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ON COMMENDATORY VERSES.

WE

E must inform the reader oí a very particular sort of dis

tress, to which we agreeable writers are subject. We

mean the not knowing what to do with letters of approbation. During the first æra of our periodical flourishing, we used to sink them entirely, comforting ourselves in private with our magnanimity, and contrasting it with the greedy admission which some of our brethren gave to all panegyrical comers. We had not yet learnt that correspondents have delicate feelings to be consulted as well as editors.

When this very benignant light was let in upon us, we had to consider the natures of our several correspondents, and to try and find out which of them wrote most sincerely, which would be hurt or otherwise by non-insertion, and which we ought to give way to, as a matter of right on their own parts, as well as of pleasure on ours. We found our scruples wonderfully apt to be done away in proportion to the intelligence and cordiality of the writer. Mere good-nature, with all our esteem for it, we could seldom admit, for obvious reasons; but good-nature and wit in unison, especially if joined with the knowledge of any generous action performed by the possessor, we always found irresistible to our modesty.

“ In fact, the more honour it did you, Mr Indicator, the more you were inclined to consult the delicacy of your correspondent?"

Just so.—Now if our faculties are anything at all, they are social; and we have always been most pleased on these occasions, when we have received the approbation of those friends whom we are most in the habit of thinking of when we write. There are multitudes of readers whose society we can fancy ourselves enjoying, though we have never seen them ; but we are more particularly apt to imagine ourselves in siich and such company, according to the nature of our articles.

We are accustomed to say to ourselves, if we happen to strike off any thing that pleases us,–K. will like that :- There's something for M. or R. :-C. will snap his finger and slap his knee-pan at this :-Here's a crow to pick for H.--Here N. will shake his shoulders :—There B., ditto, his head :—Here S. will shriek with satisfaction:-L. will see the philosophy of this joke, if nobody else does.--As to our fair friends, we find it difficult to think of them and our subject together. We fancy their countenances looking so frank and kind over our disquisitions, that we long to have them turned towards ourselves instead of the paper.

Every pleasure we could experience in a friend's approbation, we have felt in receiving the following verses. They are from a writer, who of all other men, knows how to extricate a common thing from commonness, and to give it an underlook of pleasant consciousness and wisdom.. We knew him directly, in spite of his stars. His hand as well as heart betrayed him.*

TO MY FRIEND THE INDICATOR.
Your easy essays indicate a flow,
Dear friend, of brain, which we may elsewhere seek;
And to their pages I, and hundreds, owe
That Wednesday t is the sweetest of the week.
Such observation, wit, and sense are shown,
We think the days of Bickerstaff return'd;
And that a portion of that oil you own,
In his undying midnight lamp which burn'd.
I would not lightly bruise old Priscian's head,
Or wrong the rules of grammar understood ;

* It is almost needless to tell the reader that the verses are Charles Lamb's.-ED. | The original day of publication of the Indicator.–Ed.

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The receipt of these verses has set us upon thinking of the good-natured countenance, which men of genius, in all ages, have for the most part shown to contemporary writers; and thence, by a natural transition, of the generous friendship they have manifested for each other. Authors, like other men, may praise as well as blame for various reasons; for interest, for egotism, for fear: and for the same reasons they may be silent. But generosity is natural to the humanity and the strength of genius. Where it is obscured, it is usually from something that has rendered it misanthropical. Where it is glaringly deficient, the genius is deficient in proportion. And the defaulter feels as much, though he does not know it. He feels, that the least addition to another's fame threatens to block up the view of his

Dwn.

At the same time, praise by no means implies a sense of ruperiority. It may imply that we think it worth having ; but this may arise from a consciousness of our sincerity, and from a certain instinct we have, that to relish anything exceedingly gives us a certain ability to judge, as well as a right to express our admiration of it.

On all these accounts, we were startled to hear the other day that Shakspeare had never praised a contemporary author. We had mechanically given him credit for the manifestation of every generosity under the sun ; and found the surprise affect us, not as authors (which would have been a vanity not even warranted by our having the title in common with him), but as

What baulked us in Shakspeare, seemed to baulk our faith in humanity. But we recovered as speedily. Shakspeare had none of the ordinary inducements which make men niggardly of their commendation. He had no reason either to be jealous or afraid. He was the reverse of unpopular. His own

men.

claims were universally allowed. He was neither one who need be silent about a friend, lest he should be hurt by his enemy; nor one who nursed a style or theory by himself, and so was obliged to take upon him a monopoly of admiration in selfdefence; nor one who should gaze himself blind to everything else, in the complacency of his own shallowness. If it should be argued, that he who saw through human nature, was not likely to praise it, we answer, that he who saw through it as Shakspeare did, was the likeliest man in the world to be kind ta it. Even Swift refreshed the dry bitterness of his misanthropy in his love for Tom, Dick, and Harry; and what Swift did from impatience at not finding men better, Shakspeare would do out of patience in finding them so good. We instanced the sonnet in the collection called “The Passionate Pilgrim,” beginning

“If music and sweet poetry agrec," in which Spenser is praised so highly. It was replied, that minute inquirers considered that collection as apocrypha This set us upon looking again at the biographers who have criticised it; and we see no reason, for the present, to doubt its authenticity. For some parts of it we would answer upon internal evidence, especially, for instance, the Lover's Complaint. There are two lines in this poem which would alone announce him. They have the very trick of his eye.

O father, what a hell of witchcraft lies

In the small orb of one particular tear !”

But inquirers would have to do much more than disprove the authenticity of these poems before they made out Shakspeare to be a grudging author. They would have to undo all the modesty and kindliness of his other writings. They would have to undo his universal character for “gentleness," at a time when gentle meant all that was noble as well as mild. They would have to find bitterness in the sweet wisdom that runs throughout his dramatic works, and selfishness in the singular and exquisite generosity of sentiment that hallows his more personal produc

tions. They would have to deform and to untune all that round harmonious mind, which a great contemporary described as the very “sphere of humanity;" to deprive him of the epithet given him in the school of Milton, “unvulgar ;" * to render the universality of wisdom liable to the same drawbacks as mere universality of science; to take the child's heart out of the true man's body; to un-Shakspeare Shakspeare. If Shakspeare had never mentioned a contemporary in his life, nor given so many evidences in his sonnets of a cordial and admiring sense of those about him, we would sooner believe that sheer modesty had restrained his tongue, than the least approach to a petty feeling. We can believe it possible that he may have thought his panegyrics not wanted; but unless he degraded himself wilfully, in order to be no better than any of his fellow-creatures, we cannot believe it possible that he would have thought his panegyrics wanted, and yet withheld them.

It is remarkable that one of the most regular contributors of commendatory verses in the time of Shakspeare was a man whose bluntness of criticism and feverish surliness of manners have rendered the most suspected of a jealous grudgingness-Ben Jonson. We mean not to detract an atom from the goodheartedness which we sincerely believe this eminent person to have possessed at bottom, when we say, that as an excess of modest confidence in his own generous instincts might possibly have accounted for the sparingness of panegyric in our great dramatist, so a noble distrust of himself, and a fear lest jealousy should get the better of his instincts, might possibly account for this panegyrical overplus in his illustrious friend. If so, it shows how useful such a distrust is to one's ordinary share of humanity, and how much safer it will be for us, on these as well as all other occasions, to venture upon likening ourselves to Ben Jonson rather than Shakspeare. It is to be recollected at the same time that Ben Jonson, in his age, was the more prominent per

* By Milton's nephew Philips in his “Theatrum Poetarum." It is an epithet given in all the spirit which it attributes.

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