« AnteriorContinuar »
ESSAYS BY LEIGH HUNT.
T is a curious and pleasant thing to consider, that a link of
I personaliacquaintanca Scant thing to compilerin the salutkoos
of our own times to those of Shakspeare, and to Shakspeare himself. Ovid, in recording with fondness his intimacy with Propertius and Horace, regrets that he had only seen Virgil (Trist., Book IV. v. 51). But still he thinks the sight of him worth remembering. And Pope, when a child, prevailed on some friends to take him to a coffee-house which Dryden frequented, merely to look at him ; which he did, to his great satisfaction. Now, such of us as have shaken hands with a living poet, might be able, perhaps, to reckon up a series of connecting shakes to the very hand that wrote of Hamlet, and of Falstaff, and of Desdemona.
With some living poets, it is certain. There is Thomas Moore, for instance, who knew Sheridan. Sheridan knew Johnson, who was the friend of Savage, who knew Steele, who knew Pope. Pope was intimate with Congreve, and Congreve with Dryden. Dryden is said to have visited Milton. Milton is şaid to have known Davenant; and to have been saved by him
from the revenge of the restored court, in return for having saved Davenant from the revenge of the Commonwealth. But if the link between Dryden and Milton, and Milton and Davenant, is somewhat apocryphal, or rather dependent on tradition (for Richardson, the painter, tells us the latter from Pope, who had it from Betterton the actor, one of Davenant's company), it may be carried at once from Dryden to Davenant, with whom he was unquestionably intimate. Davenant, then, knew Hobbes, who knew Bacon, who knew Ben Jonson, who was intimate with Beaumont and Fletcher, Chapman, Donne, Drayton, Camden, Selden, Clarendon, Sydney, Raleigh, and perhaps all the great men of Elizabeth's and James's time, the greatest of them all undoubtedly. Thus have we a link of “ beamy hands" from our own times up to Shakspeare.
In this friendly genealogy we have omitted the numerous side-branches or common friendships ; but of those we shall give an account by and by. It may be mentioned, however, in order not to omit Spenser, that Davenant resided some time in the family of Sir Fulke Greville Lord Brooke, the friend of Sir Philip Sydney. Spenser's intimacy with Sydney is mentioned by himself, in a letter, still extant, to Gabriel Harvey.
We will now give the authorities for our intellectual pedigree. Sheridan is mentioned in Boswell as being admitted to the celebrated club, of which Johnson, Goldsmith, and others were members. He had then, if we remember, just written his “School for Scandal,” which made him the more welcome. Of Johnson's friendship with Savage (we cannot help beginning the sentence with his favourite leading preposition), the wellknown Life is an interesting and honourable record. It is said that in the commencement of their friendship they have sometimes wandered together about London for want of a lodging ; —more likely, for Savage's want of it, and Johnson's fear of offending him by offering a share of his own. But we do not remember how this circumstance is related by Boswell.
Savage's intimacy with Steele is recorded in a pleasant anec
dote, which he told Johnson. Sir Richard once desired him, “with an air of the utmost importance,” says his biographer, "to come very early to his house the next morning. Mr Savage came as he had promised, found the chariot at the door, and Sir Richard waiting for him, and ready to go out. What was intended, and whither they were to go, Savage could not conjecture, and was not willing to inquire; but immediately seated himself with Sir Richard. The coachman was ordered to drive, and they hurried with the utmost expedition to Hyde Park Corner, where they stopped at a petty tavern, and retired to a private room. Sir Richard then informed him that he intended to publish a pamphlet, and that he had desired him to come thither that he might write for him. They soon sat down to the work. Sir Richard dictated, and Savage wrote, till the dinner that had been ordered was put upon the table. Savage was surprised at the meanness of the entertainment, and after some hesitation ventured to ask for wine, which Sir Richard, not without reluctance, ordered to be brought. They then finished their dinner, and proceeded in their pamphlet, wh they concluded in the afternoon.
“ Mr Savage then imagined that his task was over, and expected that Sir Richard would call for the reckoning, and return home; but his expectations deceived him, for Sir Richard told him that he was without money, and that the pamphlet must be sold before the dinner could be paid for; and Savage was therefore obliged to go and offer their new production to sale for two guineas, which with some difficulty he obtained. Sir Richard then returned home, having retired that day only to avoid his creditors, and composed the pamphlet only to discharge his reckoning."
Steele's acquaintance with Pope, who wrote some papers for his “Guardian,” appears in the letters and other works of the wits of that time. Johnson supposes that it was his friendly interference which attempted to bring Pope and Addison together after a jealous separation. Pope's friendship with
Congreve appears also in his letters. He also dedicated the “Iliad” to him, over the heads of peers and patrons. Congreve, whose conversation most likely partook of the elegance and wit of his writings, and whose manners appear to have rendered him an universal favourite, had the honour in his youth of attracting singular respect and regard from Dryden. He was publicly hailed by him as his successor, and affectionately bequeathed the care of his laurels. Dryden did not know who had been looking at him in the coffee-house.
“Already I am worn with cares and age,
But shade those laurels which descend to you."
Dryden is reported to have asked Milton's permission to turn his “ Paradise Lost” into a rhyming tragedy, which he called “ The State of Innocence, or the Fall of Man;" a work such as might be expected from such a mode of alteration. The venerable poet is said to have answered, “ Ay, young man, you may iag my verses if you will.” Be the connexion, however, of Dryden with Milton, or of Milton with Davenant, as it may, Dryden wrote the alteration of Shakspeare's “Tempest," as it is now perpetrated, in conjunction with Davenant. They were great hands, but they should not have touched the pure grandeur of Shakspeare. The intimacy of Davenant with Hobbes is to be seen by their correspondence prefixed to
“ Gondibert." Hobbes was at one time secretary to Lord Bacon, a singularly illustrious instance of servant and master. Bacon is also supposed to have had Ben Jonson for a retainer in some capacity ; but it is certain that Jonson had his acquaintance, for he records it in his “ Discoveries." And had it been otherwise, his link
with the preceding writers could be easily supplied through the medium of Greville and Sydney, and indeed of many others of his contemporaries. Here, then, we arrive at Shakspeare, and feel the electric virtue of his hand. Their intimacy, dashed a little, perhaps, with jealousy on the part of Jonson, but maintained to the last by dint of the nobler part of him and of Shakspeare's irresistible fineness of nature, is a thing as notorious as their fame. Fuller says: -“ Many were the wit-combates betwixt (Shakspeare) and Ben Jonson, which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war. Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning : solid, but slow in his performances. Shakspeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.” This is a happy simile, with the exception of what is insinuated about Jonson's greater solidity. But let Jonson show for himself the affection vith which he regarded one who did not irritate or trample down rivalry, but rose above it like the quiet and all-gladdening sun, and turned emulation to worship
Soul of the age !
He was not of an age, but for all time.”