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the surreptitious and careless manner of publication ; some to the shifting fashions, and experimental licence of Elizabethan English. In a few terse sentences Johnson adds an account of those other obscurities which belong to the man rather than to the age. • If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers, it is to be imputed to the nature of his work, which required the use of common colloquial language, and consequently admitted many phrases allusive, elliptical and proverbial ;
... to which might be added the fullness of idea, which might sometimes load his words with more sentiment than they could conveniently carry, and that rapidity of imagination which might hurry him to a second thought before he had fully explained the first. But my opinion is, that very few of his lines were difficult to his audience, and that he used such expressions as were then common, though the paucity of contemporary writers makes them now seem peculiar.' Let this be compared with what Coleridge, nearly eighty years later, has to say on the same question : 'Shakespeare is of no age. It is idle to endeavour to support his phrases by quotations from Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, &c. His language is entirely his own, and the younger dramatists imitated him.... I believe Shakespeare was not a whit more intelligible in his own day, than he is now to an educated man, except for a few local allusions of no consequence.' In so far as Coleridge seems to allude to Shakespeare's very characteristic style, his remarks are true. In so far as he is speaking of the
wider problem of language, the verdict of modern Shakespearian scholars is wholly on Johnson's side.
These extracts from two great critics are here compared because they show that Johnson's work on Shakespeare has not been superseded. He has been neglected and depreciated ever since the nineteenth century brought in the new aesthetic and philosophical criticism. The twentieth century, it seems likely, will treat him more respectfully. The romantic attitude begins to be fatiguing. The great romantic critics, when they are writing at their best, do succeed in communicating to the reader those thrills of wonder and exaltation which they have felt in contact with Shakespeare's imaginative work. This is not a little thing to do; but it cannot be done continuously, and it has furnished the work-a-day critic with a vicious model. There is a taint of insincerity about romantic criticism, from which not even the great romantics are free. They are never in danger from the pitfalls that waylay the plodding critic; but they are always falling upward, as it were, into vacuity. They love to lose themselves in an O altitudo. From the most worthless material they will fashion a new hasty altar to the unknown God. When they are inspired by their divinity they say wonderful things ; when the inspiration fails them their language is maintained at the same height, and they say more than they feel. You can never be sure of them.
Those who approach the study of Shakespeare under the sober and vigorous guidance of Johnson will meet with fewer exciting adventures, but they will not see less of the subject. They will hear the greatness of Shakespeare discussed in language so quiet and modest as to sound tame in ears accustomed to hyperbole, but they will not, unless they are very dull or very careless, fall into the error of supposing that Johnson's admiration for Shakespeare was cold or partial. This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare, that his drama is the mirrour of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his delirious extasies, by reading human sentiments in human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.' The great moments of Shakespeare's drama had thrilled and excited Johnson from his boyhood up. When he was nine years old, and was reading Hamlet alone in his father's kitchen, the ghost scene made him hurry upstairs to the street door, that he might see people about him, and be saved from the terrors of imagination. Perhaps he remembered this early experience when he wrote, in his notes on Macbeth—He that peruses Shakespeare looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone.' In his mature age he could not bear to read the closing scenes of King Lear and Othello. His notes on some of Shakespeare's minor characters, as, for instance, his delightful little biographical comment on the words • Exit Pistol ', in King Henry V, show with what keenness of zest he followed the incidents of the drama and with what sympathy he estimated the persons. It is difficult to find a meaning for those who assert that Johnson was insensible to what he himself called 'the transcendent and unbounded genius' of Shakespeare.
His Preface was not altogether pleasing to idolaters of Shakespeare even in his own age. It was virulently attacked, and although he published no reply, his defence of himself is expressed in a letter to Charles Burney "We must confess the faults of our favourite,' he says, ' to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies. He that claims, either in himself or for another, the honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation which he designs to assist.' The head and front of Johnson's offending was that he wrote and spoke of Shakespeare as one man may fitly speak of another. He claimed for himself the citizenship of that republic in which Shakespeare is admittedly pre-eminent; and dared to enumerate Shakespeare's faults. The whole tale of these, as they are catalogued by Johnson, might be ranged under two heads—carelessness, and excess of conceit. It would be foolish to deny these charges : the only possible reply to them is that Shakespeare's faults are never defects; they belong to superabundant power,-power not putting forth its full resources even in the crisis of events ; or power neglecting the task in hand to amuse itself with irresponsible display. The faults are of a piece with the virtues ; and Johnson as good as admits this when he says that they are sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit'. None but Shakespeare, that is to say, could move easily and triumphantly under the weight of Shakespeare's faults. The detailed analysis of the faults is a fine piece of criticism, and has never been seriously challenged.
A deep-lying cause, not very easy to explain, which has. interfered with the modern appreciation of Johnson, is to be found in the difference between the criticism of his day and the criticism which is now addressed to a large and ignorant audience. He assumed in his public, a fair measure of knowledge and judgement; he ventured to take many things for granted, and to discuss knotty points as a man might discuss them in the society of his friends and equals. He was not always successful in his assumptions, and more than once had to complain of the stupidity which imagined him to deny the truths that he honoured with silence. When he quoted the description of the temple, in Congreve's Mourning Bride, as being superior in its kind to anything in Shakespeare, he encountered a storm of protest, the echoes of which persist to this day. His answer to Garrick's objections deserves a wider application : Sir, this is not comparing Congreve on the whole with Shakespeare on the whole ; but only maintaining that Congreve has one finer passage than any that can be found in Shakespeare . Sir, a man may have no more than ten guineas in the world, but he may have those ten guineas in one piece ; 'and so may have a finer piece than a man who has