AMERICAN AND GERMAN VIEWS OF SHAKESPEARE.* Da. ELZE'S work on
Shakespeare is thoroughly sound and pleasantly readable, and it has found a translator who has done it full justice. Mr. Morgan's essays on Shakespeare are full of originality and good sense, though there are words and sentences in them which fastidious English readers will shudder at. But both of these books may be earnestly and acquaintance of painstaking Dr. Elze and of lively Mr. Morgan. We shall begin, of course, with the newest but already thread- bare theory, that Bacon was the author of Shakespeare's works, —a theory which Dr. Elze gravely and sternly says "does not deserve any full discussion, or even serious refutation." He speaks with authority, from his long connection with the German Shakespeare Society, and his verdict is corroborated by Mr. Morgan, who speaks also with authority as President of the New York Shakespeare Society. But the American critic, while emphatically expressing his thorough disbelief in every word of his esteemed friend Mr. Donnelly's cipher theory, thinks that it is to the full as legitimate an offering to the solution of the Mystery of Shakespeare as are the .“ microscopical amenities " of our New Shakspere Society. He has no higher opinion of Mr. F. J. Farnivall than Mr. Bumble had of the Law ; and if Dr. Else speaks of that gentleman's verse-tests in more measured terms than Mr.
Morgan does, he none the less makes it clear that he deems them to be valueless. A more difficult question, handled with great vivacity by Mr. Morgan, regards the means whereby Shakespeare acquired learning sufficient to write so early in life such poems as Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. Yet here, perhaps, Mr. Morgan inquires too curiously, and the sarcasm which may lurk in his conclusion, that if we lose the name of Shakespeare we have his book, is not quite so clear as it might be. It may occur, though, to those who refuse to trouble themselves about such a question, that when Shelley was asked how Keats, with his plentiful lack of scholarly equipment, could write such a poem as Endyntion, the old Etonian answered confidently enough,—" Because he was a Greek." So must it have been with Shakespeare ; and there are many pages of excellent badinage in Mr. Morgan's book, in which the inferences that have been drawn from Shake- speare's technical knowledge of most arts and sciences are justly ridiculed. He finds fault, for instance, very amusingly with Portia's law, and has not hesitated to sacrifice brevity to accuracy while doing so. But it is this accuracy which lends so much force to the argument which follows, and takes all the sting out of the objection which a fastidious person might make to that argument as being too rollicking. With this premised, we quote a portion of it :- " But would it not have been as impossible for the pen that reconstructed Hamlet's soliloquy so that even death itself should move in metaphor not repugnant to equity, and wrote into the text a clearer exposition of the Danish entail, to have put into the mouth of the learned Bellario's deputy such burlesques as Portia delivered in the name of law, as for a mathematician to have declared the angles of his triangle equal to three right angles, or for an astronomer to move his comets in concentric circles ? A Shakespeare who had once been apprenticed to an attorney could not have put rulings—which might have been, if I apprehend rightly, so emphatically reversed—into Portia's mouth. Certainly Lord Bacon, who fought the fight for Chancery against Sir James Coke (who preferred going to prison rather than admit that equity could stay proceedings at common law) could not have done it, unless indeed he, Bacon, had thought to burlesque common law I have pointed out this utter perversion of legal rights at Portia's hands not for the sake of interfering with the eulogies of that young lady as a sort of fountain and virgin (1.) William Shakespeare: a Literary Biography. By Karl Else. Translated by L. Dora Schmitz. London: George Bell and Sons. 1888.—(2) Shakespeare in Fact and in Criticism. By Appleton Morgan. New York : W. E. Benjamin. 1
mother of justice, but to suggest that perhaps, after all, the solu- tion is simple enough. Perhaps we will come nearer to the truth if we take William Shakespeare to have been a dramatist—a prac- tical stage-wright—rather than a philosopher or a Chancery lawyer ; one who sought for dramatic, rather than for didactic, or moral, or psychological effects."
Mr. Morgan continues his argument in a still more vivacious strain, and winds it up spiritedly by contending that Portia's law is bad, because bad law is more dramatic than good law. Had her decision been sound in equity, he contends, Antonio and Bassanio would have been worsted, and Shylock have departed with his pound of flesh, while the audience remained behind to tear down the theatre and break the actors' heads. Throughout his book he will be thought by high-flying admirers of " the monarch of all literature " to pitch his eulogies in too low a key. But Mr. Morgan is as keenly im- pressed with Shakespeare's immeasurable superiority over all other poets as all sound judges of poetry are. And if the honest " yeas " and hearty "noes " of his criticisms need some counterweight, this will be found in Dr. Elze's graver volume. A single quotation will suffice to show this, and we would merely premise that Mr. Morgan sins against his own excel. lent canons when he pronounces Shakespeare's life to have been one of perfect joviality :— " Assuredly," says Dr. Elze, " Shakespeare was no more entirely faultless in his life and work than any other human being, more especially in the storm and stress period of his youth ; un- questionably the passions which he has described in such an unapproachable and masterly way must have rankled in his own breast : yet he has never endeavoured to appear better than he was, and everything points to the fact that he succeeded in freeing himself from the fetters of his passions, and by an ennobling system of purification rose above the temptations of sensuality. We can therefore cordially and fully agree with Gervinus when he praises Shakespeare as one of the most admirable and trust- worthy guides through life : assuredly he who follows Shake- speare with a correct appreciation will neither stumble nor go astray."