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on his task. We admire the amateur student in his public essays, as we admire a jackdaw or a parrot : he does considerably more than could have been expected from him.
In attending to the subject of this Essay we have been led to observe the different ways, in which the mind of man may be brought into a position tending to exhibit its powers in a less creditable and prepossessing point of view, than that in which all men, idiots and extraordinary cases excepted, are by nature qualified to appear. Many, not contented with those occupations, modest and humble in certain cases, to which their endowments and original bent had designed them, shew themselves immoderately set upon more alluring and splendid pursuits in which they are least qualified to excel. Other instances there are, still more entitled to our regret, where the individual is seen to be gifted with no ordinary qualities, where his morning of life has proved auspicious, and the highest expectations were formed of a triumphant career, while yet in the final experiment he has been found wanting, and the "
voyage of his life" has passed “in shallows and in miseries."
But our survey of the subject of which I treat will not be complete, unless we add to what has been said, another striking truth respecting the imperfection of man collectively taken. The examples of which the history of our species consists, not only abound in cases, where, from mistakes in
the choice of life, or radical and irremediable imperfection in the adventurer, the most glaring miscarriages are found to result,—but it is also true, that all men, even the most illustrious, have soine fatal weakness, obliging both them and their rational admirers to confess, that they partake of human frailty, and belong to a race of beings which has small occasion to be proud. Each man has his assailable part. He is vulnerable, though it be only like the fabled Achilles in his heel. We are like the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, of which though the head was of fine gold, and the breast and the arms were silver, yet the feet were partly only of iron, and partly of clay. No man is whole and entire, armed at all points, and qualified for
every undertaking, or even for any one undertaking, so as to carry it through, and to make the achievement he would perform, or the work he would produce, in all its parts equal and complete.
It is a gross misapprehension in such men as, smitten with admiration of a certain cluster of excellencies, or series of heroic acts, are willing to predicate of the individual to whom they belong, “ This man is consummate, and without alloy." Take the person in his retirement, in his hours of relaxation, when he has no longer a part to play, and one or more spectators before whom he is desirous to appear to advantage, and you shall find him a very ordinary man. He has “passions, dimensions, senses, affections, like the rest of his
fellow-creatures, is fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter.” He will therefore, when narrowly observed, be unquestionably found betraying human weaknesses, and falling into fits of ill humour, spleen, peevishness and folly. No man is always a sage; no bosom at all times beats with sentiments lofty, self-denying and heroic. It is enough if he does so, “when the matter fits his mighty mind."
The literary genius, who undertakes to produce some consummate work, will find himself pitiably in error, if he expects to turn it out of his hands, entire in all its parts, and without a flaw. There are some of the essentials of which it is constituted, that he has mastered, and is sufficiently familiar with them; but there are others, especially if his work is miscellaneous and comprehensive, to which he is glaringly incompetent. He must deny his nature, and become another man, if he would execute these parts, in a manner equal to that which their intrinsic value demands, or to the perfection he is able to give to his work in those places which are best suited to his powers. There are points in which the wisest man that ever existed is no stronger than a child. In this sense the sublimest genius will be found infelix operis summá, nam ponere totum nescit. And, if he properly knows himself, and is aware where lies his strength, and where his weakness, he will look for nothing more in the particulars which fall under the last of these heads, than to escape as he can, and to pass speedily to things in which he finds himself at home and at
Shakespear we are accustomed to call the most universal genius that ever existed. He has a truly wonderful variety. It is almost impossible to pronounce in which he has done best, his Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, or Othello. He is equally excellent in his comic vein as his tragic. Falstaff is in his degree to the full as admirable and astonishing, as what he achieved that is noblest under the auspices of the graver muse. His poetry and the fruits of his imagination are unrivalled. His language, in all that comes from him when his genius is most alive, has a richness, an unction, and all those signs of a character which admits not of mortality and decay, for ever fresh as when it was first uttered, which we recognise, while we can hardly persuade ourselves that we are not in a delusion. As Anthony Wood says, “ By the writings of Shakespear and others of his time, the English tongue was exceedingly enriched, and made quite another thing than what it was before." His versification on these occasions has a melody, a ripeness and variety that no other pen has reached.
Yet there were things that Shakespear could not do. He could not make a hero. Familiar as he was with the evanescent touches of mind en dishabille,
* Athenæ Oxonienses, vol. i. p. 592.
and in its innermost feelings, he could not sustain the tone of a character, penetrated with a divine enthusiasm, or fervently devoted to a generous cause, though this is truly within the compass of our nature, and is more than any other worthy to be delineated. He could conceive such sentiments, for there are such in his personage of Brutus; but he could not fill out and perfect what he has thus sketched. He seems even to have had a propensity to bring the mountain and the hill to a level with the plain. Cæsar is spiritless, and Cicero is ridiculous, in his hands. He appears to have written his Troilus and Cressida partly with a view to degrade, and hold up to contempt, the heroes of Homer; and he has even disfigured the pure, heroic affection which the Greek poet has painted as existing between Achilles and Patroclus with the most odious imputations.
And, as he could not sustain an heroic character throughout, so neither could he construct a perfect plot, in which the interest should be perpetually increasing, and the curiosity of the spectator kept alive and in suspense to the last moment. Several of his plays have an unity of subject to which nothing is wanting ; but he has not left us any production that should rival that boast of Ancient Greece in the conduct of a plot, the Edipus Tyrannus, a piece in which cach act rises upon the act before, like a tower that lifts its head story above story to the skies. He has scarcely ever