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And again, addressing the king on the same subject, he pompously asks,
Hath there been a time (I'd fain know that)
So much, then, for the internal evidence of mental imbecility, and an undignified, not to say, a buffoon-like deportment, exhibited by Polonius in his own person. And, were it necessary, I need not remark to the student of Shakspeare, that further evidence of a similar tendency might be easily adduced.
But the opiuion of Shakspeare himself relative to the character of the Chamberlain, must unquestionably be regarded as conclusive on the subject. Nor is that opinion by any means difficult to be known. The young prince Hamlet is by far the most enlightened, discerning, and profound of all the personages introduced to our notice in the course of the play. When his intellect, therefore, is neither perverted by the excess of his sensibility, nor darkened by the clouds of his passions, his sentiments
be regarded as the sentiments of Shakspeare. This is fact, not speculation; for, on almost every subject of importance, Hamlet is employed as the organ to communicate to the public the views of the poet. Witness the sentiments uttered by him in his interview with his mother, his directions to the players, his reflections at the grave of Yorick, with a thousand other instances that will immediately present themselves to the votaries of Shakspeare.
What, then, was the opinion of the ingenuous and accomplished young prince, relative to the character of the aged Polonius ? did he regard him as an enlightened sage, a profound scholar, a polished courtier, or an accomplished statesman? No: he did not. We need scarcely remark, that the very reverse of this is true. In every instance he depicts and treats him as an intrusive, weak, and troublesome dotardas an old man, whose meddling disposition, and undignified deportment, destroyed entirely that respect, in point of both sentiment and conduct, which we are commanded by duty, and prompted by inclination, to cherish and practise towards the hoary-headed siré. In proof of this assertion the following facts are deemed amply suficient.
Prince Hamlet, in one of his fits of pretended madness, is amusing himself with a book.
Polonius, advancing towards him, abruptly and perhaps impertinently, interrogates him as to the subject of the work he is so attentively perusing. To this offensive question the prince, in obvious derision of the chamberlain, sarcastically replies,
“ Slander, Sir. For the satirical rogue says here, that oid men have grey beards; that their faces are wrinkled; their eyes purging thick amber avd
plumb-tree gum; and that they liave a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams.”
Now, taking into view the whole texture and disposition of Hamlet's mind, it is clear, even to demonstration, that these sarcasms are not meant as a sneer at old age in general (for such an act would be un. worthy of the noble-minded prince;) but merely as a picture of the old man Polonius.
In another conversation with the Lord Chamberlain, Hamlet remarks to him,
“My Lord, you played once in the University, you say.
Hamlet. It was, indeed, a brute part of him to kill so
capital a calf.
young prince again manifests his contempt for the superannuated courtier, in the following manner: (Hamlet to Polonius.) “Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of
a camel ?
Lastly, in the memorable scene with his mother, Hamlet mistaking Polonius for the infamous usurper of his father's throne, rushes on him in his concealment, and despatches him with his sword. On discovering his mistake, though he evidently repents of the fatal deed, he, notwithstanding, thus apostrophizes the lifeless body of the chamberlain:
Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
Thou find'st that to be too busy is some danger. Sucli, then, are the intimations (and surely they are too clear and too forcible not to be understood) which, through the medium of Hamlet, Shakspeare himself has given us with regard to the character of Polonius, But if he painted and considered him as an i and trifling old man, not even the wand of Prospero himself could metamorphose him into a sage, a scholar, and a statesman.
But perhaps it may be asked, How is it possible that a character such as we have just described, should be capable of inculcating a
Take thy fortune :
system of advice so sound, wholesome, and practical, as that given by Polonius to his son Laertes, on his departure for France?
To this we answer, that a capability of dealing out readily and in great abundance, sentiments and maxims of that terse form and proverbial character, which mark the advice of Polonius to his son, is by no means a proof of a very exalted intellect; it is rather a sign of some experience and some observation, connected with a peculiar turn of mind.' No one, we believe will suspect Sancho Panza, squire and companion to the knight of La Mancha, to have been either a scholar, a man of talents, a sage or a statesman. Nor was he a person of polished manners and a dignified deportment. On the other hand, his general character is evidentlythat of a simpleton and a zany. Yet we will venture to assert, that many of his remarks and proverbial sayings are pregnant with as much sound sense and practical wisdom, as any that ever escaped from the lips of Polonius. Indeed, while governor in the island of Barataria, we are of opinion that some of his decisions far surpassed anything ever achieved by the Chamberlain of Claudius.
Our “ Author” in one part of his critique, very emphatically asks, “Can it for an instant be iinagined by any brain of firmer texture than that of a piddling commentator, or a skipping scaramouch of the stage, that the King of Denmark, who appears to be by no means deficient in talents, or in the discernment of character, should lavish such encomium and repose such confidence on Polonius fool, a dotard and á mountebank?”
To this we reply, that we can discover no ground whatever for regarding either the favours, the praises, or the confidence of king Claitdius, as the slightest evidence of talents, worth, or wisdom. On the other hand, we think we discover most potent reasons for suspecting the characters of those on whom the bounties of the usurper were bestowed. For, instead of drawing good and great men around him, his beastly dissipation and abominable vices were calculated to banish them entirely from his court, and fill up their places with wretches like himself. It can scarcely be believed, that the heaven-denounced fratricide, and the incestuous polluter of his brother's bed, would select for his companions and counsellors the worthies of the nation. Accordingly we find the court of Claudius composed entirely of such characters as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Ostrick, of the latter of whom Hamlet had so contemptible an opinion, that he declared it was
a vice to know him.” From the friendship and confidence of the usurper then, the Chamberlain derives no shadow of claim to regard, either for the soundness of his head or the virtues of his heart,
On carefully analysing the whole character of Polonius, we evidently discover in it more buffoonery than wit, more cunning than wisdom, and more of thc obsequious and time-serving courtier, than of
Had he been
the enlightened, dignified, and independent statesman. really the man our
« Author» declares him to have been, he would never have forsaken the fortunes of the noble Hamlet, and attached himself to those of an incestuous fratricide.
But however humbly we think of the character of this superannuated courtier, we notwithstanding fully concur with its learned and generous champion, in reprobating the manner in which it is usually represented on the stage. Consigned to one of the petty underlings of the drama, it never fails to be rendered much more contemptible and disgusting than comports with the views of its immortal author. to play the unqualified buffoon in every situation, to“ out-Herod Herod,” and to extort the empty applause of the “million” by doing violence to nature and nature's laws, constitutes not only the sole capacity, but even the study and delight, of these spurious pretenders to the sock
and the buskin.
AN AUTHOR'S EVENINGS FOR THE PORT FOLIO
In a late number of the Monthly Magazine, a poem, in eccentric metre, like that of Clement Marot, La Fontaine, and Dr. Walcott, is published under the title of a “Nosegay, a simile for the Reviewers," and is ascribed to “ the late Rev. Lawrence Sterne.” This is a gross blunder. The satire in question was written by John Hall Stevenson, Esq. and is published under the head, I think, of Fables for grown Gentlemen, in a collection of his works, three volumes crown duodecimo. It is not altogether impertinent to add, that this writer's poems, though sometimes polluted with trash and ribaldry, display invention, wit, and humour, and unquestionably gave rise to the mode of versification, adopted by Peter Pindar, which has been strangely supposed to be entirely original!
vourite with the ladies, when not Juvenal himself has expressed him
We think it perfectly amazing that Mr. Pope should be such a faself with more virulence at their expense, than the bard of Twickenham. Not to mention that famous line, in which he denies all charac
ter to the sex; not to mention the infamous passages, where he calumniates the accomplished Montague, there is a remarkable proof of his acerbity, as well as total want of candour, in one of those poems,
which he chooses to call Moral Epistles. He is elaborately and exquisitely describing the versatile powers and lust of applause, so conspicuous in the character of a modern Alcibiades. The poet takes this occasion, and by no means in the spirit of a knight errant, to introduce certain charmers into very strange society. .
Wharton! the scorn and wonder of our days,
It is perfectly amazing that many names should be inscribed on the rolls of literature in France, instead of being set down as mere unit: in some ephemeral Mercury of the mode, or some almanac for the use of old women. We will always abstain from every thing like censure, touching the Augustan age of Louis XIV, but in the succeeding reigns, a number of superficial, not to say illiterate men, were strangely crowned with laurel, instead of being branded for ignorance. Many a philopher has not understood even the elements of science, and the doors of academies have been expanded to receive mere mountebanks, who should have harangued to no other auditors, than the gaping crowd at a fair.
Marmontel, describing the character of the count de Caylus, says very happily, what may amply illustrate the position. He gave himself importance for the most futile merit and the most trivial of talents. He attached the highest value to his minute researches and his antique gewgaws. He concealed a very adroit and refined vanity and a most imperious pride, under the rough and simple form in which he had the art of enveloping it. Supple and pliant among the courtiers and placemen, on whom the artists depended, he obtained a credit with the former whose influence was dreaded by the latter. He insinuated himself into the company
of men of erudition, and persuaded them to compose memoirs on the gimcracks, which he had bought of some broker. He made a splendid collection of this trumpery, which he called antique. He proposed prizes on Isis and Osiris, in order to have the air of being himself initiated in their mysteries; and, with this charlatanism of learning, he crept into the academies, qvithout knowing rither Latin or Greek. Ile had so often said, he had so often published, by those