
with the belief in their existence. 
This circumstance enabled Shakspeare to paint truly, 
and according to the colouring of nature, a vast number 
of personages by the simple force of meditation : he had 
only to imitate certain parts of his own character, or to 
exaggerate such as existed in possibility, and they were 
at once true to nature, and fragments of the divine mind 
that drew them. Men who see the great luminary of our 
system through various optical instruments declare that it 
seems either square, triangular, or round, when in truth 
it is still the sun, unchanged in shape and proportion. So 
with the characters of our great poet : some may think 
them of one form, and some of another ; but they are still 
nature, still Shakspeare, and the creatures of his meditation. 
When I use the term meditation, I do not mean that 
our great dramatist was without observation of external 
circumstances : quite the reverse ; but mere observation 
may be able to produce an accurate copy, and even to 
furnish to other men's minds more than the copyist pro- 
fessed ; but what is produced can only consist of parts and 
fragments, according to the means and extent of observa- 
tion. Meditation looks at every character with inte'rest, 
only as it contains something generally true, and such as 
might be expressed in a philosophical problem. 
Shakspeare's characters may be reduced to a few — that 
is to say, to a few classes of characters. If you take his 
gentlemen, for instance, Biron is seen again in Mercutio, in 
Benedick, and in several others. They are men who com- 
bine the politeness of the courtier with the faculties of high 
intellect — those powers of combination and severance 
which only belong to an intellectual mind. The wonder is 
how Shakspeare can thus disguise himself, and possess such 
miraculous powers of conveying what he means without 
betraying the poet, and without even producing the con- 
sciousness of him. 
In the address of Mercutio regarding Queen Mab, which 
is so well known that it is unnecessary to repeat it, is to be 
noted all the fancy of the poet ; and the language in which 
it is conveyed possesses such facility and felicity, that one 
The Sixth Lecture 411 
would almost say that it was impossible for it to be thought, 
unless it were thought as naturally, and without effort, 
as Mercutio repeats it. This is the great art by which 
Shakspeare combines the poet and the gentleman through- 
out, borrowing from his most amiable nature that which 
alone could combine them, a perfect simplicity of mind, a 
delight in all that is excellent for its own sake, without 
reference to himself as causing it, and by that which dis- 
tinguishes him from all other poets, alluded to by one of 
his admirers in a short poem, where he tells us that while 
Shakspeare possessed all the powers of a man, and more 
than a man, yet he had all the feelings, the sensibilit}^ the 
purity, innocence, and delicacy of an affectionate girl of 
Before I enter upon the merits of the tragedy of '* Romeo 
and Juliet," it will be necessary for me to say something of 
the language of our country. And here I beg leave to 
observe, that although I have announced these as lectures 
upon Milton and Shakspeare, they are in reality, as also 
stated in the prospectus, intended to illustrate the prin- 
ciples of poetry : therefore, all must not be regarded as 
mere digression which does not immediately and ex- 
clusively refer to those writers. I have chosen them, in 
order to bring under the notice of my hearers great general 
truths ; in fact, whatever may aid myself, as well as others, 
in deciding upon the claims of all writers of all countries. 
The language, that is to say the particular tongue, in 
which Shakspeare wrote, cannot be left out of considera- 
tion. It will not be disputed, that one language may pos- 
sess advantages which another does not enjoy ; and we 
may state with confidence, that English excels all other lan- 
guages in the number of its practical words. The French 
may bear the palm in the names of trades, and in military 
and diplomatic terms. Of the German it may be said, 
that, exclusive of many mineralogical words, it is incom- 
parable in its metaphysical and psychological force : in 
another respect it nearly rivals the Greek, 
" The learned Greek, rich in fit epithets, 
Blest in the lovely marriage of pure words ; " * 
I mean in its capability of composition — of forming com- 
1 From Act I., Scene i, of "Lingua, or the Combat of the Tongue and the Five 
Senses." This drama is reprinted in Dodsley's Old Plays, vol. v. (last edition), and 
\he lines may be found on p. 107 of that volume. 
412 The Sixth Lecture 
pound words. Italian is the sweetest and softest language ; 
Spanish the most majestic. All these have their peculiar 
faults ; but I never can agree that any language is unfit for 
poetry, although different languages, from the condition 
and circumstances of the people, may certainly be adapted 
to one species of poetry more than to another. 
Take the French as an example. It is, perhaps, the most 
perspicuous and pointed language in the world, and there- 
fore best fitted for conversation, for the expression of light 
and airy passion, attaining its object by peculiar and 
felicitous turns of phrase, which are evanescent, and, like 
the beautifully coloured dust on the wings of a butterfly, 
must not be judged by the test of touch. It appears as if 
it were all surface and had no substratum, and it constantly 
most dangerously tampers with morals, without positively 
offending decency. As the language for what is called 
modern genteel comedy all others must yield to French. 
Italian can only be deemed second to Spanish, and 
Spanish to Greek, which contains all the excellences of 
all languages. Italian, though sweet and soft, is not 
deficient in force and dignity ; and I may appeal to Ariosto, 
as a poet who displays to the utmost advantage the use 
of his native tongue for all purposes, whether of passion, 
sentiment, humour, or description. 
But in English I find that which is possessed by no other 
modern language, and which, as it were, appropriates it to 
the drama. It is a language made out of many, and it has 
consequently many words, which originally had the same 
meaning ; but in the progress of society those words have 
gradually assumed different shades of meaning. Take 
any homogeneous language, such as German, and try to 
translate into it the following lines : — 
" But not to one, in this benighted age, 
Is that diviner inspiration given. 
That burns in Shakspeare's or in Milton's page. 
The pomp and prodigality of heaven." 
Gray's Stanzas to Bentley. 
In German it would be necessary to say " the pomp 
and spendthriftness of heaven," because the German has 
not, as we have, one word with two such distinct meanings, 
one expressing the nobler, the other the baser idea of the 
same action. 
The monosyllabic character of English enables us, 
The Sixth Lecture 413 
besides, to express more meaning in a shorter compass than 
can be done in any other language. In truth, EngUsh 
may be called the harvest of the unconscious wisdom of 
various nations, and was not the formation of any particu- 
lar time, or assemblage of individuals. Hence the number 
of its passionate phrases — its metaphorical terms, not 
borrowed from poets, but adopted by them. Our com- 
monest people, when excited by passion, constantly employ 
them : if a mother lose her child she is full of the wildest 
fancies, and the words she uses assume a tone of dignity ; 
for the constant hearing and reading of the Bible and 
Liturgy clothes her thoughts not only in the most natural, 
but in the most beautiful forms of language. 
I have been induced to offer these remarks, in order to 
obviate an objection often made against Shakspeare on 
the ground of the multitude of his conceits. I do not 
pretend to justify every conceit, and a vast number have 
been most unfairly imputed to him ; for I am satisfied that 
many portions of scenes attributed to Shakspeare were 
never written by him. I admit, however, that even in 
those which bear the strongest characteristics of his mind, 
there are some conceits not strictly to be vindicated. 
The notion against which I declare war is, that whenever 
a conceit is met with it is unnatural. People who enter- 
tain this opinion forget, that had they lived in the age 
of Shakspeare, they would have deemed them natural. 
Dry den in his translation of Juvenal has used the words 
" Look round the world," which are a literal version of 
the original ; but Dr. Johnson has swelled and expanded 
this expression into the following couplet : — 
" Let observation, Avith extensive view, 
Survey mankind from China to Peru ; ** 
Vanity of Human Wishes. 
mere bombast and tautology ; as much as to say, " Let 
observation with extensive observation observe mankind 
Had Dr. Johnson lived in the time of Shakspeare, or 
even of Dry den, he would never have been guilty of such 
an outrage upon common sense and common language ; 
and if people would, in idea, throw themselves back a 
couple of centuries, they would find that conceits, and even 
puns, were very allowable, because very natural. Puns 
414 The Sixth Lecture 
often arise out of a mingled sense of injury, and contempt 
of the person inflicting it, and, as it seems to me, it is a 
natural way of expressing that mixed feeling. I could 
point out puns in Shakspeare, where they appear almost 
as if the first openings of the mouth of nature — where 
nothing else could so properly be said. This is not peculiar 
to puns, but is of much wider application : read any part 
of the works of our great dramatist, and the conviction 
comes upon you irresistibly, not only that what he puts 
into the mouths of his personages might have been said, 
but that it must have been said, because nothing so proper 
could have been said. 
In a future lecture I will enter somewhat into the history 
of conceits, and shew the wise use that has heretofore been 
made of them. I will now (and I hope it will be received 
with favour) attempt a defence of conceits and puns, 
taking my examples mainly from the poet under considera- 
tion. I admit, of course, that they may be misapplied ; 
but throughout life, I may say, I never have discovered 
the wrong use of a thing, without having previously dis- 
covered the right use of it. To the young I would remark, 
that it is always unwise to judge of anything by its defects : 
the first attempt ought to be to discover its excellences. 
If a man come into my company and abuse a book, his 
invectives coming down like water from a shower bath, I 
never feel obliged to him : he probably tells me no news, 
for all works, even the best, have defects, and they are 
easily seen ; but if a man show me beauties, I thank him 
for his information, because, in my time, I have unfortu- 
nately gone through so many volumes that have had little 
or nothing to recommend them. Always begin with the 
good — a Jove principium — and the bad will make itself 
evident enough, quite as soon as is desirable. 
I will proceed to speak of Shakspeare's wit, in connexion 
with his much abused puns and conceits ; because an 
excellent writer, who has done good service to the public 
taste by driving out the nonsense of the Italian school, has 
expressed his surprise, that aU the other excellences of 
Shakspeare were, in a greater or less degree, possessed by 
his contemporaries : thus, Ben Jonson had one qualifica- 
tion, Massinger another, while he declares that Beaumont 
and Fletcher had equal knowledge of human nature, with 
more variety. The point in which none of them had 
The Sixth Lecture 415 
approached Shakspeare, according to this writer, was his 
wit. I own, I was somewhat shocked to see it gravely said 
in print, that the quahty by which Shakspeare was to be 
individualised from all others was, what is ordinarily called, 
wit. I had read his plays over and over, and it did not 
strike me that wit was his great and characteristic superi- 
ority. In reading Voltaire, or (to take a standard and most 
witty comedy cls an example) in reading ** The School for 
Scandal," I never experienced the same sort of feeling as 
in reading Shakspeare. 
That Shakspeare has wit is indisputable, but it is not 
the same kind of wit as in other writers : his wit is blended 
with the other qualities of his works, and is, by its nature, 
capable of being so blended. It appears in all parts of his 
productions, in his tragedies, comedies, and histories : it is 
not like the wit of Voltaire, and of many modern writers, 
to whom the epithet " witty " has been properly apphed, 
whose wit consists in a mere combination of words ; but 
in at least nine times out of ten in Shakspeare, the wit is 
produced not by a combination of words, but by a com- 
bination of images. 
It is not always easy to distinguish between wit and 
fancy. When the whole pleasure received is derived from 
surprise at an unexpected turn of expression, then I call 
it wit ; but when the pleasure is produced not only by 
surprise, but also by an image which remains with us and 
gratifies for its own sake, then I call it fancy. I know of 
no mode so satisfactory of distinguishing between wit and 
fancy. I appeal to the recollection of those who hear me, 
whether the greater part of what passes for wit in Shak- 
speare, is not most exquisite humour, heightened by a 
figure, and attributed to a particular character ? Take 
the instance of the flea on Bardolph's nose, which Falstaff 
compares to a soul suft'ering in purgatory. The images 
themselves, in cases like this, afford a great part of the 
These remarks are not without importance in forming 
a judgment of poets and writers in general : there is a wide 
difference between the talent which gives a sort of electric 
surprise by a mere turn of phrase, and that higher ability 
which produces surprise by a permanent medium, and 
always leaves something behind it, which satisfies the 
mind as well as tickles the hearing. The first belongs to 
4i6 The Sixth Lecture 
men of cleverness, who, having been long in the world, 
have observed the turns of phrase which please in company, 
and which, passing away the moment, are passed in a 
moment, being no longer recollected than the time they 
take in utterance. We must all have seen and known 
such people ; and I remember saying of one of them that 
he was like a man who squandered his estate in farthings : 
he gave away so many, that he must needs have been 
wealthy. This sort of talent by no means constitutes 
genius, although it has some affinity to it. 
The wit of Shakspeare is, as it were, like the flourishing 
of a man's stick, when he is walking, in the full flow of 
animal spirits : it is a sort of exuberance of hilarity which 
disburdens, and it resembles a conductor, to distribute a 
portion of our gladness to the surrounding air. While, 
however, it disburdens, it leaves behind what is weightiest 
and most important, and what most contributes to some 
direct aim and purpose. 
I will now touch upon a very serious charge against 
Shakspeare — that of indecency and immorality. Many 
have been those who have endeavoured to exculpate him 
by saying, that it was the vice of his age ; but he was 
too great to require exculpation from the accidents of any 
age. These persons have appealed to Beaumont and 
Fletcher, to Massinger, and to other less eminent drama- 
tists, to prove that what is complained of was common to 
them all. Oh ! shame and sorrow, if it were so : there is 
nothing common to Shakspeare and to other writers of his 
day — not even the language they employed. 
In order to form a proper judgment upon this point, it 
is necessary to make a distinction between manners and 
morals ; and that distinction being once established, and 
clearly comprehended, Shakspeare will appear as pure a 
writer, in reference to all that we ought to be, and to all 
that we ought to feel, as he is wonderful in reference to 
his intellectual faculties. 
By manners I mean what is dependent on the par- 
cular customs and fashions of the age. Even in a state 
of comparative barbarism as to manners, there may be, 
and there is, morality. But give me leave to say that 
we have seen much worse times than those — times when 
the mind was so enervated and degraded, that the most 
distant associations, that could possibly connect our ideas 
The Sixth Lecture 417 
with the basest feeUngs, immediately brought forward 
those base feeUngs, without reference to the nobler im- 
pulses ; thus destroying the little remnant of humanity, 
excluding from the mind what is good, and introducing 
what is bad to keep the bestial nature company. 
On looking through Shakspeare, offences against 
decency and manners may certainly be pointed out ; 
but let us examine history minutely, and we shall find 
that this was the ordinary language of the time, and then 
let us ask, where is the offence ? The offence, so to call 
it, was not committed wantonly, and for the sake of 
offending, but for the sake of merriment ; for what is 
most observable in Shakspeare, in reference to this topic, 
is that what he says is always calculated to raise a gust 
of laughter, that would, as it were, blow a.way all impure 
ideas, if it did not excite abhorrence of them. 
Above all, let us compare him with some modern writers, 
the servile imitators of the French, and we shall receive 
a most instructive lesson. I may take the liberty of 
reading the following note, written by me after witnessing 
the performance of a modern play at Malta, about nine 
years ago : — "I went to the theatre, and came away 
without waiting for the entertainment. The longer I live, 
the more I am impressed with the exceeding immorality 
of modern plays : I can scarcely refrain from anger and 
laughter at the shamelessness, and the absurdity of the 
presumption which presents itself, when I think of their 
pretences to superior morality, compared with the plays 
of Shakspeare." 
Here let me pause for one moment ; for while reading 
my note I call to mind a novel, on the sofa or toilet of 
nearly every woman of quality, in which the author 
gravely warns parents against the indiscreet communica- 
tion to their children of the contents of some parts of 
the Bible, as calculated to injure their morals. Another 
modern author, who has done his utmost to undermine 
the innocence of the young of both sexes, has the effrontery 
to protest against the exhibition of the bare leg of a 
Corinthian female. My note thus pursues the subject : — 
" In Shakspeare there are a few gross speeches, but it 
is doubtful to me if they would produce any ill effect on 
an unsullied mind ; while in some modern plays, as well as 
in some modern novels, there is a systematic undermining 
4i8 The Sixth Lecture 
of all morality : they are written in the true cant ol 
humanity, that has no object but to impose ; where 
virtue is not placed in action, or in the habits that lead to 
action, but, like the title of a book I have heard of, they 
are ' a hot huddle of indefinite sensations.' In these the 
lowest incitements to piety are obtruded upon us ; like 
an impudent rascal at a masquerade, who is well known 
in spite of his vizor, or known by it, and yet is allowed to 
be impudent in virtue of his disguise. In short, I appeal 
to the whole of Shakspeare's writings, whether his gross- 
ness is not the mere sport of fancy, dissipating low feelings 
by exciting the intellect, and only injuring while it offends ? 
Modern dramas injure in consequence of not offending. 
Shakspeare's worst passages are grossnesses against the 
degradations of our nature : those of our modern plays 
are too often delicacies directly in favour of them." 
Such was my note, made nine years ago, and I have 
since seen every reason to adhere firmly to the opinions 
it expresses. 
In my next lecture I will proceed to an examination of 
" Romeo and Juliet ; " and I take that tragedy, because 
in it are to be found aU the crude materials of future 
excellence. The poet, the great dramatic poet, is through- 
out seen, but the various parts of the composition are 
not blended with such harmony as in some of his after 
writings. I am directed to it, more than all, for this 
reason, — because it affords me the best opportunity of 
introducing Shakspeare as a delineator of female char- 
acter, and of love in all its forms, and with all the emotions 
which deserve that sweet and man-elevating name. 
It has been remarked, I believe by Dryden, that Shak- 
speare wrote for men only, but Beaumont and Fletcher 
(or rather " the gentle Fletcher ") for women. I wish to 
begin by shewing, not only that this is not true, but that, 
of all .writers for the stage, he only has drawn the female 
character with that mixture of the real and of the ideal 
which belongs to it ; and that there is no one female 
personage in the plays of all his contemporaries, of whom 
a man, seriously examining his heart and his good sense, 
can say " Let that woman be my companion through 
hfe : let her be the subject of my suit, and the reward of 
my success." 
The Seventh Lecture 419 
In a former lecture I endeavoured to point out the union 
of the Poet and the Philosopher, or rather the warm embrace 
between them, in the " Venus and Adonis " and " Lucrece " 
of Shakspeare. From thence I passed on to " Love's 
Labour's Lost," as the link between his character as a Poet, 
and his art as a Dramatist ; and I shewed that, although in 
that work the former was still predominant, yet that the 
germs of his subsequent dramatic power were easily 
I will now, as I promised in my last, proceed to " Romeo 
and Juliet," not because it is the earliest, or among the 
earliest of Shakspeare's works of that kind, but because 
in it are to be found specimens, in degree, of all the ex- 
cellences which he afterwards displayed in his more 
perfect dramas, but differing from them in being less 
forcibly evidenced, and less happily combined : all the 
parts are more or less present, but they are not united 
with the same harmony. 
There are, however, in " Romeo and Juliet " passages 
where the poet's whole excellence is evinced, so that 
nothing superior to them can be met with in the pro- 
ductions of his after years. The main distinction between 
this play and others is, as I said, that the parts are less 
happily combined, or to borrow a phrase from the painter, 
the whole work is less in keeping. Grand portions are 
produced : we have limbs of giant growth ; but the 
production, as a whole, in which each part gives delight 
for itself, and the whole, consisting of these delightful 
parts, communicates the highest intellectual pleasure and 
satisfaction, is the result of the application of judgment 
and taste. These are not to be attained but by painful 
study, and to the sacrifice of the stronger pleasures derived 
from the dazzling light which a man of genius throws over 
every circumstance, and where we are chiefly struck 
by vivid and distinct images. Taste is an attainment 
after a poet has been discipHned by experience, and has 
added to genius that talent by which he knows what part 
of his genius he can make acceptable, and intelligible to 
the portion of mankind for which he writes. 
In my mind it would be a hopeless symptom, as regards 
420 The Seventh Lecture 
genius, if I found a young man with anything Uke perfect 
taste. In the earUer works of Shakspeare we have a pro- 
fusion of double epithets, and sometimes even the coarsest 
terms are employed, if they convey a more vivid image ; 
but by degrees the associations are connected with the 
image they are designed to impress, and the poet descends 
from the ideal into the real world so far as to conjoin both — 
to give a sphere of active operations to the ideal, and to 
elevate and refine the real. 
In " Romeo and Juliet " the principal characters may 
be divided into two classes : in one class passion — the 
passion of love — is drawn and drawn truly, as weU as 
beautifully ; but the persons are not individualised farther 
than as the actor appears on the stage. It is a very just 
description and development of love, without giving, if I 
may so express myself, the philosophical history of it — 
without shewing how the man became acted upon by that 
particular passion, but leading it through all the incidents 
of the drama, and rendering it predominant. 
Tybalt is, in himself, a commonplace personage. And 
here allow me to remark upon a great distinction between 
Shakspeare, and all who have written in imitation of him. 
I know no character in his plays (unless indeed Pistol be 
an exception) which can be called the mere portrait of an 
individual : while the reader feels all the satisfaction 
arising from individuality, yet that very individual is a 
sort of class character, and this circumstance renders 
Shakspeare the poet of all ages. 
Tybalt is a man abandoned to his passions — with all the 
pride of family, only because he thought it belonged to 
him as a member of that family, and valuing himself 
highly, simply because he does not care for death. This 
indifference to death is perhaps more common than any 
other feeling : men are apt to flatter themselves extra- 
vagantly, merely because they possess a quality which it 
is a disgrace not to have, but which a wise man never puts 
forward, but when it is necessary. 
Jeremy Taylor in one part of his voluminous works, 
speaking of a great man, says that he was naturally a 
coward, as indeed most men are, knowing the value of life, 
but the power of his reason enabled him, when required, 
to conduct himself with uniform courage and hardihood. 
The good bishop, perhaps, had in his mind a story, told by 
The Seventh Lecture 421 
one of the ancients, of a Philosopher and a Coxcomb, on 
board the same ship during a storm : the Coxcomb reviled 
the Philosopher for betraying marks of fear : " Why are 
you so frightened ? I am not afraid of being drowned : 
I do not care a farthing for my life." — " You are perfectly 
right," said the Philosopher, " for your life is not worth a 
Shakspeare never takes pains to make his characters 
win your esteem, but leaves it to the general command of 
the passions, and to poetic justice. It is most beautiful 
to observe, in " Romeo and Juliet," that the characters 
principally engaged in the incidents are preserved innocent 
from all that could lower them in our opinion, while the 
rest of the personages, deserving little interest in them- 
selves, derive it from being instrumental in those situations 
in which the more important personages develope their 
thoughts and passions. 
Look at Capulet — a worthy, noble-minded old man of 
high rank, with all the impatience that is likely to accom- 
pany it. It is delightful to see all the sensibilities of our 
nature so exquisitely called forth ; as if the poet had the 
hundred arms of the polypus, and had thrown them out 
in aU directions to catch the predominant feeling. We may 
see in Capulet the manner in which anger seizes hold of 
everything that comes in its way, in order to express itself, 
as in the lines where he reproves Tybalt for his fierceness of 
behaviour, which led him to wish to insult a Montague, and 
disturb the merriment. — 
" Go to, go to ; 
You are a saucy boy. Is't so, indeed ? 
This trick may chance to scath you ; — I know what. 
You must contrary me ! marry, 'tis time. — 
Well said, my hearts ! — You are a princox : go : 
Be quiet or — More light, more light ! — For shame ! 
I'll make you quiet. — What ! cheerly, my hearts ! " 
Act I., Scene $. 
The line 
" This trick may chance to scath you ; — I know what," 
was an allusion to the legac}/ Tybalt might expect ; and 
then, seeing the lights burn dimly, Capulet turns his anger 
against the servants. Thus we see that no one passion 
Is so predominant, but that it includes all the parts of the 
character, and the reader never has a mere abstract of a 
422 The Seventh Lecture 
passion, as of wrath or ambition, but the whole man is 
presented to him — the one predominant passion acting, if 
I may so say, as the leader of the band to the rest. 
It could not be expected that the poet should introduce 
such a character as Hamlet into every play ; but even 
in those personages, which are subordinate to a hero so 
eminently philosophical, the passion is at least rendered 
instructive, and induces the reader to look with a keener 
eye, and a finer judgment into human nature. 
Shakspeare has this advantage over all other dramatists 
— that he has availed himself of his psychological genius 
to develope all the minutiae of the human heart : shewing 
us the thing that, to common observers, he seems solely 
intent upon, he makes visible what we should not other- 
wise have seen : just as, after looking at distant objects 
through a telescope, when we behold them subsequently 
with the naked eye, we see them with greater distinctness, 
and in more detail, than we should otherwise have done. 
Mercutio is one of our poet's truly Shakspearean char- 
acters ; for throughout his plays, but especially in those 
of the highest order, it is plain that the personages were 
drawn rather from meditation than from observation, or 
to speak correctly, more from observation, the child of 
meditation. It is comparatively easy for a man to go 
about the world, as if with a pocket-book in his hand, 
carefully noting down what he sees and hears : by practice 
he acquires considerable facility in representing what he 
has observed, himself frequently unconscious of its worth, 
or its bearings. This is entirely different from the observa- 
tion of a mind, v/hich, having formed a theory and a 
system upon its own nature, remarks all things that are 
examples of its tmth, confirming it in that truth, and, 
above all, enabling it to convey the truths of philosophy, 
as mere effects derived from, what we may call, the outward 
watchings of life. 
Hence it is that Shakspeare's favourite characters are 
full of such lively intellect. Mercutio is a man possessing 
all the elements of a poet : the whole world was, as it were, 
subject to his law of association. Whenever he wishes to 
impress anything, all things become his servants for the 
purpose : all things tell the same tale, and sound in unison. 
This faculty, moreover, is combined with the manners 
and feelings of a perfect gentleman, himself utterly un- 
The Seventh Lecture 423 
conscious of his powers. By his loss it was contrived that 
the whole catastrophe of the tragedy should be brought 
about : it endears him to Romeo, and gives to the death of 
Mercutio an importance which it could not otherwise have 
I say this in answer to an observation, I think by Dry den 
(to which indeed Dr. Johnson has fully replied), that Shak- 
speare having carried the part of Mercutio as far as he 
could, till his genius was exhausted, had killed him in the 
third Act, to get him out of the way. What shallow 
nonsense ! As I have remarked, upon the death of 
Mercutio the whole catastrophe depends ; it is produced 
by it. The scene in which it occurs serves to show how 
indifference to any subject but one, and aversion to activity 
on the part of Romeo, may be overcome and roused to the 
most resolute and determined conduct. Had not Mercutio 
been rendered so amiable and so interesting, we could not 
have felt so strongly the necessity for Romeo's interference, 
connecting it immediately, and passionately, with the 
future fortunes of the lover and his mistress. 
But what am I to say of the Nurse ? We have been 
told that her character is the mere fruit of observation — 
that it is like Swift's " Polite Conversation," certainly the 
most stupendous work of human memory, and of un- 
ceasingly active attention to what passes around us, upon 
record. The Nurse in " Romeo and Juliet " has some- 
times been compared to a portrait by Gerard Dow, in 
which every hair was so exquisitely painted, that it would 
bear the test of the microscope. Now, I appeal confidently 
to my hearers whether the closest observation of the 
manners of one or two old nurses would have enabled 
Shakspeare to draw this character of admirable generalisa- 
tion ? Surely not. Let any man conjure up in his mind 
all the quahties and peculiarities that can possibly belong 
to a nurse, and he will find them in Shakspeare's picture 
of the old woman : nothing is omitted. This effect is not 
produced by mere observation. The great prerogative 
of genius (and Shakspeare felt and availed himself of it) 
is now to swell itself to the dignity of a god, and now to 
subdue and keep dormant some part of that lofty nature, 
and to descend even to the lowest character — to become 
everything, in fact, but the vicious. 
Thus, in the Nurse you have all the garrulity of old- 
424 The Seventh Lecture 
age, and all its fondness ; for the affection of old-age is one 
of the greatest consolations of humanity. I have often 
thought what a melancholy world this would be without 
children, and what an inhuman world without the aged. 
You have also in the Nurse the arrogance of ignorance, 
with the pride of meanness at being connected with a 
great family. You have the grossness, too, which that 
situation never removes, though it sometimes suspends it ; 
and, arising from that grossness, the little low vices 
attendant upon it, which, indeed, in such minds are 
scarcely vices. — Romeo at one time was the most delight- 
ful and excellent young man, and the Nurse all willingness 
to assist him ; but her disposition soon turns in favour 
of Paris, for whom she professes precisely the same admira- 
tion. How wonderfully are these low peculiarities con- 
trasted with a young and pure mind, educated under 
different circumstances ! 
Another point ought to be mentioned as characteristic 
of the ignorance of the Nurse : — it is, that in all her re- 
collections, she assists herself by the remembrance of 
visual circumstances. The great difference, in this respect, 
between the cultivated and the uncultivated mind is 
this — that the cultivated mind will be found to recal 
the past by certain regular trains of cause and effect ; 
whereas, with the uncultivated mind, the past is recalled 
wholly by coincident images, or facts which happened 
at the same time. This position is fully exemplified in 
the following passages put into the mouth of the Nurse : — 
*' Even or odd, of all days in the year, 
Come Lammas eve at night shall she be fourteen. 
Susan and she — God rest all Christian souls ! — 
Were of an age. — Well, Susan is with God ; 
She was too good for me. But, as I said, 
On Lammas eve at night shall she be fourteen ; 
That shall she, marry : I remember it well. 
'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years ; 
And she was wean'd, — I never shall forget it, — 
Of all the days of the year, upon that day ; 
For I had then laid wormwood to my dug. 
Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall : 
My lord and you were then at Mantua. — 
Nay, I do bear a brain : — but, as I said. 
When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple 
Of my dug, and felt it bitter, pretty fool. 
To see it tetchy, and fall out with the dug ! 
Shake, quoth the dove-house : 'twas no need, I trow, 
The Seventh Lecture 425 
To bid me trudge. 
And since that time it is eleven years ; 
For then she could stand alone." 
Act I., Scene 3. 
She afterwards goes on with similar visual impressions, 
so true to the character. — More is here brought into one 
portrait than could have been ascertained by one man's 
mere observation, and without the introduction of a single 
incongruous point. 
I honour, I love, the works of Fielding as much, or 
perhaps more, than those of any other writer of fiction 
of that kind : take Fielding in his characters of postillions, 
landlords, and landladies, waiters, or indeed, of anybody 
who had come before his eye, and nothing can be more 
true, more happy, or more humorous ; but in all his chief 
personages, Tom Jones for instance, where Fielding was 
not directed by observation, where he could not assist 
himself by the close copying of what he saw, where it is 
necessary that something should take place, some words 
be spoken, or some object described, which he could not 
have witnessed (his soliloquies for example, or the inter- 
view between the hero and Sophia Western before the 
reconciliation) and I will venture to say, loving and honour- 
ing the man and his productions as I do, that nothing can 
be more forced and unnatural : the language is without 
vivacity or spirit, the whole matter is incongruous, and 
totally destitute of psychological truth. 
On the other hand, look at Shakspeare : where can 
any character be produced that does not speak the language 
of nature ? where does he not put into the mouths 
of his dramatis personcB, be they high or low. Kings or 
Constables, precisely what they must have said ? Where, 
from observation, could he learn the language proper 
to Sovereigns, Queens, Noblemen or Generals ? yet he 
invariably uses it. — Where, from observation, could he 
have learned such lines as these, which are put into the 
mouth of Othello, when he is talking to lago of Brabantio ? 
" Let him do his spite : 
My services, which I have done the signiory, 
Shall out-tongue his complaints. 'Tis yet to know, 
Which, when I know that boasting is an honour, 
I shall promulgate, I fetch my life and being 
From men of royal siege ; and my demerits 
May speak, unbonneted, to as proud a fortune 
426 The Seventh Lecture 
As this that I have reach'd : for know, lago. 
But that I love the gentle Desdemona, 
I would not my unhoused free condition 
Put into circumscription and confine 
For the sea's worth." 
Act I., Scene 2. 
I ask where was Shakspeare to observe such language 
as this ? If he did observe it, it was with the inward eye 
of meditation upon his own nature : for the time, he 
became Othello, and spoke as Othello, in such circum- 
stances, must have spoken. 
Another remark I may make upon " Romeo and Juliet " 
is, that in this tragedy the poet is not, as I have hinted, 
entirely blended with the dramatist, — at least, not in the 
degree to be afterwards noticed in " Lear," " Hamlet," 
" Othello," or " Macbeth." Capulet and Montague not 
unfrequently talk a language only belonging to the poet, 
and not so characteristic of, and peculiar to, the passions 
of persons in the situations in which they are placed — a 
mistake, or rather an indistinctness, which many of our 
later dramatists have carried through the whole of their 
When I read the song of Deborah, I never think that 
she is a poet, although I think the song itself a sublime 
poem : it is as simple a dithyrambic production as exists 
in any language ; but it is the proper and characteristic 
effusion of a woman highly elevated by triumph, by the 
natural hatred of oppressors, and resulting from a bitter 
sense of wrong : it is a song of exultation on deliverance 
from these evils, a deliverance accomplished by herself. 
When she exclaims, " The inhabitants of the villages 
ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I, Deborah, arose, 
that I arose a mother in Israel," it is poetry in the highest 
sense : we have no reason, however, to suppose that if she 
had not been agitated by passion, and animated by victory, 
she would have been able so to express herself ; or that 
if she had been placed in different circumstances, she 
would have used such language of truth and passion. We 
are to remember that Shakspeare, not placed under cir- 
cumstances of excitement, and only wrought upon by 
his own vivid and vigorous imagination, writes a language 
that invariably, and intuitively becomes the condition and 
position of each character. 
On the other hand, there is a language not descriptive 
The Seventh Lecture 427 
of passion, nor uttered under the influence of it, which is 
at the same time poetic, and shows a high and active 
fancy, as when Capulet says to Paris, — 
" Such comfort as do lusty young men feel, 
When well-apparell'd April on the heel 
Of limping winter treads, even such delight 
Among fresh female buds, shall you this night 
Inherit at my house." 
Act I., Scene 2. 
Here the poet may be said to speak, rather than the 
dramatist ; and it would be easy to adduce other passages 
from this play, where Shakspeare, for a moment forgetting 
the character, utters his own words in his own person. 
In my mind, what have often been censured as Shak- 
speare's conceits are completely justifiable, as belonging 
to the state, age, or feeling of the individual. Some- 
times, when they cannot be vindicated on these grounds, 
they may well be excused by the taste of his own and of 
the preceding age ; as for instance, in Romeo's speech, 
" Here's much to do with hate, but more with love : — 
Why then, O brawling love ! O loving hate I 
O anything, of nothing first created ! 
O heavy lightness ! serious vanity ! 
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms ! 
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health ! 
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is ! " 
Act I., Scene i. 
I dare not pronounce such passages as these to be 
absolutely unnatural, not merely because I consider the 
author a much better judge than I can be, but because I 
can understand and allow for an effort of the mind, when 
it would describe what it cannot satisfy itself with the 
description of, to reconcile opposites and qualify contra- 
dictions, leaving a middle state of mind more strictly 
appropriate to the imagination than any other, when it 
is, as it were, hovering between images. As soon as it is 
fixed on one image, it becomes understanding ; but while 
it is unfixed and wavering between them, attaching itself 
permanently to none, it is imagination. Such is the fine 
description of Death in Milton : — 
" The other shape, 
If shape it might be call'd, that shape had none 
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb. 
Or substance might be call'd, that shadow seem'd. 
428 The Seventh Lecture 
For each seem'd either : black it stood as night ; 
Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell, 
And shook a dreadful dart : what seem'd his head 
The likeness of a kingly crown had on." 
Paradise Lost, Book II. 
The grandest efforts of poetry are where the imagination 
is called forth, not to produce a distinct form, but a strong 
working of the mind, still offering what is still repelled, 
and again creating what is again rejected ; the result being 
what the poet wishes to impress, namely, the substitution 
of a sublime feeling of the unimaginable for a mere image. 
I have sometimes thought that the passage just read might 
be quoted as exhibiting the narrow limit of painting, as 
compared with the boundless power of poetry : painting 
cannot go beyond a certain point ; poetry rejects all control, 
all confinement. Yet we know that sundry painters have 
attempted pictures of the meeting between Satan and 
Death at the gates of Hell ; and how was Death repre- 
sented ? Not as Milton has described him, but by the 
most defined thing that can be imagined — a skeleton, the 
dryest and hardest image that it is possible to discover ; 
which, instead of keeping the mind in a state of activit}^ 
reduces it to the merest passivity, — an image, compared 
with which a square, a triangle, or any other mathematical 
figure, is a luxuriant fancy. 
It is a general but mistaken notion that, because some 
forms of writing, and some combinations of thought, are 
not usual, they are not natural ; but we are to recollect 
that the dramatist represents his characters in every situa- 
tion of life and in every state of mind, and there is no form 
of language that may not be introduced with effect by a 
great and judicious poet, and yet be most strictly according 
to nature. Take punning, for instance, which may be the 
lowest, but at all events is the most harmless, kind of wit, 
because it never excites envy. A pun may be a necessary 
consequence of association : one man, attempting to prove 
something that was resisted by another, might, when 
agitated by strong feeling, employ a term used by his 
adversary with a directly contrary meaning to that for 
which that adversary had resorted to it : it might come 
into his mind as one way, and sometimes the best, of reply- 
ing to that adversary. This form of speech is generally 
produced by a mixture of anger and contempt, and punning 
is a natural mode of expressing them. 
The Seventh Lecture 429 
It is my intention to pass over none of the important 
so-called conceits of Shakspeare, not a few of which are 
introduced into his later productions with great propriety 
and effect. We are not to forget, that at the time he lived 
there was an attempt at, and an affectation of, quaintness 
and adornment, which emanated from the Court, and 
against which satire was directed by Shakspeare in the 
character of Osrick in Hamlet. Among the schoolmen of 
that age, and earlier, nothing was more common than the 
use of conceits : it began with the revival of letters, and 
the bias thus given was very generally felt and acknow- 
I have in my possession a dictionary of phrases, in which 
the epithets applied to love, hate, jealousy, and such 
abstract terms, are arranged ; and they consist almost 
entirely of words taken from Seneca and his imitators, or 
from the schoolmen, showing perpetual antithesis, and 
describing the passions by the conjunction and combination 
of things absolutely irreconcileable. In treating the matter 
thus, I am aware that I am only palliating the practice in 
Shakspeare : he ought to have had nothing to do with 
merely temporary peculiarities : he wrote not for his own 
only, but for aU ages, and so far I admit the use of some of 
his conceits to be a defect. They detract sometimes from 
his universality as to time, person, and situation. 
If we were able to discover, and to point out the peculiar 
faults, as well as the peculiar beauties of Shakspeare, it 
would materially assist us in deciding what authority ought 
to be attached to certain portions of what are generally 
called his works. If we met with a play, or certain scenes 
of a play, in which we could trace neither his defects nor 
his excellences, we should have the strongest reason for 
believing that he had had no hand in it. In the case of 
scenes so circumstanced we might come to the conclusion 
that they were taken from the older plays, which, in some 
instances, he reformed or altered, or that they were inserted 
afterwards by some under-hand, in order to please the mob. 
If a drama by Shakspeare turned out to be too heavy for 
popular audiences, the clown might be caUed in to lighten 
the representation ; and if it appeared that what was 
added was not in Shakspeare' s manner, the conclusion 
would be inevitable, that it was not from Shakspeare's 
430 The Seventh Lecture 
It remains for me to speak of the hero and heroine, of 
Romeo and JuUet themselves ; and I shall do so with un- 
affected diffidence, not merely on account of the delicacy, 
bat of the great importance of the subject. I feel that it 
is impossible to defend Shakspeare from the most cruel of 
all charges, — that he is an immoral writer — without enter- 
ing fully into his mode of pourtraying female characters, 
and of displaying the passion of love. It seems to me, that 
he has done both with greater perfection than any other 
writer of the known world, perhaps with the single excep- 
tion of Milton in his delineation of Eve. 
When I have heard it said, or seen it stated, that Shak- 
speare wrote for man, but the gentle Fletcher for woman, 
it has always given me something like acute pain, because 
to me it seems to do the greatest injustice to Shakspeare : 
when, too, I remember how much character is formed by 
what we read, I cannot look upon it as a light question, to 
be passed over as a mere amusement, like a game of cards or 
chess. I never have been able to tame down my mind to 
think poetry a sport, or an occupation for idle hours. 
Perhaps there is no more sure criterion of refinement in 
moral character, of the purity of intellectual intention, 
and of the deep conviction and perfect sense of what our 
own nature really is in all its combinations, than the 
different definitions different men would give of love. I 
I will not detain you by stating the various known defini- 
tions, some of which it may be better not to repeat : I will 
rather give you one of my own, which, I apprehend, is 
equally free from the extravagance of pretended Platonism 
(which, like other things which super-moralise, is sure to 
demoralise) and from its grosser opposite. 
Considering myself and my fellow-men as a sort of link 
between heaven and earth, being composed of body and 
soul, with power to reason and to will, and with that 
perpetual aspiration which tells us that this is ours for 
a while, but it is not ourselves ; considering man, I say, 
in this two-fold character, yet united in one person, I con- 
ceive that there can be no correct definition of love which 
does not correspond with our being, and with that sub- 
ordination of one part to another which constitutes our 
perfection. I would say therefore that — 
" Love is a desire of the whole being to be united to 
some thing, or some being, felt necessary to its complete- 
The Seventh Lecture 431 
ness, by the most perfect means that nature permits, 
and reason dictates." 
It is inevitable to every noble mind, whether man or 
woman, to feel itself, of itself, imperfect and insufficient, 
not as an animal only, but as a moral being. How wonder- 
fully, then, has Providence contrived for us, by making 
that which is necessary to us a step in our exaltation to 
a higher and nobler state ! The Creator has ordained 
that one should possess qualities which the other has not, 
and the union of both is the most complete ideal of human 
character. In everything the blending of the similar 
with the dissimilar is the secret of all pure delight. Who 
shall dare to stand alone, and vaunt himself, in himself, 
sufficient ? In poetry it is the blending of passion with 
order that constitutes perfection : this is still more 
the case in morals, and more than all in the exclusive 
attachment of the sexes. 
True it is, that the world and its business may be 
carried on without marriage ; but it is so evident that 
Providence intended man (the only animal of all climates, 
and whose reason is pre-eminent over instinct) to be the 
master of the world, that marriage, or the knitting to- 
gether of society by the tenderest, yet firmest ties, seems 
ordained to render him capable of maintaining his superi- 
ority over the brute creation. Man alone has been privi- 
leged to clothe himself, and to do all things so as to make 
him, as it were, a secondary creator of himself, and of 
his own happiness or misery : in this, as in all, the image 
of the Deity is impressed upon him. 
Providence, then, has not left us to prudence only ; for 
the power of calculation, which prudence implies, cannot 
have existed, but in a state which pre-supposes marriage. 
If God has done this, shall we suppose that he has given 
us no moral sense, no yearning, which is something more 
than animal, to secure that, without which man might 
form a herd, but could not be a society ? The very idea 
seems to breathe absurdity. 
From this union arise the paternal, filial, brotherly and 
sisterly relations of life ; and every state is but a family 
magnified. All the operations of mind, in short, all that 
distinguishes us from brutes, originate in the more perfect 
state of domestic life. — One infallible criterion in forming 
an opinion of a man is the reverence in which he holds 
432 The Seventh Lecture 
women. Plato has said, that in this way we rise from 
sensuahty to affection, from affection to love, and from 
love to the pure intellectual delight by which we become 
worthy to conceive that infinite in ourselves, without 
which it is impossible for man to believe in a God. In a 
word, the grandest and most delightful of all promises 
has been expressed to us by this practical state — our 
marriage with the Redeemer of mankind. 
I might safely appeal to every man who hears me, who 
in youth has been accustomed to abandon himself to his 
animal passions, whether when he first really fell in love, 
the earliest symptom was not a complete change in his 
manners, a contempt and a hatred of himself for having 
excused his conduct by asserting, that he acted according 
to the dictates of nature, that his vices were the inevit- 
able consequences of youth, and that his passions at that 
period of life could not be conquered ? The surest friend 
of chastity is love : it leads us, not to sink the mind in 
the body, but to draw up the body to the mind — the 
immortal part of our nature. See how contrasted in this 
respect are some portions of the works of writers, whom I 
need not name, with other portions of the same works : 
the ebullitions of comic humour have at times, by a 
lamentable confusion, been made the means of debasing 
our nature, while at other times, even in the same volume, 
we are happy to notice the utmost purity, such as the 
purity of love, which above all other qualities renders us 
most pure and lovely. 
Love is not, like hunger, a mere selfish appetite : it is 
an associative quality. The hungry savage is nothing but 
an animal, thinking only of the satisfaction of his stomach : 
what is the first effect of love, but to associate the feeling 
with every object in nature ? the trees whisper, the roses 
exhale their perfumes, the nightingales sing, nay the very 
skies smile in unison with the feeling of true and pure 
love. It gives to every object in nature a power of the 
heart, without which it would indeed be spiritless. 
Shakspeare has described this passion in various states 
and stages, beginning, as was most natural, with love in 
the young. Does he open his play by making Romeo 
and Juliet in love at first sight — at the first glimpse, as 
any ordinary thinker would do ? Certainly not : he knew 
what he was about, and how he was to accomplish what 
The Seventh Lecture 433 
he was about : he was to develope the whole passion, and 
he commences with the first elements — that sense of 
imperfection, that yearning to combine itself with some- 
thing lovely. Romeo became enamoured of the idea he 
had formed in his own mind, and then, as it were, christened 
the first real being of the contrary sex as endowed with 
the perfections he desired. He appears to be in love with 
Rosaline ; but, in truth, he is in love only with his own 
idea. He felt that necessity of being beloved which no 
noble mind can be without. Then our poet, our poet 
who so well knew human nature, introduces Romeo to 
Juhet, and makes it not only a violent, but a permanent 
love — a point for which Shakspeare has been ridiculed by 
the ignorant and unthinking. Romeo is first represented 
in a state most susceptible of love, and then, seeing Juliet, 
he took and retained the infection. 
This brings me to observe upon a characteristic of 
Shakspeare, which belongs to a man of profound thought 
and high genius. It has been too much the custom, 
when anything that happened in his dramas could not 
easily be explained by the few words the poet has em- 
ployed, to pass it idly over, and to say that it is beyond 
our reach, and beyond the power of philosophy — a sort 
of terra incognita for discoverers — a great ocean to be 
hereafter explored. Others have treated such passages 
as hints and glimpses of something now non-existent, 
as the sacred fragments of an ancient and ruined temple^ 
all the portions of which are beautiful, although their 
particular relation to each other is unknown. Shak- 
speare knew the human mind, and its most minute and 
intimate workings, and he never introduces a word, or a 
thought, in vain or out of place : if we do not understand 
him, it is our own fault or the fault of copyists and typo- 
graphers ; but study, and the possession of some small 
stock of the knowledge by which he worked, will enable 
us often to detect and explain his meaning. He never 
wrote at random, or hit upon points of character and 
conduct by chance ; and the smallest fragment of his 
mind not unfrequently gives a clue to a most perfect, 
regular, and consistent whole. 
As I may not have another opportunity, the introduc- 
tion of Friar Laurence into this tragedy enables me to 
remark upon the different manner in which Shakspeare 
434 The Seventh Lecture 
has treated the priestly character, as compared with other 
writers. In Beaumont and Fletcher priests are repre- 
sented as a vulgar mockery ; and, as in others of their 
dramatic personages, the errors of a few are mistaken 
for the demeanour of the many : but in Shakspeare they 
always carry with them our love and respect. He made 
no injurious abstracts : he took no copies from the worst 
parts of our nature ; and, like the rest, his characters of 
priests are truly drawn from the general body. 
It may strike some as singular, that throughout all his 
productions he hsis never introduced the passion of avarice. 
The truth is, that it belongs only to particular parts of our 
nature, and is prevalent only in particular states of society ; 
hence it could not, and cannot, be permanent. The Miser 
of Moliere and Plautus is now looked upon as a species of 
madman, and avarice as a species of madness. Elwes, of 
whom everybody has heard, was an individual influenced 
by an insane condition of mind ; but, as a passion, avarice 
has disappeared. How admirably, then, did Shakspeare 
foresee, that if he drew such a character it could not be 
permanent ! he drew characters which would always be 
natural, and therefore permanent, inasmuch as they were 
not dependent upon accidental circumstances. 
There is not one of the plays of Shakspeare that is built 
upon anything but the best and surest foundation ; the 
characters must be permanent — permanent while men 
continue men, — because they stand upon what is absolutely 
necessary to our existence. This cannot be said even of 
some of the most famous authors of antiquity. Take the 
capital tragedies of Orestes, or of the husband of Jocasta : 
great as was the genius of the writers, these dramas have 
an obvious fault, and the fault lies at the very root of the 
action. In (Edipus a man is represented oppressed by fate 
for a crime of which he was not morally guilty ; and while 
we read we are obliged to say to ourselves, that in those 
days they considered actions without reference to the real 
guilt of the persons. 
There is no character in Shakspeare in which envy is 
pourtrayed, with one solitary exception — Cassius, in 
" Julius Caesar " ; yet even there the vice is not hateful, 
inasmuch as it is counterbalanced by a number of excellent 
qualities and virtues. The poet leads the reader to suppose 
that it is rather something constitutional, something 
The Eighth Lecture 435 
derived from his parents, something that he cannot avoid, 
and not something that he has himself acquired ; thus 
throwing the blame from the will of man to some inevitable 
circumstance, and leading us to suppose that it is hardly 
to be looked upon as one of those passions that actually 
debase the mind. 
Whenever love is described as of a serious nature, and 
much more when it is to lead to a tragical result, it depends 
upon a law of the mind, which, I believe, I shall hereafter 
be able to make intelligible, and which would not only 
justify Shakspeare, but show an analogy to all his other 
It is impossible to pay a higher compliment to poetry, 
than to consider the effects it produces in common with 
rehgion, yet distinct (as far as distinction can be, where 
there is no division) in those qualities which religion 
exercises and diffuses over all mankind, as far as they are 
subject to its influence. 
I have often thought that religion (speaking of it only 
as it accords with poetry, without reference to its more 
serious impressions) is the poetry of mankind, both having 
for their objects : — 
1. To generalise our notions ; to prevent men from 
confining their attention solely, or chiefly, to their own 
narrow sphere of action, and to their own individual 
circumstances. By placing them in certain awful relations 
it merges the individual man in the whole species, and 
makes it impossible for any one man to think of his future 
lot, or indeed of his present condition, without at the same 
time comprising in his view his fellow-creatures. 
2. That both poetry and religion throw the object of 
deepest interest to a distance from us, and thereby not 
only aid our imagination, but in a most important manner 
subserve the interest of our virtues ; for that man is indeed 
a slave, who is a slave to his own senses, and whose mind 
and imagination cannot carry him beyond the distance 
which his hand can touch, or even his eye can reach. 
436 The Eighth Lecture 
3. The grandest point of resemblance between them is, 
that both have for their object (I hardly know whether 
the English language supplies an appropriate word) the 
perfecting, and the pointing out to us the indefinite im- 
provement of our nature, and fixing our attention upon 
that. They bid us, while we are sitting in the dark at our 
little fire, look at the mountain-tops, struggling with dark- 
ness, and announcing that light which shall be common to 
all, in which individual interests shall resolve into one 
common good, and every man shall find in his fellow man 
more than a brother. 
Such being the case, we need not wonder that it has 
pleased Providence, that the divine truths of religion 
should have been revealed to us in the form of poetry ; 
and that at all times poets, not the slaves of any particular 
sectarian opinions, should have joined to support all those 
delicate sentiments of the heart (often when they were 
most opposed to the reigning philosophy of the day) which 
may be called the feeding streams of religion. 
I have heard it said that an undevout astronomer is mad. 
In the strict sense of the word, every being capable of under- 
standing must be mad, who remains, as it were, fixed in 
the ground on which he treads — who, gifted with the 
divine faculties of indefinite hope and fear, born with them, 
yet settles his faith upon that, in which neither hope nor 
fear has any proper field for display. Much more truly, 
however, might it be said that, an undevout poet is mad : 
in the strict sense of the word, an undevout poet is an 
impossibility. I have heard of verse-makers (poets they 
are not, and never can be) who introduced into their works 
such questions as these : — Whether the world was made of 
atoms ? — Whether there is a universe ? — Whether there is 
a governing mind that supports it ? As I have said, verse- 
makers are not poets : the poet is one who carries the sim- 
plicity of childhood into the powers of manhood ; who, 
with a soul unsubdued by habit, unshackled by custom, 
contemplates all things with the freshness and the wonder 
of a child ; and, connecting with it the inquisitive powers 
of riper years, adds, as far as he can find knowledge, admira- 
tion ; and, where knowledge no longer permits admiration, 
gladly sinks back again into the childlike feeling of devout 
The poet is not only the man made to solve the riddle 
The Eighth Lecture 437 
of the universe, but he is also the man who feels where it 
is not solved. What is old and worn-out, not in itself, but 
from the dimness of the intellectual eye, produced by 
worldly passions and pursuits, he makes new : he pours 
upon it the dew that glistens, and blows round it the breeze 
that cooled us in our infancy. I hope, therefore, that if 
in this single lecture I make some demand on the attention 
of my hearers to a most important subject, upon which 
depends all sense of the worthiness or unworthiness of our 
nature, I shall obtain their pardon. If I afford them less 
amusement, I trust that their own reflections upon a few 
thoughts will be found to repay them. 
I have been led to these observations by the tragedy 
of " Romeo and Juliet," and by some, perhaps, indiscreet 
expressions, certainly not well chosen, concerning falling 
in love at first sight. I have taken one of Shakspeare's 
earliest works, as I consider it, in order to show that he, 
of all his contemporaries (Sir Philip Sidney alone excepted), 
entertained a just conception of the female character. 
Unquestionably, that gentleman of Europe — that all- 
accomplished man, and our beloved Shakspeare, were the 
only writers of that age, who pitched their ideas of female 
perfection according to the best researches of philosophy : 
compared with all who followed them, they stand as mighty 
mountains, the islands of a deluge, which has swallowed all 
the rest in the flood of oblivion. ^ 
I certainly do not mean, as a general maxim, to justify so 
foolish a thing as what goes by the name of love at first 
sight ; but, to express myself more accurately, I should 
say that there is, and has always existed, a deep emotion 
of the mind, which might be called love momentaneous — 
not love at first sight, nor known by the subject of it to be 
or to have been such, but after many years of experience. ^ 
I have to defend the existence of love, as a passion in 
1 1 remember, in conversing on this very point at a subsequent period, — I cannot fix 
the date, — Coleridge made a willing exception in favour of Spenser ; but he added that 
the notions of the author of the ' ' Faery Queen " were often so romantic and heightened 
by fancy, thai he could not look upon Spenser's females as creatures of our world ; 
whereas the ladies of Shakspeare and Sidney were flesh and blood, with their very 
defects and qualifications giving evidence of their humanity : hence the lively interest 
taken regarding them. — J. P. C. 
2 Coleridge here made a reference to, and cited a passage from, Hooker's "Ecclesi- 
astical Polity ; " but my note contains only a hint regarding it ; and the probability is, 
that I did not insert more of it, because I thought I should be able, at some future 
time, to procure the exact words, or a reference to them, from the Lecturer. 
Whether I did so or not I cannot remember, but I fiud no trace of anything of the 
kind.— J. P. C. 
438 The Eighth Lecture 
itself fit and appropriate to human nature ; — I say fit for 
human nature, and not only so, but peculiar to it, unshared 
either in degree or kind by any of our fellow creatures : it 
is a passion which it is impossible for any creature to feel, 
but a being endowed with reason, with the moral sense, 
and with the strong yearnings, which, like all other power- 
ful effects in nature, prophesy some future effect. 
If I were to address myself to the materialist, with 
reference to the human kind, and (admitting the three 
great laws common to all beings, — i, the law of self -pre- 
servation ; 2, that of continuing the race ; and 3, the care 
of the offspring till protection is no longer needed), — were 
to ask him, whether he thought any motives of prudence or 
duty enforced the simple necessity of preserving the race ? 
or whether, after a course of serious reflection, he came to 
the conclusion, that it would be better to have a posterity, 
from a sense of duty impelling us to seek that as our object ? 
— if, I say, I were to ask a materialist, whether such was the 
real cause of the preservation of the species, he would laugh 
me to scorn ; he would say that nature was too wise to 
trust any of her great designs to the mere cold calculations 
of fallible mortality. 
Then the question comes to a short crisis : — Is, or is not, 
our moral nature a part of the end of Providence ? or are 
we, or are we not, beings meant for society ? Is that 
society, or is it not, meant to be progressive ? I trust that 
none of my auditors would endure the putting of the 
question — Whether, independently of the progression of 
the race, every individual has it not in his power to be in- 
definitely progressive ? — for, without marriage, without 
exclusive attachment, there could be no human society ; 
herds, as I said, there might be, but society there could not 
be : there could be none of that delightful intercourse 
between father and child ; none of the sacred affections ; 
none of the charities of humanity ; none of all those many 
and complex causes, which have raised us to the state we 
have already reached, could possibly have existence. All 
these effects are not found among the brutes ; neither are 
they found among savages, whom strange accidents have 
sunk below the class of human beings, insomuch that a stop 
seems actually to have been put to their progressiveness. 
We may, therefore, safely conclude that there is placed 
within us some element, if I may so say, of our nature—- 
The Eighth Lecture 439 
something which is as pecuHar to our moral nature, as any 
other part can be conceived to be, name it what you will, — 
name it, I will say for illustration, devotion, — name it 
friendship, or a sense of duty ; but something there is, 
peculiar to our nature, which answers the moral end ; as 
we find everywhere in the ends of the moral world, that 
there are proportionate material and bodily means of 
accomplishing them. 
We are born, and it is our nature and lot to be composed 
of body and mind ; but when our heart leaps up on hearing 
of the victories of our country, or of the rescue of the 
virtuous, but unhappy, from the hands of an oppressor ; 
when a parent is transported at the restoration of a beloved 
child from deadly sickness ; when the pulse is quickened, 
from any of these or other causes, do we therefore say, 
because the body interprets the emotions of the mind and 
sympathises with them, asserting its claim to participation, 
that joy is not mental, or that it is not moral ? Do we 
assert, that it was owing merely to fulness of blood that the 
heart throbbed, and the pulse played ? Do we not rather 
say, that the regent, the mind, being glad, its slave, its 
willing slave, the body, responded to it, and obeyed the 
impulse ? If we are possessed with a feeling of having 
done a wrong, or of having had a wrong done to us, and it 
excites the blush of shame or the glow of anger, do we pre- 
tend to say that, by some accident, the blood suffused itself 
into veins unusually small, and therefore that the guilty 
seemed to evince shame, or the injured indignation ? In 
these things we scorn such instruction ; and shall it be 
deemed a sufficient excuse for the materialist to degrade 
that passion, on which not only many of our virtues depend, 
but upon which the whole frame, the whole structure of 
human society rests ? Shall we pardon him this debase- 
ment of love, because our body has been united to mind by 
Providence, in order, not to reduce the high to the level of 
the low, but to elevate the low to the level of the high ? We 
should be guilty of nothing less than an act of moral 
suicide, if we consented to degrade that which on every 
account is most noble, by merging it in what is most de- 
rogatory : as if an angel were to hold out to us the welcom- 
ing hand of brotherhood, and we turned away from it, to 
wallow, as it were, with the hog in the mire. 
One of the most lofty and intellectual of the poets 
440 The Eighth Lecture 
of the time of Shakspeare has described this degradation 
most wonderfully, where he speaks of a man, who, having 
been converted by the witchery of worldly pleasure and 
passion, into a hog, on being restored to his human shape 
still preferred his bestial condition : — 
" But one, above the rest in special, 
That had a hog been late, hight Grill by name. 
Repined greatly, and did him miscall. 
" Said Guyon, See the mind of beastly man ! 
That hath so soon forgot the excellence 
Of his creation, when he life began, 
That now he chooseth, with vile difference, 
To be a beast and lack intelligence. 
To whom the Palmer thus : — The dunghill kind 
Delights in filth and foul incontinence : 
Let Grill be Grill, and have his hoggish mind ; 
But let us hence depart, whilst weather serves and wind." 
Faiyy Queen, Book ii., c. 12. 
The first feeling that would strike a reflecting mind, 
wishing to see mankind not only in an amiable but in a 
just hght, would be that beautiful feeling in the moral 
world, the brotherly and sisterly affections, — the existence 
of strong affection greatly modified by the difference of 
sex ; made more tender, more graceful, more soothing 
and conciliatory by the circumstance of difference, yet 
still remaining perfectly pure, perfectly spiritual. How 
glorious, we may say, would be the effect, if the instances 
were rare ; but how much more glorious, when they are 
so frequent as to be only not universal. This species of 
affection is the object of religious veneration with all 
those who love their fellow men, or who know themselves. 
The power of education over the human mind is herein 
exemplified, and data for hope are afforded of yet un- 
realised excellences, perhaps dormant in our nature. 
When we see so divine a moral effect spread through all 
classes, what may we not hope of other excellences, of 
unknown quahty, still to be developed ? 
By dividing the sisterly and fraternal affections from 
the conjugal, we have, in truth, two loves, each of them as 
strong as any affection can be, or ought to be, consistently 
with the performance of our duty, and the love we should 
bear to our neighbour. Then, by the former preceding 
The Eighth Lecture 441 
the latter, the latter is rendered more pure, more even, 
and more constant : the wife has already learned the 
discipline of pure love in the character of a sister. By 
the discipline of private life she has already learned how 
to yield, how to influence, how to command. To all 
this are to be added the beautiful gradations of attachment 
which distinguish human nature ; — from sister to wife, 
from wife to child, to uncle, to cousin, to one of our kin, 
to one of our blood, to our near neighbour, to our county- 
man, and to our countryman. 
The bad results of a want of this variety of orders, of 
this graceful subordination in the character of attachment, 
I have often observed in Italy in particular, as well as in 
other countries, where the young are kept secluded, not 
only from their neighbours, but from their own families — 
all closely imprisoned, until the hour when they are 
necessarily let out of their cages, without having had 
the opportunity of learning to fly — without experience, 
restrained by no kindly feeling, and detesting the control 
which so long kept them from enjoying the full hubbub 
of licence. 
The question is. How have nature and Providence 
secured these blessings to us ? In this way : — that in 
general the affections become those which urge us to leave 
the paternal nest. We arrive at a definite time of Ufe, 
and feel passions that invite us to enter into the world ; 
and this new feeling assuredly coalesces with a new object. 
Suppose we are under the influence of a vivid feeling that 
is new to us : that feeling will more firmly combine with 
an external object, which is likewise vivid from novelty, 
than with one that is familiar. 
To this may be added the aversion, which seems to 
have acted very strongly in rude ages, concerning anything 
common to us and to the animal creation. That which 
is done by beasts man feels a natural repugnance to 
imitate. The desire to extend the bond of relationship, 
in families which had emigrated from the patriarchal seed, 
would likewise have its influence. 
All these circumstances would render the marriage of 
brother and sister unfrequent, and in simple ages an 
ominous feeling to the contrary might easily prevail. 
Some tradition might aid the objections to such a union ; 
and, for aught we know, some law might be preserved 
442 The Eighth Lecture 
in the Temple of Isis, and from thence obtained by the 
patriarchs, which would augment the horror attached to 
such connexions. This horror once felt, and soon propa- 
gated, the present state of feeling on the subject can 
easily be explained. 
Children begin as early to talk of marriage as of death, 
from attending a wedding, or following a funeral : a new 
young visitor is introduced into the family, and from 
association they soon think of the conjugal bond. If a 
boy tell his parent that he wishes to marry his sister, he 
is instantly checked by a stern look, and he is shewn the 
impossibility of such a union. The controlling glance of 
the parental eye is often more effectual, than any form of 
words that could be employed ; and in mature years 
a mere look often prevails where exhortation would have 
failed. As to infants, they are told, without any reason 
assigned, that it could not be so ; and perhaps the best 
security for moral rectitude arises from a supposed 
necessity. Ignorant persons recoil from the thought 
of doing anything that has not been done, and because 
they have always been informed that it must not be 
The individual has by this time learned the greatest and 
best lesson of the human mind — that in ourselves we are 
imperfect ; and another truth, of the next, if not of equal, 
importance — that there exists a possibility of uniting two 
beings, each identified in their nature, but distinguished 
in their separate qualities, so that each should retain what 
distinguishes them, and at the same time each acquire the 
qualities of that being which is contradistinguished. This 
is perhaps the most beautiful part of our nature : the man 
loses not his manly character : he does not become less 
brave or less resolved to go through fire and water, if 
necessary, for the object of his affections : rather say, 
that he becomes far more brave and resolute. He then 
feels the beginnings of his moral nature : he then is 
sensible of its imperfection, and of its perfectibility. All 
the grand and sublime thoughts of an improved state of 
being then dawn upon him : he can acquire the patience 
of woman, which in him is fortitude : the beauty and 
susceptibility of the female character in him becomes a 
desire to display all that is noble and dignified. In short, 
the only true resemblance to a couple thus united is the 
The Eighth Lecture 443 
pure sky blue of heaven : the female unites the beautiful 
with the sublime, and the male the sublime with the 
Throughout the whole of his plays Shakspeare has 
evidently looked at the subject of love in this dignified 
light : he has conceived it not only with moral grandeur, 
but with philosophical penetration. The mind of man 
searches for something which shall add to his perfection 
— which shall assist him, ; and he also yearns to lend his 
aid in completing the moral nature of another. Thoughts 
like these will occupy many of his serious moments : 
imagination will accumulate on imagination, until at last 
some object attracts his attention, and to this object 
the whole weight and impulse of his feelings will be 
Who shall say this is not love ? Here is system, but it 
is founded upon nature : here are associations ; here are 
strong feelings, natural to us as men, and they are directed 
and finally attached to one object : — who shall say this 
is not love ? Assuredly not the being who is the subject 
of these sensations. — If it be not love, it is only known 
that it is not by Him who knows all things. Shakspeare 
has therefore described Romeo as in love in the first 
instance with Rosaline, and so completely does he fancy 
himself in love that he declares, before he has seen Juliet, 
" When the devout religion of mine eye 
Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires ; 
And these, who, often drown'd, could never die. 
Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars. 
One fairer than my love ? the all-seeing sun 
Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun." 
Act I., Scene i. 
This is in answer to Benvolio, who has asked Romeo to 
compare the supposed beauty of Rosaline with the actual 
beauty of other ladies ; and in this full feeling of confidence 
Romeo is brought to Capulet's, as it were by accident : he 
sees Juliet, instantly becomes the heretic he has just before 
declared impossible, and then commences that complete- 
ness of attachment which forms the whole subject of the 
Surely Shakspeare, the poet, the philosopher, who com- 
bined truth with beauty and beauty with truth, never 
dreamed that he could interest his auditory in favour 
444 The Eighth Lecture 
of Romeo, by representing him as a mere weather-cock, 
blown round by every woman's breath ; who, having 
seen one, became the victim of melancholy, eating his 
own heart, concentrating all his hopes and fears in her, 
and yet, in an instant, changing, and falling madly in love 
with another. Shakspeare must have meant something 
more than this, for this was the way to make people 
despise, instead of admiring his hero. Romeo tells us 
what was Shakspeare's purpose : he shows us that he 
had looked at Rosaline with a different feeling from that 
with which he had looked at Juliet. Rosaline was the 
object to which his over-full heart had attached itself in 
the first instance : our imperfect nature, in proportion as 
our ideas are vivid, seeks after something in which those 
ideas may be realised. 
So with the indiscreet friendships sometimes formed by 
men of genius : they are conscious of their own weakness, 
and are ready to believe others stronger than themselves, 
when, in truth, they are weaker : they have formed an 
ideal in their own minds, and they want to see it realised ; 
they require more than shadowy thought. Their own 
sense of imperfection makes it impossible for them to 
fasten their attachment upon themselves, and hence the 
humility of men of true genius : in, perhaps, the first 
man they meet, they only see what is good ; they have 
no sense of his deficiencies, and their friendship becomes 
.so strong, that they almost fall down and worship one in 
every respect greatly their inferior. 
What is true of friendship is true of love, with a person 
of ardent feelings and warm imagination. What took 
place in the mind of Romeo was merely natural ; it is 
accordant with every day's experience. Amid such 
various events, such shifting scenes, such changing person- 
ages, we are often mistaken, and discover that he or she 
was not what we hoped and expected ; we find that the 
individual first chosen will not complete our imperfection ; 
we may have suffered unnecessary pangs, and have indulged 
idly-directed hopes, and then a being may arise before 
us, who has more resemblance to the ideal we have formed. 
We know that we loved the earlier object with ardour 
and purity, but it was not what we feel for the later object. 
Our own mind tells us, that in the first instance we merely 
yearned after an object, but in the last instance we know 
The Ninth Lecture 445 
that we have found that object, and that it corresponds 
with the idea we had previously formed. 
[Here my original notes abruptly break off: the brochure in which I had inserted 
them was full, and I took another for the conclusion of the Lecture, which is 
unfortunately lost.] 
It is a known but unexplained phenomenon, that among 
the ancients statuary rose to such a degree of perfection, 
as almost to baffle the hope of imitating it, and to render 
the chance of excelling it absolutely impossible ; yet 
painting, at the same period, notwithstanding the admira- 
tion bestowed upon it by Pliny and others, has been proved 
to be an art of much later growth, as it was also of far 
inferior quality. I remember a man of high rank, equally 
admirable for his talents and his taste, pointing to a 
common sign-post, and saying that had Titian never lived, 
the richness of representation by colour, even there, would 
never have been attained. In that mechanical branch of 
painting, perspective, it has been shown that the Romans 
were very deficient. The excavations and consequent 
discoveries, at Herculaneum and elsewhere, prove the 
Roman artists to have been guilty of such blunders, as 
to give plausibility to the assertions of those who maintain 
that the ancients were whoUy ignorant of perspective. 
However, that they knew something of it is established by 
Vitruvius in the introduction to his second book. 
Something of the same kind, as I endeavoured to explain 
in a previous lecture, was the cause with the drama of the 
ancients, which has been imitated by the French, Italians, 
and by various writers in England since the Restoration. 
AU that is there represented seems to be, as it were, upon 
one fiat surface : the theme,^ if we may so call it in refer- 
ence to music, admits of nothing more than the change of a 
single note, and excludes that which is the true principle 
of life — the attaining of the same result by an infinite 
variety of means. 
The plays of Shakspeare are in no respect imitations 
1 Here occurs another evident mistake of mine, in my original short-hand note, in 
consequence of mishearing : I hastily wrote scheme, instead of " theme," which last 
must have been the word of the Lecturer. 
446 The Ninth Lecture 
of the Greeks : they may be called analogies, because by 
very different means they arrive at the same end ; whereas 
the French and Italian tragedies I have read, and the 
English ones on the same model, are mere copies, though 
they cannot be called likenesses, seeking the same effect 
by adopting the same means, but under most inappro- 
priate and adverse circumstances. 
I have thus been led to consider, that the ancient drama 
(meaning the works of iEschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, 
for the rhetorical productions of the same class by the 
Romans are scarcely to be treated as original theatrical 
poems) might be contrasted with the Shakspearean drama. 
— I call it the Shakspearean drama to distinguish it, 
because I know of no other writer who has realised the same 
idea, although I am told by some, that the Spanish poets, 
Lopez de Vega and Calderon, have been equally successful. 
The Shakspearean drama and the Greek drama may be 
compared to statuary and painting. In statuary, as in the 
Greek drama, the characters must be few, because the very 
essence of statuary is a high degree of abstraction, which 
prevents a great many figures being combined in the same 
effect. In a grand group of Niobe, or in any other ancient 
heroic subject, how disgusting even it would appear, if an 
old nurse were introduced. Not only the number of figures 
must be circumscribed, but nothing undignified must be 
placed in company with what is dignified : no one 
personage must be brought in that is not an abstraction : 
all the actors in the scene must not be presented at once 
to the eye ; and the effect of multitude, if required, must 
be produced without the intermingling of anything 
Compare this smaU group with a picture by Raphael or 
Titian, in which an immense number of figures may be 
introduced, a beggar, a cripple, a dog, or a cat ; and by a 
less degree of labour, and a less degree of abstraction, an 
effect is produced equally harmonious to the mind, more 
true to nature with its varied colours, and, in all respects 
but one, superior to statuary. The man of taste feels 
satisfied, and to that which the reason conceives possible, 
a momentary reahty is given by the aid of imagination. 
I need not here repeat what I have said before, regard- 
ing the circumstances which permitted Shakspeare to make 
an alteration, not merely so suitable to the age in which he 
The Ninth Lecture 447 
lived, but, in fact, so necessitated by the condition of that 
age. I need not again remind you of the difference I 
pointed out between imitation and Ukeness, in reference to 
the attempt to give reahty to representations on the stage. 
The distinction between imitation and Ukeness depends 
upon the admixture of circumstances of dissimilarity ; 
an imitation is not a copy, precisely as likeness is not same- 
ness, in that sense of the word " likeness " which implies 
difference conjoined with sameness. Shakspeare reflected 
manners in his plays, not by a cold formal copy, but by an 
imitation ; that is to say, by an admixture of circum- 
stances, not absolutely true in themselves, but true to the 
character and to the time represented. 
It is fair to own that he had many advantages. The 
great of that day, instead of surrounding themselves by 
the chevaux de frise of what is now called high breeding, 
endeavoured to distinguish themselves by attainments, by 
energy of thought, and consequent powers of mind. The 
stage, indeed, had nothing but curtains for its scenes, but 
this fact compelled the actor, as well as the author, to 
appeal to the imaginations, and not to the senses of the 
audience : thus was obtained a power over space and time, 
which in an ancient theatre would have been absurd, 
because it would have been contradictory. The advantage 
is vastly in favour of our own early stage : the dramatic 
poet there relies upon the imagination, upon the reason, 
and upon the noblest powers of the human heart ; he 
shakes off the iron bondage of space and time ; he appeals 
to that which we most wish to be, when we are most worthy 
of being, while the ancient dramatist binds us down to the 
meanest part of our nature, and the chief compensation is 
a simple acquiescence of the mind in the position, that what 
is represented might possibly have occurred in the time and 
place required by the unities. It is a poor compliment to 
a poet to tell him, that he has only the qualifications of a 
In dramatic composition the observation of the unities 
of time and place so narrows the period of action, so 
impoverishes the sources of pleasure, that of all the 
Athenian dramas there is scarcely one in which the ab- 
surdity is not glaring, of aiming at an object, and utterly 
failing in the attainment of it ; events are sometimes 
brought into a space in which it is impossible for them to 
448 The Ninth Lecture 
have occurred, and in this way the grandest effort of the 
dramatist, that of making his play the mirror of hfe, is 
entirely defeated. 
The limit allowed by the rules of the Greek stage was 
twenty-four hours ; but, inasmuch as, even in this case, 
time must have become a subject of imagination, it was 
just as reasonable to allow twenty-four months, or even 
years. The mind is acted upon by such strong stimulants, 
that the period is indifferent ; and when once the boundary 
of possibility is passed, no restriction can be assigned. In 
reading Shakspeare, we should first consider in which of 
his plays he means to appeal to the reason, and in which 
to the imagination, faculties which have no relation to 
time and place, excepting as in the one case they imply a 
succession of cause and effect, and in the other form a 
harmonious picture, so that the impulse given by the 
reason is carried on by the imagination. 
We have often heard Shakspeare spoken of as a child of 
nature, and some of his modern imitators, without the 
genius to copy nature, by resorting to real incidents, and 
treating them in a certain way, have produced that stage- 
phenomenon which is neither tragic nor comic, nor tragi- 
comic, nor comi-tragic, but sentimental. This sort of 
writing depends upon some very affecting circumstances, 
and in its greatest excellence aspires no higher than the 
genius of an onion, — the power of drawing tears ; while the 
author, acting the part of a ventriloquist, distributes his 
own insipidity among the characters, if characters they can 
be called, which have no marked and distinguishing 
features. I have seen dramas of this sort, some translated 
and some the growth of our own soil, so well acted, and so 
ill written, that if I could have been made for the time 
artificially deaf, I should have been pleased with that 
performance as a pantomime, which was intolerable as a 
Shakspeare's characters, from Othello and Macbeth 
down to Dogberry and the Grave-digger, may be termed 
ideal realities. They are not the things themselves, so 
much as abstracts of the things, which a great mind takes 
into itself, and there naturalises them to its own conception. 
Take Dogberry : are no important truths there conveyed, 
no admirable lessons taught, and no valuable allusions 
made to reigning follies, which the poet saw must for ever 
The Ninth Lecture 449 
reign ? He is not the creature of the day, to disappear 
with the day, but the representative and abstract of truth 
which must ever be true, and of humour which must ever 
be humorous. 
The readers of Shakspeare may be divided into two 
clcLsses : — 
1. Those who read his works with feehng and under- 
standing ; 
2. Those who, without affecting to criticise, merely 
feel, and may be said to be the recipients of the poet's 
Between the two no medium can be endured. The 
ordinary reader, who does not pretend to bring his under- 
standing to bear upon the subject, often feels that some 
real trait of his own has been caught, that some nerve has 
been touched ; and he knows that it has been touched by 
the vibration he experiences — a thrill, which tells us that, 
by becoming better acquainted with the poet, we have 
become better acquainted with ourselves. 
In the plays of Shakspeare every man sees himself, with- 
out knowing that he does so : as in some of the phenomena 
of nature, in the mist of the mountain, the traveller beholds 
his own figure, but the glory round the head distinguishes 
it from a mere vulgar copy. In traversing the Brocken, in 
the north of Germany, at sunrise, the brilliant beams are 
shot askance, and you see before you a being of gigantic 
proportions, and of such elevated dignity, that you only 
know it to be yourself by similarity of action. In the same 
way, near Messina, natural forms, at determined distances, 
are represented on an invisible mist, not as they really exist, 
but dressed in all the prismatic colours of the imagination. 
So in Shakspeare : every form is true, everything has 
reality for its foundation ; we can aU recognise the truth, 
but we see it decorated with such hues of beauty, and 
magnified to such proportions of grandeur, that, while we 
know the figure, we know also how much it has been refined 
and exalted by the poet. 
It is humiliating to reflect that, as it were, because 
heaven has given us the greatest poet, it has inflicted upon 
that poet the most incompetent critics : none of them 
seem to understand even his language, much less the prin- 
ciples upon which he wrote, and the peculiarities which 
distinguish him from all rivals. I will not now dwell upon 
450 The Ninth Lecture 
this point, because it is my intention to devote a lecture 
more immediately to the prefaces of Pope and Johnson. 
Some of Shakspeare's contemporaries appear to have under- 
stood him, and imitated him in a way that does the 
original no small honour ; but modern preface-writers and 
commentators, while they praise him as a great genius, 
when they come to publish notes upon his plays, treat him 
like a schoolboy ; as if this great genius did not understand 
himself, was not aware of his own powers, and wrote with- 
out design or purpose. Nearly all they can do is to express 
the most vulgar of all feelings, wonderment — wondering at 
what they term the irregularity of his genius, sometimes 
above all praise, and at other times, if they are to be trusted, 
below all contempt. They endeavour to reconcile the two 
opinions by asserting that he wrote for the mob ; as if a 
man of real genius ever wrote for the mob. Shakspeare 
never consciously wrote what was below himself : careless 
he might be, and his better genius may not always have 
attended him ; but I fearlessly say, that he never penned 
a line that he knew would degrade him. No man does 
anything equally well at all times ; but because Shakspeare 
could not always be the greatest of poets, was he therefore 
to condescend to make himself the least ? ^ 
Yesterday afternoon a friend left a book for me by a 
German critic, of which I have only had time to read a 
small part ; but what I did read I approved, and I should 
be disposed to applaud the work much more highly, were 
it not that in so doing I should, in a manner, applaud my- 
self. The sentiments and opinions are coincident with 
those to which I gave utterance in my lectures at the 
Royal Institution. It is not a little wonderful, that so 
many ages have elapsed since the time of Shakspeare, and 
that it should remain for foreigners first to feel truly, and 
to appreciate justly, his mighty genius. The solution of 
this circumstance must be sought in the history of our 
nation : the English have become a busy commercial 
people, and they have unquestionably derived from this 
propensity many social and physical advantages : they 
have grown to be a mighty empire — one of the great 
^ It is certain that my shorthand note in this place affords another instance of mis- 
hearing: it runs literally thus — "but because Shakspeare could not always be the 
greatest of poets, was. he therefore to condescend to make himself a beast ? " For " a 
beast," we must read the leasts the antithesis being between " greatest " and " least," 
and not between " poet " and " beast." Yet " beast " may be reconciled with sense 
as in Macbeth : " Notes and Emend." 420. 
The Ninth Lecture 451 
nations of the world, whose moral superiority enables it to 
struggle successfully against him, who may be deemed the 
evil genius of our planet. 
On the other hand, the Germans, unable to distinguish 
themselves in action, have been driven to speculation : 
all their feelings have been forced back into the thinking 
and reasoning mind. To do, with them is impossible, but 
in determining what ought to be done, they perhaps exceed 
every people of the globe. Incapable of acting outwardly, 
they have acted internally : they first rationally recalled 
the ancient philosophy, and set their spirits to work with 
an energy of which England produces no parallel, since 
those truly heroic times, heroic in body and soul, the days 
of Elizabeth. 
If all that has been written upon Shakspeare by English- 
men were burned, in the want of candles, merely to enable 
us to read one half of what our dramatist produced, we 
should be great gainers. Providence has given England 
the greatest man that ever put on and put off mortality, 
and has thrown a sop to the envy of other nations, by in- 
flicting upon his native country the most incompetent 
critics. I say nothing here of the state in which his text 
has come down to us, farther than that it is evidently very 
imperfect : in many places his sense has been perverted, in 
others, if not entirely obscured, so blunderingly repre- 
sented, as to afford us only a glimpse of what he meant, 
without the power of restoring his own expressions. But 
whether his dramas have been perfectly or imperfectly 
printed, it is quite clear that modern inquiry and specu- 
lative ingenuity in this kingdom have done nothing ; or I 
might say, without a solecism, less than nothing (for some 
editors have multiplied corruptions) to retrieve the genuine 
language of the poet. His critics among us, during the 
whole of the last century, have neither understood nor 
appreciated him ; for how could they appreciate what they 
could not understand ? 
His contemporaries, and those who immediately fol- 
lowed him, were not so insensible of his merits, or so incap- 
able of explaining them ; and one of them, who might be 
Milton when a young man of four and twenty, printed, in 
the second folio of Shakspeare's works, a laudatory poem, 
which, in its kind, has no equal for justness and distinct- 
ness of description, in reference to the powers and qualities 
452 The Ninth Lecture 
of lofty genius. It runs thus, and I hope that, when I have 
finished, I shall stand in need of no excuse for reading the 
whole of it. 
** A mind reflecting ages past, whose clear 
And equal surface can make things appear, 
Distant a thousand years, and represent 
Them in their lively colours, just extent 
To outrun hasty time, retrieve the fates. 
Roll back the heavens, blow ope the iron gates 
Of death and Lethe, where confused lie 
Great heaps of ruinous mortality : 
In that deep dusky dungeon to discern 
A royal ghost from churls ; by art to learn 
The physiognomy of shades, and give 
Them sudden birth, wondering how oft they live ; 
What story coldly tells, what poets feign 
At second hand, and picture without brain, 
Senseless and soul-less shows : to give a stage 
(Ample and true with life) voice, action, age, 
As Plato's year, and new scene of the world, 
Them unto us, or us to them had hurl'd : 
To raise our ancient sovereigns from their herse. 
Make kings his subjects ; by exchanging verse, 
Enlive their pale trunks ; that the present age 
Joys at their joy, and trembles at their rage : 
Yet so to temper passion, that our ears 
Take pleasure in their pain, and eyes in tears 
Both weep and smile ; fearful at plot so sad. 
Then laughing at our fear ; abus'd, and glad 
To be abus'd ; afifected with that truth 
Which we perceive is false, pleas'd in that ruth 
At which we start, and, by elaborate play, 
Tortur'd and tickl'd ; by a crab-like way 
Time past made pastime, and in ugly sort 
Disgorging up his ravin for our sport : — 
— While the plebeian imp, from lofty throne. 
Creates and rules a world, and works upon 
Mankind by secret engines ; now to move 
A chilling pity, then a rigorous love ; 
To strike up and stroke down, both joy and ire 
To steer th' affections ; and by heavenly fire 
Mold us anew, stol'n from ourselves : — 
This, and much more, which cannot be express'd 
But by himself, his tongue, and his own breast. 
Was Shakspeare's freehold ; which his cunning brain 
Improv'd by favour of the nine-fold train ; 
The buskin'd muse, the comick queen, the grand 
And louder tone of Clio, nimble hand 
And nimbler foot of the melodious pair. 
The silver-voiced lady, the most fair 
Calliope, whose speaking silence daunts. 
And she whose praise the heavenly body chants ; 
The Ninth Lecture 453 
These jointly woo'd him, envying one another ; 
(Obey'd by all as spouse, but lov'd as brother) 
And wrought a curious robe, of sable grave, 
Fresh green, and pleasant yellow, red most brave, 
And constant blue, rich purple, guiltless white, 
The lowly russet, and the scarlet bright ; 
Branch'd and embroider'd like the painted spring ; 
Each leaf match'd with a flower, and each string 
Of golden wire, each line of silk : there run 
Italian works, whose thread the sisters spun ; 
And these did sing, or seem to sing, the choice 
Birds of a foreign note and various voice : 
Here hangs a mossy rock ; there plays a fair 
But chiding fountain, purled : not the air, 
Nor clouds, nor thunder, but were living drawn ; 
Not out of common tiffany or lawn. 
But fine materials, which the Muses know. 
And only know the countries where they grow. 
Now, when they could no longer him enjoy. 
In mortal garments pent, — death may destroy, 
They say, his body ; but his verse shall live. 
And more than nature takes our hands shall give : 
In a less volume, but more strongly bound, 
Shakspeare shall breathe and speak ; with laurel crown'd, 
Which never fades ; fed with ambrosian meat, 
In a well-lined vesture, rich, and neat. 
So with this robe they clothe him, bid him wear it ; 
For time shall never stain, nor envy tear it." 
This poem is subscribed J. M. S., meaning, as some have 
explained the initials, " John Milton, Student ": the 
internal evidence seems to me decisive, for there was, I 
think, no other man, of that particular day, capable of 
writing anything so characteristic of Shakspeare, so justly 
thought, and so happily expressed. 
It is a mistake to say that any of Shakspeare's char- 
acters strike us as portraits : they have the union of 
reason perceiving, of judgment recording, and of imagina- 
tion diffusing over all a magic glory. While the poet 
registers what is past, he projects the future in a wonder- 
ful degree, and makes us feel, however slightly, and see, 
however dimly, that state of being in which there is 
neither past nor future, but all is permanent in the very 
energy of nature. 
Although I have affirmed that all Shakspeare's char- 
acters are ideal, and the result of his own meditation, 
yet a just separation may be made of those in which the 
ideal is most prominent — where it is put forward more 
intensely — where we are made more conscious of the 
454 The Ninth Lecture 
ideal, though in truth they possess no more nor less 
ideality : and of those which, though equally ideaUsed, 
the delusion upon the mind is of their being real. The 
characters in the various plays may be separated into 
those where the real is disguised in the ideal, and those 
where the ideal is concealed from us by the real. The 
difference is made by the different powers of mind em- 
ployed by the poet in the representation. 
At present I shall only speak of dramas where the 
ideal is predominant ; and chiefly for this reason — that 
those plays have been attacked with the greatest violence. 
The objections to them are not the growth of our own 
country, but of France, — the judgment of monkeys, by 
some wonderful phenomenon, put into the mouths of 
people shaped like men. These creatures have informed 
us that Shakspeare is a miraculous monster, in whom many 
heterogeneous components were thrown together, pro- 
ducing a discordant mass of genius — an irregular and ill- 
assorted structure of gigantic proportions. 
Among the ideal plays, I will take " The Tempest," 
by way of example. Various others might be mentioned, 
but it is impossible to go through every drama, and what 
I remark on " The Tempest " will apply to all Shakspeare's 
productions of the same class. 
In this play Shakspeare has especially appealed to the 
imagination, and he has constructed a plot well adapted to 
the purpose. According to his scheme, he did not appeal 
to any sensuous impression (the word " sensuous " is 
authorised by Milton) of time and place, but to the im- 
agination, and it is to be borne in mind, that of old, and 
as regards mere scenery, his works may be said to have 
been recited rather than acted — that is to say, description 
and narration supplied the place of visual exhibition : 
the audience was told to fancy that they saw what they 
only heard described ; the painting was not in colours, but 
in words. 
This is particularly to be noted in the first scene — a 
storm and its confusion on board the king's ship. The 
highest and the lowest characters are brought together, 
and with what excellence ! Much of the genius of Shak- 
speare is displayed in these happy combinations — the 
highest and the lowest, the gayest and the saddest ; he is 
not droll in one scene and melancholy in another, but often 
The Ninth Lecture 455 
both the one and the other in the same scene. Laughter 
is made to swell the tear of sorrow, and to throw, as it were, 
a poetic light upon it, while the tear mingles tenderness 
with the laughter. Shakspeare has evinced the power, 
which above all other men he possessed, that of intro- 
ducing the profoundest sentiments of wisdom, where they 
would be least expected, yet where they are most truly 
natural. One admirable secret of his art is, that separate 
speeches frequently do not appear to have been occasioned 
by those which preceded, and which are consequent upon 
each other, but to have arisen out of the peculiar character 
of the speaker. 
Before I go further, I may take the opportunity of 
explaining what is meant by mechanic and organic regul- 
arity. In the former the copy must appear as if it had 
come out of the same mould with the original ; in the 
latter there is a law which all the parts obey, conform- 
ing themselves to the outward symbols and manifestations 
of the essential principle. If we look to the growth of 
trees, for instance, we shall observe that trees of the same 
kind vary considerably, according to the circumstances 
of soil, air, or position ; yet we are able to decide at once 
whether they are oaks, elms, or poplars. 
So with Shakspeare's characters : he shows us the life 
and principle of each being with organic regularity. The 
Boatswain, in the first scene of " The Tempest," when the 
bonds of reverence are thrown off as a sense of danger 
impresses all, gives a loose to his feelings, and thus pours 
forth his vulgar mind to the old Counsellor : — 
" Hence ! What care these roarers for the name of 
King ? To cabin : silence ! trouble us not." 
Gonzalo replies — " Good ; yet remember whom thou 
hast aboard." To which the Boatswain answers — " None 
that I more love than myself. You are a counsellor : if 
you can command these elements to silence, and work the 
peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more ; use 
your authority : if you cannot, give thanks that you have 
lived so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for 
the mischance of the hour, if it so hap. — Cheerly, good 
hearts ! — Out of our way, I say." 
An ordinary dramatist would, after this speech, have 
represented Gonzalo as moralising, or saying something 
connected with the Boatswain's language ; for ordinary 
456 The Ninth Lecture 
dramatists are not men of genius : they combine their 
ideas by association, or by logical affinity ; but the vital 
writer, who makes men on the stage what they are in 
nature, in a moment transports himself into the very 
being of each personage, and, instead of cutting out 
artificial puppets, he brings before us the men themselves. 
Therefore, Gonzalo soliloquises, — " I have great comfort 
from this fellow : methinks, he hath no drowning mark 
upon him ; his complexion is perfect gallows. Stand 
fast, good fate, to his hanging ! make the rope of his 
destiny our cable, for our own doth little advantage. II 
he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable." 
In this part of the scene we see the true sailor with 
his contempt of danger, and the old counsellor with his 
high feeling, who, instead of condescending to notice the 
words just addressed to him, turns off, meditating with 
himself, and drawing some comfort to his own mind, by 
trifling with the ill expression of the boatswain's face, 
founding upon it a hope of safety. 
Shakspeare had pre-determined to make the plot of 
this play such as to involve a certain number of low char- 
acters, and at the beginning he pitched the note of the 
whole. The first scene was meant as a lively commence- 
ment of the story ; the reader is prepared for something 
that is to be developed, and in the next scene he brings 
forward Prospero and Miranda. How is this done ? By 
giving to his favourite character, Miranda, a sentence 
which at once expresses the violence and fury of the 
storm, such as it might appear to a witness on the land, 
and at the same time displays the tenderness of her 
feelings — the exquisite feelings of a female brought up in 
a desert, but with all the advantages of education, all that 
could be communicated by a wise and affectionate father. 
She possesses all the delicacy of innocence, yet with all 
the powers of her mind unweakened by the combats of 
life. Miranda exclaims : — 
" O 1 I have suffered 
With those that I saw suffer : a brave vessel, 
Who had, no doubt, some noble creatures in her, 
Dash'd all to pieces." 
The doubt here intimated could have occurred to no 
mind but to that of Miranda, who had been bred up in the 
The Ninth Lecture 457 
island with her father and a monster only : she did not 
know, as others do, what sort of creatures were in a ship ; 
others never would have introduced it as a conjecture. 
This shows, that while Shakspeare is displaying his vast 
excellence, he never fails to insert some touch or other, 
which is not merely characteristic of the particular person, 
but combines two things — the person, and the circum- 
stances acting upon the person. She proceeds : — 
" O ! the cry did knock 
Against my very heart. Poor souls ! they perish' d. 
Had 1 been any god of power, I would 
Have sunk the sea within the earth, or e'er 
It should the good ship so have swallow' d, and 
The fraughting souls within her." 
She still dwells upon that which was most wanting to the 
completeness of her nature — these fellow creatures from 
whom she appeared banished, with only one relict to keep 
them alive, not in her memory, but in her imagination. 
Another proof of excellent judgment in the poet, for I 
am now principally adverting to that point, is to be found 
in the preparation of the reader for what is to follow. 
Prospero is introduced, first in his magic robe, which, with 
the assistance of his daughter, he lays aside, and we then 
know him to be a being possessed of supernatural powers. 
He then instructs Miranda in the story of their arrival in the 
island, and this is conducted in such a manner, that the 
reader never conjectures the technical use the poet has 
made of the relation, by informing the auditor of what it is 
necessary for him to know. 
The next step is the warning by Prospero, that he means, 
for particular purposes, to lull his daughter to sleep ; and 
here he exhibits the earliest and mildest proof of magical 
power. In ordinary and vulgar plays we should have had 
some person brought upon the stage, whom nobody knows 
or cares anything about, to let the audience into the secret. 
Prospero having cast a sleep upon his daughter, by that 
sleep stops the narrative at the very moment when it was 
necessary to break it off, in order to excite curiosity, and yet 
to give the memory and understanding sufficient to carry 
on the progress of the history uninterruptedly. 
Here I cannot help noticing a fine touch of Shakspeare's 
knowledge of human nature, and generally of the great 
458 The Ninth Lecture 
laws of the human mind : I mean Miranda's infant re- 
membrance. Prospero asks her — 
" Canst thou remember 
A time before we came unto this cell ? 
I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not 
Out three years old. 
Miranda answers, 
" Certainly, sir, I can." 
Prospero inquires, 
" By what ? by any other house or person ? 
Of any thing the image tell me, that 
Hath kept with thy remembrance." 
To which Miranda returns, 
" 'Tis far off ; 
And rather like a dream than an assurance 
That my remembrance warrants. Had I not 
Four or five women once, that tended me ? " 
Act I., Scene 2. 
This is exquisite ! In general, our remembrances of 
early life arise from vivid colours, especially if we have seen 
them in motion : for instance, persons when grown up will 
remember a bright green door, seen when they were quite 
young ; but Miranda, who was somewhat older, recollected 
four or five women who tended her. She might know men 
from her father, and her remembrance of the past might 
be worn out by the present object, but women she only 
knew by herself, by the contemplation of her own figure in 
the fountain, and she recalled to her mind what had been. 
It was not, that she had seen such and such grandees, or 
such and such peeresses, but she remembered to have seen 
something Uke the reflection of herself : it was not herself, 
and it brought back to her mind what she had seen most 
like herself. 
In my opinion the picturesque power displayed by Shak- 
speare, of all the poets that ever lived, is only equalled, if 
equalled, by Milton and Dante. The presence of genius is 
not shown in elaborating a picture : we have had many 
specimens of this sort of work in modern poems, where all 
is so dutchified, if I may use the word, by the most minute 
touches, that the reader naturally asks why words, and not 
painting, are used ? I know a young lady of much taste, 
who observed, that in reading recent versified accounts of 
The Ninth Lecture 459 
voyages and travels, she, by a sort of instinct, cast her eyes 
on the opposite page, for coloured prints of what was so 
patiently and punctually described. 
The power of poetry is, by a single word perhaps, to 
instil that energy into the mind, which compels the imagina- 
tion to produce the picture. Prospero tells Miranda, 
" One midnight, 
Fated to the purpose,^ did Antonio open 
The gates of Milan ; and i' the dead of darkness. 
The ministers for the purpose hurried thence 
Me, and thy crying self." 
Here, by introducing a single happy epithet, " crying," 
in the last line, a complete picture is presented to the mind, 
and in the production of such pictures the power of genius 
In reference to preparation, it will be observed that the 
storm, and all that precedes the tale, as well as the tale 
itself, serve to develope completely the main character of 
the drama, as well as the design of Prospero. The manner 
in which the heroine is charmed asleep fits us for what 
follows^ goes beyond our ordinary belief, and gradually 
leads us to the appearance and disclosure of a being of the 
most fanciful and delicate texture, like Prospero, preter- 
naturally gifted. 
In this way the entrance of Ariel, if not absolutely fore- 
thought by the reader, was foreshewn by the writer : in 
addition, we may remark, that the moral feeling called 
forth by the sweet words of Miranda, 
" Alack, what trouble 
Was I then to you ! " 
in which she considered only the sufferings and sorrows of 
her father, puts the reader in a frame of mind to exert his 
imagination in favour of an object so innocent and interest- 
ing. The poet makes him wish that, if supernatural agency 
were to be employed, it should be used for a being so young 
and lovely. " The wish is father to the thought," and 
1 Coleridge, of course, could only use the text of the day when he lectured ; but, 
since that period, many plausible, and some indisputable, changes have been into- 
duced into it: one of them occurs in reference to the word "purpose," for wlii^h 
practice has been proposed as the true reading : the change is not absolutely necessary, 
but still we can entertain little doubt that " purpose " is a corruption, arising perhaps 
out of the similarity of the appearance of the words "purpose" a.nd. practice in 
hastily-written manuscript. The word " purpose " recurs in the very uext line but 
one.— J. P. C. 
460 The Ninth Lecture 
Ariel is introduced. Here, what is called poetic faith is 
required and created, and our common notions of philo- 
sophy give way before it : this feeling may be said to be 
much stronger than historic faith, since for the exercise of 
poetic faith the mind is previously prepared. I make this 
remark, though somewhat digressive, in order to lead to a 
future subject of these lectures — the poems of Milton. 
When adverting to those, I shall have to explain farther the 
distinction between the two. 
Many Scriptural poems have been written with so much 
of Scripture in them, that what is not Scripture appears to 
be not true, and like mingling lies with the most sacred 
revelations. Now Milton, on the other hand, has taken for 
his subject that one point of Scripture of which we have 
the mere fact recorded, and upon this he has most judici- 
ously constructed his whole fable. So of Shakspeare's 
" King Lear " : we have little historic evidence to guide 
or confine us, and the few facts handed down to us, and 
admirably employed by the poet, are sufficient, while we 
read, to put an end to all doubt as to the credibility of the 
story. It is idle to say that this or that incident is im- 
probable, because history, as far as it goes, tells us that the 
fact was so and so. Four or five lines in the Bible include 
the whole that is said of Milton's story, and the Poet has 
called up that poetic faith, that conviction of the mind, 
which is necessary to make that seem true, which otherwise 
might have been deemed almost fabulous. 
But to return to " The Tempest," and to the wondrous 
creation of Ariel. If a doubt could ever be entertained 
whether Shakspeare was a great poet, acting upon laws 
arising out of his own nature, and not without law, as has 
sometimes been idly asserted, that doubt must be removed 
by the character of Ariel. The very first words uttered 
by this being introduce the spirit, not as an angel, above 
man ; not a gnome, or a fiend, below man ; but while the 
poet gives him the faculties and the advantages of reason, 
he divests him of aU moral character, not positively, it is 
true, but negatively. In air he lives, from air he derives 
his being, in air he acts ; and aU his colours and properties 
seem to have been obtained from the rainbow and the 
skies. There is nothing about Ariel that cannot be con- 
ceived to exist either at sun-rise or at sun-set : hence 
aU that belongs to Ariel belongs to the delight the mind 
The Ninth Lecture 461 
is capable of receiving from the most lovely external 
appearances. His answers to Prospero are directly to the 
question, and nothing beyond ; or where he expatiates, 
which is not unfrequently, it is to himself and upon his 
own delights, or upon the unnatural situation in which he 
is placed, though under a kindly power and to good ends. 
Shakspeare has properly made Ariel's very first speech 
characteristic of him. After he has described the manner 
in which he had raised the storm and produced its harm- 
less consequences, we find that Ariel is discontented — 
that he has been freed, it is true, from a cruel confinement, 
but still that he is bound to obey Prospero, and to execute 
any commands imposed upon him. We feel that such a 
state of bondage is almost unnatural to him, yet we see 
that it is delightful for him to be so employed. — It is as 
if we were to command one of the winds in a different 
direction to that which nature dictates, or one of the 
waves, now rising and now sinking, to recede before it 
bursts upon the shore : such is the feeling we experience, 
when we learn that a being like Ariel is commanded 
to fulfil any mortal behest. 
When, however, Shakspeare contrasts the treatment 
of Ariel by Prospero with that of Sycorax, we are sensible 
that the liberated spirit ought to be grateful, and Ariel 
does feel and acknowledge the obligation ; he immediately 
assumes the airy being, with a mind so elastically cor- 
respondent, that when once a feeling has passed from it, 
not a trace is left behind. 
Is there anything in nature from which Shakspeare 
caught the idea of this delicate and delightful being, with 
such child-like simplicity, yet with such preternatural 
powers ? He is neither born of heaven, nor of earth ; but, 
as it were, between both, live a May-blossom kept sus- 
pended in air by the fanning breeze, which prevents it 
from falling to the ground, and only finally, and by com- 
pulsion, touching earth. This reluctance of the Sylph to 
be under the command even of Prospero is kept up through 
the whole play, and in the exercise of his admirable judg- 
ment Shakspeare has availed himself of it, in order to give 
Ariel an interest in the event, looking forward to that 
moment when he was to gain his last and only reward — 
simple and eternal liberty. 
Another instance of admirable judgment and excellent 
The Ninth Lecture 
preparation is to be found in the creature contrasted with 
Ariel — Caliban ; who is described in such a manner by 
Prospero, as to lead us to expect the appearance of a 
foul, unnatural monster. He is not seen at once : his 
voice is heard ; this is the preparation ; he was too offen- 
sive to be seen first in all his deformity, and in nature 
we do not receive so much disgust from sound as from 
sight. After we have heard Caliban's voice he does not 
enter, until Ariel has entered like a water-nymph. All 
the strength of contrast is thus acquired without any of 
the shock of abruptness, or of that unpleasant sensation, 
which we experience when the object presented is in any 
way hateful to our vision. 
The character of Caliban is wonderfully conceived : 
he is a sort of creature of the earth, as Ariel is a sort 
of creature of the air. He partakes of the qualities of 
the brute, but is distinguished from brutes in two ways : 
— by having mere understanding without moral reason ; 
and by not possessing the instincts which pertain to 
absolute animals. Still, Caliban is in some respects a 
noble being : the poet has raised him far above contempt : 
he is a man in the sense of the imagination : all the images 
he uses are drawn from nature, and are highly poetical ; 
they fit in with the images of Ariel. Caliban gives us 
images from the earth, Ariel images from the air. Caliban 
talks of the difficulty of finding fresh water, of the situation 
of morasses, and of other circumstances which even brute 
instinct, without reason, could comprehend. No mean 
figure is employed, no mean passion displayed, beyond 
animal passion, and repugnance to command. 
The manner in which the lovers are introduced is 
equally wonderful, and it is the last point I shall now 
mention in reference to this, almost miraculous, drama. 
The same judgment is observable in every scene, still 
preparing, still inviting, and still gratifying, like a finished 
piece of music. I have omitted to notice one thing, and 
you must give me leave to advert to it before I proceed : 
I mean the conspiracy against the life of Alonzo. I want 
to shew you how well the poet prepares the feelings of 
the reader for this plot, which was to execute the most 
detestable of all crimes, and which, in another play, 
Shakspeare has called " the murder of sleep." 
Antonio and Sebastian at first had no such intention : 
The Ninth Lecture 463 
it was suggested by the magical sleep cast on Alonzo 
and Gonzalo ; but they are previously introduced scoffing 
and scorning at what was said by others, without regard 
to age or situation — without any sense of admiration for 
the excellent truths they heard delivered, but giving 
themselves up entirely to the malignant and unsocial 
feeling, which induced them to listen to everything that 
was said, not for the sake of profiting by the learning 
and experience of others, but of hearing something that 
might gratify vanity and self-love, by making them believe 
that the person speaking was inferior to themselves. 
This, let me remark, is one of the grand characteristics 
of a villain ; and it would not be so much a presentiment, 
as an anticipation of hell, for men to suppose that all 
mankind were as wicked as themselves, or might be so, 
if they were not too great fools. Pope, you are perhaps 
aware, objected to this conspiracy ; but in my mind, if 
it could be omitted, the play would lose a charm which 
nothing could supply. 
Many, indeed innumerable, beautiful passages might 
be quoted from this play, independently of the astonishing 
scheme of its construction. Every body will call to mind 
the grandeur of the language of Prospero in that divine 
speech, where he takes leave of his magic art ; and were 
I to indulge myself by repetitions of the kind, I should 
descend from the character of a lecturer to that of a mere 
reciter. Before I terminate, I may particularly recall one 
short passage, which has fallen under the very severe, but 
inconsiderate, censure of Pope and Arbuthnot, who pro- 
nounce it a piece of the grossest bombast. Prospero 
thus addresses his daughter, directing her attention to 
Ferdinand : 
" The fringed curtains of thine eye advance, 
And say what thou seest yond." 
Act I., Scene 2. 
Taking these words as a periphrase of — " Look what is 
coming yonder," it certainly may to some appear to border 
on the ridiculous, and to fall under the rule I formerly laid 
down, — that whatever, without injury, can be translated 
into a foreign language in simple terms, ought to be in 
simple terms in the original language ; but it is to be borne 
in mind, that different modes of expression frequently arise 
464 The Ninth Lecture 
from difference of situation and education : a blackguard 
would use very different words, to express the same thing, 
to those a gentleman would employ, yet both would be 
natural and proper ; difference of feeling gives rise to 
difference of language : a gentleman speaks in polished 
terms, with due regard to his own rank and position, while 
a blackguard, a person little better than half a brute, 
speaks like half a brute, showing no respect for himself, nor 
for others. 
But I am content to try the lines I have just quoted by 
the introduction to them ; and then, I think, you will 
admit, that nothing could be more fit and appropriate than 
such language. How does Prospero introduce them ? He 
has just told Miranda a wonderful story, which deeply 
affected her, and filled her with surprise and astonishment, 
and for his own purposes he afterwards lulls her to sleep. 
When she awakes, Shakspeare has made her wholly in- 
attentive to the present, but wrapped up in the past. An 
actress, who understands the character of Miranda, would 
have her eyes cast down, and her eyelids almost covering 
them, while she was, as it were, living in her dream. At 
this moment Prospero sees Ferdinand, and wishes to point 
him out to his daughter, not only with great, but with 
scenic solemnity, he standing before her, and before the 
spectator, in the dignified character of a great magician. 
Something was to appear to Miranda on the sudden, and as 
unexpectedly as if the hero of a drama were to be on the 
stage at the instant when the curtain is elevated. It is 
under such circumstances that Prospero says, in a tone 
calculated at once to arouse his daughter's attention, 
" The fringed curtains of thine eye advance, 
And say what thou seest yond." 
Turning from the sight of Ferdinand to his thoughtful 
daughter, his attention was first struck by the downcast 
appearance of her eyes and eyelids ; and, in my humble 
opinion, the solemnity of the phraseology assigned to 
Prospero is completely in character, recollecting his 
preternatural capacity, in which the most familiar objects 
in nature present themselves in a mysterious point of view. 
It is much easier to find fault with a writer by reference to 
former notions and experience, than to sit down and read 
him, recollecting his purpose, connecting one feeling with 
The Twelfth Lecture 465 
another, and judging of his words and phrases, in pro- 
portion as they convey the sentiments of the persons 
Of Miranda we may say, that she possesses in herself all 
the ideal beauties that could be imagined by the greatest 
poet of any age or country ; but it is not my purpose now, 
so much to point out the high poetic powers of Shakspeare, 
as to illustrate his exquisite judgment, and it is solely with 
this design that I have noticed a passage with which, it 
seems to me, some critics, and those among the best, have 
been unreasonably dissatisfied. If Shakspeare be the 
wonder of the ignorant, he is, and ought to be, much more 
the wonder of the learned : not only from profundity of 
thought, but from his astonishing and intuitive knowledge 
of what man must be at all times, and under all circum- 
stances, he is rather to be looked upon as a prophet than as 
a poet. Yet, with all these unbounded powers, with all 
this might and majesty of genius, he makes us feel as if 
he were unconscious of himself, and of his high destiny, 
disguising the half god in the simplicity of a child. 
In the last lecture I endeavoured to point out in Shak- 
speare those characters in which pride of intellect, without 
moral feeling, is supposed to be the ruling impulse, such as 
lago, Richard III., and even Falstaff. In Richard III., 
ambition is, as it were, the channel in which this impulse 
directs itself ; the character is drawn with the greatest 
fulness and perfection ; and the poet has not only given us 
that character, grown up and completed, but he has shown 
us its very source and generation. The inferiority of his 
person made the hero seek consolation and compensation 
in the superiority of his intellect ; he thus endeavoured to 
counterbalance his deficiency. This striking feature is 
pourtrayed most admirably by Shakspeare, who represents 
Richard bringing forward his very defects and deformities 
as matters of boast. It was the same pride of intellect, or 
the assumption of it, that made John Wilkes vaunt that, 
although he was so ugly, he only wanted, with any lady, 
The Twelfth Lecture 
ten minutes' start of the handsomest man in England. 
This certainly was a high compliment to himself ; but a 
higher to the female sex, on the supposition that Wilkes 
possessed this superiority of intellect, and relied upon it 
for making a favourable impression, because ladies would 
know how to estimate his advantages. 
I will now proceed to offer some remarks upon the 
tragedy of " Richard II.," on account of its not very 
apparent, but still intimate, connection with " Richard 
III." As, in the last, Shakspeare has painted a man where 
ambition is the channel in which the ruling impulse runs, 
so, in the first, he has given us a character, under the name 
of Bolingbroke, or Henry IV., where ambition itself, con- 
joined unquestionably with great talents, is the ruling 
impulse. In Richard III. the pride of intellect makes use 
of ambition as its means ; in Bolingbroke the gratification 
of ambition is the end, and talents are the means. 
One main object of these lectures is to point out the 
superiority of Shakspeare to other dramatists, and no 
superiority can be more striking, than that this wonderful 
poet could take two characters, which at first sight seem 
so much ahke, and yet, when carefuUy and minutely 
examined, are so totally distinct. 
The popularity of " Richard II." is owing, in a great 
measure, to the masterly delineation of the principal 
character ; but were there no other ground for admiring 
it, it would deserve the highest applause, from the fact 
that it contains the most magnificent, and, at the same 
time, the truest eulogium of our native countrj^ that the 
English language can boast, or which can be produced from 
any other tongue, not excepting the proud claims of Greece 
and Rome. When I feel, that upon the morality of 
Britain depends the safety of Britain, and that her morality 
is supported and illustrated by our national feeling, I 
cannot read these grand lines without joy and triumph. 
Let it be remembered, that while this country is proudly 
pre-eminent in morals, her enemy has only maintained his 
station by superiority in mechanical appliances. Many of 
those who hear me will, no doubt, anticipate the passage 
I refer to, and it runs as follows : — 
" This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-paradise ; 
' The Twelfth Lecture 467 
This fortress, built by nature for herself 
Against infection and the hand of war ; 
This happy breed of men, this little world, 
This precious stone set in the silver sea, 
WTiich serves it in the office of a wall, 
Or as a moat defensive to a house. 
Against the envy of less happier lands ; 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, ' 
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings, 
Feared by their breed, and famous by their birth, 
Renowned for their deeds as far from home, 
For Christian service and true chivalry. 
As is the Sepulchre in stubborn Jewry 
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's son : 
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land, 
Dear for her reputation through the world, 
Is now leas'd out, I die pronouncing it. 
Like to a tenement, or pelting farm. 
England, bound in with the triumphant sea, 
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege 
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame, 
With inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds." 
Act II., Scene i. 
Every motive to patriotism, every cause producing it, is 
here collected, without one of those cold abstractions so 
frequently substituted by modern poets. If this passage 
were recited in a theatre with due energy and under- 
standing, with a proper knowledge of the words, and a 
fit expression of their meaning, every man would retire 
from it secure in his country's freedom, if secure in his 
own constant virtue. 
The principal personages in this tragedy are Richard II., 
Boiingbroke, and York. I wiU speak of the last first, 
although it is the least important ; but the keeping of aU 
is most admirable. York is a man of no strong powers 
of mind, but of earnest wishes to do right, contented 
in himself alone, if he have acted well : he points out to 
Richard the effects of his thoughtless extravagance, and 
the dangers by which he is encompassed, but having done 
so, he is satisfied ; there is no after action on his part ; he 
does nothing ; he remains passive. When old Gaunt is 
dying, York takes care to give his own opinion to the King, 
and that done he retires, as it were, into himself. 
It has been stated, from the first, that one of my purposes 
in these lectures is, to meet and refute popular objections 
to particular points in the works of our great dramatic 
poet ; and I cannot help observing here upon the beauty, 
The Twelfth Lecture 
and true force of nature, with which conceits, as they 
are called, and sometimes even puns, are introduced. 
What has been the reigning fault of an age must, at one 
time or another, have referred to something beautiful 
in the human mind ; and, however conceits may have been 
misapplied, however they may have been disadvantage- 
ously multiplied, we should recollect that there never was 
an abuse of anything, but it previously has had its use. 
Gaunt, on his death-bed, sends for the young King, and 
Richard, entering, insolently and unfeelingly says to him : 
" What, comfort, man ! how is't with aged Gaunt ? " 
Act II., Scene i. 
and Gaunt replies : 
" O, how that name befits my composition ! 
Old Gaunt, indeed ; and gaunt in being old : 
Within me grief hath kept a tedious fast. 
And who abstains from meat, that is not gaunt ? 
For sleeping England long time have I watched ; 
Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt : 
The pleasure that some fathers feed upon 
Is my strict fast, I mean my children's looks ; 
And therein fasting, thou hast made me gaunt, 
Gaunt am I for the grave, gaunt as a grave. 
Whose hollow womb inherits nought but bones." 
Richard inquires, 
" Can sick men play so nicely with their names ? " 
To which Gaunt answers, giving the true justification 
of conceits : 
" No ; misery makes sport to mock itself : 
Since thou dost seek to kill my name in me, 
I mock my name, great king, to flatter thee." 
He that knows the state of the human mind in deep 
passion must know, that it approaches to that condition 
of madness, which is not absolute frenzy or delirium, 
but which models all things to one reigning idea ; still 
it strays from the main subject of complaint, and still 
it returns to it, by a sort of irresistible impulse. Abrupt- 
ness of thought, under such circumstances, is true to nature, 
and no man was more sensible of it than Shakspeare. 
In a modern poem a mad mother thus complains : 
" The breeze I see is in yon tree : 
It comes to cool my babe and me." 
The Twelfth Lecture 469 
This is an instance of the abruptness of thought, so natural 
to the excitement and agony of grief ; and if it be admired 
in images, can we say that it is unnatural in words, which 
are, as it were, a part of our life, of our very existence ? 
In the Scriptures themselves these plays upon words are 
to be found, as well as in the best works of the ancients, 
and in the most delightful parts of Shakspeare ; and 
because this additional grace, not well understood, has 
in some instances been converted into a deformity — 
because it has been forced into places where it is evidently 
improper and unnatural, are we therefore to include the 
whole application of it in one general condemnation ? 
When it seems objectionable, when it excites a feeling 
contrary to the situation, when it perhaps disgusts, it is our 
business to enquire whether the conceit has been rightly or 
wrongly used — whether it is in a right or in a wrong place ? 
In order to decide this point, it is obviously necessary to 
consider the state of mind, and the degree of passion, of the 
person using this play upon words. Resort to this grace 
may, in some cases, deserve censure, not because it is a play 
upon words, but because it is a play upon words in a wrong 
place, and at a wrong time. What is right in one state of 
mind is wrong in another, and much more depends upon 
that, than upon the conceit (so to caU it) itself. I feel the 
importance of these remarks strongly, because the greater 
part of the abuse, I might say filth, thrown out and heaped 
upon Shakspeare, has originated in want of consideration. 
Dr. Johnson asserts that Shakspeare loses the world for a 
toy, and can no more withstand a pun, or a play upon words, 
than his Antony could resist Cleopatra. Certain it is, 
that Shakspeare gained more admiration in his day, and 
long afterwards, by the use of speech in this way, than 
modem writers have acquired by the abandonment of the 
practice : the latter, in adhering to, what they have been 
pleased to caU, the rules of art, have sacrificed nature. 
Having said thus much on the, often falsely supposed, 
blemishes of our poet — blemishes which are said to prevail 
in " Richard II " especially, — I will now advert to the 
character of the King. He is represented as a man not 
deficient in immediate courage, which displays itself at his 
assassination ; or in powers of mind, as appears by the 
foresight he exhibits throughout the play ; still, he is weak, 
variable, and womanish, and possesses feelings, which. 
470 The Twelfth Lecture 
amiable in a female, are misplaced in a man, and altogether 
unfit for a king. In prosperity he is insolent and pre- 
sumptuous, and in adversity, if we are to believe Dr. 
Johnson, he is humane and pious. I cannot admit the 
latter epithet, because I perceive the utmost consistency 
of character in Richard : what he was at first, he is at last, 
excepting as far as he yields to circumstances : what he 
shewed himself at the commencement of the play, he shews 
hmiself at the end of it. Dr. Johnson assigns to him 
rather the virtue of a confessor than that of a king. 
True it is, that he may be said to be overwhelmed by the 
earliest misfortune that befalls him ; but, so far from his 
feelings or disposition being changed or subdued, the very 
first glimpse of the returning sunshine of hope reanimates 
his spirits, and exalts him to as strange and unbecoming a 
degree of elevation, as he was before sunk in mental de- 
pression : the mention of those in his misfortunes, who had 
contributed to his downfall, but who had before been his 
nearest friends and favourites, calls forth from him ex- 
pressions of the bitterest hatred and revenge. Thus, 
where Richard asks : 
" Where is the Earl of Wiltshire ? Where is Bagot ? 
What is become of Bushy ? Where is Green ? 
That they have let the dangerous enemy 
Measure our confines with such peaceful steps ? 
If we prevail, their heads shall pay for it, 
I warrant they have made peace with Bolingbroke." 
Act III., Scene 2, 
Scroop answers : 
" Peace have they made with him, indeed, my lord." 
Upon which Richard, without hearing more, breaks 
out : 
" O villains ! vipers, damn'd without redemption ! 
Dogs, easily won to fawn on any man ! 
Snakes, in my heart-blood warm'd, that sting my heart I 
Three Judases, each one thrice worse than Judas ! 
Would they make peace ? terrible hell make war 
Upon their spotted souls for this offence ! " 
Scroop observes upon this change, and tells the King how 
they had made their peace : 
" Sweet love, I see, changing his property 
Turns to the sourest and most deadly hate. 
Again uncurse their souls : their peace is made 
With heads and not with hands : those whom you curse 
The Twelfth Lecture 471 
Have felt the worst of death's destroying wound, 
And lie full low, grav'd in the hollow ground." 
Richard receiving at first an equivocal answer, — " Peace 
have they made with him, indeed, my lord," — takes it in 
the worst sense : his promptness to suspect those who 
had been his friends turns his love to hate, and calls forth 
the most tremendous execrations. 
From the beginning to the end of the play he pours out 
all the peculiarities and powers of his mind : he catches at 
new hope, and seeks new friends, is disappointed, despairs, 
and at length makes a merit of his resignation. He 
scatters himself into a multitude of images, and in con- 
clusion endeavours to shelter himself from that which is 
around him by a cloud of his own thoughts. Throughout 
his whole career may be noticed the most rapid transitions 
— from the highest insolence to the lowest humility — from 
hope to despair, from the extravagance of love to the 
agonies of resentment, and from pretended resignation to 
the bitterest reproaches. The whole is joined with the 
utmost richness and copiousness of thought, and were there 
an actor capable of representing Richard, the part would 
delight us more than any other of Shakspeare's master- 
pieces, — with, perhaps, the single exception of King Lear. 
I know of no character drawn by our great poet with such 
unequalled skill as that of Richard II. 
Next we come to Henry Bolingbroke, the rival of 
Richard II. He appears as a man of dauntless courage, 
and of ambition equal to that of Richard III. ; but, as I 
have stated, the difference between the two is most admir- 
ably conceived and preserved. In Richard III. all that 
surrounds him is only dear as it feeds his inward sense of 
superiority : he is no vulgar tyrant — no Nero or Caligula : 
he has always an end in view, and vast fertility of means 
to accomplish that end. On the other hand, in Boling- 
broke we find a man who in the outset has been sorely 
injured : then, we see him encouraged by the grievances 
of his country, and by the strange mismanagement of the 
government, yet at the same time scarcely daring to look 
at his own views, or to acknowledge them as designs. He 
comes home under the pretence of claiming his dukedom, 
and he professes that to be his object almost to the last ; 
but, at the last, he avows his purpose to its fuU extent, of 
which he was himself unconscious in the earlier stages. 
472 The Twelfth Lecture 
This is proved by so many passages, that I will only 
select one of them ; and I take it the rather, because out 
of the many octavo volumes of text and notes, the page on 
which it occurs is, I believe, the only one left naked by the 
commentators. It is where Bolingbroke approaches the 
castle in which the unfortunate king has taken shelter : 
York is in Bolingbroke's company — the same York who is 
still contented with speaking the truth, but doing nothing 
for the sake of the truth, — drawing back after he has spoken 
and becoming merely passive when he ought to display 
activity. Northumberland says, 
" The news is very fair and good, my lord : 
Richard not far from hence hath hid his head." 
Act III.. Scene 3. 
York rebukes him thus : 
" It would beseem the Lord Northumberland 
To say King Richard : — Alack, the heavy day. 
When such a sacred king should hide his head 1 '* 
Northumberland replies : 
" Your grace mistakes me : only to be brief 
Left I his title out." ^ 
To which York rejoins : 
" The time hath been, 
Would you have been so brief with him, he would 
Have been so brief with you, to shorten you, 
For taking so the head, your whole head's length." 
Bolingbroke observes, 
" Mistake not, uncle, farther than you should " 
And York answers, with a play upon the words " take " 
and " mistake " : 
" Take not, good cousin, farther than you should. 
Lest you mistake. The heavens are o'er our heads." 
Here, give me leave to remark in passing, that the play 
upon words is perfectly natural, and quite in character : 
the answer is in unison with the tone of passion, and seems 
connected with some phrase then in popular use.^ BoHng- 
broke tells York : 
1 So Coleridge read the passage, his ear requiring the insertion of mg, which is one 
of the emendations in the corrected folio, 1652, discovered many years al terwards. — 
J. P. C. 
2 Nicholas Breton wrote a " Dialogue between the Taker and Mistaker," but the 
earliest known edition is dated 1603. — J. P. C. 
The Twelfth Lecture 473 
" I know it, uncle, and oppose not myself 
Against their will." 
Just afterwards, Bolingbroke thus addresses himself to 
Northumberland : 
" Noble lord, 
Go to the rude ribs of that ancient castle ; 
Through brazen trumpet send the breath of parle 
Into his ruin'd ears, and thus deliver." 
Here, in the phrase " into his ruin'd ears," I have no 
doubt that Shakspeare purposely used the personal pro- 
noun, " his," to shew, that although Bolingbroke was only 
speaking of the castle, his thoughts dwelt on the king. In 
Milton the pronoun " her " is employed, in relation to 
" form," in a manner somewhat similar. Bolingbroke had 
an equivocation in his mind, and was thinking of the king, 
while speaking of the castle. He goes on to tell North- 
umberland what to say, beginning, 
" Henry Bolingbroke," 
which is almost the only instance in which a name forms 
the whole line ; Shakspeare meant it to convey Boling- 
broke's opinion of his own importance : — 
" Henry Bolingbroke 
On both his knees doth kiss King Richard's hand. 
And sends allegiance and true faith of heart 
To his most royal person ; hither come 
Even at his feet to lay my arms and power, 
Provided that, my banishment repealed, 
And lands restor'd again, be freely granted. 
If not, I'll use th' advantage of my power, 
And lay the summer's dust with showers of blood. 
Rain'd from the wounds of slaughter'd Englishmen." 
At this point Bolingbroke seems to have been checked 
by the eye of York, and thus proceeds in consequence : 
" The which, how far off from the mind of Bolingbroke 
It is, such crimson tempest should bedrench 
The fresh green lap of fair King Richard's land, 
My stooping duty tenderly shall show." 
He passes suddenly from insolence to humihty, owing to 
the silent reproof he received from his uncle. This change 
of tone would not have taken place, had Bolingbroke been 
allowed to proceed according to the natural bent of his 
own mind, and the flow of the subject. Let me direct 
474 The Twelfth Lecture 
attention to the subsequent lines, for the same reason ; 
they are part of the same speech : 
" Let's march without the noise of threat'ning drum. 
That from the castle's tatter'd battlements 
Our fair appointments may be well perused. 
Methinks, King Richard and myself should meet 
With no less terror than the elements 
Of fire and water, when their thundering shock 
At meeting tears the cloudy cheeks of heaven." 
Having proceeded thus far with the exaggeration of his 
own importance, York again checks him, and Bohngbroke 
adds, in a very different strain, 
" He be the fire, I'll be the yielding water : 
The rage be his, while on the earth I rain 
My waters ; on the earth, and not on him." 
I have thus adverted to the three great personages in 
this drama, Richard, Bohngbroke, and York ; and of the 
whole play it may be asserted, that with the exception of 
some of the last scenes (though they have exquisite beauty) 
Shakspeare seems to have risen to the summit of excel- 
lence in the delineation and preserv^ation of character. 
We will now pass to " Hamlet," in order to obviate some 
of the general prejudices against the author, in reference 
to the character of the hero. Much has been objected to, 
which ought to have been praised, and many beauties of 
the highest kind have been neglected, because they are 
somewhat hidden. 
The first question we should ask ourselves is — What did 
Shakspeare mean when he drew the character of Hamlet ? 
He never wrote any thing without design, and what was 
his design when he sat down to produce this tragedy ? 
My belief is, that he always regarded his story, before he 
began to write, much in the same light as a painter regards 
his canvas, before he begins to paint — as a mere vehicle for 
his thoughts — as the ground upon which he was to work. 
What then was the point to which Shakspeare directed 
himself in Hamlet ? He intended to pourtray a person, 
in whose view the external world, and all its incidents and 
objects, were comparatively dim, and of no interest in 
themselves, and which began to interest only, when they 
were reflected in the mirror of his mind. Hamlet beheld 
external things in the same way that a man of vivid 
The Twelfth Lecture 475 
imagination, who shuts his eyes, sees what has previously 
made an impression on his organs. 
The poet places him in the most stimulating circum- 
stances that a human being can be placed in. He is the 
heir apparent of a throne ; his father dies suspiciously ; 
his mother excludes her son from his throne by marrying 
his uncle. This is not enough ; but the Ghost of the 
murdered father is introduced, to assure the son that he 
was put to death by his own brother. What is the effect 
upon the son ? — instant action and pursuit of revenge ? 
No : endless reasoning and hesitating — constant urging 
and solicitation of the mind to act, and as constant an 
escape from action ; ceaseless reproaches of himself for 
sloth and negligence, while the whole energy of his resolu- 
tion evaporates in these reproaches. This, too, not from 
cowardice, for he is drawn as one of the bravest of his time 
— not from want of forethought or slowness of appre- 
hension, for he sees through the very souJs of all who 
surround him, but merely from that aversion to action, 
which prevails among such as have a world in themselves. 
How admirable, too, is the judgment of the poet ! 
Hamlet's own disordered fancy has not conjured up the 
spirit of his father ; it has been seen by others : he is pre- 
pared by them to witness its re-appearance, and when he 
does see it, Hamlet is not brought forward as having long 
brooded on the subject. The moment before the Ghost 
enters, Hamlet speaks of other matters : he mentions the 
coldness of the night, and observes that he has not heard 
the clock strike, adding, in reference to the custom of 
drinking, that it is 
" More honour'd in the breach than the observance." 
Act I., Scene 4. 
Owing to the tranquil state of his mind, he indulges in 
some moral reflections. Afterwards, the Ghost suddenly 
" Hor. Look, my lord ! it comes. 
Ham. Angels and ministers of grace defend us ! " 
The same thing occurs in " Macbeth " : in the dagger- 
scene, the moment before the hero sees it, he has his mind 
applied to some indifferent matters ; " Go, tell thy 
mistress," etc. Thus, in both cases, the preternatural 
appearance has all the effect of abruptness, and the reader 
476 The Twelfth Lecture 
is totally divested of the notion, that the figure is a vision 
of a highly wrought imagination. 
Here Shakspeare adapts himself so admirably to the 
situation — in other words, so puts himself into it — that, 
though poetry, his language is the very language of nature. 
No terms, associated with such feelings, can occur to us so 
proper as those which he has employed, especially on the 
highest, the most august, and the most awful subjects that 
can interest a human being in this sentient world. That 
this is no mere fancy, I can undertake to establish from 
hundreds, I might say thousands, of passages. No char- 
acter he has drawn, in the whole list of his plays, could so 
well and fitly express himself, as in the language Shak- 
speare has put into his mouth. 
There is no indecision about Hamlet, as far as his own 
sense of duty is concerned ; he knows well what he ought 
to do, and over and over again he makes up his mind to do 
it. The moment the players, and the two spies set upon 
him, have withdrawn, of whom he takes leave with a line 
so expressive of his contempt, 
" Ay so ; good bye you. — Now I am alone," 
he breaks out into a delirium of rage against himself for 
neglecting to perform the solemn duty he had undertaken, 
and contrasts the factitious and artificial display of feeling 
by the player with his own apparent indifference ; 
" What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, 
That he should weep for her ? " 
Yet the player did weep for her, and was in an agony of 
grief at her sufferings, while Hamlet is unable to rouse 
himself to action, in order that he may perform the com- 
mand of his father, who had come from the grave to incite 
him to revenge : — 
" This is most brave ! 
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd, 
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell. 
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words, 
And fall a cursing like a very drab, 
A scullion." Act II., Scene 2. 
It is the same feeling, the same conviction of what is his 
duty, that makes Hamlet exclaim in a subsequent part of 
the tragedy : 
The Twelfth Lecture 477 
" How all occasions do inform against me, 
And spur my dull revenge ! What is a man, 
If his chief good, and market of his time, 
Be but to sleep and feed ? A beast, no more. * ♦ » 
I do not know 
Why yet I live to say — 'this thing's to do,' 
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means 
To do't." Act IV., Scene 4. 
Yet with all this strong conviction of duty, and with all 
this resolution arising out jf strong conviction, nothing is 
done. This admirable and consistent character, deeply 
acquainted with his own feelings, painting them with such 
wonderful power and accuracy, and firmly persuaded that 
a moment ought not to be lost in executing the solemn 
charge committed to him, still yields to the same retiring 
from reality, which is the result of having, what we express 
by the terms, a world within himself. 
Such a mind as Hamlet's is near akin to madness. 
Dryden has somewhere said, 
" Great wit to madness nearly is allied," 
and he was right ; for he means by " wit " that greatness 
of genius, which led Hamlet to a perfect knowledge of his 
own character, which, with all strength of motive, was so 
weak as to be unable to carry into act his own most obvious 
With all this he has a sense of imperfectness, which 
becomes apparent when he is moralising on the skull in the 
churchyard. Something is wanting to his completeness — 
something is deficient which remains to be supplied, and 
he is therefore described as attached to Ophelia. His 
madness is assumed, when he finds that witnesses have been 
placed behind the arras to listen to what passes, and when 
the heroine has been thrown in his way as a decoy. 
Another objection has been taken by Dr. Johnson, and 
Shakspeare has been taxed very severely. I refer to the 
scene where Hamlet enters and finds his uncle praying, and 
refuses to take his life, excepting when he is in the height 
of his iniquity. To assail him at such a moment of con- 
fession and repentance, Hamlet declares, 
" Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge." 
Act III., Scene 4. 
He therefore forbears, and postpones his uncle's death, 
until he can catch him in some act 
478 The Twelfth Lecture 
" That has no relish of salvation in't." 
This conduct, and this sentiment, Dr. Johnson has pro- 
nounced to be so atrocious and horrible, as to be unfit to 
be put into the mouth of a human being. ^ The fact, how- 
ever, is that Dr. Johnson did not understand the character 
of Hamlet, and censured accordingly : the determination 
to allow the guilty King to escape at such a moment is only 
part of the indecision and irresoluteness of the hero. 
Hamlet seizes hold of a pretext for not acting, when he 
might have acted so instantly and effectually : therefore, 
he again defers the revenge he was bound to seek, and 
declares his determination to accomplish it at some time, 
" When he is drunk, asleep, or in his rage, 
Or in th' incestuous pleasures of his bed." 
This, allow me to impress upon you most emphatically, 
was merely the excuse Hamlet made to himself for not 
taking advantage of this particular and favourable moment 
for doing justice upon his guilty uncle, at the urgent 
instance of the spirit of his father. 
Dr. Johnson farther states, that in the voyage to Eng- 
land, Shakspeare merely follows the novel as he found it, 
as if the poet had no other reason for adhering to his 
original ; but Shakspeare never followed a novel, because 
he found such and such an incident in it, but because he sav/ 
that the story, as he read it, contributed to enforce, or to 
explain some great truth inherent in human nature. He 
never could lack invention to alter or improve a popular 
narrative ; but he did not wantonly vary from it, when he 
knew that, as it was related, it would so well apply to his 
own great purpose. He saw at once how consistent it was 
with the character of Hamlet, that after still resolving, and 
still deferring, still determining to execute, and still post- 
poning execution, he should finally, in the infirmity of his 
disposition, give himself up to his destiny, and hopelessly 
place himself in the power, and at the mercy of his enemies. 
Even after the scene with Osrick, we see Hamlet still 
indulging in reflection, and hardly thinking of the task he 
has just undertaken : he is all dispatch and resolution, as 
far as words and present intentions are concerned, but all 
hesitation and irresolution, when called upon to carry his 
1 See Malone's Shakspeare by Boswell, vii., 382, for Johnson's note upon this part of 
the scene. —J. P. C. 
The Twelfth Lecture 479 
words and intentions into effect ; so that, resolving to do 
everything, he does nothing. He is full of purpose, but 
void of that quality of mmd which accomplishes purpose. 
Anything finer than this conception, and working out 
of a great character, is merely impossible. Shakspeare 
wished to impress upon us the truth, that action is the 
chief end of existence — that no faculties of intellect, how- 
ever brilliant, can be considered valuable, or indeed other- 
wise than as misfortunes, if they withdraw us from, or 
render us repugnant to action, and lead us to think and 
think of doing, until the time has elapsed when we can 
do anything effectually. In enforcing this moral truth, 
Shakspeare has shown the fulness and force of his powers : 
all that is amiable and excellent in nature is combined in 
Hamlet, with the exception of one quality. He is a man 
living in meditation, called upon to act by every motive 
human and divine, but the great object of his life is de- 
feated by continually resolving to do, yet doing nothing 
but resolve. 

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