Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 3, No. 20, June, 1859

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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 3, No. 20,
June, 1859

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1859, by Various
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Title: Atlantic Monthly, Volume 3, No. 20, June, 1859
Author: Various
Release Date: March 28, 2004 [eBook #11751]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
MONTHLY, VOLUME 3, NO. 20, JUNE, 1859***
E-text prepared by Joshua Hutchinson, Tonya Allen, and Project
Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders

VOL. III.--JUNE, 1859.--NO. XX.

"Yet must I not give Nature all; thy Art, My gentle SHAKSPEARE,
must enjoy a part. For though the poet's matter Nature be, His Art doth
give the fashion."--Ben Jonson.
Whoever would learn to think naturally, clearly, logically, and to

express himself intelligibly and earnestly, let him give his days and
nights to WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. His ear will thus accustom itself
to forms of phrase whose only mannerism is occasioned by the fulness
of thought and the directness of expression; and he will not easily,
through the habits which either his understanding or his ear will acquire,
fall into the fluent cadences of that sort of writing in which words are
used without discrimination of their nice meanings,--where the
sentences are only a smoothly-undulating current of common phrases,
in which it takes a page to say weakly what should be said forcibly in a
few periods.
These are somewhat novel arguments for the study of one whom all the
world has so long reverenced as "the great poet of Nature." But they
may properly serve to introduce a consideration of the sense in which
that phrase should be understood,--an attempt, in short, to look into
Shakspeare's modes of creation, and define his relations, as an _artist_,
with Nature.
We shall perhaps be excused the suggestion, that a poet cannot be
natural in the same sense that a fool may be; he cannot be a
natural,--since, if he is, he is not a poet. For to be a poet implies the
ability to use ideas and forms of speech artistically, as well as to have
an eye in a fine frenzy rolling. This is a distinction which all who write
on poets or poetry should forever seek to keep clear by new
illustrations. The poet has poetic powers that are born with him; but he
must also have a power over language, skill in arrangement, a thousand,
yes, a myriad, of powers which he was born with only the ability to
acquire, and to use after their acquirement. In ranking Shakspeare the
great poet of Nature, it is meant that he had the purpose and the power
to think what was natural, and to select and follow it,--that, among his
thick-coming fancies, he could perceive what was too fine, what tinged
with personal vanity, what incongruous, unsuitable, feeble, strained, in
short, unnatural, and reject it. His vision was so strong that he saw his
characters and identified himself with them, yet preserving his cool
judgment above them, and subjecting all he felt through them to its test,
and developing it through this artificial process of writing. This vision
and high state of being he could assume and keep up and work out
through days and weeks, foreseeing the end from the beginning,
retaining himself, and determining long before how many acts his work

should be, what should be its plot, what the order of its scenes, what
personages he would introduce, and where the main passions of the
work should be developed. His fancy, which enabled him to see the
stage and all its characters,--almost to be them,--was so under the
control of his imagination, that it did not, through any interruptions
while he was at his labor, beguile him with caprices. The gradation or
action of his work, opens and grows under his creative hand; twenty or
more characters appear, (in some plays nearly forty, as in "Antony and
Cleopatra" and the "First Part of Henry the Sixth,") who are all
distinguished, who are all more or less necessary to the plot or the
underplots, and who preserve throughout an identity that is life itself;
all this is done, and the imagined state, the great power by which this
evolution of characters and scene and story be carried on, is always
under the control of the poet's will, and the direction of his taste or
critical judgment. He chooses to set his imagination upon a piece of
work, he selects his plot, conceives the action, the
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