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EXT Friday,* making the proper allowance of twelve
days from the 23d of April, according to the change of
the style, is the birthday of Shakspeare. Pleasant thoughts must be associated with him in everything. If he is not to be born in April, he must be born in May. Nature will have her with him on her blithest holidays, like her favourite lover.
O thou divine human creature, - greater name than even divine poet or divine philosopher,-and yet thou wast all three ! -a very spring and vernal abundance of all fair and noble things is to be found in thy productions! They are truly a second nature. We walk in them, with whatever society we please ; either with mnen, or fair women, or circling spirits, or with none but the whispering airs and leaves. Thou makest worlds of green trees and gentle natures for us, in thy forests of Arden, and thy courtly retirements of Navarre. Thou bringest us among the holiday lasses on the green sward ; layest us to sleep among fairies in the bowers of midsummer; wakest us with the song of the lark and the silver-sweet voices of lovers; bringest more music to our ears, both from earth and from the planets; anon settest us upon enchanted islands, where it welcomes us again, from the touching of invisible instruments; and, after all, restorest us to our still-desired haven, the arms of
* This paper originally appeared on Wednesday, May 3, 1820.-ED.
humanity. Whether grieving us or making us glad, thou makest us kinder and happier. The tears which thou fetchest down are like the rains of April, softening the times that come after them. Thy smiles are those of the month of love, the more blessed and universal for the tears.
The birthdays of such men as Shakspeare ought to be kept, in common gratitude and affection, like those of relations whom we love. He has said, in a line full of him, that
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
How near does he become to us with his thousand touches ! The lustre and utility of intellectual power is so increasing in the eyes of the world, that we do not despair of seeing the time when his birthday will be a subject of public rejoicing ; when the regular feast will be served up in tavern and dwelling-house, the bust crowned with laurel, and the theatres sparkle with illuminations. The town is lucky enough once more to have a manager who is an enthusiast. If Mr Elliston would light up the front of his theatre next Friday with the name of Shakspeare, we would warrant him a call from the pit, and whole shouts of acknowledgment.
In the meantime, it is in the power of every admirer of Shakspeare to honour the day privately. Rich or poor, busy or at leisure, all may do it. The busiest finds time to eat his dinner, and may pitch one considerate glass of wine down his throat. The poorest may call him to mind, and drink his memory in honest water. We had mechanically written health, as if he were alive. So he is in spirit;—and the spirit of such a writer is so constantly with us, that it would be a good thing, a judicious extravagance, a contemplative piece of jollity, to drink his health instead of his memory. But this, we fear, should be an impulse. We must content ourselves with having felt it here, and drinking it in imagination. To act upon it, as a proposal of the day before yesterday, might be too much like getting up an extempore gesture, or practising an unspeakable satisfaction.
An outline, however, may be drawn of the manner in which such a birthday might be spent. The tone and colouring would be filled up, of course, according to the taste of the parties. If any of our readers, then, have leisure as well as inclination to devote a day to the memory of Shakspeare, we would advise them, in the first place, to walk out, whether alone or in company, and enjoy during the morning as much as possible of those beauties of nature of which he has left us such exquisite pictures. They would take a volume of him in their hands, the most suitable to the occasion; not to hold themselves bound to sit down and read it, nor even to refer to it, if the original work of nature should occupy them too much ; but to read it, if they read anything, and to feel that Shakspeare was with them substantially as well as spiritually—that they had him with them under their arm. There is another thought connected with his presence, which may render the Londoner's walk the more interesting. Shakspeare had neither the vanity which induces a man to be disgusted with what everybody can enjoy; nor on the other hand the involuntary self-degradation which renders us incapable of enjoying what is abased by our own familiarity of acquaintanceship. About the metropolis, therefore, there is perhaps not a single rural spot, any more than about Stratford-upon-Avon, which he has not himself enjoyed. The south side of London was the one nearest his theatre. Hyde Park was then, as it is now, one of the fashionable promenades. Richmond also was in high pride of estimation. At Greenwich, Elizabeth held her court, and walked abroad amid the gallant service of the Sydneys and Raleighs. And Hampstead and Highgate, with the country about them, were, as they have been ever since, the favourite resort of the lovers of natural productions. Nay, without repeating what we said in a former essay, about the Mermaid in Cornhill, the Devil tavern in Fleet Street, the Boar's Head in Eastcheap, and other town associations with Shakspeare, the reader who cannot get out of London on his birthday, and who has the luck to be hard
at work in Chancery Lane or the Borough, may be pretty certain that Shakspeare has admired the fields and the May flowers there ; for the fields were close to the latter, perhaps came up to the very walls of the theatre; and the surburban mansion and gardens of his friend Lord Southampton occupied the spot now called Southampton Buildings. It was really a country neighbourhood. The Old Bourne (Holborn) ran by, with a bridge over it; and Gray's Inn was an academic bower in the fields.
The dinner does not much signify. The sparest or the most abundant will equally suit the various fortunes of the great poet; only it will be as well, for those who can afford wine, to pledge Falstaff in a cup of “sherris sack,” which seems to have been a sort of sherry negus. After dinner, Shakspeare's volumes will come well on the table ; lying among the dessert like laurels, where there is one, and supplying it where there is not. Instead of songs, the persons present may be called upon for scenes. But no stress need be laid on this proposition, if they do not like to read out loud. The pleasure of the day should be as much at liberty as possible ; and if the company prefer conversation, it will not be very easy for them to touch upon any subjects which Shakspeare shall not have touched upon also. If the enthusiasm is in high taste, the ladies should be crowned with violets, which (next to the roses of their lips) seem to have been his favourite flower. After tea should come singing and music, especially the songs which Arne set from his plays, and the ballad of “Thou soft-flowing Avon.” If an engraving or bust of him could occupy the pr ncipal ace in the room, it would look like the “present deity” of the occasion ; and we have known a very pleasant effect produced by everybody's bringing some quotation applicable to him from his works, and laying it before his image, to be read in the course of the evening.
A RAINY DAY,
'HE that we speak of is a complete one of its kind,
beginning with a dark, wet morning, and ending in a
drenching night. When you come down-stairs from your chamber, you find the breakfast-room looking dark, the rain-spout pouring away, and, unless you live in a street of traffic, no sound out of doors but a clack of pattens and an occasional clang of milk-pails. (Do you see the rogue of a milkman? He is leaving them open to catch the rain.)
We never see a person going to the window on such a morning, to take a melancholy look out at the washed houses and pavement, but we think of a reanimation which we once beheld of old Tate Wilkinson. But observe how sour things may run into pleasant tastes at last. We are by no means certain that the said mimetic antique, Tate Wilkinson, was not patentee of the York Theatre, wore a melancholy hat tied the wrong way, and cast looks of unutterable dissatisfaction at a rainy morning, purely to let his worthy successor and surpasser in mimicry, Mr Charles Mathews, hand down his aspect and countenance for the benefit of posterity. We once fell into company with that ingenious person at a bachelor's house, where he woke us in the morning with the suspicious sound of a child crying in another room. It was having its face washed; and had we been of a scandalising turn, or envied our host for his hospitality, we should certainly have gone and said that