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Macbeth, mentioning to his lady some voices he heard while he was murdering the king, says
There's one did laugh in's sleep, and one cried Murder!
Again to sleep.
Lady. There are two lodg'd together.
Macbeth. One cried, God bless us! and Amen the other; As they had seen me with these hangman's hands. Listening their fear, I could not say Amen,
When they did say, God bless us.
Lady. Consider it not so deeply.
Macbeth. But wherefore could not I pronounce Amen?
I had most need of blessing, and Amen
Stuck in my throat.
Lady. These deeds must not be thought
Macbeth. Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more!
Macbeth doth murder sleep! &c.
ACT II. Sc. 3.
Alphonso, in the Mourning Bride, shut up in the same prison where his father had been confined:
In a dark corner of my cell I found
This paper: what it is this light will show.
"If my Alphonso'
"If my Alphonso live, restore him Heav'n;
Give me more weight, crush my declining years
It is his hand: this was his pray'r-Yet more:
Not for myself, but him, hear me, all-gracious"-
-Heav'n should follow,
But 'tis torn off--Why should that word alone
But Heav'n was deaf, Heav'n heard him not; but thus,
So did it tear the ears of mercy from
His voice, shutting the gates of pray'r against him.
On high, and of good men the very best
Is singled out to bleed, and bear the scourge,
MOURNING BRIDE.-ACT III. Sc. 1.
This incident is a happy invention, and a mark of uncommon genius
Describing Prince Henry:
I saw young Harry, with his beaver on,
And witch the world with noble horsemanship.
FIRST PART HENRY VI.-ACT IV Sc. 2.
King Henry. Lord Cardinal, if thou think'st on Heaven's bliss,
Hold up thy hand, make signal of thy hope.—
He dies, and makes no sign!
SECOND PART HENRY VI.-ACT III. Sc. 10
The same author, speaking ludicrously of an army debilitated with diseases, says
Half of them dare not shake the snow from off their cassocks, lest they shake themselves to pieces.
I have seen the walls of Balclutha, but they were desolate. The flame had resounded in the halls; and the voice of the people is heard no more. The stream of Clutha was removed from its place by the fall of the walls. The thistle shook there its lonely head: the moss whistled to the wind. The fox looked out from the windows: and the rank grass of the wall wayed round his head. Desolate is the dwelling of Morna : silence is in the house of her fathers. FINGAL.
To draw a character is the master-stroke of description. In this Tacitus excels; his portraits are natural and lively, not a feature wanting nor misplaced. Shakspeare, however, exceeds Tacitus in liveliness; some characteristical circumstance being generally invented, or laid hold of, which paints more to the life than many words. The following instance will explain my meaning, and, at the same time, prove my observation to be just:
Why should a man, whose blood is warm within,
Sleep when he wakes, and creep into the jaundice,
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit;
MERCHANT OF VENICE.-ACT I. Sc. 2.
Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice; his reasons are like two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff; you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.
In the following passage, a character is completed by a single stroke:
Shallow. O the mad days that I have spent; and to see how many of mine old acquaintance are dead.
Silence. We shall all follow, Cousin.
Shallow. Certain, 'tis certain, very sure. Death (as the Psalmist saith) is certain to all: all shall die. How a good yoke of bullocks at Stamford fair?
Slender. Truly, Cousin, I was not there.
Shallow. Death is certain. Is old Double of your town living yet?
Silence. Dead, Sir.
Shallow. Dead! see, see; he drew a good bow: and dead. He shot a fine shoot. How a score of ewes now?
Silence. Thereafter as they be. A score of good ewes may be worth ten pounds.
Shallow. And is old Double dead?
SECOND PART HENRY IV.--Act III. Sc. 3.
Congreve has an inimitable stroke of this kind in his comedy of Love for Love:
Ben Legend. Well, father, and how do all at home? how does brother Dick, and brother Val?
Sir Sampson. Dick! body o' me, Dick has been dead these two years. I writ you word when you were at Leghorn.
Ben. Mess, that's true: marry, I had forgot. Dick's dead, as vou say. ACT III. Sc. 6.
Falstaff, speaking of ancient Pistol :
He's no swaggerer, hostess: a tame cheater, i' faith; you may stroke him as gently as a puppy-greyhound; he will not swagger with a Barbary hen, if her feathers turn back in any show of resistance. SECOND PART HENRY IV.-ACT II. Sc. 9.
Ossian, among his other excellencies, is eminently successful in drawing characters: and he never fails
to delight his reader with the beautiful attitudes of his heroes. Take the following instances:
O Oscar! bend the strong in arm; but spare the feeble hand. Be thou a stream of many tides against the foes of thy people; but like the gale that moves the grass to those who ask thine aid.
So Tremor lived; such Trathal was; and such has Fingal been. My arm was the support of the injured; and the weak rested behind the lightning of my steel.
We heard the voice of joy on the coast, and we thought that the mighty Cathmore came. Cathmore, the friend of strangers! the brother of red-haired Cairbar. But their souls were not the same; for the light of heaven was in the bosom of Cathmore. His towers rose on the banks of Atha; seven paths led to his halls: seven chiefs stood on these paths, and called the stranger to the feast. But Cathmore dwelt in the wood to avoid the voice of praise.
Dermid and Oscar were one: they reaped the battle together. Their friendship was strong as their steel: and death walked between them to the field. They rush on the foe like two rocks falling from the brow of Ardven. Their swords are stained with the blood of the valiant: warriors faint at their name. Who is equal to Oscar but Dermid? Who to Dermid but Oscar?
Son of Comhal, replied the chief, the strength of Morni's arm has failed. I attempt to draw the sword of my youth, but it remains in its place: I throw the spear, but it falls short of the mark: and I feel the weight of my shield. We decay like the grass of the mountain, and our strength returns no more. I have a son, O Fingal! his soul has delighted in the actions of Morni's youth; but his sword has not been fitted against the foe, neither has his fame begun. I come with him to battle, to direct his arm. renown will be a sun to my soul in the dark hour of my depar
O that the name of Morni were forgot among the people! that the heroes would only say, "Behold the father of Gaul."
Some writers, through heat of imagination, fall into contradiction; some are guilty of downright absurdities; and some even rave like madmen. Against such capital errors, one cannot be more effectually warned than by collecting instances.
When first young Maro, in his boundless mind,
ESSAY ON CRITICISM, l. 130.
The following are examples of absurdities:
He fled; but flying left his life behind. ILIAD, Xi. 433
ODYSSEY, Xxii. 365,
The last article is of raving, like one mad. Cleopatra, speaking to the aspic :
Welcome, thou kind deceiver,
DRYDEN.-ALL FOR LOVE, Act V.
Reasons that are common and known to every one, ought to be taken for granted; to express them is childish, and interrupts the narration.
Having discussed what observations occurred upon the thoughts, or things, expressed, I proceed to what more peculiarly concerns the language or verbal dress. The language proper for expressing passion, being handled in a former chapter, several observations there made are applicable to the present subject; particularly, that as words are intimately connected with the ideas they represent, the emotions raised by the sound. and by the sense, ought to be concordant. An elevated subject requires an elevated style; what is familiar, ought to be familiarly expressed; a subject that is serious and important, ought to be clothed in plain nerVous language; a description, on the other hand, addressed to the imagination, is susceptible of the highest ornaments that sounding words and figurative expression can bestow upon it.
I shall give a few examples of the foregoing rules. A poet of any genius is not apt to dress a high subject in low words; and yet blemishes of that kind are found even in classical works:
Not one looks backward, onward still he goes,
ESSAY ON MAN, Ep. iv. 223.
On the other hand, to raise the expression above the tone of the subject, is a fault than which nothing is more common. Take the following instances: