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Title: Oxford Lectures on Poetry
Author: Bradley, Andrew Cecil
Language: English
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  LL.D., LITT.D.



  London · Melbourne · Toronto

  New York

_This book is copyright in all countries which are signatories of the
Berne Convention_

First Edition, May 1909. Second Edition, November 1909 Reprinted 1911,
1914, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1923, 1926, 1934, 1941, 1950, 1955, 1959, 1962,
1963, 1965

  _St Martin's Street London WC2
  also Bombay Calcutta Madras Melbourne_

  _70 Bond Street Toronto 2_

  _175 Fifth Avenue New York 10010 NY_



_'They have seemed to be together, though absent, shook hands, as over a
vast; and embraced, as it were, from the ends of opposed winds.'_


This volume consists of lectures delivered during my tenure of the Chair
of Poetry at Oxford and not included in _Shakespearean Tragedy_. Most of
them have been enlarged, and all have been revised. As they were given
at intervals, and the majority before the publication of that book, they
contained repetitions which I have not found it possible wholly to
remove. Readers of a lecture published by the University of Manchester
on _English Poetry and German Philosophy in the Age of Wordsworth_ will
pardon also the restatement of some ideas expressed in it.

The several lectures are dated, as I have been unable to take account of
most of the literature on their subjects published since they were

They are arranged in the order that seems best to me, but it is of
importance only in the case of the four which deal with the poets of
Wordsworth's time.

I am indebted to the Delegates of the University Press, and to the
proprietors and editors of the _Hibbert Journal_ and the _Albany_,
_Fortnightly_, and _Quarterly Reviews_, respectively, for permission to
republish the first, third, fifth, eighth, and ninth lectures. A like
acknowledgment is due for leave to use some sentences of an article on
Keats contributed to _Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature_

In the revision of the proof-sheets I owed much help to a sister who has
shared many of my Oxford friendships.


This edition is substantially identical with the first; but it and its
later impressions contain a few improvements in points of detail, and,
thanks to criticisms by my brother, F. H. Bradley, I hope to have made
my meaning clearer in some pages of the second lecture.

There was an oversight in the first edition which I regret. In adding
the note on p. 247 I forgot that I had not referred to Professor Dowden
in the lecture on "Shakespeare the Man." In everything that I have
written on Shakespeare I am indebted to Professor Dowden, and certainly
not least in that lecture.


  POETRY FOR POETRY'S SAKE                  3

  THE SUBLIME                              37

  HEGEL'S THEORY OF TRAGEDY                69

  WORDSWORTH                               99

  SHELLEY'S VIEW OF POETRY                151


  THE LETTERS OF KEATS                    209

  THE REJECTION OF FALSTAFF               247


  SHAKESPEARE THE MAN                     311





One who, after twenty years, is restored to the University where he was
taught and first tried to teach, and who has received at the hands of
his Alma Mater an honour of which he never dreamed, is tempted to speak
both of himself and of her. But I remember that you have come to listen
to my thoughts about a great subject, and not to my feelings about
myself; and of Oxford who that holds this Professorship could dare to
speak, when he recalls the exquisite verse in which one of his
predecessors described her beauty, and the prose in which he gently
touched on her illusions and protested that they were as nothing when
set against her age-long warfare with the Philistine? How, again,
remembering him and others, should I venture to praise my predecessors?
It would be pleasant to do so, and even pleasanter to me and you if,
instead of lecturing, I quoted to you some of their best passages. But I
could not do this for five years. Sooner or later, my own words would
have to come, and the inevitable contrast. Not to sharpen it now, I
will be silent concerning them also; and will only assure you that I do
not forget them, or the greatness of the honour of succeeding them, or
the responsibility which it entails.

The words 'Poetry for poetry's sake' recall the famous phrase 'Art for
Art.' It is far from my purpose to examine the possible meanings of that
phrase, or all the questions it involves. I propose to state briefly
what I understand by 'Poetry for poetry's sake,' and then, after
guarding against one or two misapprehensions of the formula, to consider
more fully a single problem connected with it. And I must premise,
without attempting to justify them, certain explanations. We are to
consider poetry in its essence, and apart from the flaws which in most
poems accompany their poetry. We are to include in the idea of poetry
the metrical form, and not to regard this as a mere accident or a mere
vehicle. And, finally, poetry being poems, we are to think of a poem as
it actually exists; and, without aiming here at accuracy, we may say
that an actual poem is the succession of experiences--sounds, images,
thoughts, emotions--through which we pass when we are reading as
poetically as we can.[2] Of course this imaginative experience--if I may
use the phrase for brevity--differs with every reader and every time of
reading: a poem exists in innumerable degrees. But that insurmountable
fact lies in the nature of things and does not concern us now.

What then does the formula 'Poetry for poetry's sake' tell us about this
experience? It says, as I understand it, these things. First, this
experience is an end in itself, is worth having on its own account, has
an intrinsic value. Next, its _poetic_ value is this intrinsic worth
alone. Poetry may have also an ulterior value as a means to culture or
religion; because it conveys instruction, or softens the passions, or
furthers a good cause; because it brings the poet fame or money or a
quiet conscience. So much the better: let it be valued for these reasons
too. But its ulterior worth neither is nor can directly determine its
poetic worth as a satisfying imaginative experience; and this is to be
judged entirely from within. And to these two positions the formula
would add, though not of necessity, a third. The consideration of
ulterior ends, whether by the poet in the act of composing or by the
reader in the act of experiencing, tends to lower poetic value. It does
so because it tends to change the nature of poetry by taking it out of
its own atmosphere. For its nature is to be not a part, nor yet a copy,
of the real world (as we commonly understand that phrase), but to be a
world by itself, independent, complete, autonomous; and to possess it
fully you must enter that world, conform to its laws, and ignore for the
time the beliefs, aims, and particular conditions which belong to you in
the other world of reality.

Of the more serious misapprehensions to which these statements may give
rise I will glance only at one or two. The offensive consequences often
drawn from the formula 'Art for Art' will be found to attach not to the
doctrine that Art is an end in itself, but to the doctrine that Art is
the whole or supreme end of human life. And as this latter doctrine,
which seems to me absurd, is in any case quite different from the
former, its consequences fall outside my subject. The formula 'Poetry is
an end in itself' has nothing to say on the various questions of moral
judgment which arise from the fact that poetry has its place in a
many-sided life. For anything it says, the intrinsic value of poetry
might be so small, and its ulterior effects so mischievous, that it had
better not exist. The formula only tells us that we must not place in
antithesis poetry and human good, for poetry is one kind of human good;
and that we must not determine the intrinsic value of this kind of good
by direct reference to another. If we do, we shall find ourselves
maintaining what we did not expect. If poetic value lies in the
stimulation of religious feelings, _Lead, kindly Light_ is no better a
poem than many a tasteless version of a Psalm: if in the excitement of
patriotism, why is _Scots, wha hae_ superior to _We don't want to
fight?_ if in the mitigation of the passions, the Odes of Sappho will
win but little praise: if in instruction, Armstrong's _Art of preserving
Health_ should win much.

Again, our formula may be accused of cutting poetry away from its
connection with life. And this accusation raises so huge a problem that
I must ask leave to be dogmatic as well as brief. There is plenty of
connection between life and poetry, but it is, so to say, a connection
underground. The two may be called different forms of the same thing:
one of them having (in the usual sense) reality, but seldom fully
satisfying imagination; while the other offers something which satisfies
imagination but has not full 'reality.' They are parallel developments
which nowhere meet, or, if I may use loosely a word which will be
serviceable later, they are analogues. Hence we understand one by help
of the other, and even, in a sense, care for one because of the other;
but hence also, poetry neither is life, nor, strictly speaking, a copy
of it. They differ not only because one has more mass and the other a
more perfect shape, but because they have different _kinds_ of
existence. The one touches us as beings occupying a given position in
space and time, and having feelings, desires, and purposes due to that
position: it appeals to imagination, but appeals to much besides. What
meets us in poetry has not a position in the same series of time and
space, or, if it has or had such a position, it is taken apart from much
that belonged to it there;[3] and therefore it makes no direct appeal
to those feelings, desires, and purposes, but speaks only to
contemplative imagination--imagination the reverse of empty or
emotionless, imagination saturated with the results of 'real'
experience, but still contemplative. Thus, no doubt, one main reason why
poetry has poetic value for us is that it presents to us in its own way
something which we meet in another form in nature or life; and yet the
test of its poetic value for us lies simply in the question whether it
satisfies our imagination; the rest of us, our knowledge or conscience,
for example, judging it only so far as they appear transmuted in our
imagination. So also Shakespeare's knowledge or his moral insight,
Milton's greatness of soul, Shelley's 'hate of hate' and 'love of love,'
and that desire to help men or make them happier which may have
influenced a poet in hours of meditation--all these have, as such, no
poetical worth: they have that worth only when, passing through the
unity of the poet's being, they reappear as qualities of imagination,
and then are indeed mighty powers in the world of poetry.

I come to a third misapprehension, and so to my main subject. This
formula, it is said, empties poetry of its meaning: it is really a
doctrine of form for form's sake. 'It is of no consequence what a poet
says, so long as he says the thing well. The _what_ is poetically
indifferent: it is the _how_ that counts. Matter, subject, content,
substance, determines nothing; there is no subject with which poetry may
not deal: the form, the treatment, is everything. Nay, more: not only is
the matter indifferent, but it is the secret of Art to "eradicate the
matter by means of the form,"'--phrases and statements like these meet
us everywhere in current criticism of literature and the other arts.
They are the stock-in-trade of writers who understand of them little
more than the fact that somehow or other they are not 'bourgeois.' But
we find them also seriously used by writers whom we must respect,
whether they are anonymous or not; something like one or another of them
might be quoted, for example, from Professor Saintsbury, the late R. A.
M. Stevenson, Schiller, Goethe himself; and they are the watchwords of a
school in the one country where Aesthetics has flourished. They come, as
a rule, from men who either practise one of the arts, or, from study of
it, are interested in its methods. The general reader--a being so
general that I may say what I will of him--is outraged by them. He feels
that he is being robbed of almost all that he cares for in a work of
art. 'You are asking me,' he says, 'to look at the Dresden Madonna as if
it were a Persian rug. You are telling me that the poetic value of
_Hamlet_ lies solely in its style and versification, and that my
interest in the man and his fate is only an intellectual or moral
interest. You allege that, if I want to enjoy the poetry of _Crossing
the Bar_, I must not mind what Tennyson says there, but must consider
solely his way of saying it. But in that case I can care no more for a
poem than I do for a set of nonsense verses; and I do not believe that
the authors of _Hamlet_ and _Crossing the Bar_ regarded their poems

These antitheses of subject, matter, substance on the one side, form,
treatment, handling on the other, are the field through which I
especially want, in this lecture, to indicate a way. It is a field of
battle; and the battle is waged for no trivial cause; but the cries of
the combatants are terribly ambiguous. Those phrases of the so-called
formalist may each mean five or six different things. Taken in one sense
they seem to me chiefly true; taken as the general reader not
unnaturally takes them, they seem to me false and mischievous. It would
be absurd to pretend that I can end in a few minutes a controversy
which concerns the ultimate nature of Art, and leads perhaps to problems
not yet soluble; but we can at least draw some plain distinctions which,
in this controversy, are too often confused.

In the first place, then, let us take 'subject' in one particular sense;
let us understand by it that which we have in view when, looking at the
title of an un-read poem, we say that the poet has chosen this or that
for his subject. The subject, in this sense, so far as I can discover,
is generally something, real or imaginary, as it exists in the minds of
fairly cultivated people. The subject of _Paradise Lost_ would be the
story of the Fall as that story exists in the general imagination of a
Bible-reading people. The subject of Shelley's stanzas _To a Skylark_
would be the ideas which arise in the mind of an educated person when,
without knowing the poem, he hears the word 'skylark'. If the title of a
poem conveys little or nothing to us, the 'subject' appears to be either
what we should gather by investigating the title in a dictionary or
other book of the kind, or else such a brief suggestion as might be
offered by a person who had read the poem, and who said, for example,
that the subject of _The Ancient Mariner_ was a sailor who killed an
albatross and suffered for his deed.

Now the subject, in this sense (and I intend to use the word in no
other), is not, as such, inside the poem, but outside it. The contents
of the stanzas _To a Skylark_ are not the ideas suggested by the work
'skylark' to the average man; they belong to Shelley just as much as the
language does. The subject, therefore, is not the matter _of_ the poem
at all; and its opposite is not the _form_ of the poem, but the whole
poem. The subject is one thing; the poem, matter and form alike, another
thing. This being so, it is surely obvious that the poetic value cannot
lie in the subject, but lies entirely in its opposite, the poem. How
can the subject determine the value when on one and the same subject
poems may be written of all degrees of merit and demerit; or when a
perfect poem may be composed on a subject so slight as a pet sparrow,
and, if Macaulay may be trusted, a nearly worthless poem on a subject so
stupendous as the omnipresence of the Deity? The 'formalist' is here
perfectly right. Nor is he insisting on something unimportant. He is
fighting against our tendency to take the work of art as a mere copy or
reminder of something already in our heads, or at the best as a
suggestion of some idea as little removed as possible from the familiar.
The sightseer who promenades a picture-gallery, remarking that this
portrait is so like his cousin, or that landscape the very image of his
birthplace, or who, after satisfying himself that one picture is about
Elijah, passes on rejoicing to discover the subject, and nothing but the
subject, of the next--what is he but an extreme example of this
tendency? Well, but the very same tendency vitiates much of our
criticism, much criticism of Shakespeare, for example, which, with all
its cleverness and partial truth, still shows that the critic never
passed from his own mind into Shakespeare's; and it may be traced even
in so fine a critic as Coleridge, as when he dwarfs the sublime struggle
of Hamlet into the image of his own unhappy weakness. Hazlitt by no
means escaped its influence. Only the third of that great trio, Lamb,
appears almost always to have rendered the conception of the composer.

Again, it is surely true that we cannot determine beforehand what
subjects are fit for Art, or name any subject on which a good poem might
not possibly be written. To divide subjects into two groups, the
beautiful or elevating, and the ugly or vicious, and to judge poems
according as their subjects belong to one of these groups or the other,
is to fall into the same pit, to confuse with our pre-conceptions the
meaning of the poet. What the thing is in the poem he is to be judged
by, not by the thing as it was before he touched it; and how can we
venture to say beforehand that he cannot make a true poem out of
something which to us was merely alluring or dull or revolting? The
question whether, having done so, he ought to publish his poem; whether
the thing in the poet's work will not be still confused by the
incompetent Puritan or the incompetent sensualist with the thing in
_his_ mind, does not touch this point: it is a further question, one of
ethics, not of art. No doubt the upholders of 'Art for art's sake' will
generally be in favour of the courageous course, of refusing to
sacrifice the better or stronger part of the public to the weaker or
worse; but their maxim in no way binds them to this view. Rossetti
suppressed one of the best of his sonnets, a sonnet chosen for
admiration by Tennyson, himself extremely sensitive about the moral
effect of poetry; suppressed it, I believe, because it was called
fleshly. One may regret Rossetti's judgment and at the same time respect
his scrupulousness; but in any case he judged in his capacity of
citizen, not in his capacity of artist.

So far then the 'formalist' appears to be right. But he goes too far, I
think, if he maintains that the subject is indifferent and that all
subjects are the same to poetry. And he does not prove his point by
observing that a good poem might be written on a pin's head, and a bad
one on the Fall of Man. That truth shows that the subject _settles_
nothing, but not that it counts for nothing. The Fall of Man is really a
more favourable subject than a pin's head. The Fall of Man, that is to
say, offers opportunities of poetic effects wider in range and more
penetrating in appeal. And the fact is that such a subject, as it exists
in the general imagination, has some aesthetic value before the poet
touches it. It is, as you may choose to call it, an inchoate poem or
the débris of a poem. It is not an abstract idea or a bare isolated
fact, but an assemblage of figures, scenes, actions, and events, which
already appeal to emotional imagination; and it is already in some
degree organized and formed. In spite of this a bad poet would make a
bad poem on it; but then we should say he was unworthy of the subject.
And we should not say this if he wrote a bad poem on a pin's head.
Conversely, a good poem on a pin's head would almost certainly transform
its subject far more than a good poem on the Fall of Man. It might
revolutionize its subject so completely that we should say, 'The subject
may be a pin's head, but the substance of the poem has very little to do
with it.'

This brings us to another and a different antithesis. Those figures,
scenes, events, that form part of the subject called the Fall of Man,
are not the substance of _Paradise Lost_; but in _Paradise Lost_ there
are figures, scenes, and events resembling them in some degree. These,
with much more of the same kind, may be described as its substance, and
may then be contrasted with the measured language of the poem, which
will be called its form. Subject is the opposite not of form but of the
whole poem. Substance is within the poem, and its opposite, form, is
also within the poem. I am not criticizing this antithesis at present,
but evidently it is quite different from the other. It is practically
the distinction used in the old-fashioned criticism of epic and drama,
and it flows down, not unsullied, from Aristotle. Addison, for example,
in examining _Paradise Lost_ considers in order the fable, the
characters, and the sentiments; these will be the substance: then he
considers the language, that is, the style and numbers; this will be the
form. In like manner, the substance or meaning of a lyric may be
distinguished from the form.

Now I believe it will be found that a large part of the controversy we
are dealing with arises from a confusion between these two distinctions
of substance and form, and of subject and poem. The extreme formalist
lays his whole weight on the form because he thinks its opposite is the
mere subject. The general reader is angry, but makes the same mistake,
and gives to the subject praises that rightly belong to the
substance[4]. I will read an example of what I mean. I can only explain
the following words of a good critic by supposing that for the moment he
has fallen into this confusion: 'The mere matter of all poetry--to wit,
the appearances of nature and the thoughts and feelings of men--being
unalterable, it follows that the difference between poet and poet will
depend upon the manner of each in applying language, metre, rhyme,
cadence, and what not, to this invariable material.' What has become
here of the substance of _Paradise Lost_--the story, scenery,
characters, sentiments, as they are in the poem? They have vanished
clean away. Nothing is left but the form on one side, and on the other
not even the subject, but a supposed invariable material, the
appearances of nature and the thoughts and feelings of men. Is it
surprising that the whole value should then be found in the form?

So far we have assumed that this antithesis of substance and form is
valid, and that it always has one meaning. In reality it has several,
but we will leave it in its present shape, and pass to the question of
its validity. And this question we are compelled to raise, because we
have to deal with the two contentions that the poetic value lies wholly
or mainly in the substance, and that it lies wholly or mainly in the
form. Now these contentions, whether false or true, may seem at least to
be clear; but we shall find, I think, that they are both of them false,
or both of them nonsense: false if they concern anything outside the
poem, nonsense if they apply to something in it. For what do they
evidently imply? They imply that there are in a poem two parts, factors,
or components, a substance and a form; and that you can conceive them
distinctly and separately, so that when you are speaking of the one you
are not speaking of the other. Otherwise how can you ask the question,
In which of them does the value lie? But really in a poem, apart from
defects, there are no such factors or components; and therefore it is
strictly nonsense to ask in which of them the value lies. And on the
other hand, if the substance and the form referred to are not in the
poem, then both the contentions are false, for its poetic value lies in

What I mean is neither new nor mysterious; and it will be clear, I
believe, to any one who reads poetry poetically and who closely examines
his experience. When you are reading a poem, I would ask--not analysing
it, and much less criticizing it, but allowing it, as it proceeds, to
make its full impression on you through the exertion of your recreating
imagination--do you then apprehend and enjoy as one thing a certain
meaning or substance, and as another thing certain articulate sounds,
and do you somehow compound these two? Surely you do not, any more than
you apprehend apart, when you see some one smile, those lines in the
face which express a feeling, and the feeling that the lines express.
Just as there the lines and their meaning are to you one thing, not two,
so in poetry the meaning and the sounds are one: there is, if I may put
it so, a resonant meaning, or a meaning resonance. If you read the line,
'The sun is warm, the sky is clear,' you do not experience separately
the image of a warm sun and clear sky, on the one side, and certain
unintelligible rhythmical sounds on the other; nor yet do you experience
them together, side by side; but you experience the one _in_ the other.
And in like manner, when you are really reading _Hamlet_, the action and
the characters are not something which you conceive apart from the
words; you apprehend them from point to point _in_ the words, and the
words as expressions of them. Afterwards, no doubt, when you are out of
the poetic experience but remember it, you may by analysis decompose
this unity, and attend to a substance more or less isolated, and a form
more or less isolated. But these are things in your analytic head, not
in the poem, which is _poetic_ experience. And if you want to have the
poem again, you cannot find it by adding together these two products of
decomposition; you can only find it by passing back into poetic
experience. And then what you recover is no aggregate of factors, it is
a unity in which you can no more separate a substance and a form than
you can separate living blood and the life in the blood. This unity has,
if you like, various 'aspects' or 'sides,' but they are not factors or
parts; if you try to examine one, you find it is also the other. Call
them substance and form if you please, but these are not the
reciprocally exclusive substance and form to which the two contentions
_must_ refer. They do not 'agree,' for they are not apart: they are one
thing from different points of view, and in that sense identical. And
this identity of content and form, you will say, is no accident; it is
of the essence of poetry in so far as it is poetry, and of all art in so
far as it is art. Just as there is in music not sound on one side and a
meaning on the other, but expressive sound, and if you ask what is the
meaning you can only answer by pointing to the sounds; just as in
painting there is not a meaning _plus_ paint, but a meaning _in_ paint,
or significant paint, and no man can really express the meaning in any
other way than in paint and in _this_ paint; so in a poem the true
content and the true form neither exist nor can be imagined apart. When
then you are asked whether the value of a poem lies in a substance got
by decomposing the poem, and present, as such, only in reflective
analysis, or whether the value lies in a form arrived at and existing in
the same way, you will answer, 'It lies neither in one, nor in the
other, nor in any addition of them, but in the poem, where they are

We have then, first, an antithesis of subject and poem. This is clear
and valid; and the question in which of them does the value lie is
intelligible; and its answer is, In the poem. We have next a distinction
of substance and form. If the substance means ideas, images, and the
like taken alone, and the form means the measured language taken by
itself, this is a possible distinction, but it is a distinction of
things not in the poem, and the value lies in neither of them. If
substance and form mean anything _in_ the poem, then each is involved in
the other, and the question in which of them the value lies has no
sense. No doubt you may say, speaking loosely, that in this poet or poem
the aspect of substance is the more noticeable, and in that the aspect
of form; and you may pursue interesting discussions on this basis,
though no principle or ultimate question of value is touched by them.
And apart from that question, of course, I am not denying the usefulness
and necessity of the distinction. We cannot dispense with it. To
consider separately the action or the characters of a play, and
separately its style or versification, is both legitimate and valuable,
so long as we remember what we are doing. But the true critic in
speaking of these apart does not really think of them apart; the whole,
the poetic experience, of which they are but aspects, is always in his
mind; and he is always aiming at a richer, truer, more intense
repetition of that experience. On the other hand, when the question of
principle, of poetic value, is raised, these aspects _must_ fall apart
into components, separately conceivable; and then there arise two
heresies, equally false, that the value lies in one of two things, both
of which are outside the poem, and therefore where its value cannot lie.

On the heresy of the separable substance a few additional words will
suffice. This heresy is seldom formulated, but perhaps some unconscious
holder of it may object: 'Surely the action and the characters of
_Hamlet_ are in the play; and surely I can retain these, though I have
forgotten all the words. I admit that I do not possess the whole poem,
but I possess a part, and the most important part.' And I would answer:
'If we are not concerned with any question of principle, I accept all
that you say except the last words, which do raise such a question.
Speaking loosely, I agree that the action and characters, as you perhaps
conceive them, together with a great deal more, are in the poem. Even
then, however, you must not claim to possess all of this kind that is in
the poem; for in forgetting the words you must have lost innumerable
details of the action and the characters. And, when the question of
value is raised, I must insist that the action and characters, as you
conceive them, are not in _Hamlet_ at all. If they are, point them out.
You cannot do it. What you find at any moment of that succession of
experiences called _Hamlet_ is words. In these words, to speak loosely
again, the action and characters (more of them than you can conceive
apart) are focussed; but your experience is not a combination of them,
as ideas, on the one side, with certain sounds on the other; it is an
experience of something in which the two are indissolubly fused. If you
deny this, to be sure I can make no answer, or can only answer that I
have reason to believe that you cannot read poetically, or else are
misinterpreting your experience. But if you do not deny this, then you
will admit that the action and characters of the poem, as you separately
imagine them, are no part of it, but a product of it in your reflective
imagination, a faint analogue of one aspect of it taken in detachment
from the whole. Well, I do not dispute, I would even insist, that, in
the case of so long a poem as _Hamlet_, it may be necessary from time to
time to interrupt the poetic experience, in order to enrich it by
forming such a product and dwelling on it. Nor, in a wide sense of
"poetic," do I question the poetic value of this product, as you think
of it apart from the poem. It resembles our recollections of the heroes
of history or legend, who move about in our imaginations, "forms more
real than living man," and are worth much to us though we do not
remember anything they said. Our ideas and images of the "substance" of
a poem have this poetic value, and more, if they are at all adequate.
But they cannot determine the poetic value of the poem, for (not to
speak of the competing claims of the "form") nothing that is outside the
poem can do that, and they, as such, are outside it.'[5]

Let us turn to the so-called form--style and versification. There is no
such thing as mere form in poetry. All form is expression. Style may
have indeed a certain aesthetic worth in partial abstraction from the
particular matter it conveys, as in a well-built sentence you may take
pleasure in the build almost apart from the meaning. Even so, style is
expressive--presents to sense, for example, the order, ease, and
rapidity with which ideas move in the writer's mind--but it is not
expressive of the meaning of that particular sentence. And it is
possible, interrupting poetic experience, to decompose it and abstract
for comparatively separate consideration this nearly formal element of
style. But the aesthetic value of style so taken is not considerable;[6]
you could not read with pleasure for an hour a composition which had no
other merit. And in poetic experience you never apprehend this value by
itself; the style is here expressive also of a particular meaning, or
rather is one aspect of that unity whose other aspect is meaning. So
that what you apprehend may be called indifferently an expressed meaning
or a significant form. Perhaps on this point I may in Oxford appeal to
authority, that of Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater, the latter at any
rate an authority whom the formalist will not despise. What is the gist
of Pater's teaching about style, if it is not that in the end the one
virtue of style is truth or adequacy; that the word, phrase, sentence,
should express perfectly the writer's perception, feeling, image, or
thought; so that, as we read a descriptive phrase of Keats's, we
exclaim, 'That is the thing itself'; so that, to quote Arnold, the words
are 'symbols equivalent with the thing symbolized,' or, in our technical
language, a form identical with its content? Hence in true poetry it is,
in strictness, impossible to express the meaning in any but its own
words, or to change the words without changing the meaning. A
translation of such poetry is not really the old meaning in a fresh
dress; it is a new product, something like the poem, though, if one
chooses to say so, more like it in the aspect of meaning than in the
aspect of form.

No one who understands poetry, it seems to me, would dispute this, were
it not that, falling away from his experience, or misled by theory, he
takes the word 'meaning' in a sense almost ludicrously inapplicable to
poetry. People say, for instance, 'steed' and 'horse' have the same
meaning; and in bad poetry they have, but not in poetry that _is_

  'Bring forth the horse!' The horse was brought:
  In truth he was a noble steed!

says Byron in _Mazeppa_. If the two words mean the same here, transpose

  'Bring forth the steed!' The steed was brought:
  In truth he was a noble horse!

and ask again if they mean the same. Or let me take a line certainly
very free from 'poetic diction':

  To be or not to be, that is the question.

You may say that this means the same as 'What is just now occupying my
attention is the comparative disadvantages of continuing to live or
putting an end to myself.' And for practical purposes--the purpose, for
example, of a coroner--it does. But as the second version altogether
misrepresents the speaker at that moment of his existence, while the
first does represent him, how can they for any but a practical or
logical purpose be said to have the same sense? Hamlet was well able to
'unpack his heart with words,' but he will not unpack it with our

These considerations apply equally to versification. If I take the
famous line which describes how the souls of the dead stood waiting by
the river, imploring a passage from Charon:

  Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore;

and if I translate it, 'and were stretching forth their hands in longing
for the further bank,' the charm of the original has fled. Why has it
fled? Partly (but we have dealt with that) because I have substituted
for five words, and those the words of Virgil, twelve words, and those
my own. In some measure because I have turned into rhythmless prose a
line of verse which, as mere sound, has unusual beauty. But much more
because in doing so I have also changed the _meaning_ of Virgil's line.
What that meaning is _I_ cannot say: Virgil has said it. But I can see
this much, that the translation conveys a far less vivid picture of the
outstretched hands and of their remaining outstretched, and a far less
poignant sense of the distance of the shore and the longing of the
souls. And it does so partly because this picture and this sense are
conveyed not only by the obvious meaning of the words, but through the
long-drawn sound of 'tendebantque,' through the time occupied by the
five syllables and therefore by the idea of 'ulterioris,' and through
the identity of the long sound 'or' in the penultimate syllables of
'ulterioris amore'--all this, and much more, apprehended not in this
analytical fashion, nor as _added_ to the beauty of mere sound and to
the obvious meaning, but in unity with them and so as expressive of the
poetic meaning of the whole.

It is always so in fine poetry. The value of versification, when it is
indissolubly fused with meaning, can hardly be exaggerated. The gift for
feeling it, even more perhaps than the gift for feeling the value of
style, is the _specific_ gift for poetry, as distinguished from other
arts. But versification, taken, as far as possible, all by itself, has a
very different worth. Some aesthetic worth it has; how much, you may
experience by reading poetry in a language of which you do not
understand a syllable.[7] The pleasure is quite appreciable, but it is
not great; nor in actual poetic experience do you meet with it, as such,
at all. For, I repeat, it is not _added_ to the pleasure of the meaning
when you read poetry that you do understand: by some mystery the music
is then the music _of_ the meaning, and the two are one. However fond
of versification you might be, you would tire very soon of reading
verses in Chinese; and before long of reading Virgil and Dante if you
were ignorant of their languages. But take the music as it is _in_ the
poem, and there is a marvellous change. Now

  It gives a very echo to the seat
  Where love is throned;

or 'carries far into your heart,' almost like music itself, the sound

  Of old, unhappy, far-off things
      And battles long ago.

What then is to be said of the following sentence of the critic quoted
before: 'But when any one who knows what poetry is reads--

  Our noisy years seem moments in the being
  Of the eternal silence,

he sees that, quite independently of the meaning, ... there is one note
added to the articulate music of the world--a note that never will leave
off resounding till the eternal silence itself gulfs it' must think that
the writer is deceiving himself. For I could quite understand his
enthusiasm, if it were an enthusiasm for the music of the meaning; but
as for the music, 'quite independently of the meaning,' so far as I can
hear it thus (and I doubt if any one who knows English can quite do so),
I find it gives some pleasure, but only a trifling pleasure. And indeed
I venture to doubt whether, considered as mere sound, the words are at
all exceptionally beautiful, as Virgil's line certainly is.

When poetry answers to its idea and is purely or almost purely poetic,
we find the identity of form and content; and the degree of purity
attained may be tested by the degree in which we feel it hopeless to
convey the effect of a poem or passage in any form but its own. Where
the notion of doing so is simply ludicrous, you have quintessential
poetry. But a great part even of good poetry, especially in long works,
is of a mixed nature; and so we find in it no more than a partial
agreement of a form and substance which remain to some extent distinct.
This is so in many passages of Shakespeare (the greatest of poets when
he chose, but not always a conscientious poet); passages where something
was wanted for the sake of the plot, but he did not care about it or was
hurried. The conception of the passage is then distinct from the
execution, and neither is inspired. This is so also, I think, wherever
we can truly speak of merely decorative effect. We seem to perceive that
the poet had a truth or fact--philosophical, agricultural,
social--distinctly before him, and then, as we say, clothed it in
metrical and coloured language. Most argumentative, didactic, or satiric
poems are partly of this kind; and in imaginative poems anything which
is really a mere 'conceit' is mere decoration. We often deceive
ourselves in this matter, for what we call decoration has often a new
and genuinely poetic content of its own; but wherever there is mere
decoration, we judge the poetry to be not wholly poetic. And so when
Wordsworth inveighed against poetic diction, though he hurled his darts
rather wildly, what he was rightly aiming at was a phraseology, not the
living body of a new content, but the mere worn-out body of an old

In pure poetry it is otherwise. Pure poetry is not the decoration of a
preconceived and clearly defined matter: it springs from the creative
impulse of a vague imaginative mass pressing for development and
definition. If the poet already knew exactly what he meant to say, why
should he write the poem? The poem would in fact already be written. For
only its completion can reveal, even to him, exactly what he wanted.
When he began and while he was at work, he did not possess his meaning;
it possessed him. It was not a fully formed soul asking for a body: it
was an inchoate soul in the inchoate body of perhaps two or three vague
ideas and a few scattered phrases. The growing of this body into its
full stature and perfect shape was the same thing as the gradual
self-definition of the meaning.[9] And this is the reason why such poems
strike us as creations, not manufactures, and have the magical effect
which mere decoration cannot produce. This is also the reason why, if we
insist on asking for the meaning of such a poem, we can only be answered
'It means itself.'

And so at last I may explain why I have troubled myself and you with
what may seem an arid controversy about mere words. It is not so. These
heresies which would make poetry a compound of two factors--a matter
common to it with the merest prose, _plus_ a poetic form, as the one
heresy says: a poetical substance _plus_ a negligible form, as the other
says--are not only untrue, they are injurious to the dignity of poetry.
In an age already inclined to shrink from those higher realms where
poetry touches religion and philosophy, the formalist heresy encourages
men to taste poetry as they would a fine wine, which has indeed an
aesthetic value, but a small one. And then the natural man, finding an
empty form, hurls into it the matter of cheap pathos, rancid sentiment,
vulgar humour, bare lust, ravenous vanity--everything which, in
Schiller's phrase,[10] the form should extirpate, but which no mere form
can extirpate. And the other heresy--which is indeed rather a practice
than a creed--encourages us in the habit so dear to us of putting our
own thoughts or fancies into the place of the poet's creation. What he
meant by _Hamlet_, or the _Ode to a Nightingale_, or _Abt Vogler_, we
say, is this or that which we knew already; and so we lose what he had
to tell us. But he meant what he said, and said what he meant.

Poetry in this matter is not, as good critics of painting and music
often affirm, different from the other arts; in all of them the content
is one thing with the form. What Beethoven meant by his symphony, or
Turner by his picture, was not something which you can name, but the
picture and the symphony. Meaning they have, but _what_ meaning can be
said in no language but their own: and we know this, though some strange
delusion makes us think the meaning has less worth because we cannot put
it into words. Well, it is just the same with poetry. But because poetry
is words, we vainly fancy that some other words than its own will
express its meaning. And they will do so no more--or, if you like to
speak loosely, only a trifle more--than words will express the meaning
of the Dresden Madonna.[11] Something a little like it they may indeed
express. And we may find analogues of the meaning of poetry outside it,
which may help us to appropriate it. The other arts, the best ideas of
philosophy or religion, much that nature and life offer us or force upon
us, are akin to it. But they are only akin. Nor is it the expression of
them. Poetry does not present to imagination our highest knowledge or
belief, and much less our dreams and opinions; but it, content and form
in unity, embodies in its own irreplaceable way something which embodies
itself also in other irreplaceable ways, such as philosophy or religion.
And just as each of these gives a satisfaction which the other cannot
possibly give, so we find in poetry, which cannot satisfy the needs they
meet, that which by their natures they cannot afford us. But we shall
not find it fully if we look for something else.

And now, when all is said, the question will still recur, though now in
quite another sense, What does poetry mean?[12] This unique expression,
which cannot be replaced by any other, still seems to be trying to
express something beyond itself. And this, we feel, is also what the
other arts, and religion, and philosophy are trying to express: and that
is what impels us to seek in vain to translate the one into the other.
About the best poetry, and not only the best, there floats an atmosphere
of infinite suggestion. The poet speaks to us of one thing, but in this
one thing there seems to lurk the secret of all. He said what he meant,
but his meaning seems to beckon away beyond itself, or rather to expand
into something boundless which is only focussed in it; something also
which, we feel, would satisfy not only the imagination, but the whole of
us; that something within us, and without, which everywhere

                  makes us seem
  To patch up fragments of a dream,
  Part of which comes true, and part
  Beats and trembles in the heart.

Those who are susceptible to this effect of poetry find it not only,
perhaps not most, in the ideals which she has sometimes described, but
in a child's song by Christina Rossetti about a mere crown of
wind-flowers, and in tragedies like _Lear_, where the sun seems to have
set for ever. They hear this spirit murmuring its undertone through the
_Aeneid_, and catch its voice in the song of Keats's nightingale, and
its light upon the figures on the Urn, and it pierces them no less in
Shelley's hopeless lament, _O world, O life, O time_, than in the
rapturous ecstasy of his _Life of Life_. This all-embracing perfection
cannot be expressed in poetic words or words of any kind, nor yet in
music or in colour, but the suggestion of it is in much poetry, if not
all, and poetry has in this suggestion, this 'meaning,' a great part of
its value. We do it wrong, and we defeat our own purposes, when we try
to bend it to them:

  We do it wrong, being so majestical,
  To offer it the show of violence;
  For it is as the air invulnerable,
  And our vain blows malicious mockery.

It is a spirit. It comes we know not whence. It will not speak at our
bidding, nor answer in our language. It is not our servant; it is our



The purpose of this sentence was not, as has been supposed, to give a
definition of poetry. To define poetry as something that goes on in us
when we read poetically would be absurd indeed. My object was to suggest
to my hearers in passing that it is futile to ask questions about the
end, or substance, or form of poetry, if we forget that a poem is
neither a mere number of black marks on a white page, nor such
experience as is evoked in us when we read these marks as we read, let
us say, a newspaper article; and I suppose my hearers to know,
sufficiently for the purpose of the lecture, how that sort of reading
differs from poetical reading.

The truths thus suggested are so obvious, when stated, that I thought a
bare reminder of them would be enough. But in fact the mistakes we make
about 'subject,' 'substance,' 'form,' and the like, are due not solely
to misapprehension of our poetic experience, but to our examining what
is not this experience. The whole lecture may be called an expansion of
this statement.

The passage to which the present note refers raises difficult questions
which any attempt at a 'Poetics' ought to discuss. I will mention three.
(1) If the experience called a poem varies 'with every reader and every
time of reading' and 'exists in innumerable degrees,' what is the poem
itself, if there is such a thing? (2) How does a series of successive
experiences form _one_ poem? (3) If the object in the case of poetry and
music ('arts of hearing') is a succession somehow and to some extent
unified, how does it differ in this respect from the object in 'arts of
sight'--a building, a statue, a picture?


A lyric, for example, may arise from 'real' emotions due to transitory
conditions peculiar to the poet. But these emotions and conditions,
however interesting biographically, are poetically irrelevant. The poem,
what the poet _says_, is universal, and is appropriated by people who
live centuries after him and perhaps know nothing of him and his life;
and if it arose from mere imagination it is none the worse (or the
better) for that. So far as it cannot be appropriated without a
knowledge of the circumstances in which it arose, it is probably, so
far, faulty (probably, because the difficulty _may_ come from our
distance from the whole mental world of the poet's time and country).

What is said in the text applies equally to all the arts. It applies
also to such aesthetic apprehension as does not issue in a work of art.
And it applies to this apprehension whether the object belongs to
'Nature' or to 'Man.' A beautiful landscape is not a 'real' landscape.
Much that belongs to the 'real' landscape is ignored when it is
apprehended aesthetically; and the painter only carries this unconscious
idealisation further when he deliberately alters the 'real' landscape in
further ways.

All this does not in the least imply that the 'real' thing, where there
is one (personal emotion, landscape, historical event, etc.), is of
small importance to the aesthetic apprehension or the work of art. But
it is relevant only as it appears _in_ that apprehension or work.

If an artist alters a reality (_e.g._ a well-known scene or historical
character) so much that his product clashes violently with our familiar
ideas, he may be making a mistake: not because his product is untrue to
the reality (this by itself is perfectly irrelevant), but because the
'untruth' may make it difficult or impossible for others to appropriate
his product, or because this product may be aesthetically inferior to
the reality even as it exists in the general imagination.


For the purpose of the experiment you must, of course, know the sounds
denoted by the letters, and you must be able to make out the rhythmical
scheme. But the experiment will be vitiated if you get some one who
understands the language to read or recite to you poems written in it,
for he will certainly so read or recite as to convey to you something of
the meaning through the sound (I do not refer of course to the logical

Hence it is clear that, if by 'versification taken by itself' one means
the versification of a _poem_, it is impossible under the requisite
conditions to get at this versification by itself. The versification of
a poem is always, to speak loosely, influenced by the sense. The bare
metrical scheme, to go no further, is practically never followed by the
poet. Suppose yourself to know no English, and to perceive merely that
in its general scheme

  It gives a very echo to the seat

is an iambic line of five feet; and then read the line as you would have
to read it; and then ask if _that_ noise is the sound of the line _in
the poem_.

In the text, therefore, more is admitted than in strictness should be
admitted. For I have assumed for the moment that you can hear the sound
of poetry if you read poetry which you do not in the least understand,
whereas in fact that sound cannot be produced at all except by a person
who knows something of the meaning.


This paragraph has not, to my knowledge, been adversely criticised, but
it now appears to me seriously misleading. It refers to certain kinds of
poetry, and again to certain passages in poems, which we feel to be less
poetical than some other kinds or passages. But this difference of
degree in poeticalness (if I may use the word) is put as a difference
between 'mixed' and 'pure' poetry; and that distinction is, I think,
unreal and mischievous. Further, it is implied that in less poetical
poetry there necessarily is only a partial unity of content and form.
This (unless I am now mistaken) is a mistake, and a mistake due to
failure to hold fast the main idea of the lecture. Naturally it would be
most agreeable to me to re-write the paragraph, but if I reprint it and
expose my errors the reader will perhaps be helped to a firmer grasp of
that idea.

It is true that where poetry is most poetic we feel most decidedly how
impossible it is to separate content and form. But where poetry is less
poetic and does not make us feel this unity so decidedly, it does not
follow that the unity is imperfect. Failure or partial failure in this
unity is always (as in the case of Shakespeare referred to) a failure on
the part of the _poet_ (though it is not always due to the same causes).
It does not lie of necessity in the nature of a particular kind of
poetry (_e.g._ satire) or in the nature of a particular passage. All
poetry cannot be equally poetic, but _all_ poetry ought to maintain the
unity of content and form, and, in that sense, to be 'pure.' Only in
certain kinds, and in certain passages, it is more difficult for the
poet to maintain it than in others.

Let us take first the 'passages' and suppose them to occur in one of the
more poetic kinds of poetry. In certain parts of any epic or tragedy
matter has to be treated which, though necessary to the whole, is not in
itself favourable to poetry, or would not in itself be a good 'subject.'
But it is the business of the poet to do his best to make this matter
poetry, and pure poetry. And, if he succeeds, the passage, though it
will probably be less poetic than the bulk of the poem, will exhibit the
complete unity of content and form. It will not strike us as a mere
bridge between other passages; it will be enjoyable for itself; and it
will not occur to us to think that the poet was dealing with an
un-poetic 'matter' and found his task difficult or irksome. Shakespeare
frequently does not trouble himself to face this problem and leaves an
imperfect unity. The conscientious artists, like Virgil, Milton,
Tennyson, habitually face, it and frequently solve it.[13] And when they
wholly or partially fail, the fault is still _theirs_. It is, in one
sense, due to the 'matter,' which set a hard problem; but they would be
the first to declare that _nothing_ in the poem ought to be only mixedly

In the same way, satire is not in its nature a highly poetic kind of
poetry, but it ought, in its own kind, to be poetry throughout, and
therefore ought not to show a merely partial unity of content and form.
If the satirist makes us exclaim 'This is sheer prose wonderfully well
disguised,' that is a fault, and _his_ fault (unless it happens to be
ours). The idea that a tragedy or lyric could really be reproduced in a
form not its own strikes us as ridiculous; the idea that a satire could
so be reproduced seems much less ridiculous; but if it were true the
satire would not be poetry at all.

The reader will now see where, in my judgment, the paragraph is wrong.
Elsewhere it is, I think, right, though it deals with a subject far too
large for a paragraph. This is also true of the next paragraph, which
uses the false distinction of 'pure' and 'mixed,' and which will hold in
various degrees of poetry in various degrees poetical.

It is of course possible to use a distinction of 'pure' and 'mixed' in
another sense. Poetry, whatever its kind, would be pure as far as it
preserved the unity of content and form; mixed, so far as it failed to
do so--in other words, failed to be poetry and was partly prosaic.


It is possible therefore that the poem, as it existed at certain stages
in its growth, may correspond roughly with the poem as it exists in the
memories of various readers. A reader who is fond of the poem and often
thinks of it, but remembers only half the words and perhaps fills up the
gaps with his own words, may possess something like the poem as it was
when half-made. There are readers again who retain only what they would
call the 'idea' of the poem; and the poem _may_ have begun from such an
idea. Others will forget all the words, and will not profess to remember
even the 'meaning,' but believe that they possess the 'spirit' of the
poem. And what they possess may have, I think, an immense value. The
poem, of course, it is not; but it may answer to the state of
imaginative feeling or emotional imagination which was the germ of the
poem. This is, in one sense, quite definite: it would not be the germ of
a decidedly different poem: but in another sense it is indefinite,
comparatively structureless, more a 'stimmung' than an idea.

Such correspondences, naturally, must be very rough, if only because the
readers have been at one time in contact with the fully grown poem.


I should be sorry if what is said here and elsewhere were taken to imply
depreciation of all attempts at the interpretation of works of art. As
regards poetry, such attempts, though they cannot possibly express the
whole meaning of a poem, may do much to facilitate the poetic
apprehension of that meaning. And, although the attempt is still more
hazardous in the case of music and painting, I believe it may have a
similar value. That its results _may_ be absurd or disgusting goes
without saying, and whether they are ever of use to musicians or the
musically educated I do not know. But I see no reason why an exceedingly
competent person should not try to indicate the emotional tone of a
composition, movement, or passage, or the changes of feeling within it,
or even, very roughly, the 'idea' he may suppose it to embody (though he
need not imply that the composer had any of this before his mind). And I
believe that such indications, however inadequate they must be, may
greatly help the uneducated lover of music to hear more truly the music


This new question has 'quite another sense' than that of the question,
What is the meaning or content expressed by the form of a poem? The new
question asks, What is it that the _poem_, the unity of this content and
form, is trying to express? This 'beyond' is beyond the content as well
as the form.

Of course, I should add, it is not _merely_ beyond them or outside of
them. If it were, they (the poem) could not 'suggest' it. They are a
partial manifestation of it, and point beyond themselves to it, both
because they _are_ a manifestation and because this is partial.

The same thing is true, not only (as is remarked in the text) of the
other arts and of religion and philosophy, but also of what is commonly
called reality. This reality is a manifestation of a different order
from poetry, and in certain important respects a much more imperfect
manifestation. Hence, as was pointed out (pp. 6, 7, note B), poetry is
not a copy of it, but in dealing with it idealises it, and in doing so
produces in certain respects a fuller manifestation. On the other hand,
that imperfect 'reality' has for us a character in which poetry is
deficient,--the character in virtue of which we call it 'reality.' It
is, we feel, thrust upon us, not made by us or by any other man. And in
this respect it seems more akin than poetry to that 'beyond,' or
absolute, or perfection, which we want, which partially expresses itself
in both, and which could not be perfection and could not satisfy us if
it were not real (though it cannot be real in the same sense as that
imperfect 'reality'). This seems the ultimate ground of the requirement
that poetry, though no copy of 'reality,' should not be mere 'fancy,'
but should refer to, and interpret, that 'reality.' For that reality,
however imperfectly it reveals perfection, is at least no mere fancy.
(Not that the merest fancy can fail to reveal something of perfection.)

The lines quoted on p. 26 are from a fragment of Shelley's beginning 'Is
it that in some brighter sphere.'


  [1] The lecture, as printed in 1901, was preceded by the following
    note: "This Lecture is printed almost as it was delivered. I am aware
    that, especially in the earlier pages, difficult subjects are treated
    in a manner far too summary, but they require an exposition so full
    that it would destroy the original form of the Lecture, while a
    slight expansion would do little to provide against
    misunderstandings." A few verbal changes have now been made, some
    notes have been added, and some of the introductory remarks omitted.

  [2] Note A.

  [3] Note B.

  [4] What is here called 'substance' is what people generally mean
    when they use the word 'subject' and insist on the value of the
    subject. I am not arguing against this usage, or in favour of the
    usage which I have adopted for the sake of clearness. It does not
    matter which we employ, so long as we and others know what we mean.
    (I use 'substance' and 'content' indifferently.)

  [5] These remarks will hold good, _mutatis mutandis_, if by
    'substance' is understood the 'moral' or the 'idea' of a poem,
    although perhaps in one instance out of five thousand this may be
    found in so many words in the poem.

  [6] On the other hand, the absence, or worse than absence, of style,
    in this sense, is a serious matter.

  [7] Note C.

  [8] This paragraph is criticized in Note D.

  [9]: Note E.

  [10] Not that to Schiller 'form' meant mere style and versification.

  [11] Note F.

  [12] Note G.

  [13] In Schiller's phrase, they have extirpated the mere 'matter.' We
    often say that they do this by dint of style. This is roughly true,
    but in strictness it means, as we have seen, not that they decorate
    the mere 'matter' with a mere 'form,' but that they produce a new



Coleridge used to tell a story about his visit to the Falls of Clyde;
but he told it with such variations that the details are uncertain, and
without regard to truth I shall change it to the shape that suits my
purpose best. After gazing at the Falls for some time, he began to
consider what adjective would answer most precisely to the impression he
had received; and he came to the conclusion that the proper word was
'sublime.' Two other tourists arrived, and, standing by him, looked in
silence at the spectacle. Then, to Coleridge's high satisfaction, the
gentleman exclaimed, 'It is sublime.' To which the lady responded, 'Yes,
it is the prettiest thing I ever saw.'

This poor lady's incapacity (for I assume that Coleridge and her husband
were in the right) is ludicrous, but it is also a little painful.
Sublimity and prettiness are qualities separated by so great a distance
that our sudden attempt to unite them has a comically incongruous
effect. At the same time the first of these qualities is so exalted that
the exhibition of entire inability to perceive it is distressing.
Astonishment, rapture, awe, even self-abasement, are among the emotions
evoked by sublimity. Many would be inclined to pronounce it the very
highest of all the forms assumed by beauty, whether in nature or in
works of imagination.

I propose to make some remarks on this quality, and even to attempt some
sort of answer to the question what sublimity is. I say 'some sort of
answer,' because the question is large and difficult, and I can deal
with it only in outline and by drawing artificial limits round it and
refusing to discuss certain presuppositions on which the answer rests.
What I mean by these last words will be evident if I begin by referring
to a term which will often recur in this lecture--the term 'beauty.'

When we call sublimity a form of beauty, as I did just now, the word
'beauty' is obviously being used in the widest sense. It is the sense
which the word bears when we distinguish beauty from goodness and from
truth, or when 'beautiful' is taken to signify anything and everything
that gives aesthetic satisfaction, or when 'Aesthetics' and 'Philosophy
of the Beautiful' are used as equivalent expressions. Of beauty, thus
understood, sublimity is one particular kind among a number of others,
for instance prettiness. But 'beauty' and 'beautiful' have also another
meaning, narrower and more specific, as when we say that a thing is
pretty but not beautiful, or that it is beautiful but not sublime. The
beauty we have in view here is evidently not the same as beauty in the
wider sense; it is only, like sublimity or prettiness, a particular kind
or mode of that beauty. This ambiguity of the words 'beauty' and
'beautiful' is a great inconvenience, and especially so in a lecture,
where it forces us to add some qualification to the words whenever they
occur: but it cannot be helped. (Now that the lecture is printed I am
able to avoid these qualifications by printing the words in inverted
commas where they bear the narrower sense.)[2]

Now, obviously, all the particular kinds or modes of beauty must have,
up to a certain point, the same nature. They must all possess that
character in virtue of which they are called beautiful rather than good
or true. And so a philosopher, investigating one of these kinds, would
first have to determine this common nature or character; and then he
would go on to ascertain what it is that distinguishes the particular
kind from its companions. But here we cannot follow such a method. The
nature of beauty in general is so much disputed and so variously defined
that to discuss it here by way of preface would be absurd; and on the
other hand it would be both presumptuous and useless to assume the truth
of any one account of it. Our only plan, therefore, must be to leave it
entirely alone, and to consider merely the distinctive character of
sublimity. Let beauty in general be what it may, what is it that marks
off _this_ kind of beauty from others, and what is there peculiar in our
state of mind when we are moved to apply to anything the specific
epithet 'sublime'?--such is our question. And this plan is not merely
the only possible one, but it is, I believe, quite justifiable, since,
so far as I can see, the answer to our particular question, unless it is
pushed further than I propose to go, is unaffected by the differences
among theories of repute concerning beauty in general. At the same time,
it is essential to realise and always to bear in mind one consequence of
this plan; which is that our account of what is peculiar to sublimity
will not be an account of sublimity in its full nature. For sublimity is
not those peculiar characteristics alone, it is that _beauty_ which is
distinguished by them, and a large part of its effect is due to that
general nature of beauty which it shares with other kinds, and which we
leave unexamined.

In considering the question thus defined I propose to start from our
common aesthetic experience and to attempt to arrive at an answer by
degrees. It will be understood, therefore, that our first results may
have to be modified as we proceed. And I will venture to ask my hearers,
further, to ignore for the time any doubts they may feel whether I am
right in saying, by way of illustration, that this or that thing is
sublime. Such differences of opinion scarcely affect our question, which
is not whether in a given case the epithet is rightly applied, but what
the epithet signifies. And it has to be borne in mind that, while no two
kinds of beauty can be quite the same, a _thing_ may very well possess
beauty of two different kinds.

Let us begin by placing side by side five terms which represent five of
the many modes of beauty--sublime, grand, 'beautiful,' graceful, pretty.
'Beautiful' is here placed in the middle. Before it come two terms,
sublime and grand; and beyond it lie two others, graceful and pretty.
Now is it not the case that the first two, though not identical, still
seem to be allied in some respect; that the last two also seem to be
allied in some respect; that in this respect, whatever it may be, these
two pairs seem to stand apart from one another, and even to stand in
contrast; that 'beauty,' in this respect, seems to hold a neutral
position, though perhaps inclining rather to grace than to grandeur; and
that the extreme terms, sublime and pretty, seem in this respect to be
the most widely removed; so that this series of five constitutes, in a
sense, a descending series,--descending not necessarily in value, but in
some particular respect not yet assigned? If, for example, in the lady's
answer, 'Yes, it is the prettiest thing I ever saw,' you substitute for
'prettiest' first 'most graceful,' and then 'most beautiful,' and then
'grandest,' you will find that your astonishment at her diminishes at
each step, and that at the last, when she identifies sublimity and
grandeur, she is guilty no longer of an absurdity, but only of a slight
anti-climax. If, I may add, she had said 'majestic,' the anti-climax
would have been slighter still, and, in fact, in one version of the
story Coleridge says that 'majestic' was the word he himself chose.

What then is the 'respect' in question here,--the something or other in
regard to which sublimity and grandeur seemed to be allied with one
another, and to differ decidedly from grace and prettiness? It appears
to be greatness. Thousands of things are 'beautiful,' graceful, or
pretty, and yet make no impression of greatness, nay, this impression in
many cases appears to collide with, and even to destroy, that of grace
or prettiness, so that if a pretty thing produced it you would cease to
call it pretty. But whatever strikes us as sublime produces an
impression of greatness, and more--of exceeding or even overwhelming
greatness. And this greatness, further, is apparently no mere
accompaniment of sublimity, but essential to it: remove the greatness in
imagination, and the sublimity vanishes. Grandeur, too, seems always to
possess greatness, though not in this superlative degree; while 'beauty'
neither invariably possesses it nor tends, like prettiness and grace, to
exclude it. I will try, not to defend these statements by argument, but
to develop their meaning by help of illustrations, dismissing from view
the minor differences between these modes of beauty, and, for the most
part, leaving grandeur out of account.

We need not ask here what is the exact meaning of that 'greatness' of
which I have spoken: but we must observe at once that the greatness in
question is of more than one kind. Let us understand by the term, to
begin with, greatness of extent,--of size, number, or duration; and let
us ask whether sublime things are, in this sense, exceedingly great.
Some certainly are. The vault of heaven, one expanse of blue, or dark
and studded with countless and prodigiously distant stars; the sea that
stretches to the horizon and beyond it, a surface smooth as glass or
breaking into innumerable waves; time, to which we can imagine no
beginning and no end,--these furnish favourite examples of sublimity;
and to call them great seems almost mockery, for they are images of
immeasurable magnitude. When we turn from them to living beings, of
course our standard of greatness changes;[3] but, using the standard
appropriate to the sphere, we find again that the sublime things have,
for the most part, great magnitude. A graceful tree need not be a large
one; a pretty tree is almost always small; but a sublime tree is almost
always large. If you were asked to mention sublime animals, you would
perhaps suggest, among birds, the eagle; among fishes, if any, the
whale; among beasts, the lion or the tiger, the python or the elephant.
But you would find it hard to name a sublime insect; and indeed it is
not easy, perhaps not possible, to feel sublimity in any animal smaller
than oneself, unless one goes beyond the special kind of greatness at
present under review. Consider again such facts as these: that a human
being of average, or even of less than average, stature and build may be
graceful and even 'beautiful,' but can hardly, in respect of stature and
build, be grand or sublime; that we most commonly think of flowers as
little things, and also most commonly think of them as 'beautiful,'
graceful, pretty, but rarely as grand, and still more rarely as
sublime, and that in these latter cases we do not think of them as
small; that a mighty river may well be sublime, but hardly a stream; a
towering or far-stretching mountain, but hardly a low hill; a vast
bridge, but hardly one of moderate span; a great cathedral, but hardly a
village church; that a model of a sublime building is not sublime,
unless in imagination you expand it to the dimensions of its original;
that a plain, though flat, may be sublime if its extent is immense; that
while we constantly say 'a pretty little thing,' or even 'a beautiful
little thing,' nobody ever says 'a sublime little thing.' Examples like
these seem to show clearly--not that bigness is sublimity, for bigness
need have no beauty, while sublimity is a mode of beauty--but that this
particular mode of beauty is frequently connected with, and dependent
on, exceeding greatness of extent.

Let us now take a further step. Can there be sublimity when such
greatness is absent? And, if there can, is greatness of some other sort
always present in such cases, and essential to the sublime effect? The
answer to the first of these questions is beyond doubt. Children have no
great extension, and what Wordsworth calls 'a six-years' darling of a
pigmy size' is (if a darling) generally called pretty but not sublime;
for it _is_ 'of a pigmy size.' Yet it certainly _may_ be sublime, and it
is so to the poet who addresses it thus:

  Thou whose exterior semblance doth belie
    Thy soul's immensity....
  Mighty prophet! Seer blest!
  On whom those truths do rest
  Which we are toiling all our lives to find.

A baby is still smaller, but a baby too may be sublime. The starry sky
is not more sublime than the babe on the arm of the Madonna di San
Sisto. A sparrow is more diminutive still; but that it is possible for a
sparrow to be sublime is not difficult to show. This is a translation
of a prose poem by Tourgénieff:

  I was on my way home from hunting, and was walking up the garden
  avenue. My dog was running on in front of me.

  Suddenly he slackened his pace, and began to steal forward as though
  he scented game ahead.

  I looked along the avenue; and I saw on the ground a young sparrow,
  its beak edged with yellow, and its head covered with soft down. It
  had fallen from the nest (a strong wind was blowing, and shaking the
  birches of the avenue); and there it sat and never stirred, except to
  stretch out its little half-grown wings in a helpless flutter.

  My dog was slowly approaching it, when suddenly, darting from the tree
  overhead, an old black-throated sparrow dropt like a stone right
  before his nose, and, all rumpled and flustered, with a plaintive
  desperate cry flung itself, once, twice, at his open jaws with their
  great teeth.

  It would save its young one; it screened it with its own body; the
  tiny frame quivered with terror; the little cries grew wild and
  hoarse; it sank and died. It had sacrificed itself.

  What a huge monster the dog must have seemed to it! And yet it could
  not stay up there on its safe bough. A power stronger than its own
  will tore it away.

  My dog stood still, and then slunk back disconcerted. Plainly he too
  had to recognise that power. I called him to me; and a feeling of
  reverence came over me as I passed on.

  Yes, do not laugh. It was really reverence I felt before that little
  heroic bird and the passionate outburst of its love.

  Love, I thought, is verily stronger than death and the terror of
  death. By love, only by love, is life sustained and moved.

This sparrow, it will be agreed, is sublime. What, then, makes it so?
Not largeness of size, assuredly, but, we answer, its love and courage.
Yes; but what do we mean by '_its_ love and courage'? We often meet with
love and courage, and always admire and approve them; but we do not
always find them sublime. Why, then, are they sublime in the sparrow?
From their extraordinary greatness. It is not in the quality alone, but
in the quantity of the quality, that the sublimity lies. And this may be
readily seen if we imagine the quantity to be considerably reduced,--if
we imagine the parent bird, after its first brave effort, flinching and
flying away, or if we suppose the bird that sacrifices itself to be no
sparrow but a turkey. In either case love and courage would remain, but
sublimity would recede or vanish, simply because the love and courage
would no longer possess the required immensity.[4]

The sublimity of the sparrow, then, no less than that of the sky or sea,
depends on exceeding or overwhelming greatness--a greatness, however,
not of extension but rather of strength or power, and in this case of
spiritual power. 'Love is _stronger_ than death,' quotes the poet; 'a
power _stronger_ than its own tore it away.' So it is with the dog of
whom Scott and Wordsworth sang, whose master had perished among the
crags of Helvellyn, and who was found three months after by his master's

  How nourished here through such long time
  He knows who gave that love sublime,
  And gave that strength of feeling, great
  Above all human estimate.[5]

And if we look further we shall find that these cases of sublimity are,
in this respect, far from being exceptions: 'thy soul's _immensity_,'
says Wordsworth to the child; '_mighty_ prophet' he calls it. We shall
find, in fact, that in the sublime, when there is not greatness of
extent, there is another greatness, which (without saying that the
phrase is invariably the most appropriate) we may call greatness of
power and which in these cases is essential.

We must develop this statement a little. Naturally the power, and
therefore the sublimity, will differ in its character in different
instances, and therefore will affect us variously. It may be--to
classify very roughly--physical, or vital, or (in the old wide sense of
the word) moral, like that of the sparrow and the dog. And physical
force will appeal to the imagination in one way, and vital in another,
and moral or spiritual in another. But it is still power of some kind
that makes a thing sublime rather than graceful, and immensity of power
that makes it sublime rather than merely grand. For example, the lines
of the water in a thin cascade may be exquisitely graceful, but such a
cascade has not power enough to be sublime. Flickering fire in a grate
is often 'beautiful,' but it is not sublime; the fire of a big bonfire
is on the way to be so; a 'great fire' frequently is so, because it
gives the impression of tremendous power. The ocean, in those stanzas of
_Childe Harold_ which no amount of familiarity or of defect can deprive
of their sublimity, is the untameable monster which engulfs men as
lightly as rain-drops and shatters fleets like toys. The sublimity of
Behemoth and Leviathan in the _Book of Job_ lies in the contrast of
their enormous might with the puny power of man; that of the horse in
the fiery energy of his courage and strength. Think of sublime figures
or ideas in the world of fiction or of history, and you find that,
whether they are radiant or gloomy, violent or peaceful, terrible or
adorable, they all impress the imagination by their immense or even
irresistible might. It is so with Achilles, standing alone beyond the
wall, with the light of the divine flame soaring from his head, while he
sends across the trench that shout at whose far-off sound the hearts of
the Trojans die within them; or with Odysseus, when the moment of his
vengeance has come, and he casts off his rags, and leaps onto the
threshold with his bow, and pours his arrows down at his feet, and looks
down the long hall at the doomed faces of his feasting enemies. Milton's
Satan is sublime when he refuses to accept defeat from an omnipotent
foe; he ceases to be so in tempting Eve, because here he shows not power
but cunning, and we feel not the strength of his cunning but the
weakness of his victim. In the bust of Zeus in the Vatican, in some of
the figures of the Medici Chapel, in 'The horse and his rider,' we feel
again sublimity, because we feel gigantic power, put forth or held in
reserve. Fate or Death, imagined as a lurking assassin, is not sublime,
but may become so when imagined as inevitable, irresistible,
_ineluctabile fatum_. The eternal laws to which Antigone appeals, like
that Duty which preserves the strength and freshness of the most ancient
heavens, are sublime. Prometheus, the saviour of mankind, opposing a
boundless power of enduring pain to a boundless power of inflicting it;
Regulus returning unmoved to his doom; Socrates, serene and even joyous
in the presence of injury and death and the lamentations of his friends,
are sublime. The words 'I have overcome the world' are among the most
sublime on record, and they are also the expression of the absolute
power of the spirit.[6]

It seems clear, then, that sublimity very often arises from an
overwhelming greatness of power. So abundant, indeed, are the instances
that one begins to wonder whether it ever arises from any other kind of
greatness, and whether we were right in supposing that mere magnitude of
extension can produce it. Would such magnitude, however prodigious, seem
to us sublime unless we insensibly construed it as the sign of power? In
the case of living things, at any rate, this doubt seems to be well
founded. A tree is sublime not because it occupies a large extent of
empty space or time, but from the power in it which raises aloft and
spreads abroad a thousand branches and a million leaves, or which has
battled for centuries with buffeting storms and has seen summers and
winters arise and pass like the hours of our day. It is not the mere
bulk of the lion or the eagle that wins them their title as king of
beasts or of birds, but the power exhibited in the gigantic head and arm
or the stretch of wing and the piercing eye. And even when we pass from
the realm of life our doubt remains. Would a mountain, a river, or a
building be sublime to us if we did not read their masses and lines as
symbols of force? Would even the illimitable extent of sea or sky, the
endlessness of time, or the countlessness of stars or sands or waves,
bring us anything but fatigue or depression if we did not apprehend
them, in some way and however vaguely, as expressions of immeasurable
power--power that created them, or lives in them, or _can_ count them;
so that what impresses us is not the mere absence of limits, but the
presence of something that overpowers any imaginable limit? If these
doubts are justified (as in my opinion they are), the conclusion will
follow that the exceeding greatness required for sublimity is _always_
greatness of some kind of power, though in one class of cases the
impression of this greatness can only be conveyed through immensity of

However this question may be decided, our result so far seems to be that
the peculiarity of the sublime lies in some exceeding and overwhelming
greatness. But before this result can be considered safe, two obstacles
must be removed. In the first place, are there no negative instances? Is
it impossible to find anything sublime which does _not_ show this
greatness? Naturally I can say no more than that I have conscientiously
searched for exceptions to the rule and have searched in vain. I can
find only apparent exceptions which in reality confirm the rule; and I
will mention only those which look the most formidable. They are cases
where at first sight there seems to be not merely an inconsiderable
amount of power or other greatness, but actually the negation of it. For
example, the silence of night, or the sudden pause in a storm or in
stormy music, or again the silence and movelessness of death, may
undoubtedly be sublime; and how, it may be asked, can a mere absence of
sound and motion be an exhibition of immense greatness? It cannot, I
answer; but neither can it be sublime. If you apprehend the silence in
these cases as a mere absence, no feeling of sublimity will arise in
your mind; and if you do apprehend the silence as sublime, it is to you
the sign of immense power, put forth or held in reserve. The 'dead pause
abrupt of mighty winds' is the pause _of_ mighty winds and not of gentle
breezes; and it is not the absence of mighty winds, but their _pause_
before they burst into renewed fury; or if their silence is not their
will, it is a silence imposed on them by something mightier even than
they. In either case there may be sublimity, but then there is the
impression of immense power. In the same way the silence of night, when
it seems sublime, is apprehended not as the absence but as the subdual
of sound,--the stillness wrought by a power so mighty that at its touch
all the restless noises of the day fall dumb,--or the brooding of an
omnipotent peace over the world. And such a peace it is, an unassailable
peace, that may make the face of death sublime, a stillness which is not
moveless but immovable.[7]

At present, then, our result seems to stand firm. But another danger
remains. Granted that in the sublime there is always some exceeding and
overwhelming greatness, is that _all_ there is? Is there not in every
case some further characteristic? This question, premising that the
phrase 'overwhelming greatness' contains important implications which
have yet to be considered, I can only answer like the last. I do not
find any other peculiarity that is _always_ present. Several have been
alleged, and one or two of these will be mentioned later, but none of
them appears to show itself indubitably wherever sublimity is found. It
is easy to give a much fuller account of the sublime if you include in
it everything that impresses you in a sublime baby while you omit to
consider Behemoth, or if you build upon Socrates and ignore Satan, or if
you confine yourself to the sublime thunderstorm and forget the sublime
rainbow or sunrise. But then your account will not answer to the
instances you have ignored; and when you take them in you will have to
pare it down until perhaps you end in a result like ours. At any rate we
had better be content with it for the present, and turn to another
aspect of the matter.[8]

So far, on the whole, we have been regarding the sublime object as if
its sublimity were independent of our state of mind in feeling and
apprehending it. Yet the adjective in the phrase 'overwhelming
greatness' should at once suggest the truth that this state of mind is
essential to sublimity. Let us now therefore look inward, and ask how
this state differs from our state in perceiving or imagining what is
graceful or 'beautiful.' Since Kant dealt with the subject, most writers
who have thought about it have agreed that there is a decided
difference, which I will try to describe broadly, and without pledging
myself to the entire accuracy of the description.

When, on seeing or hearing something, we exclaim, How graceful! or How
lovely! or How 'beautiful'! there is in us an immediate outflow of
pleasure, an unchecked expansion, a delightful sense of harmony between
the thing and ourselves.

                            The air
  Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
  Unto our gentle senses.... The heaven's breath
  Smells wooingly here.

The thing wins us and draws us towards itself without resistance.
Something in us hastens to meet it in sympathy or love. Our feeling, we
may say, is entirely affirmative. For though it is not always untouched
by pain (for the thing may have sadness in it),[9] this touch of pain or
sadness does not mean any disharmony between the thing and us, or
involve any check in our acceptance of it.

In the case of sublimity, on the other hand, this acceptance does not
seem to be so simple or immediate. There seem, in fact, to be two
'aspects' or stages in it.[10] First--if only for a fraction of a
second--there is a sense of being checked, or baffled, or even
stupefied, or possibly even repelled or menaced, as though something
were affecting us which we could not receive, or grasp, or stand up to.
In certain cases we appear to shrink away from it, as though it thrust
upon us a sense of our own feebleness or insignificance. This we may
call by the convenient but too strong name of the negative stage. It is
essential to sublimity; and nothing seems to correspond to it in our
perception of loveliness or grace except sometimes a sense of surprise
or wonder, which is wholly pleasant, and which does not necessarily
qualify the lovely or graceful thing.

But this first stage or aspect clearly does not by itself suffice for
sublimity. To it there succeeds, it may be instantaneously or more
gradually, another: a powerful reaction, a rush of self-expansion, or an
uplifting, or a sense of being borne out of the self that was checked,
or even of being carried away beyond all checks and limits. These
feelings, even when the sublime thing might be called forbidding,
menacing, or terrible, are always positive,--feelings of union with it;
and, when its nature permits of this, they may amount to rapture or
adoration. But the mark of the negation from which they have issued, the
'smell of the fire,' usually remains on them. The union, we may say
perhaps, has required a self-surrender, and the rapture or adoration is
often strongly tinged with awe.

Now, this peculiar doubleness in our apprehension of sublimity, this
presence of two equally necessary stages or phases, a negative and a
positive, seems to correspond with the peculiarity which we found in the
sublime object when we were provisionally regarding it by itself. It is
its overwhelming greatness which for a moment checks, baffles, subdues,
even repels us or makes us feel our littleness, and which then, forcing
its way into the imagination and emotions, distends or uplifts them to
its own dimensions. We burst our own limits, go out to the sublime thing,
identify ourselves ideally with it, and share its immense greatness. But
if, and in so far as, we remain conscious of our difference from it, we
still feel the insignificance of our actual selves, and our glory is
mingled with awe or even with self-abasement.[11]

In writing thus I was endeavouring simply and without any _arrière
pensée_ to describe a mode of aesthetic experience. But it must have
occurred to some of my hearers that the description recalls other kinds
of experience. And if they find it accurate in the main, they will
appreciate, even if they do not accept, the exalted claim which
philosophers, in various forms, have made for the sublime. It awakes in
us, they say, through the check or shock which it gives to our finitude,
the consciousness of an infinite or absolute; and this is the reason of
the kinship we feel between this particular mode of aesthetic experience
on the one side, and, on the other, morality or religion. For there, by
the denial of our merely finite or individual selves, we rise into union
with the law which imposes on us an unconditional demand, or with the
infinite source and end of our spiritual life.

These are ideas much too large to be considered now, and even later I
can but touch on them. But the mere mention of them may carry us to the
last enquiries with which we can deal. For it suggests this question:
Supposing that high claim to be justified at all, can it really be made
for _all_ sublimity, or must it not be confined to the very highest
forms? A similar question must be raised as to various other statements
regarding the sublime; and I go on to speak of some of these.

(1) Burke asserted that the sublime is always founded on fear; indeed he
considered this to be its distinguishing characteristic. Setting aside,
then, the connection of this statement with Burke's general doctrine (a
doctrine impossible to accept), we may ask, Is it true that the 'check'
administered by the sublime object is always one of fear? We must
answer, first, that if this check is part of an aesthetic experience and
not a mere preliminary to it, it can _never_ be fear in the common
meaning of that word, or what may be called practical or real fear. So
far as we are _practically_ afraid of a storm or a mountain, afraid, for
instance, for ourselves as bodily beings in this particular spatial and
temporal position, the storm or mountain is not sublime to us, it is
simply terrible. _That_ fear must be absent, or must not engage
attention, or must be changed in character, if the object is to be for
us _sublimely_ terrible, something with which we identify ourselves in
imaginative sympathy, and which so causes a great self-expansion. But,
secondly, even if 'fear' is understood rightly as indicating a feature
in an aesthetic and not a practical experience, our question must
obviously be answered in the negative. There is fear in the apprehension
of some sublimity, but by no means in that of all. If there is a
momentary check, for example, in the case of a rainbow, a glorious
sunrise, the starry night, Socrates, or Tourgénieff's sparrow, 'fear,'
unless the meaning of the word is unnaturally extended, is surely not
the name for this check.

Burke's mistake, however, implies a recognition of the 'negative aspect'
in sublimity, and it may remind us of a truth. Instances of the sublime
differ greatly in regard to the prominence and tone of this aspect. It
is less marked, for example, and less obvious, in the case of a sublime
rainbow or sunrise than in that of a sublime and 'terrible'
thunderstorm. And in general we may say that the _distinctive_ nature of
sublimity appears most clearly where this aspect is most prominent,--so
prominent, perhaps, that we have a more or less explicit sense of the
littleness and powerlessness of ourselves, and indeed of the whole
world of our usual experience. It is here that the object is most
decidedly more than 'glorious,' or even 'majestic,' and that sublimity
appears in antithesis to grace. Only we must not give an account of the
sublime which fully applies to these cases _alone_, or suppose that the
negative aspect is absent in other cases. If a rainbow or sunrise is
really sublime, it is overwhelming as well as uplifting. Nor must we
assume that the most distinctively sublime must also be the most
sublime. The sunrise witnessed from an immense snowfield in the high
Alps may be as sublime as an Alpine thunderstorm, though its sublimity
is different.

(2) Grace and 'beauty,' it has been said, though not of course merely
sensuous, are yet friendly to sense. It is their essence, in fact, to be
a harmonious unity of sense and spirit, and so to reconcile powers which
in much of our experience are conflicting and dissonant. But sublimity
is harsh and hostile to sense. It makes us feel in ourselves and in the
world the presence of something irresistibly superior to sense. And this
is the reason why it does not soothe or delight, but uplifts us.

This statement recalls some of the ideas we have been considering, but
it may easily mislead. For one thing, it is impossible for any sublimity
whatever to be _merely_ hostile to 'sense,' since everything aesthetic
must appeal to sense or sensuous imagination, so that the sublime must
at least express its hostility to sense by means of sense. And if we
take the phrase in another meaning, the statement may mislead still, for
it attributes to sublimity in general what is a characteristic only of
certain forms of the sublime. Scores of examples could easily be quoted
which show no hostility to sense: _e.g._ a sublime lion, or bull, or
tree. And if we think of our old examples of the rainbow and the
sunrise, or, better still, of a thunderstorm, or 'The horse and his
rider,' or the 'Sanctus' in Bach's Mass, we find the sublime thing
actually making a powerful appeal to sense and depending for its
sublimity on the vehemence or volume of this appeal. Diminish at all
markedly in these cases the amount of light, colour, or sound, and the
sublimity would vanish. Of course the appeal here is not merely to
sense, but it _is_ to sense.

But undoubtedly there is another kind of sublimity; and it is
particularly interesting. Here, it is true, a sort of despite is done to
the senses and what speaks to them. As we have seen, the greatness of
soul in the sparrow is enhanced by contrast with the smallness and
feebleness of its body, and pours contempt on the visible magnitude of
the hound; and the stillness of night or death is sublime from its
active negation of sound and motion. Again, there is a famous passage
which depends for its effect on this, that, first, sublime things are
introduced which appeal powerfully to sense, and then something else,
which does not so appeal, is made to appear even more sublime and to put
them to shame: first a great and strong wind, an earthquake, a fire; and
after the fire a still small voice. Sometimes, again, as Burke observed,
sublimity depends on, or is increased by, darkness, obscurity,
vagueness,--refusal of satisfaction to the sense of sight. Often in
these cases the sublime object is terrible, and its terror is increased
by inability to see or distinguish it. Examples are the image of 'the
pestilence that walketh in darkness,' or Milton's description of Death,
or the lines in the _Book of Job_:

  In thoughts from the visions of the night
  When deep sleep falleth on men,
  Fear came upon me and trembling,
  Which made all my bones to shake.
  Then a spirit passed before my face;
  The hair of my flesh stood up.
  It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof.
  An image was before mine eyes.
  There was silence, and I heard a voice.

It has been observed that attempts to illustrate such passages as these
dissipate their sublimity by diminishing the obscurity of the object.
Blake's illustrations of the lines in Milton and in _Job_[12] show this,
while his design of the morning-stars singing together is worthy even of
the words.

We may trace this severity towards sense, again, in examples already
mentioned, the ideas of Fate, of the eternal laws to which Antigone
appeals, of Duty in Wordsworth's ode. We imagine these powers as removed
from sight, and indeed wholly immaterial, and yet as exercising
sovereign dominion over the visible and material world. And their
sublimity would be endangered if we tried to bring them nearer to sense
by picturing the means by which they exercise their control.

I will take a last example. It has probably been mentioned in almost
every account of the sublime since Longinus quoted it in his work on
Elevation of Style. And it is of special interest here because it
illustrates at one and the same time the two kinds of sublimity which we
are engaged in distinguishing. 'God said, Let there be light, and there
was light.' The idea of the first and instantaneous appearance of light,
and that the whole light of the whole world, is already sublime; and its
primary appeal is to sense. The further idea that this transcendently
glorious apparition is due to mere words, to a breath--our symbol of
tenuity, evanescence, impotence to influence material bulk--heightens
enormously the impression of absolutely immeasurable power.

To sum up, then, on this matter. It is not safe to distinguish the
sublime from the 'beautiful' by its hostility to sense. The sublime may
impress its overwhelming greatness in either of two ways, by an appeal
to sense, or by a kind of despite done to it. Nor can we assert, if we
think of the sunrise, the thunderstorm, or of sublime music, that the
second of these ways is more distinctive of the sublime than the first.
But perhaps we may say this. In 'beauty' that which appears in a
sensuous form seems to rest in it, to be perfectly embodied in it, and
to have no tendency to pass beyond it. In the sublime, even where no
such tendency is felt and sublimity is nearest to 'beauty,' we still
feel the presence of a power held in reserve, which could with ease
exceed its present expression. In _some_ forms of sublimity, again, the
sensuous embodiment seems threatening to break in its effort to express
what appears in it. And in others we definitely feel that the power
which for a moment intimates its presence to sense is infinite and
utterly uncontainable by any or all vehicles of its manifestation. Here
we are furthest (in a way) from sense, and furthest also from 'beauty.'

(3) I come finally and, as it will at first seem, needlessly to an idea
which has already been touched on. The words 'boundless,' 'illimitable,'
'infinite,' constantly recur in discussions of sublimity, and it cannot
be denied that our experience constantly provokes them. The sublime has
been said to awake in us the consciousness of our own infinity. It has
been said, again, to represent in all cases the inadequacy of all finite
forms to express the infinite. And so we may be told that, even if we do
not adopt some such formula, but continue to speak of 'greatness,' we
ought at least to go beyond the adjective 'exceeding' or 'overwhelming,'
and to substitute 'immeasurable' or 'incomparable' or 'infinite.'

Now, at the point we have reached, it would seem we might at once answer
that a claim is here being made for the sublime in general which really
holds good only of one kind of sublimity. Sometimes the sublime object
_is_ apprehended as the Infinite, or again as an expression of it. This
is, for example, a point of view frequent in Hebrew poetry. Sometimes,
again, the object (_e.g._ time or the heavens) is apprehended, not
indeed as _the_ Infinite, but still as infinite or immeasurable. But how
are we to say that a sublime lion or mountain, or Satan or Lady Macbeth,
is apprehended as the Infinite, or as infinite, or (usually) as even an
expression of the Infinite? And how are we to say that the greatness of
most sublime objects is apprehended as incomparable or immeasurable? It
is only failure to observe these distinctions that leads to errors like
one recorded in Coleridge's Table-talk (July 25, 1832): 'Could you ever
discover anything sublime, in our sense of the word, in the classic
Greek literature? I never could. Sublimity is Hebrew by birth.'

This reply, however, though sound so far as it goes, does not settle the
question raised. It may still be maintained that sublimity in all cases,
and even when we have no idea of infinity before us, does represent the
inadequacy of all finite forms to express the infinite. And it is
unfortunately impossible for us to deal fully with this contention. It
would carry us into the region of metaphysics; and, while believing that
no theory of the sublime can be complete which stops short of that
region, I am aiming in this lecture at no such theory, but only at a
result which may hold good without regard to further developments. All
that I can do is to add a few words on the question whether, going
beyond the adjective 'exceeding' or 'overwhelming,' we can say that the
sublime is the beautiful which has immeasurable, incomparable, or
infinite greatness. And the answer which I suggest and will go on to
explain may be put thus: the greatness is only sometimes immeasurable,
but it is _always_ unmeasured.

We cannot apprehend an object as sublime while we apprehend it as
comparably, measurably, or finitely great. Let the thing be what it
may--physical, vital, or spiritual--the moment we say to ourselves, 'It
is very great, but I know _how_ great,' or 'It is very great, but
something else is as great or greater,' at that moment it has ceased to
be sublime. Outside the consciousness of its sublimity we may be
perfectly well aware that a thing is limited, measurable, equal or
inferior to something else. But then we are _not_ finding it sublime.
And when we _are_ so finding it, we are absorbed in _its_ greatness, and
have no thought either of the limits of that or of its equality or
inferiority to anything else. The lion of whom we are thinking, 'An
elephant could kill him,' is no sublime lion. The Falls of Schaffhausen
are sublime when you are lost in astonishment at them, but not when you
are saying to yourself 'What must Niagara be!' This seems indubitable,
and hence we may say that, in one sense, all sublimity has unmeasured
greatness, and that no greatness is sublime which we apprehend as

But the absence of a consciousness of measure or finitude is one thing;
the presence of a consciousness of immeasurableness or infinity is
another. The first belongs to all sublimity, the second only to one kind
of it,--to that where we _attempt_ to measure, or find limits to, the
greatness of the thing. _If_ we make this attempt, as when we try in
imagination to number the stars or to find an end to time, then it is
essential to sublimity that we should fail, and so fail that the idea of
immeasurability or endlessness emerges. In like manner, _if_ we compare
things, nothing will appear sublime whose greatness is surpassed or even
equalled by that of something else; and, if this process of comparison
is pursued, in the end nothing will be found sublime except the absolute
totality (however it may be imagined). And this kind of sublimity,
which arises from attempts to measure or compare, is often exceedingly
striking. But it is only one kind. For it is an entire delusion--though
a very common one in theories of the sublime--to suppose that we _must_
attempt to measure or compare. On the contrary, in the majority of cases
our impression of overwhelming greatness is accompanied neither by any
idea that this greatness has a measure, nor by the idea that it is
immeasurable or infinite.[13]

It will not do, then, to lay it down that the sublime is the beautiful
which has immeasurable, incomparable, or infinite greatness. But I
suggest that, after the explanations given, we may conveniently use the
adjective 'unmeasured,' so long as we remember that this means one thing
where we do not measure at all, and another thing where we try to
measure and fail. And, this being so, it seems that we may say that
_all_ sublimity, and not only that in which the idea of infinite
greatness or of the Infinite emerges, is an image of infinity; for in
all, through a certain check or limitation and the overcoming of it, we
reach the perception or the imaginative idea of something which, on the
one hand, has a positive nature, and, on the other, is either _not_
determined as finite or _is_ determined as infinite. But we must not add
that this makes the sublime superior to the 'beautiful.' For the
'beautiful' too, though in a different way, is an image of infinity. In
'beauty,' as we said, that which appears in a sensuous form seems to
rest in that form, to be wholly embodied in it; it shows no tendency to
pass beyond it, and intimates no reserve of force that might strain or
break it. So that the 'beautiful' thing is a whole complete in itself,
and in moments when beauty fills our souls we know what Wordsworth meant
when he said 'the least of things seemed infinite,' though each thing,
being but one of many, must from another point of view, here suppressed,
be finite. 'Beauty,' then, we may perhaps say, is the image of the total
presence of the Infinite within any limits it may choose to assume;
sublimity the image of its boundlessness, and of its rejection of any
pretension to independence or absoluteness on the part of its finite
forms; the one the image of its immanence, the other of its

Within an hour I could attempt no more than an outline of our subject.
That is inevitable; and so is another defect, which I regret more. In
analysing any kind of aesthetic experience we have to begin by
disentangling the threads that meet in it; and when we can only make a
beginning, no time is left for the further task of showing how they are
interwoven. We distinguish, for example, one kind of sublimity from
another, and we must do so; but in the actual experience, the single
instance, these kinds often melt together. I take one case of this.
Trying to overlook the field in which sublimity appears, we say that
there is a sublimity of inorganic things, and of things vital, and of
things spiritual, and that these kinds differ. And this is true; and
perhaps it is also true that sometimes we experience one of these kinds,
so to say, quite pure and unmixed with others. But it is not always,
perhaps not usually so. More frequently kind mingles with kind, and we
mutilate the experience when we name it after one of them. In life the
imagination, touched at one point, tingles all over and responds at all
points. It is offered an impression of physical or vital greatness, but
at once it brings from the other end of its world reminiscences of
quite another order, and fuses the impression with them. Or an appeal is
made to the sense of spiritual greatness, but there rises before the
imagination a vision with the outlines and hues of material Nature.
Offer it a sunset--a mere collection of coloured lines and spots--and
they become to it regrets and hopes and longings too deep for tears.
Tell it of souls made perfect in bliss, and it sees an immeasurable
rose, or city-walls that flash with the light of all the gems on earth.
The truth that a sparrow and a mountain are different, and that Socrates
is not Satan, interests it but little. What it cares for is the truth
that, when they are sublime, they are all the same; for each becomes
infinite, and it feels in each its own infinity.



I add here a few remarks on some points which it was not convenient to
discuss in the lecture.

1. We have seen that in the apprehension of sublimity we do not always
employ comparison or attempt to measure. To feel a thing overwhelmingly
great it is not necessary to have before the mind either the idea of
something less great, or any standard of greatness. To argue that this
must be necessary because 'great' means nothing except as opposed to
'small,' is like arguing that I cannot have a perception of pride
without thinking of humility.

This point seems to me quite clear. But a question remains. If we go
below consciousness, what is it that happens in us? The apprehension of
sublimity implies that we have received an exceedingly strong
impression. This as a matter of fact must mean an impression very much
stronger than something else; and this something else must be, so to
say, a standard with which the impression is unconsciously compared.
What then is it?

Stated in the most general terms, it must apparently be the usual or
average strength of impressions.

But this unconscious standard takes particular concrete forms in various
classes of cases. Not seldom it seems to be our sense of our own power
or of average human power. This is especially so where the thing felt to
be sublime is, in the relevant respect, _in eodem genere_ with
ourselves. A sublime lion, for example, is immensely superior to us, or
to the average man, in muscular force and so in dangerousness,
Tourgénieff's sparrow in courage and love, a god in all sorts of ways.
And the use of this unconscious standard is probably the reason of the
fact, noted in the lecture, that it is difficult to feel sublimity, as
regards vital force, in a creature smaller than ourselves.

But this is not the only standard. A sublime lion is not only immensely
stronger than we are, but is generally also exceptional among lions; and
so with a sublime tree or bridge or thunderstorm. So that we seem also
to use as unconscious standard the idea of the average of the kind to
which the thing belongs. An average thunderstorm hardly seems sublime,
and yet it is overwhelmingly superior to us in power.[15]

What, again, is the psychical machinery employed when we attempt to
measure the shoreless sea, or time, and find them immeasurable? Is there
any standard of the 'usual' here? I will leave this question to more
skilled psychologists than myself.

2. Since the impression produced by sublimity is one of very exceptional
strength, we are not able to feel it continuously for long, though we
can repeat it after a pause. In this the sublime differs from the
'beautiful,' on which we like to _dwell_ after our first surprise is
over. A tragedy or symphony that was sublime from beginning to end could
not be so experienced. Living among mountains, we feel their beauty more
or less constantly, their sublimity only by flashes.

3. If our account of the impression produced by sublimity is true, why
should not any sensation whatever produce this impression merely by
gaining extraordinary strength? It seems to me it would, supposing at
its normal strength it conformed to the general requirements of
aesthetic experience, and supposing the requisite accession of strength
did not remove this conformity. But this, in one respect at least, it
would do. It would make the light, sound, smell, physiologically
painful, and we should feel it as painful or even dangerous. We find
this in the case of lightning. If it is to be felt as aesthetic it must
not pass a certain degree of brightness; or, as we sometimes say, it
must not be too 'near.'


  [1] I have learned something from many discussions of this subject.
    In its outline the view I have taken is perhaps nearer to Hartmann's
    than to any other.

  [2] Popular usage coincides roughly with this sense. Indeed, it can
    hardly be said to recognise the wider one at all. 'Beauty' and
    'beautiful,' in that wider sense, are technical terms of Aesthetics.
    It is a misfortune that the language of Aesthetics should thus differ
    from the ordinary language of speech and literature; but the
    misfortune seems to be unavoidable, for there is no word in the
    ordinary language which means 'whatever gives aesthetic
    satisfaction,' and yet that idea _must_ have a name in Aesthetics.

  [3] I do not mean to imply that in aesthetic apprehension itself we
    always, or generally, make conscious use of a standard or, indeed,
    think of greatness. But here we are _reflecting_ on this

  [4] Thus, it may be noticed, the sparrow's size, which is the reverse
    of sublime, is yet indirectly essential to the sublimity of the

  [5] The poet's language here has done our analysis for us.

  [6] A word may be added here on a disputed point as to 'spiritual'
    sublimity. It has been held that intellect cannot be sublime; but
    surely in the teeth of facts. Not to speak of intellect as it appears
    in the sphere of practice, how can it be denied that the intellect of
    Aristotle or Shakespeare or Newton may produce the impression of
    sublimity? All that is true is, first, that the intellect must be
    apprehended imaginatively and not thought abstractly (otherwise it
    can produce _no_ aesthetic impression), and, secondly, that it
    appears sublime in virtue not of its quality alone but of the
    quantity, or force, of that quality.

  [7] The same principle applies to other cases. If, for example, the
    desolation of a landscape is felt to be sublime, it is so not as the
    mere negation of life, verdure, etc., but as their _active_ negation.

  [8] The reader will remember that in one sense of the question, Is
    there no more in the sublime than overwhelming greatness? this
    question must of course be answered in the affirmative. Sublimity is
    a mode of beauty: the sublime is not the overwhelmingly great, it is
    the beautiful which has overwhelming greatness; and it affects us
    through its whole nature, not by mere greatness.

  [9] I am warning the reader against a mistake which may arise from
    the complexity of aesthetic experience. We may make a broad
    distinction between 'glad' and 'sad' modes of beauty; but that does
    not coincide with the distinction of modes with which we are
    concerned in this lecture. What is lovely or 'beautiful' may be glad
    or sad, and so may what is grand or sublime.

  [10] In what follows I have spoken as if the two were always
    successive stages, and as if these always came in the same order. It
    is easier to make the matter quickly clear by taking this view, which
    also seemed to answer to my own experience. But I do not wish to
    commit myself to an opinion on the point, which is of minor
    importance. What is essential is to recognise the presence of the two
    'aspects' or 'stages,' and to see that both are requisite to

  [11] 'Ich fühlte mich so klein, so gross,' says Faust, remembering
    the vision of the Erdgeist, whom he addresses as 'Erhabener Geist.'
    He was at once overwhelmed and uplifted.

  [12] At least if the 'Vision' is sublime its sublimity is not that of
    the original. We can 'discern the form thereof' distinctly enough.

  [13] To avoid complication I have passed by the case where we compare
    the sublime thing with another thing and find it much greater without
    finding it immeasurably great. Here the greatness, it appears to me,
    is still unmeasured. That is to say, we do not attempt to determine
    its amount, and if we did we should lose the impression of sublimity.
    We may _say_, perhaps, that it is ten, fifty, or a million times, as
    great; but these words no more represent mathematical calculations
    than Hamlet's 'forty thousand brothers.'

  [14] I am far from being satisfied with the ideas imperfectly
    expressed in the first and third of these Notes, but they require
    more consideration than I can give to them during the printing of the
    Second Edition. The reader is requested to take them as mere

  [15] Hence a creature much less powerful than ourselves _may_, I
    suppose, be sublime, even from the mere point of view of vital
    energy. But I doubt if this is so in my own case. I have seen
    'magnificent' or 'glorious' cocks and cats, but if I called them
    'sublime' I should say rather more than I feel. I mention cocks,
    because Ruskin somewhere mentions a sublime cock; but I cannot find
    the passage, and this cock may have been sublime (if it really was so
    to Ruskin) from some other than 'vital' greatness.



Since Aristotle dealt with tragedy, and, as usual, drew the main
features of his subject with those sure and simple strokes which no
later hand has rivalled, the only philosopher who has treated it in a
manner both original and searching is Hegel. I propose here to give a
sketch of Hegel's theory, and to add some remarks upon it. But I cannot
possibly do justice in a sketch to a theory which fills many pages of
the _Aesthetik_; which I must tear from its connections with the
author's general view of poetry, and with the rest of his philosophy[2];
and which I must try to exhibit as far as possible in the language of
ordinary literature. To estimate this theory, therefore, from my sketch
would be neither safe nor just--all the more because, in the interest of
immediate clearness, I have not scrupled to insert without warning
various remarks and illustrations for which Hegel is not responsible.

On certain characteristics of tragedy the briefest reminder will
suffice. A large part of the nature of this form of drama is common to
the drama in all its forms; and of this nothing need be said. It will be
agreed, further, that in all tragedy there is some sort of collision or
conflict--conflict of feelings, modes of thought, desires, wills,
purposes; conflict of persons with one another, or with circumstances,
or with themselves; one, several, or all of these kinds of conflict, as
the case may be. Again, it may be taken for granted that a tragedy is a
story of unhappiness or suffering, and excites such feelings as pity and
fear. To this, if we followed the present usage of the term, we should
add that the story of unhappiness must have an unhappy end; by which we
mean in effect that the conflict must close with the death of one or
more of the principal characters. But this usage of the word 'tragedy'
is comparatively recent; it leaves us without a name for many plays, in
many languages, which deal with unhappiness without ending unhappily;
and Hegel takes the word in its older and wider sense.

Passing on from these admitted characteristics of tragedy, we may best
approach Hegel's peculiar view by observing that he lays particular
stress on one of them. That a tragedy is a story of suffering is
probably to many people the most obvious fact about it. Hegel says very
little of this; partly, perhaps, because it is obvious, but more because
the essential point to him is not the suffering but its cause, namely,
the action or conflict. Mere suffering, he would say, is not tragic, but
only the suffering that comes of a special kind of action. Pity for mere
misfortune, like fear of it, is not tragic pity or fear. These are due
to the spectacle of the conflict and its attendant suffering, which do
not appeal simply to our sensibilities or our instinct of
self-preservation, but also to our deeper mind or spirit (_Geist_, a
word which, with its adjective, I shall translate 'spirit,' 'spiritual,'
because our words 'mind' and 'mental' suggest something merely

The reason why the tragic conflict thus appeals to the spirit is that it
is itself a conflict of the spirit. It is a conflict, that is to say,
between powers that rule the world of man's will and action--his
'ethical substance.' The family and the state, the bond of parent and
child, of brother and sister, of husband and wife, of citizen and ruler,
or citizen and citizen, with the obligations and feelings appropriate to
these bonds; and again the powers of personal love and honour, or of
devotion to a great cause or an ideal interest like religion or science
or some kind of social welfare--such are the forces exhibited in tragic
action; not indeed alone, not without others less affirmative and
perhaps even evil, but still in preponderating mass. And as they form
the substance of man, are common to all civilised men, and are
acknowledged as powers rightfully claiming human allegiance, their
exhibition in tragedy has that interest, at once deep and universal,
which is essential to a great work of art.

In many a work of art, in many a statue, picture, tale, or song, such
powers are shown in solitary peace or harmonious co-operation. Tragedy
shows them in collision. Their nature is divine, and in religion they
appear as gods; but, as seen in the world of tragic action, they have
left the repose of Olympus, have entered into human wills, and now meet
as foes. And this spectacle, if sublime, is also terrible. The
essentially tragic fact is the self-division and intestinal warfare of
the ethical substance, not so much the war of good with evil as the war
of good with good. Two of these isolated powers face each other, making
incompatible demands. The family claims what the state refuses, love
requires what honour forbids. The competing forces are both in
themselves rightful, and so far the claim of each is equally justified;
but the right of each is pushed into a wrong, because it ignores the
right of the other, and demands that absolute sway which belongs to
neither alone, but to the whole of which each is but a part.

And one reason why this happens lies in the nature of the characters
through whom these claims are made. It is the nature of the tragic hero,
at once his greatness and his doom, that he knows no shrinking or
half-heartedness, but identifies himself wholly with the power that
moves him, and will admit the justification of no other power. However
varied and rich his inner life and character may be, in the conflict it
is all concentrated in one point. Antigone _is_ the determination to do
her duty to her dead brother; Romeo is not a son or a citizen as well as
a lover, he is lover pure and simple, and his love is the whole of him.

The end of the tragic conflict is the denial of both the exclusive
claims. It is not the work of chance or blank fate; it is the act of the
ethical substance itself, asserting its absoluteness against the
excessive pretensions of its particular powers. In that sense, as
proceeding from an absolute right which cancels claims based on right
but pushed into wrong, it may be called the act of 'eternal justice.'
Sometimes it can end the conflict peacefully, and the tragedy closes
with a solution. Appearing as a divine being, the spiritual unity
reconciles by some adjustment the claims of the contending powers
(_Eumenides_); or at its bidding one of them softens its demand
(_Philoctetes_); or again, as in the more beautiful solution of the
_Oedipus Coloneus_, the hero by his own self-condemnation and inward
purification reconciles himself with the supreme justice, and is
accepted by it. But sometimes the quarrel is pressed to extremes; the
denial of the one-sided claims involves the death of one or more of the
persons concerned; and we have a catastrophe. The ultimate power thus
appears as a destructive force. Yet even here, as Hegel insists, the end
is not without an aspect of reconciliation. For that which is denied is
not the rightful powers with which the combatants have identified
themselves. On the contrary, those powers, and with them the only thing
for which the combatants cared, are affirmed. What is denied is the
exclusive and therefore wrongful assertion of their right.

Such in outline is Hegel's main view. It may be illustrated more fully
by two examples, favourites of his, taken from Aeschylus and Sophocles.
Clytemnestra has murdered Agamemnon, her husband and king. Orestes,
their son, is impelled by filial piety to avenge his father, and is
ordered by Apollo to do so. But to kill a mother is to sin against
filial piety. The spiritual substance is divided against itself. The
sacred bond of father and son demands what the equally sacred bond of
son and mother forbids. When, therefore, Orestes has done the deed, the
Furies of his murdered mother claim him for their prey. He appeals to
Apollo, who resists their claim. A solution is arrived at without a
catastrophe. The cause is referred to Athene, who institutes at Athens a
court of sworn judges. The votes of this court being equally divided,
Athene gives her casting-vote for Orestes; while the Furies are at last
appeased by a promise of everlasting honour at Athens.

In the _Antigone_, on the other hand, to Hegel the 'perfect exemplar of
tragedy,' the solution is negative. The brother of Antigone has brought
against his native city an army of foreigners bent on destroying it. He
has been killed in the battle, and Creon, the ruler of the city, has
issued an edict forbidding anyone on pain of death to bury the corpse.
In so doing he not only dishonours the dead man, but violates the rights
of the gods of the dead. Antigone without hesitation disobeys the
edict, and Creon, despite the remonstrance of his son, who is affianced
to her, persists in exacting the penalty. Warned by the prophet
Teiresias, he gives way, but too late. Antigone, immured in a rocky
chamber to starve, has anticipated her death. Her lover follows her
example, and his mother refuses to survive him. Thus Antigone has lost
her life through her absolute assertion of the family against the state;
Creon has violated the sanctity of the family, and in return sees his
own home laid in ruins. But in this catastrophe neither the right of the
family nor that of the state is denied; what is denied is the
absoluteness of the claim of each.

The danger of illustrations like these is that they divert attention
from the principle illustrated to questions about the interpretation of
particular works. So it will be here. I cannot stay to discuss these
questions, which do not affect Hegel's principle; but it will be well,
before going further, to remove a misunderstanding of it which is
generally to be found in criticisms of his treatment of the _Eumenides_
and the _Antigone_. The main objection may be put thus: 'Hegel talks of
equally justified powers or claims. But Aeschylus never meant that
Orestes and the Furies were equally justified; for Orestes was
acquitted. Nor did Sophocles mean that Antigone and Creon were equally
right. And how can it have been equally the duty of Orestes to kill his
mother and not to kill her?' But, in the first place, it is most
important to observe that Hegel is not discussing at all what we should
generally call the moral quality of the acts and persons concerned, or,
in the ordinary sense, what it was their duty to do. And, in the second
place, when he speaks of 'equally justified' powers, what he means, and,
indeed, sometimes says, is that these powers are _in themselves_ equally
justified. The family and the state, the bond of father and son, the
bond of mother and son, the bond of citizenship, these are each and all,
one as much as another, powers rightfully claiming human allegiance. It
is tragic that observance of one should involve the violation of
another. These are Hegel's propositions, and surely they are true. Their
truth is quite unaffected by the fact (assuming it is one) that in the
circumstances the act combining this observance of one and violation of
another was morally right, or by the fact (if so it is) that one such
act (say Antigone's) was morally right, and another (say Creon's) was
morally wrong. It is sufficient for Hegel's principle that the violation
should take place, and that we should feel its weight. We do feel it. We
may approve the act of Antigone or Orestes, but in approving it we still
feel that it is no light matter to disobey the law or to murder a
mother, that (as we might say) there is much justice in the pleas of the
Furies and of Creon, and that the _tragic_ effect depends upon these
facts. If, again, it is objected that the underlying conflict in the
_Antigone_ is not between the family and the state, but between divine
and human law, that objection, if sound, might touch Hegel's
interpretation,[3] but it would not affect his principle, except for
those who recognise no obligation in human law; and it will scarcely be
contended that Sophocles is to be numbered among them. On the other
hand, it is, I think, a matter for regret that Hegel employed such words
as 'right,' 'justified,' and 'justice.' They do not mislead readers
familiar with his writings, but to others they suggest associations with
criminal law, or our everyday moral judgments, or perhaps the theory of
'poetic justice'; and these are all out of place in a discussion on

Having determined in outline the idea or principle of tragedy, Hegel
proceeds to give an account of some differences between ancient and
modern works. In the limited time at our disposal we shall do best to
confine ourselves to a selection from his remarks on the latter. For in
speaking of ancient tragedy Hegel, who finds something modern in
Euripides, makes accordingly but little use of him for purposes of
contrast, while his main point of view as to Aeschylus and Sophocles has
already appeared in the illustrations we have given of the general
principle. I will only add, by way of preface, that the pages about to
be summarised leave on one, rightly or wrongly, the impression that to
his mind the principle is more adequately realised in the best classical
tragedies than in modern works. But the question whether this really was
his deliberate opinion would detain us too long from weightier

Hegel considers first the cases where modern tragedy resembles ancient
in dealing with conflicts arising from the pursuit of ends which may be
called substantial or objective and not merely personal. And he points
out that modern tragedy here shows a much greater variety. Subjects are
taken, for example, from the quarrels of dynasties, of rivals for the
throne, of kings and nobles, of state and church. Calderon shows the
conflict of love and honour regarded as powers imposing obligations.
Schiller in his early works makes his characters defend the rights of
nature against convention, or of freedom of thought against
prescription--rights in their essence universal. Wallenstein aims at the
unity and peace of Germany; Karl Moor attacks the whole arrangement of
society; Faust seeks to attain in thought and action union with the
Absolute. In such cases the end is more than personal; it represents a
power claiming the allegiance of the individual; but, on the other
hand, it does not always or generally represent a great _ethical_
institution or bond like the family or the state. We have passed into a
wider world.

But, secondly, he observes, in regard to modern tragedy, that in a
larger number of instances such public or universal interests either do
not appear at all, or, if they appear, are scarcely more than a
background for the real subject. The real subject, the impelling end or
passion, and the ensuing conflict, is personal,--these particular
characters with their struggle and their fate. The importance given to
subjectivity--this is the distinctive mark of modern sentiment, and so
of modern art; and such tragedies bear its impress. A part at least of
Hegel's meaning may be illustrated thus. We are interested in the
personality of Orestes or Antigone, but chiefly as it shows itself in
one aspect, as identifying itself with a certain ethical relation; and
our interest in the personality is inseparable and indistinguishable
from our interest in the power it represents. This is not so with
Hamlet, whose position so closely resembles that of Orestes. What
engrosses our attention is the whole personality of Hamlet in his
conflict, not with an opposing spiritual power, but with circumstances
and, still more, with difficulties in his own nature. No one could think
of describing Othello as the representative of an ethical family
relation. His passion, however much nobility he may show in it, is
personal. So is Romeo's love. It is not pursued, like Posa's freedom of
thought, as something universal, a right of man. Its right, if it could
occur to us to use the term at all, is Romeo's right.

On this main characteristic of modern tragedy others depend. For
instance, that variety of subject to which reference has just been made
depends on it. For when so much weight is attached to personality,
almost any fatal collision in which a sufficiently striking character is
involved may yield material for tragedy. Naturally, again,
characterisation has become fuller and more subtle, except in dramas
which are more or less an imitation of the antique. The characters in
Greek tragedy are far from being types or personified abstractions, as
those of classical French tragedy tend to be: they are genuine
individuals. But still they are comparatively simple and easy to
understand, and have not the intricacy of the characters in Shakespeare.
These, for the most part, represent simply themselves; and the loss of
that interest which attached to the Greek characters from their
identification with an ethical power, is compensated by an extraordinary
subtlety in their portrayal, and also by their possession of some
peculiar charm or some commanding superiority. Finally, the interest in
personality explains the freedom with which characters more or less
definitely evil are introduced in modern tragedy. Mephistopheles is as
essentially modern as Faust. The passion of Richard or Macbeth is not
only personal, like that of Othello; it is egoistic and anarchic, and
leads to crimes done with a full knowledge of their wickedness; but to
the modern mind the greatness of the personality justifies its
appearance in the position of hero. Such beings as Iago and Goneril,
almost portents of evil, are not indeed made the heroes of tragedies;
but, according to Hegel, they would not have been admitted in Greek
tragedy at all. If Clytemnestra had been cited in objection as a
parallel to Lady Macbeth, he would have replied that Lady Macbeth had
not the faintest ground of complaint against Duncan, while in reading
the _Agamemnon_ we are frequently reminded that Clytemnestra's husband
was the sacrificer of their child. He might have added that Clytemnestra
is herself an example of the necessity, where one of the principal
characters inspires hatred or horror, of increasing the subtlety of the
drawing or adding grandeur to the evil will.

It remains to compare ancient and modern tragedy in regard to the issue
of the conflict. We have seen that Hegel attributes this issue in the
former to the ethical substance or eternal justice, and so accounts for
such reconciliation as we feel to be present even where the end is a
catastrophe. Now, in the catastrophe of modern tragedy, he says, a
certain justice is sometimes felt to be present; but even then it
differs from the antique justice. It is in some cases more 'abstract':
the end pursued by the hero, though it is not egoistic, is still
presented rather as his particular end than as something rightful though
partial; and hence the catastrophe appears as the reaction, not of an
undivided ethical totality, but merely of the universal turning against
a too assertive particular.[5] In cases, again, where the hero (Richard
or Macbeth) openly attacks an ethical power and plunges into evil, we
feel that he meets with justice, and only gets what he deserves; but
then this justice is colder and more 'criminalistic' than that of
ancient tragedy. Thus even when the modern work seems to resemble the
ancient in its issue, the sense of reconciliation is imperfect. And
partly for this reason, partly from the concentration of our interest on
individuality as such, we desire to see in the individual himself some
sort of reconciliation with his fate. What shape this will take depends,
of course, on the story and the character of the hero. It may appear in
a religious form, as his feeling that he is exchanging his earthly being
for an indestructible happiness; or again, in his recognition of the
justice of his fall; or at least he may show us that, in face of the
forces that crush him to death, he maintains untouched the freedom and
strength of his own will.

But there remain, says Hegel, many modern tragedies where we have to
attribute the catastrophe not to any kind of justice, but to unhappy
circumstances and outward accidents. And then we can only feel that the
individual whose merely personal ends are thwarted by mere particular
circumstances and chances, pays the penalty that awaits existence in a
scene of contingency and finitude. Such a feeling cannot rise above
sadness, and, if the hero is a noble soul, it may become the impression
of a dreadful external necessity. This impression can be avoided only
when circumstance and accident are so depicted that they are felt to
coincide with something in the hero himself, so that he is not simply
destroyed by an outward force. So it is with Hamlet. 'This bank and
shoal of time' is too narrow for his soul, and the death that seems to
fall on him by chance is also within him. And so in _Romeo and Juliet_
we feel that the rose of a love so beautiful is too tender to bloom in
the storm-swept valley of its birth. But such a feeling of
reconciliation is still one of pain, an unhappy blessedness.[6] And if
the situation displayed in a drama is of such a kind that we feel the
issue to depend _simply_ on the turn the dramatist may choose to give to
the course of events, we are fully justified in our preference for a
happy ending.

In this last remark (or rather in the pages misrepresented by it) Hegel,
of course, is not criticising Shakespeare. He is objecting to the
destiny-dramas of his own time, and to the fashionable indulgence in
sentimental melancholy. Strongly as he asserted the essential function
of negation throughout the universe, the affirmative power of the
spirit, even in its profoundest divisions, was for him the deepest truth
and the most inspiring theme. And one may see this even in his
references to Shakespeare. He appreciated Shakespeare's representation
of extreme forms of evil, but, even if he was fully satisfied of its
justification, his personal preference lay in another direction, and
while I do not doubt that he thought _Hamlet_ a greater work than
_Iphigenie_, I suspect he loved Goethe's play the best.

Most of those who have thought about this subject will agree that the
ideas I have tried to sketch are interesting and valuable; but they
suggest scores of questions. Alike in the account of tragedy in general,
and in that of the differences between ancient and modern tragedy,
everyone will find statements to doubt and omissions to regret; and
scarcely one of Hegel's interpretations of particular plays will escape
objection. It is impossible for me to touch on more than a few points;
and to the main ideas I owe so much that I am more inclined to dwell on
their truth than to criticise what seem to be defects. But perhaps after
all an attempt to supplement and amend may be the best way of throwing
some part of Hegel's meaning more into relief. And I will begin with the
attempt to supplement.

He seems to be right in laying emphasis on the action and conflict in
tragedy rather than on the suffering and misfortune. No mere suffering
or misfortune, no suffering that does not spring in great part from
human agency, and in some degree from the agency of the sufferer, is
tragic, however pitiful or dreadful it may be. But, sufficient
connection with these agencies being present, misfortune, the fall from
prosperity to adversity, with the suffering attending it, at once
becomes tragic; and in many tragedies it forms a large ingredient, as
does the pity for it in the tragic feeling. Hegel, I think, certainly
takes too little notice of it; and by this omission he also withdraws
attention from something the importance of which he would have admitted
at once; I mean the way in which suffering is borne. Physical pain, to
take an extreme instance, is one thing: Philoctetes, bearing it, is
another. And the noble endurance of pain that rends the heart is the
source of much that is best worth having in tragedy.

Again, there is one particular kind of misfortune _not_ obviously due to
human agency, which undoubtedly may affect us in a tragic way. I mean
that kind which suggests the idea of fate. Tragedies which represent man
as the mere plaything of chance or a blank fate or a malicious fate, are
never really deep: it is satisfactory to see that Maeterlinck, a man of
true genius, has now risen above these ideas. But, where those factors
of tragedy are present which Hegel emphasises, the impression of
something fateful in what we call accident, the impression that the hero
not only invites misfortune by his exceptional stature and exceptional
daring, but is also, if I may so put it, strangely and terribly unlucky,
is in many plays a genuine ingredient in tragic effect. It is so, for
example, in the _Oedipus Tyrannus_. It is so even in dramas like
Shakespeare's, which exemplify the saying that character is destiny.
Hegel's own reference to the prominence of accident in the plot of
_Hamlet_ proves it. Othello would not have become Iago's victim if his
own character had been different; but still, as we say, it is an
extraordinary fatality which makes him the companion of the one man in
the world who is at once able enough, brave enough, and vile enough to
ensnare him. In the _Antigone_ itself, and in the very catastrophe of
it, accident plays its part: we can hardly say that it depends solely on
the characters of Creon and Antigone that the one yields just too late
to save the life of the other. Now, it may be said with truth that
Hegel's whole account of the ultimate power in tragedy is a
rationalisation of the idea of fate, but his remarks on this particular
aspect of fate are neither sufficient nor satisfactory.

His insistence on the need for some element of reconciliation in a
tragic catastrophe, and his remarks on the various forms it assumes,
have the greatest value; but one result of the omissions just noticed is
that he sometimes exaggerates it, and at other times rates it too low.
When he is speaking of the kind of tragedy he most approves, his
language almost suggests that our feeling at the close of the conflict
is, or should be, one of complete reconciliation. This it surely neither
is nor can be. Not to mention the suffering and death we have witnessed,
the very existence of the conflict, even if a supreme ethical power is
felt to be asserted in its close, remains a painful fact, and, in large
measure, a fact not understood. For, though we may be said to see, in
one sense, how the opposition of spiritual powers arises, something in
us, and that the best, still cries out against it. And even the
perception or belief that it must needs be that offences come would not
abolish our feeling that the necessity is terrible, or our pain in the
woe of the guilty and the innocent. Nay, one may conjecture, the feeling
and the pain would not vanish if we fully understood that the conflict
and catastrophe were by a rational necessity involved in the divine and
eternally accomplished purpose of the world. But this exaggeration in
Hegel's language, if partly due to his enthusiasm for the affirmative,
may be mainly, like some other defects, an accident of lecturing. In the
_Philosophy of Religion_, I may add, he plainly states that in the
solution even of tragedies like the _Antigone_ something remains
unresolved (ii. 135).

On the other hand, his treatment of the aspect of reconciliation in
modern tragedy is in several respects insufficient. I will mention only
one. He does not notice that in the conclusion of not a few tragedies
pain is mingled not merely with acquiescence, but with something like
exultation. Is there not such a feeling at the close of _Hamlet_,
_Othello_, and _King Lear_; and that although the end in the last two
cases touches the limit of legitimate pathos? This exultation appears to
be connected with our sense that the hero has never shown himself so
great or noble as in the death which seals his failure. A rush of
passionate admiration, and a glory in the greatness of the soul, mingle
with our grief; and the coming of death, so far from destroying these
feelings, appears to leave them untouched, or even to be entirely in
harmony with them. If in such dramas we may be said to feel that the
ultimate power is no mere fate, but a spiritual power, then we also feel
that the hero was never so near to this power as in the moment when it
required his life.

The last omission I would notice in Hegel's theory is that he underrates
the action in tragedy of what may be called by a rough distinction moral
evil rather than defect. Certainly the part played by evil differs
greatly in different cases, but it is never absent, not even from
tragedies of Hegel's favourite type. If it does not appear in the main
conflict, it appears in its occasion. You may say that, while Iago and
Macbeth have evil purposes, neither the act of Orestes nor the vengeance
of the Furies, neither Antigone's breach of the edict nor even Creon's
insistence on her punishment, springs from evil in them; but the
situation with which Orestes or Antigone has to deal, and so in a sense
the whole tragedy, arises from evil, the murder of Agamemnon, and the
attempt of Polyneices to bring ruin on his native city. In fact, if we
confine the title 'tragedy' to plays ending with a catastrophe, it will
be found difficult to name great tragedies, ancient or modern, in which
evil has not directly or indirectly a prominent part. And its presence
has an important bearing on the effect produced by the catastrophe. On
the one hand, it deepens the sense of painful awe. The question why
affirmative spiritual forces should collide is hard enough; but the
question why, together with them, there should be generated violent evil
and extreme depravity is harder and more painful still. But, on the
other hand, the element of reconciliation in the catastrophe is
strengthened by recognition of the part played by evil in bringing it
about; because our sense that the ultimate power cannot endure the
presence of such evil is implicitly the sense that this power is at
least more closely allied with good. If it rejects the exaggerated
claims of its own isolated powers, that which provokes from it a much
more vehement reaction must be still more alien to its nature. This
feeling is forcibly evoked by Shakespeare's tragedies, and in many Greek
dramas it is directly appealed to by repeated reminders that what is at
work in the disasters is the unsleeping Ate which follows an ancestral
sin. If Aristotle did not in some lost part of the _Poetics_ discuss
ideas like this, he failed to give a complete rationale of Greek

I come lastly to the matter I have most at heart. What I take to be the
central idea in Hegel's theory seems to me to touch the essence of
tragedy. And I will not assert that his own statement of it fails to
cover the whole field of instances. For he does not teach, as he is
often said to do, that tragedy portrays only the conflict of such
ethical powers as the family and the state. He adds to these, as we have
seen, others, such as love and honour, together with various universal
ends; and it may even be maintained that he has provided in his general
statement for those numerous cases where, according to himself, no
substantial or universal ends collide, but the interest is centred on
'personalities.' Nevertheless, when these cases come to be considered
more fully--and, in Hegel's view, they are the most characteristically
modern cases--we are not satisfied. They naturally tend to appear as
declensions from the more ideal ancient form; for how can a personality
which represents only itself claim the interest of one which represents
something universal? And further, they are sometimes described in a
manner which strikes the reader, let us say, of Shakespeare, as both
insufficient and misleading. Without raising, then, unprofitable
questions about the comparative merits of ancient and modern tragedy, I
should like to propose a restatement of Hegel's general principle which
would make it more obviously apply to both.

If we omit all reference to ethical or substantial powers and interests,
what have we left? We have the more general idea--to use again a formula
not Hegel's own--that tragedy portrays a self-division and self-waste of
spirit, or a division of spirit involving conflict and waste. It is
implied in this that on _both_ sides in the conflict there is a
spiritual value. The same idea may be expressed (again, I think, not in
Hegel's own words) by saying that the tragic conflict is one not merely
of good with evil, but also, and more essentially, of good with good.
Only, in saying this, we must be careful to observe that 'good' here
means anything that has spiritual value, not moral goodness alone,[7]
and that 'evil' has a similarly wide sense.

Now this idea of a division of spirit involving conflict and waste
covers the tragedies of ethical and other universal powers, and it
covers much besides. According to it the collision of such powers would
be one kind of tragic collision, but only one. _Why_ are we tragically
moved by the conflict of family and state? Because we set a high value
on family and state. Why then should not the conflict of anything else
that has sufficient value affect us tragically? It does. The value must
be sufficient--a moderate value will not serve; and other
characteristics must be present which need not be considered here. But,
granted these conditions, _any_ spiritual conflict involving spiritual
waste is tragic. And it is just one greatness of modern art that it has
shown the tragic fact in situations of so many and such diverse kinds.
These situations have not the peculiar effectiveness of the conflicts
preferred by Hegel, but they may have an equal effectiveness peculiar to

Let me attempt to test these ideas by choosing a most unfavourable
instance--unfavourable because the play seems at first to represent a
conflict simply of good and evil, and so, according both to Hegel's
statement and the proposed restatement, to be no tragedy at all: I mean
_Macbeth_. What is the conflict here? It will be agreed that it does not
lie between two ethical powers or universal ends, and that, as Hegel
says, the main interest is in personalities. Let us take it first, then,
to lie between Macbeth and the persons opposing him, and let us ask
whether there is not spiritual value or good on both sides--not an equal
amount of good (that is not necessary), but enough good on each to give
the impression of spiritual waste. Is there not such good in Macbeth? It
is not a question merely of moral goodness, but of good. It is not a
question of the use made of good, but of its presence. And such bravery
and skill in war as win the enthusiasm of everyone about him; such an
imagination as few but poets possess; a conscience so vivid that his
deed is to him beforehand a thing of terror, and, once done, condemns
him to that torture of the mind on which he lies in restless ecstasy; a
determination so tremendous and a courage so appalling that, for all
this torment, he never dreams of turning back, but, even when he has
found that life is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,
will tell it out to the end though earth and heaven and hell are leagued
against him; are not these things, in themselves, good, and gloriously
good? Do they not make you, for all your horror, admire Macbeth,
sympathise with his agony, pity him, and see in him the waste of forces
on which you place a spiritual value? It is simply on this account that
he is for you, not the abstraction called a criminal who merely 'gets
what he deserves' (art, like religion, knows no such thing), but a
tragic hero, and that his war with other forces of indubitable spiritual
worth is a tragic war.[8]

It is required by the restatement of Hegel's principle to show that in
the external conflict of persons there is good on both sides. It is not
required that this should be true, secondly, of both sides in the
conflict within the hero's soul; for the hero is only a part of the
tragedy. Nevertheless in almost all cases, if not in all, it is true. It
is obviously so where, as in the hero and also the heroine of the _Cid_,
the contending powers in this internal struggle are love and honour.
Even when love is of a quality less pure and has a destructive force, as
in Shakespeare's Antony, it is clearly true. And it remains true even
where, as in Hamlet and Macbeth, the contest seems to lie, and for most
purposes might conveniently be said to lie, between forces simply good
and simply the reverse. This is not really so, and the tragic effect
depends upon the fact. It depends on our feeling that the elements in
the man's nature are so inextricably blended that the good in him, that
which we admire, instead of simply opposing the evil, reinforces it.
Macbeth's imagination deters him from murder, but it also makes the
vision of a crown irresistibly bright. If he had been less determined,
nay, if his conscience had been less maddening in its insistence that he
had thrown the precious jewel of his soul irretrievably away, he might
have paused after his first deed, might even have repented. Yet his
imagination, his determination, and his conscience were things good.
Hamlet's desire to do his duty is a good thing, but what opposes this
desire is by no means simply evil. It is something to which a
substantial contribution is made by the qualities we most admire in him.
Thus the nature of tragedy, as seen in the external conflict, repeats
itself on each side of this conflict, and everywhere there is a
spiritual value in both the contending forces.

In showing that _Macbeth_, a tragedy as far removed as possible from the
_Antigone_ as understood by Hegel, is still of one nature with it, and
equally answers to the account of tragedy proposed, it has been
necessary to ignore the great difference between the two plays. But when
once the common essence of all tragedies has been determined, their
differences become the interesting subject. They could be distinguished
according to the character of the collisions on which they are built, or
of the main forces which move the principal agents. And it may well be
that, other things being equal (as they never are), the tragedy in which
the hero is, as we say, a good man, is more tragic than that in which he
is, as we say, a bad one. The more spiritual value, the more tragedy in
conflict and waste. The death of Hamlet or Othello is, so far, more
tragic than that of Macbeth, that of Macbeth than that of Richard. Below
Richard stands Iago, a figure still tragic, but unfit for the hero's
part; below him persons like Regan or, in the very depth, Oswald,
characters no longer (at least in the dramatic sense) tragic at all.
Moral evil, that is to say, so greatly diminishes the spiritual value we
ascribe to the personality that a very large amount of good of some kind
is required to bring this personality up to the tragic level, the
destruction of evil as such being in no degree tragic. And again, it may
well be that, other things being equal, the more nearly the contending
forces approach each other in goodness, the more tragic is the conflict;
that the collision is, so far, more tragic in the _Antigone_ than in
_Macbeth_, and Hamlet's internal conflict than his struggle with outward
enemies and obstacles. But it is dangerous to describe tragedy in terms
that even appear to exclude _Macbeth_, or to describe _Macbeth_, even
casually or by implication, in terms which imply that it portrays a
conflict of mere evil with mere good.

The restatement of Hegel's main principle as to the conflict would
involve a similar restatement as to the catastrophe (for we need not
consider here those 'tragedies' which end with a solution). As before,
we must avoid any reference to ethical or universal ends, or to the work
of 'justice' in the catastrophe. We might then simply say that, as the
tragic action portrays a self-division or intestinal conflict of spirit,
so the catastrophe displays the violent annulling of this division or
conflict. But this statement, which might be pretty generally accepted,
would represent only half of Hegel's idea, and perhaps nothing of what
is most characteristic and valuable in it. For the catastrophe (if I may
put his idea in my own way) has two aspects, a negative and an
affirmative, and we have ignored the latter. On the one hand it is the
act of a power immeasurably superior to that of the conflicting agents,
a power which is irresistible and unescapable, and which overbears and
negates whatever is incompatible with it. So far, it may be called, in
relation to the conflicting agents,[9] necessity or fate; and unless a
catastrophe affects us in ways corresponding with this aspect it is not
truly tragic. But then if this were all and this necessity were merely
infinite, characterless, external force, the catastrophe would not only
terrify (as it should), it would also horrify, depress, or at best
provoke indignation or rebellion; and these are not tragic feelings. The
catastrophe, then, must have a second and affirmative aspect, which is
the source of our feelings of reconciliation, whatever form they may
assume. And this will be taken into account if we describe the
catastrophe as the violent self-restitution of the divided spiritual
unity. The necessity which acts and negates in it, that is to say, is
yet of one substance with both the agents. _It_ is divided against
itself in them; they are _its_ conflicting forces; and in restoring its
unity through negation it affirms them, so far as they are compatible
with that unity. The qualification is essential, since the hero, for all
his affinity with that power, is, as the living man we see before us,
not so compatible. He must die, and his union with 'eternal justice'
(which is more than 'justice') must itself be 'eternal' or ideal. But
the qualification does not abolish what it qualifies. This is no
occasion to ask how in particular, and in what various ways in various
works, we feel the effect of this affirmative aspect in the catastrophe.
But it corresponds at least with that strange double impression which is
produced by the hero's death. He dies, and our hearts die with him; and
yet his death matters nothing to us, or we even exult. He is dead; and
he has no more to do with death than the power which killed him and with
which he is one.

I leave it to students of Hegel to ask whether he would have accepted
the criticisms and modifications I have suggested. Naturally I think he
would, as I believe they rest on truth, and am sure he had a habit of
arriving at truth. But in any case their importance is trifling,
compared with that of the theory which they attempt to strengthen and to
which they owe their existence.



Why did Hegel, in his lectures on Aesthetics, so treat of tragedy as to
suggest the idea that the kind of tragedy which he personally preferred
(let us for the sake of brevity call it 'ancient') is also the most
adequate embodiment of the idea of tragedy? This question can be
answered, I think, only conjecturally, but some remarks on it may have
an interest for readers of Hegel (they are too brief to be of use to

One answer might be this. Hegel did not really hold that idea. But he
was lecturing, not writing a book. He thought the principle of tragedy
was more clearly and readily visible in ancient works than in modern;
and so, for purposes of exposition, he emphasised the ancient form. And
this fact, with his personal enthusiasm for certain Greek plays, leads
the reader of the _Aesthetik_ to misconstrue him.

Again, we must remember the facts of Hegel's life. He seems first to
have reflected on tragedy at a time when his enthusiasm for the Greeks
and their 'substantial' ethics was combined, not only with a
contemptuous dislike for much modern 'subjectivity' (this he never
ceased to feel), but with a certain hostility to the individualism and
the un-political character of Christian morality. His first view of
tragedy was thus, in effect, a theory of Aeschylean and Sophoclean
tragedy; and it appears in the early essay on _Naturrecht_ and more
fully in the _Phaenomenologie_. Perhaps, then, when he came to deal with
the subject more generally, he insensibly regarded the ancient form as
the typical form, and tended to treat the modern rather as a
modification of this type than as an alternative embodiment of the
general idea of tragedy. The note in the _Rechtsphilosophie_ (p. 196)
perhaps favours this idea.

But, whether it is correct or no, I believe that the impression produced
by the _Aesthetik_ is a true one, and that Hegel did deliberately
consider the ancient form the more satisfactory. It would not follow, of
course, from that opinion that he thought the advantage was all on one
side, or considered this or that ancient poet greater than this or that
modern, or wished that modern poets had tried to write tragedies of the
Greek type. Tragedy would, in his view, be in somewhat the same position
as Sculpture. Renaissance sculpture, he might say, has qualities in
which it is superior to Greek, and Michael Angelo may have been as great
an artist as Pheidias; but all the same for certain reasons Greek
sculpture is, and probably will remain, sculpture _par excellence_. So,
though not to the same extent, with tragedy.

And such a view would cohere with his general view of Art. For he taught
that, in a sense, Classical Art is Art _par excellence_, and that in
Greece beauty held a position such as it never held before and will not
hold again. To explain in a brief note how this position bears upon his
treatment of modern tragedy would be impossible: but if the student of
Hegel will remember in what sense and on what grounds he held it; that
he describes Beauty as the '_sinnliches_ Scheinen der Idee'; that for
him the new idea that distinguished Christianity and Romantic Art from
Greek religion and Classical Art is that '_unendliche_ Subjektivität'
which implies a negative, though not merely negative, relation to sense;
and that in Romantic Art this idea is not only exhibited in the
religious sphere, but appears in the position given to personal honour,
love, and loyalty, and indirectly in what Hegel calls 'die formelle
Selbstständigkeit der individuellen Besonderheiten,' and in the fuller
admission of common and un-beautiful reality into the realm of
Beauty,--he will see how all this is connected with those
characteristics of modern tragedy which Hegel regards as necessary and
yet as, in part, drawbacks. This connection, which Hegel has no occasion
to work out, will be apparent even from consideration of the
introductory chapter on 'die romantische Kunstform,' _Aesthetik_, ii.

There is one marked difference, I may add, between ancient and modern
tragedy, which should be considered with reference to this subject, and
which Hegel, I think, does not explicitly point out. Speaking roughly,
we may say that the former includes, while the latter tends to ignore,
the accepted religious ideas of the time. The ultimate reason of this
difference, on Hegel's view, would be that the Olympian gods are
themselves the '_sinnliches_ Scheinen der Idee,' and so are in the same
element as Art, while this is, on the whole, not so with modern
religious ideas. One result would be that Greek tragedy represents the
total Greek mind more fully than modern tragedy can the total modern


  [1] See, primarily, _Aesthetik_, iii. 479-581, and especially
    525-581. There is much in _Aesthetik_, i. 219-306, and a good deal in
    ii. 1-243, that bears on the subject. See also the section on Greek
    religion in _Religionsphilosophie_, ii. 96-156, especially 131-6,
    152-6; and the references to the death of Socrates in _Geschichte der
    Philosophie_, ii. 81 ff., especially 102-5. The works so far cited
    all consist of posthumous redactions of lecture-notes. Among works
    published by Hegel himself, the early essay on 'Naturrecht' (_Werke_,
    i. 386 ff.), and _Phaenomenologie d. Geistes_, 320-348, 527-542, deal
    with or bear on _Greek_ tragedy. See also _Rechtsphilosophie_, 196,
    note. There is a note on _Wallenstein_ in _Werke_, xvii. 411-4. These
    references are to the second edition of the works cited, where there
    are two editions.

  [2] His theory of tragedy is connected with his view of the function
    of negation in the universe. No statement therefore which ignores his
    metaphysics and his philosophy of religion can be more than a
    fragmentary account of that theory.

  [3] I say 'might,' because Hegel himself in the _Phaenomenologie_
    uses those very terms 'divine' and 'human law' in reference to the

  [4] See Note at end of lecture.

  [5] This interpretation of Hegel's 'abstract' is more or less
    conjectural and doubtful.

  [6] Hegel's meaning does not fully appear in the sentences here
    condensed. The 'blessedness' comes from the sense of greatness or
    beauty in the characters.

  [7] Hegel himself expressly guards against this misconception.

  [8] The same point may be put thus, in view of that dangerous word
    'personality.' Our interest in Macbeth may be called interest in a
    personality; but it is not an interest in some bare form of
    self-consciousness, nor yet in a person in the legal sense, but in a
    personality full of matter. This matter is not an ethical or
    universal end, but it must in a sense be universal--human nature in a
    particular form--or it would not excite the horror, sympathy, and
    admiration it does excite. Nor, again, could it excite these feelings
    if it were not composed largely of qualities on which we set a high

  [9] In relation to _both_ sides in the conflict (though it may not
    need to negate life in both). For the ultimate agent in the
    catastrophe is emphatically not the finite power of one side. It is
    beyond both, and, at any rate in relation to them, boundless.



'Never forget what, I believe, was observed to you by Coleridge, that
every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great or
original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished;
he must teach the art by which he is to be seen.... My ears are
stone-dead to this idle buzz, and my flesh as insensible as iron to
these petty stings.' These sentences, from a letter written by
Wordsworth to Lady Beaumont in 1807, may remind us of the common
attitude of his reviewers in the dozen years when most of his best
poetry was produced. A century has gone by, and there is now no English
poet, either of that period or of any other, who has been the subject of
criticism more just, more appreciative, we may even say more
reverential. Some of this later criticism might have satisfied even that
sense of wonder, awe, and solemn responsibility with which the poet
himself regarded the operation of the spirit of poetry within him; and
if we desire an interpretation of that spirit, we shall find a really
astonishing number of excellent guides. Coleridge, Hazlitt, Arnold,
Swinburne, Brooke, Myers, Pater, Lowell, Legouis,--how easy to add to
this list of them! Only the other day there came another, Mr. Walter
Raleigh. And that the best book on an English poet that has appeared for
some years should be a study of Wordsworth is just what might have been
expected. The whirligig of time has brought him a full revenge.

I have no idea of attempting in these two lectures another study, or
even an estimate, of Wordsworth. My purpose is much more limited. I
think that in a good deal of current criticism, and also in the notions
of his poetry prevalent among general readers, a disproportionate
emphasis is often laid on certain aspects of his mind and writings. And
I should like to offer some words of warning as to this tendency, and
also some advice as to the spirit in which he should be approached. I
will begin with the advice, though I am tempted at the last moment to
omit it, and simply to refer you to Mr. Raleigh, who throughout his book
has practised what I am about to preach.


There have been greater poets than Wordsworth, but none more original.
He saw new things, or he saw things in a new way. Naturally, this would
have availed us little if his new things had been private fancies, or if
his new perception had been superficial. But that was not so. If it had
been, Wordsworth might have won acceptance more quickly, but he would
not have gained his lasting hold on poetic minds. As it is, those in
whom he creates the taste by which he is relished, those who learn to
love him (and in each generation they are not a few), never let him go.
Their love for him is of the kind that he himself celebrated, a settled
passion, perhaps 'slow to begin,' but 'never ending,' and twined around
the roots of their being. And the reason is that they find his way of
seeing the world, his poetic experience, what Arnold meant by his
'criticism of life,' to be something deep, and therefore something that
will hold. It continues to bring them joy, peace, strength, exaltation.
It does not thin out or break beneath them as they grow older and wiser;
nor does it fail them, much less repel them, in sadness or even in their
sorest need. And yet--to return to our starting-point--it continues to
strike them as original, and something more. It is not like
Shakespeare's myriad-mindedness; it is, for good or evil or both,
peculiar. They can remember, perhaps, the day when first they saw a
cloud somewhat as Wordsworth saw it, or first really understood what
made him write this poem or that; his unique way of seeing and feeling,
though now familiar and beloved, still brings them not only peace,
strength, exaltation, but a 'shock of mild surprise'; and his paradoxes,
long known by heart and found full of truth, still remain paradoxes.

If this is so, the road into Wordsworth's mind must be through his
strangeness and his paradoxes, and not round them. I do not mean that
they are everywhere in his poetry. Much of it, not to speak of
occasional platitudes, is beautiful without being peculiar or difficult;
and some of this may be as valuable as that which is audacious or
strange. But unless we get hold of that, we remain outside Wordsworth's
centre; and, if we have not a most unusual affinity to him, we cannot
get hold of that unless we realise its strangeness, and refuse to blunt
the sharpness of its edge. Consider, for example, two or three of his
statements; the statements of a poet, no doubt, and not of a
philosopher, but still evidently statements expressing, intimating, or
symbolising, what for him was the most vital truth. He said that the
meanest flower that blows could give him thoughts that often lie too
deep for tears. He said, in a poem not less solemn, that Nature was the
soul of all his moral being; and also that she can so influence us that
nothing will be able to disturb our faith that all that we behold is
full of blessings. After making his Wanderer tell the heart-rending tale
of Margaret, he makes him say that the beauty and tranquillity of her
ruined cottage had once so affected him

  That what we feel of sorrow and despair
  From ruin and from change, and all the grief
  The passing shows of Being leave behind,
  Appeared an idle dream, that could not live
  Where meditation was.

He said that this same Wanderer could read in the silent faces of the
clouds unutterable love, and that among the mountains all things for him
breathed immortality. He said to 'Almighty God,'

  But thy most dreaded instrument
  For working out a pure intent
  Is Man arrayed for mutual slaughter;
  Yea, Carnage is thy daughter.

This last, it will be agreed, is a startling statement; but is it a whit
more extraordinary than the others? It is so only if we assume that we
are familiar with thoughts that lie too deep for tears, or if we
translate 'the soul of all my moral being' into 'somehow concordant with
my moral feelings,' or convert 'all that we behold' into 'a good deal
that we behold,' or transform the Wanderer's reading of the silent faces
of the clouds into an argument from 'design.' But this is the road round
Wordsworth's mind, not into it.[2]

Again, with all Wordsworth's best poems, it is essential not to miss the
unique tone of his experience. This doubtless holds good of any true
poet, but not in the same way. With many poems there is little risk of
our failing either to feel what is distinctive of the writer, or to
appropriate what he says. What is characteristic, for example, in
Byron's lines, _On this day I complete my thirty-sixth year_, or in
Shelley's _Stanzas written in dejection near Naples_, cannot escape
discovery, nor is there any difficulty in understanding the mood
expressed. But with Wordsworth, for most readers, this risk is
constantly present in some degree. Take, for instance, one of the most
popular of his lyrics, the poem about the daffodils by the lake. It is
popular partly because it remains a pretty thing even to those who
convert it into something quite undistinctive of Wordsworth. And it is
comparatively easy, too, to perceive and to reproduce in imagination a
good deal that _is_ distinctive; for instance, the feeling of the
sympathy of the waves and the flowers and the breeze in their glee, and
the Wordsworthian 'emotion recollected in tranquillity' expressed in the
lines (written by his wife),

  They flash upon that inward eye
  Which is the bliss of solitude.

But there remains something still more intimately Wordsworthian:

  I wandered lonely as a Cloud
  That floats on high o'er vales and hills.

It is thrust into the reader's face, for these are the opening lines.
But with many readers it passes unheeded, because it is strange and
outside their own experience. And yet it is absolutely essential to the
effect of the poem.

This poem, however, even when thoroughly conventionalised, would remain,
as I said, a pretty thing; and it could scarcely excite derision. Our
point is best illustrated from the pieces by which Wordsworth most
earned ridicule, the ballad poems. They arose almost always from some
incident which, for him, had a novel and arresting character and came on
his mind with a certain shock; and if we do not get back to this through
the poem, we remain outside it. We may, of course, get back to this and
yet consider the poem to be more or less a failure. There is here
therefore room for legitimate differences of opinion. Mr. Swinburne
sees, no doubt, as clearly as Coleridge did, the intention of _The Idiot
Boy_ and _The Thorn_, yet he calls them 'doleful examples of
eccentricity in dullness,' while Coleridge's judgment, though he
criticised both poems, was very different. I believe (if I may venture
into the company of such critics) that I see why Wordsworth wrote _Goody
Blake and Harry Gill_ and the _Anecdote for Fathers_, and yet I doubt if
he has succeeded in either; but a great man, Charles James Fox, selected
the former for special praise, and Matthew Arnold included the latter in
a selection from which he excluded _The Sailor's Mother_.[3] Indeed, of
all the poems at first most ridiculed there is probably not one that has
not been praised by some excellent judge. But they were ridiculed by
men who judged them without attempting first to get inside them. And
this is fatal.

I may bring out the point by referring more fully to one of them. _Alice
Fell_ was beloved by the best critic of the nineteenth century, Charles
Lamb; but the general distaste for it was such that it was excluded 'in
policy' from edition after edition of Wordsworth's Poems; many still who
admire _Lucy Gray_ see nothing to admire in _Alice Fell_; and you may
still hear the question asked, What could be made of a child crying for
the loss of her cloak? And what, I answer, could be made of a man poking
his stick into a pond to find leeches? What sense is there in asking
questions about the subject of a poem, if you first deprive this subject
of all the individuality it possesses in the poem? Let me illustrate
this individuality methodically. A child crying for the loss of her
cloak is one thing, quite another is a child who has an imagination, and
who sees the tattered remnants of her cloak whirling in the wheel-spokes
of a post-chaise fiercely driven by strangers on lonesome roads through
a night of storm in which the moon is drowned. She was alone, and,
having to reach the town she belonged to, she got up behind the chaise,
and her cloak was caught in the wheel. And she is fatherless and
motherless, and her poverty (the poem is called _Alice Fell, or
Poverty_) is so extreme that for the loss of her weather-beaten rag she
does not 'cry'; she weeps loud and bitterly; weeps as if her innocent
heart would break; sits by the stranger who has placed her by his side
and is trying to console her, insensible to all relief; sends forth sob
after sob as if her grief could never, never have an end; checks herself
for a moment to answer a question, and then weeps on as if she had lost
her only friend, and the thought would choke her very heart. It was
_this_ poverty and _this_ grief that Wordsworth described with his
reiterated hammering blows. Is it not pathetic? And to Wordsworth it was
more. To him grief like this is sublime. It is the agony of a soul from
which something is torn away that was made one with its very being. What
does it matter whether the thing is a woman, or a kingdom, or a tattered
cloak? It is the passion that counts. Othello must not agonise for a
cloak, but 'the little orphan Alice Fell' has nothing else to agonise
for. Is all this insignificant? And then--for this poem about a child is
right to the last line--next day the storm and the tragedy have
vanished, and the new cloak is bought, of duffil grey, as warm a cloak
as man can sell; and the child is as pleased as Punch.[4]


I pass on from this subject to another, allied to it, but wider. In
spite of all the excellent criticism of Wordsworth, there has gradually
been formed, I think, in the mind of the general reader a partial and
misleading idea of the poet and his work. This partiality is due to
several causes: for instance, to the fact that personal recollections of
Wordsworth have inevitably been, for the most part, recollections of his
later years; to forgetfulness of his position in the history of
literature, and of the restricted purpose of his first important poems;
and to the insistence of some of his most influential critics, notably
Arnold, on one particular source of his power--an insistence perfectly
just, but accompanied now and then by a lack of sympathy with other
aspects of his poetry. The result is an idea of him which is mainly true
and really characteristic, but yet incomplete, and so, in a sense,
untrue; a picture, I might say, somewhat like Millais' first portrait of
Gladstone, which renders the inspiration, the beauty, the light, but
not the sternness or imperiousness, and not all of the power and fire.
Let me try to express this idea, which, it is needless to say, I do not
attribute, in the shape here given to it, to anyone in particular.

It was not Wordsworth's function to sing, like most great poets, of war,
or love, or tragic passions, or the actions of supernatural beings. His
peculiar function was 'to open out the soul of little and familiar
things,' alike in nature and in human life. His 'poetry is great because
of the extraordinary power with which he feels the joy offered to us in
nature, the joy offered to us in the simple primary affections and
duties.' His field was therefore narrow; and, besides, he was deficient
in romance, his moral sympathies were somewhat limited, and he tended
also to ignore the darker aspects of the world. But in this very
optimism lay his strength. The gulf which for Byron and Shelley yawned
between the real and the ideal, had no existence for him. For him the
ideal was realised, and Utopia a country which he saw every day, and
which, he thought, every man might see who did not strive, nor cry, nor
rebel, but opened his heart in love and thankfulness to sweet influences
as universal and perpetual as the air. The spirit of his poetry was also
that of his life--a life full of strong but peaceful affections; of a
communion with nature in keen but calm and meditative joy; of perfect
devotion to the mission with which he held himself charged; and of a
natural piety gradually assuming a more distinctively religious tone.
Some verses of his own best describe him, and some verses of Matthew
Arnold his influence on his readers. These are his own words (from _A
Poet's Epitaph_):

  But who is he, with modest looks,
  And clad in homely russet brown?
  He murmurs near the running brooks
  A music sweeter than their own.

  He is retired as noontide dew,
  Or fountain in a noon-day grove;
  And you must love him, ere to you
  He will seem worthy of your love.

  The outward shows of sky and earth,
  Of hill and valley, he has viewed;
  And impulses of deeper birth
  Have come to him in solitude.

  In common things that round us lie
  Some random truths he can impart,
  --The harvest of a quiet eye
  That broods and sleeps on his own heart.

  But he is weak; both man and boy,
  Hath been an idler in the land:
  Contented if he might enjoy
  The things which others understand.

And these are the words from Arnold's _Memorial Verses_:

  He too upon a wintry clime
  Had fallen--on this iron time
  Of doubts, disputes, distractions, fears
  He found us when the age had bound
  Our souls in its benumbing round--
  He spoke, and loosed our heart in tears.
  He laid us as we lay at birth
  On the cool flowery lap of earth;
  Smiles broke from us and we had ease.
  The hills were round us, and the breeze
  Went o'er the sunlit fields again;
  Our foreheads felt the wind and rain.
  Our youth returned: for there was shed
  On spirits that had long been dead,
  Spirits dried up and closely furled,
  The freshness of the early world.

  Ah, since dark days still bring to light
  Man's prudence and man's fiery might,
  Time may restore us in his course
  Goethe's sage mind and Byron's force;
  But where will Europe's latter hour
  Again find Wordsworth's healing power?
  Others will teach us how to dare,
  And against fear our breast to steel;
  Others will strengthen us to bear--
  But who, ah who, will make us feel?
  The cloud of mortal destiny,
  Others will front it fearlessly--
  But who, like him, will put it by?

  Keep fresh the grass upon his grave,
  O Rotha! with thy living wave.
  Sing him thy best! for few or none
  Hears thy voice right, now he is gone.

Those last words are enough to disarm dissent. No, that voice will never
again be heard quite right now Wordsworth is gone. Nor is it, for the
most part, dissent that I wish to express. The picture we have been
looking at, though we may question the accuracy of this line or that,
seems to me, I repeat, substantially true. But is there nothing missing?
Consider this picture, and refuse to go beyond it, and then ask if it
accounts for all that is most characteristic in Wordsworth. How did the
man in the picture ever come to write the Immortality _Ode_, or
_Yew-trees_, or why should he say,

  For I must tread on shadowy ground, must sink
  Deep--and, aloft ascending, breathe in worlds
  To which the heaven of heavens is but a veil?

How, again, could he say that Carnage is God's daughter, or write the
_Sonnets dedicated to National Liberty and Independence_, or the tract
on the Convention of Cintra? Can it be true of him that many of his
best-known poems of human life--perhaps the majority--deal with painful
subjects, and not a few with extreme suffering? Should we expect him to
make an 'idol' of Milton, or to show a 'strong predilection for such
geniuses as Dante and Michael Angelo'? He might easily be 'reserved,'
but is it not surprising to find him described as haughty, prouder than
Lucifer, inhumanly arrogant? Why should his forehead have been marked by
the 'severe worn pressure of thought,' or his eyes have looked so
'supernatural ... like fires, half burning, half smouldering, with a
sort of acrid fixture of regard, and seated at the further end of two
caverns'? In all this there need be nothing inconsistent with the
picture we have been looking at; but that picture fails to suggest it.
In that way the likeness it presents is only partial, and I propose to
emphasise some of the traits which it omits or marks too faintly.[5]

And first as to the restriction of Wordsworth's field. Certainly his
field, as compared with that of some poets, is narrow; but to describe
it as confined to external nature and peasant life, or to little and
familiar things, would be absurdly untrue, as a mere glance at his Table
of Contents suffices to show. And its actual restriction was not due to
any false theory, nor mainly to any narrowness of outlook. It was due,
apart from limitation of endowment, on the one hand to that diminution
of poetic energy which in Wordsworth began comparatively soon, and on
the other, especially in his best days, to deliberate choice; and we
must not assume without question that he was inherently incapable of
doing either what he would not do, or what, in his last five and thirty
years, he could no longer do.

There is no reason to suppose that Wordsworth undervalued or objected to
the subjects of such poets as Homer and Virgil, Chaucer and Spenser,
Shakespeare and Milton. And when, after writing his part of the _Lyrical
Ballads_, he returned from Germany and settled in the Lake Country, the
subjects he himself revolved for a great poem were not concerned with
rural life or humble persons. Some old 'romantic' British theme, left
unsung by Milton; some tale of Chivalry, dire enchantments, war-like
feats; vanquished Mithridates passing north and becoming Odin; the
fortunes of the followers of Sertorius; de Gourgues' journey of
vengeance to Florida; Gustavus; Wallace and his exploits in the war for
his country's independence,--these are the subjects he names first. And,
though his 'last and favourite aspiration' was towards

               Some philosophic song
  Of Truth that cherishes our daily life,

--that song which was never completed--yet, some ten years later, he
still hoped, when it should be finished, to write an epic. Whether at
any time he was fitted for the task or no, he wished to undertake it;
and his addiction, by no means entire even in his earlier days, to
little and familiar things was due, not at all to an opinion that they
are the only right subjects or the best, nor merely to a natural
predilection for them, but to the belief that a particular kind of
poetry was wanted at that time to counteract its special evils. There
prevailed, he thought, a 'degrading thirst after outrageous
stimulation.' The violent excitement of public events, and 'the
increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their
occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the
rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies,' had induced a
torpor of mind which only yielded to gross and sensational effects--such
effects as were produced by 'frantic novels,' of the Radcliffe or Monk
Lewis type, full of mysterious criminals, gloomy castles and terrifying
spectres. He wanted to oppose to this tendency one as far removed from
it as possible; to write a poetry even _more_ alien to it than
Shakespeare's tragedies or Spenser's stories of knights and dragons; to
show men that wonder and beauty can be felt, and the heart be moved,
even when the rate of the pulse is perfectly normal. In the same way, he
grieved Coleridge by refusing to interest himself in the Somersetshire
fairies, and declared that he desired for his scene no planet but the
earth, and no region of the earth stranger than England and the lowliest
ways in England. And, being by no means merely a gentle shepherd, but a
born fighter who was easily provoked and could swing his crook with
uncommon force, he asserted his convictions defiantly and carried them
out to extremes. And so in later days, after he had somewhat narrowed,
when in the Seventh Book of the _Excursion_ he made the Pastor protest
that poetry was not wanted to multiply and aggravate the din of war, or
to propagate the pangs and turbulence of passionate love, he did this
perhaps because the world which would not listen to him[6] was
enraptured by _Marmion_ and the earlier poems of Byron.

How great Wordsworth's success might have been in fields which he
deliberately avoided, it is perhaps idle to conjecture. I do not suppose
it would have been very great, but I see no reason to believe that he
would have failed. With regard, for instance, to love, one cannot read
without a smile his reported statement that, had he been a writer of
love-poetry, it would have been natural to him to write it with a degree
of warmth which could hardly have been approved by his principles, and
which might have been undesirable for the reader. But one may smile at
his naïveté without disbelieving his statement. And, in fact, Wordsworth
neither wholly avoided the subject nor failed when he touched it. The
poems about Lucy are not poems of passion, in the usual sense, but they
surely are love-poems. The verses _'Tis said that some have died for
love_, excluded from Arnold's selection but praised by Ruskin, are
poignant enough. And the following lines from _Vaudracour and Julia_
make one wonder how this could be to Arnold the only poem of
Wordsworth's that he could not read with pleasure:

  Arabian fiction never filled the world
  With half the wonders that were wrought for him.
  Earth breathed in one great presence of the spring;
  Life turned the meanest of her implements,
  Before his eyes, to price above all gold;
  The house she dwelt in was a sainted shrine;
  Her chamber-window did surpass in glory
  The portals of the dawn; all paradise
  Could, by the simple opening of a door,
  Let itself in upon him:--pathways, walks,
  Swarmed with enchantment, till his spirit sank,
  Surcharged, within him, overblest to move
  Beneath a sun that wakes a weary world
  To its dull round of ordinary cares;
  A man too happy for mortality!

As a whole, _Vaudracour and Julia_ is a failure, but these lines haunt
my memory, and I cannot think them a poor description of that which they
profess to describe. This is not precisely 'passion,' and, I admit, they
do not prove Wordsworth's capacity to deal with passion. The main reason
for doubting whether, if he had made the attempt, he would have reached
his highest level, is that, so far as we can see, he did not strongly
feel--perhaps hardly felt at all--that the _passion_ of love is a way
into the Infinite; and a thing must be no less than this to Wordsworth
if it is to rouse all his power. Byron, it seemed to him, had

                                     dared to take
  Life's rule from passion craved for passion's sake;[7]

and he utterly repudiated that. 'The immortal mind craves objects that

Then there is that 'romance' which Wordsworth abjured. In using the word
I am employing the familiar distinction between two tendencies of the
Romantic Revival, one called naturalistic and one called, in a more
special sense, romantic, and signalised, among other ways, by a love of
the marvellous, the supernatural, the exotic, the worlds of mythology.
It is a just and necessary distinction: the _Ancient Mariner_ and
_Michael_ are very dissimilar. But, like most distinctions of the kind,
it becomes misleading when it is roughly handled or pushed into an
antithesis; and it would be easy to show that these two tendencies
exclude one another only in their inferior examples, and that the better
the example of either, the more it shows its community with the other.
There is not a great deal of truth to nature in _Lalla Rookh_, but there
is plenty in the _Ancient Mariner_: in certain poems of Crabbe there is
little romance, but there is no want of it in _Sir Eustace Grey_ or in
_Peter Grimes_. Taking the distinction, however, as we find it, and
assuming, as I do, that it lay beyond Wordsworth's power to write an
_Ancient Mariner_, or to tell us of

         magic casements opening on the foam
  Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn,

we are not therefore to conclude that he was by nature deficient in
romance and incapable of writing well what he refused to write. The
indications are quite contrary. Not to speak here of his own peculiar
dealings with the supernatural, his vehement defence (in the _Prelude_)
of fairy-tales as food for the young is only one of many passages which
show that in his youth he lived in a world not haunted only by the
supernatural powers of nature. He delighted in 'Arabian fiction.' The
'Arabian sands' (_Solitary Reaper_) had the same glamour for him as for
others. His dream of the Arab and the two books (_Prelude_, v.) has a
very curious romantic effect, though it is not romance _in excelsis_,
like _Kubla Khan_. His love of Spenser; his very description of him,

  Sweet Spenser, moving through his clouded heaven
  With the moon's beauty and the moon's soft pace;

the very lines, so characteristic of his habitual attitude, in which he
praises the Osmunda fern as

       lovelier, in its own retired abode
  On Grasmere's beach, than Naiad by the side
  Of Grecian brook, or Lady of the Mere
  Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance,[8]

--these, and a score of other passages, all point the same way. He would
not carry his readers to the East, like Southey and Moore and Byron,
nor, like Coleridge, towards the South Pole; but when it suited his
purpose, as in _Ruth_, he could write well enough of un-English scenery:

  He told of the magnolia, spread
  High as a cloud, high overhead,
  The cypress and her spire;
  Of flowers that with one scarlet gleam
  Cover a hundred leagues, and seem
  To set the hills on fire.

He would not choose Endymion or Hyperion for a subject, for he was
determined to speak of what Englishmen may see every day; but what he
wrote of Greek religion in the _Excursion_ is full of imagination and
brought inspiration to Keats, and the most famous expression in English
of that longing for the perished glory of Greek myth which appears in
much Romantic poetry came from Wordsworth's pen:

             Great God! I'd rather be
  A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
  So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
  Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
  Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
  Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

As for war, Wordsworth neither strongly felt, nor at all approved, that
elementary love of fighting which, together with much nobler things, is
gratified by some great poetry. And assuredly he could not, even if he
would, have rivalled the last canto of _Marmion_, nor even the best
passages in the _Siege of Corinth_. But he is not to be judged by his
intentional failures. The martial parts of the _White Doe of Rylstone_
are, with few exceptions, uninteresting, if not painfully tame. The
former at least they were meant to be. The _Lay of the Last Minstrel_
was on every tongue. The modest poet was as stiff-necked a person as
ever walked the earth; and he was determined that no reader of his poem
who missed its spiritual interest should be interested in anything else.
Probably he overshot his mark. For readers who could understand him the
effect he aimed at would not have been weakened by contrast with an
outward action narrated with more spirit and sympathy. But, however that
may be, he did what he meant to do. In the _Song at the Feast of
Brougham Castle_, again, the war-like close of the Song was not written
for its own sake. It was designed with a view to the transition to the
longer metre, the thought of peace in communion with nature, and the
wonderful stanza 'Love had he found in huts where poor men lie.' But,
for the effect of this transition, it was necessary for Wordsworth to
put his heart into the martial close of the Song; and surely it has
plenty of animation and glory. Its author need not have shrunk from the
subject of war if he had wished to handle it _con amore_.

The poet whose portrait we drew when we began might have been the author
of the _White Doe_, and perhaps of _Brougham Castle_, and possibly of
the _Happy Warrior_. He could no more have composed the _Poems dedicated
to National Independence and Liberty_ than the political sonnets of
Milton. And yet Wordsworth wrote nothing more characteristic than these
Poems, which I am not going to praise, since Mr. Swinburne's praise of
them is, to my mind, not less just than eloquent. They are
characteristic in many ways. The later are, on the whole, decidedly
inferior to the earlier. Even in this little series, which occupies the
first fifteen years of the century, the decline of Wordsworth's poetic
power and the increasing use of theological ideas are clearly visible.
The Odes, again, are much inferior to the majority of the Sonnets. And
this too is characteristic. The entire success of the _Ode to Duty_ is
exceptional, and it is connected with the fact that the poem is written
in regular stanzas of a simple metrical scheme. The irregular Odes are
never thus successful. Wordsworth could not command the tone of
sustained rapture, and where his metrical form is irregular his ear is
uncertain. The Immortality Ode, like _King Lear_, is its author's
greatest product, but not his best piece of work. The Odes among the
_Poems_ which we are now considering are declamatory, even violent, and
yet they stir comparatively little emotion, and they do not sing. The
sense of massive passion, concentrated, and repressing the utterance it
permits itself, is that which most moves us in his political verse. And
the Sonnet suited this.

The patriotism of these _Poems_ is equally characteristic. It
illustrates Wordsworth's total rejection of the Godwinian ideas in which
he had once in vain sought refuge, and his belief in the necessity and
sanctity of forms of association arising from natural kinship. It is
composed, we may say, of two elements. The first is the simple love of
country raised to a high pitch, the love of 'a lover or a child'; the
love that makes it for some men a miserable doom to be forced to live in
a foreign land, and that makes them feel their country's virtues and
faults, and joys and sorrows, like those of the persons dearest to them.
We talk as if this love were common. It is very far from common; but
Wordsworth felt it.[9] The other element in his patriotism I must call
by the dreaded name of 'moral,' a name which Wordsworth did not dread,
because it meant for him nothing stereotyped or narrow. His country is
to him the representative of freedom, left, as he writes in 1803,

                     the only light
  Of Liberty that yet remains on earth.

This Liberty is, first, national independence; and that requires
military power, the maintenance of which is a primary moral duty.[10]
But neither military power nor even national independence is of value in
itself; and neither could be long maintained without that which gives
value to both. This is the freedom of the soul, plain living and high
thinking, indifference to the externals of mere rank or wealth or power,
domestic affections not crippled (as they may be) by poverty. Wordsworth
fears for his country only when he doubts whether this inward freedom is
not failing;[11] but he seldom fears for long. England, in the war
against Napoleon, is to him almost what the England of the Long
Parliament and the Commonwealth was to Milton,--an elect people, the
chosen agent of God's purpose on the earth. His ideal of life, unlike
Milton's in the stress he lays on the domestic affections and the
influence of nature, is otherwise of the same Stoical cast. His country
is to him, as to Milton,

  An old and haughty nation, proud in arms.[12]

And his own pride in it is, like Milton's, in the highest degree
haughty. It would be calumnious to say that it recalls the description
of the English given by the Irishman Goldsmith,

  Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
  I see the lords of human kind pass by;

for Wordsworth had not the faintest wish to see his countrymen the lords
of human kind, nor is there anything vulgar in his patriotism; but there
_is_ pride in his port and defiance in his eye. And, lastly, the
character of his ideal and of this national pride, with him as with
Milton, is connected with personal traits,--impatience of constraint,
severity, a certain austere passion, an inclination of imagination to
the sublime.


These personal traits, though quite compatible with the portrait on
which I am commenting, are not visible in it. Nor are others, which
belong especially, but not exclusively, to the younger Wordsworth. He
had a spirit so vehement and affections so violent (it is his sister's
word) as to inspire alarm for him. If he had been acquainted with that
excuse for impotent idleness and selfishness, 'the artistic
temperament,' he might have made out a good claim to it. He was from the
beginning self-willed, and for a long time he appeared aimless. He would
not work at the studies of his university: he preferred to imagine a
university in which he _would_ work. He had a passion for wandering
which was restrained only by want of means, and which opened his heart
to every pedlar or tramp whom he met. After leaving Cambridge he would
not fix on a profession. He remained, to the displeasure of his
relatives, an idler in the land or out of it; and as soon as he had £900
of capital left to him he determined _not_ to have a profession.
Sometimes he worked hard at his poetry, even heroically hard; but he did
not work methodically, and often he wrote nothing for weeks, but loafed
and walked and enjoyed himself. He was not blind like Milton, but the
act of writing was physically disagreeable to him, and he made his
woman-kind write to his dictation. He would not conform to rules, or
attend to the dinner-bell, or go to church (he made up for this neglect
later). 'He wrote his _Ode to Duty_,' said one of his friends, 'and then
he had done with that matter.' He never 'tired' of his 'unchartered
freedom.' In age, if he wanted to go out, whatever the hour and whatever
the weather, he must have his way. 'In vain one reminded him that a
letter needed an answer or that the storm would soon be over. It was
very necessary for him to do what he liked.' If the poetic fit was on
him he could attend to nothing else. He was passionately fond of his
children, but, when the serious illness of one of them coincided with an
onset of inspiration, it was impossible to rouse him to a sense of
danger. At such times he was as completely possessed as any wild poet
who ruins the happiness of everyone dependent on him. But he has himself
described the tyranny of inspiration, and the reaction after it, in his
_Stanzas written in Thomson's Castle of Indolence_. It is almost beyond
doubt, I think, that the first portrait there is that of himself; and
though it is idealised it is probably quite as accurate as the portrait
in _A Poet's Epitaph_. In the _Prelude_ he tells us that, though he
rarely at Cambridge betrayed by gestures or looks his feelings about
nature, yet, when he did so, some of his companions said he was mad.
Hazlitt, describing his manner of reading his own poetry in much later
years, says, 'It is clear that he is either mad or inspired.'

Wordsworth's lawlessness was of the innocuous kind, but it is a
superstition to suppose that he was a disgustingly well-regulated
person. It is scarcely less unjust to describe his poetic sympathies as
narrow and his poetic morality as puritanical. The former, of course,
had nothing like the range of minds like Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or
Browning, or the great novelists. Wordsworth's want of humour would by
itself have made that impossible; and, in addition, though by no means
wanting in psychological curiosity, he was not much interested in
complex natures. Simple souls, and especially simple souls that are also
deep, were the natures that attracted him: and in the same way the
passions he loved to depict are not those that storm themselves out or
rush to a catastrophe, but those that hold the soul in a vice for long
years. But, these limitations admitted, it will not be found by anyone
who reviews the characters in the smaller poems and the _Excursion_
(especially Book vii.), that Wordsworth's poetic sympathies are narrow.
They are wider than those of any imaginative writer of his time and
country except Scott and perhaps Crabbe.

Nor is his morality narrow. It is serious, but it is human and kindly
and not in the least ascetic. 'It is the privilege of poetic genius,' he
says in his defence of Burns, 'to catch a spirit of pleasure wherever it
can be found--in the walks of nature and in the business of men. The
poet, trusting to primary instincts, luxuriates among the felicities of
love and wine, and is enraptured while he describes the fairer aspects
of war: nor does he shrink from the company of the passion of love
though immoderate--from convivial pleasure though intemperate--nor from
the presence of war though savage and recognised as the handmaid of
desolation. Who but some impenetrable dunce or narrow-minded puritan in
works of art ever read without delight the picture which Burns has drawn
of the convivial exaltation of the rustic adventurer Tam o' Shanter?'
There is no want of sympathy in Wordsworth's own picture of the
'convivial exaltation' of his Waggoner. It is true that he himself never
describes a scene in which, to quote his astonishing phrase, 'conjugal
fidelity archly bends to the service of general benevolence,' and that
his treatment of sexual passion is always grave and, in a true sense,
moral; but it is plain and manly and perfectly free from timidity or
monkishness. It would really be easier to make out against Wordsworth a
charge of excessive tolerance than a charge of excessive rigidity. A
beggar is the sort of person he likes. It is all very well for him to
say that he likes the Old Cumberland Beggar because, by making people
give, he keeps love alive in their hearts. It may be so--he says so, and
I always believe him. But that was not his only reason; and it is clear
to me that, when he met the tall gipsy-beggar, he gave her money because
she was beautiful and queenly, and that he delighted in her two lying
boys because of their gaiety and joy in life. Neither has he the least
objection to a thief. The grandfather and grandson who go pilfering
together, two infants separated by ninety years, meet with nothing but
smiles from him. The Farmer of Tilsbury Vale, after thirty years of
careless hospitality, found himself ruined. He borrowed money, spent
some of it in paying a few of his other debts, and absconded to London.

  But this he did all in the _ease_ of his heart.

And for this reason, and because in London he keeps the ease of his
heart and continues to love the country, Wordsworth dismisses him with a
blessing. What he cannot bear is torpor. He passes a knot of gipsies in
the morning; and, passing them again after his twelve hours of joyful
rambling, he finds them just as they were, sunk in sloth; and he breaks

           Oh, better wrong and strife,
  Better vain deeds and evil than such life.

He changed this shocking exclamation later, but it represents his
original feeling, and he might have trusted that only an 'impenetrable
dunce or narrow-minded puritan' would misunderstand him.[13]

Wordsworth's morality is of one piece with his optimism and with his
determination to seize and exhibit in everything the element of good.
But this is a subject far too large for treatment here, and I can refer
to it only in the most summary way. What Arnold precisely meant when he
said that Wordsworth 'put by' the cloud of human destiny I am not sure.
That Wordsworth saw this cloud and looked at it steadily is beyond all
question. I am not building on such famous lines as

  The still sad music of humanity,


          the fierce confederate storm
  Of Sorrow, barricadoed evermore
  Within the walls of cities;


  Amid the groves, under the shadowy hills,
  The generations are prepared; the pangs,
  The internal pangs, are ready; the dread strife
  Of poor humanity's afflicted will
  Struggling in vain with ruthless destiny;

for, although such quotations could be multiplied, isolated expressions,
even when not dramatic,[14] would prove little. But I repeat the remark
already made, that if we review the subjects of many of Wordsworth's
famous poems on human life,--the subjects, for example, of _The Thorn_,
_The Sailor's Mother_, _Ruth_, _The Brothers_, _Michael_, _The
Affliction of Margaret_, _The White Doe of Rylstone_, the story of
Margaret in _Excursion_, i., half the stories told in _Excursion_, vi.
and vii.--we find ourselves in the presence of poverty, crime, insanity,
ruined innocence, torturing hopes doomed to extinction, solitary
anguish, even despair. Ignore the manner in which Wordsworth treated
his subjects, and you will have to say that his world, so far as
humanity is concerned, is a dark world,--at least as dark as that of
Byron. Unquestionably then he saw the cloud of human destiny, and he did
not avert his eyes from it. Nor did he pretend to understand its
darkness. The world was to him in the end 'this unintelligible world,'
and the only 'adequate support for the calamities of mortal life' was
faith.[15] But he was profoundly impressed, through the experience of
his own years of crisis, alike by the dangers of despondency, and by the
superficiality of the views which it engenders. It was for him (and
here, as in other points, he shows his natural affinity to Spinoza) a
condition in which the soul, concentrated on its own suffering, for that
very reason loses hold both of its own being and of the reality of which
it forms a part. His experience also made it impossible for him to doubt
that what he grasped

  At times when most existence with herself
  Is satisfied,

--and these are the times when existence is most united in love with
other existence--was, in a special sense or degree, the truth, and
therefore that the evils which we suffer, deplore, or condemn, cannot
really be what they seem to us when we merely suffer, deplore, or
condemn them. He set himself to _see_ this, as far as he could, and to
show it. He sang of pleasure, joy, glee, blitheness, love, wherever in
nature or humanity they assert their indisputable power; and turning to
pain and wrong, and gazing at them steadfastly, and setting himself to
present the facts with a quiet but unsparing truthfulness, he yet
endeavoured to show what he had seen, that sometimes pain and wrong are
the conditions of a happiness and good which without them could not
have been, that no limit can be set to the power of the soul to
transmute them into its own substance, and that, in suffering and even
in misery, there may still be such a strength as fills us with awe or
with glory. He did not pretend, I repeat, that what he saw sufficed to
solve the riddle of the painful earth. 'Our being rests' on 'dark
foundations,' and 'our haughty life is crowned with darkness.' But still
what he showed was what he _saw_, and he saw it in the cloud of human
destiny. We are not here concerned with his faith in the sun behind that
cloud; my purpose is only to insist that he 'fronted' it 'fearlessly.'


After quoting the lines from _A Poet's Epitaph_, and Arnold's lines on
Wordsworth, I asked how the man described in them ever came to write the
_Ode_ on Immortality, or _Yew-trees_, or why he should say,

  For I must tread on shadowy ground, must sink
  Deep--and, aloft ascending, breathe in worlds
  To which the heaven of heavens is but a veil.

The aspect of Wordsworth's poetry which answers this question forms my
last subject.

We may recall this aspect in more than one way. First, not a little of
Wordsworth's poetry either approaches or actually enters the province of
the sublime. His strongest natural inclination tended there. He himself
speaks of his temperament as 'stern,' and tells us that

          to the very going out of youth
  [He] too exclusively esteemed _that_ love,
  And sought _that_ beauty, which, as Milton says,
  Hath terror in it.

This disposition is easily traced in the imaginative impressions of his
childhood as he describes them in the _Prelude_. His fixed habit of

       with feelings of fraternal love
  Upon the unassuming things that hold
  A silent station in this beauteous world,

was only formed, it would seem, under his sister's influence, after his
recovery from the crisis that followed the ruin of his towering hopes in
the French Revolution. It was a part of his endeavour to find something
of the distant ideal in life's familiar face. And though this attitude
of sympathy and humility did become habitual, the first bent towards
grandeur, austerity, sublimity, retained its force. It is evident in the
political poems, and in all those pictures of life which depict the
unconquerable power of affection, passion, resolution, patience, or
faith. It inspires much of his greatest poetry of Nature. It emerges
occasionally with a strange and thrilling effect in the serene,
gracious, but sometimes stagnant atmosphere of the later poems,--for the
last time, perhaps, in that magnificent stanza of the _Extempore
Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg_ (1835),

  Like clouds that rake the mountain-summits,
    Or waves that own no curbing hand,
  How fast has brother followed brother
    From sunshine to the sunless land!

Wordsworth is indisputably the most sublime of our poets since Milton.

We may put the matter, secondly, thus. However much Wordsworth was the
poet of small and humble things, and the poet who saw his ideal
realised, not in Utopia, but here and now before his eyes, he was, quite
as much, what some would call a mystic. He saw everything in the light
of 'the visionary power.' He was, for himself,

  The transitory being that beheld
  This Vision.

He apprehended all things, natural or human, as the expression of
something which, while manifested in them, immeasurably transcends them.
And nothing can be more intensely Wordsworthian than the poems and
passages most marked by this visionary power and most directly issuing
from this apprehension. The bearing of these statements on Wordsworth's
inclination to sublimity will be obvious at a glance.

Now we may prefer the Wordsworth of the daffodils to the Wordsworth of
the yew-trees, and we may even believe the poet's mysticism to be
moonshine; but it is certain that to neglect or throw into the shade
this aspect of his poetry is neither to take Wordsworth as he really was
nor to judge his poetry truly, since this aspect appears in much of it
that we cannot deny to be first-rate. Yet there is, I think, and has
been for some time, a tendency to this mistake. It is exemplified in
Arnold's Introduction and has been increased by it, and it is visible in
some degree even in Pater's essay. Arnold wished to make Wordsworth more
popular; and so he was tempted to represent Wordsworth's poetry as much
more simple and unambitious than it really was, and as much more easily
apprehended than it ever can be. He was also annoyed by attempts to
formulate a systematic Wordsworthian philosophy; partly, doubtless,
because he knew that, however great the philosophical value of a poet's
ideas may be, it cannot by itself determine the value of his poetry; but
partly also because, having himself but little turn for philosophy, he
was disposed to regard it as illusory; and further because, even in the
poetic sphere, he was somewhat deficient in that kind of imagination
which is allied to metaphysical thought. This is one reason of his
curious failure to appreciate Shelley, and of the evident irritation
which Shelley produced in him. And it is also one reason why, both in
his _Memorial Verses_ and in the introduction to his selection from
Wordsworth, he either ignores or depreciates that aspect of the poetry
with which we are just now concerned. It is not true, we must bluntly
say, that the cause of the greatness of this poetry 'is simple and may
be told quite simply.' It is true, and it is admirably said, that this
poetry 'is great because of the extraordinary power with which
Wordsworth feels the joy offered to us in nature, the joy offered to us
in the simple primary affections and duties.' But this is only half the

Pater's essay is not thus one-sided. It is, to my mind, an extremely
fine piece of criticism. Yet the tendency to which I am objecting does
appear in it. Pater says, for example, that Wordsworth is the poet of
nature, 'and of nature, after all, in her modesty. The English Lake
country has, of course, its grandeurs. But the peculiar function of
Wordsworth's genius, as carrying in it a power to open out the soul of
apparently little and familiar things, would have found its true test
had he become the poet of Surrey, say! and the prophet of its life.'
This last sentence is, in one sense, doubtless true. The 'function'
referred to could have been exercised in Surrey, and was exercised in
Dorset and Somerset, as well as in the Lake country. And this function
was a 'peculiar function of Wordsworth's genius.' But that it was _the_
peculiar function of his genius, or more peculiar than that other
function which forms our present subject, I venture to deny; and for the
full exercise of this latter function, it is hardly hazardous to assert,
Wordsworth's childhood in a mountain district, and his subsequent
residence there, were indispensable. This will be doubted for a moment,
I believe, only by those readers (and they are not a few) who ignore the
_Prelude_ and the _Excursion_. But the _Prelude_ and the _Excursion_,
though there are dull pages in both, contain much of Wordsworth's best
and most characteristic poetry. And even in a selection like Arnold's,
which, perhaps wisely, makes hardly any use of them, many famous poems
will be found which deal with nature but not with nature 'in her

My main object was to insist that the 'mystic,' 'visionary,' 'sublime,'
aspect of Wordsworth's poetry must not be slighted. I wish to add a few
remarks on it, but to consider it fully would carry us far beyond our
bounds; and, even if I attempted the task, I should not formulate its
results in a body of doctrines. Such a formulation is useful, and I see
no objection to it in principle, as one method of exploring Wordsworth's
mind with a view to the better apprehension of his poetry. But the
method has its dangers, and it is another matter to put forward the
results as philosophically adequate, or to take the position that
'Wordsworth was first and foremost a philosophical thinker, a man whose
intention and purpose it was to think out for himself, faithfully and
seriously, the questions concerning man and nature and human life' (Dean
Church). If this were true, he should have given himself to philosophy
and not to poetry; and there is no reason to think that he would have
been eminently successful. Nobody ever was so who was not forced by a
special natural power and an imperious impulsion into the business of
'thinking out,' and who did not develope this power by years of arduous
discipline. Wordsworth does not show it in any marked degree; and,
though he reflected deeply and acutely, he was without philosophical
training. His poetry is immensely interesting as an imaginative
expression of the same mind which, in his day, produced in Germany great
philosophies. His poetic experience, his intuitions, his single
thoughts, even his large views, correspond in a striking way, sometimes
in a startling way, with ideas methodically developed by Kant,
Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer. They remain admirable material for
philosophy; and a philosophy which found itself driven to treat them as
moonshine would probably be a very poor affair. But they are like the
experience and the utterances of men of religious genius: great truths
are enshrined in them, but generally the shrine would have to be broken
to liberate these truths in a form which would satisfy the desire to
understand. To claim for them the power to satisfy that desire is an
error, and it tempts those in whom that desire is predominant to treat
them as mere beautiful illusions.

Setting aside, then, any questions as to the ultimate import of the
'mystic' strain in Wordsworth's poetry, I intend only to call attention
to certain traits in the kind of poetic experience which exhibits it
most plainly. And we may observe at once that in this there is always
traceable a certain hostility to 'sense.' I do not mean that hostility
which is present in _all_ poetic experience, and of which Wordsworth was
very distinctly aware. The regular action of the senses on their
customary material produces, in his view, a 'tyranny' over the soul. It
helps to construct that every-day picture of the world, of sensible
objects and events 'in disconnection dead and spiritless,' which we take
for reality. In relation to this reality we become passive slaves;[16]
it lies on us with a weight 'heavy as frost and deep almost as life.' It
is the origin alike of our torpor and our superficiality. _All_ poetic
experience frees us from it to some extent, or breaks into it, and so
may be called hostile to sense. But this experience is, broadly
speaking, of two different kinds. The perception of the daffodils as
dancing in glee, and in sympathy with other gleeful beings, shows us a
living, joyous, loving world, and so a 'spiritual' world, not a merely
'sensible' one. But the hostility to sense is here no more than a
hostility to _mere_ sense: this 'spiritual' world is itself the sensible
world more fully apprehended: the daffodils do not change or lose their
colour in disclosing their glee. On the other hand, in the kind of
experience which forms our present subject, there is always some feeling
of definite contrast with the limited sensible world. The arresting
feature or object is felt in some way _against_ this background, or even
as in some way a denial of it. Sometimes it is a visionary unearthly
light resting on a scene or on some strange figure. Sometimes it is the
feeling that the scene or figure belongs to the world of dream.
Sometimes it is an intimation of boundlessness, contradicting or
abolishing the fixed limits of our habitual view. Sometimes it is the
obscure sense of 'unknown modes of being,' unlike the familiar modes.
This kind of experience, further, comes often with a distinct shock,
which may bewilder, confuse or trouble the mind. And, lastly, it is
especially, though not invariably, associated with mountains, and again
with solitude. Some of these bald statements I will go on to illustrate,
only remarking that the boundary between these modes of imagination is,
naturally, less marked and more wavering in Wordsworth's poetry than in
my brief analysis.

We may begin with a poem standing near this boundary, the famous verses
_To the Cuckoo_, 'O blithe new-comer.' It stands near the boundary
because, like the poem on the Daffodils, it is entirely happy. But it
stands unmistakably on the further side of the boundary, and is, in
truth, more nearly allied to the _Ode_ on Immortality than to the poem
on the Daffodils. The sense of sight is baffled, and its tyranny broken.
Only a cry is heard, which makes the listener look a thousand ways, so
shifting is the direction from which it reaches him. It seems to come
from a mere 'voice,' 'an invisible thing,' 'a mystery.' It brings him
'a tale of visionary hours,'--hours of childhood, when he sought this
invisible thing in vain, and the earth appeared to his bewildered but
liberated fancy 'an unsubstantial fairy place.' And still, when he hears
it, the great globe itself, we may say, fades like an unsubstantial
pageant; or, to quote from the Immortality _Ode_, the 'shades of the
prison house' melt into air. These words are much more solemn than the
Cuckoo poem; but the experience is of the same type, and 'the visionary
gleam' of the ode, like the 'wandering voice' of the poem, is the
expression through sense of something beyond sense.

Take another passage referring to childhood. It is from the _Prelude_,
ii. Here there is something more than perplexity. There is apprehension,
and we are approaching the sublime:

    One summer evening (led by her[17]) I found
  A little boat tied to a willow tree
  Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
  Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
  Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
  And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
  Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
  Leaving behind her still, on either side,
  Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
  Until they melted all into one track
  Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
  Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
  With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
  Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
  The horizon's utmost boundary; far above
  Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
  She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
  I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
  And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
  Went heaving through the water like a swan;
  When, from behind that craggy steep till then
  The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
  As if with voluntary power instinct,
  Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
  And growing still in stature the grim shape
  Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
  For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
  And measured motion like a living thing,
  Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
  And through the silent water stole my way
  Back to the covert of the willow tree;
  There in her mooring-place I left my bark,--
  And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
  And serious mood; but after I had seen
  That spectacle, for many days, my brain
  Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
  Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts
  There hung a darkness, call it solitude
  Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
  Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
  Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
  But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
  Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
  By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

The best commentary on a poem is generally to be found in the poet's
other works. And those last dozen lines furnish the best commentary on
that famous passage in the _Ode_, where the poet, looking back to his
childhood, gives thanks for it,--not however for its careless delight
and liberty,

      But for those obstinate questionings
      Of sense and outward things,
      Fallings from us, vanishings;
      Blank misgivings of a Creature
  Moving about in worlds not realised,
  High instincts before which our mortal Nature
  Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.

Whether, or how, these experiences afford 'intimations of immortality'
is not in question here; but it will never do to dismiss them so airily
as Arnold did. Without them Wordsworth is not Wordsworth.

The most striking recollections of his childhood have not in all cases
this manifest affinity to the _Ode_, but wherever the visionary feeling
appears in them (and it appears in many), this affinity is still
traceable. There is, for instance, in _Prelude_, xii., the description
of the crag, from which, on a wild dark day, the boy watched eagerly
the two highways below for the ponies that were coming to take him home
for the holidays. It is too long to quote, but every reader of it will

           the wind and sleety rain,
  And all the business of the elements,
  The single sheep, and the one blasted tree,
  And the bleak music from that old stone wall,
  The noise of wood and water, and the mist
  That on the line of each of those two roads
  Advanced in such indisputable shapes.

Everything here is natural, but everything is apocalyptic. And we happen
to know why. Wordsworth is describing the scene in the light of memory.
In that eagerly expected holiday his father died; and the scene, as he
recalled it, was charged with the sense of contrast between the narrow
world of common pleasures and blind and easy hopes, and the vast unseen
world which encloses it in beneficent yet dark and inexorable arms. The
visionary feeling has here a peculiar tone; but always, openly or
covertly, it is the intimation of something illimitable, over-arching or
breaking into the customary 'reality.' Its character varies; and so
sometimes at its touch the soul, suddenly conscious of its own infinity,
melts in rapture into that infinite being; while at other times the
'mortal nature' stands dumb, incapable of thought, or shrinking from
some presence

  Not un-informed with Phantasy, and looks
  That threaten the profane.

This feeling is so essential to many of Wordsworth's most characteristic
poems that it may almost be called their soul; and failure to understand
them frequently arises from obtuseness to it. It appears in a mild and
tender form, but quite openly, in the lines _To a Highland Girl_, where
the child, and the rocks and trees and lake and road by her home, seem
to the poet

  Like something fashioned in a dream.

It gives to _The Solitary Reaper_ its note of remoteness and wonder; and
even the slight shock of bewilderment due to it is felt in the opening
line of the most famous stanza:

  Will no one tell me what she sings?

Its etherial music accompanies every vision of the White Doe, and sounds
faintly to us from far away through all the tale of failure and anguish.
Without it such shorter narratives as _Hartleap Well_ and _Resolution
and Independence_ would lose the imaginative atmosphere which adds
mystery and grandeur to the apparently simple 'moral.'

In _Hartleap Well_ it is conveyed at first by slight touches of
contrast. Sir Walter, in his long pursuit of the Hart, has mounted his
third horse.

  Joy sparkled in the prancing courser's eyes;
  The horse and horseman are a happy pair;
  But, though Sir Walter like a falcon flies,
  There is a doleful silence in the air.

  A rout this morning left Sir Walter's hall,
  That as they galloped made the echoes roar;
  But horse and man are vanished, one and all;
  Such race, I think, was never seen before.

At last even the dogs are left behind, stretched one by one among the
mountain fern.

  Where is the throng, the tumult of the race?
  The bugles that so joyfully were blown?
  --This chase it looks not like an earthly chase;
  Sir Walter and the Hart are left alone.

Thus the poem begins. At the end we have the old shepherd's description
of the utter desolation of the spot where the waters of the little
spring had trembled with the last deep groan of the dying stag, and
where the Knight, to commemorate his exploit, had built a basin for the
spring, three pillars to mark the last three leaps of his victim, and a
pleasure-house, surrounded by trees and trailing plants, for the summer
joy of himself and his paramour. But now 'the pleasure-house is dust,'
and the trees are grey, 'with neither arms nor head':

  Now, here is neither grass nor pleasant shade;
  The sun on drearier hollow never shone;
  So will it be, as I have often said,
  Till trees, and stones, and fountain all are gone.

It is only this feeling of the presence of mysterious inviolable Powers,
behind the momentary powers of hard pleasure and empty pride, that
justifies the solemnity of the stanza:

  The Being, that is in the clouds and air,
  That is in the green leaves among the groves,
  Maintains a deep and reverential care
  For the unoffending creatures whom he loves.

_Hartleap Well_ is a beautiful poem, but whether it is entirely
successful is, perhaps, doubtful. There can be no sort of doubt as to
_Resolution and Independence_, probably, if we must choose, the most
Wordsworthian of Wordsworth's poems, and the best test of ability to
understand him. The story, if given in a brief argument, would sound far
from promising. We should expect for it, too, a ballad form somewhat
like that of _Simon Lee_. When we read it, we find instead lines of
extraordinary grandeur, but, mingled with them, lines more pedestrian
than could be found in an impressive poem from any other hand,--for

  And, drawing to his side, to him did say,
  'This morning gives us promise of a glorious day.'


  'How is it that you live, and what is it you do?'

We meet also with that perplexed persistence, and that helpless
reiteration of a question (in this case one already clearly answered),
which in other poems threatens to become ludicrous, and on which a
writer with a keener sense of the ludicrous would hardly have ventured.
Yet with all this, and by dint of all this, we read with bated breath,
almost as if we were in the presence of that 'majestical' Spirit in
_Hamlet_, come to 'admonish' from another world, though not this time by
terror. And one source of this effect is the confusion, the almost
hypnotic obliteration of the habitual reasoning mind, that falls on the
poet as he gazes at the leech-gatherer, and hears, without
understanding, his plain reply to the enquiry about himself and the
prosaic 'occupation' he 'pursues':

  The old man still stood talking by my side;
  But now his voice to me was like a stream
  Scarce heard; nor word from word could I divide;
  And the whole body of the man did seem
  Like one whom I had met with in a dream;
  Or like a man from some far region sent,
  To give me human strength, by apt admonishment.

The same question was asked again, and the answer was repeated. But

  While he was talking thus, the lonely place,
  The old man's shape, and speech, all troubled me.

'Trouble' is a word not seldom employed by the poet to denote the
confusion caused by some visionary experience. Here are, again, the
fallings from us, vanishings, blank misgivings, dim fore-feelings of the
soul's infinity.

Out of many illustrations I will choose three more. There is in the
_Prelude_, iv., the passage (so strongly resembling _Resolution and
Independence_ that I merely refer to it) where Wordsworth describes an
old soldier suddenly seen, leaning against a milestone on the moon-lit
road, all alone:

  No living thing appeared in earth or air;
  And, save the flowing water's peaceful voice,
  Sound there was none ...
                            ... still his form
  Kept the same awful steadiness--at his feet
  His shadow lay, and moved not.

His shadow proves he was no ghost; but a ghost was never ghostlier than
he. And by him we may place the London beggar of _Prelude_, vii.:

  How oft, amid those overflowing streets,
  Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said
  Unto myself, 'The face of every one
  That passes by me is a mystery!'
  Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
  By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
  Until the shapes before my eyes became
  A second-sight procession, such as glides
  Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;
  And once, far-travelled in such mood, beyond
  The reach of common indication, lost
  Amid the moving pageant, I was smitten
  Abruptly, with the view (a sight not rare)
  Of a blind Beggar, who, with upright face,
  Stood, propped against a wall, upon his chest
  Wearing a written paper, to explain
  His story, whence he came, and who he was.
  Caught by the spectacle my mind turned round
  As with the might of waters; an apt type
  This label seemed of the utmost we can know,
  Both of ourselves and of the universe;
  And, on the shape of that unmoving man,
  His steadfast face and sightless eyes, I gazed,
  As if admonished from another world.

Still more curious psychologically is the passage, in the preceding book
of the _Prelude_, which tells us of a similar shock and leads to the
description of its effects. The more prosaically I introduce the
passage, the better. Wordsworth and Jones ('Jones, as from Calais
southward you and I') set out to walk over the Simplon, then traversed
only by a rough mule-track. They wandered out of the way, and, meeting a
peasant, discovered from his answers to their questions that, without
knowing it, they '_had crossed the Alps_.' This may not sound important,
and the italics are Wordsworth's, not mine. But the next words are

    Imagination--here the Power so called
  Through sad incompetence of human speech,
  That awful Power rose from the mind's abyss
  Like an unfathered vapour that enwraps,
  At once, some lonely traveller. I was lost;
  Halted without an effort to break through;
  But to my conscious soul I now can say--
  'I recognise thy glory': in such strength
  Of usurpation, when the light of sense
  Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
  The invisible world, doth greatness make abode,
  There harbours; whether we be young or old,
  Our destiny, our being's heart and home,
  Is with infinitude, and only there;
  With hope it is, hope that can never die,
  Effort, and expectation, and desire,
  And something evermore about to be.

And what was the result of this shock? The poet may answer for himself
in some of the greatest lines in English poetry. The travellers
proceeded on their way down the Defile of Gondo.

                   Downwards we hurried fast,
  And, with the half-shaped road which we had missed,
  Entered a narrow chasm. The brook and road
  Were fellow-travellers in this gloomy strait,
  And with them did we journey several hours
  At a slow pace. The immeasurable height
  Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
  The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
  And in the narrow rent at every turn
  Winds thwarting winds, bewildered and forlorn,
  The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
  The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,
  Black drizzling crags that spake by the way-side
  As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
  And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
  The unfettered clouds and region of the Heavens,
  Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light--
  Were all like workings of one mind, the features
  Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree;
  Characters of the great Apocalypse,
  The types and symbols of Eternity,
  Of first, and last, and midst, and without end.[18]

I hardly think that 'the poet of Surrey, say, and the prophet of its
life' could have written thus. And of all the poems to which I have
lately referred, and all the passages I have quoted, there are but two
or three which do not cry aloud that their birth-place was the moor or
the mountain, and that severed from their birth-place they would perish.
The more sublime they are, or the nearer they approach sublimity, the
more is this true. The cry of the cuckoo in _O blithe new-comer_, though
visionary, is not sublime; but, echoed by the mountain, it is

  Like--but oh, how different![19]

It was among the mountains that Wordsworth, as he says of his Wanderer,
_felt_ his faith. It was there that all things

  Breathed immortality, revolving life,
  And greatness still revolving; infinite.
  There littleness was not; the least of things
  Seemed infinite; and there his spirit shaped
  Her prospects, nor did he believe,--he _saw_.

And even if we count his vision a mere dream, still he put into words,
as no other poet has, the spirit of the mountains.

  Two voices are there; one is of the sea,
  One of the mountains; each a mighty voice.

And of the second of these we may say that 'few or none hears it right'
now he is gone.

Partly because he is the poet of mountains he is, even more
pre-eminently, the poet of solitude. For there are tones in the mountain
voice scarcely audible except in solitude, and the reader whom
Wordsworth's greatest poetry baffles could have no better advice offered
him than to do what he has probably never done in his life--to be on a
mountain alone. But for Wordsworth not this solitude only, but all
solitude and all things solitary had an extraordinary fascination.

  The outward shows of sky and earth,
  Of hill and valley, he has viewed;
  And impulses _of deeper birth_
  Have come to him in solitude.

The sense of solitude, it will readily be found, is essential to nearly
all the poems and passages we have been considering, and to some of
quite a different character, such as the Daffodil stanzas. And it is not
merely that the poet is alone; what he sees is so too. If the
leech-gatherer and the soldier on the moon-lit road had not been
solitary figures, they would not have awaked 'the visionary power'; and
it is scarcely fanciful to add that if the boy who was watching for his
father's ponies had had beside him any more than

  The _single_ sheep and the _one_ blasted tree,

the mist would not have advanced along the roads 'in such indisputable
shapes.' With Wordsworth that power seems to have sprung into life at
once on the perception of loneliness. What is lonely is a spirit. To
call a thing lonely or solitary is, with him, to say that it opens a
bright or solemn vista into infinity. He himself 'wanders lonely as a
cloud': he seeks the 'souls of lonely places': he listens in awe to

  One voice, the solitary raven ...
  An iron knell, with echoes from afar:

against the distant sky he descries the shepherd,

  A solitary object and sublime,
  Above all height! like an aerial cross
  Stationed alone upon a spiry rock
  Of the Chartreuse, for worship.

But this theme might be pursued for hours, and I will refer only to two
poems more. The editor of the _Golden Treasury_, a book never to be
thought of without gratitude, changed the title _The Solitary_ _Reaper_
into _The Highland Reaper_. He may have had his reasons. Perhaps he had
met some one who thought that the Reaper belonged to Surrey. Still the
change was a mistake: the 'solitary' in Wordsworth's title gave the
keynote. The other poem is _Lucy Gray_. 'When I was little,' a lover of
Wordsworth once said, 'I could hardly bear to read _Lucy Gray_, it made
me feel so lonely.' Wordsworth called it _Lucy Gray, or Solitude_, and
this young reader understood him. But there is too much, reason to fear
that for half his readers his 'solitary child' is generalised into a
mere 'little girl,' and that they never receive the main impression he
wished to produce. Yet his intention is announced in the opening lines,
and as clearly shown in the lovely final stanzas, which give even to
this ballad the visionary touch which distinguishes it from _Alice

  Yet some maintain that to this day
  She is a living child;
  That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
  Upon the lonesome wild.

  O'er rough and smooth she trips along,
  And never looks behind;
  And sings a solitary song
  That whistles in the wind.

The solitariness which exerted so potent a spell on Wordsworth had in it
nothing 'Byronic.' He preached in the _Excursion_ against the solitude
of 'self-indulging spleen.' He was even aware that he himself, though
free from that weakness, had felt

                   perhaps too much
  The self-sufficing power of Solitude.[20]

No poet is more emphatically the poet of community. A great part of his
verse--a part as characteristic and as precious as the part on which I
have been dwelling--is dedicated to the affections of home and
neighbourhood and country, and to that soul of joy and love which links
together all Nature's children, and 'steals from earth to man, from man
to earth.' And this soul is for him as truly the presence of 'the Being
that is in the clouds and air' and in the mind of man as are the power,
the darkness, the silence, the strange gleams and mysterious visitations
which startle and confuse with intimations of infinity. But solitude and
solitariness were to him, in the main, one of these intimations. They
had not for him merely the 'eeriness' which they have at times for
everyone, though that was essential to some of the poems we have
reviewed. They were the symbol of power to stand alone, to be
'self-sufficing,' to dispense with custom and surroundings and aid and
sympathy--a self-dependence at once the image and the communication of
'the soul of all the worlds.' Even when they were full of 'sounds and
sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,' the solitude of the Reaper
or of Lucy, they so appealed to him. But they appealed also to that
austerer strain which led him to love 'bare trees and mountains bare,'
and lonely places, and the bleak music of the old stone wall, and to
dwell with awe, and yet with exultation, on the majesty of that
'unconquerable mind' which through long years holds its solitary
purpose, sustains its solitary passion, feeds upon its solitary anguish.
For this mind, as for the blind beggar or the leech-gatherer, the 'light
of sense' and the sweetness of life have faded or 'gone out'; but in it
'greatness makes abode,' and it 'retains its station proud,' 'by form or
image unprofaned.' Thus, in whatever guise it might present itself,
solitariness 'carried far into his heart' the haunting sense of an
'invisible world'; of some Life beyond this 'transitory being' and
'unapproachable by death';

  Of Life continuous, Being unimpaired;
  That hath been, is, and where it was and is
  There shall endure,--existence unexposed
  To the blind walk of mortal accident;
  From diminution safe and weakening age;
  While man grows old, and dwindles, and decays;
  And countless generations of mankind
  Depart; and leave no vestige where they trod.

For me, I confess, all this is far from being 'mere poetry'--partly
because I do not believe that any such thing as 'mere poetry' exists.
But whatever kind or degree of truth we may find in all this, everything
in Wordsworth that is sublime or approaches sublimity has, directly or
more remotely, to do with it. And without this part of his poetry
Wordsworth would be 'shorn of his strength,' and would no longer stand,
as he does stand, nearer than any other poet of the Nineteenth Century
to Milton.


I take this opportunity of airing a heresy about _We are Seven_.
Wordsworth's friend, James Tobin, who saw the _Lyrical Ballads_ while
they were going through the press, told him that this poem would make
him everlastingly ridiculous, and entreated him in vain to cancel it. I
have forgotten how it was received in 1798, but it has long been one of
the most popular of the ballad poems, and I do not think I have ever
heard it ridiculed. I wonder, however, what its readers take to be the
'moral' of it, for I have never been able to convince myself that the
'moral' given in the poem itself truly represents the imaginative
impression from which the poem arose.

The 'moral' is in this instance put at the beginning, in the mutilated
opening stanza:

  --------A simple child,
    That lightly draws its breath,
  And feels its life in every limb,
    What should it know of death?

Wordsworth, in composing, began his poem with the end; and when it was
all but finished he recited it to Dorothy and Coleridge, and observed
that a prefatory stanza was wanted, and that he should enjoy his tea
better if he could add it first. Coleridge at once threw off the stanza
as we have it, except that the first line ran, 'A simple child, dear
brother Jim,'--this Jim, who rhymes with 'limb,' being the James Tobin
who protested afterwards against the poem. The stanza was printed in the
_Lyrical Ballads_ as Coleridge made it, Wordsworth objecting to the
words 'dear brother Jim' as ludicrous, but (apparently) giving way for
the sake of the joke of introducing Tobin.

Now the poem gains in one way by this stanza, which has a felicity of
style such as Wordsworth perhaps would not have achieved in expressing
the idea. And the idea was not only accepted by Wordsworth, but,
according to his own account, he had mentioned in substance what he
wished to be expressed. It must seem, therefore, outrageous to hint a
doubt whether the stanza truly represents the imaginative experience
from which the poem arose; and I can only say, in excuse, that this
doubt does not spring from reflection, or from knowledge of Coleridge's
authorship of the stanza, for I do not remember ever having read _We are
Seven_ without feeling it or without saying to myself at the end, 'This
means more than the first stanza says.' And, however improbable, it
cannot be called impossible that even so introspective a poet as
Wordsworth might misconstrue the impression that stirred him to write. I
will take courage, therefore, to confess the belief that what stirred
him was the coincidence of the child's feelings with some of those
feelings of his own childhood which he described in the Immortality
_Ode_, and once or twice in conversation, and which, in a less
individual and peculiar form, he attributes, in the Essay on Epitaphs,
to children in general. But, rather than argue the point, I will refer
to one or two passages. 'At that time I could not believe that I should
lie down quietly in the grave, and that my body would moulder into dust'
(remark recorded by Bishop Wordsworth, _Prose Works_, ed. Grosart, iii.
464). Is not this the condition of the child in _We are Seven_?
'Nothing,' he says to Miss Fenwick, 'was more difficult for me in
childhood than to admit the notion of death as a state applicable to my
own being' (_ib._ iii. 194). He then quotes the first stanza of _We are
Seven_. It is true that thereupon he expressly distinguishes his own
case from the child's, attributing the difficulty in her case to 'animal
vivacity.' But I have already fully admitted that Wordsworth's direct
testimony goes against me; and I have now only to call attention to a
passage in the Essay on Epitaphs. In that essay Wordsworth begins by
saying that the custom of raising monuments to the dead 'proceeded
obviously from a two-fold desire; first, to guard the remains of the
deceased from irreverent approach or from savage violation, and,
secondly, to preserve their memory.' But these desires, in his opinion,
resolve themselves into one, and both proceed from the consciousness or
fore-feeling of immortality, also described as 'an intimation or
assurance within us, that some part of our nature is imperishable.' And
he goes on thus: 'If we look back upon the days of childhood, we shall
find that the time is not in remembrance when, with respect to our own
individual Being, the mind was without this assurance.... Forlorn, and
cut off from communication with the best part of his nature, must that
man be, who should derive the sense of immortality, as it exists in the
mind of a child, from the same unthinking gaiety or liveliness of animal
spirits with which the lamb in the meadow or any other irrational
creature is endowed; to an inability arising from the imperfect state of
his faculties to come, in any point of his being, into contact with a
notion of death; or to an unreflecting acquiescence in what had been
instilled into him!' Now Coleridge's stanza, and Wordsworth's own
distinction between the child and himself, do come at least very near to
attributing the child's inability to realise the fact of death to that
very liveliness of animal spirits which, as a sufficient cause of it, is
here indignantly repudiated. According to the present passage, this
inability ought to have been traced to that 'sense' or 'consciousness'
of immortality which is inherent in human nature. And (whether or no
Wordsworth rightly describes this sense) it was _this_, I suggest, that,
unknown to himself, arrested him in the child's persistent ignoring of
the fact of death. The poem is thus allied to the Immortality _Ode_. The
child is in possession of one of those 'truths that wake to perish
never,' though the tyranny of the senses and the deadening influence of
custom obscure them as childhood passes away. When the conversation took
place (in 1793), and even when the poem was written (1798), Wordsworth
had not yet come to regard the experiences of his own childhood as he
saw them later (_Tintern Abbey_, 1798, shows this), and so he gave to
the poem a moral which is not adequate to it. Or perhaps he accepted
from Coleridge a formulation of his moral which was not quite true even
to his own thoughts at that time. It is just worth observing as possibly
significant that the child in _We are Seven_ is not described as showing
any particular 'animal vivacity': she strikes one as rather a quiet,
though determined, little person.

These remarks, of course, can have no interest for those readers who
feel no misgivings, such as I have always felt, in reading the poem. But
many, I think, must feel them.


  [1] The following pages reproduce the two concluding lectures of a
    short course on the Age of Wordsworth, given at Oxford in April,
    1903, and intended specially for undergraduates in the School of
    English Language and Literature. A few passages from the other
    lectures appear elsewhere in this volume. On the subject of the
    course may I advise any reader who may need the advice to consult
    Professor Herford's _The Age of Wordsworth_, a little book which is
    familiar to students of the history of English Literature, and the
    more admired the more they use it?

  [2] These statements, with the exception of the last, were chosen
    partly because they all say, with the most manifest seriousness, much
    the same thing that is said, with a touch of playful exaggeration, in
    _The Tables Turned_, where occurs that outrageous stanza about 'one
    impulse from a vernal wood' which Mr. Raleigh has well defended. When
    all fitting allowance has been made for the fact that these
    statements, and many like them, are 'poetic,' they ought to remain
    startling. Two of them--that from the story of Margaret (_Excursion_,
    I.), and that from the _Ode_, 1815--were made less so, to the injury
    of the passages, by the Wordsworth of later days, who had forgotten
    what he felt, or yielded to the objections of others.

  [3] _Goody Blake_, to my mind, tries vainly to make the kind of
    impression overwhelmingly made by Coleridge's _Three Graves_. The
    question as to the _Anecdote for Fathers_ is not precisely whether it
    makes you laugh, but whether it makes you laugh at the poet, and in
    such a way that the end fails to restore your sobriety. The danger is
    in the lines,

      And five times to the child I said,
      Why, Edward, tell me why?

    The reiteration, with the struggle between the poet and his victim,
    is thoroughly Wordsworthian, and there are cases where it is managed
    with perfect success, as we shall see; but to me it has here the
    effect so delightfully reproduced in _Through the Looking-glass_
    ('I'll tell thee everything I can').

  [4] Some remarks on _We are seven_ are added in a note at the end of
    the lecture.

  [5] The phrases quoted in this paragraph are taken chiefly from
    Hazlitt and De Quincey.

  [6] The publication of the _Excursion_ seems to have been postponed
    for financial reasons. One edition of a thousand copies sufficed the
    world for thirteen years.

  [7] _Evening Voluntaries_, iv. We know that he refers to Byron.

  [8] _Poems on the Naming of Places_, iv. Keats need not have been
    ashamed to write the last line.

  [9] ''Tis past, that melancholy dream,'--so he describes his sojourn
    in Germany.

  [10] Wordsworth's Letter to Major-General Pasley (_Prose Works_, i.)
    contains an excellent statement both of his views on this duty and of
    his hostility to mere militarism.

  [11] I am writing of the years of the Napoleonic War. Later, he lost
    courage, as he himself said. But it is not true that he ever ceased
    to sympathise with the cause of national independence in Europe.

  [12] [This great line, as I am reminded, refers to the Welsh
    (_Comus_, 33); but it does not seem necessary to change the

  [13] In saying that what Wordsworth could not bear was torpor, of
    course I do not mean that he could bear faithlessness, ingratitude,
    cruelty, and the like. He had no tolerance for such things, either in
    his poetry or in his life. 'I could kick such a man across England
    with my naked foot,' the old poet burst forth when he heard of a base
    action. This reminds one of Browning, whose antinomian morality was
    not so very unlike Wordsworth's. And neither poet would have found it
    difficult to include the worst vices under the head of torpor or 'the
    unlit lamp and the ungirt loin.'

  [14] The third quotation is from a speech by the Solitary
    (_Excursion_, vi.).

  [15] The second half of this sentence, true of the Wordsworth of the
    _Excursion_, is perhaps not quite true of his earlier mind.

  [16] This is just the opposite of the 'wise passiveness' of
    imaginative but unreflective feeling.

  [17] Nature.

  [18] I add here some notes which would have disturbed the lecture,
    but may be of use to the student of Wordsworth's mind who cares to
    return to them.

    The collocation of the last two quotations shows how, for Wordsworth,
    'the visionary power' arises from, and testifies to, the mind's
    infinity, and how the feeling of this is, or involves, or is united
    with, a feeling or idea of _the_ infinite or 'one mind,' and of union
    with it. This connection of ideas (as to which I purposely use vague
    alternative terms, because I do not want to theorise the poet's
    experience), is frequent or constant in Wordsworth, and it ought
    always to be borne in mind in regard to his language about
    'immortality' or 'eternity.' His sense or consciousness of
    'immortality,' that is to say, is at once a consciousness that he (in
    some sense of that word) is potentially infinite, and a consciousness
    that 'he' belongs to, is part of, is the home of, or is, an 'active
    principle' which is eternal, indivisible, and the 'soul of all the
    worlds' (cf. opening of _Excursion_, ix.). Whatever we may make of
    this connection of ideas, unless we realise it we shall remain
    entirely outside Wordsworth's mind in passages like that just
    referred to, and in passages where he talks of 'acts of immortality
    in Nature's course,' or says that to the Wanderer 'all things among
    the mountains breathed immortality,' or says that he has been
    unfolding 'far-stretching views of immortality,' though he may not
    appear to us to have touched in any way on the subject. Nature and
    Man (in one sense) are for Wordsworth 'transitory,' but Nature always
    and everywhere _reveals_ 'immortality,' and Man (in another sense) is
    'immortal.' Unquestionably for Wordsworth he is so. In what precise
    sense he is so for Wordsworth may not be discoverable, but the only
    chance of discovering it is to forget what we or anybody else, except
    Wordsworth, may mean by 'man' and 'immortal,' and to try to get into
    _his_ mind.

    There is an illuminating passage on 'the visionary power' and the
    mind's infinity or immortality, in _Prelude_, ii.:

              and hence, from the same source,
      Sublimer joy; for I would walk alone,
      Under the quiet stars, and at that time
      Have felt whate'er there is of power in sound
      To breathe an elevated mood, by form
      Or image unprofaned; and I would stand,
      If the night blackened with a coming storm,
      Beneath some rock, listening to notes that are
      The ghostly language of the ancient earth,
      Or make their dim abode in distant winds.
      Thence did I drink the visionary power;
      And deem not profitless those fleeting moods
      Of shadowy exultation: not for this,
      That they are kindred to our purer mind
      And intellectual life; but that the soul,
      Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
      Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
      Of possible sublimity, whereto
      With growing faculties she doth aspire,
      With faculties still growing, feeling still
      That whatsoever point they gain, they yet
      Have something to pursue.

    An interesting point, worth fuller treatment, is the connection of
    this feeling of infinity and the endless passing of limits with
    Wordsworth's love of wandering, wanderers, and high roads. See, for
    instance, _Prelude_, xiii., 'Who doth not love to follow with his eye
    The windings of a public way?' And compare the enchantment of the
    question, _What, are you stepping westward_?

                         'twas a sound
      Of something without place or bound.

  [19] _Yes, it was the mountain echo_, placed in Arnold's selection,
    with his usual taste, next to the earlier poem _To the Cuckoo_.

  [20] This was Coleridge's opinion.



The ideas of Wordsworth and of Coleridge about poetry have often been
discussed and are familiar. Those of Shelley are much less so, and in
his eloquent exposition of them there is a radiance which almost
conceals them from many readers. I wish, at the cost of all the
radiance, to try to see them and show them rather more distinctly. Even
if they had little value for the theory of poetry, they would still have
much as material for it, since they allow us to look into a poet's
experience in conceiving and composing. And, in addition, they throw
light on some of the chief characteristics of Shelley's own poetry.

His poems in their turn form one of the sources from which his ideas on
the subject may be gathered. We have also some remarks in his letters
and in prose pieces dealing with other topics. We have the prefaces to
those of his works which he himself published. And, lastly, there is the
_Defence of Poetry_. This essay was written in reply to an attack made
on contemporary verse by Shelley's friend Peacock,--not a favourable
specimen of Peacock's writing. The _Defence_, we can see, was hurriedly
composed, and it remains a fragment, being only the first of three
projected parts. It contains a good deal of historical matter, highly
interesting, but too extensive to be made use of here. Being polemical,
it no doubt exaggerates such of Shelley's views as collided with those
of his antagonist. But, besides being the only full expression of these
views, it is the most mature, for it was written within eighteen months
of his death. It appears to owe very little either to Wordsworth's
Prefaces or to Coleridge's _Biographia Literaria_; but there are a few
reminiscences of Sidney's _Apology_, which Shelley had read just before
he wrote his own _Defence_; and it shows, like much of his mature
poetry, how deeply he was influenced by the more imaginative dialogues
of Plato.


Any one familiar with the manner in which Shelley in his verse
habitually represents the world could guess at his general view of
poetry. The world to him is a melancholy place, a 'dim vast vale of
tears,' illuminated in flashes by the light of a hidden but glorious
power. Nor is this power, as that favourite metaphor would imply, wholly
outside the world. It works within it as a soul contending with
obstruction and striving to penetrate and transform the whole mass. And
though the fulness of its glory is concealed, its nature is known in
outline. It is the realised perfection of everything good and beautiful
on earth; or, in other words, all such goodness and beauty is its
partial manifestation. 'All,' I say: for the splendour of nature, the
love of lovers, every affection and virtue, any good action or just law,
the wisdom of philosophy, the creations of art, the truths deformed by
superstitious religion,--all are equally operations or appearances of
the hidden power. It is of the first importance for the understanding of
Shelley to realise how strong in him is the sense and conviction of this
unity in life: it is one of his Platonic traits. The intellectual Beauty
of his _Hymn_ is absolutely the same thing as the Liberty of his _Ode_,
the 'Great Spirit' of Love that he invokes to bring freedom to Naples,
the One which in _Adonaïs_ he contrasts with the Many, the Spirit of
Nature of _Queen Mab_, and the Vision of _Alastor_ and _Epipsychidion_.
The skylark of the famous stanzas is free from our sorrows, not because
it is below them, but because, as an embodiment of that perfection, it
knows the rapture of love without its satiety, and understands death as
we cannot. The voice of the mountain, if a whole nation could hear it
with the poet's ear, would 'repeal large codes of fraud and woe'; it is
the same voice as the reformer's and the martyr's. And in the far-off
day when the 'plastic stress' of this power has mastered the last
resistance and is all in all, outward nature, which now suffers with
man, will be redeemed with him, and man, in becoming politically free,
will become also the perfect lover. Evidently, then, poetry, as the
world now is, must be one of the voices of this power, or one tone of
its voice. To use the language so dear to Shelley, it is the revelation
of those eternal ideas which lie behind the many-coloured, ever-shifting
veil that we call reality or life. Or rather, it is one such revelation
among many.

When we turn to the _Defence of Poetry_ we meet substantially the same
view. There is indeed a certain change; for Shelley is now
philosophising and writing prose, and he wishes not to sing from the
mid-sky, but, for a while at least, to argue with his friend on the
earth. Hence at first we hear nothing of that perfect power at the heart
of things, and poetry is considered as a creation rather than a
revelation. But for Shelley, we soon discover, this would be a false
antithesis. The poet creates, but this creation is no mere fancy of his;
it represents 'those forms which are common to universal nature and
existence,' and 'a poem is the very image of life expressed in its
eternal truth.' We notice, further, that the more voluntary and
conscious work of invention and execution is regarded as quite
subordinate in the creative process. In that process the mind, obedient
to an influence which it does not understand and cannot control, is
driven to produce images of perfection which rather form themselves in
it than are formed by it. The greatest stress is laid on this influence
or inspiration; and in the end we learn that the origin of the whole
process lies in certain exceptional moments when visitations of thought
and feeling, elevating and delightful beyond all expression, but always
arising unforeseen and departing unbidden, reach the soul; that these
are, as it were, the inter-penetration of a diviner nature through our
own; and that the province of the poet is to arrest these apparitions,
to veil them in language, to colour every other form he touches with
their evanescent hues, and so to 'redeem from decay the visitations of
the divinity in man.'

Even more decided is the emphasis laid on the unity of all the forms in
which the 'divinity' or ideal power thus attests its presence. Indeed,
throughout a large part of the essay, that 'Poetry' which Shelley is
defending is something very much wider than poetry in the usual sense.
The enemy he has to meet is the contention that poetry and its influence
steadily decline as civilisation advances, and that they are giving
place, and ought to give place, to reasoning and the pursuit of utility.
His answer is that, on the contrary, imagination has been, is, and
always will be, the prime source of everything that has intrinsic value
in life. Reasoning, he declares, cannot create, it can only operate upon
the products of imagination. Further, he holds that the predominance of
mere reasoning and mere utility has become in great part an evil; for
while it has accumulated masses of material goods and moral truths, we
distribute the goods iniquitously and fail to apply the truths, because,
for want of imagination, we have not sympathy in our hearts and do not
feel what we know. The 'Poetry' which he defends, therefore, is the
whole creative imagination with all its products. And these include not
merely literature in verse, but, first, whatever prose writing is allied
to that literature; and, next, all the other fine arts; and, finally,
all actions, inventions, institutions, and even ideas and moral
dispositions, which imagination brings into being in its effort to
satisfy the longing for perfection. Painters and musicians are poets.
Plato and Bacon, even Herodotus and Livy, were poets, though there is
much in their works which is not poetry. So were the men who invented
the arts of life, constructed laws for tribes or cities, disclosed, as
sages or founders of religion, the excellence of justice and love. And
every one, Shelley would say, who, perceiving the beauty of an imagined
virtue or deed, translates the image into a fact, is so far a poet. For
all these things come from imagination.

Shelley's exposition of this, which is probably the most original part
of his theory, is not very clear; but, if I understand his meaning, that
which he takes to happen in all these cases might be thus described. The
imagination--that is to say, the soul imagining--has before it, or feels
within it, something which, answering perfectly to its nature, fills it
with delight and with a desire to realise what delights it. This
something, for the sake of brevity, we may call an idea, so long as we
remember that it need not be distinctly imagined and that it is always
accompanied by emotion. The reason why such ideas delight the imagining
soul is that they are, in fact, images or forebodings of its own
perfection--of itself become perfect--in one aspect or another. These
aspects are as various as the elements and forms of its own inner life
and outward existence; and so the idea may be that of the perfect
harmony of will and feeling (a virtue), or of the perfect union of soul
with soul (love), or of the perfect order of certain social relations
or forces (a law or institution), or of the perfect adjustment of
intellectual elements (a truth); and so on. The formation and expression
of any such idea is thus the work of Poetry in the widest sense; while
at the same time (as we must add, to complete Shelley's thought) any
such idea is a gleam or apparition of the perfect Intellectual Beauty.

I choose this particular title of the hidden power or divinity in order
to point out (what the reader is left to observe for himself) that the
imaginative idea is always regarded by Shelley as beautiful. It is, for
example, desirable for itself and not merely as a means to a further
result; and it has the formal characters of beauty. For, as will have
been noticed in the instances given, it is always the image of an order,
or harmony, or unity in variety, of the elements concerned. Shelley
sometimes even speaks of their 'rhythm.' For example, he uses this word
in reference to an action; and I quote the passage because, though it
occurs at some distance from the exposition of his main view, it
illustrates it well. He is saying that the true poetry of Rome, unlike
that of Greece, did not fully express itself in poems. 'The true poetry
of Rome lived in its institutions: for whatever of beautiful, true and
majestic they contained, could have sprung only from the faculty which
creates the order in which they consist. The life of Camillus; the death
of Regulus; the expectation of the senators, in their god-like state, of
the victorious Gauls; the refusal of the Republic to make peace with
Hannibal after the battle of Cannæ'--these he describes as 'a rhythm and
order in the shows of life,' an order not arranged with a view to
utility or outward result, but due to the imagination, which, 'beholding
the beauty of this order, created it out of itself according to its own


If this, then, is the nature of Poetry in the widest sense, how does the
poet, in the special sense, differ from other unusually creative souls?
Not essentially in the inspiration and general substance of his poetry,
but in the kind of expression he gives to them. In so far as he is a
poet, his medium of expression, of course, is not virtue, or action, or
law; poetry is one of the acts. And, again, it differs from the rest,
because its particular vehicle is language. We have now to see,
therefore, what Shelley has to say of the form of poetry, and especially
of poetic language.

First, he claims for language the highest place among the vehicles of
artistic expression, on the ground that it is the most direct and also
the most plastic. It is itself produced by imagination instead of being
simply encountered by it, and it has no relation except to imagination;
whereas any more material medium has a nature of its own, and relations
to other things in the material world, and this nature and these
relations intervene between the artist's conception and his expression
of it in the medium. It is to the superiority of its vehicle that
Shelley attributes the greater fame which poetry has always enjoyed as
compared with other arts. He forgets (if I may interpose a word of
criticism) that the media of the other arts have, on their side, certain
advantages over language, and that these perhaps counterbalance the
inferiority which he notices. He would also have found it difficult to
show that language, on its physical side, is any more a product of
imagination than stone or pigments. And his idea that the medium in the
other arts is an obstacle intervening between conception and expression
is, to say the least, one-sided. A sculptor, painter, or musician, would
probably reply that it is only the qualities of his medium that enable
him to express at all; that what he expresses is inseparable from the
vehicle of expression; and that he has no conceptions which are not from
the beginning sculpturesque, pictorial, or musical. It is true, no
doubt, that his medium is an obstacle as well as a medium; but this is
also true of language.

But to resume. Language, Shelley goes on to say, receives in poetry a
peculiar form. As it represents in its meaning a perfection which is
always an order, harmony, or rhythm, so it itself, as so much sound,
_is_ an order, harmony, or rhythm. It is measured language, which is not
the proper vehicle for the mere recital of facts or for mere reasoning.
For Shelley, however, this measured language is not of necessity
metrical. The order or measure may remain at the stage which it reaches
in beautiful prose, like that of Plato, the melody of whose language,
Shelley declares, is the most intense it is possible to conceive. It may
again advance to metre; and he admits that metrical form is convenient,
popular, and preferable, especially in poetry containing much action.
But he will not have any new great poet tied down to it. It is not
essential, while measure is absolutely so. For it is no mere accident of
poetry that its language is measured, nor does a delight in this measure
mean little. As sensitiveness to the order of the relations of sounds is
always connected with sensitiveness to the order of the relations of
thoughts, so also the harmony of the words is scarcely less
indispensable than their meaning to the communication of the influence
of poetry. 'Hence,' says Shelley, 'the vanity of translation: it were as
wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal
principle of its colour and odour, as seek to transfuse from one
language into another the creations of a poet.' Strong words to come
from the translator of the _Hymn to Mercury_ and of Agathon's speech in
the _Symposium_![1] And is not all that Shelley says of the difference
between measured and unrhythmical language applicable, at least in some
degree, to the difference between metrical and merely measured language?
Could he really have supposed that metre is no more than a
'convenience,' which contributes nothing of any account to the influence
of poetry? But I will not criticise. Let me rather point out how
surprising, at first sight, and how significant, is Shelley's insistence
on the importance of measure or rhythm. No one could assert more
absolutely than he the identity of the general substance of poetry with
that of moral life and action, of the other arts, and of the higher
kinds of philosophy. And yet it would be difficult to go beyond the
emphasis of his statement that the formal element (as he understood it)
is indispensable to the effect of poetry.

Shelley, however, nowhere considers this element more at length. He has
no discussions, like those of Wordsworth and Coleridge, on diction. He
never says, with Keats, that he looks on fine phrases like a lover. We
hear of his deep-drawn sigh of satisfaction as he finished reading a
passage of Homer, but not of his shouting his delight, as he ramped
through the meadows of Spenser, at some marvellous flower. When in his
letters he refers to any poem he is reading, he scarcely ever mentions
particular lines or expressions; and we have no evidence that, like
Coleridge and Keats, he was a curious student of metrical effects or the
relations of vowel-sounds. I doubt if all this is wholly accidental.
Poetry was to him so essentially an effusion of aspiration, love and
worship, that we can imagine his feeling it almost an impiety to break
up its unity even for purposes of study, and to give a separate
attention to its means of utterance. And what he does say on the
subject confirms this impression. In the first place, as we have seen,
he lays great stress on inspiration; and his statements, if exaggerated
and misleading, must still reflect in some degree his own experience. No
poem, he asserts, however inspired it may be, is more than a feeble
shadow of the original conception; for when composition begins,
inspiration is already on the decline. And so in a letter he speaks of
the detail of execution destroying all wild and beautiful visions.
Still, inspiration, if diminished by composition, is not wholly
dispelled; and he appeals to the greatest poets of his day whether it is
not an error to assert that the finest passages of poetry are produced
by labour and study. Such toil he would restrict to those parts which
connect the inspired passages, and he speaks with contempt of the
fifty-six various readings of the first line of the _Orlando Furioso_.
He seems to exaggerate on this matter because in the _Defence_ his foe
is cold reason and calculation. Elsewhere he writes more truly of the
original conception as being obscure as well as intense;[2] from which
it would seem to follow that the feeble shadow, if darker, is at least
more distinct than the original. He forgets, too, what is certainly the
fact, that the poet in reshaping and correcting is able to revive in
some degree the fire of the first impulse. And we know from himself that
his greatest works cost him a severe labour not confined to the
execution, while his manuscripts show plenty of various readings, if
never so many as fifty-six in one line.

Still, what he says is highly characteristic of his own practice in
composition. He allowed the rush of his ideas to have its way, without
pausing to complete a troublesome line or to find a word that did not
come; and the next day (if ever) he filled up the gaps and smoothed the
ragged edges. And the result answers to his theory. Keats was right in
telling him that he might be more of an artist. His language, indeed,
unlike Wordsworth's or Byron's, is, in his mature work, always that of a
poet; we never hear his mere speaking voice; but he is frequently
diffuse and obscure, and even in fine passages his constructions are
sometimes trailing and amorphous. The glowing metal rushes into the
mould so vehemently that it overleaps the bounds and fails to find its
way into all the little crevices. But no poetry is more manifestly
inspired, and even when it is plainly imperfect it is sometimes so
inspired that it is impossible to wish it changed. It has the rapture of
the mystic, and that is too rare to lose. Tennyson quaintly said of the
hymn _Life of Life_: 'He seems to go up into the air and burst.' It is
true: and, if we are to speak of poems as fireworks, I would not compare
_Life of Life_ with a great set piece of Homer or Shakespeare that
illumines the whole sky; but, all the same, there is no more thrilling
sight than the heavenward rush of a rocket, and it bursts at a height no
other fire can reach.

In addition to his praise of inspiration Shelley has some scattered
remarks on another point which show the same spirit. He could not bear
in poetic language any approach to artifice, or any sign that the writer
had a theory or system of style. He thought Keats's earlier poems faulty
in this respect, and there is perhaps a reference to Wordsworth in the
following sentence from the Preface to the _Revolt of Islam_: 'Nor have
I permitted any system relating to mere words to divert the attention of
the reader, from whatever interest I may have succeeded in creating, to
my own ingenuity in contriving,--to disgust him according to the rules
of criticism. I have simply clothed my thoughts in what appeared to me
the most obvious and appropriate language. A person familiar with
nature, and with the most celebrated productions of the human mind, can
scarcely err in following the instinct, with respect to selection of
language, produced by that familiarity.'[3] His own poetic style
certainly corresponds with his intention. It cannot give the kind of
pleasure afforded by what may be called without disparagement a learned
and artful style, such as Virgil's or Milton's; but, like the best
writing of Shakespeare and Goethe, it is, with all its individuality,
almost entirely free from mannerism and the other vices of
self-consciousness, and appears to flow so directly from the thought
that one is ashamed to admire it for itself. This is equally so whether
the appropriate style is impassioned and highly figurative, or simple
and even plain. It is indeed in the latter case that Shelley wins his
greatest, because most difficult, triumph. In the dialogue part of
_Julian and Maddalo_ he has succeeded remarkably in keeping the style
quite close to that of familiar though serious conversation, while
making it nevertheless unmistakably poetic. And the _Cenci_ is an
example of a success less complete only because the problem was even
harder. The ideal of the style of tragic drama in the nineteenth or
twentieth century should surely be, not to reproduce with modifications
the style of Shakespeare, but to do what Shakespeare did--to idealise,
without deserting, the language of contemporary speech. Shelley in the
_Cenci_ seems to me to have come nearest to this ideal.


So much for general exposition. If now we consider more closely what
Shelley says of the substance of poetry, a question at once arises. He
may seem to think of poetry solely as the direct expression of
perfection in some form, and accordingly to imagine its effect as simply
joy or delighted aspiration. Much of his own poetry, too, is such an
expression; and we understand when we find him saying that Homer
embodied the ideal perfection of his age in human character, and
unveiled in Achilles, Hector, and Ulysses 'the truth and beauty of
friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object.' But
poetry, it is obvious, is not wholly, perhaps not even mainly, of this
kind. What is to be said, on Shelley's theory, of his own melancholy
lyrics, those 'sweetest songs' that 'tell of saddest thought'? What of
satire, of the epic of conflict and war, or of tragic exhibitions of
violent and destructive passion? Does not his theory reflect the
weakness of his own practice, his tendency to portray a thin and
abstract ideal instead of interpreting the concrete detail of nature and
life; and ought we not to oppose to it a theory which would consider
poetry simply as a representation of fact?

To this last question I should answer No. Shelley's theory, rightly
understood, will take in, I think, everything really poetic. And to a
considerable extent he himself shows the way to meet these doubts. He
did not mean that the _immediate_ subject of poetry must be perfection
in some form. The poet, he says, can colour with the hues of the ideal
everything he touches. If so, he may write of absolutely anything so
long as he _can_ so colour it, and nothing would be excluded from his
province except those things (if any such exist) in which no positive
relation to the ideal, however indirect, can be shown or intimated. Thus
to take the instance of Shelley's melancholy lyrics, clearly the lament
which arises from loss of the ideal, and mourns the evanescence of its
visitations or the desolation of its absence, is indirectly an
expression _of_ the ideal; and so on his theory is the simplest song of
unhappy love or the simplest dirge. Further, he himself observes that,
though the joy of poetry is often unalloyed, yet the pleasure of the
'highest portions of our being is frequently connected with the pain of
the inferior,' that 'the pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the
pleasure of pleasure itself,' and that not sorrow only, but 'terror,
anguish, despair itself, are often the chosen expressions of an
approximation to the highest good.' That, then, which appeals poetically
to such painful emotions will again be an indirect portrayal of the
ideal; and it is clear, I think, that this was how Shelley in the
_Defence_ regarded heroic and tragic poetry, whether narrative or
dramatic, with its manifestly imperfect characters and its exhibition of
conflict and wild passion. He had, it is true, another and an
unsatisfactory way of explaining the presence of these things in poetry;
and I will refer to this in a moment. But he tells us that the Athenian
tragedies represent the highest idealisms (his name for ideals) of
passion and of power (not merely of virtue); and that in them we behold
ourselves, 'under a thin disguise of circumstance, stripped of all but
that ideal perfection and energy which every one feels to be the
internal type of all that he loves, admires, and would become.' He
writes of Milton's Satan in somewhat the same strain. The Shakespearean
tragedy from which he most often quotes is one in which evil holds the
stage, _Macbeth_; and he was inclined to think _King Lear_, which
certainly is no direct portrait of perfection, the greatest drama in the
world. Lastly, in the Preface to his own _Cenci_ he truly says that,
while the story is fearful and monstrous, 'the poetry which exists in
these tempestuous sufferings and crimes,' if duly brought out,
'mitigates the pain of the contemplation of moral deformity': so that he
regards Count Cenci himself as a _poetic_ character, and therefore as in
_some_ sense an expression of the ideal. He does not further explain his
meaning. Perhaps it was that the perfection which poetry is to exhibit
includes, together with those qualities which win our immediate and
entire approval or sympathy, others which are capable of becoming the
instruments of evil. For these, the energy, power and passion of the
soul, though they may be perverted, are in themselves elements of
perfection; and so, even in their perversion or their combination with
moral deformity, they retain their value, they are not simply ugly or
horrible, but appeal through emotions predominantly painful to the same
love of the ideal which is directly satisfied by pictures of goodness
and beauty. Now to these various considerations we shall wish to add
others; but if we bear these in mind, I believe we shall find Shelley's
theory wide enough, and must hold that the substance of poetry is never
mere fact, but is always ideal, though its method of representation is
sometimes more direct, sometimes more indirect.

Nevertheless, he does not seem to have made his view quite clear to
himself, or to hold to it consistently. We are left with the impression,
not merely that he personally preferred the direct method (as he was, of
course, entitled to do), but that his use of it shows a certain
weakness, and also that even in theory he unconsciously tends to regard
it as the primary and proper method, and to admit only by a reluctant
after-thought the representation of imperfection. Let me point out some
signs of this. He considered his own _Cenci_ as a poem inferior in kind
to his other main works, even as a sort of accommodation to the public.
With all his modesty he knew what to think of the neglected
_Prometheus_ and _Adonaïs_, but there is no sign that he, any more than
the world, was aware that the character of Cenci was a creation without
a parallel in our poetry since the seventeenth century. His enthusiasm
for some second-rate and third-rate Italian paintings, and his failure
to understand Michael Angelo, seem to show the same tendency. He could
not enjoy comedy: it seemed to him simply cruel: he did not perceive
that to show the absurdity of the imperfect is to glorify the perfect.
And, as I mentioned just now, he wavers in his view of the
representation of heroic and tragic imperfection. We find in the Preface
to _Prometheus Unbound_ the strange notion that Prometheus is a more
poetic character than Milton's Satan because he is free from Satan's
imperfections, which are said to interfere with the interest. And in the
_Defence_ a similar error appears. Achilles, Hector, Ulysses, though
they exhibit ideal virtues, are, he admits, imperfect. Why, then, did
Homer make them so? Because, he seems to reply, Homer's contemporaries
regarded their vices (_e.g._ revengefulness and deceitfulness) as
virtues. Homer accordingly had to conceal in the costume of these vices
the unspotted beauty that he himself imagined; and, like Homer, 'few
poets of the highest class have chosen to exhibit the beauty of their
conceptions in its naked truth and splendour.' Now, this idea, to say
nothing of its grotesque improbability in reference to Homer, and its
probable baselessness in reference to most other poets, is quite
inconsistent with that truer view of heroic and tragic character which
was explained just now. It is an example of Shelley's tendency to
abstract idealism or spurious Platonism. He is haunted by the fancy that
if he could only get at the One, the eternal Idea, in complete aloofness
from the Many, from life with all its change, decay, struggle, sorrow
and evil, he would have reached the true object of poetry: as if the
whole finite world were a mere mistake or illusion, the sheer opposite
of the infinite One, and in no way or degree its manifestation. Life, he

  Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
  Stains the white radiance of eternity;

but the other side, the fact that the many colours _are_ the white light
broken, he tends to forget, by no means always, but in one, and that not
the least inspired, of his moods. This is the source of that thinness
and shallowness of which his view of the world and of history is justly
accused, a view in which all imperfect being is apt to figure as
absolutely gratuitous, and everything and everybody as pure white or
pitch black. Hence also his ideals of good, whether as a character or as
a mode of life, resting as they do on abstraction from the mass of real
existence, tend to lack body and individuality; and indeed, if the
existence of the many is a mere calamity, clearly the next best thing to
their disappearance is that they should all be exactly alike and have as
little character as possible. But we must remember that Shelley's
strength and weakness are closely allied, and it may be that the very
abstractness of his ideal was a condition of that quivering intensity of
aspiration towards it in which his poetry is unequalled. We must not go
for this to Homer and Shakespeare and Goethe; and if we go for it to
Dante, we shall find, indeed, a mind far vaster than Shelley's, but also
that dualism of which we complain in him, and the description of a
heaven which, equally with Shelley's regenerated earth, is no place for
mere mortality. In any case, as we have seen, the weakness in his
poetical practice, though it occasionally appears also as a defect in
his poetical theory, forms no necessary part of it.


I pass to his views on a last point. If the business of poetry is
somehow to express ideal perfection, it may seem to follow that the
poet should embody in his poems his beliefs about this perfection and
the way to approach it, and should thus have a moral purpose and aim to
be a teacher. And in regard to Shelley this conclusion seems the more
natural because his own poetry allows us to see clearly some of his
beliefs about morality and moral progress. Yet alike in his Prefaces and
in the _Defence_ he takes up most decidedly the position that the poet
ought neither to affect a moral aim nor to express his own conceptions
of right and wrong. 'Didactic poetry,' he declares, 'is my abhorrence:
nothing can be equally well expressed in prose that is not tedious and
supererogatory in verse.'[4] 'There was little danger,' he tells us in
the _Defence_, 'that Homer or any of the eternal poets' should make a
mistake in this matter; but 'those in whom the poetical faculty, though
great, is less intense, as Euripides, Lucan, Tasso, Spenser, have
frequently affected a moral aim, and the effect of their poetry is
diminished in exact proportion to the degree in which they compel us to
advert to this purpose.' These statements may appeal to us, but are they
consistent with Shelley's main views of poetry? To answer this question
we must observe what exactly it is that he means to condemn.

Shelley was one of the few persons who can literally be said to _love_
their kind. He held most strongly, too, that poetry does benefit men,
and benefits them morally. The moral purpose, then, to which he objects
cannot well be a poet's general purpose of doing moral as well as other
good through his poetry--such a purpose, I mean, as he may cherish when
he contemplates his life and his life's work. And, indeed, it seems
obvious that nobody with any humanity or any sense can object to that,
except through some intellectual confusion. Nor, secondly, does Shelley
mean, I think, to condemn even the writing of a particular poem with a
view to a particular moral or practical effect; certainly, at least, if
this was his meaning he was condemning some of his own poetry. Nor,
thirdly, can he be referring to the portrayal of moral ideals; for that
he regarded as one of the main functions of poetry, and in the very
place where he says that didactic poetry is his abhorrence he also says,
by way of contrast, that he has tried to familiarise the minds of his
readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence. It appears,
therefore, that what he is really attacking is the attempt to give, in
the strict sense, moral _instruction_, to communicate doctrines, to
offer argumentative statements of opinion on right and wrong, and more
especially, I think, on controversial questions of the day. An example
would be Wordsworth's discourse on education at the end of the
_Excursion_, a discourse of which Shelley, we know, had a very low
opinion. In short, his enemy is not the purpose of producing a moral
effect, it is the appeal made for this purpose to the reasoning
intellect. He says to the poet: By all means aim at bettering men; you
are a man, and are bound to do so; but you are also a poet, and
therefore your proper way of doing so is not by reasoning and preaching.
His idea is of a piece with his general championship of imagination, and
it is quite consistent with his main view of poetry.[5]

What, then, are the _grounds_ of this position? They are not clearly set
out, but we can trace several, and they are all solid. Reasoning on
moral subjects, moral philosophy, was by no means 'tedious' to Shelley;
it seldom is to real poets. He loved it, and (outside his _Defence_) he
rated its value very high.[6] But he thought it tedious and out of place
in poetry, because it can be equally well expressed in 'unmeasured'
language--much better expressed, one may venture to add. You invent an
art in order to effect by it a particular purpose which nothing else can
effect as well. How foolish, then, to use this art for a purpose better
served by something else! I know no answer to this argument, and its
application is far wider than that given to it by Shelley. Secondly,
Shelley remarks that a poet's own conceptions on moral subjects are
usually those of his place and time, while the matter of his poem ought
to be eternal, or, as we say, of permanent and universal interest. This,
again, seems true, and has a wide application; and it holds good even
when the poet, like Shelley himself, is in rebellion against orthodox
moral opinion; for his heterodox opinions will equally show the marks of
his place and time, and constitute a perishable element in his work.
Doubtless no poetry can be without a perishable element; but that poetry
has least of it which interprets life least through the medium of
systematic and doctrinal ideas. The veil which time and place have hung
between Homer or Shakespeare and the general reader of to-day is almost
transparent, while even a poetry so intense as that of Dante and Milton
is impeded in its passage to him by systems which may be unfamiliar,
and, if familiar, may be distasteful.

Lastly--and this is Shelley's central argument--as poetry itself is
directly due to imaginative inspiration and not to reasoning, so its
true moral effect is produced through imagination and not through
doctrine. Imagination is, for Shelley, 'the great instrument of moral
good.' The 'secret of morals is love.' It is not 'for want of admirable
doctrines that men hate and despise and censure and deceive and
subjugate one another': it is for want of love. And love is 'a going out
of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful
which exists in thought, action or person not our own.' 'A man,'
therefore, 'to be greatly good must imagine intensely and
comprehensively.' And poetry ministers to moral good, the effect, by
acting on its cause, imagination. It strengthens imagination as exercise
strengthens a limb, and so it indirectly promotes morality. It also
fills the imagination with beautiful impersonations of all that we
should wish to be. But moral reasoning does not act upon the cause, it
only analyses the effect; and the poet has no right to be content to
analyse what he ought indirectly to create. Here, again, in his
eagerness, Shelley cuts his antitheses too clean, but the defect is
easily made good, and the main argument is sound.

Limits of time will compel me to be guilty of the same fault in adding a
consideration which is in the spirit of Shelley's. The chief moral
effect claimed for poetry by Shelley is exerted, primarily, by
imagination on the emotions; but there is another influence, exerted
primarily through imagination on the understanding. Poetry is largely an
interpretation of life; and, considering what life is, that must mean a
moral interpretation. This, to have poetic value, must satisfy
imagination; but we value it also because it gives us knowledge, a wider
comprehension, a new insight into ourselves and the world.[7] Now, it
may be held--and this view answers to a very general feeling among
lovers of poetry now--that the most deep and original moral
interpretation is not likely to be that which most shows a moral purpose
or is most governed by reflective beliefs and opinions, and that as a
rule we learn most from those who do not try to teach us, and whose
opinions may even remain unknown to us: so that there is this weighty
objection to the appearance of such purpose and opinions, that it tends
to defeat its own intention. And the reason that I wish to suggest is
this, that always we get most from the _genius_ in a man of genius and
not from the rest of him. Now, although poets often have unusual powers
of reflective thought, the specific genius of a poet does not lie there,
but in imagination. Therefore his deepest and most original
interpretation is likely to come by the way of imagination. And the
specific way of imagination is not to clothe in imagery consciously held
ideas; it is to produce half-consciously a matter from which, when
produced, the reader may, if he chooses, extract ideas. Poetry (I must
exaggerate to be clear), psychologically considered, is not the
_expression_ of ideas or of a view of life; it is their discovery or
creation, or rather both discovery and creation in one. The
interpretation contained in _Hamlet_ or _King Lear_ was not brought
ready-made to the old stories. What was brought to them was the huge
substance of Shakespeare's imagination, in which all his experience and
thought was latent; and this, dwelling and working on the stories with
nothing but a dramatic purpose, and kindling into heat and motion,
gradually discovered or created in them a meaning and a mass of truth
about life, which was brought to birth by the process of composition,
but never preceded it in the shape of ideas, and probably never, even
after it, took that shape to the poet's mind. And _this_ is the
interpretation which we find inexhaustibly instructive, because
Shakespeare's _genius_ is in it. On the other hand, however much from
curiosity and personal feeling towards him we may wish to know his
opinions and beliefs about morals or religion or his own poems or Queen
Elizabeth, we have not really any reason to suppose that their value
would prove extraordinary. And so, to apply this generally, the
opinions, reasonings and beliefs of poets are seldom of the same quality
as their purely imaginative product. Occasionally, as with Goethe, they
are not far off it; but sometimes they are intense without being
profound, and more eccentric than original; and often they are very sane
and sound, but not very different from those of wise men without genius.
And therefore poetry is not the place for them. For we want in poetry a
moral interpretation, but not the interpretation we have already. As a
rule the genuine artist's quarrel with 'morality' in art is not really
with morality, it is with a stereotyped or narrow morality; and when he
refuses in his art to consider things from what he calls the moral point
of view, his reasons are usually wrong, but his instinct is right.

Poetry itself confirms on the whole this contention, though doubtless in
these last centuries a great poet's work will usually reveal more of
conscious reflection than once it did. Homer and Shakespeare show no
moral aim and no system of opinion. Milton was far from justifying the
ways of God to men by the argumentation he put into divine and angelic
lips; his truer moral insight is in the creations of his genius; for
instance, in the character of Satan or the picture of the glorious
humanity of Adam and Eve. Goethe himself could never have told the world
what he was going to express in the First Part of _Faust_: the poem told
_him_, and it is one of the world's greatest. He knew too well what he
was going to express in the Second Part, and with all its wisdom and
beauty it is scarcely a great poem. Wordsworth's original message was
delivered, not when he was a Godwinian semi-atheist, nor when he had
subsided upon orthodoxy, but when his imagination, with a few hints from
Coleridge, was creating a kind of natural religion; and this religion
itself is more profoundly expressed in his descriptions of his
experience than in his attempts to formulate it. The moral virtue of
Tennyson is in poems like _Ulysses_ and parts of _In Memoriam_, where
sorrow and the consciousness of a deathless affection or an unquenchable
desire for experience forced an utterance; but when in the _Idylls_ he
tried to found a great poem on explicit ideas about the soul and the
ravages wrought in it by lawless passion, he succeeded but partially,
because these ideas, however sound, were no product of his genius. And
so the moral virtue of Shelley's poetry lay, not in his doctrines about
the past and future of man, but in an intuition, which was the substance
of his soul, of the unique value of love. In the end, for him, the
truest name of that perfection called Intellectual Beauty, Liberty,
Spirit of Nature, is Love. Whatever in the world has any worth is an
expression of Love. Love sometimes talks. Love talking musically is



  [1] Statements equally emphatic on this subject may be found in a
    passage quoted by Mrs. Shelley in a footnote to Shelley's letter to
    John Gisborne, Nov. 16, 1819 (Letter XXX. in Mrs. Shelley's edition).
    Cf. also Letter XXXIII. to Leigh Hunt, Nov. 1819.

  [2] I cannot find the passage or passages to which I referred in
    making this statement, and therefore I do not vouch for its accuracy.
    Cf. from the fragment _Fiordispina_,

      The ardours of a vision which obscure
      The very idol of its portraiture.

  [3] Cf. from the Preface to the _Cenci_: 'I entirely agree with those
    modern critics who assert that, in order to move men to true
    sympathy, we must use the familiar language of men.... But it must be
    the real language of men in general, and not that of any particular
    class to whose society the writer happens to belong.'

  [4] Preface to _Prometheus Unbound_.

  [5] I do not discuss the adequacy of Shelley's position, or assert
    that he held it quite clearly or consistently. In support of my
    interpretation, of it I may refer to the Preface to the _Cenci_.
    There he repudiates the idea of making the dramatic exhibition of the
    story 'subservient to what is vulgarly called a moral purpose,' and,
    as the context shows, he identifies such a treatment of the story
    with the 'enforcement' of a 'dogma.'

    This passage has a further interest. The dogma which Shelley would
    not enforce in his tragedy was that 'no person can truly be
    dishonoured by the act of another, and the fit return to make to the
    most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution
    to convert the injurer from his dark passions by peace and love'; and
    accordingly he held that 'if Beatrice had thought in this manner, she
    would have been wiser and better.' How inexcusable then is the not
    uncommon criticism on the _Cenci_ that he represents Beatrice as a
    perfect character and justifies her murder of 'the injurer.'

    Shelley's position in the _Defence_, it may be added, is in total
    disagreement with his youthful doctrine and practice. In 1811 he
    wrote to Miss Hitchener, 'My opinion is that all poetical beauty
    ought to be subordinate to the inculcated moral,' and a large part of
    _Queen Mab_ is frankly didactic. Even there, however, he reserved
    most of the formal instruction for the Notes, perceiving that 'a poem
    very didactic is ... very stupid.'

  [6] 'I consider poetry very subordinate to moral and political
    science,' he says in a letter to Peacock, Jan. 1819.

  [7] And, I may add, the more it does this, so long as it does it
    imaginatively, the more does it satisfy imagination, and the greater
    is its _poetic_ value.



The poetry of the age of Wordsworth, we are all agreed, is one of the
glories of our literature. It is surpassed, many would add, by the
poetry of no other period except the Elizabethan. But it has obvious
flaws, of which perhaps we are becoming more and more distinctly
conscious now; and, apart from these definite defects, it also leaves
with us, when we review it, a certain feeling of disappointment. It is
great, we say to ourselves, but why is it not greater still? It shows a
wonderful abundance of genius: why does it not show an equal


Matthew Arnold, in his essay on _The Function of Criticism at the
Present Time_, gave an answer to this question. 'It has long seemed to
me,' he wrote, 'that the burst of creative activity in our literature,
through the first quarter of this century, had about it, in fact,
something premature.... And this prematureness comes from its having
proceeded without having its proper data, without sufficient materials
to work with. In other words, the English poetry of the first quarter of
this century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, did not
know enough. This makes Byron so empty of matter, Shelley so incoherent,
Wordsworth even, profound as he is, yet so wanting in completeness and
in variety.' The statement that this poetry 'did not know enough' means,
of course, for Arnold, not that it lacked information, reading, ideas of
a kind, but that it lacked 'criticism.' And this means that it did not
live and move freely in an atmosphere of the best available ideas, of
ideas gained by a free, sincere, and continued effort, in theology,
philosophy, history, science, to see things as they are. In such an
atmosphere Goethe lived. There was not indeed in Goethe's Germany, nor
was there in the England of our poets, the 'national glow of life and
thought' that prevailed in the Athens of Pericles or the England of
Elizabeth. That happiest atmosphere for poetry was wanting in both
countries. But there was for Goethe 'a sort of equivalent for it in the
complete culture and unfettered thinking of a large body of Germans,' a
culture produced by a many-sided learning and a long and widely-combined
critical effort. It was this that our poets lacked.

Now, if this want existed, as Arnold affirms, it may not have had all
the importance he ascribes to it, but considerable importance it must
have had. And as to its existence there can hardly be a doubt. One of
the most striking characteristics of Wordsworth's age is the very
unusual superiority of the imaginative literature to the scientific. I
mean by the 'scientific' literature that of philosophy, theology,
history, politics, economics, not only that of the sciences of Nature,
which for our present purpose are perhaps the least important. In this
kind of literature Wordsworth's age has hardly an author to show who
could for a moment be placed on a level with some five of the poets,
with the novelists Scott and Jane Austen, or with the poetic critics
Lamb, Hazlitt, and Coleridge. It has no writers to compare with Bacon,
Newton, Hume, Gibbon, Johnson, or Burke. It is the time of Paley,
Godwin, Stewart, Bentham, Mitford, Lingard, Coleridge the philosopher
and theologian. These are names worthy of all respect, but they
represent a literature quite definitely of the second rank. And this
great disproportion between the two kinds of literature, we must
observe, is a peculiar phenomenon. If we go back as far as the
Elizabethan age we shall find no parallel to it. The one kind was
doubtless superior to the other in Shakespeare's time, possibly even in
Milton's; but Hooker and Bacon and Taylor and Clarendon and Hobbes are
not separated from the best poets of their day by any startling
difference of quality;[2] while in the later periods, right down to the
age of Wordsworth, the scientific literature quite holds its own, to say
no more, with the imaginative. Nor in the Germany of Wordsworth's own
time is there that gap between the two that we find in England. In
respect of genius the philosophers, for example, though none of them was
the equal of Goethe, were as a body not at all inferior to the poets.
The case of England in Wordsworth's age is anomalous.

This peculiarity must be symptomatic, and it must have been influential.
It confirms Arnold's view that the intellectual atmosphere of the time
was not of the best. If we think of the periodical literature--of the
_Quarterly_ and _Edinburgh_ and _Blackwood_--we shall be still more
inclined to assent to that view. And when we turn to the poets
themselves, and especially to their prose writings, letters, and
recorded conversation, and even to the critiques of Hazlitt, of Lamb,
and of Coleridge, we cannot reject it. Assuredly we read with
admiration, and the signs of native genius we meet with in abundance--in
greater abundance, I think, than in the poetry and criticism of Germany,
if Goethe is excepted. But the freedom of spirit, the knowledge, the
superiority to prejudice and caprice and fanaticism, the openness to
ideas, the atmosphere that is all about us when we read Lessing, Goethe,
Schiller, Heine, we do not find. Can we imagine any one of those four
either inspired or imprisoned as Shelley was by the doctrines of Godwin?
Could any of them have seen in the French Revolution no more
significance than Scott appears to have detected? How cramped are the
attitudes, sympathetic or antipathetic, of nearly all our poets towards
the Christian religion! Could anything be more _borné_ than Coleridge's
professed reason for not translating _Faust_?[3] Is it possible that a
German poet with the genius of Byron or Wordsworth could have inhabited
a mental world so small and so tainted with vulgarity as is opened to us
by the brilliant letters of the former, or could have sunk, like the
latter, to suggesting that the cholera was a divine condemnation of
Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill?

But if we accept Arnold's statement as to the intellectual atmosphere of
the poetry of Wordsworth's time, a question will remain. Was he right in
regarding this atmosphere as the sole, or even as the chief, cause of
the fact (if it is one) that the poetry does not fully correspond in
greatness with the genius of the poets? And before we come to this
question we must put another. Is the fact really as it has just been
stated? I do not think so. The disappointment that we feel attends, it
seems to me, mainly our reading of the long poems. Reviewing these in
memory, and asking ourselves how many we can unreservedly call 'great,'
we hesitate. Beyond doubt there is great poetry in some of them, fine
poetry in many; but that does not make a great whole. Which of them is
great as a whole? Not the _Prelude_ or the _Excursion_, still less
_Endymion_ or _The Revolt of Islam_ or _Childe Harold_, which hardly
pretends to unity. _Christabel_, the wonderful fragment, is a fragment;
so is _Hyperion_; _Don Juan_, also unfinished, becomes more discursive
the further it proceeds, and in spirit is nowhere great. All the
principal poets wrote dramas, or at least dramatic pieces; and some
readers think that in _Manfred_, and still more certainly in _Cain_, we
have great poems, while others think this of _Prometheus Unbound_ and
_The Cenci_. But if as to one or more of these we assent, is our
judgment quite confident, and can we say that any of them _satisfy_ us,
like some works of earlier times? We are thus satisfied, it seems to me,
only when we come to poems of smaller dimensions, like _The Ancient
Mariner_, or _The Eve of Saint Agnes_, or _Adonaïs_, or _The Vision of
Judgment_, or when we read the lyrics. To save time I will confine
myself to the latter.

Within this sphere we have no longer that impression of genius which
fails to reach full accomplishment. I would go further. No poet, of
course, of Wordsworth's age is the equal of Shakespeare or of Milton;
and there are certain qualities, too, of lyrical verse in which the
times of Shakespeare and of Milton are superior to that of Wordsworth.
But if we take the better part of the lyrical poetry of these three
periods in the mass, or again in a representative selection, it will not
be the latest period, I think, that need fear the comparison. In the
original edition of the _Golden Treasury_, Book I. (Wyatt to
Shakespeare) occupies forty pages; Book II. (the rest of the seventeenth
century) sixty-five; Book IV., which covers the very much shorter
period from Wordsworth to Hood, close on a hundred and forty. 'Book
I.,' perhaps most of us would say, 'should be longer, and Book IV. a
good deal shorter: some third-rate pieces are included in it, and
Wordsworth is over-represented. And the Elizabethan poems are mostly
quite short, while the Nineteenth Century poets shine equally in the
longer kinds of lyric. And Mr. Palgrave excluded the old ballads, but
admitted poems like Coleridge's _Love_ and Wordsworth's _Ruth_ (seven
whole pages). And in any case we cannot judge by mere quantity.' No; but
still quantity must count for something, and the _Golden Treasury_ is a
volume excellent in selection, arrangement, and taste. It does, I think,
leave the impression that the age of Wordsworth was our greatest period
in lyrical poetry. And if Book I. were swelled to the dimensions of Book
IV., this impression would not be materially altered; it might even be
deepened. For the change would force into notice the comparative
monotony of the themes of the earlier poetry, and the immensely wider
range of the thought and emotion that attain expression in the later. It
might also convince us that, on the whole, this more varied material is
treated with a greater intensity of feeling, though on this point it is
difficult to be sure, since we recognise what may be called the
conventions of an earlier age, and are perhaps a little blind to those
of a time near our own.

Now the eminence of Wordsworth's age in lyrical poetry, even if it is
not also a pre-eminence, is a significant fact. It may mean that the
whole poetic spirit of the time was lyrical in tendency; and this may
indirectly be a cause of that sense of disappointment which mingles with
our admiration of the long poems. I will call attention, therefore, to
two or three allied facts. (1) The longer poems of Campbell are already
dead; he survives only in lyrics. This is also true of Moore. In spite
of fine passages (and the battle in _Marmion_ is in certain qualities
superior to anything else of the time) Scott's longer poems cannot be
classed with the best contemporary poetry; but in some of his ballads
and songs he attains that rank. (2) Again, much of the most famous
narrative poetry is semi-lyrical in form, as a moment's thought of
Scott, Byron, and Coleridge will show. Some of it (for instance, several
of Byron's tales, or Wordsworth's _White Doe of Rylstone_) is strongly
tinged with the lyrical spirit. The centre of interest is inward. It is
an interest in emotion, thought, will, rather than in scenes, events,
actions, which express and re-act on emotions, thoughts, will. It would
hardly be going too far to say that in the most characteristic narrative
poetry the balance of outward and inward is rarely attained.[4] (3) The
same tendencies are visible in much of the dramatic writing. Byron's
regular dramas, for instance, if they ever lived, are almost forgotten;
but _Heaven and Earth_, which is still alive, is largely composed of
lyrics, and the first two acts of _Manfred_ are full of them.
_Prometheus Unbound_ is called 'a lyrical drama.' Though it has some
very fine and some very beautiful blank verse passages (usually
undramatic), its lyrics are its glory; and this is even more the case
with _Hellas_. It would be untrue to say that the comparative failure of
most of the dramas of the time is principally due to the lyrical spirit,
but many of them show it. (4) The strength of this spirit may be
illustrated lastly by a curious fact. The ode is one of the longest and
most ambitious forms of lyric, and some of the most famous poems of
Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats are odes. But the greatest of the
lyrists, who wrote the Odes to Liberty and Naples and the West Wind,
found the limits even of the ode too narrow for his 'flight of fire.' If
_Lycidas_ and _L'Allegro_ and Spenser's _Epithalamion_ are lyrical
poems, and if we are not arbitrarily to determine that nothing shall be
called lyrical which exceeds a certain length, _Adonaïs_ will be a
lyrical elegy in fifty-five Spenserian stanzas, and the _Lines written
among the Euganean Hills_ and _Epipsychidion_ will be lyrics consisting
respectively of 370 and 600 lines.

It will however be agreed that in general a lyrical poem may be called
short as compared with a narrative or drama. It is usual, further, to
say that lyrical poetry is 'subjective,' since, instead of telling or
representing a story of people, actions, and events, it expresses the
thoughts and feelings of the poet himself. This statement is ambiguous
and in other ways defective; but it will be admitted to have a basis in
fact. It may be suggested, then, that the excellence of the lyrical
poetry of Wordsworth's time, and the imperfection of the long narratives
and dramas, may have a common origin. Just as it was most natural to
Homer or to Shakespeare to express the imaginative substance of his mind
in the 'objective' shape of a world of persons and actions ostensibly
severed from his own thoughts and feelings, so, perhaps, for some reason
or reasons, it was most natural to the best poets of this later time to
express that substance in the shape of impassioned reflections,
aspirations, prophecies, laments, outcries of joy, murmurings of peace.
The matter of these might, in another sense of the word, be 'objective'
enough, a matter of general human interest, not personal in any
exclusive way; but it appeared in the form of the poet's thought and
feeling. Just because he most easily expressed it thus, he succeeded
less completely when he attempted the more objective form of utterance;
and for the same reason it was especially important that he should be
surrounded and penetrated by an atmosphere of wide, deep, and liberal
'criticism.' For he not only lived among ideas; he expressed ideas, and
expressed them _as_ ideas.

These suggestions seem to be supported by other phenomena of the poetry.
The 'subjective' spirit extends, we saw, into many of the longer poems.
This is obvious when it can plausibly be said, as in Byron's case, that
the poet's one hero is himself. It appears in another way when the poem,
through its story or stories, displays the poet's favourite ideas and
beliefs. The _Excursion_ does this; most of Shelley's longer poems do
it. And the strength of this tendency may be seen in an apparent
contradiction. One of the marks of the Romantic Revival is a disposition
to substitute the more concrete and vivid forms of narrative and drama
for the eighteenth century form of satiric or so-called didactic
reflection. Yet most of the greater poets, especially in their
characteristic beginnings, show a strong tendency to reflective verse;
Coleridge, for example, in _Religious Musings_, Byron in the first two
cantos of _Childe Harold_, Shelley in _Queen Mab_, and Keats in _Sleep
and Poetry_. These are not, like the _Pleasures of Memory_ and
_Pleasures of Hope_, continuations of the traditional style; they are
thoroughly Romantic; and yet they are reflective. Scott, indeed, goes
straight to the objective forms; but then Scott, for good and evil, was
little affected by the spiritual upheaval of his time. Those who were
deeply affected by it, directly or indirectly, had their minds full of
theoretic ideas. They were groping after, or were already inflamed by,
some explicit view of life, and of life seen in relation to an ideal
which it revealed or contradicted. And this view of life, at least at
first, pressed for utterance in a more or less abstract shape, or
became a sort of soul or second meaning within those appearances of
nature, or actions of men, or figures and fantasies of youthful
imagination, which formed the ostensible subject of the poetry.

Considered in this light, the following facts become very significant.
Wordsworth, now about thirty, and the author of many characteristic
lyrics, on returning from Germany and settling at Grasmere, begins to
meditate a long poem. He tells us in the _Prelude_ of the subjects he
thought of. They are good subjects, legendary and historical, stories of
action, not at all theoretical.[5] But it will not do: his mind 'turns
recreant to her task.' He has another hope, a 'favourite aspiration'
towards 'a philosophic song of Truth.' But even this will not do; it is
premature; even Truth (I venture to suggest) is not inward enough. He
must first tell the story of his own mind: the subject of his long poem
must be Poetry itself. He tells this story, to our great gain, in the
_Prelude_; and it is the story of the steps by which he came to see
reality, Nature and Man, as the partial expression of the ideal, of an
all-embracing and perfect spiritual life or Being. Not till this is done
can he proceed to the _Excursion_, which, together with much reflection
and even argumentation, contains pictures of particular men.

'This for our greatest'; but it is not his history alone. The first
longer poem of Shelley which can be called mature was _Alastor_. And
what is its subject? The subject of the _Prelude_; the story of a Poet's
soul, and of the effect on it of the revelation of its ideal. The first
long poem of Keats was _Endymion_. The tendency to the concrete was
strong in Keats; he has been called, I think, an Elizabethan born out of
due time; and _Endymion_, like _Venus and Adonis_, is a mythological
story. But it is by no means that alone. The infection of his time was
in him. The further subject of _Endymion_ is again the subject of the
_Prelude_, the story of a poet's soul smitten by love of its ideal, the
Principle of Beauty, and striving for union with it, for the 'wedding'
of the mind of man 'with this goodly universe in love and holy passion.'
What, again, is the subject of _Epipsychidion_? The same.

  There was a Being whom my spirit oft
  Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft
  In the clear golden prime of my youth's dawn.

The poem is all about the search of the poet's soul for this ideal
Being. And the _Sensitive Plant_ is this soul, and the Lady of the
Garden this Being, And _Prince Athanase_ is the same soul, and if the
poem had been continued the Being would soon have appeared. Is it not an
astonishing proof of Shelley's powers that the _Cenci_ was ever written?
Shelley, when he died, had half escaped--Keats, some time before he
died, had quite escaped--from that bewitching inward world of the poet's
soul and its shadowy adventures. Could that well be the world of what we
call emphatically a 'great poem'?


Let us review for a moment the course of our discussion. I have been
suggesting that, if our pleasure and glory in the poetry of Wordsworth's
age is tinged with disappointment, this does not extend to the lyrical
poetry; that the lyrical spirit, or, more generally, an inward or
subjective tendency, shows itself in many of the longer works; and that
their imperfection is partly due to it. Now, let me suggest that the
atmosphere of adequate 'criticism' which Arnold misses in the age and
its poetry, while doubtless it would have influenced favourably even the
lyrics, and much more the larger works, could hardly have diminished the
force of that tendency, and that the main difficulty lay _there_. But,
before developing this idea further, I propose to leave for a time the
English poetry of Wordsworth's age, to look beyond it, and to ask
certain questions.

First, granted that in that age the atmosphere of 'criticism' was more
favourable in Germany than in England, how many long poems were produced
in Germany that we can call without hesitation or qualification 'great'?
Were _any_ produced except by Goethe? And, if we admit (as I gladly do)
that he produced several, was not the _main_ reason simply that he was
born with more poetic genius than any of his contemporaries, just as
Dante and Shakespeare and Milton were? And again, with this native
genius and his long laborious life, did he produce anything like as many
great poems as might have been expected? And, if not, why not? I do not
suggest that his general culture, so superior to that of his English
contemporaries, did not help him; but are we sure that it did not also
hinder him? And is it not also significant that, in spite of his love of
new ideas, he felt an instinctive dread of the influence of philosophy,
in the strict sense, as of something dangerous to the poetic modes of
vision and creation?

Secondly, if we look beyond the first quarter of the century to the
second and third, do we find in Europe a large number of those
emphatically great poems, solid coherent structures of concrete
imagination? It seems more than doubtful. To confine ourselves to
English examples, is it not the case that Tennyson is primarily a
lyrical poet, that the best of his longer poems, _Maud_ and _In
Memoriam_, are lyrical, and that the most ambitious, the narrative
_Idylls of the King_, is, as a whole, not great? Is the _Ring and the
Book_, however fine in parts, a great whole, or comparable as a whole
with _Andrea del Sarto_ or _Rabbi ben Ezra_? And is any one of
Browning's dramas a great play? What these questions suggest is that,
while the difficulty about the long poem affects in an extreme degree
the age of Wordsworth, it affects in some degree the time that follows.
Its beginnings, too, are traceable before the nineteenth century. In
fact it is connected with essential characteristics of modern poetry and
art; and these characteristics are connected with the nature of modern
life, and the position of the artist within that life. I wish to touch
on this huge subject before returning to the age of Wordsworth.

Art, we may say, has become free, and, in a sense, universal. The poet
is no longer the minstrel of king or nobles, nor even of a city or
country. Literature, as Goethe foretold, becomes increasingly European,
and more than European; and the poet, however national, is a citizen of
the Republic of Letters. No class of subject, again, has any prerogative
claim on him. Whatever, in any time or place, is human, whatever has
been conceived as divine, whatever belongs even to external nature, he
may choose, as it suits his bent or offers a promising material. The
world is all before him; and it is a world which the increase of
knowledge has made immensely wide and rich. His art, further, has
asserted its independence. Its public exhibition must conform to the
law; but otherwise it neither asks the approval nor submits to the
control of any outward authority; and it is the handmaid of nothing. It
claims a value for itself, as an expression of mind co-ordinate with
other expressions, theoretic and practical; satisfying a need and
serving a purpose that none of them can fulfil; subject only, as they
too are subject, to the unity of human nature and human good. Finally,
in respect of the methods of his art the poet claims and enjoys the same
freedom. The practice of the past, the 'rules' of the past (if they
existed or exist), are without authority for him. It is improbable
beforehand that a violent breach with them will lead him to a real
advance, just as it is improbable that such a breach with the morals or
the science of his day will do so. But there is no certainty beforehand;
and if he fails, he expects blame not because he innovates, but because
he has failed by innovating.

The freedom of modern art, and the universality of its field, are great
things, and the value of the second is easily seen in the extraordinary
variety of subject-matter in the longer poems of the nineteenth century.
But in candid minds most recitals of our modern advantages are followed
by a melancholy sense of our feebleness in using them. And so in some
degree it is here. The unrivalled opportunities fail to produce
unrivalled works. And we can see that the deepest cause of this is not a
want of native genius or of acquired skill or even of conscientious
labour, but the fact that the opportunities themselves bring danger and
difficulty. The poet who knows everything and may write about anything
has, after all, a hard task. Things must have been easier, it seems to
us, for an artist whose choice, if his aim was high, was restricted to a
cycle of ideas and stories, mythological, legendary, or historical, or
all together, concerning beings divine, daemonic, angelic, or heroic.
His matter, as it existed in the general imagination, was already highly
poetical. If not created by imagination, it was shaped or coloured by
it; a world not of bodiless thoughts and emotions, but of scenes,
figures, actions, and events. For the most part he lived in unity with
it; it appealed to his own religious and moral feelings and beliefs,
sometimes to his patriotic feelings; and he wrote, painted, or carved,
for people who shared with him both his material and his attitude
towards it. It belonged usually to the past, but he did not view it over
a great gulf of time with the eye of a scientific historian. If he
wished to robe it in the vesture of the life around him, he was checked
by no scruples as to truth; and the life around him can seldom, we
think, have appeared to him repulsively prosaic. Broad statements like
these require much qualification; but, when it is supplied, they may
still describe periods in which perhaps most of the greatest
architecture, sculpture, painting, and poetry has come into being.

How different the position of the artist has now become we see at a
glance, and I confine myself to some points which specially concern the
difficulty of the long poem. If a poem is to be anything like great it
must, in one sense, be concerned with the present. Whatever its
'subject' may be, it must express something living in the mind from
which it comes and the minds to which it goes. Wherever its body is, its
soul must be here and now. What subject, then, in the measureless field
of choice, is the poet to select and fashion into a body? The outward
life around him, as he and his critics so often lament, appears uniform,
ugly, and rationally regulated, a world of trousers, machinery and
policemen. Law--the rule, however imperfect, of the general reasonable
will--is a vast achievement and priceless possession; but it is not
favourable to striking events or individual actions on the grand scale.
Beneath the surface, and breaking through it, there is doubtless an
infinity of poetic matter; but this is inward, or it fails to appear in
impressive forms; and therefore it may suit the lyric or idyll, the
monologue or short story, the prose drama or novel, but hardly the long
poem or high tragedy. Even war, for reasons not hard to find, is no
longer the subject that it was.

But when the poet turns to a subject distant in place or time or both,
new troubles await him. If he aims at complete truth to time and place
the soul of the present will hardly come into his work. Yet he lives in
an age of history and science, and these hamper as well as help him. The
difficulty is not that he is bound to historical or scientific truth,
for in principle, I venture to say, he is free. If he _can_ satisfy
imagination by violating them he is justified. It is no function of his
to attain or propagate them; and a critic who objected, say, to the
First Part of _Faust_ on the ground that it puts a modern spirit into
the legend, would rightly be laughed at. It is its triumph to do so and
yet to succeed. But then success is exceedingly difficult. For the poet
lives in a time when the violation of truth is _prima facie_ felt to be
a fault, something that does require justification by the result.
Further, he has himself to start from a clear consciousness of
difference between the present and the past, the spirit and the story,
and has to produce on this basis a harmony of spirit and story. And
again, living in an age of analytical thought, he is likely--all the
more likely, if he has much greatness of mind--to be keenly interested
in ideas; and so he is exposed to the temptation of using as the spirit
of the old story some highly reflective idea--an idea not only
historically alien to his material, but perhaps not very poetical, or
again not very deep, because it belongs to him rather as philosopher
than poet, while his genius is that of a poet.

The influence of some of these difficulties might readily be shown in
the Second Part of _Faust_ or in _Prometheus Unbound_, especially where
we perceive in a figure or action some symbolical meaning, but find this
meaning deficient in interest or poetic truth, or are vexed by the doubt
how far it ought to be pursued.[6] But the matter is more easily
illustrated by the partial failure of the _Idylls of the King_. We have
no right to condemn beforehand an attempt to modernise the Arthurian
legends. Tennyson's treatment of them, even his outrage on the story of
Tristram, might conceivably have been justified by the result. And,
indeed, in the _Holy Grail_ and the _Passing of Arthur_ his treatment,
to my mind, was more than justified. But, in spite of countless
beauties, the total result of the _Idylls_ was disappointing, not merely
from the defects of this or that poem, but because the old unity of
spirit and story was broken up, and the new was neither equal to the old
nor complete in itself. For the main semi-allegorical idea, having
already the disadvantage of not being poetic in its origin, was, as a
reflective idea, by no means profound, and it led to such inconsistency
in the very centre of the story as the imagination refuses to accept.
Tennyson's Lancelot might have wronged the Arthur who is merely a
blameless king and represents Conscience; but Tennyson's Lancelot would
much rather have killed himself than be systematically treacherous to
the friend and lover-husband who appears in _Guinevere_.[7]

These difficulties belong in some measure to the whole modern time--the
whole time that begins with the Renaissance; but they become so much
clearer and so much more serious with the advance of knowledge and
criticism, that in speaking of them I have been referring specially to
the last century. There are other difficulties not so closely connected
with that advance, and I will venture some very tentative remarks on
one of these, which also has increased with time. It has to do with the
kind of life commonly lived by our poets. Is there not some significance
in the fact that the most famous of our narrative poets were all three,
in their various ways and degrees, public men, or in contact with great
affairs; and that poets in earlier times no less must usually have seen
something at first hand of adventure, political struggles, or war;
whereas poets now, for the most part, live wholly private lives, and,
like the majority of their readers, are acquainted only by report with
anything of the kind? If Chaucer had never been at Court, or seen
service in the French war, or gone on embassies abroad; if Spenser had
not known Sidney and Raleigh and been secretary to Lord Grey in Ireland;
if Milton had spent his whole life at Horton; would it have made no
difference to their poetry? Again, if we turn to the drama and ask why
the numerous tragedies of the nineteenth century poets so rarely
satisfy, what is the answer? There are many reasons, and among them the
poet's ignorance of the stage will doubtless count for much; but must we
not also consider that he scarcely ever saw anything resembling the
things he tried to portray? When we study the history of the time in
which the Elizabethan dramas were composed, when we examine the
portraits of the famous men, or read such a book as the autobiography of
Lord Herbert of Cherbury, we realise that the violent actions and
passions which the dramatist depicted were like the things he saw.
Whatever Shakespeare's own disposition was, he lived among these men,
jested with the fellow-actor who had borne arms abroad and killed his
man in a duel at home, conversed with nobles whose heads perhaps were no
great way from the block. But the poet who strolls about the lanes or
plods the London streets with an umbrella for a sword, and who has
probably never seen a violent deed in his life, or for a moment really
longed to kill so much as a critic, how is he to paint the vengeance of
Hamlet or the frenzy of Macbeth, and not merely to thrill you with the
emotions of his actors but to make them _do_ things that take your
imagination by the throat?


Assuming, now, that (even if this last idea is doubtful or unimportant)
there is some truth in the suggestion that the difficulties of the long
poem arise largely from the conditions described, and especially from
the nature of the intellectual atmosphere which the modern poet
breathes, let us return to Wordsworth's age in particular. In that age
these difficulties were aggravated in a quite exceptional way by special
causes, causes responsible also in part for the unusual originality and
intensity of the poetry. In it we find conditions removed to the
extremest distance from those of the poet who wrote, in the midst of a
generally accepted social order, for an audience with which he shared
traditional ideas and beliefs and a more or less traditional imaginative
material. It was, in a word, a revolutionary age, in the electric
atmosphere of which the most potent intellectual influences were those
of Rousseau and (for the English poets) of Godwin. Milton's time was not
in the same sense revolutionary, much less Shakespeare's. The forces of
the great movement of mind in Shakespeare's day _we_ may formulate as
'ideas,' but they were not the abstractly conceived ideas of
Wordsworth's day. Such theoretical ideas were potent in Milton's time,
but they were not ideas that made a total breach with the past,
rejecting as worthless, or worse, the institutions, beliefs, and modes
of life in which human nature had endeavoured to realise itself, and
drawing airy pictures of a different human nature on a new earth. Nor
was the poetic mind of those ages enraptured or dejected by the haunting
many-featured contrast of real and ideal. But the poetic mind in
Wordsworth's age breathed this atmosphere of revolution, though it was
not always sensitive to the influence. Nor is it a question of the
acceptance or rejection of the 'ideas of the Revolution.' That influence
is clearly traceable in all the greater writers except Scott and Jane
Austen. It is equally obvious in Wordsworth, who hungered for realities,
recovered from his theoretic malady, sought for good in life's familiar
face, yet remained a preacher; in Byron, who was too shrewd, sceptical,
and selfish to contract that particular malady, but who suffered from
the sickness from which Goethe freed himself by writing _Werther_,[8]
and who punctuates his story in _Don Juan_ with bursts of laughter and
tears; and in Shelley, whose 'rapid spirit' was quickened, and then
clogged, by the abstractions of revolutionary theory.

But doubtless Shelley is, in a sense, the typical example of this
influence and of its effects. From the world of his imagination the
shapes of the old world had disappeared, and their place was taken by a
stream of radiant vapours, incessantly forming, shifting, and dissolving
in the 'clear golden dawn,' and hymning with the voices of seraphs, to
the music of the stars and the 'singing rain,' the sublime ridiculous
formulas of Godwin. In his heart were emotions that responded to the
vision,--an aspiration or ecstasy, a dejection or despair, like those of
spirits rapt into Paradise or mourning over its ruin. And he wrote, not,
like Shakespeare or Pope, for Londoners sitting in a theatre or a
coffee-house, intelligences vivid enough but definitely embodied in a
definite society; he wrote, or rather he sang, to his own soul, to
other spirit-sparks of the fire of Liberty scattered over the dark
earth, to spirits in the air, to the boundless spirit of Nature or
Freedom or Love, his one place of rest and the one source of his vision,
ecstasy, and sorrow. He sang _to_ this, and he sang _of_ it, and of the
emotions it inspired, and of its world-wide contest with such shapes of
darkness as Faith and Custom. And he made immortal music; now in
melodies as exquisite and varied as the songs of Schubert, and now in
symphonies where the crudest of Philosophies of History melted into
golden harmony. But the songs were more perfect than the symphonies; and
they could hardly fail to be so. For a single thought and mood,
expressive of one aspect of things, suffices, with its melody, for a
lyric, but not for a long poem. That requires a substance which
implicitly contains a whole 'criticism' or interpretation of life. And
although there was something always working in Shelley's mind, and
issuing in those radiant vapours, that was far deeper and truer than his
philosophic creed, its expression and even its development were
constantly checked or distorted by the hard and narrow framework of that
creed. And it was one which in effect condemned nine-tenths of the human
nature that has formed the material of the world's great poems.[9]

The second and third quarters of the century were not in the same degree
as the first a revolutionary time, and we feel this change in the
poetry. The fever-heat is gone, the rapture and the dejection moderate,
the culture is wider, the thought more staid and considerate, the
fascination of abstractions less potent, and the formative or plastic
impulse, if not stronger, less impeded. Late in the period, with Morris,
the born teller of tales re-appears. If, as we saw, the lyrical spirit
continues to prevail, no one would deny to Browning the full and robust
sympathy of the dramatist with all the variety of character and passion.
Yet these changes and others are far from obliterating those features of
the earlier generation on which we have dwelt. To describe the
atmosphere of 'criticism' as that of a common faith or view of the world
would be laughable. If not revolutionary, it was agitated, restless, and
distressed by the conflict of theoretic ideas. To Arnold's mind it was
indeed a most unhappy time for poetry, though the poetic impulse
remained as yet, and even later, powerful. The past was dead, but he
could share neither the soaring hope nor the passionate melancholy of
the opening century. He was

  Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
    The other powerless to be born,
  With nowhere yet to rest his head.

And the two greatest poets, as well as he, still offer not only, as
poets always must, an interpretation, but a definite theory of life,
and, more insistently than ever before, of death. Confidence in the
detail, at least, of such theories has diminished, and with the rapid
advance of the critical sciences the poets may prophesy less than their
predecessors; but they probe, and weigh, and deliberate more. And the
strength of the 'inward' tendency, obvious in Tennyson and Arnold, may
be clearly seen even in Browning, and not alone in such works as
_Christmas Eve and Easter Day_ or _La Saisiaz_.

Objective and dramatic as Browning is called and by comparison is, he is
surely most at home, and succeeds most completely, in lyrics, and in
monologues divested of action and merely suggestive of a story or
suggested by one. He too must begin, in _Pauline_, with the picture of a
youthful poet's soul. Dramatic the drama of _Paracelsus_ neither is nor
tries to be: it consists of scenes in the history of souls. Of the
narrative _Sordello_ its author wrote: 'The historical decoration was
purposely of no more importance than a background requires; and my
stress lay on the incidents in the development of a soul: little else is
worth study.' Even if that is so, great narrative poems are not written
thus. And what Browning says here applies more or less fully to most of
his works. In the end, if we set aside the short lyrics, his best poems
are all 'studies' of souls. 'Well,' it may be answered, 'so are
Shakespeare's tragedies and tragi-comedies.' But the difference is
great. Shakespeare, doubtless, is little concerned with the accuracy of
the historical background,--much less concerned than Browning. But his
subject is not a soul, nor even souls: it is the actions of souls, or
souls coming into action. It is more. It is that clash of souls which
exhibits not them alone, but a whole of spiritual forces, appearing in
them, but spreading beyond them into the visible society to which they
essentially belong, and into invisible regions which enclose it. The
thing shown, therefore, is huge, multiform, ponderous, yet quivering
with an inward agitation which explodes into violent bodily expression
and speaks to the _eye_ of imagination. What specially interests
Browning is not this. It is the soul moving in itself, often in its most
secret windings and recesses; before action or after it, where there is
action at all; and this soul not essentially as in its society (that is
'background' or 'decoration'), but alone, or in relation to another
soul, or to God. He exhibits it best, therefore, in monologue, musing,
explaining, debating, pleading, overflowing into the expression of
feeling or passion, but not acting. The 'men and women' that haunt the
reader's imagination are not so much men of action as lovers, artists,
men of religion. And when they act (as for example in _The Ring and the
Book_, or the dramas) what rivets attention, and is first recalled to
memory by their names, is not the action, but its reflection in the soul
of the doer or spectator. Such, at least, is my experience; and in the
end a critic can only offer to others his considered experience. But
with Homer and Shakespeare and Milton it is otherwise. Even with Dante
it is otherwise. I see not souls alone, but souls in visible attitudes,
in outward movement, often in action. I see Paolo and Francesca drifting
on the wind: I see them sitting and reading: I see them kiss: I _see_
Dante's pity:

  E caddi come corpo morto cade.


I spoke of Tennyson and Browning in order to point out that, although in
their day the intellectual atmosphere was no longer 'revolutionary,' it
remained an atmosphere of highly reflective ideas representing no common
'faith' or way of envisaging the world, and that the inward tendency
still asserts itself in their poetry. We cannot pursue the history
further, but it does not appear that in the last forty years culture has
advanced much, or at all, towards such a faith or way, or shows the
working of new semi-conscious creative ideas beneath the surface of
warring theories and opinions. Only the younger among us can hope to see
what Arnold descried in the distance,

  One mighty wave of thought and joy
    Lifting mankind again.

And even when, for them or their descendants, that hope is realised, and
with it the hope of a new great poetry, the atmosphere must assuredly
still be one of 'criticism,' and Arnold's insistence on the necessity of
the best criticism will still be as urgently required. It must indeed be
more and more needed as the power of half-educated journalism grows. How
poetry then will overcome the obstacles which, therefore, must in some
measure still beset it, is a question for it, a question answerable not
by the reflections of critics, but by the creative deeds of poets
themselves. Accordingly, while one may safely prophesy that their long
poems will differ from those of any past age, I have no idea of
predicting the nature of this difference, and will refer in conclusion
only to certain views which seem to me delusive.

It must surely be vain for the poet to seek an escape from modern
difficulties by any attempt to withdraw himself from the atmosphere of
free and scientific culture, to maintain by force simplicity of view and
concreteness of imagination, to live in a past century or a sanctuary of
esoteric art, whether secular or religious. Whatever of value such an
attempt may yield--and that it may yield much I do not deny--it will
never yield poems at once long and great.

Such poems, we may allow ourselves to hope, will sometimes deal with
much of the common and painful and ugly stuff of life, and be in that
sense more 'democratic' or universal than any poetry of the past. But it
is vain to imagine that this can be done by a refusal to 'interpret' and
an endeavour to photograph. Even in the most thorough-going prose
'realism' there is selection; and, to go no further, selection itself is
interpretation. And, as for poetry, the mirror which the least
theoretical of great poets holds up to nature is his soul. And that,
whether he likes it or not, is an activity which divides, and sifts,
and recombines into a unity of its own, and by a method of its own, the
crude material which experience thrusts upon it. This must be so; the
only question is of the choice of matter and the method of treatment.
Nor can the end to be achieved be anything but beauty, though the
meaning of that word may be extended and deepened. And beauty in its
essence is something that gives satisfaction, however much of pain,
repulsion, or horror that satisfaction may contain and overcome.

'But, even so,' it may be said, 'why should the poet trouble himself
about figures, events, and actions? That inward tendency in which you
see danger and difficulty is, on the contrary, simply and solely what on
one side you admit it to be, the sign of our advance. What we really
need is to make our long poems _entirely_ interior. We only want to know
how Dante felt; we do not _wish_ to see his pity felling him to the
ground; and much less do we wish to hear Othello say "and smote him
thus," or even to imagine the blow. We are not children or savages.' We
do not want, I agree, attempts to repeat the Elizabethan drama. But
those who speak thus forget, perhaps, in how many kinds of poem this
inward tendency can display its power without any injury or drawback.
They fail to ask themselves, perhaps, whether a _long_ poem so entirely
'interior' can possibly have the clearness, variety, and solidity of
effect that the best long poems have possessed; whether it can produce
the same impression of a massive, building, organising, 'architectonic'
power of imagination; and whether all this and much else is of little
value. They can hardly have realised, one must suspect, how much of life
they wish to leave unrepresented. They fail to consider, too, that
perhaps the business of art is not to ignore, but at once to satisfy and
to purify, the primitive instincts from which it arises; and that, in
the case of poetic art, the love of a story, and of exceptional figures,
scenes, events, and actions, is one of those instincts, and one that in
the immense majority of men shows no sign of decay. And finally, if they
suppose that the desire to see or imagine action, in particular, is a
symptom of mere sensationalism or a relic of semi-barbarism, I am sure
they are woefully mistaken. There is more virtue than their philosophy
dreams of in deeds, in 'the motion of a muscle this way or that.'
Doubtless it is the soul that matters; but the soul that remains
interior is not the whole soul. If I suppose that mere self-scrutiny can
show me that, I deceive myself; and my deeds, good and evil, will
undeceive me.

A last delusion remains. 'There is,' we may be told, 'a simple, final,
and comfortable answer to all these doubts and fears. The long poem is
not merely difficult, it is impossible. It is dead, and should be
publicly buried, and there is not the least occasion to mourn it. It has
become impossible not because we cannot write it, but because we see
that we ought not. And, in truth, it never was written. The thing called
a long poem was really, as any long poem must be, a number of short
ones, linked together by passages of prose. And these passages _could_
be nothing except prose; for poetry is the language of a state of
crisis, and a crisis is brief. The long poem is an offence to art.' I
believe I have stated this theory fairly. It was, unless I mistake, the
invention of Poe, and it is about as true as I conceive his story of the
composition of _The Raven_ to be. It became a gospel with some
representatives of the Symbolist movement in France; and in fact it
would condemn not only the long poem, but the middle-sized one, and
indeed all sizes but the smallest. To reject this theory is to imply no
want of gratitude for the lyrics of some of its adherents; but the
theory itself seems strangely thoughtless. Naturally, in any poem not
quite short, there must be many variations and grades of poetic
intensity; but to represent the differences of these numerous grades as
a simple antithesis between pure poetry and mere prose is like saying
that, because the eyes are the most expressive part of the face, the
rest of the face expresses nothing. To hold, again, that this variation
of intensity is a defect is like holding that a face would be more
beautiful if it were all eyes, a picture better if the illumination were
equally intense all over it, a symphony better if it consisted of one
movement, and if that were all crisis. And to speak as if a small poem
could do all that a long one does, and do it much more completely, is to
speak as though a humming-bird could have the same kind of beauty as an
eagle, the rainbow in a fountain produce the same effect as the rainbow
in the sky, or a moorland stream thunder like Niagara. A long poem, as
we have seen, requires imaginative powers superfluous in a short one;
and it would be easy to show that it admits of strictly poetic effects
of the highest value which the mere brevity of a short one excludes.
That the long poem is doomed is a possible, however groundless, belief;
but it is futile to deny that, if it dies, something of inestimable
worth will perish.[10]


  [1] The material of these pages belongs in part to the course
    mentioned on p. 99, and in part to a lecture given in November, 1905.
    They have in consequence defects which I have not found it possible
    to remove; and they also open questions too large and difficult for a
    single lecture. This is one reason why I have not referred to the
    prevalence of the novel in the nineteenth century, a prevalence which
    doubtless influenced both the character and the popularity of the
    long poems. I hope the reader will not gain from the lecture the
    false impression that the writer's admiration for those poems is
    lukewarm, or that he has any tendency to reaction against the
    Romantic Revival of Wordsworth's time.

  [2] This, and not the permanent value of the scientific product, is
    the point.

  [3] _Table-talk_, Feb. 16, 1833.

  [4] The narrative poems that satisfy most, because in their way they
    come nearest to perfection, will be found, I believe, to show this
    balance. Such, for instance, are _The Eve of St. Agnes_, _Lamia_,
    _Michael_, _The Vision of Judgment_, some of Crabbe's tales. It does
    not follow, of course, that such poems must contain the greatest
    poetry. Crabbe, for example, was probably the best artist of the day
    in narrative; but he does not represent the full ideal spirit of the

  [5] See p. 110.

  [6] Demogorgon is an instance of such a figure.

  [7] This incongruity is not the only cause of the discomfort with
    which many lovers of Tennyson read parts of Arthur's speech in that
    Idyll; but it is the main cause, and, unlike other defects, it lies
    in the plan of the story. It may be brought out further thus. So far
    as Arthur is merely the blameless king and representative of
    Conscience, the attitude of a judge which he assumes in the speech is
    appropriate, and, again, Lancelot's treachery to him is intelligible
    and, however wrong, forgivable. But then this Arthur or Conscience
    could never be a satisfactory husband, and ought not to astound or
    shock us by uttering his recollections of past caresses. If, on the
    other hand, these utterances are appropriate, and if all along
    Lancelot and Guinevere have had no reason to regard Arthur as cold
    and wholly absorbed in his public duties, Lancelot has behaved not
    merely wrongly but abominably, and as the Lancelot of the _Idylls_
    could not have behaved. The truth is that Tennyson's design requires
    Arthur to be at once perfectly ideal and completely human. And this
    is not imaginable.

    Having written this criticism, I cannot refrain from adding that I
    think the depreciation of Tennyson's genius now somewhat prevalent a
    mistake. I admire and love his poetry with all my heart, and regard
    him as considerably our greatest poet since the time of Wordsworth.

  [8] It is never to be forgotten, in comparing Goethe with the English
    poets, that he was twenty years older than Wordsworth and Coleridge,
    and forty years older than Byron and Shelley.

  [9] The reader will remember that he must take these paragraphs as an
    exaggerated presentment of a single, though essential, aspect of the
    poetry of the time, and of Shelley's poetry in particular, and must
    supply the corrections and additions for himself. But I may beg him
    to observe that Godwin's formulas are called sublime as well as
    ridiculous. _Political Justice_ would never have fascinated such
    young men as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, unless a great truth
    had been falsified in it; and the inspiration of this truth can be
    felt all through the preposterous logical structure reared on its

  [10] The theory criticised in this paragraph arises, I think, from a
    misapplication of the truth that the content of a genuine poem is
    fully expressible only in the words of that poem. It is seen that
    this is so in a lyric, and then it is assumed that it is _not_ so in
    a narrative or drama. But the assumption is false. At first sight we
    may seem able to give a more adequate account of the long poem than
    of the short one; but in reality you can no more convey the whole
    poetic content of the _Divine Comedy_ in a form not its own than you
    can the content of a song.

    The theory is connected in some minds with the view that 'music is
    the true type or measure of perfected art.' That view again rests on
    the idea that 'it is the art of music which most completely realises
    [the] artistic ideal, [the] perfect identification of form and
    matter,' and that accordingly 'the arts may be represented as
    continually struggling after the law or principle of music, to a
    condition which music alone completely realises' (Pater, _The
    Renaissance_, pp. 144, 145). I have by implication expressed dissent
    from this idea (p. 25); but, even if its truth is granted, what
    follows is that poetry should endeavour _in its own way_ to achieve
    that perfect identification; but it does not in the least follow that
    it should endeavour to do so by reducing itself as nearly as possible
    to mere sound. Nor did Pater affirm this, or (so far as I see) imply
    it. But others have.



There is no lack of good criticism on the poetry of Keats. It has been
discussed by the leading poets of three generations or semi-generations;
by Matthew Arnold, by Mr. Swinburne, and, much more fully, by Mr.
Bridges. Lord Houghton's _Life and Letters_ and Mr. Colvin's biography
both contain excellent criticisms or studies of the poems. And (to go no
further) they have lately been edited by Mr. de Sélincourt in a volume
invaluable to students of Keats, and reflecting honour not only on its
author but on the Oxford School of English, to the strength of which he
has contributed so much. My principal object is to consider Keats's
attitude to poetry and his views about it, in connection with the ideas
set forth in previous lectures on Shelley's views and on the age of
Wordsworth. But I wish to preface my remarks on this subject, and to
prepare for them, by an urgent appeal, addressed to any reader of the
poems who may need it, to study the letters of Keats. If I may judge
from my experience, such readers are still far too numerous; and I am
sure that no one already familiar with the letters will be sorry to
listen to quotations from them.[1]

The best of Keats's poems, of course, can be fully appreciated without
extraneous help; but the letters throw light on all, and they are almost
necessary to the understanding of _Endymion_ and of some of the earlier
or contemporaneous pieces. They clearly reveal those changes in his mind
and temper which appear in his poetry. They dispose for ever of the
fictions once current of a puny Keats who was 'snuffed out by an
article,' a sensual Keats who found his ideal in claret and 'slippery
blisses,' and a mere artist Keats who cared nothing for his country and
his fellow-creatures. Written in his last four years by a man who died
at twenty-five, they contain abundant evidence of his immaturity and his
faults, but they disclose a nature and character which command on the
whole not less respect than affection, and they show not a little of
that general intellectual power which rarely fails to accompany poetic

Of Keats's character, as the letters manifest it, Arnold has written.
While speaking plainly and decidedly of the weakness visible in those to
Miss Brawne, Arnold brought together the evidence which proves that
Keats 'had flint and iron in him,' 'had virtue in the true and large
sense of the word.' And he selected passages, too, which illustrate the
'admirable wisdom and temper' and the 'strength and clearness of
judgment' shown by Keats, alike in matters of friendship and in his
criticisms of his own productions, of the public, and of the literary
circles,--the 'jabberers about pictures and books,' as Keats in a bitter
mood once called them. We may notice, in addition, two characteristics.
In spite of occasional despondency, and of feelings of awe at the
magnitude of his ambition, Keats, it is tolerably plain from these
letters, had a clear and habitual consciousness of his genius. He never
dreamed of being a minor poet. He knew that he was a poet; sometimes he
hoped to be a great one. I remember no sign that he felt himself the
inferior of any living poet except Wordsworth. How he thought of Byron,
whom in boyhood he had admired, is obvious. When Shelley wrote, hinting
a criticism, but referring to himself as excelled by Keats in genius, he
returned the criticism without the compliment. His few references to
Coleridge are critical, and his amusing description of Coleridge's talk
is not more reverential than Carlyle's. Something, indeed, of the native
pugnacity which his friends ascribe to him seems to show itself in his
allusions to contemporaries, including even Wordsworth. Yet with all
this, and with all his pride and his desire of fame, no letters extant
breathe a more simple and natural modesty than these; and from end to
end they exhibit hardly a trace, if any trace, either of the irritable
vanity attributed to poets or of the sublime egotism of Milton and
Wordsworth. He was of Shakespeare's tribe.

The other trait that I wish to refer to appears in a particular series
of letters--sometimes mere notes--scattered through the collection. They
are addressed to Keats's school-girl sister Fanny, who was eight years
younger than he, and who died in the same year as Browning.[2] Keats, as
we see him in 1817 and 1818, in the first half of Mr. Colvin's
collection, was absorbed by an enthusiasm and ambition which his sister
was too young to understand. During his last two years he was, besides,
passionately and miserably in love, and, latterly, ill and threatened
with death. His soul was full of bitterness. He shrank into himself,
avoided society, and rarely sought even intimate friends. Yet, until he
left England, he never ceased to visit his sister when he could; and,
when he could not, he continued to write letters to her, full of amusing
nonsense, full of brotherly care for her, and of excellent advice
offered as by an equal who happened to be her senior; letters quite free
from thoughts of himself, and from the forced gaiety and the resentment
against fate which in parts of his later correspondence with others
betray his suffering. These letters to his sister are, in one sense, the
least remarkable in the collection, yet it would lose much by their
omission. They tell us next to nothing of his genius, but as we come
upon them the light in our picture of him, if it had grown for a moment
hard or troubled, becomes once more soft and bright.

To turn (with apologies for the distinction) from the character to the
mind of Keats, if the reader has formed a notion of him as a youth with
a genius for poetry and an exclusive interest in poetry, but otherwise
not intellectually remarkable, this error will soon be dispelled by the
letters. With Keats, no doubt, poetry and the hope of success in it were
passions more glowing than we have reason to attribute to his
contemporaries at the same time of life.[3] The letters remind us also
that, compared with them, he was at a disadvantage in intellectual
training and acquisitions, like the young Shakespeare among the
University wits. They show, too--the earlier far more than the later--in
certain literary mannerisms the unwholesome influence of Leigh Hunt and
his circle. But everywhere we feel in them the presence of an
intellectual nature, not merely sensitive and delicate, but open,
daring, rich, and strong; exceedingly poetic and romantic, yet
observant, acute, humorous, and sensible; intense without narrowness,
and quite as various both in its interests and its capacities as the
mind of Wordsworth or of Shelley. Fundamentally, and in spite of
abundant high spirits and a love of nonsense, the mind of Keats was very
serious and thoughtful. It was original, and not more imitative than an
original mind should be in youth; an intelligence which now startles by
flashes of sudden beauty, and now is seen struggling with new and deep
thoughts, which labour into shape, with scanty aid from theories, out of
personal experience. In quality--and I speak of nothing else--the mind
of Shakespeare at three and twenty may not have been very different.

Short extracts can give but little idea of all this; but they may at
least illustrate the variety of Keats's mind, and the passages I am
about to read have been chosen mainly with this intention, and not
because the majority are among the most striking that might be found.
The earliest belong to the September of 1817, and I take them partly for
their local interest. Keats spent most of that month here in Oxford,
staying in the Magdalen Hall of those days with his friend Bailey, a man
whose gentle and disinterested character he warmly admired. 'We lead,'
he writes to his sister, 'very industrious lives--he in general studies,
and I in proceeding at a pretty good pace with a Poem which I hope you
will see early in the next year.' It was _Endymion_: he wrote, it seems,
the whole of the Third Book in Bailey's rooms. Unluckily the hero in
that Book is wandering at the bottom of the sea; but even in those
regions, as Keats imagined them, a diligent student may perhaps find
some traces of Oxford. In the letters we hear of towers and quadrangles,
cloisters and groves; of the deer in Magdalen Park; and how

      The mouldering arch,
      Shaded o'er by a larch,
  Lives next door to Wilson the hosier

(that should be discoverable). But we hear most of the clear
streams--'more clear streams than ever I saw together.' 'I take a walk
by the side of one of them every evening.' 'For these last five or six
days,' he writes to Reynolds, 'we have had regularly a boat on the Isis,
and explored all the streams about, which are more in number than your
eyelashes. We sometimes skim into a bed of rushes, and there become
naturalised river-folks. There is one particularly nice nest, which we
have christened "Reynolds's Cove," in which we have read Wordsworth and
talked as may be.' Of those talks over Wordsworth with the grave
religious Bailey came perhaps the thoughts expressed later in the
best-known of all the letters (it is too well known to quote), thoughts
which take their origin from the _Lines written near Tintern Abbey_.[4]

About a year after this, Keats went with his friend Brown on a
walking-tour to the Highlands; and I will quote two passages from the
letters written during this tour, for the sake of the contrast they
exhibit between the two strains in Keats's mind. The first is the later.
The letter is dated 'Cairn-something July 17th':

  Steam-boats on Loch Lomond, and Barouches on its sides, take a little
  from the pleasure of such romantic chaps as Brown and I. The banks of
  the Clyde are extremely beautiful--the north end of Loch Lomond grand
  in excess--the entrance at the lower end to the narrow part is
  precious good--the evening was beautiful--nothing could surpass our
  fortune in the weather. Yet was I worldly enough to wish for a fleet
  of chivalry Barges with trumpets and banners, just to die away before
  me into that blue place among the mountains.[5]

Keats all over! Yes; but so is this, which was written a fortnight
earlier from Carlisle:

  After Skiddaw, we walked to Ireby, the oldest market town in
  Cumberland, where we were greatly amused by a country dancing-school
  holden at the Tun. It was indeed 'no new cotillion fresh from
  France.' No, they kickit and jumpit with mettle extraordinary, and
  whiskit, and friskit, and toed it and go'd it, and twirl'd it and
  whirl'd it, and stamped it, and sweated it, tattooing the floor like
  mad. The difference between our country dances and these Scottish
  figures is about the same as leisurely stirring a cup o' tea and
  beating up a batter-pudding. I was extremely gratified to think that,
  if I had pleasures they knew nothing of, they had also some into which
  I could not possibly enter. I hope I shall not return without having
  got the Highland fling. There was as fine a row of boys and girls as
  you ever saw; some beautiful faces, and one exquisite mouth. I never
  felt so near the glory of Patriotism, the glory of making by any means
  a country happier. This is what I like better than scenery.[6]

There is little enough here of the young poet who believes himself to
care for nothing but 'Art'; and as little of the theoretic
cosmopolitanism of some of Keats's friends.

Some three months later we find Keats writing from London to his brother
and his sister-in-law in America; and he tells them of a young lady from
India whom he has just met:

  She is not a Cleopatra, but she is at least a Charmian. She has a rich
  Eastern look. When she comes into a room she makes an impression the
  same as the beauty of a leopardess.... You will by this time think I
  am in love with her; so before I go any further I will tell you I am
  not--she kept me awake one night as a tune of Mozart's might do. I
  speak of the thing as a pastime and an amusement, than which I can
  feel none deeper than a conversation with an imperial woman, the very
  'yes' and 'no' of whose lips is to me a banquet.... I believe, though,
  she has faults--the same as Charmian and Cleopatra might have had. Yet
  she is a fine thing, speaking in a worldly way: for there are two
  distinct tempers of mind in which we judge of things,--the worldly,
  theatrical and pantomimical; and the unearthly, spiritual and
  ethereal. In the former, Buonaparte, Lord Byron, and this Charmian,
  hold the first place in our minds; in the latter, John Howard, Bishop
  Hooker rocking his child's cradle, and you, my dear sister, are the
  conquering feelings.[7]

I do not read this passage merely for its biographical interest, but a
word may be ventured on that. The lady was not Miss Brawne; but less
than a month later, on meeting Miss Brawne, he immediately became her
slave. When we observe the fact, and consider how very unlike the words
I have quoted are to anything in Keats's previous letters, we can hardly
help suspecting that he was at this time in a peculiar condition and
ripe for his fate. Then we remember that he had lately returned from his
Scotch tour, which was broken off because the Inverness doctor used the
most menacing language about the state of his throat; and further, that
he was now, in the late autumn, nursing his brother Tom, who died of
consumption before the year was out. And an idea suggests itself which,
if exceedingly prosaic, has yet some comfort in it. How often have
readers of Keats's life cried out that, if only he had never met Miss
Brawne, he might have lived and prospered! Does it not seem at least as
probable that, if Miss Brawne had never existed, what happened would
still have happened, and even that the fever of passion which helped to
destroy him was itself a token of incipient disease?

I turn the leaf and come, in the same letter, to a passage on politics.
The friends of Keats were, for the most part, advanced liberals. His own
sympathies went that way. A number of lines in the poems of his boyhood
show this, and so do many remarks in the letters. And his sympathies
were not mere sentiments. 'I hope sincerely,' he wrote in September,
1819, 'I shall be able to put a mite of help to the liberal side of the
question before I die'; and a few days later, when he tells Brown of his
wish to act instead of dreaming, and to work for his livelihood,
composing deliberate poems only when he can afford to, he says that he
will write as a journalist for whoever will pay him, but he makes it a
condition that he is to write 'on the liberal side of the question.' It
is a mistake to suppose that he had no political interests. But he
cared nothing for the mere quarrels of Whig and Tory; a 'Radical' was
for him the type of an 'obstinate and heady' man; and the perfectibility
theories of friends like Shelley and Dilke slipped from his mind like
water from a duck's back. We have seen the concrete shape his patriotism
took. He always saw ideas embodied, and was 'convinced that small causes
make great alterations.' I could easily find passages more
characteristic than the following; but it is short, it shows that Keats
thought for himself, and it has a curious interest just now (1905):[8]

  Notwithstanding the part which the Liberals take in the cause of
  Napoleon, I cannot but think he has done more harm to the life of
  Liberty than anyone else could have done. Not that the divine right
  gentlemen have done, or intend to do, any good. No, they have taken a
  lesson of him, and will do all the further harm he would have done,
  without any of the good. The worst thing he has done is that he has
  taught them how to organise their monstrous armies. The Emperor
  Alexander, it is said, intends to divide his Empire as did Diocletian,
  creating two Czars beside himself, and continuing the supreme monarch
  of the whole. Should he do this, and they for a series of years keep
  peaceable among themselves, Russia may spread her conquest even to
  China. I think it a very likely thing that China itself may fall;
  Turkey certainly will. Meanwhile European North Russia will hold its
  horns against the rest of Europe, intriguing constantly with France.

Still aiming chiefly to show the variety there is in these letters, I
may take next one or two passages which have an interest also from their
bearing on Keats's poems. Here we have, for example, the unmistakable
origin of the _Ode on Indolence_:

  This morning I am in a sort of temper indolent and supremely careless.
  I long after a stanza or two of Thomson's _Castle of Indolence_. My
  passions are all asleep, from my having slumbered till nearly eleven
  and weakened the animal fibre all over me to a delightful sensation,
  about three degrees on this side of faintness. If I had teeth of pearl
  and the breath of lilies, I should call it languor, but as I am* I
  must call it laziness. In this state of effeminacy the fibres of the
  brain are relaxed in common with the rest of the body, and to such a
  happy degree that pleasure has no show of enticement, and pain no
  unbearable power.[9] Neither Poetry nor Ambition nor Love have any
  alertness of countenance as they pass by me. They seem rather like
  figures on a Greek vase--a man and two women whom no one but myself
  could distinguish in their disguisement. This is the only happiness,
  and is a rare instance of the advantage of the body overpowering the

    * Especially as I have a black eye.

'This is the only happiness'--the sentence will surprise no one who has
even dipped into Keats's letters. It expresses a settled conviction.
Happiness, he feels, belongs only to childhood and early youth. A young
man thinks he can keep it, but a little experience shows him he must do
without it. The mere growth of the mind, if nothing else, is fatal to
it. To think is to be full of sorrow, because it is to realise the
sorrow of the world and to feel the burden of the mystery. 'Health and
spirits,' he says, 'can only belong unalloyed to the selfish man.'[11]
Shelley might be speaking. 'To see an entirely disinterested girl quite
happy is the most pleasant and extraordinary thing in the world. It
depends upon a thousand circumstances. On my word it is extraordinary.
Women must want Imagination, and they may thank God for it: and so may
we, that a delicate being can feel happy without any sense of
crime.'[12] These passages, taken alone, even when we observe his
qualifications, would give a false impression of Keats; but they supply
a curious commentary on the legend of the sensuous Keats. We may connect
with them his feeling of the inferiority of poets (or rather of such
'dreaming' poets as himself) to men of action.

In this same letter he copies out for his correspondents several
recently written poems, and among them the ballad _La Belle Dame Sans
Merci_. He copies it without a word of introduction. He could not say,
'Here is the record of my love and my despair,' for on this one subject
he never opened his heart to his brother. But when he has finished the
copy he adds a few lines referring to the stanza (afterwards altered):

  She took me to her elfin grot,
    And there she wept and sighed full sore,
  And there I shut her wild wild eyes
    With kisses four.

'Why four kisses, you will say, why four? Because I wish to restrain the
headlong impetuosity of my Muse. She would have fain said "score"
without hurting the rhyme: but we must temper the Imagination, as the
Critics say, with Judgment. I was obliged to choose an even number that
both eyes might have fair play; and, to speak truly, I think two apiece
quite sufficient. Suppose I had said seven, there would have been three
and a half apiece--a very awkward affair, and well got out of on my
side.' This is not very like the comments of Wordsworth on his best
poems, but I dare say the author of _Hamlet_ made such jests about it.
Is it not strange, let me add, to think that Keats and his friends were
probably unconscious of the extraordinary merit of this poem? It was not
published with the Odes in the volume of 1820.

I will quote, finally, three passages to illustrate in different ways
Keats's insight into human nature. It appears, on the whole, more
decidedly in the letters than in the poems, and it helps us to believe
that, so far as his gifts were concerned, his hope of ultimate success
in dramatic poetry was well founded. The first is a piece of 'nonsense,'
rattled off on the spur of the moment to amuse his correspondents, and
worth quoting only for its last sentence. He has been describing 'three
witty people, all distinct in their excellence'; and he goes on:

  I know three people of no wit at all, each distinct in his
  excellence--A, B, and C. A is the foolishest, B the sulkiest, C is a
  negative. A makes you yawn, B makes you hate, as for C you never see
  him at all though he were six feet high. I bear the first, I forbear
  the second, I am not certain that the third is. The first is gruel,
  the second ditch-water, the third is spilt--he ought to be wiped up.

C, who is spilt and ought to be wiped up, how often we have met and
still shall meet him! Shakespeare, I think, would gladly have fathered
the phrase that describes him, and the words that follow are not much
out of the tune of Falstaff: 'C, they say, is not his mother's true
child, but she bought him of the man who cries, Young lambs to

In the second passage Keats is describing one of his friends:

  Dilke is a man who cannot feel he has a personal identity unless he
  has made up his mind about everything. The only means of strengthening
  one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing--to let the
  mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts, not a select party. The genus
  is not scarce in population: all the stubborn arguers you meet are of
  the same brood. They never begin on a subject they have not
  pre-resolved on. They want to hammer their nail into you, and if you
  turn the point, still they think you wrong. Dilke will never come at a
  truth so long as he lives, because he is always trying at it. He is a
  Godwin Methodist.[14]

These lines illustrate the instinctive feeling of Keats that it is
essential to the growth of the poetic mind to preserve its natural
receptiveness and to welcome all the influences that stream in upon it.
They illustrate also his dislike of the fixed theories held and preached
by some members of his circle. We shall have to consider later the
meaning of his occasional outbreaks against 'thought,' 'knowledge,'
'philosophy.' It is important not to be misled by them, and not to
forget the frequent expressions of his feeling that what he lacks and
must strive to gain is this very 'knowledge' and 'philosophy.' Here I
will only observe that his polemics against them, though coloured by his
temperament, coincide to a large extent with Wordsworth's dislike of 'a
reasoning self-sufficing thing,' his depreciation of mere
book-knowledge, and his praise of a wise passiveness. And, further, what
he objects to here is not the pursuit of truth, it is the 'Methodism,'
the stubborn argument, and the habit of bringing to the argument and
maintaining throughout it a ready-made theory. He offers his own
thoughts and speculations freely enough to Bailey and to his
brother--men willing to probe with him any serious idea--but not to
Dilke. It is clear that he neither liked nor rated high the confident
assertions and negations of Shelley and his other Godwinian friends and
acquaintances. Probably from his ignorance of theories he felt at a
disadvantage in talking with them. But he did not dismiss their theories
as something of no interest to a poet. He thought about them, convinced
himself that they were fundamentally unsound, and himself philosophises
in criticising them. The following passage, from a letter to George and
Georgiana Keats, is the nearest approach to be found in his writings to
a theory of the world, a theology as he jestingly calls it; and although
it is long, I make no apology for quoting it. He has been reading, he
says, Robertson's _History of America_ and Voltaire's _Siècle de Louis
XIV._, and he observes that, though the two civilisations described are
so different, the case of the great body of the people is equally
lamentable in both. And he goes on thus:

  The whole appears to resolve into this--that man is originally a poor
  forked creature, subject to the same mischances as the beasts of the
  forest, destined to hardships and disquietude of some kind or other.
  If he improves by degrees his bodily accommodations and comforts, at
  each stage, at each ascent, there are waiting for him a fresh set of
  annoyances--he is mortal, and there is still a heaven with its stars
  above his head. The most interesting question that can come before us
  is, How far by the persevering endeavours of a seldom-appearing
  Socrates mankind may be made happy. I can imagine such happiness
  carried to an extreme, but what must it end in? Death--and who could
  in such a case bear with death? The whole troubles of life, which are
  now frittered away in a series of years, would then be accumulated for
  the last days of a being who, instead of hailing its approach, would
  leave this world as Eve left Paradise. But in truth I do not at all
  believe in this sort of perfectibility. The nature of the world will
  not admit of it--the inhabitants of the world will correspond to
  itself. Let the fish philosophise the ice away from the rivers in
  winter time, and they shall be at continual play in the tepid delight
  of summer. Look at the Poles, and at the sands of Africa--whirlpools
  and volcanoes. Let men exterminate them, and I will say that they may
  arrive at earthly happiness. The point at which man may arrive is as
  far as the parallel state in inanimate nature, and no further. For
  instance, suppose a rose to have sensation; it blooms on a beautiful
  morning; it enjoys itself; but then comes a cold wind, a hot sun. It
  cannot escape it, it cannot destroy its annoyances--they are as native
  to the world as itself. No more can man be happy in spite [?], the
  worldly elements will prey upon his nature.

  The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and
  superstitious is 'a vale of tears,' from which we are to be redeemed
  by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven. What
  a little circumscribed straitened notion! Call the world if you please
  'The vale of Soul-making.' Then you will find out the use of the world
  (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature, admitting it
  to be immortal, which I will here take for granted for the purpose of
  showing a thought which has struck me concerning it). I say
  '_Soul-making_'--Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence.[15] There
  may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions, but they
  are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is
  personally itself. Intelligences are atoms of perception--they know
  and they see and they are pure; in short they are God. How then are
  souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have
  identity given them--so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each
  one's individual existence? How but by the medium of a world like
  this? This point I sincerely wish to consider, because I think it a
  grander system of salvation than the Christian religion--or rather it
  is a system of Spirit-creation. This is effected by three grand
  materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years. These
  three materials are the _Intelligence_, the _human heart_ (as
  distinguished from intelligence or mind), and the World or elemental
  space suited for the proper action of _Mind_ and _Heart_ on each other
  for the purpose of forming the _Soul_ or _Intelligence destined to
  possess the sense of Identity_. I can scarcely express what I but
  dimly perceive--and yet I think I perceive it. That you may judge the
  more clearly I will put it in the most homely form possible. I will
  call the _world_ a School instituted for the purpose of teaching
  little children to read. I will call the _human heart_ the horn-book
  read in that School. And I will call the _Child able to read_, the
  _Soul_ made from that School and its horn-book. Do you not see how
  necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence
  and make it a Soul? A place where the heart must feel and suffer in a
  thousand diverse ways. Not merely is the Heart a horn-book, it is the
  Mind's Bible, it is the mind's experience, it is the text from which
  the Mind or Intelligence sucks its identity. As various as the lives
  of men are, so various become their Souls; and thus does God make
  individual beings, Souls, identical Souls, of the sparks of his own
  essence. This appears to me a faint sketch of a system of Salvation
  which does not offend our reason and humanity.[16]

Surely, when Keats's education is considered, this, with all its
crudity, is not a little remarkable. It would not be easy to find
anything written at the same age by another poet of the time which shows
more openness of mind, more knowledge of human nature, or more original
power of thought.

About a fortnight after Keats wrote that description of A, B, and C, he
received what he recognised at once for his death-warrant. He had yet
fourteen months to endure, but at this point the development of his mind
was arrested. During the three preceding years it had been very rapid,
and is easy to trace; and it is all the more interesting because, in
spite of its continuity, we are aware of a decided difference between
the Keats of the earlier letters and the Keats of the later. The tour in
Scotland in the summer of 1818 may be taken with sufficient accuracy as
a dividing-line. The earlier Keats is the youth who had written the
_Sonnet on first_ _looking into Chapman's Homer_, and _Sleep and
Poetry_, and who was writing _Endymion_. He is thoughtful, often grave,
sometimes despondent; but he is full of the enthusiasm of beauty, and of
the joy and fear, the hope and the awe, that accompanied the sense of
poetic power. He is the poet who looked, we are told, as though he had
been gazing on some glorious sight; whose eyes shone and whose face
worked with pleasure as he walked in the fields about Hampstead; who is
described watching with rapture the billowing of the wind through the
trees and over meadow-grasses and corn, and looking sometimes like a
young eagle and sometimes like a wild fawn waiting for some cry from the
forest depths. This is the Keats who wrote 'A thing of beauty is a joy
for ever'; who found 'the Religion of Joy' in the monuments of the Greek
spirit, in sculpture and vases, and mere translations and mere handbooks
of mythology; who never ceased, he said, to wonder at all that incarnate
delight, and would point out to Severn how essentially modern, how
imperishable, the Greek spirit is--a joy for ever.

Yet, as we have seen already, he was aware, and we find him becoming
more and more aware, that joy is not the only word. He had not read for
nothing Wordsworth's great Ode, and _Tintern Abbey_, and the
_Excursion_. We know it from _Endymion_, and the letter about the
'burden of the mystery' was written before the tour in Scotland. But
after this we feel a more decided change, doubtless hastened by outward
events. The Blackwood and Quarterly reviews of _Endymion_
appeared--reviews not less inexcusable because we understand their
origin. Then came his brother's death. A few weeks later he met Miss
Brawne. Henceforth his youth has vanished. There are traces of morbid
feeling in the change, painful traces; but they are connected, I think,
solely with his passion. His brother's death deepened his sympathies.
The reviews, so long as health remained to him, did him nothing but
good. He rated them at their true value, but they gave him a salutary
shock. They quickened his perception, already growing keen, of the
weaknesses and mannerism of Hunt's verse and his own. Through them he
saw a false but useful picture of himself, as a silly boy, dandled into
self-worship by foolish friends, and posturing as a man of genius. He
kept his faith in his genius, but he felt that he must prove it. He
became impatient of dreaming. Poetry, he felt, is not mere luxury and
rapture, it is a deed. We trace at times a kind of fierceness. He turns
against his old self harshly. Some of his friends, he says, think he has
lost his old poetic ardour, and perhaps they are right. He speaks
slightingly of wonders, even of scenery: the human heart is something
finer,--not its dreams, but its actions and its anguish. His gaze is as
intent as ever,--more intent; but the glory he would see walks in a
fiery furnace, and to see it he must think and learn. He is young, he
says, writing at random, straining his eyes at particles of light in the
midst of a great darkness. He knows at times the 'agony' of ignorance.
In one year he writes six or seven of the best poems in the language,
but he is little satisfied. 'Thus far,' he says, 'I have a consciousness
of having been pretty dull and heavy, both in subject and phrase.' Two
months later he ends a note to Haydon with the words, 'I am afraid I
shall pop off just when my mind is able to run alone.' And so it was.

It is important to remember this change in Keats in considering his
ideas about poetry; but we have first to look at them in a more general
way. Many of the most interesting occur in detached remarks or
aphorisms, and these I must pass by. The others I intended at first to
deal with in connection with Shelley's view of poetry; and, although
that plan proved to be too large for a single lecture, I do not wish
altogether to abandon it, because in the extracts which I have been
reading the difference between the minds of the two poets has already
appeared, and because it re-appears both in their poetic practice and in
their opinions about their art. Indeed, with so much difference, it
might be thought unlikely that these opinions would show also a marked
resemblance. For Keats, it may be said, was of all the great poets then
alive the one least affected by the spirit of the time, or by that
'revolutionary' atmosphere of which I spoke in a previous lecture. He
did not concern himself, we may be told, with the progress of humanity,
or with Manchester Massacres or risings in Naples. He cared nothing for
theories, abstractions, or ideals. He worshipped Beauty, not Liberty;
and the beauty he worshipped was not 'intellectual,' but visible,
audible, tangible. 'O for a life of sensations,' he cried, 'rather than
of thoughts.' He was an artist, intent upon fashioning his material
until the outward sensible form is perfectly expressive and delightful.
In all this he was at the opposite pole to Shelley; and he himself felt
it. He refused to visit Shelley, in order that he might keep his own
unfettered scope; and he never speaks of Shelley cordially. He told him,
too, that he might be more of an artist and load every rift of his
subject with ore; and that, while many people regard the purpose of a
work as the God, and the poetry as the Mammon, an artist must serve
Mammon. And his practice, like his opinions, proves that, both in his
strength and his limitations, he belongs to quite a different type.

In such a plea there would certainly be much truth; and yet it is not
_the_ truth, for it ignores other truths which must somehow be combined
with it. There are great differences between the two poets, but then in
Keats himself there are contending strains. Along with the differences,
too, we find very close affinities. And these affinities with Shelley
also show that Keats was deeply influenced by the spirit of his time.
Let me illustrate these statements.

The poet who cried, 'O for a life of sensations,' was consoled, as his
life withered away, by the remembrance that he 'had loved the principle
of beauty in all things.' And this is not a chance expression; it
repeats, for instance, a phrase used two years before, 'the mighty
abstract idea I have of Beauty in all things.' If Shelley had used this
language, it would be taken to prove his love of abstractions. How does
it differ from the language of the _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_?[17]

Again, we noticed in a previous lecture the likeness between _Alastor_
and _Endymion_, each the first poem of any length in which the writer's
genius decisively declared itself. Both tell the story of a young poet;
of a dream in which his ideal appears in human form, and he knows the
rapture of union with it; of the passion thus enkindled, and the search
for its complete satisfaction. We may prefer to read _Endymion_ simply
as we read _Isabella_; but the question here is not of our preferences.
If we examine the poem without regard to them, we shall be unable to
doubt that to some extent the story symbolises or allegorises this
pursuit of the principle of beauty by the poetic soul. This is one of
the causes of its failure as a narrative. Keats had not in himself the
experience required by parts of his design, and hence in them he had to
write from mere imagination. And the poem, besides, shows in a flagrant
degree the defect felt here and there in _Prometheus Unbound_. If we
wish to read it as the author meant it, we must ask for the significance
of the figures, events, and actions. Yet it is clear that not all of
them are intended to have this further significance, and we are
perplexed by the question where, and how far, we are to look for it.[18]

Take, again, some of the most famous of the lyrical poems. Is it true
that Keats was untroubled by that sense of contrast between ideal and
real which haunted Shelley and was so characteristic of the time? So far
is this from being the case that a critic might more plausibly object to
his monotonous insistence on that contrast. Probably the best-known
lyrics of the two poets are the stanzas _To a Skylark_ and the _Ode to a
Nightingale_. Well, if we summarise prosaically the subject of the one
poem we have summarised that of the other. 'Our human life is all unrest
and sorrow, an oscillation between longing and satiety, a looking before
and after. We are aware of a perfection that we cannot attain, and that
leaves us dissatisfied by everything attainable. And we die, and do not
understand death. But the bird is beyond this division and dissonance;
it attains the ideal;

  Das Unzulängliche,
  Hier wird's Ereigniss.'

This is the burden of both poems. In style, metre, tone, atmosphere,
they are far apart; the 'idea' is identical. And what else is the idea
of the _Ode_ _on a Grecian Urn_, where a moment, arrested in its
ideality by art and made eternal, is opposed to the change and decay of
reality? And what else is the idea of the playful lines _To
Fancy_,--Fancy who brings together the joys which in life are parted by
distances of time and place, and who holds in sure possession what life
wins only to lose? Even a poem so pictorial and narrative and free from
symbolism as the _The Eve of St. Agnes_ rests on the same feeling. The
contrast, so exquisitely imagined and conveyed, between the cold, the
storm, the old age, the empty pleasure and noisy enmity of the world
outside Madeline's chamber, and the glow, the hush, the rich and dreamy
bliss within it, is in effect the contrast which inspired the _Ode to a

It would be easy to pursue this subject. It would be easy, too, to show
that Keats was far from indifferent to the 'progress of humanity.' He
conceived it in his own way, but it is as much the theme of _Hyperion_
as of _Prometheus Unbound_. We are concerned however here not with the
interpretation of his poems, but with his view of poetry, and especially
with certain real or apparent inconsistencies in it. For in the letters
he now praises 'sensation' and decries thought or knowledge, and now
cries out for 'knowledge' as his greatest need; in one place declares
that an artist must have self-concentration, perhaps selfishness, and in
others insists that what he desires is to be of use to his fellow-men.
We shall gain light on these matters and on his relation to Shelley if I
try to reduce his general view to a precise and prosaic form.

That which the poet seeks is Beauty. Beauty is a 'principle'; it is One.
All things beautiful manifest it, and so far therefore are one and the
same. This idea of the unity of all beauty comes out in many crucial
passages in the poems and letters. I take a single example. The goddess
Cynthia in _Endymion_ is the Principle of Beauty. In this story she is
also identified with the Moon. Accordingly the hero, gazing at the moon,
declares that in all that he ever loved he loved _her_:

                      thou wast the deep glen--
  Thou wast the mountain-top--the sage's pen--
  The poet's harp--the voice of friends--the sun;
  Thou wast the river--thou wast glory won;
  Thou wast my clarion's blast--thou wast my steed--
  My goblet full of wine--my topmost deed:--
  Thou wast the charm of women, lovely Moon!
  O what a wild and harmonised tune
  My spirit struck from all the beautiful!

When he says this he does not yet understand that the Moon and his
strange visitant are one; he thinks they are rivals. So later, when he
loves the Indian maid, and is in despair because he fancies himself
therefore false to his goddess, he is in error; for she is only his
goddess veiled, the shaded half of the moon.

Still the mountain-top and the voice of friends differ. Indeed, the one
Beauty is infinitely various. But its manifestations, for Keats, tend to
fall into two main classes. On the one hand there is the kind of beauty
that comes easily and is all sweetness and pleasure. In receiving it we
seem to suppress nothing in our nature. Though it is not merely
sensuous, for the Principle of Beauty is in it, it speaks to sense and
delights us. It is 'luxury.' But the other kind is won through thought,
and also through pain. And this second and more difficult kind is also
the higher, the fuller, the nearer to the Principle. That it is won
through pain is doubly true. First, because the poet cannot reach it
unless he consents to suffer painful sympathies, which disturb his
enjoyment of the simpler and sweeter beauty, and may even seem to lead
him away from beauty altogether. Thus Endymion can attain union with his
goddess only by leaving the green hill-sides where he met her first, and
by wandering unhappily in cold moonless regions inside the earth and
under the sea. Here he feels for the woes of other lovers, and to help
them undertakes tasks which seem to interrupt his search for Cynthia.
Returning to earth he becomes enamoured of a maiden devoted to sorrow,
and gains his goddess just when he thinks he has resigned her. The
highest beauty, then, is reached through the poet's pain; and, in the
second place, it has pain in itself, or at least appears in objects that
are painful. In his early poem _Sleep and Poetry_ Keats asks himself the

  And can I ever bid these joys farewell?

And he answers:

  Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,
  Where I may find the agonies, the strife
  Of human hearts.

He felt himself as yet unequal to this task. He never became equal to
it, but the idea was realised to some extent in _Isabella_ and _Lamia_
and _Hyperion_. The first two of these are tales of passion, 'agony,'
and death. The third, obviously, is on one side a story of 'strife.'

Such, in its bare outline, is Keats's habitual view of poetry. What,
then, are the points where, in spite of its evident resemblance to
Shelley's, we feel a marked difference? The most important seem to be
two. In the first place Keats lays far the heavier stress on the idea
that beauty is manifested in suffering and conflict. The idea itself is
to be found in Shelley, but (as we saw in another lecture) it is not
congenial to him; it appears almost incidentally and is stated
half-heartedly; and of the further idea that beauty is not only
manifested in this sphere, but is there manifested most fully, we find,
I believe, no trace. And this was inevitable; for the whole tendency of
Shelley's mind was to regard suffering and conflict with mere distress
and horror as something senseless and purely evil, and to look on the
world as naturally a paradise entirely free from them, but ruined by an
inexplicable failure on the part of man. To this world of woe his
Intellectual Beauty does not really belong; it appears there only in
flashes; its true home is a place where no contradictions, not even
reconciled contradictions, exist. The idealism of Keats is much more
concrete. He has no belief either in this natural paradise or in
'Godwinian perfectibility.' Pain and conflict have a meaning to him.
Without them souls could not be made; and the business of the world, he
conjectures, is the making of souls. They are not therefore simply
obstacles to the ideal. On the contrary, in this world it manifests
itself most fully in and through them. For 'scenery is fine, but human
nature is finer';[19] and the passions and actions of man are finer than
his enjoyments and dreams. In the same way, the conflict in _Hyperion_
is not one between light and darkness, the ideal and mere might, as in
_Prometheus Unbound_. The Titans must yield to the Olympians because, in
a word, they are less beautiful, and

                 'tis the eternal law
  That first in beauty should be first in might.

But the Titans, though less beautiful, _are_ beautiful; it is one and
the same 'principle' that manifests itself in them and more fully in
their victors. Their defeat therefore is not, in the end, defeat, but
the completion of their own being. This, it seems probable, the hero in
_Hyperion_ would have come to recognise, so that the poem, at least so
far as he is concerned, would have ended with a reconciliation born of

Man is 'finer,' Keats says, and the Titans must submit because they are
less 'beautiful.' The second point of difference between him and
Shelley lies in this emphasis on beauty. The ideal with Shelley has many
names, and one of them is beauty, but we hardly feel it to be the name
nearest to his heart. The spirit of his worship is rather

               that sustaining Love
  Which, through the web of being blindly wove
  By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
  Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
  The fire for which all thirst;

and 'love' is a word less distinctively aesthetic, if the term must be
used, than 'beauty.' But the ideal for Keats is always and emphatically
beauty or the 'principle of beauty.' When he sets the agonies and
strifes of human hearts above a painless or luxurious loveliness, it is
because they are the more beautiful. He would not have said that the
_Midsummer Night's Dream_ is superior to _King Lear_ in beauty, but
inferior to it in some other respect; it is inferior in _beauty_ to
_King Lear_. Let art only be 'intense' enough, let the poet only look
hard enough and feel with force enough, so that the pain in his object
is seen truly as the vesture of great passion and action, and all
'disagreeables' will 'evaporate,' and nothing will remain but
beauty.[20] Hence, though well aware how little he has as yet of the
great poet's power of vision, he is still content when he can feel that
a poem of his has intensity, has (as he says of _Lamia_) 'that sort of
fire in it that must take hold of people some way.'[21] And an earlier
and inferior poem, _Isabella_, may show his mind. The mere subject is
exceedingly painful, and Keats by no means suppresses the painful
incidents and details; but the poem can hardly be called painful at all;
for the final impression is that of beauty, almost as decidedly so as
the final impression left by the blissful story of _St. Agnes' Eve_. And
this is most characteristic of Keats. If the word beauty is used in his
sense, and not in the common contracted sense, we may truly say that he
was, and must have remained, more than any other poet of his time, a
worshipper of Beauty.

When, then--to come to his apparent inconsistencies--he exalts sensation
and decries thought or knowledge, what he is crying out for is beauty.
The word 'sensation,' as a comparison of passages would readily show,
has not in his letters its usual meaning. It stands for _poetic_
sensation, and, indeed, for much more. It is, to speak broadly, a name
for _all_ poetic or imaginative experience; and the contents of the
speech of Oceanus are, in kind, just as much 'sensation' as the eating
of nectarines (which may well be poetic to the poetic). This is, I
repeat, to speak broadly. For it is true that sometimes in the earlier
letters we find Keats false to his better mind. Knowing that the more
difficult beauty is the fuller, he is yet, to our great advantage, so
entranced by the delight or glory of the easier, that he rebels against
everything that would disturb its magic or trouble his 'exquisite sense
of the luxurious.' And then he is tempted to see in thought only that
vexatious questioning that 'spoils the singing of the nightingale,' and
to forget that it is necessary to the fuller and more difficult kind of
beauty. But these moods are occasional. He knew that there was something
wilful and weak about them; and they gradually disappear. On the whole,
the gist of his attitude to 'thought' or 'philosophy' may be stated as

He was far from being indifferent to truth, or from considering it
unimportant for poetry. In an early letter, when he criticises a poem of
Wordsworth's, he ventures to say that 'if Wordsworth had thought a
little deeper at that moment he would not have written it,' and that 'it
is a kind of sketchy intellectual landscape, not a search after
truth.'[22] He writes of a passage in _Endymion_: 'The whole thing
must, I think, have appeared to you, who are a consecutive man, as a
thing almost of mere words, but I assure you that, when I wrote it, it
was the regular stepping of Imagination towards a truth.'[23] And many
passages show his conviction that for his progress towards this truth
'thought,' 'knowledge,' 'philosophy,' are indispensable;[24] that he
must submit to the toil and the solitude that they involve, just as he
must undergo the pains of sympathy; that 'there is but one way for him,'
and that this one 'road lies through application, study, and
thought.'[25] On the other hand he had, in the first place, as we saw, a
strong feeling that a man, and especially a poet, must not be in a hurry
to arrive at results, and must not shut up his mind in the box of his
supposed results, but must be content with half-knowledge, and capable
of 'living in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable
reaching after fact and reason.' And, in the second place, a poet, he
felt, will never be able to rest in thoughts and reasonings which do not
also satisfy imagination and give a truth which is also beauty; and in
so far as they fail to do this, in so far as they are _mere_ thoughts
and reasonings, they are no more than a means, though a necessary means,
to an end, which end is beauty,--that beauty which is also truth. This
alone is the poet's end, and therefore his law. 'With a great poet the
sense of beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather
obliterates all consideration.'[26] Thought, knowledge, philosophy, if
they fall short of this, are nothing but a 'road' to his goal. They
bring matter for him to mould to his purpose of beauty; but he must not
allow them to impose _their_ purpose on him, or to ask that it shall
appear in his product. These statements formulate Keats's position more
than he formulates it, but I believe that they represent it truly. He
was led to it mainly by the poetic instinct in him, or because, while
his mind had much general power, he was, more than Wordsworth or
Coleridge or Shelley, a poet pure and simple.[27]

We can now deal more briefly with another apparent inconsistency. Keats
says again and again that the poet must not live for himself, but must
feel for others and try to help them; that 'there is no worthy pursuit
but the idea of doing some good for the world'; that he is ambitious to
do some good or to serve his country. Yet he writes to Shelley about the
_Cenci_: 'There is only one part of it I am judge of--the poetry and
dramatic effect, which by many spirits nowadays is considered the Mammon.
A modern work, it is said, must have a purpose, which may be the God. An
artist must serve Mammon; he must have "self-concentration"--selfishness,
perhaps.'[28] These are ungracious sentences, especially when we remember
the letter to which Keats is replying; and they are also unfair to
Shelley, whose tragedy cannot justly be accused of having an ultra-poetic
purpose, and whose Count Cenci shows much more dramatic imagination than
any figure drawn by Keats. But it is ungracious too to criticise the
irritability of a man condemned to death; and in any case these sentences
are perfectly consistent with Keats's expressed desire to do good. The
poet is to do good; yes, but by being a poet. He is to have a purpose of
doing good by his poetry; yes, but he is not to obtrude it in his
poetry, or to show that he has a design upon us.[29] To make beauty is
_his_ philanthropy. He will not succeed in it best by making what is only
in part beauty,--something like the _Excursion_, half poem and half
lecture. He must be unselfish, no doubt, but perhaps by being selfish; by
refusing, that is, to be diverted from his poetic way of helping by the
desire to help in another way. This is the drift of Keats's thought. If
we remember what he means by 'beauty' and 'poet,' and how he
distinguishes the poet from the 'dreamer,'[30] we shall think it sound

Keats was by nature both dreamer and poet, and his ambition was to
become poet pure and simple. There was, in a further sense, a double
strain in his nature. He had in him the poetic temper of his time, the
ever-present sense of an infinite, the tendency to think of this as an
ideal perfection manifesting itself in reality, and yet surpassing
reality, and so capable of being contrasted with it. He was allied here
especially to Wordsworth and to Shelley, by the former of whom he was
greatly influenced. But there was also in him another tendency; and
this, it would seem, was strengthening at the expense of the first, and
would in time have dominated it. It was perhaps the deeper and more
individual. It may be called the Shakespearean strain, and it works
against any inclination to erect walls between ideal and real, or to
magnify differences of grade into oppositions of kind. Keats had the
impulse to interest himself in everything he saw or heard of, to be
curious about a thing, accept it, identify himself with it, without
first asking whether it is better or worse than another, or how far it
is from the ideal principle. It is this impulse that speaks in the
words, 'If a sparrow come before my window, I take part in its existence
and pick about the gravel';[31] and in the words, 'When she comes into a
room she makes an impression the same as the beauty of a leopardess';
and in the feeling that she is fine, though Bishop Hooker is finer. It
too is the source of his complaint that he has no personal identity, and
of his description of the poetical character; 'It has no self; it is
everything and nothing.... It enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto,
be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated. It has
as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the
virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet. It does no harm from
its relish of the dark side of things, any more than from its taste for
the bright one, because they both end in speculation.[32] A poet is the
most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity. He
is continually in, for, and filling some other body.'[33] That is not a
description of Milton or Wordsworth or Shelley; neither does it apply
very fully to Keats; but it describes something at least of the spirit
of Shakespeare.

Now this spirit, it is obvious, tends in poetry, I do not say to a
realistic, but to what may be called a concrete method of treatment; to
the vivid presentment of scenes, individualities, actions, in preference
to the expression of unembodied thoughts and feelings. The atmosphere of
Wordsworth's age, as we have seen, was not, on the whole, favourable to
it, and in various degrees it failed in strength, or it suffered, in all
the greater poets. Scott had it in splendid abundance and vigour; but
he had too little of the idealism or the metaphysical imagination which
was common to those poets, and which Shakespeare united with his
universal comprehension; nor was he, like Shakespeare and like some of
them, a master of magic in language. But Keats had that magic in fuller
measure, perhaps, than any of our poets since Milton; and, sharing the
idealism of Wordsworth and Shelley, he possessed also wider sympathies,
and, if not a more plastic or pictorial imagination than the latter, at
least a greater freedom from the attraction of theoretic ideas. To what
results might not this combination have led if his life had been as long
as Wordsworth's or even as Byron's? It would be more than hazardous, I
think, to say that he was the most highly endowed of all our poets in
the nineteenth century, but he might well have written its greatest long



I have pointed out certain marked resemblances between _Alastor_ and
_Endymion_, and it would be easy to extend the list. These resemblances
are largely due to similarities in the minds of the two poets, and to
the action of a common influence on both. But I believe that, in
addition, Keats was affected by the reading of _Alastor_, which appeared
in 1816, while his own poem was begun in the spring of 1817.

The common influence to which I refer was that of Wordsworth, and
especially of the _Excursion_, published in 1814. There is a quotation,
or rather a misquotation, from it in the Preface to _Alastor_. The
_Excursion_ is concerned in part with the danger of inactive and
unsympathetic solitude; and this, treated of course in Shelley's own
way, is the subject of _Alastor_, which also contains phrases
reminiscent of Wordsworth's poem. Its Preface too reminds one
immediately of the _Elegiac Stanzas on a Picture of Peele Castle_; of
the main idea, and of the lines,

  Farewell, farewell, the heart that lives alone,
  Housed in a dream, at distance from the Kind.

As for Keats, the reader of his letters knows how much he was occupied
in 1817 and 1818 with thoughts due to the reading of Wordsworth, and how
great, though qualified, was his admiration of the _Excursion_. These
thoughts concerned chiefly the poetic nature, its tendency to 'dream,'
and the necessity that it should go beyond itself and feel for the
sorrows of others. They may have been suggested _only_ by Wordsworth;
but we must remember that _Alastor_ had been published, and that Keats
would naturally read it. In comparing that poem with _Endymion_ I am
obliged to repeat remarks already made in the lecture.

_Alastor_, composed under the influence described, tells of the fate of
a young poet, who is 'pure and tender-hearted,' but who, in his search
for communion with the ideal influences of nature and of knowledge,
keeps aloof from sympathies with his kind. 'So long as it is possible
for his desires to point towards objects thus infinite and unmeasured,
he is joyous and tranquil and self-possessed.' But a time comes when he
thirsts for intercourse with an intelligence like himself. His ideal
requirements are embodied in the form of a being who appears to him in a
dream, and to whom he is united in passionate love. But his
'self-centred seclusion' now avenges itself. The 'spirit of sweet human
love' vanishes as he wakes, and he wanders over the earth, vainly
seeking the 'prototype' of the vision until he dies.

In _Endymion_ the story of a dream-vision, of rapturous union with it,
and of the consequent pursuit of it, re-appears, though the beginning
and the end are different. The hero, before the coming of the vision,
has of course a poetic soul, but he is not self-secluded, or inactive,
or fragile, or philosophic; and his pursuit of the goddess leads not to
extinction but to immortal union with her. It does lead, however, to
adventures of which the main idea evidently is that the poetic soul can
only reach complete union with the ideal (which union is immortality) by
wandering in a world which seems to deprive him of it; by trying to
mitigate the woes of others instead of seeking the ideal for himself;
and by giving himself up to love for what seems to be a mere woman, but
is found to be the goddess herself. It seems almost beyond doubt that
the story of Cynthia and Endymion would not have taken this shape but
for _Alastor_.

The reader will find this impression confirmed if he compares the
descriptions in _Alastor_ and _Endymion_, Book I., of the dreamer's
feelings on awakening from his dream, of the disenchantment that has
fallen on the landscape, and of his 'eager' pursuit of the lost vision.
Everything is, in one sense, different, for the two poets differ
greatly, and Keats, of course, was writing without any conscious
recollection of the passage in _Alastor_; but the conception is the

Consider, again, the passage (near the beginning of _Endymion_, Book
III.) quoted on p. 230 of the lecture. The hero is addressing the moon;
and he says, to put it baldly, that from his boyhood everything that was
beautiful to him was associated with his love of the moon's beauty. The
passage continues thus:

  On some bright essence could I lean, and lull
  Myself to immortality: I prest
  Nature's soft pillow in a wakeful rest.
  But, gentle Orb! there came a nearer bliss--
  My strange love came--Felicity's abyss!
  She came, and thou didst fade, and fade away.

In spite of the dissimilarities, surely the 'wakeful rest' here
corresponds to the condition of the poet in _Alastor_ prior to the
dream. 'So long as it is possible for his desires to point towards
objects thus infinite and unmeasured, he is joyous and tranquil and
self-possessed'; but when his 'strange love' comes these objects, like
the objects of Endymion's earlier desires, no longer suffice him.

There is, however, further evidence, indeed positive proof, of the
effect of _Alastor_, and especially of its Preface, on Keats's mind. In
the revised version of _Hyperion_, Book I., the dreamer in the Temple
wonders why he has been preserved from death. The Prophetess tells him
the reason (I italicise certain words):

  'None can usurp this height,' returned that shade,
  'But those to whom the _miseries of the world_
  Are misery, and will not let them rest.
  _All else_ who find a haven in the world,
  Where they may thoughtless sleep away their days,
  If by a chance into this fane they come,
  Rot on the pavement where thou rottedst half.'
  'Are there not thousands in the world,' said I,
  Encouraged by the sooth voice of the shade,
  'Who _love their fellows_ even to the death,
  Who feel the giant agony of the world,
  And more, like slaves to poor humanity,
  Labour for mortal good?'

If the reader compares with this the following passage from the Preface
to _Alastor_, and if he observes the words I have italicised in it, he
will hardly doubt that some unconscious recollection of the Preface was
at work in Keats's mind. Shelley is distinguishing the self-centred
seclusion of his poet from that of common selfish souls:

'The picture is not barren of instruction to actual men. The Poet's
self-centred seclusion was avenged by the furies of an irresistible
passion pursuing him to speedy ruin. But that Power which strikes the
luminaries of the world with sudden darkness and extinction, by
awakening them to too exquisite a perception of its influences, dooms to
a slow and poisonous decay those meaner spirits that dare to abjure its
dominion. Their destiny is more abject and inglorious as their
delinquency is more contemptible and pernicious. They who, deluded by no
generous error, instigated by no sacred thirst of doubtful knowledge,
duped by no illustrious superstition, loving nothing on this earth, and
cherishing no hopes beyond, yet keep aloof from sympathies with their
kind, rejoicing neither in human joy nor mourning with human grief;
these, and such as they, have their apportioned curse. They languish,
because none feel with them their common nature. They are morally dead.
They are neither friends, nor lovers, nor fathers, nor citizens of the
world, nor benefactors of their country. Among those who attempt to
exist without human sympathy, the pure and tender-hearted perish through
the intensity and passion of their search after its communities, when
the vacancy of their spirit suddenly makes itself felt. _All else_,
selfish, blind, and torpid, are those unforeseeing multitudes who
constitute, together with their own, the lasting _misery_ and loneliness
_of the world_. Those who _love not their fellow-beings_, live
unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave.'[35]

I have still a passage to refer to. Let the reader turn to the quotation
on p. 236 from Keats's reply to Shelley's letter of invitation to his
home in Italy; and let him ask himself why Keats puts the word
"self-concentration" in inverted commas. He is not referring to anything
in Shelley's letter, and he is not in the habit in the letters of using
inverted commas except to mark a quotation. Without doubt, I think, he
is referring from memory to the Preface to _Alastor_ and the phrase
'self-centred seclusion.' He has come to feel that this self-centred
seclusion is _right_ for a poet like himself, and that the direct
pursuit of philanthropy in poetry (which he supposes Shelley to
advocate) is wrong. But this is another proof how much he had been
influenced by Shelley's poem; and it is perhaps not too rash to
conjecture that his consciousness of this influence was one reason why
he had earlier refused to visit Shelley, in order that he might 'have
his own unfettered scope.'[36]

If it seems to anyone that these conclusions are derogatory to Keats,
either as a man or a poet, I can only say that I differ from him
entirely. But I will add that there seems to me some reason to
conjecture that Shelley had read the _Ode to a Nightingale_ before he
wrote the stanzas _To a Skylark_.


  [1] The Letters (except those to Miss Brawne, and a few others) have
    been edited by Colvin, and (without exception) by Forman (pub. Gowans
    & Gray). I refer to them by their numbers, followed by the initial of
    the editor's name. Both editions reproduce peculiarities of
    punctuation, etc.; but for my present purpose these are usually
    without interest, and I have consulted the convenience of the reader
    in making changes.

  [2] Keats himself, it is strange to think, was born in the same year
    as Carlyle.

  [3] These passions were in his last two years overclouded at times,
    but they remained to the end. When, in the bitterness of his soul, he
    begged Severn to put on his tombstone no name, but only 'Here lies
    one whose name was writ in water,' he was thinking not merely of the
    reviewers who had robbed him of fame in his short life, but also of
    those unwritten poems, of which 'the faint conceptions' in happier
    days used to 'bring the blood into his forehead.'

  [4] LII, C., LV, F. The quotations above are from XIV, XVI, C., XV,
    XVII, XVIII, F. The verses are a parody of Wordsworth's lines, 'The
    cock is crowing.'

  [5] LXI, C., LXVI, F.

  [6] LVI, C., LXI, F.

  [7] LXXIII, C., LXXXI, F. Mr. Hooker, I may remark, would not have
    thanked Keats for his bishopric.

  [8] From the letter last quoted. See also CXVI, CXVIII, CXIX, C.,

  [9] 'Pain had no sting and pleasure's wreath no flower.'

  [10] XCII, C., CVI, F.

  [11] XIX, C., XXI, F.

  [12] LIV, C., LIX, F.

  [13] CXXXI, C., CLII, F.

  [14] CXVI, C., CXXXVII, F. The word 'turn' in the last sentence but
    two seems to be doubtful. Mr. Colvin reads 'have.'

  [15] Keats's use of the word is suggested, probably, by Milton's
    'pure intelligence of heaven.'

  [16] XCII, C., CVI, F.

  [17] CLXVI, F., LXXIII, C., LXXXI, F. In XLI, C., XLIV, F., occurs a
    passage ending with the words, 'they are able to "_consecrate
    whate'er they look upon_."' Is not this a quotation from the _Hymn_:

      Spirit of BEAUTY that dost consecrate
      With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon?

    If so, and if my memory serves me, this is the only quotation from
    Shelley's poetry in the letters of Keats. The _Hymn_ had been
    published in Hunt's _Examiner_, Jan., 1817.

  [18] The first critic, I believe, who seriously attempted to
    investigate Keats's mind, and the ideas that were trying to take
    shape in some of his poems, was F. M. Owen, whose _John Keats, a
    Study_ (1880) never attracted in her too brief life-time the
    attention it deserved. Mr. Bridges's treatment of these ideas is
    masterly. To what is said above may be added that, although Keats was
    dissatisfied with _Endymion_ even before he had finished it, he did
    not at any time criticise it on the ground that it tried to put too
    much meaning into the myth. On _Alastor_ and _Endymion_ see further
    the Note appended to this lecture.

  [19] A notable (but not isolated) remark, seeing that the poetic
    genius of Keats showed itself soonest and perhaps most completely in
    the rendering of Nature.

  [20] XXIV, C., XXVI, F.

  [21] CXVI, C., CXXXVII, F.

  [22] XIX, C., XXI, F.

  [23] XXXII, C., XXXIV, F.

  [24] He contemplates even the study of metaphysics, LI, C., LIV, F.

  [25] L, C., LIII, F.

  [26] XXIV, C., XXVI, F.

  [27] Cf. in addition to the letters already referred to, the obscure
    letter to Bailey, XXII, C., XXIV, F., which, however, is early, and
    not quite in agreement with later thoughts. I should observe perhaps
    that if Keats's position, as formulated above, is accepted, the
    question still remains whether a truth which is also beauty, or a
    beauty which is also truth, can be found by man; and, if so, whether
    it can, in strictness, be called by either of those names.

  [28] CLV, C., CCVI, F. See on these sentences the Note at the end of
    the lecture.

  [29] An expression used in reference to Wordsworth, XXXIV, C., XXXVI,

  [30] I have not space to dwell on this distinction, but I must warn
    the reader that he will probably misunderstand the important passage
    in the revised _Hyperion_, 161 ff., unless he consults Mr. de
    Sélincourt's edition.

  [31] XXII, C., XXV, F.

  [32] That is, in 'half-knowledge,' 'doubts,' 'mysteries' (see p.
    235), while the philosopher is sometimes supposed by Keats to have a
    reasoned certainty about everything. It is curious to reflect that
    great metaphysicians, like Spinoza and Hegel, are often accused of
    the un-moral impartiality which Keats attributes to the poet.

  [33] LXXVI, C., LXXX, F.

  [34] The ultimate origin of the dream-passage in both poems may well
    be Adam's dream in _Paradise Lost_, Book viii.:

      She disappear'd, and left me dark: I waked
      To find her, or for ever to deplore
      Her loss, and other pleasures all abjure.

    Keats alludes to this in XXII, C., XXIV, F.

  [35] It is tempting to conjecture with Mr. Forman that the full-stop
    before the last sentence is a misprint, and that we should read 'the
    world,--those who,' etc., so that the last two clauses would be
    relative clauses co-ordinate with 'who love not their fellow-beings.'
    Not to speak of the run of the sentences, this conjecture is tempting
    because of the comma after 'fellow-beings,' and because the paragraph
    is followed by the quotation ('those' should be 'they'),

                          The good die first,
      And those whose hearts are dry as summer's dust
      Burn to the socket.

    The good who die first correspond with the 'pure and tender-hearted'
    who perish and, as we naturally suppose, perish young, like the poet
    in _Alastor_. But, as the last sentence stands, these, as well as the
    torpid, live to old age. It is hard to believe that Shelley meant
    this; but as he was in England when _Alastor_ was printed, he
    probably revised the proofs, and it is perhaps easier to suppose that
    he wrote what is printed than that he passed unobserved the serious
    misprint supposed by Mr. Forman.

  [36] XVIII, C., XX, F.



Of the two persons principally concerned in the rejection of Falstaff,
Henry, both as Prince and as King, has received, on the whole, full
justice from readers and critics. Falstaff, on the other hand, has been
in one respect the most unfortunate of Shakespeare's famous characters.
All of them, in passing from the mind of their creator into other minds,
suffer change; they tend to lose their harmony through the
disproportionate attention bestowed on some one feature, or to lose
their uniqueness by being conventionalised into types already familiar.
But Falstaff was degraded by Shakespeare himself. The original character
is to be found alive in the two parts of _Henry IV._, dead in _Henry
V._, and nowhere else. But not very long after these plays were
composed, Shakespeare wrote, and he afterwards revised, the very
entertaining piece called _The Merry Wives of Windsor_. Perhaps his
company wanted a new play on a sudden; or perhaps, as one would rather
believe, the tradition may be true that Queen Elizabeth, delighted with
the Falstaff scenes of _Henry IV._, expressed a wish to see the hero of
them again, and to see him in love. Now it was no more possible for
Shakespeare to show his own Falstaff in love than to turn twice two
into five. But he could write in haste--the tradition says, in a
fortnight--a comedy or farce differing from all his other plays in this,
that its scene is laid in English middle-class life, and that it is
prosaic almost to the end. And among the characters he could introduce a
disreputable fat old knight with attendants, and could call them
Falstaff, Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym. And he could represent this knight
assailing, for financial purposes, the virtue of two matrons, and in the
event baffled, duped, treated like dirty linen, beaten, burnt, pricked,
mocked, insulted, and, worst of all, repentant and didactic. It is
horrible. It is almost enough to convince one that Shakespeare himself
could sanction the parody of Ophelia in the _Two Noble Kinsmen_. But it
no more touches the real Falstaff than Ophelia is degraded by that
parody. To picture the real Falstaff befooled like the Falstaff of the
_Merry Wives_ is like imagining Iago the gull of Roderigo, or Becky
Sharp the dupe of Amelia Osborne. Before he had been served the least of
these tricks he would have had his brains taken out and buttered, and
have given them to a dog for a New Year's gift. I quote the words of the
impostor, for after all Shakespeare made him and gave to him a few
sentences worthy of Falstaff himself. But they are only a few--one side
of a sheet of notepaper would contain them. And yet critics have
solemnly debated at what period in his life Sir John endured the gibes
of Master Ford, and whether we should put this comedy between the two
parts of _Henry IV._, or between the second of them and _Henry V._ And
the Falstaff of the general reader, it is to be feared, is an impossible
conglomerate of two distinct characters, while the Falstaff of the mere
play-goer is certainly much more like the impostor than the true man.

The separation of these two has long ago been effected by criticism, and
is insisted on in almost all competent estimates of the character of
Falstaff. I do not propose to attempt a full account either of this
character or of that of Prince Henry, but shall connect the remarks I
have to make on them with a question which does not appear to have been
satisfactorily discussed--the question of the rejection of Falstaff by
the Prince on his accession to the throne. What do we feel, and what are
we meant to feel, as we witness this rejection? And what does our
feeling imply as to the characters of Falstaff and the new King?


Sir John, you remember, is in Gloucestershire, engaged in borrowing a
thousand pounds from Justice Shallow; and here Pistol, riding
helter-skelter from London, brings him the great news that the old King
is as dead as nail in door, and that Harry the Fifth is the man. Sir
John, in wild excitement, taking any man's horses, rushes to London; and
he carries Shallow with him, for he longs to reward all his friends. We
find him standing with his companions just outside Westminster Abbey, in
the crowd that is waiting for the King to come out after his coronation.
He himself is stained with travel, and has had no time to spend any of
the thousand pounds in buying new liveries for his men. But what of
that? This poor show only proves his earnestness of affection, his
devotion, how he could not deliberate or remember or have patience to
shift himself, but rode day and night, thought of nothing else but to
see Henry, and put all affairs else in oblivion, as if there were
nothing else to be done but to see him. And now he stands sweating with
desire to see him, and repeating and repeating this one desire of his
heart--'to see him.' The moment comes. There is a shout within the Abbey
like the roaring of the sea, and a clangour of trumpets, and the doors
open and the procession streams out.

  FAL. God save thy grace, King Hal! my royal Hal!

  PIST. The heavens thee guard and keep, most royal imp of fame!

  FAL. God save thee, my sweet boy!

  KING. My Lord Chief Justice, speak to that vain man.

  CH. JUST. Have you your wits? Know you what 'tis you speak?

  FAL. My King! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!

  KING. I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers.
  How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
  I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
  So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
  But being awaked I do despise my dream.
  Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
  Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
  For thee thrice wider than for other men.
  Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
  Presume not that I am the thing I was;
  For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
  That I have turn'd away my former self;
  So will I those that kept me company.
  When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
  Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
  The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
  Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
  As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
  Not to come near our person by ten mile.
  For competence of life I will allow you,
  That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
  And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
  We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
  Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
  To see perform'd the tenour of our word.
  Set on.

The procession passes out of sight, but Falstaff and his friends remain.
He shows no resentment. He comforts himself, or tries to comfort
himself--first, with the thought that he has Shallow's thousand pounds,
and then, more seriously, I believe, with another thought. The King, he
sees, must look thus to the world; but he will be sent for in private
when night comes, and will yet make the fortunes of his friends. But
even as he speaks, the Chief Justice, accompanied by Prince John,
returns, and gives the order to his officers:

  Go, carry Sir John Falstaff to the Fleet;
  Take all his company along with him.

Falstaff breaks out, 'My lord, my lord,' but he is cut short and hurried
away; and after a few words between the Prince and the Chief Justice the
scene closes, and with it the drama.

What are our feelings during this scene? They will depend on our
feelings about Falstaff. If we have not keenly enjoyed the Falstaff
scenes of the two plays, if we regard Sir John chiefly as an old
reprobate, not only a sensualist, a liar, and a coward, but a cruel and
dangerous ruffian, I suppose we enjoy his discomfiture and consider that
the King has behaved magnificently. But if we _have_ keenly enjoyed the
Falstaff scenes, if we have enjoyed them as Shakespeare surely meant
them to be enjoyed, and if, accordingly, Falstaff is not to us solely or
even chiefly a reprobate and ruffian, we feel, I think, during the
King's speech, a good deal of pain and some resentment; and when,
without any further offence on Sir John's part, the Chief Justice
returns and sends him to prison, we stare in astonishment. These, I
believe, are, in greater or less degree, the feelings of most of those
who really enjoy the Falstaff scenes (as many readers do not). Nor are
these feelings diminished when we remember the end of the whole story,
as we find it in _Henry V._, where we learn that Falstaff quickly died,
and, according to the testimony of persons not very sentimental, died of
a broken heart.[2] Suppose this merely to mean that he sank under the
shame of his public disgrace, and it is pitiful enough: but the words of
Mrs. Quickly, 'The king has killed his heart'; of Nym, 'The king hath
run bad humours on the knight; that's the even of it'; of Pistol,

       Nym, thou hast spoke the right,
  His heart is fracted and corroborate,

assuredly point to something more than wounded pride; they point to
wounded affection, and remind us of Falstaff's own answer to Prince
Hal's question, 'Sirrah, do I owe you a thousand pound?' 'A thousand
pound, Hal? a million: thy love is worth a million: thou owest me thy

Now why did Shakespeare end his drama with a scene which, though
undoubtedly striking, leaves an impression so unpleasant? I will venture
to put aside without discussion the idea that he meant us throughout the
two plays to regard Falstaff with disgust or indignation, so that we
naturally feel nothing but pleasure at his fall; for this idea implies
that kind of inability to understand Shakespeare with which it is idle
to argue. And there is another and a much more ingenious suggestion
which must equally be rejected as impossible. According to it, Falstaff,
having listened to the King's speech, did not seriously hope to be sent
for by him in private; he fully realised the situation at once, and was
only making game of Shallow; and in his immediate turn upon Shallow when
the King goes out, 'Master Shallow, I owe you a thousand pound,' we are
meant to see his humorous superiority to any rebuff, so that we end the
play with the delightful feeling that, while Henry has done the right
thing, Falstaff, in his outward overthrow, has still proved himself
inwardly invincible. This suggestion comes from a critic who understands
Falstaff, and in the suggestion itself shows that he understands him.[3]
But it provides no solution, because it wholly ignores, and could not
account for, that which follows the short conversation with Shallow.
Falstaff's dismissal to the Fleet, and his subsequent death, prove
beyond doubt that his rejection was meant by Shakespeare to be taken as
a catastrophe which not even his humour could enable him to surmount.

Moreover, these interpretations, even if otherwise admissible, would
still leave our problem only partly solved. For what troubles us is not
only the disappointment of Falstaff, it is the conduct of Henry. It was
inevitable that on his accession he should separate himself from Sir
John, and we wish nothing else. It is satisfactory that Sir John should
have a competence, with the hope of promotion in the highly improbable
case of his reforming himself. And if Henry could not trust himself
within ten miles of so fascinating a companion, by all means let him be
banished that distance: we do not complain. These arrangements would not
have prevented a satisfactory ending: the King could have communicated
his decision, and Falstaff could have accepted it, in a private
interview rich in humour and merely touched with pathos. But Shakespeare
has so contrived matters that Henry could not send a private warning to
Falstaff even if he wished to, and in their public meeting Falstaff is
made to behave in so infatuated and outrageous a manner that great
sternness on the King's part was unavoidable. And the curious thing is
that Shakespeare did not stop here. If this had been all we should have
felt pain for Falstaff, but not, perhaps, resentment against Henry. But
two things we do resent. Why, when this painful incident seems to be
over, should the Chief Justice return and send Falstaff to prison? Can
this possibly be meant for an act of private vengeance on the part of
the Chief Justice, unknown to the King? No; for in that case Shakespeare
would have shown at once that the King disapproved and cancelled it. It
must have been the King's own act. This is one thing we resent; the
other is the King's sermon. He had a right to turn away his former
self, and his old companions with it, but he had no right to talk all of
a sudden like a clergyman; and surely it was both ungenerous and
insincere to speak of them as his 'misleaders,' as though in the days of
Eastcheap and Gadshill he had been a weak and silly lad. We have seen
his former self, and we know that it was nothing of the kind. He had
shown himself, for all his follies, a very strong and independent young
man, deliberately amusing himself among men over whom he had just as
much ascendency as he chose to exert. Nay, he amused himself not only
among them, but at their expense. In his first soliloquy--and first
soliloquies are usually significant--he declares that he associates with
them in order that, when at some future time he shows his true
character, he may be the more wondered at for his previous aberrations.
You may think he deceives himself here; you may believe that he
frequented Sir John's company out of delight in it and not merely with
this cold-blooded design; but at any rate he _thought_ the design was
his one motive. And, that being so, two results follow. He ought in
honour long ago to have given Sir John clearly to understand that they
must say good-bye on the day of his accession. And, having neglected to
do this, he ought not to have lectured him as his misleader. It was not
only ungenerous, it was dishonest. It looks disagreeably like an attempt
to buy the praise of the respectable at the cost of honour and truth.
And it succeeded. Henry _always_ succeeded.

You will see what I am suggesting, for the moment, as a solution of our
problem. I am suggesting that our fault lies not in our resentment at
Henry's conduct, but in our surprise at it; that if we had read his
character truly in the light that Shakespeare gave us, we should have
been prepared for a display both of hardness and of policy at this point
in his career, And although this suggestion does not suffice to solve
the problem before us, I am convinced that in itself it is true. Nor is
it rendered at all improbable by the fact that Shakespeare has made
Henry, on the whole, a fine and very attractive character, and that here
he makes no one express any disapprobation of the treatment of Falstaff.
For in similar cases Shakespeare is constantly misunderstood. His
readers expect him to mark in some distinct way his approval or
disapproval of that which he represents; and hence where _they_
disapprove and _he_ says nothing, they fancy that he does _not_
disapprove, and they blame his indifference, like Dr. Johnson, or at the
least are puzzled. But the truth is that he shows the fact and leaves
the judgment to them. And again, when he makes us like a character we
expect the character to have no faults that are not expressly pointed
out, and when other faults appear we either ignore them or try to
explain them away. This is one of our methods of conventionalising
Shakespeare. We want the world's population to be neatly divided into
sheep and goats, and we want an angel by us to say, 'Look, that is a
goat and this is a sheep,' and we try to turn Shakespeare into this
angel. His impartiality makes us uncomfortable: we cannot bear to see
him, like the sun, lighting up everything and judging nothing. And this
is perhaps especially the case in his historical plays, where we are
always trying to turn him into a partisan. He shows us that Richard II.
was unworthy to be king, and we at once conclude that he thought
Bolingbroke's usurpation justified; whereas he shows merely, what under
the conditions was bound to exist, an inextricable tangle of right and
unright. Or, Bolingbroke being evidently wronged, we suppose
Bolingbroke's statements to be true, and are quite surprised when, after
attaining his end through them, he mentions casually on his death-bed
that they were lies. Shakespeare makes us admire Hotspur heartily; and
accordingly, when we see Hotspur discussing with others how large his
particular slice of his mother-country is to be, we either fail to
recognise the monstrosity of the proceeding, or, recognising it, we
complain that Shakespeare is inconsistent. Prince John breaks a
tottering rebellion by practising a detestable fraud on the rebels. We
are against the rebels, and have heard high praise of Prince John, but
we cannot help seeing that his fraud is detestable; so we say
indignantly to Shakespeare, 'Why, you told us he was a sheep'; whereas,
in fact, if we had used our eyes we should have known beforehand that he
was the brave, determined, loyal, cold-blooded, pitiless, unscrupulous
son of a usurper whose throne was in danger.

To come, then, to Henry. Both as prince and as king he is deservedly a
favourite, and particularly so with English readers, being, as he is,
perhaps the most distinctively English of all Shakespeare's men. In
_Henry V._ he is treated as a national hero. In this play he has lost
much of the wit which in him seems to have depended on contact with
Falstaff, but he has also laid aside the most serious faults of his
youth. He inspires in a high degree fear, enthusiasm, and affection;
thanks to his beautiful modesty he has the charm which is lacking to
another mighty warrior, Coriolanus; his youthful escapades have given
him an understanding of simple folk, and sympathy with them; he is the
author of the saying, 'There is some soul of goodness in things evil';
and he is much more obviously religious than most of Shakespeare's
heroes. Having these and other fine qualities, and being without certain
dangerous tendencies which mark the tragic heroes, he is, perhaps, the
most _efficient_ character drawn by Shakespeare, unless Ulysses, in
_Troilus and Cressida_, is his equal. And so he has been described as
Shakespeare's ideal man of action; nay, it has even been declared that
here for once Shakespeare plainly disclosed his own ethical creed, and
showed us his ideal, not simply of a man of action, but of a man.

But Henry is neither of these. The poet who drew Hamlet and Othello can
never have thought that even the ideal man of action would lack that
light upon the brow which at once transfigures them and marks their
doom. It is as easy to believe that, because the lunatic, the lover, and
the poet are not far apart, Shakespeare would have chosen never to have
loved and sung. Even poor Timon, the most inefficient of the tragic
heroes, has something in him that Henry never shows. Nor is it merely
that his nature is limited: if we follow Shakespeare and look closely at
Henry, we shall discover with the many fine traits a few less pleasing.
Henry IV. describes him as the noble image of his own youth; and, for
all his superiority to his father, he is still his father's son, the son
of the man whom Hotspur called a 'vile politician.' Henry's religion,
for example, is genuine, it is rooted in his modesty; but it is also
superstitious--an attempt to buy off supernatural vengeance for
Richard's blood; and it is also in part political, like his father's
projected crusade. Just as he went to war chiefly because, as his father
told him, it was the way to keep factious nobles quiet and unite the
nation, so when he adjures the Archbishop to satisfy him as to his right
to the French throne, he knows very well that the Archbishop _wants_ the
war, because it will defer and perhaps prevent what he considers the
spoliation of the Church. This same strain of policy is what Shakespeare
marks in the first soliloquy in _Henry IV._, where the prince describes
his riotous life as a mere scheme to win him glory later. It implies
that readiness to use other people as means to his own ends which is a
conspicuous feature in his father; and it reminds us of his father's
plan of keeping himself out of the people's sight while Richard was
making himself cheap by his incessant public appearances. And if I am
not mistaken there is a further likeness. Henry is kindly and pleasant
to every one as Prince, to every one deserving as King; and he is so not
merely out of policy: but there is no sign in him of a strong affection
for any one, such an affection as we recognise at a glance in Hamlet and
Horatio, Brutus and Cassius, and many more. We do not find this in
_Henry V._, not even in the noble address to Lord Scroop, and in _Henry
IV._ we find, I think, a liking for Falstaff and Poins, but no more:
there is no more than a liking, for instance, in his soliloquy over the
supposed corpse of his fat friend, and he never speaks of Falstaff to
Poins with any affection. The truth is, that the members of the family
of Henry IV. have love for one another, but they cannot spare love for
any one outside their family, which stands firmly united, defending its
royal position against attack and instinctively isolating itself from
outside influence.

Thus I would suggest that Henry's conduct in his rejection of Falstaff
is in perfect keeping with his character on its unpleasant side as well
as on its finer; and that, so far as Henry is concerned, we ought not to
feel surprise at it. And on this view we may even explain the strange
incident of the Chief Justice being sent back to order Falstaff to
prison (for there is no sign of any such uncertainty in the text as
might suggest an interpolation by the players). Remembering his father's
words about Henry, 'Being incensed, he's flint,' and remembering in
_Henry V._ his ruthlessness about killing the prisoners when he is
incensed, we may imagine that, after he had left Falstaff and was no
longer influenced by the face of his old companion, he gave way to anger
at the indecent familiarity which had provoked a compromising scene on
the most ceremonial of occasions and in the presence alike of court and
crowd, and that he sent the Chief Justice back to take vengeance. And
this is consistent with the fact that in the next play we find Falstaff
shortly afterwards not only freed from prison, but unmolested in his old
haunt in Eastcheap, well within ten miles of Henry's person. His anger
had soon passed, and he knew that the requisite effect had been produced
both on Falstaff and on the world.

But all this, however true, will not solve our problem. It seems, on the
contrary, to increase its difficulty. For the natural conclusion is that
Shakespeare _intended_ us to feel resentment against Henry. And yet that
cannot be, for it implies that he meant the play to end disagreeably;
and no one who understands Shakespeare at all will consider that
supposition for a moment credible. No; he must have meant the play to
end pleasantly, although he made Henry's action consistent. And hence it
follows that he must have intended our sympathy with Falstaff to be so
far weakened when the rejection-scene arrives that his discomfiture
should be satisfactory to us; that we should enjoy this sudden reverse
of enormous hopes (a thing always ludicrous if sympathy is absent); that
we should approve the moral judgment that falls on him; and so should
pass lightly over that disclosure of unpleasant traits in the King's
character which Shakespeare was too true an artist to suppress. Thus our
pain and resentment, if we feel them, are wrong, in the sense that they
do not answer to the dramatist's intention. But it does not follow that
they are wrong in a further sense. They may be right, because the
dramatist has missed what he aimed at. And this, though the dramatist
was Shakespeare, is what I would suggest. In the Falstaff scenes he
overshot his mark. He created so extraordinary a being, and fixed him so
firmly on his intellectual throne, that when he sought to dethrone him
he could not. The moment comes when we are to look at Falstaff in a
serious light, and the comic hero is to figure as a baffled schemer; but
we cannot make the required change, either in our attitude or in our
sympathies. We wish Henry a glorious reign and much joy of his crew of
hypocritical politicians, lay and clerical; but our hearts go with
Falstaff to the Fleet, or, if necessary, to Arthur's bosom or
wheresomever he is.[4]

In the remainder of the lecture I will try to make this view clear. And
to that end we must go back to the Falstaff of the body of the two
plays, the immortal Falstaff, a character almost purely humorous, and
therefore no subject for moral judgments. I can but draw an outline, and
in describing one aspect of this character must be content to hold
another in reserve.


Up to a certain point Falstaff is ludicrous in the same way as many
other figures, his distinction lying, so far, chiefly in the mere
abundance of ludicrous traits. _Why_ we should laugh at a man with a
huge belly and corresponding appetites; at the inconveniences he suffers
on a hot day, or in playing the footpad, or when he falls down and there
are no levers at hand to lift him up again; at the incongruity of his
unwieldy bulk and the nimbleness of his spirit, the infirmities of his
age and his youthful lightness of heart; at the enormity of his lies and
wiles, and the suddenness of their exposure and frustration; at the
contrast between his reputation and his real character, seen most
absurdly when, at the mere mention of his name, a redoubted rebel
surrenders to him--_why_, I say, we should laugh at these and many such
things, this is no place to inquire; but unquestionably we do. Here we
have them poured out in endless profusion and with that air of careless
ease which is so fascinating in Shakespeare; and with the enjoyment of
them I believe many readers stop. But while they are quite essential to
the character, there is in it much more. For these things by themselves
do not explain why, beside laughing at Falstaff, we are made happy by
him and laugh _with_ him. He is not, like Parolles, a mere _object_ of

The main reason why he makes us so happy and puts us so entirely at our
ease is that he himself is happy and entirely at his ease. 'Happy' is
too weak a word; he is in bliss, and we share his glory. Enjoyment--no
fitful pleasure crossing a dull life, nor any vacant convulsive
mirth--but a rich deep-toned chuckling enjoyment circulates continually
through all his being. If you ask _what_ he enjoys, no doubt the answer
is, in the first place, eating and drinking, taking his ease at his inn,
and the company of other merry souls. Compared with these things, what
we count the graver interests of life are nothing to him. But then,
while we are under his spell, it is impossible to consider these graver
interests; gravity is to us, as to him, inferior to gravy; and what he
does enjoy he enjoys with such a luscious and good-humoured zest that we
sympathise and he makes us happy. And if any one objected, we should
answer with Sir Toby Belch, 'Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous,
there shall be no more cakes and ale?'

But this, again, is far from all. Falstaff's ease and enjoyment are not
simply those of the happy man of appetite;[5] they are those of the
humorist, and the humorist of genius. Instead of being comic to you and
serious to himself, he is more ludicrous to himself than to you; and he
makes himself out more ludicrous than he is, in order that he and
others may laugh. Prince Hal never made such sport of Falstaff's person
as he himself did. It is _he_ who says that his skin hangs about him
like an old lady's loose gown, and that he walks before his page like a
sow that hath o'erwhelmed all her litter but one. And he jests at
himself when he is alone just as much as when others are by. It is the
same with his appetites. The direct enjoyment they bring him is scarcely
so great as the enjoyment of laughing at this enjoyment; and for all his
addiction to sack you never see him for an instant with a brain dulled
by it, or a temper turned solemn, silly, quarrelsome, or pious. The
virtue it instils into him, of filling his brain with nimble, fiery, and
delectable shapes--this, and his humorous attitude towards it, free him,
in a manner, from slavery to it; and it is this freedom, and no secret
longing for better things (those who attribute such a longing to him are
far astray), that makes his enjoyment contagious and prevents our
sympathy with it from being disturbed.

The bliss of freedom gained in humour is the essence of Falstaff. His
humour is not directed only or chiefly against obvious absurdities; he
is the enemy of everything that would interfere with his ease, and
therefore of anything serious, and especially of everything respectable
and moral. For these things impose limits and obligations, and make us
the subjects of old father antic the law, and the categorical
imperative, and our station and its duties, and conscience, and
reputation, and other people's opinions, and all sorts of nuisances. I
say he is therefore their enemy; but I do him wrong; to say that he is
their enemy implies that he regards them as serious and recognises their
power, when in truth he refuses to recognise them at all. They are to
him absurd; and to reduce a thing _ad absurdum_ is to reduce it to
nothing and to walk about free and rejoicing. This is what Falstaff
does with all the would-be serious things of life, sometimes only by his
words, sometimes by his actions too. He will make truth appear absurd by
solemn statements, which he utters with perfect gravity and which he
expects nobody to believe; and honour, by demonstrating that it cannot
set a leg, and that neither the living nor the dead can possess it; and
law, by evading all the attacks of its highest representative and almost
forcing him to laugh at his own defeat; and patriotism, by filling his
pockets with the bribes offered by competent soldiers who want to escape
service, while he takes in their stead the halt and maimed and the
gaol-birds; and duty, by showing how he labours in his vocation--of
thieving; and courage, alike by mocking at his own capture of Colvile
and gravely claiming to have killed Hotspur; and war, by offering the
Prince his bottle of sack when he is asked for a sword; and religion, by
amusing himself with remorse at odd times when he has nothing else to
do; and the fear of death, by maintaining perfectly untouched, in the
face of imminent peril and even while he _feels_ the fear of death, the
very same power of dissolving it in persiflage that he shows when he
sits at ease in his inn. These are the wonderful achievements which he
performs, not with the sourness of a cynic, but with the gaiety of a
boy. And, therefore, we praise him, we laud him, for he offends none but
the virtuous, and denies that life is real or life is earnest, and
delivers us from the oppression of such nightmares, and lifts us into
the atmosphere of perfect freedom.

No one in the play understands Falstaff fully, any more than Hamlet was
understood by the persons round him. They are both men of genius. Mrs.
Quickly and Bardolph are his slaves, but they know not why. 'Well, fare
thee well,' says the hostess whom he has pillaged and forgiven; 'I have
known thee these twenty-nine years, come peas-cod time, but an honester
and truer-hearted man--well, fare thee well.' Poins and the Prince
delight in him; they get him into corners for the pleasure of seeing him
escape in ways they cannot imagine; but they often take him much too
seriously. Poins, for instance, rarely sees, the Prince does not always
see, and moralising critics never see, that when Falstaff speaks ill of
a companion behind his back, or writes to the Prince that Poins spreads
it abroad that the Prince is to marry his sister, he knows quite well
that what he says will be repeated, or rather, perhaps, is absolutely
indifferent whether it be repeated or not, being certain that it can
only give him an opportunity for humour. It is the same with his lying,
and almost the same with his cowardice, the two main vices laid to his
charge even by sympathisers. Falstaff is neither a liar nor a coward in
the usual sense, like the typical cowardly boaster of comedy. He tells
his lies either for their own humour, or on purpose to get himself into
a difficulty. He rarely expects to be believed, perhaps never. He
abandons a statement or contradicts it the moment it is made. There is
scarcely more intent in his lying than in the humorous exaggerations
which he pours out in soliloquy just as much as when others are by.
Poins and the Prince understand this in part. You see them waiting
eagerly to convict him, not that they may really put him to shame, but
in order to enjoy the greater lie that will swallow up the less. But
their sense of humour lags behind his. Even the Prince seems to accept
as half-serious that remorse of his which passes so suddenly into glee
at the idea of taking a purse, and his request to his friend to bestride
him if he should see him down in the battle. Bestride Falstaff! 'Hence!
Wilt thou lift up Olympus?'

Again, the attack of the Prince and Poins on Falstaff and the other
thieves on Gadshill is contrived, we know, with a view to the
incomprehensible lies it will induce him to tell. But when, more than
rising to the occasion, he turns two men in buckram into four, and then
seven, and then nine, and then eleven, almost in a breath, I believe
they partly misunderstand his intention, and too many of his critics
misunderstand it altogether. Shakespeare was not writing a mere farce.
It is preposterous to suppose that a man of Falstaff's intelligence
would utter these gross, palpable, open lies with the serious intention
to deceive, or forget that, if it was too dark for him to see his own
hand, he could hardly see that the three misbegotten knaves were wearing
Kendal green. No doubt, if he _had_ been believed, he would have been
hugely tickled at it, but he no more expected to be believed than when
he claimed to have killed Hotspur. Yet he is supposed to be serious even
then. Such interpretations would destroy the poet's whole conception;
and of those who adopt them one might ask this out of some twenty
similar questions:--When Falstaff, in the men in buckram scene, begins
by calling twice at short intervals for sack, and then a little later
calls for more and says, 'I am a rogue if I drunk to-day,' and the
Prince answers, 'O villain, thy lips are scarce wiped since thou
drunk'st last,' do they think that _that_ lie was meant to deceive? And
if not, why do they take it for granted that the others were? I suppose
they consider that Falstaff was in earnest when, wanting to get
twenty-two yards of satin on trust from Master Dombledon the
silk-mercer, he offered Bardolph as security; or when he said to the
Chief Justice about Mrs. Quickly, who accused him of breaking his
promise to marry her, 'My lord, this is a poor mad soul, and she says up
and down the town that her eldest son is like you'; or when he explained
his enormous bulk by exclaiming, 'A plague of sighing and grief! It
blows a man up like a bladder'; or when he accounted for his voice
being cracked by declaring that he had 'lost it with singing of
anthems'; or even when he sold his soul on Good-Friday to the devil for
a cup of Madeira and a cold capon's leg. Falstaff's lies about Hotspur
and the men in buckram do not essentially differ from these statements.
There is nothing serious in any of them except the refusal to take
anything seriously.

This is also the explanation of Falstaff's cowardice, a subject on which
I should say nothing if Maurice Morgann's essay,[6] now more than a
century old, were better known. That Falstaff sometimes behaves in what
we should generally call a cowardly way is certain; but that does not
show that he was a coward; and if the word means a person who feels
painful fear in the presence of danger, and yields to that fear in spite
of his better feelings and convictions, then assuredly Falstaff was no
coward. The stock bully and boaster of comedy is one, but not Falstaff.
It is perfectly clear in the first place that, though he had
unfortunately a reputation for stabbing and caring not what mischief he
did if his weapon were out, he had not a reputation for cowardice.
Shallow remembered him five-and-fifty years ago breaking Scogan's head
at the court-gate when he was a crack not thus high; and Shallow knew
him later a good back-swordsman. Then we lose sight of him till about
twenty years after, when his association with Bardolph began; and that
association implies that by the time he was thirty-five or forty he had
sunk into the mode of life we witness in the plays. Yet, even as we see
him there, he remains a person of consideration in the army. Twelve
captains hurry about London searching for him. He is present at the
Council of War in the King's tent at Shrewsbury, where the only other
persons are the King, the two princes, a nobleman and Sir Walter Blunt.
The messenger who brings the false report of the battle to
Northumberland mentions, as one of the important incidents, the death of
Sir John Falstaff. Colvile, expressly described as a famous rebel,
surrenders to him as soon as he hears his name. And if his own wish that
his name were not so terrible to the enemy, and his own boast of his
European reputation, are not evidence of the first rank, they must not
be entirely ignored in presence of these other facts. What do these
facts mean? Does Shakespeare put them all in with no purpose at all, or
in defiance of his own intentions? It is not credible.

And when, in the second place, we look at Falstaff's actions, what do we
find? He boldly confronted Colvile, he was quite ready to fight with
him, however pleased that Colvile, like a kind fellow, gave himself
away. When he saw Henry and Hotspur fighting, Falstaff, instead of
making off in a panic, stayed to take his chance if Hotspur should be
the victor. He _led_ his hundred and fifty ragamuffins where they were
peppered, he did not _send_ them. To draw upon Pistol and force him
downstairs and wound him in the shoulder was no great feat, perhaps, but
the stock coward would have shrunk from it. When the Sheriff came to the
inn to arrest him for an offence whose penalty was death, Falstaff, who
was hidden behind the arras, did not stand there quaking for fear, he
immediately fell asleep and snored. When he stood in the battle
reflecting on what would happen if the weight of his paunch should be
increased by that of a bullet, he cannot have been in a tremor of craven
fear. He _never_ shows such fear; and surely the man who, in danger of
his life, and with no one by to hear him, meditates thus: 'I like not
such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath. Give me life: which if I can
save, so; if not, honour comes unlooked-for, and there's an end,' is not
what we commonly call a coward.

'Well,' it will be answered, 'but he ran away on Gadshill; and when
Douglas attacked him he fell down and shammed dead.' Yes, I am thankful
to say, he did. For of course he did not want to be dead. He wanted to
live and be merry. And as he had reduced the idea of honour _ad
absurdum_, had scarcely any self-respect, and only a respect for
reputation as a means of life, naturally he avoided death when he could
do so without a ruinous loss of reputation, and (observe) with the
satisfaction of playing a colossal practical joke. For _that_ after all
was his first object. If his one thought had been to avoid death he
would not have faced Douglas at all, but would have run away as fast as
his legs could carry him; and unless Douglas had been one of those
exceptional Scotchmen who have no sense of humour, he would never have
thought of pursuing so ridiculous an object as Falstaff running. So
that, as Mr. Swinburne remarks, Poins is right when he thus
distinguishes Falstaff from his companions in robbery: 'For two of them,
I know them to be as true-bred cowards as ever turned back; and for the
third, if he fight longer than he sees reason, I'll forswear arms.' And
the event justifies this distinction. For it is exactly thus that,
according to the original stage-direction, Falstaff behaves when Henry
and Poins attack him and the others. The rest run away at once;
Falstaff, here as afterwards with Douglas, fights for a blow or two,
but, finding himself deserted and outmatched, runs away also. Of course.
He saw no reason to stay. _Any_ man who had risen superior to all
serious motives would have run away. But it does not follow that he
would run from mere fear, or be, in the ordinary sense, a coward.[7]


The main source, then, of our sympathetic delight in Falstaff is his
humorous superiority to everything serious, and the freedom of soul
enjoyed in it. But, of course, this is not the whole of his character.
Shakespeare knew well enough that perfect freedom is not to be gained in
this manner; we are ourselves aware of it even while we are sympathising
with Falstaff; and as soon as we regard him seriously it becomes
obvious. His freedom is limited in two main ways. For one thing he
cannot rid himself entirely of respect for all that he professes to
ridicule. He shows a certain pride in his rank: unlike the Prince, he is
haughty to the drawers, who call him a proud Jack. He is not really
quite indifferent to reputation. When the Chief Justice bids him pay his
debt to Mrs. Quickly for his reputation's sake, I think he feels a
twinge, though to be sure he proceeds to pay her by borrowing from her.
He is also stung by any thoroughly serious imputation on his courage,
and winces at the recollection of his running away on Gadshill; he knows
that his behaviour there certainly looked cowardly, and perhaps he
remembers that he would not have behaved so once. It is, further, very
significant that, for all his dissolute talk, he has never yet allowed
the Prince and Poins to _see_ him as they saw him afterwards with Doll
Tearsheet; not, of course, that he has any moral shame in the matter,
but he knows that in such a situation he, in his old age, must appear
contemptible--not a humorist but a mere object of mirth. And, finally,
he has affection in him--affection, I think, for Poins and Bardolph, and
certainly for the Prince; and that is a thing which he cannot jest out
of existence. Hence, as the effect of his rejection shows, he is not
really invulnerable. And then, in the second place, since he is in the
flesh, his godlike freedom has consequences and conditions;
consequences, for there is something painfully wrong with his great toe;
conditions, for he cannot eat and drink for ever without money, and his
purse suffers from consumption, a disease for which he can find no
remedy.[8] As the Chief Justice tells him, his means are very slender
and his waste great; and his answer, 'I would it were otherwise; I would
my means were greater and my waist slenderer,' though worth much money,
brings none in. And so he is driven to evil deeds; not only to cheating
his tailor like a gentleman, but to fleecing Justice Shallow, and to
highway robbery, and to cruel depredations on the poor woman whose
affection he has secured. All this is perfectly consistent with the
other side of his character, but by itself it makes an ugly picture.

Yes, it makes an ugly picture when you look at it seriously. But then,
surely, so long as the humorous atmosphere is preserved and the humorous
attitude maintained, you do not look at it so. You no more regard
Falstaff's misdeeds morally than you do the much more atrocious misdeeds
of Punch or Reynard the Fox. You do not exactly ignore them, but you
attend only to their comic aspect. This is the very spirit of comedy,
and certainly of Shakespeare's comic world, which is one of
make-believe, not merely as his tragic world is, but in a further
sense--a world in which gross improbabilities are accepted with a smile,
and many things are welcomed as merely laughable which, regarded
gravely, would excite anger and disgust. The intervention of a serious
spirit breaks up such a world, and would destroy our pleasure in
Falstaff's company. Accordingly through the greater part of these dramas
Shakespeare carefully confines this spirit to the scenes of war and
policy, and dismisses it entirely in the humorous parts. Hence, if
_Henry IV._ had been a comedy like _Twelfth Night_, I am sure that he
would no more have ended it with the painful disgrace of Falstaff than
he ended _Twelfth Night_ by disgracing Sir Toby Belch.[9]

But _Henry IV._ was to be in the main a historical play, and its chief
hero Prince Henry. In the course of it his greater and finer qualities
were to be gradually revealed, and it was to end with beautiful scenes
of reconciliation and affection between his father and him, and a final
emergence of the wild Prince as a just, wise, stern, and glorious King.
Hence, no doubt, it seemed to Shakespeare that Falstaff at last must be
disgraced, and must therefore appear no longer as the invincible
humorist, but as an object of ridicule and even of aversion. And
probably also his poet's insight showed him that Henry, as he conceived
him, _would_ behave harshly to Falstaff in order to impress the world,
especially when his mind had been wrought to a high pitch by the scene
with his dying father and the impression of his own solemn consecration
to great duties.

This conception was a natural and a fine one; and if the execution was
not an entire success, it is yet full of interest. Shakespeare's purpose
being to work a gradual change in our feelings towards Falstaff, and to
tinge the humorous atmosphere more and more deeply with seriousness, we
see him carrying out this purpose in the Second Part of _Henry IV._ Here
he separates the Prince from Falstaff as much as he can, thus
withdrawing him from Falstaff's influence, and weakening in our minds
the connection between the two. In the First Part we constantly see them
together; in the Second (it is a remarkable fact) only once before the
rejection. Further, in the scenes where Henry appears apart from
Falstaff, we watch him growing more and more grave, and awakening more
and more poetic interest; while Falstaff, though his humour scarcely
flags to the end, exhibits more and more of his seamy side. This is
nowhere turned to the full light in Part I.; but in Part II. we see him
as the heartless destroyer of Mrs. Quickly, as a ruffian seriously
defying the Chief Justice because his position as an officer on service
gives him power to do wrong, as the pike preparing to snap up the poor
old dace Shallow, and (this is the one scene where Henry and he meet) as
the worn-out lecher, not laughing at his servitude to the flesh but sunk
in it. Finally, immediately before the rejection, the world where he is
king is exposed in all its sordid criminality when we find Mrs. Quickly
and Doll arrested for being concerned in the death of one man, if not
more, beaten to death by their bullies; and the dangerousness of
Falstaff is emphasised in his last words as he hurries from Shallow's
house to London, words at first touched with humour but at bottom only
too seriously meant: 'Let us take any man's horses; the laws of England
are at my commandment. Happy are they which have been my friends, and
woe unto my Lord Chief Justice.' His dismissal to the Fleet by the Chief
Justice is the dramatic vengeance for that threat.

Yet all these excellent devices fail. They cause us momentary
embarrassment at times when repellent traits in Falstaff's character are
disclosed; but they fail to change our attitude of humour into one of
seriousness, and our sympathy into repulsion. And they were bound to
fail, because Shakespeare shrank from adding to them the one device
which would have ensured success. If, as the Second Part of _Henry IV._
advanced, he had clouded over Falstaff's humour so heavily that the man
of genius turned into the Falstaff of the _Merry Wives_, we should have
witnessed his rejection without a pang. This Shakespeare was too much
of an artist to do--though even in this way he did something--and
without this device he could not succeed. As I said, in the creation of
Falstaff he overreached himself. He was caught up on the wind of his own
genius, and carried so far that he could not descend to earth at the
selected spot. It is not a misfortune that happens to many authors, nor
is it one we can regret, for it costs us but a trifling inconvenience in
one scene, while we owe to it perhaps the greatest comic character in
literature. For it is in this character, and not in the judgment he
brings upon Falstaff's head, that Shakespeare asserts his supremacy. To
show that Falstaff's freedom of soul was in part illusory, and that the
realities of life refused to be conjured away by his humour--this was
what we might expect from Shakespeare's unfailing sanity, but it was
surely no achievement beyond the power of lesser men. The achievement
was Falstaff himself, and the conception of that freedom of soul, a
freedom illusory only in part, and attainable only by a mind which had
received from Shakespeare's own the inexplicable touch of infinity which
he bestowed on Hamlet and Macbeth and Cleopatra, but denied to Henry the



For the benefit of readers unacquainted with Morgann's Essay I reproduce
here, with additions, some remarks omitted from the lecture for want of
time. 'Maurice Morgann, Esq. the ingenious writer of this work,
descended from an antient and respectable family in Wales; he filled the
office of under Secretary of State to the late Marquis of Lansdown,
during his first administration; and was afterwards Secretary to the
Embassy for ratifying the peace with America, in 1783. He died at his
house in Knightsbridge, in the seventy-seventh year of his age, on the
28th March, 1802' (Preface to the edition of 1825). He was a remarkable
and original man, who seems to have written a good deal, but, beyond
this essay and some pamphlets on public affairs, all or nearly all
anonymous, he published nothing, and at his death he left orders that
all his papers should be destroyed. The _Essay on the Dramatic Character
of Sir John Falstaff_ was first published in 1777. It arose out of a
conversation in which Morgann expressed his belief that Shakespeare
never meant Falstaff for a coward. He was challenged to explain and
support in print what was considered an extraordinary paradox, and his
essay bears on its title-page the quotation, 'I am not John of Gaunt,
your grandfather: but yet no coward, Hal'--one of Falstaff's few serious
sentences. But Morgann did not confine himself to the question of
Falstaff's cowardice; he analysed the whole character, and incidentally
touched on many points in Shakespearean criticism. 'The reader,' he
observes, 'will not need to be told that this inquiry will resolve
itself of course into a critique on the genius, the arts, and the
conduct, of Shakespeare: for what is Falstaff, what Lear, what Hamlet,
or Othello, but different modifications of Shakespeare's thought? It is
true that this inquiry is narrowed almost to a single point; but general
criticism is as uninstructive as it is easy: Shakespeare deserves to be
considered in detail;--a task hitherto unattempted.'

The last words are significant. Morgann was conscious that he was
striking out a new line. The Eighteenth Century critics had done much
for Shakespeare in the way of scholarship; some of them had praised him
well and blamed him well; but they had done little to interpret the
process of his imagination from within. This was what Morgann attempted.
His attitude towards Shakespeare is that of Goethe, Coleridge, Lamb,
Hazlitt. The dangers of his method might be illustrated from the Essay,
but in his hands it yielded most valuable results. And though he did not
attempt the eloquence of some of his successors, but wrote like a
cultivated ironical man of the world, he wrote delightfully; so that in
all respects his Essay, which has long been out of print, deserves to be
republished and better known. [It was republished in Mr. Nichol Smith's
excellent _Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare_, 1903; and, in
1912, by itself, with an introduction by W. A. Gill.]

Readers of Boswell (under the year 1783) will remember that Morgann, who
once met Johnson, favoured his biographer with two most characteristic
anecdotes. Boswell also records Johnson's judgment of Morgann's Essay,
which, says Mr. Swinburne, elicited from him 'as good a jest and as bad
a criticism as might have been expected.' Johnson, we are told, being
asked his opinion of the Essay, answered: 'Why, Sir, we shall have the
man come forth again; and as he has proved Falstaff to be no coward, he
may prove Iago to be a very good character.' The following passage from
Morgann's _Essay_ (p. 66 of the 1825 edition, p. 248 of Mr. Nichol
Smith's book) gives, I presume, his opinion of Johnson. Having referred
to Warburton, he adds: 'Another has since undertaken the custody of our
author, whom he seems to consider as a sort of wild Proteus or madman,
and accordingly knocks him down with the butt-end of his critical staff,
as often as he exceeds that line of sober discretion, which this learned
Editor appears to have chalked out for him: yet is this Editor,
notwithstanding, "a man, take him for all in all," very highly
respectable for his genius and his learning.'


  [1] In this lecture and the three that follow it I have mentioned the
    authors my obligations to whom I was conscious of in writing or have
    discovered since; but other debts must doubtless remain, which from
    forgetfulness I am unable to acknowledge.

  [2] See on this and other points Swinburne, _A Study of Shakespeare_,
    p. 106 ff.

  [3] Rötscher, _Shakespeare in seinen höchsten Charaktergebilden_,

  [4] That from the beginning Shakespeare intended Henry's accession to
    be Falstaff's catastrophe is clear from the fact that, when the two
    characters first appear, Falstaff is made to betray at once the hopes
    with which he looks forward to Henry's reign. See the First Part of
    _Henry IV._, Act I., Scene ii.

  [5] Cf. Hazlitt, _Characters of Shakespear's Plays_.

  [6] See Note at end of lecture.

  [7] It is to be regretted, however, that in carrying his guts away so
    nimbly he 'roared for mercy'; for I fear we have no ground for
    rejecting Henry's statement to that effect, and I do not see my way
    to adopt the suggestion (I forget whose it is) that Falstaff spoke
    the truth when he swore that he knew Henry and Poins as well as he
    that made them.

  [8] Panurge too was 'naturally subject to a kind of disease which at
    that time they called lack of money'; it was a 'flux in his purse'
    (Rabelais, Book II., chapters xvi., xvii.).

  [9] I seem to remember that, according to Gervinus, Shakespeare did
    disgrace Sir Toby--by marrying him to Maria!



Coleridge's one page of general criticism on _Antony and Cleopatra_
contains some notable remarks. 'Of all Shakespeare's historical plays,'
he writes, '_Antony and Cleopatra_ is by far the most wonderful. There
is not one in which he has followed history so minutely, and yet there
are few in which he impresses the notion of angelic strength so
much--perhaps none in which he impresses it more strongly. This is
greatly owing to the manner in which the fiery force is sustained
throughout.' In a later sentence he refers to the play as 'this
astonishing drama.' In another he describes the style: '_feliciter
audax_ is the motto for its style comparatively with that of
Shakespeare's other works.' And he translates this motto in the phrase
'happy valiancy of style.'

Coleridge's assertion that in _Antony and Cleopatra_ Shakespeare
followed history more minutely than in any other play might well be
disputed; and his statement about the style of this drama requires some
qualification in view of the results of later criticism as to the order
of Shakespeare's works. The style is less individual than he imagined.
On the whole it is common to the six or seven dramas subsequent to
_Macbeth_, though in _Antony and Cleopatra_, probably the earliest of
them, its development is not yet complete. And we must add that this
style has certain special defects, unmentioned by Coleridge, as well as
the quality which he points out in it. But it is true that here that
quality is almost continuously present; and in the phrase by which he
describes it, as in his other phrases, he has signalised once for all
some of the most salient features of the drama.

It is curious to notice, for example, alike in books and in
conversation, how often the first epithets used in reference to _Antony
and Cleopatra_ are 'wonderful' and 'astonishing.' And the main source of
the feeling thus expressed seems to be the 'angelic strength' or 'fiery
force' of which Coleridge wrote. The first of these two phrases is, I
think, the more entirely happy. Except perhaps towards the close, one is
not so conscious of fiery force as in certain other tragedies; but one
is astonished at the apparent ease with which extraordinary effects are
produced, the ease, if I may paraphrase Coleridge, of an angel moving
with a wave of the hand that heavy matter which men find so intractable.
We feel this sovereign ease in contemplating Shakespeare's picture of
the world--a vast canvas, crowded with figures, glowing with colour and
a superb animation, reminding one spectator of Paul Veronese and another
of Rubens. We feel it again when we observe (as we can even without
consulting Plutarch) the nature of the material; how bulky it was, and,
in some respects, how undramatic; and how the artist, though he could
not treat history like legend or fiction, seems to push whole masses
aside, and to shift and refashion the remainder, almost with the air of
an architect playing (at times rather carelessly) with a child's bricks.

Something similar is felt even in the portrait of Cleopatra. Marvellous
as it is, the drawing of it suggests not so much the passionate
concentration or fiery force of _Macbeth_, as that sense of effortless
and exultant mastery which we feel in the portraits of Mercutio and
Falstaff. And surely it is a total mistake to find in this portrait any
trace of the distempered mood which disturbs our pleasure in _Troilus
and Cressida_. If the sonnets about the dark lady were, as need not be
doubted, in some degree autobiographical, Shakespeare may well have used
his personal experience both when he drew Cressida and when he drew
Cleopatra. And, if he did, the story in the later play was the nearer to
his own; for Antony might well have said what Troilus could never say,

  When my love swears that she is made of truth,
  I do believe her, though I know she lies.

But in the later play, not only is the poet's vision unclouded, but his
whole nature, emotional as well as intellectual, is free. The subject no
more embitters or seduces him than the ambition of Macbeth. So that here
too we feel the angelic strength of which Coleridge speaks. If we
quarrelled with the phrase at all, it would be because we fancied we
could trace in Shakespeare's attitude something of the irony of
superiority; and this may not altogether suit our conception of an

I have still another sentence to quote from Coleridge: 'The highest
praise, or rather form of praise, of this play which I can offer in my
own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always occasions in me, whether
the "Antony and Cleopatra" is not, in all exhibitions of a giant power
in its strength and vigour of maturity, a formidable rival of "Macbeth,"
"Lear," "Hamlet," and "Othello."' Now, unless the clause here about the
'giant power' may be taken to restrict the rivalry to the quality of
angelic strength, Coleridge's doubt seems to show a lapse in critical
judgment. To regard this tragedy as a rival of the famous four, whether
on the stage or in the study, is surely an error. The world certainly
has not so regarded it; and, though the world's reasons for its verdicts
on works of art may be worth little, its mere verdict is worth much.
Here, it seems to me, that verdict must be accepted. One may notice
that, in calling _Antony and Cleopatra_ wonderful or astonishing, we
appear to be thinking first of the artist and his activity, while in the
case of the four famous tragedies it is the product of this activity,
the thing presented, that first engrosses us. I know that I am stating
this difference too sharply, but I believe that it is often felt; and,
if this is so, the fact is significant. It implies that, although
_Antony and Cleopatra_ may be for us as wonderful an achievement as the
greatest of Shakespeare's plays, it has not an equal value. Besides, in
the attempt to rank it with them there is involved something more, and
more important, than an error in valuation. There is a failure to
discriminate the peculiar marks of _Antony and Cleopatra_ itself, marks
which, whether or no it be the equal of the earlier tragedies, make it
decidedly different. If I speak first of some of these differences it is
because they thus contribute to the individuality of the play, and
because they seem often not to be distinctly apprehended in criticism.


Why, let us begin by asking, is _Antony and Cleopatra_, though so
wonderful an achievement, a play rarely acted? For a tragedy, it is not
painful. Though unfit for children, it cannot be called indecent; some
slight omissions, and such a flattening of the heroine's part as might
confidently be expected, would leave it perfectly presentable. It is, no
doubt, in the third and fourth Acts, very defective in construction.
Even on the Elizabethan stage, where scene followed scene without a
pause, this must have been felt; and in our theatres it would be felt
much more. There, in fact, these two and forty scenes could not possibly
be acted as they stand. But defective construction would not distress
the bulk of an audience, if the matter presented were that of _Hamlet_
or _Othello_, of _Lear_ or _Macbeth_. The matter, then, must lack
something which is present in those tragedies; and it is mainly owing to
this difference in substance that _Antony and Cleopatra_ has never
attained their popularity either on the stage or off it.

Most of Shakespeare's tragedies are dramatic, in a special sense of the
word as well as in its general sense, from beginning to end. The story
is not merely exciting and impressive from the movement of conflicting
forces towards a terrible issue, but from time to time there come
situations and events which, even apart from their bearing on this
issue, appeal most powerfully to the dramatic feelings--scenes of action
or passion which agitate the audience with alarm, horror, painful
expectation, or absorbing sympathies and antipathies. Think of the
street fights in _Romeo and Juliet_, the killing of Mercutio and Tybalt,
the rapture of the lovers, and their despair when Romeo is banished.
Think of the ghost-scenes in the first Act of _Hamlet_, the passion of
the early soliloquies, the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia, the
play-scene, the sparing of the King at prayer, the killing of Polonius.
Is not _Hamlet_, if you choose so to regard it, the best melodrama in
the world? Think at your leisure of _Othello_, _Lear_, and _Macbeth_
from the same point of view; but consider here and now even the two
tragedies which, as dealing with Roman history, are companions of
_Antony and Cleopatra_. Recall in _Julius Cæsar_ the first suggestion of
the murder, the preparation for it in a 'tempest dropping fire,' the
murder itself, the speech of Antony over the corpse, and the tumult of
the furious crowd; in _Coriolanus_ the bloody battles on the stage, the
scene in which the hero attains the consulship, the scene of rage in
which he is banished. And remember that in each of these seven tragedies
the matter referred to is contained in the first three Acts.

In the first three Acts of our play what is there resembling this?
Almost nothing. People converse, discuss, accuse one another, excuse
themselves, mock, describe, drink together, arrange a marriage, meet and
part; but they do not kill, do not even tremble or weep. We see hardly
one violent movement; until the battle of Actium is over we witness
scarcely any vehement passion; and that battle, as it is a naval action,
we do not see. Even later, Enobarbus, when he dies, simply dies; he does
not kill himself.[2] We hear wonderful talk; but it is not talk, like
that of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, or that of Othello and Iago, at which
we hold our breath. The scenes that we remember first are those that
portray Cleopatra; Cleopatra coquetting, tormenting, beguiling her lover
to stay; Cleopatra left with her women and longing for him; Cleopatra
receiving the news of his marriage; Cleopatra questioning the messenger
about Octavia's personal appearance. But this is to say that the scenes
we remember first are the least indispensable to the plot. One at least
is not essential to it at all. And this, the astonishing scene where she
storms at the messenger, strikes him, and draws her dagger on him, is
the one passage in the first half of the drama that contains either an
explosion of passion or an exciting bodily action. Nor is this all. The
first half of the play, though it forebodes tragedy, is not decisively
tragic in tone. Certainly the Cleopatra scenes are not so. We read
them, and we should witness them, in delighted wonder and even with
amusement. The only scene that can vie with them, that of the revel on
Pompey's ship, though full of menace, is in great part humorous.
Enobarbus, in this part of the play, is always humorous. Even later,
when the tragic tone is deepening, the whipping of Thyreus, in spite of
Antony's rage, moves mirth. A play of which all this can truly be said
may well be as masterly as _Othello_ or _Macbeth_, and more delightful;
but, in the greater part of its course, it cannot possibly excite the
same emotions. It makes no attempt to do so; and to regard it as though
it made this attempt is to miss its specific character and the intention
of its author.

That character depends only in part on Shakespeare's fidelity to his
historical authority, a fidelity which, I may remark, is often greatly
exaggerated. For Shakespeare did not merely present the story of ten
years as though it occupied perhaps one fifth of that time, nor did he
merely invent freely, but in critical places he effected startling
changes in the order and combination of events. Still it may be said
that, dealing with a history so famous, he could not well make the first
half of his play very exciting, moving, or tragic. And this is true so
far as mere situations and events are concerned. But, if he had chosen,
he might easily have heightened the tone and tension in another way. He
might have made the story of Antony's attempt to break his bondage, and
the story of his relapse, extremely exciting, by portraying with all his
force the severity of the struggle and the magnitude of the fatal step.

And the structure of the play might seem at first to suggest this
intention. At the opening, Antony is shown almost in the beginning of
his infatuation; for Cleopatra is not sure of her power over him, exerts
all her fascination to detain him, and plays the part of the innocent
victim who has yielded to passion and must now expect to be deserted by
her seducer. Alarmed and ashamed at the news of the results of his
inaction, he rouses himself, tears himself away, and speeds to Italy.
His very coming is enough to frighten Pompey into peace. He reconciles
himself with Octavius, and, by his marriage with the good and beautiful
Octavia, seems to have knit a bond of lasting amity with her brother,
and to have guarded himself against the passion that threatened him with
ruin. At this point his power, the world's peace, and his own peace,
appear to be secured; his fortune has mounted to its apex. But soon
(very much sooner than in Plutarch's story) comes the downward turn or
counter-stroke. New causes of offence arise between the brothers-in-law.
To remove them Octavia leaves her husband in Athens and hurries to Rome.
Immediately Antony returns to Cleopatra and, surrendering himself at
once and wholly to her enchantment is quickly driven to his doom.

Now Shakespeare, I say, with his matchless power of depicting an inward
struggle, might have made this story, even where it could not furnish
him with thrilling incidents, the source of powerful tragic emotions;
and, in doing so, he would have departed from his authority merely in
his conception of the hero's character. But he does no such thing till
the catastrophe is near. Antony breaks away from Cleopatra without any
strenuous conflict. No serious doubt of his return is permitted to
agitate us. We are almost assured of it through the impression made on
us by Octavius, through occasional glimpses into Antony's mind, through
the absence of any doubt in Enobarbus, through scenes in Alexandria
which display Cleopatra and display her irresistible. And, finally, the
downward turn itself, the fatal step of Antony's return, is shown
without the slightest emphasis. Nay, it is not shown, it is only
reported; and not a line portrays any inward struggle preceding it. On
this side also, then, the drama makes no attempt to rival the other
tragedies; and it was essential to its own peculiar character and its
most transcendent effects that this attempt should not be made, but that
Antony's passion should be represented as a force which he could hardly
even desire to resist. By the very scheme of the work, therefore, tragic
impressions of any great volume or depth were reserved for the last
stage of the conflict; while the main interest, down to the battle of
Actium, was directed to matters exceedingly interesting and even, in the
wider sense, dramatic, but not overtly either terrible or piteous: on
the one hand, to the political aspect of the story; on the other, to the
personal causes which helped to make the issue inevitable.


The political situation and its development are simple. The story is
taken up almost where it was left, years before, in _Julius Cæsar_.
There Brutus and Cassius, to prevent the rule of one man, assassinate
Cæsar. Their purpose is condemned to failure, not merely because they
make mistakes, but because that political necessity which Napoleon
identified with destiny requires the rule of one man. They spill Cæsar's
blood, but his spirit walks abroad and turns their swords against their
own breasts; and the world is left divided among three men, his friends
and his heir. Here _Antony and Cleopatra_ takes up the tale; and its
business, from this point of view, is to show the reduction of these
three to one. That Lepidus will not be this one was clear already in
_Julius Cæsar_; it must be Octavius or Antony. Both ambitious, they are
also men of such opposite tempers that they would scarcely long agree
even if they wished to, and even if destiny were not stronger than they.
As it is, one of them has fixed his eyes on the end, sacrifices
everything for it, uses everything as a means to it. The other, though
far the greater soldier and worshipped by his followers, has no such
singleness of aim; nor yet is power, however desirable to him, the most
desirable thing in the world. At the beginning he is risking it for
love; at the end he has lost his half of the world, and lost his life,
and Octavius rules alone. Whether Shakespeare had this clearly in his
mind is a question neither answerable nor important; this is what came
out of his mind.

Shakespeare, I think, took little interest in the character of Octavius,
and he has not made it wholly clear. It is not distinct in Plutarch's
'Life of Antony'; and I have not found traces that the poet studied
closely the 'Life of Octavius' included in North's volume. To
Shakespeare he is one of those men, like Bolingbroke and Ulysses, who
have plenty of 'judgment' and not much 'blood.' Victory in the world,
according to the poet, almost always goes to such men; and he makes us
respect, fear, and dislike them. His Octavius is very formidable. His
cold determination half paralyses Antony; it is so even in _Julius
Cæsar_. In _Antony and Cleopatra_ Octavius is more than once in the
wrong; but he never admits it; he silently pushes his rival a step
backward; and, when he ceases to fear, he shows contempt. He neither
enjoys war nor is great in it; at first, therefore, he is anxious about
the power of Pompey, and stands in need of Antony. As soon as Antony's
presence has served his turn, and he has patched up a union with him and
seen him safely off to Athens, he destroys first Pompey and next
Lepidus. Then, dexterously using Antony's faithlessness to Octavia and
excesses in the East in order to put himself in the right, he makes for
his victim with admirable celerity while he is still drunk with the joy
of reunion with Cleopatra. For his ends Octavius is perfectly efficient,
but he is so partly from his limitations. One phrase of his is
exceedingly characteristic. When Antony in rage and desperation
challenges him to single combat, Octavius calls him 'the old ruffian.'
There is a horrid aptness in the phrase, but it disgusts us. It is
shameful in this boy, as hard and smooth as polished steel, to feel at
such a time nothing of the greatness of his victim and the tragedy of
his victim's fall. Though the challenge of Antony is absurd, we would
give much to see them sword to sword. And when Cleopatra by her death
cheats the conqueror of his prize, we feel unmixed delight.

The doubtful point in the character is this. Plutarch says that Octavius
was reported to love his sister dearly; and Shakespeare's Octavius
several times expresses such love. When, then, he proposed the marriage
with Antony (for of course it was he who spoke through Agrippa), was he
honest, or was he laying a trap and, in doing so, sacrificing his
sister? Did he hope the marriage would really unite him with his
brother-in-law; or did he merely mean it to be a source of future
differences; or did he calculate that, whether it secured peace or
dissension, it would in either case bring him great advantage?
Shakespeare, who was quite as intelligent as his readers, must have
asked himself some such question; but he may not have cared to answer it
even to himself; and, in any case, he has left the actor (at least the
actor in days later than his own) to choose an answer. If I were forced
to choose, I should take the view that Octavius was, at any rate, not
wholly honest; partly because I think it best suits Shakespeare's usual
way of conceiving a character of the kind; partly because Plutarch
construed in this manner Octavius's behaviour in regard to his sister at
a later time, and this hint might naturally influence the poet's way of
imagining his earlier action.[3]

Though the character of Octavius is neither attractive nor wholly clear,
his figure is invested with a certain tragic dignity, because he is felt
to be the Man of Destiny, the agent of forces against which the
intentions of an individual would avail nothing. He is represented as
having himself some feeling of this sort. His lament over Antony, his
grief that their stars were irreconcilable, may well be genuine, though
we should be surer if it were uttered in soliloquy. His austere words to
Octavia again probably speak his true mind:

  Be you not troubled with the time, which drives
  O'er your content these strong necessities;
  But let determined things to destiny
  Hold unbewailed their way.

In any case the feeling of fate comes through to us. It is aided by
slight touches of supernatural effect; first in the Soothsayer's warning
to Antony that his genius or angel is overpowered whenever he is near
Octavius; then in the strangely effective scene where Antony's soldiers,
in the night before his last battle, hear music in the air or under the

  'Tis the god Hercules, whom Antony loved,
  Now leaves him.

And to the influence of this feeling in giving impressiveness to the
story is added that of the immense scale and world-wide issue of the
conflict. Even the distances traversed by fleets and armies enhance this

And yet there seems to be something half-hearted in Shakespeare's appeal
here, something even ironical in his presentation of this conflict. Its
external magnitude, like Antony's magnificence in lavishing realms and
gathering the kings of the East in his support, fails to uplift or
dilate the imagination. The struggle in Lear's little island seems to us
to have an infinitely wider scope. It is here that we are sometimes
reminded of _Troilus and Cressida_, and the cold and disenchanting light
that is there cast on the Trojan War. The spectacle which he portrays
leaves Shakespeare quite undazzled; he even makes it appear inwardly
small. The lordship of the world, we ask ourselves, what is it worth,
and in what spirit do these 'world-sharers' contend for it? They are no
champions of their country like Henry V. The conqueror knows not even
the glory of battle. Their aims, for all we see, are as personal as if
they were captains of banditti; and they are followed merely from
self-interest or private attachment. The scene on Pompey's galley is
full of this irony. One 'third part of the world' is carried drunk to
bed. In the midst of this mock boon-companionship the pirate whispers to
his leader to cut first the cable of his ship and then the throats of
the two other Emperors; and at the moment we should not greatly care if
Pompey took the advice. Later, a short scene, totally useless to the
plot and purely satiric in its purport, is slipped in to show how
Ventidius fears to pursue his Parthian conquests because it is not safe
for Antony's lieutenant to outdo his master.[4] A painful sense of
hollowness oppresses us. We know too well what must happen in a world so
splendid, so false, and so petty. We turn for relief from the political
game to those who are sure to lose it; to those who love some human
being better than a prize, to Eros and Charmian and Iras; to Enobarbus,
whom the world corrupts, but who has a heart that can break with shame;
to the lovers, who seem to us to find in death something better than
their victor's life.

This presentation of the outward conflict has two results. First, it
blunts our feeling of the greatness of Antony's fall from prosperity.
Indeed this feeling, which we might expect to be unusually acute, is
hardly so; it is less acute, for example, than the like feeling in the
case of Richard II., who loses so much smaller a realm. Our deeper
sympathies are focussed rather on Antony's heart, on the inward fall to
which the enchantment of passion leads him, and the inward recovery
which succeeds it. And the second result is this. The greatness of
Antony and Cleopatra in their fall is so much heightened by contrast
with the world they lose and the conqueror who wins it, that the
positive element in the final tragic impression, the element of
reconciliation, is strongly emphasised. The peculiar effect of the drama
depends partly, as we have seen, on the absence of decidedly tragic
scenes and events in its first half; but it depends quite as much on
this emphasis. In any Shakespearean tragedy we watch some elect spirit
colliding, partly through its error and defect, with a superhuman power
which bears it down; and yet we feel that this spirit, even in the error
and defect, rises by its greatness into ideal union with the power that
overwhelms it. In some tragedies this latter feeling is relatively weak.
In _Antony and Cleopatra_ it is unusually strong; stronger, with some
readers at least, than the fear and grief and pity with which they
contemplate the tragic error and the advance of doom.


The two aspects of the tragedy are presented together in the opening
scene. Here is the first. In Cleopatra's palace one friend of Antony is
describing to another, just arrived from Rome, the dotage of their great
general; and, as the lovers enter, he exclaims:

                       Look, where they come:
  Take but good note, and you shall see in him
  The triple pillar of the world transformed
  Into a strumpet's fool: behold and see.

With the next words the other aspect appears:

  CLEO. If it be love indeed, tell me how much.

  ANT. There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned.

  CLEO. I'll set a bourne how far to be beloved.

  ANT. Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth.

And directly after, when he is provoked by reminders of the news from

  Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
  Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.
  Kingdoms are clay: our dungy earth alike
  Feeds beast as man: the nobleness of life
  Is to do thus.

Here is the tragic excess, but with it the tragic greatness, the
capacity of finding in something the infinite, and of pursuing it into
the jaws of death.

The two aspects are shown here with the exaggeration proper in dramatic
characters. Neither the phrase 'a strumpet's fool,' nor the assertion
'the nobleness of life is to do thus,' answers to the total effect of
the play. But the truths they exaggerate are equally essential; and the
commoner mistake in criticism is to understate the second. It is plain
that the love of Antony and Cleopatra is destructive; that in some way
it clashes with the nature of things; that, while they are sitting in
their paradise like gods, its walls move inward and crush them at last
to death. This is no invention of moralising critics; it is in the play;
and any one familiar with Shakespeare would expect beforehand to find it
there. But then to forget because of it the other side, to deny the name
of love to this ruinous passion, to speak as though the lovers had
utterly missed the good of life, is to mutilate the tragedy and to
ignore a great part of its effect upon us. For we sympathise with them
in their passion; we feel in it the infinity there is in man; even while
we acquiesce in their defeat we are exulting in their victory; and when
they have vanished we say,

                   the odds is gone,
  And there is nothing left remarkable
  Beneath the visiting moon.

Though we hear nothing from Shakespeare of the cruelty of Plutarch's
Antony, or of the misery caused by his boundless profusion, we do not
feel the hero of the tragedy to be a man of the noblest type, like
Brutus, Hamlet, or Othello. He seeks power merely for himself, and uses
it for his own pleasure. He is in some respects unscrupulous; and, while
it would be unjust to regard his marriage exactly as if it were one in
private life, we resent his treatment of Octavia, whose character
Shakespeare was obliged to leave a mere sketch, lest our feeling for the
hero and heroine should be too much chilled. Yet, for all this, we
sympathise warmly with Antony, are greatly drawn to him, and are
inclined to regard him as a noble nature half spoiled by his time.

It is a large, open, generous, expansive nature, quite free from envy,
capable of great magnanimity, even of entire devotion. Antony is
unreserved, naturally straightforward, we may almost say simple. He can
admit faults, accept advice and even reproof, take a jest against
himself with good-humour. He is courteous (to Lepidus, for example, whom
Octavius treats with cold contempt); and, though he can be exceedingly
dignified, he seems to prefer a blunt though sympathetic plainness,
which is one cause of the attachment of his soldiers. He has none of the
faults of the brooder, the sentimentalist, or the man of principle; his
nature tends to splendid action and lusty enjoyment. But he is neither a
mere soldier nor a mere sensualist. He has imagination, the temper of an
artist who revels in abundant and rejoicing appetites, feasts his senses
on the glow and richness of life, flings himself into its mirth and
revelry, yet feels the poetry in all this, and is able also to put it
by and be more than content with the hardships of adventure. Such a man
could never have sought a crown by a murder like Macbeth's, or, like
Brutus, have killed on principle the man who loved him, or have lost the
world for a Cressida.

Beside this strain of poetry he has a keen intellect, a swift perception
of the lie of things, and much quickness in shaping a course to suit
them. In _Julius Cæsar_ he shows this after the assassination, when he
appears as a dexterous politician as well as a warm-hearted friend. He
admires what is fine, and can fully appreciate the nobility of Brutus;
but he is sure that Brutus's ideas are moonshine, that (as he says in
our play) Brutus is mad; and, since his mighty friend, who was
incomparably the finest thing in the world, has perished, he sees no
reason why the inheritance should not be his own. Full of sorrow, he yet
uses his sorrow like an artist to work on others, and greets his success
with the glee of a successful adventurer. In the earlier play he proves
himself a master of eloquence, and especially of pathos; and he does so
again in the later. With a few words about his fall he draws tears from
his followers and even from the caustic humorist Enobarbus. Like Richard
II., he sees his own fall with the eyes of a poet, but a poet much
greater than the young Shakespeare, who could never have written
Antony's marvellous speech about the sunset clouds. But we listen to
Antony, as we do not to Richard, with entire sympathy, partly because he
is never unmanly, partly because he himself is sympathetic and longs for

The first of living soldiers, an able politician, a most persuasive
orator, Antony nevertheless was not born to rule the world. He enjoys
being a great man, but he has not the love of rule for rule's sake.
Power for him is chiefly a means to pleasure. The pleasure he wants is
so huge that he needs a huge power; but half the world, even a third of
it, would suffice. He will not pocket wrongs, but he shows not the
slightest wish to get rid of his fellow Triumvirs and reign alone. He
never minded being subordinate to Julius Cæsar. By women he is not only
attracted but governed; from the effect of Cleopatra's taunts we can see
that he had been governed by Fulvia. Nor has he either the patience or
the steadfastness of a born ruler. He contends fitfully, and is prone to
take the step that is easiest at the moment. This is the reason why he
consents to marry Octavia. It seems the shortest way out of an awkward
situation. He does not intend even to try to be true to her. He will not
think of the distant consequences.

A man who loved power as much as thousands of insignificant people love
it, would have made a sterner struggle than Antony's against his
enchantment. He can hardly be said to struggle at all. He brings himself
to leave Cleopatra only because he knows he will return. In every moment
of his absence, whether he wake or sleep, a siren music in his blood is
singing him back to her; and to this music, however he may be occupied,
the soul within his soul leans and listens. The joy of life had always
culminated for him in the love of women: he could say 'no' to none of
them: of Octavia herself he speaks like a poet. When he meets Cleopatra
he finds his Absolute. She satisfies, nay glorifies, his whole being.
She intoxicates his senses. Her wiles, her taunts, her furies and
meltings, her laughter and tears, bewitch him all alike. She loves what
he loves, and she surpasses him. She can drink him to his bed, out-jest
his practical jokes, out-act the best actress who ever amused him,
out-dazzle his own magnificence. She is his play-fellow, and yet a great
queen. Angling in the river, playing billiards, flourishing the sword he
used at Philippi, hopping forty paces in a public street, she remains
an enchantress. Her spirit is made of wind and flame, and the poet in
him worships her no less than the man. He is under no illusion about
her, knows all her faults, sees through her wiles, believes her capable
of betraying him. It makes no difference. She is his heart's desire made
perfect. To love her is what he was born for. What have the gods in
heaven to say against it? To imagine heaven is to imagine her; to die is
to rejoin her. To deny that this is love is the madness of morality. He
gives her every atom of his heart.

She destroys him. Shakespeare, availing himself of the historic fact,
portrays, on Antony's return to her, the suddenness and the depth of his
descent. In spite of his own knowledge, the protests of his captains,
the entreaties even of a private soldier, he fights by sea simply and
solely because she wishes it. Then in mid-battle, when she flies, he
deserts navy and army and his faithful thousands and follows her. 'I
never saw an action of such shame,' cries Scarus; and we feel the
dishonour of the hero keenly. Then Shakespeare begins to raise him
again. First, his own overwhelming sense of shame redeems him. Next, we
watch the rage of the dying lion. Then the mere sally before the final
defeat--a sally dismissed by Plutarch in three lines--is magnified into
a battle, in which Antony displays to us, and himself feels for the last
time, the glory of his soldiership. And, throughout, the magnanimity and
gentleness which shine through his desperation endear him to us. How
beautiful is his affection for his followers and even for his servants,
and the devotion they return! How noble his reception of the news that
Enobarbus has deserted him! How touchingly significant the refusal of
Eros either to kill him or survive him! How pathetic and even sublime
the completeness of his love for Cleopatra! His anger is born and dies
in an hour. One tear, one kiss, outweighs his ruin. He believes she has
sold him to his enemy, yet he kills himself because he hears that she is
dead. When, dying, he learns that she has deceived him once more, no
thought of reproach crosses his mind: he simply asks to be carried to
her. He knows well that she is not capable of dying because he dies, but
that does not sting him; when, in his last agony, he calls for wine that
he may gain a moment's strength to speak, it is to advise her for the
days to come. Shakespeare borrowed from Plutarch the final speech of
Antony. It is fine, but it is not miraculous. The miraculous speeches
belong only to his own hero:

  I am dying, Egypt, dying; only
  I here importune death awhile, until
  Of many thousand kisses the poor last
  I lay upon thy lips;

or the first words he utters when he hears of Cleopatra's death:

  Unarm, Eros: the long day's task is done,
  And we must sleep.

If he meant the task of statesman and warrior, that is not what his
words mean to us. They remind us of words more familiar and less great--

  No rest but the grave for the pilgrim of love.

And he is more than love's pilgrim; he is love's martyr.


To reserve a fragment of an hour for Cleopatra, if it were not palpably
absurd, would seem an insult. If only one could hear her own remarks
upon it! But I had to choose between this absurdity and the plan of
giving her the whole hour; and to that plan there was one fatal
objection. She has been described (by Ten Brink) as a courtesan of
genius. So brief a description must needs be incomplete, and Cleopatra
never forgets, nor, if we read aright, do we forget, that she is a
great queen. Still the phrase is excellent; only a public lecture is no
occasion for the full analysis and illustration of the character it

Shakespeare has paid Cleopatra a unique compliment. The hero dies in the
fourth Act, and the whole of the fifth is devoted to the heroine.[5] In
that Act she becomes unquestionably a tragic character, but, it appears
to me, not till then. This, no doubt, is a heresy; but as I cannot help
holding it, and as it is connected with the remarks already made on the
first half of the play, I will state it more fully. Cleopatra stands in
a group with Hamlet and Falstaff. We might join with them Iago if he
were not decidedly their inferior in one particular quality. They are
inexhaustible. You feel that, if they were alive and you spent your
whole life with them, their infinite variety could never be staled by
custom; they would continue every day to surprise, perplex, and delight
you. Shakespeare has bestowed on each of them, though they differ so
much, his own originality, his genius. He has given it most fully to
Hamlet, to whom none of the chambers of experience is shut, and perhaps
more of it to Cleopatra than to Falstaff. Nevertheless, if we ask
whether Cleopatra, in the first four Acts, is a tragic figure like
Hamlet, we surely cannot answer 'yes.' Naturally it does not follow that
she is a comic figure like Falstaff. This would be absurd; for, even if
she were ridiculous like Falstaff, she is not ridiculous to herself; she
is no humorist. And yet there is a certain likeness. She shares a
weakness with Falstaff--vanity; and when she displays it, as she does
quite naively (for instance, in the second interview with the
Messenger), she does become comic. Again, though like Falstaff she is
irresistible and carries us away no less than the people around her, we
are secretly aware, in the midst of our delight, that her empire is
built on sand. And finally, as his love for the Prince gives dignity and
pathos to Falstaff in his overthrow, so what raises Cleopatra at last
into pure tragedy is, in part, that which some critics have denied her,
her love for Antony.

Many unpleasant things can be said of Cleopatra; and the more that are
said the more wonderful she appears. The exercise of sexual attraction
is the element of her life; and she has developed nature into a
consummate art. When she cannot exert it on the present lover she
imagines its effects on him in absence. Longing for the living, she
remembers with pride and joy the dead; and the past which the furious
Antony holds up to her as a picture of shame is, for her, glory. She
cannot see an ambassador, scarcely even a messenger, without desiring to
bewitch him. Her mind is saturated with this element. If she is dark, it
is because the sun himself has been amorous of her. Even when death is
close at hand she imagines his touch as a lover's. She embraces him that
she may overtake Iras and gain Antony's first kiss in the other world.

She lives for feeling. Her feelings are, so to speak, sacred, and pain
must not come near her. She has tried numberless experiments to discover
the easiest way to die. Her body is exquisitely sensitive, and her
emotions marvellously swift. They are really so; but she exaggerates
them so much, and exhibits them so continually for effect, that some
readers fancy them merely feigned. They are all-important, and everybody
must attend to them. She announces to her women that she is pale, or
sick and sullen; they must lead her to her chamber but must not speak to
her. She is as strong and supple as a leopard, can drink down a master
of revelry, can raise her lover's helpless heavy body from the ground
into her tower with the aid only of two women; yet, when he is sitting
apart sunk in shame, she must be supported into his presence, she cannot
stand, her head droops, she will die (it is the opinion of Eros) unless
he comforts her. When she hears of his marriage and has discharged her
rage, she bids her women bear her away; she faints; at least she would
faint, but that she remembers various questions she wants put to the
Messenger about Octavia. Enobarbus has seen her die twenty times upon
far poorer moment than the news that Antony is going to Rome.

Some of her feelings are violent, and, unless for a purpose, she does
not dream of restraining them; her sighs and tears are winds and waters,
storms and tempests. At times, as when she threatens to give Charmian
bloody teeth, or hales the luckless Messenger up and down by the hair,
strikes him and draws her knife on him, she resembles (if I dare say it)
Doll Tearsheet sublimated. She is a mother; but the threat of Octavius
to destroy her children if she takes her own life passes by her like the
wind (a point where Shakespeare contradicts Plutarch). She ruins a great
man, but shows no sense of the tragedy of his ruin. The anguish of
spirit that appears in his language to his servants is beyond her; she
has to ask Enobarbus what he means. Can we feel sure that she would not
have sacrificed him if she could have saved herself by doing so? It is
not even certain that she did not attempt it. Antony himself believes
that she did--that the fleet went over to Octavius by her orders. That
she and her people deny the charge proves nothing. The best we can say
is that, if it were true, Shakespeare would have made that clear. She is
willing also to survive her lover. Her first thought, to follow him
after the high Roman fashion, is too great for her. She would live on if
she could, and would cheat her victor too of the best part of her
fortune. The thing that drives her to die is the certainty that she
will be carried to Rome to grace his triumph. That alone decides her.[6]

The marvellous thing is that the knowledge of all this makes hardly more
difference to us than it did to Antony. It seems to us perfectly
natural, nay, in a sense perfectly right, that her lover should be her
slave; that her women should adore her and die with her; that Enobarbus,
who foresaw what must happen, and who opposes her wishes and braves her
anger, should talk of her with rapture and feel no bitterness against
her; that Dolabella, after a minute's conversation, should betray to her
his master's intention and enable her to frustrate it. And when Octavius
shows himself proof against her fascination, instead of admiring him we
turn from him with disgust and think him a disgrace to his species. Why?
It is not that we consider him bound to fall in love with her. Enobarbus
did not; Dolabella did not; we ourselves do not. The feeling she
inspires was felt then, and is felt now, by women no less than men, and
would have been shared by Octavia herself. Doubtless she wrought magic
on the senses, but she had not extraordinary beauty, like Helen's, such
beauty as seems divine.[7] Plutarch says so. The man who wrote the
sonnets to the dark lady would have known it for himself. He goes out of
his way to add to her age, and tells us of her wrinkles and the waning
of her lip. But Enobarbus, in his very mockery, calls her a wonderful
piece of work. Dolabella interrupts her with the cry, 'Most sovereign
creature,' and we echo it. And yet Octavius, face to face with her and
listening to her voice, can think only how best to trap her and drag her
to public dishonour in the streets of Rome. We forgive him only for his
words when he sees her dead:

                 She looks like sleep,
  As she would catch another Antony
  In her strong toil of grace.

And the words, I confess, sound to me more like Shakespeare's than his.

That which makes her wonderful and sovereign laughs at definition, but
she herself came nearest naming it when, in the final speech (a passage
surpassed in poetry, if at all, only by the final speech of Othello),
she cries,

  I am fire and air; my other elements
  I give to baser life.

The fire and air which at death break from union with those other
elements, transfigured them during her life, and still convert into
engines of enchantment the very things for which she is condemned. I can
refer only to one. She loves Antony. We should marvel at her less and
love her more if she loved him more--loved him well enough to follow him
at once to death; but it is to blunder strangely to doubt that she loved
him, or that her glorious description of him (though it was also meant
to work on Dolabella) came from her heart. Only the spirit of fire and
air within her refuses to be trammelled or extinguished; burns its way
through the obstacles of fortune and even through the resistance of her
love and grief; and would lead her undaunted to fresh life and the
conquest of new worlds. It is this which makes her 'strong toil of
grace' unbreakable; speaks in her brows' bent and every tone and
movement; glorifies the arts and the rages which in another would merely
disgust or amuse us; and, in the final scenes of her life, flames into
such brilliance that we watch her entranced as she struggles for
freedom, and thrilled with triumph as, conquered, she puts her conqueror
to scorn and goes to meet her lover in the splendour that crowned and
robed her long ago, when her barge burnt on the water like a burnished
throne, and she floated to Cydnus on the enamoured stream to take him
captive for ever.[8]

Why is it that, although we close the book in a triumph which is more
than reconciliation, this is mingled, as we look back on the story, with
a sadness so peculiar, almost the sadness of disenchantment? Is it that,
when the glow has faded, Cleopatra's ecstasy comes to appear, I would
not say factitious, but an effort strained and prodigious as well as
glorious, not, like Othello's last speech, the final expression of
character, of thoughts and emotions which have dominated a whole life?
Perhaps this is so, but there is something more, something that sounds
paradoxical: we are saddened by the very fact that the catastrophe
saddens us so little; it pains us that we should feel so much triumph
and pleasure. In _Romeo and Juliet_, _Hamlet_, _Othello_, though in a
sense we accept the deaths of hero and heroine, we feel a keen sorrow.
We look back, think how noble or beautiful they were, wish that fate had
opposed to them a weaker enemy, dream possibly of the life they might
then have led. Here we can hardly do this. With all our admiration and
sympathy for the lovers we do not wish them to gain the world. It is
better for the world's sake, and not less for their own, that they
should fail and die. At the very first they came before us, unlike those
others, unlike Coriolanus and even Macbeth, in a glory already
tarnished, half-ruined by their past. Indeed one source of strange and
most unusual effect in their story is that this marvellous passion comes
to adepts in the experience and art of passion, who might be expected to
have worn its charm away. Its splendour dazzles us; but, when the
splendour vanishes, we do not mourn, as we mourn for the love of Romeo
or Othello, that a thing so bright and good should die. And the fact
that we mourn so little saddens us.

A comparison of Shakespearean tragedies seems to prove that the tragic
emotions are stirred in the fullest possible measure only when such
beauty or nobility of character is displayed as commands unreserved
admiration or love; or when, in default of this, the forces which move
the agents, and the conflict which results from these forces, attain a
terrifying and overwhelming power. The four most famous tragedies
satisfy one or both of these conditions; _Antony and Cleopatra_, though
a great tragedy, satisfies neither of them completely. But to say this
is not to criticise it. It does not attempt to satisfy these conditions,
and then fail in the attempt. It attempts something different, and
succeeds as triumphantly as _Othello_ itself. In doing so it gives us
what no other tragedy can give, and it leaves us, no less than any
other, lost in astonishment at the powers which created it.



We are to understand, surely, that Enobarbus dies of 'thought'
(melancholy or grief), and has no need to seek a 'swifter mean.' Cf. IV.
vi. 34 _seq._, with the death-scene and his address there to the moon as
the 'sovereign mistress of true melancholy' (IV. ix.). Cf. also III.
xiii., where, to Cleopatra's question after Actium, 'What shall we do,
Enobarbus?' he answers, 'Think, and die.'

The character of Enobarbus is practically an invention of Shakespeare's.
The death-scene, I may add, is one of the many passages which prove that
he often wrote what pleased his imagination but would lose half its
effect in the theatre. The darkness and moonlight could not be
represented on a public stage in his time.


The scene is the first of the third Act. Here Ventidius says:

  Cæsar and Antony have ever won
  More in their officer than person: Sossius,
  One of my place in Syria, his lieutenant,
  For quick accumulation of renown,
  Which he achieved by the minute, lost his favour.

Plutarch (North, sec. 19) says that 'Sossius, one of Antonius'
lieutenants in Syria, did notable good service,' but I cannot find in
him the further statement that Sossius lost Antony's favour. I presume
it is Shakespeare's invention, but I call attention to it on the bare
chance that it may be found elsewhere than in Plutarch, when it would
point to Shakespeare's use of a second authority.


Since this lecture was published (_Quarterly Review_, April, 1906) two
notable editions of _Antony and Cleopatra_ have been produced. Nothing
recently written on Shakespeare, I venture to say, shows more thorough
scholarship or better judgment than Mr. Case's edition in the Arden
series; and Dr. Furness has added to the immense debt which students of
Shakespeare owe to him, and (if that is possible) to the admiration and
respect with which they regard him, by the appearance of _Antony and
Cleopatra_ in his New Variorum edition.

On one question about Cleopatra both editors, Mr. Case more tentatively
and Dr. Furness very decidedly, dissent from the interpretation given in
the last pages of my lecture. The question is how we are to understand
the fact that, although on Antony's death Cleopatra expresses her
intention of following him, she does not carry out this intention until
she has satisfied herself that Octavius means to carry her to Rome to
grace his triumph. Though I do not profess to feel certain that my
interpretation is right, it still seems to me a good deal the most
probable, and therefore I have not altered what I wrote. But my object
here is not to defend my view or to criticise other views, but merely to
call attention to the discussion of the subject in Mr. Case's
Introduction and Dr. Furness's Preface.


Shakespeare, it seems clear, imagined Cleopatra as a gipsy. And this, I
would suggest, may be the explanation of a word which has caused much
difficulty. Antony, when 'all is lost,' exclaims (IV. x. 38):

  O this false soul of Egypt! this grave charm,--
  Whose eye beck'd forth my wars, and call'd them home,
  Whose bosom was my crownet, my chief end,--
  Like a right gipsy, hath, at fast and loose,
  Beguil'd me to the very heart of loss.

Pope changed 'grave' in the first line into 'gay.' Others conjecture
'great' and 'grand.' Steevens says that 'grave' means 'deadly,' and
that the word 'is often used by Chapman' thus; and one of his two
quotations supports his statement; but certainly in Shakespeare the word
does not elsewhere bear this sense. It could mean 'majestic,' as Johnson
takes it here. But why should it not have its usual meaning? Cleopatra,
we know, was a being of 'infinite variety,' and her eyes may sometimes
have had, like those of some gipsies, a mysterious gravity or solemnity
which would exert a spell more potent than her gaiety. Their colour,
presumably, was what is called 'black'; but surely they were not, like
those of Tennyson's Cleopatra, '_bold_ black eyes.' Readers interested
in seeing what criticism is capable of may like to know that it has been
proposed to read, for the first line of the quotation above, 'O this
false fowl of Egypt! haggard charmer.' [Though I have not cancelled this
note I have modified some phrases in it, as I have not much confidence
in my suggestion, and am inclined to think that Steevens was right.]


  [1] As this lecture was composed after the publication of my
    _Shakespearean Tragedy_ I ignored in it, as far as possible, such
    aspects of the play as were noticed in that book, to the Index of
    which I may refer the reader.

  [2] See Note A.

  [3] 'Now whilest Antonius was busie in this preparation, Octavia his
    wife, whom he had left at Rome, would needs take sea to come unto
    him. Her brother Octauius Cæsar was willing vnto it, not for his
    respect at all (as most authors do report) as for that he might haue
    an honest colour to make warre with Antonius if he did misuse her,
    and not esteeme of her as she ought to be.'--_Life of Antony_
    (North's Translation), sect. 29. The view I take does not, of course,
    imply that Octavius had no love for his sister.

  [4] See Note B.

  [5] The point of this remark is unaffected by the fact that the play
    is not divided into acts and scenes in the folios.

  [6] See Note C.

  [7] See Note D.

  [8] Of the 'good' heroines, Imogen is the one who has most of this
    spirit of fire and air; and this (in union, of course, with other
    qualities) is perhaps the ultimate reason why for so many readers she
    is, what Mr. Swinburne calls her, 'the woman above all Shakespeare's



Such phrases as 'Shakespeare the man' or 'Shakespeare's personality'
are, no doubt, open to objection. They seem to suggest that, if we could
subtract from Shakespeare the mind that produced his works, the residue
would be the man himself; and that his mind was some pure impersonal
essence unaffected by the accidents of physique, temperament, and
character. If this were so, one could but echo Tennyson's thanksgiving
that we know so little of Shakespeare. But as it is assuredly not so,
and as 'Shakespeare the man' really means the one indivisible
Shakespeare, regarded for the time from a particular point of view, the
natural desire to know whatever can be known of him is not to be
repressed merely because there are people so foolish as to be careless
about his works and yet curious about his private life. For my own part
I confess that, though I should care nothing about the man if he had not
written the works, yet, since we possess them, I would rather see and
hear him for five minutes in his proper person than discover a new one.
And though we may be content to die without knowing his income or even
the surname of Mr. W. H., we cannot so easily resign the wish to find
the man in his writings, and to form some idea of the disposition, the
likes and dislikes, the character and the attitude towards life, of the
human being who seems to us to have understood best our common human

The answer of course will be that our biographical knowledge of
Shakespeare is so small, and his writings are so completely dramatic,
that this wish, however natural, is idle. But I cannot think so.
Doubtless, in trying to form an idea of Shakespeare, we soon reach the
limits of reasonable certainty; and it is also true that the idea we can
form without exceeding them is far from being as individual as we could
desire. But it is more distinct than is often supposed, and it _is_
reasonably certain; and although we can add to its distinctness only by
more or less probable conjectures, they are not mere guesses, they
really have probability in various degrees. On this whole subject there
is a tendency at the present time to an extreme scepticism, which
appears to me to be justified neither by the circumstances of the
particular case nor by our knowledge of human nature in general.

This scepticism is due in part to the interest excited by Mr. Lee's
discussion of the Sonnets in his _Life_ of Shakespeare, and to the
importance rightly attached to that discussion. The Sonnets are lyrical
poems of friendship and love. In them the poet ostensibly speaks in his
own person and expresses his own feelings. Many critics, no doubt, had
denied that he really did so; but they had not Mr. Lee's knowledge, nor
had they examined the matter so narrowly as he; and therefore they had
not much weakened the general belief that the Sonnets, however
conventional or exaggerated their language may sometimes be, do tell us
a good deal about their author. Mr. Lee, however, showed far more fully
than any previous writer that many of the themes, many even of the
ideas, of these poems are commonplaces of Renaissance sonnet-writing;
and he came to the conclusion that in the Sonnets Shakespeare
'unlocked,' not 'his heart,' but a very different kind of armoury, and
that the sole biographical inference deducible from them is that 'at one
time in his career Shakespeare disdained no weapon of flattery in an
endeavour to monopolise the bountiful patronage of a young man of rank.'
Now, if that inference is correct, it certainly tells us something about
Shakespeare the man; but it also forbids us to take seriously what the
Sonnets profess to tell us of his passionate affection, with its hopes
and fears, its pain and joy; of his pride and his humility, his
self-reproach and self-defence, his weariness of life and his
consciousness of immortal genius. And as, according to Mr. Lee's
statement, the Sonnets alone of Shakespeare's works 'can be held to
throw any illumination on a personal trait,' it seems to follow that, so
far as the works are concerned (for Mr. Lee is not specially sceptical
as to the external testimony), the only idea we can form of the man is
contained in that single inference.

Now, I venture to surmise that Mr. Lee's words go rather beyond his
meaning. But that is not our business here, nor could a brief discussion
do justice to a theory to which those who disagree with it are still
greatly indebted. What I wish to deny is the presupposition which seems
to be frequently accepted as an obvious truth. Even if Mr. Lee's view of
the Sonnets were indisputably correct, nay, if even, to go much further,
the persons and the story in the Sonnets were as purely fictitious as
those of _Twelfth Night_, they might and would still tell us something
of the personality of their author. For however free a poet may be from
the emotions which he simulates, and however little involved in the
conditions which he imagines, he cannot (unless he is a mere copyist)
write a hundred and fifty lyrics expressive of those simulated emotions
without disclosing something of himself, something of the way in which
he in particular _would_ feel and behave under the imagined conditions.
And the same thing holds in principle of the dramas. Is it really
conceivable that a man can write some five and thirty dramas, and
portray in them an enormous amount and variety of human nature, without
betraying anything whatever of his own disposition and preferences? I do
not believe that he could do this, even if he deliberately set himself
to the task. The only question is how much of himself he would betray.

One is entitled to say this, I think, on general grounds; but we may
appeal further to specific experience. Of many poets and novelists we
know a good deal from external sources. And in these cases we find that
the man so known to us appears also in his works, and that these by
themselves would have left on us a personal impression which, though
imperfect and perhaps in this or that point even false, would have been
broadly true. Of course this holds of some writers much more fully than
of others; but, except where the work is very scanty in amount, it seems
to hold in some degree of all.[1] If so, there is an antecedent
probability that it will apply to Shakespeare too. After all, he was
human. We may exclaim in our astonishment that he was as universal and
impartial as nature herself; but this is the language of religious
rapture. If we assume that he was six times as universal as Sir Walter
Scott, which is praise enough for a mortal, we may hope to form an idea
of him from his plays only six times as dim as the idea of Scott that we
should derive from the Waverley Novels.

And this is not all. As a matter of fact, the great majority of
Shakespeare's readers--lovers of poetry untroubled by theories and
questions--do form from the plays some idea of the man. Knowingly or
not, they possess such an idea; and up to a certain point the idea is
the same. Ask such a man whether he thinks Shakespeare was at all like
Shelley, or Wordsworth, or Milton, and it will not occur to him to
answer 'I have not the faintest notion'; he will answer unhesitatingly
No. Ask him whether he supposes that Shakespeare was at all like
Fielding or Scott, and he will probably be found to imagine that, while
differing greatly from both, he did belong to the same type or class.
And such answers unquestionably imply an idea which, however deficient
in detail, is definite.

Again, to go a little further in the same direction, take this fact.
After I had put together my notes for the present lecture, I re-read
Bagehot's essay on Shakespeare the Man, and I read a book by Goldwin
Smith and an essay by Leslie Stephen (who, I found, had anticipated a
good deal that I meant to say).[2] These three writers, with all their
variety, have still substantially the same idea of Shakespeare; and it
is the idea of the competent 'general reader' more fully developed. Nor
is the value of their agreement in the least diminished by the fact that
they make no claim to be Shakespeare scholars. They show themselves much
abler than most scholars, and if they lack the scholar's knowledge they
are free from his defects. When they wrote their essays they had not
wearied themselves with rival hypotheses, or pored over minutiae until
they lost the broad and deep impressions which vivid reading leaves.
Ultra-scepticism in this matter does not arise merely or mainly from the
humility which every man of sense must feel as he creeps to and fro in
Shakespeare's prodigious mind. It belongs either to the clever faddist
who can see nothing straight, or it proceeds from those dangers and
infirmities which the expert in any subject knows too well.

The remarks I am going to make can have an interest only for those who
share the position I have tried to indicate; who believe that the most
dramatic of writers must reveal in his writings something of himself,
but who recognise that in Shakespeare's case we can expect a reasonable
certainty only within narrow limits, while beyond them we have to trust
to impressions, the value of which must depend on familiarity with his
writings, on freedom from prejudice and the desire to reach any
particular result, and on the amount of perception we may happen to
possess. I offer my own impressions, insecure and utterly unprovable as
I know them to be, simply because those of other readers have an
interest for me; and I offer them for the most part without argument,
because even where argument might be useful it requires more time than a
lecture can afford. For the same reason I shall assume, without
attempting to define it further, and without dilating on its
implications, the truth of that general feeling about Shakespeare and
Fielding and Scott.

But, before we come to impressions at all, we must look at the scanty
store of external evidence: for we may lay down at once the canon that
impressions derived from the works must supplement and not contradict
this evidence, so far as it appears trustworthy. It is scanty, but it
yields a decided outline.

  This figure that thou here seest put,
  It was for gentle Shakespeare cut:

--so Jonson writes of the portrait in the Folio, and the same adjective
'gentle' is used elsewhere of Shakespeare. It had not in Elizabethan
English so confined a meaning as it has now; but it meant something, and
I do not remember that their contemporaries called Marlowe or Jonson or
Marston 'gentle.' Next, in the earliest extant reference that we have to
Shakespeare, the writer says that he himself has seen his 'demeanour' to
be 'civil.'[3] It is not saying much; but it is not the first remark an
acquaintance would probably have made about Ben Jonson or Samuel
Johnson. The same witness adds about Shakespeare that 'divers of worship
have reported his uprightness of dealing which argues his honesty.'
'Honesty' and 'honest' in an Elizabethan passage like this mean more
than they would now; they answer rather to our 'honourable' or 'honour.'
Lastly we have the witness borne by Jonson in the words: 'I loved the
man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. He
was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature.' With this notable
phrase, to which I shall have to return, we come to an end of the
testimony of eye-witnesses to Shakespeare the Man (for we have nothing
to do with references to the mere actor or author). It is scanty, and
insufficient to discriminate him from other persons who were gentle,
civil, upright in their dealings, honourable, open, and free: but I
submit that there have been not a few writers to whom all these
qualities could not be truly ascribed, and that the testimony therefore
does tell us something definite. To which must be added that we have
absolutely no evidence which conflicts with it. Whatever Greene in his
jealous embitterment might have said would carry little weight, but in
fact, apart from general abuse of actors, he only says that the upstart
had an over-weening opinion of his own capacities.

There remain certain traditions and certain facts; and without
discussing them I will mention what seems to me to have a more or less
probable significance. Stratford stories of drinking bouts may go for
nothing, but not the consensus of tradition to the effect that
Shakespeare was a pleasant and convivial person, 'very good company, and
of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit.'[4] That after his retirement
to Stratford he spent at the rate of £1000 a year is incredible, but
that he spent freely seems likely enough. The tradition that as a young
man he got into trouble with Sir Thomas Lucy for deer-stealing (which
would probably be an escapade rather than an essay in serious poaching)
is supported by his unsavoury jest about the 'luces' in Sir Robert
Shallow's coat. The more general statement that in youth he was wild
does not sound improbable; and, obscure as the matter is, I cannot
regard as comfortable the little we know of the circumstances of his
very early marriage. A contemporary story of an amorous adventure in
London may well be pure invention, but we have no reason to reject it
peremptorily as we should any similar gossip about Milton. Lastly,
certain inferences may safely be drawn from the facts that, once
securely started in London, Shakespeare soon began to prosper, and
acquired, for an actor and playwright, considerable wealth; that he
bought property in his native town, and was consulted sometimes by
fellow-townsmen on matters of business; that he enforced the payment of
certain debts; and that he took the trouble to get a coat of arms. But
what cannot with any logic or any safety be inferred is that he, any
more than Scott, was impelled to write simply and solely by the desire
to make money and improve his social position; and the comparative
abundance of business records will mislead only those who are
thoughtless enough to forget that, if they buy a house or sue a debtor,
the fact will be handed down, while their kind or generous deeds may be
recorded, if at all, only in the statement that they were 'of an open
and free nature.'

That Shakespeare was a good and perhaps keen man of business, or that he
set store by a coat of arms, we could not have inferred from his
writings. But we could have judged from them that he worked hard, and
have guessed with some probability that he would rather have been a
'gentleman' than an actor. And most of the other characteristics that
appear from the external evidence would, I think, have seemed probable
from a study of the works. This should encourage us to hope that we may
be right in other impressions which we receive from them. And we may
begin with one on which the external evidence has a certain bearing.

Readers of Shakespeare, I believe, imagine him to have been not only
sweet-tempered but modest and unassuming. I do not doubt that they are
right; and, vague as the Folio portrait and the Stratford bust are, it
would be difficult to believe that their subject was an irritable,
boastful, or pushing person. But if we confine ourselves to the works,
it is not easy to give reasons for the idea that their author was modest
and unassuming; and a man is not necessarily so because he is open,
free, and very good company. Perhaps we feel that a man who was not so
would have allowed much more of himself to appear in his works than
Shakespeare does. Perhaps again we think that anything like presumption
or self-importance was incompatible with Shakespeare's sense of the
ridiculous, his sublime common-sense, and his feeling of man's
insignificance. And, lastly, it seems to us clear that the playwright
admires and likes people who are modest, unassuming, and plain; while it
may perhaps safely be said that those who lack these qualities rarely
admire them in others and not seldom despise them. But, however we may
justify our impression that Shakespeare possessed them, we certainly
receive it; and assuming it to be as correct as the similar impression
left by the Waverley Novels indubitably is, I go on to observe that the
possession of them does not of necessity imply a want of spirit, or of
proper self-assertion or insistence on rights.[5] It did not in Scott,
and we have ground for saying that it did not in Shakespeare. If it had,
he could not, being of an open and free nature, have prospered as he
prospered. He took offence at Greene's attack on him, and showed that he
took it. He was 'gentle,' but he liked his debts to be paid. However his
attitude as to the enclosure at Welcombe may be construed, it is clear
that he had to be reckoned with. It appears probable that he held
himself wronged by Sir Thomas Lucy, and, pocketing up the injury because
he could not resent it, gave him tit for tat after some fifteen years.
The man in the Sonnets forgives his friend easily, but it is not from
humility; and towards the world he is very far from humble. Of the
dedication of _The Rape of Lucrece_ we cannot judge, for we do not know
Shakespeare's relations with Lord Southampton at that date; but, as for
the dedication of _Venus and Adonis_, could modesty and dignity be
better mingled in a letter from a young poet to a great noble than they
are there?

Some of Shakespeare's writings point to a strain of deep reflection and
of quasi-metaphysical imagination in his nature; and a few of them seem
to reveal a melancholy, at times merely sad, at times embittered or
profound, if never hopeless. It is on this side mainly that we feel a
decided difference between him and Fielding, and even between him and
Scott. Yet nothing in the contemporary allusions or in the traditions
would suggest that he was notably thoughtful or serious, and much less
that he was melancholy. And although we could lay no stress on this fact
if it stood alone, it is probably significant. Shakespeare's writings,
on the whole, leave a strong impression that his native disposition was
much more gay than grave. They seem always to have made this impression.
Fuller tells us that 'though his genius generally was jocular and
inclining him to festivity, yet he could, when so disposed, be solemn
and serious, as appears by his tragedies.'[6] Johnson agreed with Rymer
that his 'natural disposition' led him to comedy; and, although Johnson
after his manner distorts a true idea by wilful exaggeration and by
perverting distinctions into antitheses, there is truth in his
development of Rymer's remark. It would be easy to quote nineteenth
century critics to the same effect; and the study of Shakespeare's early
works leads to a similar result. It has been truly said that we feel
ourselves in much closer contact with his personality in the early
comedies and in _Romeo and Juliet_ than in _Henry VI._ and _Richard
III._ and _Titus Andronicus_. In the latter, so far as we suppose them
to be his own, he seems on the whole to be following, and then improving
on, an existing style, and to be dealing with subjects which engage him
as a playwright without much appealing to him personally. With _Romeo
and Juliet_, on the other hand, and with _Richard II._ (which seems
clearly to be his first attempt to write historical tragedy in a manner
entirely his own), it is different, and we feel the presence of the
whole man. The stories are tragic, but it is not precisely the _tragic_
aspect of them that attracts him most; and even Johnson's statement,
grotesquely false of the later tragedies, that 'in tragedy he is always
struggling after some occasion to be comic,' is no more than an
exaggeration in respect to _Romeo and Juliet_.[7] From these tragedies,
as from _Love's Labour's Lost_ and the other early comedies, we should
guess that the author was a young man, happy, alert, light-hearted, full
of romance and poetry, but full also of fun; blessed with a keen
enjoyment of absurdities, but, for all his intellectual subtlety and
power, not markedly reflective, and certainly not particularly grave or
much inclined to dejection. One might even suspect, I venture to think,
that with such a flow of spirits and such exceeding alacrity of mind he
might at present be a trifle wanting in feeling and disposed to levity.
In any case, if our general impression is correct, we shall not find it
hard to believe that the author of these plays and the creator of
Falstaff was 'very good company' and a convivial good-fellow; and it
might easily happen that he was tempted at times to 'go here and there'
in society, and 'make himself a motley to the view' in a fashion that
left some qualms behind.[8]

There is a tradition that Shakespeare was 'a handsome well-shaped man.'
If the Stratford monument does not lie, he was not in later life a
meagre man. And if our notion of his temperament has any truth, he can
hardly have been physically feeble, bloodless, or inactive. Most readers
probably imagine him the reverse. Even sceptical critics tell us that he
was fond of field-sports; and of his familiar knowledge of them there
can be no question. Yet--I can but record the impression without trying
to justify it--his writings do not at all suggest to me that he was a
splendidly powerful creature like Fielding, or that he greatly enjoyed
bodily exertion, or was not easily tired. He says much of horses, but he
does not make one think, as Scott does, that a gallop was a great
delight to him. Nor again do I feel after reading him that he had a
strong natural love of adventurous deeds, or longed to be an explorer or
a soldier. The island of his boyish dreams--if he heard much of voyages
as a boy--was, I fancy, the haunt of marmosets and hedgehogs, quaint
moon-calves and flitting sprites, lovely colours, sounds and sweet airs
that give delight and hurt not, less like Treasure Island than the Coral
Island of Ballantyne in the original illustrations, and more full of
wonders than of dangers. He would have liked the Arabian Nights better
than Dumas. Of course he admired men of action, understood them, and
could express their feelings; but we do not feel particularly close to
his personality as we read the warrior speeches of Hotspur, Henry,
Othello, Coriolanus, as we do when we read of Romeo or Hamlet, or when
we feel the attraction of Henry's modesty. In the same way, I suppose
nobody feels Shakespeare's personal presence in the ambition of Macbeth
or the pride of Coriolanus; many feel it in Macbeth's imaginative
terrors, and in the disgust of Coriolanus at the idea of recounting his
exploits in order to win votes. When we seem to hear Shakespeare's
voice--and we hear it from many mouths besides Romeo's or Hamlet's--it
is the voice of a man with a happy, enjoying, but still contemplative
and even dreamy nature, not of a man richly endowed with the impulses
and feelings either of strenuous action or of self-assertion. If he had
drawn a Satan, we should not have felt his personality, as we do
Milton's, in Satan's pride and indomitable courage and intolerance of

We know how often Shakespeare uses the antithesis of blood or passion,
and judgment or reason; how he praises the due commingling of the two,
or the control of the first by the second; how frequently it is the want
of such control that exposes his heroes to the attack of Fortune or
Fate. What, then, were the passions or the 'affections of the blood'
most dangerous to himself? Not, if we have been right, those of pride or
ambition; nor yet those of envy, hatred, or revenge; and still less that
of avarice. But, in the first place, let us remember Jonson's words, 'he
was honest and of an open and free nature,' and let me repeat an
observation, made elsewhere in passing, that these words are true also
of the great majority of Shakespeare's heroes, and not least of his
tragic heroes. Jonson almost quotes Iago:

  The Moor is of a free and open nature,
  That thinks men honest that but seem to be so.

The king says that Hamlet,

                              being remiss,
  Most generous, and free from all contrivings,
  Will not peruse the foils.

The words 'open and free' apply no less eminently to Brutus, Lear, and
Timon. Antony and Coriolanus are men naturally frank, liberal, and
large. Prospero lost his dukedom through his trustfulness. Romeo and
Troilus and Orlando, and many slighter characters, are so far of the
same type. Now such a free and open nature, obviously, is specially
exposed to the risks of deception, perfidy, and ingratitude. If it is
also a nature sensitive and intense, but not particularly active or (if
the word may be excused) volitional, such experiences will tempt it to
melancholy, embitterment, anger, possibly even misanthropy. If it _is_
thus active or volitional, it may become the prey of violent and
destructive passion, such as that of Othello and of Coriolanus, and such
as Lear's would be if he were not so old. These affections, passions,
and sufferings of free and open natures are Shakespeare's favourite
tragic subject; and his favouritism, surely, goes so far as to
constitute a decided peculiarity, not found thus in other tragic poets.
Here he painted most, one cannot but think, what his own nature was most
inclined to feel. But it would rather be melancholy, embitterment, an
inactive rage or misanthropy, than any destructive passion; and it would
be a further question whether, and how far, he may at any time have
experienced what he depicts. I am speaking here only of his

That Shakespeare was as much inclined to be a lover as most poets we may
perhaps safely assume; but can we conjecture anything further on this
subject? I will confine myself to two points. He treats of love
romantically, and tragically, and humorously. In the earlier plays
especially the humorous aspect of the matter, the aspect so prominent in
the _Midsummer-Night's Dream_, the changefulness, brevity,
irrationality, of the feeling, is at least as much dwelt on as the
romantic, and with at least as much relish:

  Lord! what fools these mortals be!

Now, if there is anything peculiar in the pictures here, it is, perhaps,
the special interest that Shakespeare seems to take in what we may call
the unreality of the feeling of love in an imaginative nature. Romeo as
he first appears, and, in a later play, Orsino, are examples of this.
They are perfectly sincere, of course, but neither of them is really in
love with a woman; each is in love with the state of being in love. This
state is able to attach itself to a particular object, but it is not
induced by the particular qualities of that object; it is more a dream
than a passion, and can melt away without carrying any of the lover's
heart with it; and in that sense it is unreal. This weakness, no doubt,
is not confined to imaginative natures, but they may well be specially
disposed to it (as Shelley was), and Shakespeare may have drawn it from
his own experience. The suspicion is strengthened when we think of
_Richard II_. In Richard this imaginative weakness is exhibited again,
though not in relation to love. He luxuriates in images of his royal
majesty, of the angels who guard his divine right, and of his own
pathetic and almost sacred sufferings. The images are not insincere, and
yet they are like dreams, for they refuse to touch earth and to connect
themselves either with his past misdeeds or with the actions he ought
now to perform. A strain of a similar weakness appears again in Hamlet,
though only as one strain in a much more deep and complex nature. But
this is not a common theme in poetry, much less in dramatic poetry.[10]

To come to our second question. When Shakespeare painted Cressida or
described her through the mouth of Ulysses ('O these encounterers,'
etc.), or, again, when he portrayed the love of Antony for Cleopatra,
was he using his personal experience? To answer that he _must_ have done
so would be as ridiculous as to argue that Iago must be a portrait of
himself; and the two plays contain nothing which, by itself, would
justify us even in thinking that he probably did so. But we have the
series of sonnets about the dark lady; and if we accept the sonnets to
the friend as to some considerable extent based on fact and expressive
of personal feelings, how can we refuse to take the others on the same
footing? Even if the stories of the two series were not intertwined, we
should have no ground for treating the two in different ways, unless we
could say that external evidence, or the general impression we derive
from Shakespeare's works, forbids us to believe that he could ever have
been entangled in an intrigue like that implied in the second series, or
have felt and thought in the manner there portrayed. Being unable to say
this, I am compelled, most regretfully, to hold it probable that this
series is, in the main, based on personal experience. And I say 'most
regretfully,' not merely because one would regret to think that
Shakespeare was the victim of a Cressida or even the lover of a
Cleopatra, but because the story implied in these sonnets is of quite
another kind. They leave, on the whole, a very disagreeable impression.
We cannot compare it with the impressions produced, for example, by the
'heathen' spirit of Goethe's _Roman Elegies_, or by the passion of
Shakespeare's Antony. In these two cases, widely dissimilar of course,
we may speak of 'immorality,' but we are not discomfited, much less
disgusted. The feeling and the attitude are poetic, whole-hearted, and
in one case passionate in the extreme. But the state of mind expressed
in the sonnets about the dark lady is half-hearted, often prosaic, and
never worthy of the name of passion. It is uneasy, dissatisfied,
distempered, the state of mind of a man who despises his 'passion' and
its object and himself, but, standing intellectually far above it, still
has not resolution to end it, and only pains us by his gross and joyless
jests. In _Troilus and Cressida_--not at all in the portrayal of
Troilus's love, but in the atmosphere of the drama--we seem to trace a
similar mood of dissatisfaction, and of intellectual but practically
impotent contempt.

In this connection it is natural to think of the 'unhappy period' which
has so often been surmised in Shakespeare's life. There is not time here
to expand the summary remarks made elsewhere on this subject; but I may
refer a little more fully to a persistent impression left on my mind by
writings which we have reason to assign to the years 1602-6.[11] There
is surely something unusual in their tone regarding certain 'vices of
the blood,' regarding drunkenness and sexual corruption. It does not lie
in Shakespeare's _view_ of these vices, but in an undertone of disgust.
Read Hamlet's language about the habitual drunkenness of his uncle, or
even Cassio's words about his casual excess; then think of the tone of
_Henry IV._ or _Twelfth Night_ or the _Tempest_; and ask if the
difference is not striking. And if you are inclined to ascribe it wholly
to the fact that _Hamlet_ and _Othello_ are tragedies, compare the
passages in them with the scene on Pompey's galley in _Antony and
Cleopatra_. The intent of that scene is terrible enough, but in the tone
there is no more trace of disgust than in _Twelfth Night_. As to the
other matter, what I refer to is not the transgression of lovers like
Claudio and Juliet, nor even light-hearted irregularities like those of
Cassio: here Shakespeare's speech has its habitual tone. But, when he is
dealing with lechery and corruption, the undercurrent of disgust seems
to become audible. Is it not true that in the plays from _Hamlet_ to
_Timon_ that subject, in one shape or another, is continually before us;
that the intensity of loathing in Hamlet's language about his mother's
lust is unexampled in Shakespeare; that the treatment of the subject in
_Measure for Measure_, though occasionally purely humorous, is on the
whole quite unlike the treatment in _Henry IV._ or even in the brothel
scenes of _Pericles_;[12] that while _Troilus and Cressida_ is full of
disgust and contempt, there is not a trace of either in _Antony and
Cleopatra_, though some of the jesting there is obscene enough; that
this same tone is as plainly heard in the unquestioned parts of _Timon_;
and that, while it is natural in Timon to inveigh against female lechery
when he speaks to Alcibiades and his harlots, there is no apparent
reason why Lear in his exalted madness should choose this subject for
similar invectives? 'Pah! give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to
sweeten my imagination'--it is a fainter echo of this exclamation that
one seems to hear in the plays of those years. Of course I am not
suggesting that it is mainly due, or as regards drunkenness due in the
least, to any private experience of Shakespeare's. It may have no
connection whatever with that experience. It might well be connected
with it only in so far as a man frequently wearied and depressed might
be unusually sensitive to the ugly aspects of life. But, if we do not
take the second series of sonnets to be purely fanciful, we shall think
it probable that to some undefined extent it owed its origin to the
experience depicted in them.[13]

There remain the sonnets addressed to the friend. Even if it were
possible to discuss the general question about them here, it would be
needless; for I accept almost wholly, and in some points am greatly
indebted to, the views put forward by Mr. Beeching in his admirable
edition, to which I may therefore refer my hearers.[14] I intend only to
state the main reason why I believe the sonnets to be, substantially,
what they purport to be, and then to touch upon one or two of the points
where they seem to throw light on Shakespeare's personality.

The sonnets to the friend are, so far as we know, unique in Renaissance
sonnet literature in being a prolonged and varied record of the intense
affection of an older friend for a younger, and of other feelings
arising from their relations. They have no real parallel in any series
imitative of Virgil's second Eclogue, or in occasional sonnets to
patrons or patron-friends couched in the high-flown language of the
time. The intensity of the feelings expressed, however, ought not, by
itself, to convince us that they are personal. The author of the plays
could, I make no doubt, have written the most intimate of these poems to
a mere creature of his imagination and without ever having felt them
except in imagination. Nor is there any but an aesthetic reason why he
should not have done so if he had wished. But an aesthetic reason there
is; and this is the decisive point. No capable poet, much less a
Shakespeare, intending to produce a merely 'dramatic' series of poems,
would dream of inventing a story like that of these sonnets, or, even if
he did, of treating it as they treat it. The story is very odd and
unattractive. Such capacities as it has are but slightly developed. It
is left obscure, and some of the poems are unintelligible to us because
they contain allusions of which we can make nothing. Now all this is
perfectly natural if the story is substantially a real story of
Shakespeare himself and of certain other persons; if the sonnets were
written from time to time as the relations of the persons changed, and
sometimes in reference to particular incidents; and if they were written
_for_ one or more of these persons (far the greater number for only
one), and perhaps in a few cases for other friends,--written, that is to
say, for people who knew the details and incidents of which we are
ignorant. But it is all unnatural, well-nigh incredibly unnatural, if,
with the most sceptical critics, we regard the sonnets as a free product
of mere imagination.[15]

Assuming, then, that the persons of the story, with their relations, are
real, I would add only two remarks about the friend. In the first place,
Mr. Beeching seems to me right in denying that there is sufficient
evidence of his standing to Shakespeare and the 'rival' poet or poets in
the position of a literary patron; while, even if he did, it appears to
me quite impossible to take the language of many of the sonnets as that
of interested flattery. And in the second place I should be inclined to
push even further Mr. Beeching's view on another point. It is clear that
the young man was considerably superior to the actor-dramatist in social
position; but any gentleman would be so, and there is nothing to prove
that he was more than a gentleman of some note, more than plain 'Mr. W.
H.' (for these, on the obvious though not compulsory interpretation of
the dedication, seem to have been his initials). It is remarkable
besides that, while the earlier sonnets show much deference, the later
show very little, so little that, when the writer, finding that he has
pained his young friend by neglecting him, begs to be forgiven, he
writes almost, if not quite, as an equal. Read, for example, sonnets
109, 110, 120, and ask whether it is probable that Shakespeare is
addressing here a great nobleman. It seems therefore most likely (though
the question is not of much importance) that the sonnets are, to quote
Meres's phrase,[16] his 'sonnets among his private friends.'

If then there is, as it appears, no obstacle of any magnitude to our
taking the sonnets as substantially what they purport to be, we may
naturally look in them for personal traits (and, indeed, to repeat a
remark made earlier, we might still expect to find such traits even if
we knew the sonnets to be purely dramatic). But in drawing inferences we
have to bear in mind what is implied by the qualification
'substantially.' We have to remember that _some_ of these poems may be
mere exercises of art; that all of them are poems, and not letters, much
less _affidavits_; that they are Elizabethan poems; that the Elizabethan
language of deference, and also of affection, is to our minds habitually
extravagant and fantastic;[17] and that in Elizabethan plays friends
openly express their love for one another as Englishmen now rarely do.
Allowance being made, however, on account of these facts, the sonnets
will still leave two strong impressions--that the poet was exceedingly
sensitive to the charm of beauty, and that his love for his friend was,
at least at one time, a feeling amounting almost to adoration, and so
intense as to be absorbing. Those who are surprised by the first of
these traits must have read Shakespeare's dramas with very inactive
minds, and I must add that they seem to be somewhat ignorant of human
nature. We do not necessarily love best those of our relatives, friends,
and acquaintances who please our eyes most; and we should look askance
on anyone who regulated his behaviour chiefly by the standard of beauty;
but most of us, I suppose, love any human being, of either sex and of
any age, the better for being beautiful, and are not the least ashamed
of the fact. It is further the case that men who are beginning, like the
writer of the sonnets, to feel tired and old, are apt to feel an
increased and special pleasure in the beauty of the young.[18] If we
remember, in addition, what some critics appear constantly to forget,
that Shakespeare was a particularly poetical being, we shall hardly be
surprised that the beginning of this friendship seems to have been
something like a falling in love; and, if we must needs praise and
blame, we should also remember that it became a 'marriage of true
minds.'[19] And as to the intensity of the feeling expressed in the
sonnets, we can easily believe it to be characteristic of the man who
made Valentine and Proteus, Brutus and Cassius, Horatio and Hamlet; who
painted that strangely moving portrait of Antonio, middle-aged, sad, and
almost indifferent between life and death, but devoted to the young,
brilliant spendthrift Bassanio; and who portrayed the sudden compelling
enchantment exercised by the young Sebastian over the Antonio of
_Twelfth Night_. 'If you will not murder me for your love, let me be
your servant.' Antonio is accused of piracy: he may lose his life if he
is identified:

  I have many enemies in Orsino's court,
  But, come what may, I do adore thee so
  That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.

The adoration, the 'prostration,' of the writer of the sonnets is of one
kind with this.

I do not remember what critic uses the word 'prostration.' It applies to
Shakespeare's attitude only in some of the sonnets, but there it does
apply, unless it is taken to suggest humiliation. _That_ is the term
used by Hallam, but chiefly in view of a particular point, namely the
failure of the poet to 'resent,' though he 'felt and bewailed,' the
injury done him in 'the seduction of his mistress.' Though I think we
should substitute 'resent more strongly' for the mere 'resent,' I do not
deny that the poet's attitude in this matter strikes us at first as
surprising as well as unpleasant to contemplate. But Hallam's
explanation of it as perhaps due to the exalted position of the friend,
would make it much more than unpleasant; and his language seems to show
that he, like many critics, did not fully imagine the situation. It is
not easy to speak of it in public with the requisite frankness; but it
is necessary to realise that, whatever the friend's rank might be, he
and the poet were intimate friends; that, manifestly, it was rather the
mistress who seduced the friend than the friend the mistress; and that
she was apparently a woman not merely of no reputation, but of such a
nature that she might readily be expected to be mistress to two men at
one and the same time. Anyone who realises this may call the situation
'humiliating' in one sense, and I cannot quarrel with him; but he will
not call it 'humiliating' in respect of Shakespeare's relation to his
friend; nor will he wonder much that the poet felt more pain than
resentment at his friend's treatment of him. There is something
infinitely stranger in a play of Shakespeare's, and it may be
symptomatic. Ten Brink called attention to it. Proteus actually offers
violence to Sylvia, a spotless lady and the true love of his friend
Valentine; and Valentine not only forgives him at once when he professes
repentance, but offers to resign Sylvia to him! The incident is to us so
utterly preposterous that we find it hard to imagine how the audience
stood it; but, even if we conjecture that Shakespeare adopted it from
the story he was using, we can hardly suppose that it was so absurd to
him as it is to us.[20] And it is not the Sonnets alone which lead us to
surmise that forgiveness was particularly attractive to him, and the
forgiveness of a friend much easier than resentment. From the Sonnets we
gather--and there is nothing in the plays or elsewhere to contradict the
impression--that he would not be slow to resent the criticisms,
slanders, or injuries of strangers or the world, and that he bore
himself towards them with a proud, if silent, self-sufficiency. But, we
surmise, for anyone whom he loved

  He carried anger as a flint bears fire;
  Who, much enforced, shows a hasty spark
  And straight is cold again;

and towards anyone so fondly loved as the friend of the Sonnets he was
probably incapable of fierce or prolonged resentment.

The Sonnets must not occupy us further; and I will not dwell on the
indications they afford that Shakespeare sometimes felt bitterly both
the social inferiority of his position as an actor,[21] and its
influence on his own character; or that (as we have already conjectured)
he may sometimes have played the fool in society, sometimes felt weary
of life, and often was over-tired by work. It is time to pass on to a
few hesitating conjectures about what may be called his tastes.

Some passages of his about music have become household words. It is not
downright impossible that, like Bottom, having only a reasonable good
ear, he liked best the tongs and the bones; that he wondered, with
Benedick, how sheeps-guts should hale souls out of men's bodies; and
that he wrote the famous lines in the _Merchant of Venice_ and in
_Twelfth Night_ from mere observation and imagination. But it is futile
to deal with scepticism run well-nigh mad, and certainly inaccessible to
argument from the cases of poets whose tastes are matter of knowledge.
Assuming therefore that Shakespeare was fond of music, I may draw
attention to two points. Almost always he speaks of music as having a
softening, tranquillising, or pensive influence. It lulls killing care
and grief of heart to sleep. It soothes the sick and weary, and even
makes them drowsy. Hamlet calls for it in his hysterical excitement
after the success of the play scene. When it is hoped that Lear's long
sleep will have carried his madness away, music is played as he awakes,
apparently to increase the desired 'temperance.' It harmonises with the
still and moon-lit night, and the dreamy happiness of newly-wedded
lovers. Almost all the rare allusions to lively or exciting music,
apart from dancing, refer, I believe, to 'the lofty instruments of
_war_.' These facts would almost certainly have a personal significance
if Shakespeare were a more modern poet. Whether they have any, or have
much, in an Elizabethan I do not venture to judge.

The second point is diminutive, but it may be connected with the first.
The Duke in _Measure for Measure_ observes that music often has

                       a charm
  To make bad good and good provoke to harm.

If we ask how it should provoke good to harm, we may recall what was
said (p. 326) of the weaknesses of some poetic natures, and that no one
speaks more feelingly of music than Orsino; further, how he refers to
music as 'the food of love,' and who it is that almost repeats the

  Give me some music: music, moody food
  Of us that trade in love:

--the words are Cleopatra's.[22] Did Shakespeare as he wrote them
remember, I wonder, the dark lady to whose music he had listened (Sonnet

We should be greatly surprised to find in Shakespeare signs of the
nineteenth century feeling for mountain scenery, but we can no more
doubt that within certain limits he was sensitive to the beauty of
nature than that he was fond of music.[23] The only question is whether
we can guess at any preferences here. It is probably inevitable that the
flowers most often mentioned should be the rose and the lily;[24] but
hardly that the violet should come next and not far behind, and that the
fragrance of the violet should be spoken of more often even than that of
the rose, and, it seems, with special affection. This may be a fancy,
and it will be thought a sentimental fancy too; but poets, like other
people, may have favourite flowers; that of Keats, we happen to know,
was the violet.

Again, if we may draw any conclusion from the frequency and the
character of the allusions, the lark held for Shakespeare the place of
honour among birds; and the lines,

  Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,
    And Phoebus gins arise,

may suggest one reason for this. The lark, as several other collocations
show, was to him the bird of joy that welcomes the sun; and it can
hardly be doubted that dawn and early morning was the time of day that
most appealed to him. That he felt the beauty of night and of moonlight
is obvious; but we find very little to match the lines in _Richard II._,

  The setting sun, and music at the close,
  As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last;

and still less to prove that he felt the magic of evening twilight, the
'heavenliest hour' of a famous passage in _Don Juan_. There is a
wonderful line in Sonnet 132,

  And that full star that ushers in the even,

but I remember little else of the same kind. Shakespeare, as it happens,
uses the word 'twilight' only once, and in an unforgetable passage:

  In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
  As after sunset fadeth in the west:
  Which by and by black night doth take away,
  Death's second self that seals up all in rest.

And this feeling, though not often so solemn, is on the whole the
prevailing sentiment in the references to sunset and evening twilight.
It corresponds with the analogy between the times of the day and the
periods of human life. The sun sets from the weariness of age; but he
rises in the strength and freshness of youth, firing the proud tops of
the eastern pines, and turning the hills and the sea into burnished
gold, while jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops, and the
lark sings at the gate of heaven. In almost all the familiar lines about
dawn one seems to catch that 'indescribable gusto' which Keats heard in
Kean's delivery of the words:

  Stir with the lark to-morrow, gentle Norfolk.

Two suggestions may be ventured as to Shakespeare's feelings towards
four-footed animals. The first must be very tentative. We do not expect
in a writer of that age the sympathy with animals which is so beautiful
a trait in much of the poetry of the last hundred and fifty years. And I
can remember in Shakespeare scarcely any sign of _fondness_ for an
animal,--not even for a horse, though he wrote so often of horses. But
there are rather frequent, if casual, expressions of pity, in
references, for example, to the hunted hare or stag, or to the spurred
horse:[25] and it may be questioned whether the passage in _As You Like
It_ about the wounded deer is quite devoid of personal significance. No
doubt Shakespeare thought the tears of Jaques sentimental; but he put a
piece of himself into Jaques. And, besides, it is not Jaques alone who
dislikes the killing of the deer, but the Duke; and we may surely hear
some tone of Shakespeare's voice in the Duke's speech about the life in
the forest. Perhaps we may surmise that, while he enjoyed field-sports,
he felt them at times to be out of tune with the harmony of nature.

On the second point, I regret to say, I can feel no doubt. Shakespeare
did not care for dogs, as Homer did; he even disliked them, as Goethe
did. Of course he can write eloquently about the points of hounds and the
music of their voices in the chase, and humorously about Launce's love
for his cur and even about the cur himself; but this is no more
significant on the one side than is his conventional use of 'dog' as a
term of abuse on the other. What is significant is the absence of
allusion, or (to be perfectly accurate) of sympathetic allusion, to the
characteristic virtues of dogs, and the abundance of allusions of an
insulting kind. Shakespeare has observed and recorded, in some instances
profusely, every vice that I can think of in an ill-conditioned dog. He
fawns and cringes and flatters, and then bites the hand that caressed
him; he is a coward who attacks you from behind, and barks at you the
more the farther off you go; he knows neither charity, humanity, nor
gratitude; as he flatters power and wealth, so he takes part against the
poor and unfashionable, and if fortune turns against you so does he.[26]
The plays swarm with these charges. Whately's exclamation--uttered after
a College meeting or a meeting of Chapter, I forget which--'The more I
see of men, the more I like dogs,' would never have been echoed by
Shakespeare. The things he most loathed in men he found in dogs too. And
yet all this might go for nothing if we could set anything of weight
against it. But what can we set? Nothing whatever, so far as I remember,
except a recognition of courage in bear-baiting, bull-baiting mastiffs.
For I cannot quote as favourable to the spaniel the appeal of Helena:

  I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
  The more you beat me I will fawn on you:
  Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
  Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
  Unworthy as I am, to follow you.

This may show that Shakespeare was alive to the baseness of a
spaniel-owner, but not that he appreciated that self-less affection
which he describes. It is more probable that it irritated him, as it
does many men still; and, as for its implying fidelity, there is no
reference, I believe, to the fidelity of the dog in the whole of his
works, and he chooses the spaniel himself as a symbol of flattery and
ingratitude: his Cæsar talks of

  Knee-crooked court'sies and base spaniel-fawning;

his Antony exclaims:

                              the hearts
  That spaniel'd me at heels, to whom I gave
  Their wishes, do discandy, melt their sweets
  On blossoming Cæsar.

To all that he loved most in men he was blind in dogs. And then we call
him universal!

This line of research into Shakespeare's tastes might be pursued a good
deal further, but we must return to weightier matters. We saw that he
could sympathise with anyone who erred and suffered from impulse,
affections of the blood, or even such passions as were probably no
danger to himself,--ambition, for instance, and pride. Can we learn
anything more about him by observing virtues or types of character with
which he appears to feel little sympathy, though he may approve them? He
certainly does not show this imperfect sympathy towards self-control; we
seem to feel even a special liking for Brutus, and again for Horatio,
who has suffered much, is quietly patient, and has mastered both himself
and fortune. But, not to speak of coldly selfish natures, he seems
averse to bloodless people, those who lack, or those who have deadened,
the natural desires for joy and sympathy, and those who tend to be
precise.[27] Nor does he appear to be drawn to men who, as we say, try
to live or to act on principle; nor to those who aim habitually at
self-improvement; nor yet to the saintly type of character. I mean, not
that he _could_ not sympathise with them, but that they did not attract
him. Isabella, in _Measure for Measure_, is drawn, of course, with
understanding, but, it seems to me, with little sympathy. Her readiness
to abandon her pleading for Claudio, out of horror at his sin and a
sense of the justice of Angelo's reasons for refusing his pardon, is
doubtless in character; but if Shakespeare had sympathised more with her
at this point, so should we; while, as it is, we are tempted to exclaim,

  She loves him not, she wants the natural touch;

and perhaps if Shakespeare had liked her better and had not regarded her
with some irony, he would not have allowed himself, for mere
convenience, to degrade her by marrying her to the Duke. Brutus and
Cordelia, on the other hand, are drawn with the fullest imaginative
sympathy, and they, it may be said, are characters of principle; but
then (even if Cordelia could be truly so described) they are also
intensely affectionate, and by no means inhumanly self-controlled.

The mention of Brutus may carry us somewhat farther. Shakespeare's
Brutus kills Cæsar, not because Cæsar aims at absolute power, but
because Brutus fears that absolute power may make him cruel. That is not
Plutarch's idea, it is Shakespeare's. He could fully sympathise with the
gentleness of Brutus, with his entire superiority to private aims and
almost entire freedom from personal susceptibilities, and even with his
resolution to sacrifice his friend; but he could not so sympathise with
mere horror of monarchy or absolute power. And now extend this a little.
Can you imagine Shakespeare an enthusiast for an 'idea'; a devotee of
divine right, or the rights of Parliament, or any particular form of
government in Church or State; a Fifth Monarchy man, or a Quaker, or a
thick-and-thin adherent of any compact, exclusive, abstract creed, even
if it were as rational and noble as Mazzini's? This type of mind, even
at its best, is alien from his. Scott is said, rightly or wrongly, to
have portrayed the Covenanters without any deep understanding of them;
it would have been the same with Shakespeare. I am not praising him, or
at least not merely praising him. One may even suggest that on this side
he was limited. In any age he would have been safe against fanaticism
and one-sided ideas; but perhaps in no age would he have been the man to
insist with the necessary emphasis on those one-sided ideas which the
moment may need, or even to give his whole heart to men who join a
forlorn hope or are martyred for a faith. And though it is rash to
suggest that anything in the way of imagination was beyond his reach,
perhaps the legend of Faust, with his longings for infinite power and
knowledge and enjoyment of beauty, would have suited him less well than
Marlowe; and if he had written on the subject that Cervantes took, his
Don Quixote would have been at least as laughable as the hero we know,
but would he have been a soul so ideally noble and a figure so
profoundly pathetic?

This would be the natural place to discuss Shakespeare's politics if we
were to discuss them at all. But even if the question whether he shows
any interest in the political differences of his time, or any sympathies
or antipathies in regard to them, admits of an answer, it could be
answered only by an examination of details; and I must pass it by, and
offer only the briefest remarks on a wider question. Shakespeare, as we
might expect, shows no sign of believing in what is sometimes called a
political 'principle.' The main ideas which, consciously or
unconsciously, seem to govern or emerge from his presentation of state
affairs, might perhaps be put thus. National welfare is the end of
politics, and the criterion by which political actions are to be judged.
It implies of necessity 'degree'; that is, differences of position and
function in the members of the body politic.[28] And the first
requisites of national welfare are the observance of this degree, and
the concordant performance of these functions in the general interest.
But there appear to be no further absolute principles than these: beyond
them all is relative to the particular case and its particular
conditions. We find no hint, for example, in _Julius Cæsar_ that
Shakespeare regarded a monarchical form of government as intrinsically
better than a republican, or _vice versa_; no trace in _Richard II._
that the author shares the king's belief in his inviolable right, or
regards Bolingbroke's usurpation as justifiable. We perceive, again,
pretty clearly in several plays a dislike and contempt of demagogues,
and an opinion that mobs are foolish, fickle, and ungrateful. But these
are sentiments which the most determined of believers in democracy, if
he has sense, may share; and if he thinks that the attitude of
aristocrats like Volumnia and Coriolanus is inhuman and as inexcusable
as that of the mob, and that a mob is as easily led right as wrong and
has plenty of good nature in it, he has abundant ground for holding that
Shakespeare thought so too. That Shakespeare greatly liked and admired
the typical qualities of the best kind of aristocrat seems highly
probable; but then this taste has always been compatible with a great
variety of political opinions. It is interesting but useless to wonder
what his own opinions would have been at various periods of English
history: perhaps the only thing we can be pretty sure of in regard to
them is that they would never have been extreme, and that he would never
have supposed his opponents to be entirely wrong.

We have tried to conjecture the impulses, passions, and errors with
which Shakespeare could easily sympathise, and the virtues and types of
character which he may have approved without much sympathy. It remains
to ask whether we can notice tendencies and vices to which he felt any
special antipathy; and it is obvious and safe to point to those most
alien to a gentle, open, and free nature, the vices of a cold and hard
disposition, self-centred and incapable of fusion with others. Passing
over, again, the plainly hideous forms or extremes of such vice, as we
see them in characters like Richard III., Iago, Goneril and Regan, or
the Queen in _Cymbeline_, we seem to detect a particular aversion to
certain vices which have the common mark of baseness; for instance,
servility and flattery (especially when deliberate and practised with a
view to self-advancement), feigning in friendship, and ingratitude.
Shakespeare's _animus_ against the dog arises from the attribution of
these vices to him, and against them in men are directed the invectives
which seem to have a personal ring. There appears to be traceable also a
feeling of a special, though less painful, kind against unmercifulness.
I do not mean, of course, cruelty, but unforgivingness, and even the
tendency to prefer justice to mercy. From no other dramatic author,
probably, could there be collected such prolonged and heart-felt praises
of mercy as from Shakespeare. He had not at all strongly, I think, that
instinct and love of justice and retribution which in many men are so
powerful; but Prospero's words,

                 they being penitent,
  The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
  Not a jot further,

came from his heart. He perceived with extreme clearness the connection
of acts with their consequences; but his belief that in this sense 'the
gods are just' was accompanied by the strongest feeling that forgiveness
ought to follow repentance, and (if I may so put it) his favourite
petition was the one that begins 'Forgive us our trespasses.' To
conclude, I have fancied that he shows an unusual degree of disgust at
slander and dislike of censoriousness; and where he speaks in the
Sonnets of those who censured him he betrays an exceptionally decided
feeling that a man's offences are his own affair and not the

Some of the vices which seem to have been particularly odious to
Shakespeare have, we may notice, a special connection with prosperity
and power. Men feign and creep and flatter to please the powerful and
to win their own way to ease or power; and they envy and censure and
slander their competitors in the race; and when they succeed, they are
ungrateful to their friends and helpers and patrons; and they become
hard and unmerciful, and despise and bully those who are now below them.
So, perhaps, Shakespeare said to himself in those years when, as we
imagine, melancholy and embitterment often overclouded his sky, though
they did not obscure his faith in goodness and much less his
intellectual vision. And prosperity and power, he may have added, come
less frequently by merit than by those base arts or by mere fortune. The
divorce of goodness and power was, to Shelley, the 'woe of the world';
if we substitute for 'goodness' the wider word 'merit,' we may say that
this divorce, with the evil bred by power, is to Shakespeare also the
root of bitterness. This fact, presented in its extreme form of the
appalling cruelty of the prosperous, and the heart-rending suffering of
the defenceless, forms the problem of his most tremendous drama. We have
no reason to surmise that his own sufferings were calamitous; and the
period which seems to be marked by melancholy and embitterment was one
of outward, or at least financial, prosperity; but nevertheless we can
hardly doubt that he felt on the small scale of his own life the
influence of that divorce of power and merit. His complaint against
Fortune, who had so ill provided for his life, runs through the Sonnets.
Even if we could regard as purely conventional the declarations that his
verses would make his friend immortal, it is totally impossible that he
can have been unaware of the gulf between his own gifts and those of
others, or can have failed to feel the disproportion between his
position and his mind. Hamlet had never experienced

                       the spurns
  That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

and that make the patient soul weary of life; the man who had
experienced them was the writer of Sonnet 66, who cried for death
because he was tired with beholding

              desert a beggar born,
  And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,

--a beggarly soul flaunting in brave array. Neither had Hamlet felt in
his own person 'the insolence of office'; but the actor had doubtless
felt it often enough, and we can hardly err in hearing his own voice in
dramatic expressions of wonder and contempt at the stupid pride of mere
authority and at men's slavish respect for it. Two examples will
suffice. 'Thou hast seen a farmer's dog bark at a beggar, and the
creature run from the cur? There thou mightst behold the great image of
authority. A dog's obeyed in office': so says Lear, when madness has
cleared his vision, and indignation makes the Timon-like verses that
follow. The other example is almost too famous for quotation but I have
a reason for quoting it:

                   man, proud man,
  Drest in a little brief authority,
  Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
  His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
  Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
  As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
  Would all themselves laugh mortal.

It is Isabella who says that; but it is scarcely in character;
Shakespeare himself is speaking.[30]

It is with great hesitation that I hazard a few words on Shakespeare's
religion. Any attempt to penetrate his reserve on this subject may
appear a crowning impertinence; and, since his dramas are almost
exclusively secular, any impressions we may form must here be even more
speculative than usual. Yet it is scarcely possible to read him much
without such speculations; and there are at least some theories which
may confidently be dismissed. It cannot be called absolutely impossible
that Shakespeare was indifferent to music and to the beauty of Nature,
and yet the idea is absurd; and in the same way it is barely possible,
and yet it is preposterous, to suppose that he was an ardent and devoted
atheist or Brownist or Roman Catholic, and that all the indications to
the contrary are due to his artfulness and determination not to get into
trouble. There is no absurdity, on the other hand, nor of necessity
anything hopeless, in the question whether there are signs that he
belonged to this or that church, and was inclined to one mode of thought
within it rather than to another. Only the question is scarcely worth
asking for our present purpose, unless there is some reason to believe
that he took a keen interest in these matters. Suppose, for example,
that we had ground to accept a tradition that he 'died a papist,' this
would not tell us much about him unless we had also ground to think that
he lived a papist, and that his faith went far into his personality. But
in fact we receive from his writings, it appears to me, a rather strong
impression that he concerned himself little, if at all, with differences
of doctrine or church government.[31] And we may go further. Have we not
reason to surmise that he was not, in the distinctive sense of the word,
a religious man--a man, that is to say, whose feelings and actions are
constantly and strongly influenced by thoughts of his relation to an
object of worship? If Shakespeare had been such a man, is it credible
that we should find nothing in tradition or in his works to indicate the
fact; and is it likely that we should find in his works some things
that we do find there?[32]

Venturing with much doubt a little farther I will put together certain
facts and impressions without at once drawing any conclusion from them.
Almost all the speeches that can be called pronouncedly religious and
Christian in phraseology and spirit are placed in the mouths of persons
to whom they are obviously appropriate, either from their position
(_e.g._ bishops, friars, nuns), or from what Shakespeare found in
histories (_e.g._ Henry IV., V., and VI.), or for some other plain
reason. We cannot build, therefore, on these speeches in the least. On
the other hand (except, of course, where they are hypocritical or
politic), we perceive in Shakespeare's tone in regard to them not the
faintest trace of dislike or contempt; nor can we find a trace anywhere
of such feelings, or of irreverence, towards Christian ideas,
institutions, or customs (mere humorous irreverence is not relevant
here); and in the case of 'sympathetic' characters, living in Christian
times but not in any decided sense religious, no disposition is visible
to suppress or ignore their belief in, and use of, religious ideas. Some
characters, again, Christian or heathen, who appear to be drawn with
rather marked sympathy, have strong, if simple, religious convictions
(e.g. Horatio, Edgar, Hermione); and in others, of whom so much can
hardly be said, but who strike many readers, rightly or wrongly, as
having a good deal of Shakespeare in them (_e.g._ Romeo and Hamlet), we
observe a quiet but deep sense that they and other men are neither their
own masters nor responsible only to themselves and other men, but are in
the hands of 'Providence' or guiding powers 'above.'[33]

To this I will add two remarks. To every one, I suppose, certain
speeches sound peculiarly personal. Perhaps others may share my feeling
about Hamlet's words:

  There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
  Rough-hew them how we will;

and about those other words of his:

  There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
  Than are dreamt of in your philosophy;

and about the speech of Prospero ending, 'We are such stuff as dreams
are made on.'[34] On the other hand, we observe that Hamlet seems to
have arrived at that conviction as to the 'divinity' after reflection,
and that, while he usually speaks as one who accepts the received
Christian ideas, yet, when meditating profoundly, he appears to ignore
them.[35] In the same way the Duke in _Measure for Measure_ is for the
most part, and necessarily, a Christian; yet nobody would guess it from
the great speech, 'Be absolute for death,' addressed by a supposed friar
to a youth under sentence to die, yet containing not a syllable about a
future life.[36]

Without adducing more of the endless but baffling material for a
conclusion, I will offer the result left on my mind, and, merely for the
sake of brevity, will state it with hardly any of the qualifications it
doubtless needs. Shakespeare, I imagine, was not, in the sense assigned
to the word some minutes ago, a religious man. Nor was it natural to him
to regard good and evil, better and worse, habitually from a theological
point of view. But (this appears certain) he had a lively and serious
sense of 'conscience,' of the pain of self-reproach and
self-condemnation, and of the torment to which this pain might rise.[37]
He was not in the least disposed to regard conscience as somehow
illusory or a human invention, but on the contrary thought of it (I use
the most non-committal phrase I can find) as connected with the power
that rules the world and is not escapable by man. He realised very fully
and felt very keenly, after his youth was past and at certain times of
stress, the sufferings and wrongs of men, the strength of evil, the
hideousness of certain forms of it, and its apparent incurability in
certain cases. And he must sometimes have felt all this as a terrible
problem. But, however he may have been tempted, and may have yielded, to
exasperation and even despair, he never doubted that it is best to be
good; felt more and more that one must be patient and must forgive;[38]
and probably maintained unbroken a conviction, practical if not
formulated, that to be good is to be at peace with that unescapable
power. But it is unlikely that he attempted to theorise further on the
nature of the power. All was for him, in the end, mystery; and, while we
have no reason whatever to attribute to him a belief in the ghosts and
oracles he used in his dramas, he had no inclination to play the spy on
God or to limit his power by our notions of it. That he had dreams and
ponderings about the mystery such as he never put into the mouths of
actors I do not doubt; but I imagine they were no more than dreams and
ponderings and movings about in worlds unrealised.

Whether to this 'religion' he joined a more or less conventional
acceptance of some or all of the usual Christian ideas, it is impossible
to tell. There is no great improbability to me in the idea that he did
not, but it is more probable to me that he did,--that, in fact, though
he was never so tormented as Hamlet, his position in this matter was, at
least in middle life (and he never reached old age), much like Hamlet's.
If this were so it might naturally happen that, as he grew older and
wearier of labour, and perhaps of the tumult of pleasure and thought and
pain, his more personal religion, the natural piety which seems to gain
in weight and serenity in the latest plays, came to be more closely
joined with Christian ideas. But I can find no clear indications that
this did happen; and though some have believed that they discovered
these ideas displayed in full, though not explicitly, in the _Tempest_,
I am not able to hear there more than the stream of Shakespeare's own
'religion' moving with its fullest volume and making its deepest and
most harmonious music.[39]

This lecture must end, though its subject is endless, and I will touch
on only one point more,--one that may to some extent recall and connect
the scattered suggestions I have offered.

If we were obliged to answer the question which of Shakespeare's plays
contains, not indeed the fullest picture of his mind, but the truest
expression of his nature and habitual temper, unaffected by special
causes of exhilaration or gloom, I should be disposed to choose _As You
Like It_. It wants, to go no further, the addition of a touch of Sir
Toby or Falstaff, and the ejection of its miraculous conversions of
ill-disposed characters. But the misbehaviour of Fortune, and the
hardness and ingratitude of men, form the basis of its plot, and are a
frequent topic of complaint. And, on the other hand, he who is reading
it has a smooth brow and smiling lips, and a heart that murmurs,

               Happy is your grace,
  That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
  Into so quiet and so sweet a style.

And it is full not only of sweetness, but of romance, fun, humour of
various kinds, delight in the oddities of human nature, love of modesty
and fidelity and high spirit and patience, dislike of scandal and
censure, contemplative curiosity, the feeling that in the end we are all
merely players, together with a touch of the feeling that

  Then is there mirth in heaven
  When earthly things made even
    Atone together.

And, finally, it breathes the serene holiday mood of escape from the
toil, competition, and corruption of city and court into the sun and
shadow and peace of the country, where one can be idle and dream and
meditate and sing, and pursue or watch the deer as the fancy takes one,
and make love or smile at lovers according to one's age.[40]

If, again, the question were put to us, which of Shakespeare's
characters reveals most of his personality, the majority of those who
consented to give an answer would answer 'Hamlet.' This impression may
be fanciful, but it is difficult to think it wholly so, and, speaking
for those who share it, I will try to trace some of its sources. There
is a good deal of Shakespeare that is not in Hamlet. But Hamlet, we
think, is the only character in Shakespeare who could possibly have
composed his plays (though it appears unlikely, from his verses to
Ophelia, that he could have written the best songs). Into Hamlet's mouth
are put what are evidently Shakespeare's own views on drama and acting.
Hamlet alone, among the great serious characters, can be called a
humorist. When in some trait of another character we seem to touch
Shakespeare's personality, we are frequently reminded of Hamlet.[41]
When in a profound reflective speech we hear Shakespeare's voice, we
usually hear Hamlet's too, and his peculiar humour and turns of phrase
appear unexpectedly in persons otherwise unlike him and unlike one
another. The most melancholy group of Sonnets (71-74) recalls Hamlet at
once, here and there recalls even his words; and he and the writer of
Sonnet 66 both recount in a list the ills that make men long for death.
And then Hamlet 'was indeed honest and of an open and free nature';
sweet-tempered and modest, yet not slow to resent calumny or injury; of
a serious but not a melancholy disposition; and the lover of his friend.
And, with these traits, we remember his poet ecstasy at the glory of
earth and sky and the marvellous endowments of man; his eager
affectionate response to everything noble or sweet in human nature; his
tendency to dream and to live in the world of his own mind; his
liability to sudden vehement emotion, and his admiration for men whose
blood and judgment are better commingled; the overwhelming effect of
disillusionment upon him; his sadness, fierceness, bitterness and
cynicism. All this, and more: his sensitiveness to the call of duty; his
longing to answer to it, and his anguish over his strange delay; the
conviction gathering in his tortured soul that man's purposes and
failures are divinely shaped to ends beyond his vision; his incessant
meditation, and his sense that there are mysteries which no meditation
can fathom; nay, even little traits like his recourse to music to calm
his excitement, or his feeling on the one hand that the peasant should
not tread on the courtier's heels, and on the other that the mere
courtier is spacious in the possession of dirt--all this, I say,
corresponds with our impression of Shakespeare, or rather of
characteristic traits in Shakespeare, probably here and there a good
deal heightened, and mingled with others not characteristic of
Shakespeare at all. And if this is more than fancy, it may explain to us
why Hamlet is the most fascinating character, and the most
inexhaustible, in all imaginative literature. What else should he be, if
the world's greatest poet, who was able to give almost the reality of
nature to creations totally unlike himself, put his own soul straight
into this creation, and when he wrote Hamlet's speeches wrote down his
own heart?[42]



  [1] Unquestionably it holds in a considerable degree of Browning, who
    in _At the Mermaid_ and _House_ wrote as though he imagined that
    neither his own work nor Shakespeare's betrayed anything of the inner
    man. But if we are to criticise those two poems as arguments, we must
    say that they involve two hopelessly false assumptions, that we have
    to choose between a self-revelation like Byron's and no
    self-revelation at all, and that the relation between a poet and his
    work is like that between the inside and the outside of a house.

  [2] Almost all Shakespearean criticism, of course, contains something
    bearing on our subject; but I have a practical reason for mentioning
    in particular Mr. Frank Harris's articles in the _Saturday Review_
    for 1898. A good many of Mr. Harris's views I cannot share, and I had
    arrived at almost all the ideas expressed in the lecture (except some
    on the Sonnets question) before reading his papers. But I found in
    them also valuable ideas which were quite new to me and would
    probably be so to many readers. It is a great pity that the articles
    are not collected and published in a book. [Mr. Harris has published,
    in _The Man Shakespeare_, the substance of the articles, and also
    matter which, in my judgment, has much less value.]

  [3] He is apologising for an attack made on Shakespeare in a pamphlet
    of which he was the publisher and Greene the writer.

  [4] It was said of him, indeed, in his lifetime that, had he not
    played some kingly parts in sport (_i.e._ on the stage), he would
    have been a companion for a king.

  [5] Nor, _vice versa_, does the possession of these latter qualities
    at all imply, as some writers seem to assume, the absence of the
    former or of gentleness.

  [6] Fuller may be handing down a tradition, but it is not safe to
    assume this. His comparison, on the other hand, of Shakespeare and
    Jonson, in their wit combats, to an English man-of-war and a Spanish
    great galleon, reads as if his own happy fancy were operating on the
    reports, direct or indirect, of eye-witnesses.

  [7] See, for example, Act IV. Sc. v., to which I know no parallel in
    the later tragedies.

  [8] I allude to Sonnet 110, Mr. Beeching's note on which seems to be
    unquestionably right: 'There is no reference to the poet's profession
    of player. The sonnet gives the confession of a favourite of
    society.' This applies, I think, to the whole group of sonnets (it
    begins with 107) in which the poet excuses his neglect of his friend,
    though there are _also_ references to his profession and its effect
    on his nature and his reputation. (By a slip Mr. Beeching makes the
    neglect last for three years.)

  [9] It is perhaps most especially in his rendering of the shock and
    the effects of _disillusionment_ in open natures that we seem to feel
    Shakespeare's personality. The nature of this shock is expressed in
    Henry's words to Lord Scroop:

                       I will weep for thee;
      For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
      Another fall of man.

  [10] There is nothing of this semi-reality, of course, in the
    _passion_ of love as portrayed, for example, in men so different as
    Orlando, Othello, Antony, Troilus, whose love for Cressida resembles
    that of Romeo for Juliet. What I have said of Romeo's 'love' for
    Rosaline corresponds roughly with Coleridge's view; and, without
    subscribing to all of Coleridge's remarks, I believe he was right in
    finding an intentional contrast between this feeling and the passion
    that displaces it (though it does not follow that the feeling would
    not have become a genuine passion if Rosaline had been kind). Nor do
    I understand the notion that Coleridge's view is refuted and even
    rendered ridiculous by the mere fact that Shakespeare found the
    Rosaline story in Brooke (Halliwell-Phillipps, _Outlines_, 7th ed.,
    illustrative note 2). Was he compelled then to use whatever he found?
    Was it his practice to do so? The question is always _why_ he used
    what he found, and _how_. Coleridge's view of this matter, it need
    hardly be said, is far from indisputable; but it must be judged by
    our knowledge of Shakespeare's mind and not of his material alone. I
    may add, as I have referred to Halliwell-Phillipps, that Shakespeare
    made changes in the story he found; that it is arbitrary to assume
    (not that it matters) that Coleridge, who read Steevens, was unaware
    of Shakespeare's use of Brooke; and that Brooke was by no means a
    'wretched poetaster.'

  [11] _Hamlet_, _Measure for Measure_, _Othello_, _Troilus and
    Cressida_, _King Lear_, _Timon of Athens_. See _Shakespearean
    Tragedy_, pp. 79-85, 275-6. I should like to insist on the view there
    taken that the tragedies subsequent to _Lear_ and _Timon_ do not show
    the pressure of painful feelings.

  [12] It is not implied that these scenes are certainly Shakespeare's;
    but I see no sufficient ground for decisively rejecting them.

  [13] That experience, certainly in part and probably wholly, belongs
    to an earlier time, since sonnets 138 and 144 were printed in the
    _Passionate Pilgrim_. But I see no difficulty in that. What bears
    little fruit in a normal condition of spirits may bear abundant fruit
    later, in moods of discouragement and exasperation induced largely by
    other causes.

  [14] _The Sonnets of Shakespeare with an Introduction and Notes._
    Ginn & Co., 1904.

  [15] I find that Mr. Beeching, in the Stratford Town edition of
    Shakespeare (1907), has also urged these considerations.

  [16] I do not mean to imply that Meres necessarily refers to the
    sonnets we possess, or that all of these are likely to have been
    written by 1598.

  [17] A fact to be remembered in regard to references to the social
    position of the friend.

  [18] Mr. Beeching's illustration of the friendship of the sonnets
    from the friendship of Gray and Bonstetten is worth pages of

  [19] In 125 the poet repudiates the accusation that his friendship is
    too much based on beauty.

  [20] This does not imply that the Sonnets are as early as the _Two
    Gentlemen of Verona_, and much less that they are earlier.

  [21] This seems to be referred to in lines by John Davies of
    Hereford, reprinted in Ingleby's _Shakespeare's Centurie of Prayse_,
    second edition, pp. 58, 84, 94. In the first of these passages, dated
    1603 (and perhaps in the second, 1609), there are signs that Davies
    had read Sonnet 111, a fact to be noted with regard to the question
    of the chronology of the Sonnets.

  [22] 'Mistress Tearsheet' too 'would fain hear some music,' and
    'Sneak's noise' had to be sent for (2 _Henry IV._, II. iv. 12).

  [23] It is tempting, though not safe, to infer from the _Tempest_ and
    the great passage in _Pericles_ that Shakespeare must have been in a
    storm at sea; but that he felt the poetry of a sea-storm is beyond
    all doubt. Few moments in the reading of his works are more
    overwhelming than that in which, after listening not without
    difficulty to the writer of the first two Acts of _Pericles_,
    suddenly, as the third opens, one hears the authentic voice:

      Thou god of this great vast, rebuke these surges
      That wash both heaven and hell.... The seaman's whistle
      Is as a whisper in the ears of death,

    Knowing that this is coming, I cannot stop to read the Prologue to
    Act III., though I believe Shakespeare wrote it. How it can be
    imagined that he did more than touch up Acts I. and II. passes my

    I may call attention to another point. Unless I mistake, there is
    nothing in Shakespeare's authorities, as known to us, which
    corresponds with the feeling of Timon's last speech, beginning,

      Come not to me again: but say to Athens,
      Timon hath made his everlasting mansion
      Upon the beached verge of the salt flood:

    a feeling made more explicit in the final speech of Alcibiades.

  [24] The lily seems to be in almost all cases the Madonna lily. It is
    very doubtful whether the lily of the valley is referred to at all.

  [25] But there is something disappointing, and even estranging, in
    Sonnet 50, which, promising to show a real sympathy, cheats us in the
    end. I may observe, without implying that the fact has any personal
    significance, that the words about 'the poor beetle that we tread
    upon' are given to a woman (Isabella), and that it is Marina who

      I trod upon a worm against my will,
      But I wept for it.

  [26] Three times in one drama Shakespeare refers to this detestable
    trait. See _Shakespearean Tragedy_, p. 268, where I should like to
    qualify still further the sentence containing the qualification 'on
    the whole.' Good judges, at least, assure me that I have admitted too
    much against the dog.

  [27] Nor can I recall any sign of liking, or even approval, of that
    'prudent, _cautious_, self-control' which, according to a passage in
    Burns, is 'wisdom's root.'

  [28] The _locus classicus_, of course, is _Troilus and Cressida_, I.
    iii. 75 ff.

  [29] Of all the evils inflicted by man on man those chosen for
    mention in the dirge in _Cymbeline_, one of the last plays, are the
    frown o' the great, the tyrant's stroke, slander, censure rash.

  [30] Having written these paragraphs, I should like to disclaim the
    belief that Shakespeare was habitually deeply discontented with his
    position in life.

  [31] Allusions to puritans show at most what we take almost for
    granted, that he did not like precisians or people hostile to the

  [32] In the Sonnets, for example, there is an almost entire absence
    of definitely religious thought or feeling. The nearest approach to
    it is in Sonnet 146 ('Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth'),
    where, however, there is no allusion to a divine law or judge.
    According to Sonnet 129, lust in action is

      The expense of spirit in a waste of shame;

    but no word shows that it is also felt as alienation from God. It
    must be added that in 108 and 110 there are references to the Lord's
    Prayer and, perhaps, to the First Commandment, from which a decidedly
    religious Christian would perhaps have shrunk. Of course I am not
    saying that we can draw any _necessary_ inference from these facts.

  [33] It is only this 'quiet but deep sense' that is significant. No
    inference can be drawn from the fact that the mere belief in powers
    above seems to be taken as a matter of course in practically all the
    characters, good and bad alike. On the other hand there may well be
    something symptomatic in the apparent absence of interest in
    theoretical disbelief in such powers and in the immortality of the
    soul. I have observed elsewhere that the atheism of Aaron does not
    increase the probability that the conception of the character is

  [34] With the first compare, what to me has, though more faintly, the
    same ring, Hermione's

                      If powers divine
      Behold our human actions, as they do:

    with the second, Helena's

      It is not so with Him that all things knows
      As 'tis with us that square our guess by shows;
      But most it is presumption in us when
      The help of heaven we count the act of men:

    followed soon after by Lafeu's remark:

      They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons
      to make modern and familiar things supernatural and causeless.
      Hence it is that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves
      into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an
      unknown fear.

  [35] It is worth noting that the reference, which appears in the
    First Quarto version of 'To be or not to be,' to 'an everlasting
    judge,' disappears in the revised versions.

  [36] The suggested inference, of course, is that this speech, thus
    out of character, and Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' (though that is
    in character), show us Shakespeare's own mind. It has force, I think,
    but not compulsory force. The topics of these speeches are, in the
    old sense of the word, commonplaces. Shakespeare may have felt, Here
    is my chance to show what I can do with certain feelings and thoughts
    of supreme interest to men of all times and places and modes of
    belief. It would not follow from this that they are not 'personal,'
    but any inference to a non-acceptance of received religious ideas
    would be much weakened. ('All the world's a stage' is a patent
    example of the suggested elaboration of a commonplace.)

  [37] What actions in particular _his_ conscience approved and
    disapproved is another question and one not relevant here.

  [38] This does not at all imply to Shakespeare, so far as we see,
    that evil is never to be forcibly resisted.

  [39] I do not mean to reject the idea that in some passages in the
    _Tempest_ Shakespeare, while he wrote them with a dramatic purpose,
    also thought of himself. It seems to me likely. And if so, there
    _may_ have been such a thought in the words,

      And thence retire me to my Milan, where
      Every third thought shall be my grave;

    and also in those lines about prayer and pardon which close the
    Epilogue, and to my ear come with a sudden effect of great
    seriousness, contrasting most strangely with their context. If they
    _had_ a grave and personal under-meaning it cannot have been intended
    for the audience, which would take the prayer as addressed to itself.

  [40] It may be added that _As You Like It_, though idyllic, is not so
    falsely idyllic as some critics would make it. It is based, we may
    roughly say, on a contrast between court and country; but those who
    inhale virtue from the woodland are courtiers who bring virtue with
    them, and the country has its churlish masters and unkind or uncouth

  [41] This has been strongly urged and fully illustrated by Mr.

  [42] It may be suggested that, in the catalogue above, I should have
    mentioned that imaginative 'unreality' in love referred to on p. 326.
    But I do not see in Hamlet either this, or any sign that he took
    Ophelia for an Imogen or even a Juliet, though naturally he was less
    clearly aware of her deficiencies than Shakespeare.

    I may add, however, another item to the catalogue. We do not feel
    that the problems presented to most of the tragic heroes could have
    been fatal to Shakespeare himself. The immense breadth and clearness
    of his intellect would have saved him from the fate of Othello,
    Troilus, or Antony. But we do feel, I think, and he himself may have
    felt, that he could not have coped with Hamlet's problem; and there
    is no improbability in the idea that he may have experienced in some
    degree the melancholia of his hero.



Why should we concern ourselves with Shakespeare's theatre and audience?
The vast majority of his readers since the Restoration have known
nothing about them, and have enjoyed his plays enormously. And if they
have enjoyed without fully understanding, it was for want of imagination
and of knowledge of human nature, and not from ignorance of the
conditions under which his plays were produced. At any rate, such
ignorance does not exclude us from the _soul_ of Shakespearean drama,
any more than from the soul of Homeric epic or Athenian tragedy; and it
is the soul that counts and endures. For the rest, we all know that
Shakespeare's time was rough, indecorous, and inexpert in regard to
machinery; and so we are prepared for coarse speech and primitive
stage-arrangements, and we make allowance for them without thinking
about the matter. Antiquarians may naturally wish to know more; but what
more is needed for intelligent enjoyment of the plays?

I have begun with these questions because I sympathise with their
spirit. Everything I am going to speak of in this lecture is
comparatively unimportant for the appreciation of that which is most
vital in Shakespeare; and if I were allowed my choice between an hour's
inspection of a performance at the Globe and a glimpse straight into his
mind when he was planning the _Tempest_, I should not hesitate which to
choose. Nevertheless, to say nothing of the intrinsic interest of
antiquarian knowledge, we cannot make a clear division between the soul
and body, or the eternal and the perishable, in works of art. Nor can we
lay the finger on a line which separates that which has poetic interest
from that which has none. Nor yet can we assume that any knowledge of
Shakespeare's theatre and audience, however trivial it may appear, may
not help us to appreciate, or save us from misapprehending, the 'soul'
of a play or a scene. If our own souls were capacious and vivid enough,
every atom of information on these subjects, or again on the material he
used in composing, would so assist us. The danger of devotion to such
knowledge lies merely in our weakness. Research, though toilsome, is
easy; imaginative vision, though delightful, is difficult; and we may be
tempted to prefer the first. Or we note that in a given passage
Shakespeare has used what he found in his authority; and we excuse
ourselves from asking why he used it and what he made of it. Or we see
that he has done something that would please his audience; and we
dismiss it as accounted for, forgetting that perhaps it also pleased
_him_, and that we have to account for _that_. Or knowledge of his stage
shows us the stage-convenience of a scene; and we say that the scene was
due to stage-convenience, as if the cause of a thing must needs be
single and simple. Such errors provoke the man who reads his Shakespeare
poetically, and make him blaspheme our knowledge. But we ought not to
fall into them; and we cannot reject any knowledge that may help us into
Shakespeare's mind because of the danger it brings.

I cannot attempt to describe Shakespeare's theatre and audience, and
much less to discuss the evidence on which a description must be based,
or the difficult problems it raises. I must confine myself for the most
part to a few points which are not always fully realised, or on which
there is a risk of misapprehension.


Shakespeare, we know, was a popular playwright. I mean not only that
many of his plays were favourites in his day, but that he wrote, mainly
at least, for the more popular kind of audience, and that, within
certain limits, he conformed to its tastes. He was not, to our
knowledge, the author of masques composed for performance at Court or in
a great mansion, or of dramas intended for a University or one of the
Inns of Court; and though his company for some time played at the
Blackfriars, we may safely assume that the great majority of his works
were meant primarily for a common or 'public' theatre like the Globe.
The broad distinction between a 'private' and a 'public' theatre is
familiar, and I need only remind you that at the former, which was
smaller, provided seats even in the area, and was nowhere open to the
weather, the audience was more select. Accordingly, dramatists who
express their contempt for the audience, and their disapproval of those
who consult its tastes, often discriminate between the audiences at the
private and public theatres, and reserve their unmeasured language for
the latter. It was for the latter that Shakespeare mainly wrote; and it
is pretty clear that Jonson, who greatly admired and loved him, was
still of opinion that he condescended to his audience.[1]

So far we seem to be on safe ground; and yet even here there is some
risk of mistake. We are not to imagine that the audience at a private
theatre (say the Blackfriars) accepted Jonson's dramatic theories,
while the audience at the Globe rejected them; or that the one was
composed chiefly of cultured and 'judicious' gentlemen, and the other of
riotous and malodorous plebeians; and still less that Shakespeare tried
to please the latter section in preference to the former, and was
beloved by the one more than by the other. The two audiences must have
had the same general character, differing only in degree. Neither of
them accepted Jonson's theories, nor were the 'judicious' of one mind on
that subject. The same play was frequently offered to both. Both were
very mixed. The tastes to which objection was taken cannot have been
confined to the mob. From our knowledge of human nature generally, and
of the Elizabethan nobility and gentry in particular, we may be sure of
this; and Jonson himself implies it. Nor is it credible that an
appreciation of the best things was denied to the mob, which doubtless
loved what we should despise, but appears also to have admired what we
admire, and to have tolerated more poetry than most of us can stomach.
Neither can these groundlings have formed the majority of the 'public'
audience or have been omnipotent in their theatre, when it was possible
for dramatists (Shakespeare included) to say such rude things of them to
their faces. We must not delude ourselves as to these matters; and in
particular we must realise that the mass of the audience in both kinds
of theatre must have been indifferent to the unities of time and place,
and more or less so to improbabilities and to decorum (at least as we
conceive it) both in manners and in speech; and that it must have liked
excitement, the open exhibition of violent and bloody deeds, and the
intermixture of seriousness and mirth. What distinguished the more
popular audience, and the more popular section in it, was a higher
degree of this indifference and this liking, and in addition a special
fondness for certain sources of inartistic joy. The most prominent of
these, perhaps, were noise; rant; mere bawdry; 'shews'; irrelevant
songs, ballads, jokes, dances, and clownage in general; and, lastly,
target-fighting and battles.[2]

We may describe Shakespeare's practice in broad and general terms by
saying that he neither resisted the wishes of his audience nor gratified
them without reserve. He accepted the type of drama that he found, and
developed it without altering its fundamental character. And in the same
way, in particular matters, he gave the audience what it wanted, but in
doing so gave it what it never dreamed of. It liked tragedy to be
relieved by rough mirth, and it got the Grave-diggers in _Hamlet_ and
the old countryman in _Antony and Cleopatra_. It liked a 'drum and
trumpet' history, and it got _Henry V._ It liked clowns or fools, and it
got Feste and the Fool in _King Lear_. Shakespeare's practice was by no
means always on this level, but this was its tendency; and I imagine
that (unless perhaps in early days) he knew clearly what he was doing,
did it deliberately, and, when he gave the audience poor stuff, would
not seriously have defended himself. Jonson, it would seem, did not
understand this position. A fool was a fool to him; and if a play could
be called a drum and trumpet history it was at once condemned in his
eyes. One can hardly doubt that he was alluding to the _Tempest_ and the
_Winter's Tale_ when, a few years after the probable date of their
appearance, he spoke of writers who 'make nature afraid in their plays,'
begetting 'tales, tempests, and such like drolleries,' and bringing in
'a servant-monster' or 'a nest of antiques.' Caliban was a 'monster,'
and the London public loved to gape at monsters; and so, it appears,
that wonderful creation was to Jonson something like the fat woman, or
the calf with five legs, that we pay a penny to see at a fair. In fact
(how could he fail to take the warning?) he saw Caliban with the eyes of
Trinculo and Stephano. 'A strange fish!' says Trinculo: 'were I in
England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday
fool there but would give a piece of silver.' 'If I can recover him,'
says Stephano, 'and keep him tame and get to Naples with him, he's a
present for any emperor that ever trod on neat's-leather.' Shakespeare
understood his monster otherwise; but, I fancy, when Jonson fulminated
at the Mermaid against Caliban, he smiled and said nothing.

But my present subject is rather the tastes of the audience than
Shakespeare's way of meeting them.[3] Let me give two illustrations of
them which may have some novelty. His public, in the first place, dearly
loved to see soldiers, combats, and battles on the stage. They swarm in
some of the dramas a little earlier than Shakespeare's time, and the
cultured dramatists speak very contemptuously of these productions, if
not of Shakespeare's historical plays. We may take as an example the
First Part of _Henry VI._, a feeble piece, to which Shakespeare probably
contributed touches throughout, and perhaps one or two complete scenes.
It appears from the stage directions (which may be defective, but cannot
well be redundant) that in this one play there were represented a
pitched battle of two armies, an attack on a city wall with
scaling-ladders, two street-scuffles, four single combats, four
skirmishes, and seven excursions. No genuine play of Shakespeare's, I
suppose, is so military from beginning to end; and we know how in _Henry
V._ he laments that he must disgrace the name of Agincourt by showing
four or five men with vile and ragged foils

  Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous.

Still he does show them; and his serious dramas contain such a profusion
of combats and battles as no playwright now would dream of exhibiting.
We expect these things perhaps in the English history-plays, and we
find them in abundance there: but not there alone. The last Act in
_Julius Cæsar_, _Troilus and Cressida_, _King Lear_, _Macbeth_, and
_Cymbeline_; the fourth Act of _Antony and Cleopatra_; the opening Acts
of _Coriolanus_,--these are all full of battle-scenes. If battle cannot
be shown, it can be described. If it cannot be described, still soldiers
can be shown, and twice in _Hamlet_ Fortinbras and his army march upon
the stage.[4] At worst there can be street-brawls and single fights, as
in _Romeo and Juliet_. In reading Shakespeare we scarcely realise how
much of this kind is exhibited. In seeing him acted we do not fully
realise it, for much of it is omitted. But beyond doubt it helped to
make him the most popular dramatist of his time.

If we examine Shakespeare's battles we shall observe a certain
peculiarity, which is connected with the nature of his theatre and also
explains the treatment of them in ours. In most cases he does not give a
picture of two whole armies engaged, but makes a pair of combatants rush
upon the stage, fight, and rush off again; and this pair is succeeded by
a second, and perhaps by a third. This hurried series of single combats
admitted of speech-making; perhaps it also gave some impression of the
changes and confusion of a battle. Our tendency, on the other hand, is
to contrive one spectacle with scenic effects, or even to exhibit one
magnificent tableau in which nobody says a word. And this plan, though
it has the advantage of getting rid of Shakespeare's poetry, is not
exactly dramatic. It is adopted chiefly because the taste of our public
is, or is supposed to be, less dramatic than spectacular, and because,
unlike the Elizabethans, we are able to gratify such a taste. But there
is another fact to be remembered here. Few playgoers now can appreciate
a fencing-match, and much fewer a broad-sword and target fight. But the
Elizabethan public went to see performances of this kind as we go to see
cricket or football matches. They might watch them in the very building
which at other times was used as a playhouse.[5] They could judge of the
merit of the exhibition when Hotspur and Prince Henry fought, when
Macduff 'laid on,' or when Tybalt and Mercutio used their rapiers. And
this was probably another reason why Shakespeare's battles so often
consist of single combats, and why these scenes were beloved by the
simpler folk among his audience.

Our second illustration concerns the popular appetite for musical and
other sounds. The introduction of songs and dances[6] was censured as a
corrupt gratification of this appetite. And so it was when the songs and
dances were excessive in number, irrelevant, or out of keeping with the
scene. I do not remember that in Shakespeare's plays this is ever the
case; but, in respect of songs, we may perhaps take Marston's _Antonio
and Mellida_ as an instance of abuse. For in each of the two Parts of
that play there are directions for five songs; and, since not even the
first lines of these songs are printed, we must suppose that the leader
of the band, or the singing actor in the company, introduced whatever he
chose. In addition to songs and dances, the musicians, at least in some
plays, performed between the Acts; and the practice of accompanying
certain speeches by low music--a practice which in some performances of
Shakespeare now has become a pest--has the sanction of several
Elizabethan playwrights, and (to a slight extent) of Shakespeare. It
seems clear, for example, that in _Twelfth Night_ low music was played
while the lovely opening lines ('That strain again') were being spoken,
and also during a part of the dialogue preceding the song 'Come away,
come away, death.' Some lines, too, of Lorenzo's famous speech about
music in the _Merchant of Venice_ were probably accompanied; and there
is a still more conspicuous instance in the scene where Lear wakes from
his long sleep and sees Cordelia standing by his side.

But, beyond all this, if we attend to the stage-directions we shall
realise that in the serious plays of Shakespeare other musical sounds
were of frequent occurrence. Almost always the ceremonial entrance of a
royal person is marked by a 'flourish' or a 'sennet' on trumpets,
cornets, or hautboys; and wherever we have armies and battles we find
directions for drums, or for particular series of notes of trumpets or
cornets appropriate to particular military movements. In the First Part
of _Henry VI._, to take that early play again, we must imagine a dead
march, two other marches, three retreats, three sennets, seven
flourishes, eighteen alarums; and there are besides five directions for
drums, one for a horn, and five for soundings, of a kind not specified,
by trumpets. In the last three scenes of the first Act in
_Coriolanus_--scenes containing less than three hundred and fifty
lines--there are directions for a parley, a retreat, five flourishes,
and eight alarums, with three, less specific, for trumpets, and four for
drums. We find about twenty such directions in _King Lear_, and about
twenty-five in _Macbeth_, a short play in which hautboys seem to have
been unusually favoured.[7] It is evident that the audience loved these
sounds, which, from their prevalence in passages of special kinds, seem
to have been intended chiefly to stimulate excitement, and sometimes to
heighten impressions of grandeur or of awe.

But this is not all. Such purposes were also served by noises not
musical. Four times in _Macbeth_, when the Witches appear, thunder is
heard. It thunders and lightens at intervals through the storm-scenes in
_King Lear_. Casca and Cassius, dark thoughts within them, walk the
streets of Rome in a terrific thunderstorm. That loud insistent knocking
which appalled Macbeth is repeated thrice at intervals while Lady
Macbeth in vain endeavours to calm him, and five times while the Porter
fumbles with his keys. The gate has hardly been opened and the murder
discovered when the castle-bell begins its hideous alarum. The
alarm-bell is used for the same purpose of intensifying excitement in
the brawl that ruins Cassio, and its effect is manifest in Othello's
immediate order, 'Silence that dreadful bell.' I will add but one
instance more. In the days of my youth, before the melodrama audience
dreamed of seeing chariot-races, railway accidents, or the infernal
regions, on the stage, it loved few things better than the explosion of
fire-arms; and its favourite weapon was the pistol. The Elizabethans had
the same fancy for fire-arms, only they preferred cannon. Shakespeare's
theatre was burnt down in 1613 at a performance of _Henry VIII._, not, I
suppose, as Prynne imagined, by a Providence which shared his opinion of
the drama, but because the wadding of a cannon fired during the play
flew to the thatch of the roof and set it ablaze. In _Hamlet_
Shakespeare gave the public plenty that they could not understand, but
he made it up to them in explosions. While Hamlet, Horatio, and
Marcellus are waiting for the Ghost, a flourish is heard, and then the
roar of cannon. It is the custom to fire them when the King drinks a
pledge; and this King drinks many. In the fencing-scene at the end he
proposes to drink one for every hit scored by his beloved nephew; and
the first hit is duly honoured by the cannon. Unexpected events
prevented the celebration of the second, but the audience lost nothing
by that. While Hamlet lies dying, a sudden explosion is heard.
Fortinbras is coming with his army. And, as if that were not enough, the
very last words of the play are, 'Go, bid the soldiers shoot,' and the
very last sound of the performance is a peal of ordnance. Into this most
mysterious and inward of his works, it would seem, the poet flung, as if
in derision of his cultured critics, well-nigh every stimulant of
popular excitement he could collect: 'carnal, bloody, and unnatural
acts'; five deaths on the open stage, three appearances of a ghost, two
of a mad woman, a dumb-show, two men raving and fighting in a grave at a
funeral, the skulls and bones of the dead, a clown bandying jests with a
prince, songs at once indecent and pathetic, marching soldiers, a
fencing-match, then a litter of corpses, and explosions in the first Act
and explosions in the last. And yet out of this sensational
material--not in spite of it, but out of it--he made the most mysterious
and inward of his dramas, which leaves us haunted by thoughts beyond the
reaches of our souls; and he knew that the very audience that rejoiced
in ghosts and explosions would listen, even while it was waiting for the
ghost, to that which the explosion had suggested,--a general
disquisition, twenty-five lines long, on the manner in which one defect
may spoil a noble reputation. In this strange harmony of discords,
surely unexampled before or since, we may see at a glance the essence of
Elizabethan drama, of its poet, and of its audience.


We have been occupied so far with characteristics of the drama which
reflect the more distinctively popular tastes objected to by critics
like Jonson. We may now pass on to arrangements common to all public
theatres, whether the play performed were Jonson's or Shakespeare's; and
in the first instance to a characteristic common to the public and
private theatres alike.

As everyone knows, the female parts in stage-plays were taken by boys,
youths, or men (a mask being sometimes worn in the last case). The
indecorous Elizabethans regarded this custom almost entirely from the
point of view of decorum and morality. And as to morality, no one, I
believe, who examines the evidence, especially as it concerns the state
of things that followed the introduction of actresses at the
Restoration, will be very ready to dissent from their opinion. But it is
often assumed as a matter beyond dispute that, on the side of dramatic
effect, the Elizabethan practice was extremely unfortunate, if not
downright absurd. This idea appears to me, to say the least,
exaggerated. Our practice may be the better; for a few Shakespearean
parts it _ought_ to be much better; but that, on the whole, it is
decidedly so, or that the old custom had anything absurd about it, there
seems no reason to believe. In the first place, experience in private
and semi-private performances shows that female parts may be excellently
acted by youths or men, and that the most obvious drawback, that of the
adult male voice, is not felt to be nearly so serious as we might
anticipate. For a minute or two it may call for a slight exertion of
imagination in the audience; but there is no more radical error than to
suppose that an audience finds this irksome, or to forget that the use
of imagination at one point quickens it at other points, and so is a
positive gain. And we have further to remember that the Elizabethan
actor of female parts was no amateur, but a professional as carefully
trained as an actress now; while dramatically he had this advantage over
the actress, that he was regarded simply as a player, and not also as a
woman with an attractive or unattractive person.[8]

In the second place, if the current ideas on this subject were true,
there would be, it seems to me, more evidence of their truth. We should
find, for example, that when first the new fashion came in, it was hailed
by good judges as a very great improvement on the old. But the traces of
such an opinion appear very scanty and doubtful, while it is certain that
one of the few actors who after the Restoration still played female parts
maintained a high reputation and won great applause. Again, if these
parts in Shakespeare's day were very inadequately performed, would not
the effect of that fact be distinctly visible in the plays themselves?
The rôles in question would be less important in Shakespeare's dramas,
for example, than in dramas of later times: but I do not see that they
are. Besides, in the Shakespearean play itself the female parts would be
much less important than the male: but on the whole they are not. In the
tragedies and histories, it is true, the impelling forces of the action
usually belong in larger measure to men than to women. But that is
because the action in such plays is laid in the sphere of public life;
and in cases where, in spite of this, the heroine is as prominent as the
hero, her part--the part of Juliet, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth--certainly
requires as good acting as his. As to the comedies, if we ask ourselves
who are the central or the most interesting figures in them, we shall
find that we pronounce a woman's name at least as often as a man's. I
understate the case. Of Shakespeare's mature comedies the _Merchant of
Venice_, I believe, is the only one where this name would unquestionably
be a man's, and in three of the last five it would almost certainly be a
woman's--Isabella's, Imogen's, Hermione's. How shall we reconcile with
these facts the idea that in his day the female parts were, on the whole,
much less adequately played than the male? And finally, if the dramatists
themselves believed this, why do we not find frequent indications of the
belief in their prologues, epilogues, prefaces, and plays?[9]

We must conclude, it would seem, that the absence of actresses from the
Elizabethan theatre, though at first it may appear to us highly
important, made no great difference to the dramas themselves.


That certainly cannot be said of the construction and arrangements of
the stage. On this subject a great deal has been written of late years,
and as regards many details there is still much difference of
opinion.[10] But fortunately all that is of great moment for our present
purpose is tolerably certain. In trying to bring it out, I will begin by
reminding you of our present stage. For it is the stage, and not the
rest of the theatre, that is of special interest here; and no serious
harm will be done if, for the rest, we imagine Shakespeare's theatre
with boxes, circles, and galleries like our own, though in the shape of
a more elongated horse-shoe than ours. We must imagine, of course, an
area too; but there, as we shall see, an important difference comes in.

Our present stage may be called a box with one of its sides knocked out.
Through this opening, which has an ornamental frame, we look into the
box. Its three upright sides (for we may ignore the bottom and the top)
are composed of movable painted scenes, which are changed from time to
time during the course of the play. Before the play and after it the
opening is blocked by a curtain, dropped from the top of the frame; and
this is also dropped at intervals during the performance, that the
scenes may be changed.

In all these respects the Elizabethan arrangement was quite different.
The stage came forward to about the middle of the area; so that a line
bisecting the house would have coincided with the line of footlights, if
there had been such things. The stage was therefore a platform viewed
from both sides and not only from the front; and along its sides, as
well as in front of it, stood the people who paid least, the
groundlings, sometimes punningly derided by dramatists as 'the men of
understanding.' Obviously, the sides of this platform were open; nor
were there movable scenes even at the back of it; nor was there any
front curtain. It was overshadowed by a projecting roof; but the area,
or 'yard,' where the groundlings stood, was open to the weather, and
accordingly the theatre could not be darkened. It will be seen that,
when the actors were on the forward part of the stage, they were (to
exaggerate a little) in the middle of the audience, like the performers
in a circus now. And on this forward naked part of the stage most of a
Shakespearean drama was played. We may call it the main or front

If now we look towards the rear of this stage, what do we find? In the
first place, while the back of our present-day box consists of a
movable scene, that of the Elizabethan stage was formed by the
'tiring-house,' or dressing-room, of the actors. In its wall were two
doors, by which entrances and exits were made. But it was not merely a
tiring-house. In the play it might represent a room, a house, a castle,
the wall of a town; and the doors played their parts accordingly. Again,
when a person speaks 'from within,' that doubtless means that he is in
the tiring-house, opens one of the doors a little, and speaks through
the chink. So apparently did the prompter.

Secondly, on the top of the tiring-house was the 'upper stage' or
'balcony,' which looked down on the platform stage. It is hardly
possible to make brief statements about it that would be secure. For our
purposes it may be imagined as a balcony jutting forward a little from
the line of the tiring-house; and it will suffice to add that, though
the whole or part of it was on some occasions, or in some theatres,
occupied by spectators, the whole or part of it was sometimes used by
the actors and was indispensably requisite to the performance of the
play. 'Enter above' or 'enter aloft' means that the actor was to appear
on this upper stage or balcony. Usually, no doubt, he reached it by a
ladder or stair inside the tiring-house; but on occasions there were
ascents or descents directly from, or to, the main stage, as we see from
'climbs the tree and is received above' or 'the citizens leap from the
walls.' The reader of Shakespeare will at once remember many scenes
where the balcony was used. On it, as the city wall, appeared the
Governor and citizens of Harfleur, while King Henry and his train stood
before the gates below. From it Arthur made his fatal leap. It was
Cleopatra's monument, into which she and her women drew up the dying
Antony. Juliet talked to Romeo from it; and from it Romeo ('one kiss and
I'll descend') 'goeth down' to the main stage. Richard appeared there
between the two bishops; and there the spectators imagined Duncan
murdered in his sleep.[12] But they could not look into his chamber. The
balcony could be concealed by curtains, running, like all Elizabethan
stage curtains, on a rod.

In the third place, there was, towards the back of the main stage, a
part that could be curtained off, and so separated from the front part
of that stage. Let us call it the back stage. It is the matter about
which there is most difficulty and controversy; but the general
description just given would be accepted by almost all scholars and will
suffice for us. Here was the curtain (more strictly, the curtains)
through which the actors peeped at the audience before the play began,
and at which the groundlings hurled apples and other missiles to hasten
their coming or signify disapproval of them. And this 'back stage' was
essential to many performances, and was used in a variety of ways. It
was the room where Henry IV. lay dying; the cave of Timon or of
Belarius; probably the tent in which Richmond slept before the battle of
Bosworth; the cell of Prospero, who draws the curtains apart and shows
Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess within; and here, I imagine, and
not on the balcony, Juliet, after drinking the potion, 'falls upon her
bed within the curtains.'[13] Finally, the back stage accounts for those
passages where, at the close of a death-scene, there is no indication
that the corpse was carried off the stage. If the death took place on
the open stage, as it usually did, this of course was necessary, since
there was no front curtain to drop; and so we usually find in the
dialogue words like 'Take up the bodies' (_Hamlet_), or 'Bear them from
hence' (_King Lear_). But Desdemona was murdered in her bed on the back
stage; and there died also Othello and Emilia; so that Lodovico orders
the bodies to be 'hid,' not carried off. The curtains were drawn
together, and the dead actors withdrew into the tiring-house unseen,[14]
while the living went off openly.

This triple stage is the primary thing to remember about Shakespeare's
theatre: a platform coming well forward into the yard, completely open
in the larger front part, but having further back a part that could be
curtained off, and overlooked by an upper stage or balcony above the
tiring-house. Only a few further details need be mentioned. Though
scenery was unknown, there were plenty of properties, as may be gathered
from the dramas and, more quickly, from the accounts of Henslowe, the
manager of the Rose. Chairs, benches, and tables are a matter of course.
Kent sat in the stocks. The witches had a caldron. Imogen slept in a
bed, and Iachimo crept out of his trunk in her room. Falstaff was
carried off the stage in a clothes-basket. I have quoted the direction
'climb the tree.' A 'banquet' figures in Henslowe's list, and in the
_Tempest_ 'several strange shapes' bring one in. He mentions a 'tomb,'
and it is possible, though not likely, that the tomb of the Capulets was
a property; and he mentions a 'moss-bank,' doubtless such as that where
the wild thyme was blowing for Titania. Her lover, you remember, wore an
ass's head, and the Falstaff of the _Merry Wives_ a buck's. There were
whole animals, too. 'A great horse with his legs' is in Henslowe's
list; and in a play not by Shakespeare Jonah is cast out of the whale's
belly on to the stage. Besides these properties there was a contrivance
with ropes and pulleys, by which a heavenly being could descend from the
stage-roof (the 'heaven'), as in _Cymbeline_ Jupiter descends upon his
eagle. When his speech is over we find the direction 'ascends.' Soon
after comes another direction: 'vanish.' This is addressed not to
Jupiter but to various ghosts who are present. For there was a hollow
space under the stage, and a trap-door into it. Through this ghosts
usually made their entrances and exits; and 'vanish' seems commonly to
mean an exit that way. Through it, too, arose and sank the witches'
caldron and the apparitions shown to Macbeth. A person could speak from
under the stage, as the Ghost does when Hamlet calls him 'old mole'; and
the musicians could go and play there, as they do in the scene where
Antony's soldiers hear strange music on the night before the battle;
'Musicke of the Hoboyes is under the Stage' the direction runs
('Hoboyes' were used also in the witch-scene just mentioned).


We have now to observe certain ways in which this stage with its
arrangements influenced the dramas themselves; and we shall find that
the majority of these influences are connected with the absence of
scenery. In this, to begin with, lies the main, though not the whole,
explanation of the shortness of the performance. In our Shakespeare
revivals the drama is always considerably cut down; and yet, even where
no excessive prominence is given to scenic display, the time occupied is
seldom less than three hours, and often a good deal more. In
Shakespeare's day, as we gather from various sources (_e.g._ from the
Prologues to _Romeo and Juliet_ and _Henry VIII._), the customary time
taken by the un-shortened play was about two hours. And the chief reason
of this great difference obviously is that the time which we spend in
setting and changing scenes his company spent in acting the piece. At a
given signal certain characters appeared. Unless a placard announced the
place where they were supposed to be,[15] the audience gathered this
from their conversation, or in the absence of such indications asked no
questions on the subject. They talked for a time and went away; and at
once another set appeared. The intervals between the acts (if intervals
there were, and however they were occupied) had no purpose connected
with scene-changing, and must have been short; and the introduction and
removal of a few properties would take next to no time from the
performance.[16] We may safely assume that not less than a hundred of
the hundred and twenty minutes were given to the play itself.

The absence of scenery, however, will not wholly account for the
difference in question. If you take a Shakespearean play of average
length and read it at about the pace usual in our revivals, you will
find, I think, that you have occupied considerably more than a hundred
or a hundred and twenty minutes.[17] The Elizabethan actor can hardly
have spoken so slowly. Probably the position of the stage, and
especially of the front part of it where most of the action took place,
was of advantage to him in this respect. Standing almost in the middle
of his audience, and at no great distance from any section of it, he
could with safety deliver his lines much faster than an actor can now.
He could speak even a 'passionate' speech 'trippingly on the tongue.'
Hamlet bids him do so, warns him not to mouth, and, when the time for
his speech comes, calls impatiently to him to leave his damnable faces
and begin; and this is not the only passage in Elizabethan literature
which suggests that good judges objected to a slow and over-emphatic
delivery. We have some actors not inferior in elocution, we must
presume, to Burbage or Taylor, but even Mr. Vezin or Mr. Forbes
Robertson may find it difficult to deliver blank verse intelligibly,
musically, and rapidly out of our stage-box.[18]

I return to the absence of scenery, which even in this matter must be
more important than the position of the stage or the preference for
rapid speech. It explains, secondly, the great difference between
Elizabethan and more modern plays in the number of the scenes.[19] This
number, with Shakespeare, averages somewhere about twenty: it reaches
forty-two in _Antony and Cleopatra_, and sinks to nine in _Love's
Labour's Lost_, the _Midsummer-Night's Dream_, and the _Tempest_. In the
fourth act of the first of these plays there are thirteen scenes, no one
of them in the same place as the next. The average number in Schiller's
plays seems to be about eight. In plays written now it corresponds not
unfrequently with the number of acts.[20] The primary cause of this
difference, though not the only one, is, I presume, that we expect to
see appropriate surroundings, at the least, for every part of the
story. Such surroundings mean more or less elaborate scenery, which,
besides being expensive, takes a long time to set and change. For a
dramatist accordingly who is a dramatist and wishes to hold his audience
by the play itself, it is an advantage to have as few scenes as may be.
And so the absence of scenery in Shakespeare's day, and its presence in
ours, result in two totally different systems, not merely of theatrical
effect, but of dramatic construction.

In certain ways it was clearly an advantage to a playwright to be able
to produce a large number of scenes, varying in length according to his
pleasure, and separated by almost inappreciable intervals. Nor could
there be any disadvantage in this freedom, if he had a strong feeling
for dramatic construction, and a gift for it, and a determination to
construct as well as he could. But, as a matter of fact, many, perhaps
the majority, of the pre-Shakespearean dramas are put together very
loosely; scene follows scene in the manner of a casual narrative rather
than a play; and a good deal is admitted for the sake of its immediate
attraction and not because it is essential to the plot. The freedom
which we are considering, though it could not necessitate these defects,
gave the widest scope for them; the majority of the audience probably
was, and continued to be, well-nigh indifferent to them; and a large
proportion of the plays of Shakespeare's time exhibits them in some
degree. The average drama of that day has great merits of a strictly
dramatic kind, but it is not well-built, it is not what we mean by 'a
good play'; and if we look at it from the restricted point of view
implied by that phrase we shall be inclined, I think, to believe that it
would have been a better play if its author had been compelled by the
stage-arrangements to halve the number of the scenes. These remarks will
hold of Shakespeare himself. Some of his most delightful dramas,
indeed,--for instance, the two Parts of _Henry IV._--make little or no
pretence to be well-constructed wholes; and even in those which fully
deserve that title a certain amount of matter not indispensable to the
plot is usually to be found. In point of construction _Othello_ is the
best of his tragedies, _Julius Cæsar_ better than _King Lear_, and
_Antony and Cleopatra_ perhaps the faultiest. To say that this depends
solely on the number of scenes would be ridiculous, but still it is
probably significant that the numbers are, respectively, fifteen,
eighteen, twenty-one, and forty-two.

The average Elizabethan play could not, of course, have been converted
into a well-built fabric by a _mere_ reduction of the number of its
scenes; and in some cases no amount of rearrangement of the whole
material employed could have produced this result. This means, however,
on the other hand, that the Elizabethans, partly from the very
simplicity of their theatrical conditions, were able to handle with
decided, though usually imperfect, dramatic effect subjects which would
present difficulties still greater, if not insuperable, to a playwright
now. And in Shakespeare we can trace, in this respect and in others, the
advantages connected with the absence of scenery. He could carry his
audience freely from one country, town, house or room, to another, or
from this part of a battle-field to that, because the audience imagined
each place and saw none. I take an extreme example. The Third Act of
_Antony and Cleopatra_, according to modern editions, contains thirteen
scenes, and these are the localities assigned to them: (1) a plain in
Syria, (2) Rome, an ante-chamber in Cæsar's house, (3) Alexandria,
Cleopatra's palace, (4) Athens, a room in Antony's house, (5) the same,
another room, (6) Rome, Cæsar's house, (7) near Actium, Antony's camp,
(8) a plain near Actium, (9) another part of the plain, (10) another
part of the plain, (11) Alexandria, Cleopatra's palace, (12) Egypt,
Cæsar's camp, (13) Alexandria, Cleopatra's palace. I wonder how long
this Act would take on our stage, where each locality must be
represented. Three hours perhaps, of which the performance might occupy
one-eighth. But in Shakespeare's day there was no occasion for any
stage-direction as to locality throughout the Act.

Again, Shakespeare's method of working a double plot depends largely on
his ability to bring the persons belonging to the two plots on to the
stage in alternate scenes of no great length until the threads are
combined. This is easily seen in _King Lear_; and there we can observe,
further, how he varies the pitch of feeling and provides relief by
interposing short quiet scenes between longer exciting ones. By this
means, as I have pointed out elsewhere, the Storm-scene on the heath,
which if undivided would be intolerable, is broken into three, separated
by very short duologues spoken within the Castle and in prose. Again,
since scene follows scene without a pause, he could make one tell on
another in the way either of intensification or of contrast. We catch
the effect in reading, but in our theatres it is usually destroyed by
the interval. Finally, however many scenes an Act may contain,
Shakespeare can keep attention glued to the play throughout the Act,
because there are no intervals. So can our playwrights, because they
have but one or two scenes in the Act. But in our reproductions of
Shakespeare, though the number of scenes is reduced, it can scarcely
ever be reduced to that extent; so that several times during an Act, and
many times during the play, we are withdrawn perforce from the dramatic
atmosphere into that of everyday life, solitary impatience or ennui,
distracting conversation, third-rate music, or, occasionally, good music
half-drowned in a babble of voices.

If we consider the characteristics on which I have been dwelling, and
bear in mind also the rapidity of speech which we have found to be
probable, we shall realise that a performance in Shakespeare's day,
though more of the play was performed, must have been something much
more variegated and changeful, and much lighter in movement, than a
revival now. And this difference will have been observed by those who
have seen Shakespeare acted by the Elizabethan Stage Society, under the
direction of Mr. Poel, who not only played scene after scene without
intervals, but secured in a considerable degree that rapidity of speech.

A minor point remains. The Elizabethan stage, we have seen, had no front
curtain. The front curtain and the use of scenery naturally came in
together, for the second, so far as the front stage was concerned, was
dependent on the first; and as we have already glanced at some effects
of the absence of the second, that of the first will require but a few
additional words. It was clearly in some ways a great disadvantage; for
every situation at the front of the stage had to be begun and ended
before the eyes of the audience. In our dramas the curtain may rise on a
position which the actors then had to produce by movements not really
belonging to the play; and, what is more important, the scene may
advance to a striking climax, the effect of which would be greatly
diminished and sometimes destroyed if the actors had to leave the stage
instead of being suddenly hidden. In Elizabethan plays, accordingly, we
seldom meet with this kind of effect, though it is not difficult to
discover places where it would have been appropriate. But we shall not
find them, I venture to think, in tragedies. This effect, in other
words, appears properly to belong to comedy and to melodrama (if that
species of play is to be considered here at all); and the Elizabethans
lost nothing by their inability to misuse it in tragedy, and especially
at the close of a tragedy. Whether it can be artistic to end any
serious scene whatever at the point of greatest tension seems doubtful,
but surely it is little short of barbarous to drop the curtain on the
last dying words, or, it may be, the last convulsion, of a tragic hero.
In tragedy the Elizabethan practice, like the Greek, was to lower the
pitch of emotion from this point by a few quiet words, followed perhaps
by sounds which, in intention at least, were majestic or solemn, and so
to restore the audience to common life 'in calm of mind, all passion
spent.' Thus Shakespeare's tragedies always close; and the end of
Marlowe's _Doctor Faustus_ is not _Exeunt Devils with Faustus_, but the
speech beginning

  Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
  And burned is Apollo's laurel-bough,
  That sometime grew within this learned man.

In this particular case Marlowe, if he had not been a poet, might have
dispensed with the final descent, or ascent, from the violent emotions
attending the catastrophe; but in the immense majority of their
tragedies the Elizabethans, even if they had wished to do as we too
often do, were saved from the temptation by the absence of a front


Hitherto we have not considered a Shakespearean performance on the side,
I will not say of its spectacular, but of its pictorial effect. This
must be our last subject. We have to bear in mind here three things: the
fact that the stage was viewed from three sides, its illumination by
daylight throughout the play, and the absence of scenery. It is obvious
that the last two deprived the audience of many attractive or impressive
pictures; while, as to the first, it seems unlikely that actors who were
watched from the sides as well as the front would study to group
themselves as parts of a composition addressed to the eye. Indeed one
may doubt whether, except in regard to costume, they seriously attended
to the pictorial effect of a drama at all; their tiny crowds and armies,
for example, cannot have provided much of a show. And in any case it is
clear that the audience had to dispense with many more or less beautiful
sights that we may now enjoy. But the question whether their loss was,
on the whole, a disadvantage is not so easy to answer; for here again it
freed them from a temptation--that of sacrificing dramatic to pictorial
effect; and we cannot tell whether, or how far, they would have been
proof against its influence. Let us try, however, to see the position

The essence of drama--and certainly of Shakespearean drama--lies in
actions and words expressive of inward movements of human nature.
Pictorial effects (if for convenience' sake the various matters under
consideration may be signified by that phrase) are in themselves no more
dramatic than songs, dances, military music, or the jests of a 'fool.'
Like these other things, they may be made dramatic. They may be used and
apprehended, that is to say, as elements fused with the essential
elements of dramatic effect. And, so far as this is the case and they
thus contribute to that effect, they are, it seems clear, an unmixed
advantage. But a distinct and separate attention to them is another
matter; for, the moment it sets in, attention begins to be withdrawn
from the actions and words, and therefore from the inward movements that
these express. And experience shows that, as soon as pictorial
attractions exceed a certain limit, impossible to specify in general
terms, they at once influence the average play-goer in this mischievous
way. It is, further, well-nigh inevitable that this should happen.
However interesting the actions, words, and inward movements may be,
they call for some effort of imagination and of other mental
activities,[22] while stage-pictures demand very little; and
accordingly, at the present time at any rate, the bulk of an audience to
which the latter are abundantly presented will begin to enjoy them for
their own sakes, or as parts of a panorama and not of a drama. No one, I
think, can honestly doubt this who watches and listens to the people
sitting near him at what the newspapers too truly call 'an amazing
Shakespearean spectacle.' If we are offered a pretty picture of the
changing colours of the sky at dawn, or of a forest glade with deer
miraculously moving across its sunny grass, most of us cease for the
time to be an audience and become mere spectators; and let Romeo and
Juliet, or Rosalind and Orlando, talk as like angels as they will, they
will talk but half-heeded. Our dramatists know this well enough. Mr.
Barrie and Mr. Pinero and Mr. Shaw, who want the audience to listen and
understand, take good care not to divert its attention and deaden its
imagination by scenic displays. And yet, with the heartiest admiration
for their best work, one may say that Shakespeare's requires more
attention and imagination than theirs.

Whether the Elizabethan companies, if they had had the power to use the
attractions of scenery, would have abused it, and whether in that case
the audience would have been as readily debauched as ours, it is useless
to dispute. The audience was not composed mainly of groundlings; and
even the groundlings in that age had drama in their blood. But I venture
to disbelieve that the main fault in these matters lies, in any age,
with the audience. It is like the populace in Shakespeare's plays, easy
to lead wrong but just as easy to lead right. If you give people in the
East End, or even in the Albert Hall, nothing but third-rate music, most
of them will be content with it, and possibly may come to disrelish what
is better. But if you have a little faith in great art and in human
nature, and offer them, I do not say the Diabelli variations, but such
music as the symphonies of Beethoven or even of Brahms, they will
justify your faith. This is not theory, but fact; and I cannot think
that it is otherwise with drama, or at least with the dramas of
Shakespeare. Did they ever 'spell ruin to managers' if they were,
through the whole cast, satisfactorily acted? What spells real ruin to
managers and actors alike is what spells degradation to audiences.[23]

But whether or no Shakespeare's audience could have been easily degraded
by scenic pleasure, it had not the chance; and I will not raise the
further question how far its disabilities were the cause of its virtues,
but will end with a few words on two of the virtues themselves. It
possessed, first, a vivid imagination. Shakespeare could address to it
not in vain the injunction, 'Work, work your thoughts!' Probably in
three scenes out of five the place and surroundings of the action were
absolutely invisible to its eyes. In a fourth it took the barest symbol
for reality. A couple of wretched trees made the Forest of Arden for it,
five men with ragged foils the army that conquered at Agincourt: are we
stronger than it, or weaker? It heard Romeo say

      Look, love, what envious streaks
  Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east;

and to its mind's eye they were there. It looked at a shabby old
balcony, but as it listened it saw the swallows flitting round the
sun-lit battlements of Macbeth's castle, and our pitiful sense of
grotesque incongruity never troubled it.[24] The simplest convention
sufficed to set its imagination at work. If Prospero entered wearing a
particular robe, it knew that no one on the stage could see his solid
shape;[25] and if Banquo, rising through the trap-door, had his bloody
face dusted over with meal, it recognised him for a ghost and thrilled
with horror; and we, Heaven help us, should laugh. Though the stage
stood in broad daylight, again, Banquo, for it, was being murdered on a
dark wet night, for he carried a torch and spoke of rain; and the
chaste stars were shining for it outside Desdemona's chamber as the
awful figure entered and extinguished the lamp. Consider how
extraordinary is the fact I am about to mention, and what a testimony it
bears to the imagination of the audience. In _Hamlet_, _Othello_, and
_Macbeth_, not one scene here and there but actually the majority of the
most impressive scenes take place at night, and, to a reader, depend not
a little on the darkness for their effect. Yet the Ghost-scenes, the
play-scene, the sparing of the king at prayer, that conversation of
Hamlet with his mother which is opened by the killing of Polonius and
interrupted by the appearance of the Ghost; the murder of Duncan, the
murder of Banquo, the Banquet-scene, the Sleep-walking scene; the whole
of the first Act of _Othello_, the scene of Cassio's drunken revel and
fight, and the whole of the terrible last Act,--all of this was played
in a theatre open to the afternoon sun, and was written by a man who
knew that it was so to be played. But he knew his audience too.[26]

That audience had not only imagination, and the power to sink its soul
in the essence of drama. It had something else of scarcely less import
for Shakespeare, the love of poetry. Ignorant, noisy, malodorous, too
fond of dances and songs and dirty jokes, of soldiers and trumpets and
cannon, the groundling might be: but he liked poetry. If he had not
liked it, he, with his brutal manners, would have silenced it, and the
Elizabethan drama could never have been the thing it was. The plays of
Shakespeare swarm with long speeches, almost all of which are cut down
or cut clean away for our theatres. They are never, of course,
irrelevant; sometimes they are indispensable to the full appreciation
of a character; but it is manifest that they were not written solely
for a dramatic purpose, but also because the author and his audience
loved poetry. A sign of this is the fact that they especially abound
where, from the nature of the story, the dramatic structure is
imperfect.[27] They abound in _Troilus and Cressida_ and _Henry V._ more
than in _Othello_ or _Much Ado_. Remember, for a standard of size, that
'To be or not to be' is thirty-three lines in length, and then consider
the following fact. _Henry V._ contains seventeen speeches longer than
that soliloquy. Five of them are between forty and fifty lines long, two
between fifty and sixty, and two exceed sixty. Yet if any play entirely
by Shakespeare were open to the charge of being a 'drum and trumpet
history' written to please the populace, it would be _Henry V._ Not only
then the cultured section of the audience loved poetry; the whole
audience loved it. How long would they have continued to relish this
'perpetual feast of nectared sweets' if their eyes had been feasted too?
Or is it likely that, once habituated to spectacular stimulants, they
would have welcomed 'the crystal clearness of the Muses' spring'?



  [1] This, one may suspect, was also the position of Webster, who
    praises Shakespeare, but groups him with Dekker and Heywood, and
    mentions him after Chapman, Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher
    (Preface to the _White Devil_).

  [2] I am obliged to speak summarily. Some of these things declined in
    popularity as time went on.

  [3] The examples just cited show his method at its best, and it would
    be easy to mention others far less satisfactory. Nor do I doubt that
    his plays would be much more free from blemishes of various kinds if
    his audience had added to their virtues greater cultivation. On the
    other hand the question whether, or how far, he knowingly 'wrote down
    to' his audience, in the sense of giving it what he despised, seems
    to me very difficult, if not impossible, to answer: and I may mention
    some causes of this difficulty.

    (1) There is no general presumption against interpolations in an
    Elizabethan drama published piratically or after the author's death.
    We have, further, positive grounds of the strongest kind for
    believing that 'Shakespeare's plays' contain a good deal that
    Shakespeare never wrote. We cannot therefore simply take it for
    granted that he wrote every silly or offensive thing that we find in
    the volume; and least of all should we do this when the passage is
    more or less irrelevant and particularly easy to excise. I do not say
    that these considerations have great importance here, but they have
    some; and readers of Shakespeare, and even some scholars, constantly
    tend to forget them, and to regard the texts as if they had been
    published by himself, or by scrupulously careful men of letters
    immediately after his death.

    (2) We must never take for granted that what seems to us feeble or
    bad seemed so to Shakespeare. Evidently he was amused by puns and
    quips and verbal ingenuities in which most of us find little
    entertainment. Gross jokes, scarcely redeemed in our eyes by their
    humour, may have diverted him. He sometimes writes, and clearly in
    good faith, what seems to us bombastic or 'conceited.' So far as this
    was the case he was not writing down to his audience. He shared its
    tastes, or the tastes of some section of it. So it may have been,
    again, with such a blot as the blinding of Gloucester on the open

    (3) Jonson defied his audience, yet he wrote a good deal that we
    think bad. In the same way certain of Shakespeare's faults _cannot_
    be due to condescension to his audience: _e.g._ the obscurities and
    distortions of language not infrequent in his later plays. And this
    may be so with some faults which have the appearance of arising from
    that condescension.

    (4) Other defects again he might have deliberately defended; _e.g._
    the highly improbable conclusions and the distressing mis-marriages
    of some of the comedies. 'It is of the essence of romantic comedy,'
    he might have said, 'to treat such things with indifference. There is
    a convention that you should take the characters with some degree of
    seriousness while they are in difficulties, and should cease to do so
    when they are to be delivered from them.' Do not we ourselves adopt
    this point of view to some extent when we go to the theatre now?

    I added this note after reading Mr. Bridges's very interesting and
    original contribution to the Stratford Town edition of Shakespeare
    (vol x.). I disagree with some of Mr. Bridges's remarks, and am not
    always repelled by things that he dislikes. But this brief note is
    not, of course, meant for an answer to his paper; it merely suggests
    reasons for at least diminishing the proportion of defect
    attributable to a conscious sacrifice of art to the tastes of the

  [4] To us their first appearance is of interest chiefly because it
    introduces the soliloquy 'How all occasions.' But, it is amusing to
    notice, the Folio, which probably represents the acting version in
    1623, omits the soliloquy but retains the marching soldiers.

  [5] I do not refer to the Globe.

  [6] The latter, no doubt, accompanied by the band, except when the
    clown played the tabor while he danced alone.

  [7] This may possibly be one of the signs that _Macbeth_ was altered
    after Shakespeare's retirement or death.

  [8] Surely every company that plays Shakespeare should include a boy.
    There would then be no excuse for giving to a woman such parts as
    Ariel and Brutus's boy Lucius.

  [9] This question will not be answered by the citation of one famous
    speech of Cleopatra's--a speech, too, which is strictly in character.
    But, as to this matter and the other considerations put forward
    above, I must add that, while my impression is that what has been
    said of Shakespeare holds of most of the contemporary dramatists, I
    have not verified it by a research. A student looking for a subject
    for his thesis might well undertake such a research.

  [10] When the lecture was given (in 1902) I went more fully into
    details, having arrived at certain conclusions mainly by an
    examination of Elizabethan dramas. I suppress them here because I
    have been unable to study all that has since been written on the
    Elizabethan stage. The reader who is interested in the subject should
    refer in the first instance to an excellent article by Mr. Archer in
    the _Quarterly Review_ for April, 1908.

  [11] This is a description of a public theatre. A private one, it
    will be remembered, had seats in the area (there called the pit), was
    completely roofed, and could be darkened.

  [12] 'The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms Do mock their
    charge with snores,' says Lady Macbeth on the stage below; and no
    doubt the tiring-house doors _were_ open.

  [13] This view, into the grounds of which I cannot go, implies that
    Juliet's bedroom was, in one scene, the upper stage, and, in another,
    the back stage; but the Elizabethans, I believe, would make no
    difficulty about that.

  [14] Perhaps. It seems necessary to suppose that the sides of the
    backstage, as well as its front, could be open; otherwise many of the
    spectators could not have seen what took place there. But it is not
    _necessary_, so far as I remember, to suppose that the sides could be
    closed by curtains. The Elizabethans probably would not have been
    troubled by seeing dead bodies get up and go into the tiring-house
    when a play or even a scene was over.

  [15] Where this contrivance was used at all it probably only
    announced the general place of the action throughout the play: _e.g._
    _Denmark_, or, a little more fully, _Verona_, _Mantua_.

  [16] It is possibly significant that _Macbeth_ and the _Tempest_,
    plays containing more 'shews' than most, are exceptionally short.

  [17] It suffices for this rough experiment to read a column in an
    edition like the Globe, and then to multiply the time taken by the
    number of columns in the play.

  [18] I do not know whether the average size of our theatres differs
    much from that of the Elizabethan. The diameter of the area at the
    _Fortune_ and the _Globe_ seems to have been fifty feet.

  [19] I mean by a scene a section of a play before and after which the
    stage is unoccupied. Most editions of Shakespeare are faulty in the
    division of scenes (see _Shakespearean Tragedy_, p. 451).

  [20] So it very nearly does in some Restoration comedies. In the _Way
    of the World_ the scenery is changed only twice in the five acts,
    though there are more than five scenes.

  [21] The 'back' stage, which had curtains, must, I suppose, have been
    too small to accommodate the number of persons commonly present,
    alive or dead, at the close of a tragedy. I do not know if any recent
    writer has raised and discussed the questions how often the back
    stage is used in the last scene of an Elizabethan play, and, again,
    whether it is often employed at all in order to produce, by the
    closing of the curtains, the kind of effect referred to in the
    paragraph above. Perhaps the fact that the curtains had to be closed
    by an actor, within them or without, made this effect impossible. Or
    perhaps it was not desired. In Shakespeare's tragedies, if my memory
    serves me, the only sudden or startling appeals of an outward kind
    (apart, of course, from actions) are those produced by supernatural
    appearances and disappearances, as in _Hamlet_ and _Macbeth_. These,
    we have seen, were usually managed by means of the trap-door, which,
    it would seem from some passages, must have been rather large. These
    matters deserve investigation if they have not already received it.

  [22] I do not refer to such deliberate and sustained effort as a
    reader may sometimes make. It is not commonly realised that
    continuous attention to any imaginative or intellectual matter,
    however enjoyable, involves considerable strain. If at a lecture or
    sermon a careless person makes himself observable in arriving late or
    leaving early, the eyes of half the audience will turn to him and
    follow him. And the reason is not always that the speaker bores them;
    it is that involuntarily they seek relief from this strain. The same
    thing may be seen in the concert-room or theatre, but very much less
    at a panorama, because the mere use of the eyes, even when
    continuous, is comparatively easy.

  [23] I am not referring here, or elsewhere, to such a moderate use of
    scenery in Shakespearean performances as most of our actor-managers
    (_e.g._ Mr. Benson) now adopt. I regret it in so far as it involves a
    curtailing of the play; but I do not think it withdraws from the play
    any attention that is of value, and for some of the audience it
    probably heightens the dramatic effect. Still, in my belief, it would
    be desirable to decrease it, because the less there is of it, the
    more is good acting necessary, and the more of the play itself can be
    acted. Some use of scenery, with its consequences to the play, must
    unquestionably be accepted as the rule, but I would add that it ought
    always to be possible for us to see performances, such as we owed to
    Mr. Poel, nearer to those of Shakespeare's time.

  [24] When, in the time of Malone and Steevens, the question was
    debated whether Shakespeare's stage had scenery, it was argued that
    it must have had it, because otherwise the contrast between the words
    and the visible stage in the passage referred to would have been
    hopelessly ludicrous.

  [25] 'Enter invisible' (a common stage-direction) means 'Enter in the
    dress which means to the audience that you are invisible.'

  [26] Probably he never needed to think of the audience, but wrote
    what pleased his own imagination, which, like theirs, was not only
    dramatic but, in the best sense, theatrical.

  [27] Their abundance in _Hamlet_ results partly from the character of
    the hero. They helped, however, to make that play too long; and the
    omission of 'How all occasions' from the Folio doubtless means that
    the company cut this soliloquy (whether they did so in the author's
    life-time we cannot tell). It may be noticed that, where a play shows
    clear signs of revision by Shakespeare himself, we rarely find a
    disposition to shorten long poetical speeches.

In some of these lectures[1]--for the duties and pleasures that have
fallen to me as Professor of Poetry are now to end--I may have betrayed
a certain propensity to philosophise. But I should ask pardon for this
only if I believed it to intrude where it has no place, in the
imaginative perception of poetry. Philosophy has long been at home in
this University; in the remarkable development of English philosophical
thought during the last five-and-thirty years Oxford has played a
leading part; and I hope the time will never come when a son of hers
will need to apologise to his brethren for talking philosophy. Besides,
though I owe her gratitude for many gifts, and most for the friendships
she gave me, her best intellectual gift was the conviction that what
imagination loved as poetry reason might love as philosophy, and that in
the end these are two ways of saying the same thing. And, finally, I
hoped, by dwelling in these lectures (for instance, with reference to
the poets of Wordsworth's time) on the connection of poetry with the
wider life around it, to correct an impression which my opening lecture
seems here and there to have left. Not that I can withdraw or even
modify the view put forward then. So far as any single function of
spiritual life can be said to have an intrinsic value, poetry, it seems
to me, possesses it just as other functions do, and it is in each case
irreplaceable. And further, it seems to me, poetry attains its own aim,
and in doing so makes its contribution to the whole, most surely and
fully when it seeks its own end without attempting to reach those of
co-ordinate functions, such as the attainment of philosophic truth or
the furtherance of moral progress. But then I believe this because I
also believe that the unity of human nature in its diverse activities is
so intimate and pervasive that no influence can affect any one of them
alone, and that no one of them can operate or change without
transmitting its influence to the rest. If I may use the language of
paradox I would say that the pursuit of poetry for its own sake is the
pursuit both of truth and of goodness. Devotion to it is devotion to
'the good cause of the world'; and wherever the imagination is
satisfied, there, if we had a knowledge we have not, we should discover
no idle fancy but the image of a truth.


  [1] As the order of the lectures has been changed for the purposes of
    publication, I have been obliged to move these concluding sentences
    from their original place at the end of the lecture on _The Long Poem
    in the Age of Wordsworth_.


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