Images de page
PDF
ePub

6

6

too seldom extends to outline and harmony. Mr Courthope is always calling aloud for plastic mastery in our drama, and he calls in vain.

Some of Mr Courthope's conclusions upon matters of fact and authorship, especially in the case of Shakespeare, are sure to excite discussion. He has the right to his own plan, which is not to load his page with titles, learned apparatus, or discussion of the views of other scholars. But it is not always easy to see how far he has studied, and how far rejected, their views. He names Elze and Ulrici, whose simple-minded moralising of Shakespeare has long been exploded, but he seems to make no use of the contributions of Kreyssig, or Bulthaupt, or Brandes, all of whom would have given him aid. In exegesis he seems to work alone, and to infer easily. He holds that Shakespeare wrote “The Troublesome Reign of King John,' and 'The Taming of a Shrew' (as well as 'The Taming of the Shrew'); that “The Tempest,' at all events in its first conception, is a play of the period of the Dream,' and is identical with Love's Labour Won,' mentioned by Meres; and that he may dismiss · Henry VIII'as too‘mechanical' to be considered in a history of Shakespeare's art, saying nothing about the deeply-considered view of many scholars, that part of it is by Fletcher. Reasons of style and diction, which have to be weighed in advancing a new claimant for admission to the Shakespearean canon, do not seem to have been considered in the case of the • Troublesome Reign' and ' A Shrew'; and the other pleas advanced for them, though too elaborate to be discussed here, hardly carry so great a conclusion. The dislocation of “The Tempest' from its accepted place not only misinterprets the evidence of language, versification, temper, and subject, but rests upon the frail support of the prologue to 'Every Man in his Humour' (1598), in which he refers to storms, stage thunder, and the popularity of monsters.' But this prologue, although some argue for its early composition, was first printed in the folio issued by Jonson in 1616. Even were it early, the allusion to monsters is not strong enough to warrant an application to Caliban; and a stage tempest was familiar already in Marlowe.

In judging the drama Mr Courthope steadily applies three principles, which are just and carry him far. He

[ocr errors]

6

6

6

is on the watch for structure and its absence; he constantly applies the touchstone of a high chivalrous feeling; and thirdly, in tracing the historic pattern, he finds its main theme in the spiritual or moral conceptions that animated the successive schools of playwrights. He has little sympathy with the Marlowesque drama, or seems to admire it unwillingly; but he is right in regarding it, with its concentration on virtù or personal energy desirous and defiant, as a kind of by-product, not really in the main line of dramatic development. And he shows, more clearly than other critics, and even with too much emphasis, how the motive of the old Morality,' namely, the abstract conflict between personifications of good and evil, strikes deep and far into the drama of Jonson, of Massinger, and to some extent of Shakespeare. Mr Courthope's incessant and wavering use of the word abstract,' which sometimes means 'remote from life and reality,' and elsewhere suggests moral personifications of virtue and vice, may not be approved. Nevertheless, in spite of the elements from Stoical ethics, which came in to strengthen and ennoble the bare forms of the 'Morality,' it is true that there is in the drama a real continuity of moral topic, appearing under many disguises; so that Massinger, of whom Mr Courthope gives a masterly account, derives by true pedigree, though perhaps not consciously, from the ruder but eminently theatrical forms of art represented in Everyman.' To unravel this one thread out of the motley strand of artistic influences that bewilder the student of the drama is a service. The remarks on the nature of melodrama (iv, 233) ; on the different notions of love in Shakespeare and in Fletcher (iv, 332); on the atmosphere of humanity and society' in Shakespeare's comedies (iv, 187); on Ford, whose lack of sympathy' in dealing with abnormal passion and abstract curiosity' are pointed out with much insight; and the account of Dryden's . All for Love' as a Gallicised •Antony and Cleopatra,' exemplify Mr Courthope's felicity on his own ground.

After our many criticisms we prefer to end with another profound piece of analysis, in which the extinction of the chivalrous idea of love is discovered in the work of Dryden.

• Love in the poetry of the Middle Ages reveals itself in two aspects; it is either a platonised reflection of the old

[ocr errors]

6

6

6

6

Teutonic reverence for women, or it is a school of knightly manners, where the castled aristocracy may cultivate a peculiar system of sentiment and language, distinguishing their order from the plebeian world around them. Dante's Beatrice and Spenser's Una are the representatives of or class; Guillaume de Lorris' new version of the art of love, in The Romance of the Rose,” is the type of the other. The former conception breathes its spirituality into the beautiful characters of Shakspeare's women, making the unselfishness of Viola, the patience of Imogen, and the purity of Isabella, at once ideal and credible. The latter inspires the elaborate code framed by the female canonists and casuists of the “ Cours d'Amour," which, embodied first of all in the treatise of André le Chapelain, “ De Amore," and adapted to the manners of a later time by Castiglione in his “Cortigiano,” formed the basis of social etiquette in every court of Europe, and was reflected with all the hectic colouring of decline in the comedy of Fletcher' (iv, 452).

[ocr errors]

Mr Courthope's History' is thus an experiment of high worth in the philosophical chronicle of literature, revealing as it does the play of many forces, partly ancestral, partly international, partly both, upon literary art.

Mr Saintsbury's 'Short History of English Literature does not show these preoccupations at all strongly, though the author is learned in the writings of many lands. He loses something by this omission; he loses possibly more by a certain exclusion from his view of the intellectual stuff of literature. But he holds finely and firmly to the yet more important, or equally important, clue that writing is an art, and that structure and style are forms of beauty which it is, after all, the main affair of the critic to detect and love. Within the limits of the nation, or with only casual references to foreign influence, he has applied the same canon of design and proportion to his own History, laying out in a single volume, which has only been as yet half appreciated, the natural epochs, groups, and outlines, in just perspective. Some drawbacks, it is true, cannot be ignored. There is a touch or two of political or ecclesiastical predilection. We read that ‘Hooker's work utterly ruined, from the logical and historical side, the position of the English Puritans'-a very doubtful statement, and one that might have been spared in a work where the artistic standpoint is almost always maintained with dignity. Some caprice is shown in the recognition of philological inquiry and its results, which do not profess to do the work of the æsthetic critic, but are there to be used by him. It really does matter to criticism how we sort the poems of the Cynewulfian and Caedmonian schools, and only the linguists can give us the data ; but in the 'Short History' the subject is treated with some impatience. It is not unfair to point, lastly, to some degree of hasty or parenthetic writing, or lack of finish, which is less than just to the author's literary gift.

Yet Mr Saintsbury has written by far the most catholic record of our literature. He has a steady will to enjoy all that is good of whatever kind, and to find words for the reason why he does so—a simple creed, and pleasant when one considers it, but rare among critics, who are for ever led off either by the British bane of blind whim or by the other mania of vaporous theorising. Such an open temper-which is the boon of nature nurtured by schooling-ready to perceive the goodness or badness of the handiwork, and the peculiar virtue of the form chosen by each artist, is uncommon. It is present in the Short History,' as is the power of orderly grouping, by which the vague bibliography, that often does duty in England for a history of letters, falls into an intelligible pattern. It is something to cover the country from Widsith to Tennyson, and from Alfred to Carlyle, in such a spirit. Lightness and cheeriness of step are wanted to carry the pilgrim all that way, and are not absent in Mr Saintsbury.

We do not care to compare him with the other scholar we have reviewed here, save to say that their gifts curiously supplement one another. Like all good travellers, however, Mr Saintsbury has two distinct moods of admiration. There is the general mood of readiness to grant admiration to whatever is fair, or even is strangely expressive, whether it be in Hobbes or Newman or Shelley or Drunken Barnabee; so obeying the commandment of Plato to rejoice wherein we ought to rejoice.' But sometimes the pilgrim is quickened to a different mood altogether, and then his criticism is of the kind which tells us most about both parties to it, though it irritates pedants because it does not pretend to be like a judge's charge. That man is to be pitied who does not get more out of Lamb's sentence that Heywood is a kind of

6

prose Shakspeare,' than out of the meditation that it is decidedly partial. In any case we feel it quickly when, amid the more level and restrained survey proper to a long history, a critic with ample learning and clear canons lifts up his voice. There are authors we chance on, and find they were always ours; and we resent that an opinion should be ventured on them by others. Their voice calls up the echoes of our private whispering-gallery. They may not be the greatest of men. But the involuntary eloquence they communicate remains with our hearers longer than the tempered findings of the historic intellect. It is this kind of note the want of which banishes much of the commentary of our time into the useful field of science. Donne, we have seen, is a difficult poet to divine, Mr Saintsbury, observing that the word 'metaphysical is strictly appropriate to him, adds :• For, behind every image, every ostensible thought of his, there are vistas and backgrounds of other thoughts dimly vanishing, with glimmers in them here and there into the depths of the final enigmas of life and soul. Passion and meditation, the two avenues into this region of doubt and dread, are tried by Donne in the two sections respectively, and of each he has the key. Nor, as he walks in them with eager or solemn tread, are light and music wanting, the light the most unearthly that ever played round a poet's head, the music not the least heavenly that he ever caught and transmitted to his readers.

6

Such enthusiasm is in place. Who would not wish to be able to speak of his elect authors thus well? Without some such interludes the mapping of international currents and the watching of impersonal forces become a vain thing. The 'Short History' is therefore to be recognised for its qualities of completeness within its own scale, clear historic grouping, avoidance of crowding, catholic connoisseurship, and the timely betrayal of preferences. Such books minister in their own way, really rather than ostensibly, to that federal ideal of literature which cannot be too often enunciated.

OLIVER ELTON.

« PrécédentContinuer »