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been built. His criticisms are therefore eminently scientific; to use his own expression, his “art lifts the veil from nature.” It was the wonderful subtlety with which he possessed himself of the intentions of the author, which enabled him not only to appreciate in his own person, but to make the world appreciate, the effects those intentions had produced. Thus especially in his Characters of Shakspeare's Plays,' he seizes at once upon the ruling principle of each, with an ease, a carelessness, a quiet and “unstrained fidelity,' which proves how familiarly he had dwelt upon the secret he had mastered. He is, in these sketches, less eloquent and less refining than Schlegel, but it is because he has gazed away the first wonder that dazzles and inspires his rival. He has made himself household with Shakspeare, and his full and entire confidence that he understands the mysteries of the host in whose dwelling-place he has tarried, gives his elucidations, short and sketch-like as they are, the almost unconscious simplicity of a man explaining the true motives of the friend he has known. Thus, in the character of Hamlet' on which so many have been bewildered, and so many have been eloquent, he employs little or nothing of the lavish and exuberant
diction, or the elaborate spirit of conjecture that he can command at will. He utters his dogmas as unpretendingly as if they were common-places, and it is scarcely till he brings the character of “Hamlet,' as conceived by him, into sudden contrast with the delineation of the two master actors of his time, that you perceive how new and irresistible are his conclusions :
“ The character of Hamlet is itself a pure effusion of genius. It is not a character marked by strength of will or even passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment. Hamlet.is as little of the hero as a man can well be : but he is a young and princely novice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility—the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of his disposition by the strangeness of his situation. He seems incapable of deliberate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect, as in the scene where he kills Polonius, and again where he alters the letters which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taking with them to England, purporting his death. At other times, when he is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion
is lost, and always finds some pretence to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again. For this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at his prayers, and by a refinement in malice, which is in truth only an excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to some more fatal opportunity, when he shall be engaged in some act that has no relish of salvation in it.'
“He is the prince of philosophical speculators, and because he cannot have his revenge perfect, according to the most refined idea his wish can form, he misses it altogether. So he scruples to trust the suggestions of the Ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof of his uncle's guilt, and then rests satisfied with his confirmation of his suspicions, and the success of his experiment, instead of acting
Yet he is sensible of his own weakness, taxes himself with it, and tries to reason himself out of it. Still he does nothing; and this very speculation on his own infirmity only affords him another occasion for indulging it. It is not for any want of attachment to his father, or abhorrence of the murder, that Hamlet is thus dilatory, but it is more to his taste to indulge his imagination in reflecting upon the enormity of the crime, and refining on his
schemes of vengeance, than to put them into immediate practice. His ruling passion is to think, not to act: and any vague pretence that flatters this propensity instantly diverts him from his previous purposes."
More subtle and ingenious, though pleasant and half burlesque, are his comments upon the subordinate characters in the • Midsummer Night's Dream.' It is a happy refinement, that
Snug the joiner is the moral man of the piece, who proceeds by measurement and discretion in all things." What can be finer, yet more quietly painted, than the contrast between Ariel and Puck. And how startling, yet how true on reflection (and how much reflection did it demand to produce the truth!) the remarks
“ Romeo is Hamlet in love. There is the same rich exuberance of passion and sentiment in the one, that there is of thought and sentiment in the other. Both are absent and selfinvolved, both live out of themselves in a world of imagination. Hamlet is abstracted from every thing; Romeo is abstracted from every thing but his love, and lost in it. His frail thoughts dally with faint surmise,' and are fashioned out of the suggestions of hope, the flatteries of sleep.' He is himself only in his
Juliet; she is his only reality, his heart's true home and idol. The rest of the world is to him a passing dream.”
I confess that I am particularly pleased with a certain discriminating tone of coldness with which Hazlitt speaks of several of the characters in the Merchant of Venice;' to me it is a proof that his sympathy with genius does not blind the natural delicacy and fineness of his taste. For my own part, I have always, from a boy, felt the moral sentiment somewhat invaded and jarred upon by the heartless treachery with which Jessica deserts her father-her utter forgetfulness of his solitude, his infirmities, his wrongs, his passions, and his age ;--and scarcely less so by the unconscious and complacent baseness of Lorenzo, pocketing the filial purloinings of the fair Jewess, who can still tarry from the arms of her lover “ to gild herself with some more ducats.” These two characters would be more worthy of Dryden than of Shakspeare, if the great poet had not “ cloaked and jewelled their deformities” by so costly and profuse a poetry. Their language belies their souls.
Passing from his • Characters of Shakspeare' to his other various Essays, we shall find in Hazlitt the same one predominating faculty--the Critical; but adorned and set off with a far