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Gothic machinery. Shakespear makes something more of them, and adds to the mystery by explaining it.
"The earth hath bubbles as the water hath,
We have their physiognomy too
"and enjoin'd silence,
By each at once her choppy finger laying
And the mode of their disappearance is thus described
"And then they melted into thin air."
What an idea is here conveyed of silence and vacancy! The geese of Micklestane Muir (the country-woman and her flock of geese turned into stone) in the Black Dwarf, are a fine and petrifying metamorphosis; but it is the tradition of the country and no more. Sir Walter has told us nothing farther of it than the first clown whom we might ask concerning it. I do not blame him for that, though I cannot give him credit for what he has not done. The poetry of the novel is a fixture of the spot. Meg Merrilies I also allow, with all possible good-will, to be a most romantic and astounding personage ; yet she is a little melo-dramatic. Her exits and entrances are pantomimic, and her long red
cloak, her elf-locks, the rock on which she stands, and the white cloud behind her are, or might be made the property of a theatre. Shakespear's witches are nearly exploded on
Their broomsticks are left; their metaphysics are gone, buried five editions deep in Captain Medwin's Conversations! The passion in Othello is made out of nothing but itself; there is no external machinery to help it on; its highest intermediate agent is an oldfashioned pocket-handkerchief. Yet “there's magic in the web” of thoughts and feelings, done after the commonest pattern of human life. The power displayed in it is that of in
1 tense passion and powerful intellect, wielding every-day events, and imparting its force to them, not swayed or carried along by them as in a go-cart. The splendour is that of genius darting out its forked flame on whatever comes in its way, and kindling and melting it in the furnace of affection, whether it be flax or iron. The colouring, the form, the motion, the combination of objects depend on the pre-disposition of the mind, moulding nature to its own purposes ; in Sir Walter the mind is as wax to circumstances, and owns no other impress. Shakespear is a half-worker with nature. Sir Walter is like a man who has got a romantic
spinning-jenny, which he has only to set a going, and it does his work for him much better and faster than he can do it for himself. He lays an embargo on “all appliances and means to boot,” on bistory, tradition, local scenery, costume and manners, and makes his characters chiefly up of these. Shakespear seizes only on the ruling passion, and miraculously evolves all the rest from it. The eagerness of desire suggests every possible event that can irritate or thwart it, foresees all obstacles, catches at every trifle, clothes itself with imagination, and tantalises itself with hope; “ sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt,” starts at a phantom, and makes the universe tributary to it, and the play-thing of its fancy. There is none of this over-weening importunity of the imagination in the Author of Waverley, he does his work well, but in another-guess manner. His imagination is a matter-of-fact imagination. To return to Othello. Take the celebrated dialogue in the third act. « Tis common." There is nothing but the writhings and contortions of the heart, probed by affliction's point, as the flesh shrinks under the surgeon's knife. All its starts and flaws are but the conflicts and misgivings of hope and fear, in the most ordinary but trying circumstances. The “ Not a jot, not a jot,” has no-thing to do with any old legend or prophecy. It is only the last poor effort of human hope, taking refuge on the lips. When after being infected with jealousy by lago, he retires apparently comforted and resigned, and then without any thing having happened in the interim, returns stung to madness, crowned with his wrongs, and raging for revenge, the effect is like that of poison inflaming the blood, or like fire inclosed in a furnace. The sole principle of invention is the sympathy with the natural revulsion of the human mind, and its involuntary transition from false security to uncontrolable fury. The springs of mental passion are fretted and wrought to madness, and produce this explosion in the poet's breast. So when Othello swears “By yon marble heaven,” the epithet is suggested by the hardness of his heart from the sense of injury: the texture of the outward object is borrowed from that of the thoughts: and that noble simile, “Like the Propontic,” &c. seems only an echo of the sounding tide of passion, and to roll from the same source, the heart. The dialogue between Hubert and Arthur, and that between Brutus and Cassius are among the finest illustrations of the same principle, which indeed is every where predominant (perhaps to a fault) in Shakespear. His genius is like the
Nile overflowing and enriching its banks; that of Sir Walter is like a mountain-stream rendered interesting by the picturesqueness of the surrounding scenery. Shakespear produces his most striking dramatic effects out of the workings of the finest and most intense passions ; Sir Walter places his dramatis personæ in romantic situations, and subjects them to extraordinary occurrences, and narrates the results. The one gives us what we see and hear; the other what
Hamlet is not a person whose nativity is cast, or whose death is foretold by portents : he weaves the web of his destiny out of his own thoughts, and a very quaint and singular one it is. We have, I think, a stronger fellow-feeling with him than we have with Bertram or Waverley.
All men feel and think, more or less : but we are not all foundlings, Jacobites, or astrologers. We might have been overturned with these gentlemen in a stage-coach : we seem to have been school-fellows with Hamlet at Wittenberg
I will not press this argument farther, lest I should make it tedious, and run into questions I have no intention to meddle with. All I mean to insist upon is, that Sir Walter's forte is in the richness and variety of his materials, and Shakespears in the working them up. Sir Walter is