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mind, than often falls to the lot of a single individual. His sketch of Arabian literature is, however, particularly valuable, and opens to the view a rich and dazzling mine of unexplored genius. That Arabian learning should be extensively cultivated is, perhaps, as little to be desired as expected—though we promise ourselves a favourable reception to an attempt to convey to the English reader, an accurate idea of the spirit of the extraordinary writers who flourished in Spain and other countries, at a time when the rest of Europe was immersed in darkness-criticisms upon whom, accompanied by a selection of translated extracts, will occasionally form a part of our future labours.
The Moorish authors in Spain were succeeded by no unworthy descendants. Spanish literature is far from being familiar, to the generality even of the scholars of this country-Cervantes is highly and duly appreciated—a few poets also have met their deserved reputation, but the animated, clear, and spirited Spanish writers in prose, are comparatively unknown. The beautiful ballads in which the Spaniards perhaps excel even the Scotch and English, as well as the higher departments of poetry, with the prose works of fiction, are likely to afford a number of new and interesting articles to our Critical Miscellany. The literature of Germany, Italy, and France, is in a general way well known to the majority of those who devote their attention to literature; though we have the presumption to hope we shall lead some to a more particular acquaintance with many delightful companions, whom it is intended to introduce to their notice. Some whose names have been bruited abroad, but whose qualities have been mistaken or misunderstood—some who, though not pleasing in the whole, and undesirable as inmates and partners of the society of our most retired and sacred hours, yet have their bright passages and inspired moments, the spirit of which may be caught and transferred ;-others again whose merits no kind hand has yet unveiled and presented to the public view, but who,
like some sequestered star
And adds a jewel to the crown of night.--MONTGOMERY. The literature, however, of our own country, the most rich, varied, and comprehensive of any in the world, and replete with more interest to the English reader than any other, will have peculiar claims on our attention-and to it will the pages of the "Retrospective” be zealously devoted ;-not, however to that portion of it whose sole recommendation is its antiquity, although we shall avail ourselves of such bibliographical information as will in any manner illustrate the history of art, or the grand, though slow and silent, march of mind. * * *
The Tragedies of the last Age, considered and examined by the Practice of the
Ancients, and by the Common Sense of all Ages, in a Letter to Fleetwood Shepheard, Esq. by MR. RYMER, Servant to their Majesties. Part 1 London, 1692. "Second Edition. A short View of Tragedy; its original Ercellency, and Corruption, with some
Reflections on Shakespear, and other Practitioners for the Stage. By Mr. RYMER, Servant to their Majesties. London, 1693.
These are very curious and edifying works. The author (who was the compiler of the Fædera) appears to have been a man of considerable acuteness, maddened by a furious zeal for the honour of tragedy. He lays down the most fantastical rules for the composition which he chiefly reveres, and argues on them as “truths of holy writ.'
He criticises Shakspeare as one invested with authority to sit in judgment on his powers, and passes on him as decisive a sentence of condemnation, as ever was awarded against a friendless poet by a Reviewer. We will select a few passages from his work, which may be consolatory to modern authors, and useful to modern critics.
The chief weight of Mr. Rymer's critical vengeance is wreaked on Othello. After a slight sketch of the plot, he proceeds at once to speak of the moral, which he seems to regard as of the first importance in tragedy.“Whatever rubs or difficulty may stick on
the bark, the moral use of this fable is very instructive. First, this 'may be a caution to all maidens of quality, how, without their 'parents' consent, they run away with blackamoors. Secondly, this may be a warning to all good wives, that they look well to
their linen. Thirdly, this may be a lesson to husbands, that be'fore their jealousy be tragical, the proofs may be mathematical.'
Our author then proceeds happily to satirize Othello's colour. He observes, that 'Shakespear was accountable both to the eyes and to the ears.' On this point we think his objection is not without reason. We agree with an excellent modern critic in the opinion, that though a reader may sink Othello's colour in his mind, a spectator can scarcely avoid losing the mind in the colour. But Mr. Rymer proceeds thus to characterize Othello's noble account to the Senate of his whole course of love.-- This was the charm, this was the philtre, the love-powder that took the daughter of this noble Venetian. This was sufficient to make the blackamoor white, and reconcile all, though there had been a
cloven foot into the bargain. A meaner woman might as soon be taken by Aqua Tetrachymagogon.'
The idea of Othello's elevation to the rank of a general, stings
Mr. Rymer, almost to madness. He regards the poet's offence as a kind of misprision of treason. The character of the state (of
Venice) is to employ strangers in their wars; but shall a poet thence fancy that they will set a Negro to be their general; or
trust a Moor to defend them against the Turk?. With us, a Blackamoor might rise to be a trumpeter, but Shakespear would not have him less than a lieutenant-general.---With us, a Moor might marry some little drab or small-coal wench; Shakespear would provide him the daughter and heir of some great lord, or privy counsellor; and all the town should reckon it a very suitable 'match : yet the English are not bred up with that hatred and "aversion to the Moors as the Venetians, who suffer by a perpetual 'hostility from them,
“ Littera littoribus contraria,” Our author is as severe on Othello's character, as on his exaltation and colour.-Othello is made a Venetian general. We see *nothing done by him, nor related concerning him, that comports
with the condition of a general, or, indeed, of a man, unless the kill‘ing himself to avoid a death the law was about to inflict upon
him. "When his jealousy had wrought him up to a resolution of his "taking revenge for the supposed injury, he sets Iago to the fight‘ing part to kill Cassio, and chooses himself to murder the silly wo'man his wife, that was like to make no resistance.'
Mr. Rymer next undertakes to resent the affront put on the army by the making Iago a soldier. But what is most intolera'ble is lago. He is no Blackamoor soldier, so we may be sure he "shonld be like other soldiers of our acquaintance; yet never in 'tragedy, nor in comedy, nor in nature, was a soldier with his 'character ;-take it in the author's own words:
some eternal villain, Some busie and insinuating rogue,
Some cogging, couzening slave, to get some office. 'Horace describes a soldier otherwise,-- Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer.
Shakspeare knew his character of Iago was inconsistent. In this very play he pronounces,
“If thou deliver more or less than truth,
Thou art no soldier.* This he knew, but to entertain the audience with something 'new and surprising against common sense and nature, he would pass upon us a close, dissembling, false, insinuating rascal, instead
of an open-hearted, frank, plain-dealing soldier, a character con- stantly worn by them for some thousands of years in the world.'
Against "the gentle lady married to the Moor," Mr. Rymer cherishes a most exemplary hatred. He seems to labour for terms strong enough so express the antipathy and scorn he bears her. VOL. I.
The following are some of the daintiest :
—There is nothing is the noble Desdemona, that is not below any country kitchen
maid with us.'— No woman bred out of a pig-stye could talk so meanly. Yet is Mr. Rymer no less enraged at her death than at her life.
Here (he exclaims in an agony of passion) a noble Venetian • lady is to be murdered by our poet, in sober sadness, purely for ' being a fool. No Pagan poet but would have found some machine for her deliverance. Pegasus would have strained hard 10 have brought old Perseus on his back, time enough to rescue this Andromeda from so foul a monster. Has our Christian poetry no 'generosity, no bowels ! Ha, ha, Sir Launcelot! Ha, Sir George! Will no ghost leave the shades for us in extremity, to save a distressed damsel ?'
On the expression, that is, we presume, the poetry of the work, Mr. Rymer does not think it necessary to dwell; though he admits that the verses rumbling in our ears, are of good use to help off the action.' On those of Shakspeare he
this summary judgment :- In the veighing of a horse, or in the growl“ing of a mastiff, there is a meaning, there is as lively expression, ' and may I say more humanity, than many times in the tragical
flights of Shakespear. Having settled this trivial point, he invites the reader to step among the scenes, to observe the conduct in this tragedy.'
In examining the first scene of Othello, our critic weightily reprehends the sudden and startling manner in which Iago and Roderigo inform Brabantio of his daughter's elopement with the Moor. He regards their abruptness as an unpardonable violation of decorum, and by way of contrast to its rudeness, informs us, that 'In former days there wont to be kept at the courts of princes somebody in a fool's coat, that in pure simplicity might let slip something, which made way for the ill news, and blunted the shock, which otherwise might have come too violent on the party.
Mr. Rymer shows the council of Venice no quarter. He thus daringly scrutinizes their proceedings. By their conduct and
manner of talk, a body must strain hard io fancy the scene at · Venice, and not rather at some of our Cinque ports
, where the baily and his fishermen are knocking their heads together on account of some whale; or some terrible broil on the coast. But * to show them true Venetians, the maritime affairs stick not on their · hand : the public may sink or swim. They will sit up all night * to hear a Doctors' Commons matrimonial cause ; and have the * merits of the cause laid open to 'em, that they may decide it be'fore they stir. What can be pleaded to keep awake their atten- tion so wonderfully.'
Here the critic enters into a fitting abuse of Othello's defence to
the senate; expresses his disgust at the 'eloquence which kept them up all night,' and his amaze at their apathy, notwithstanding the strangeness of the marriage. He complains that “Instead
of starting at the prodigy, every one is familiar with Desdemona, be
'as if he were her own natural father; they rejoice in her good *fortune, and wish their own daughters as hopefully married.
Should the poet (he continues) have provided such a husband for “au only daughter of any peer'in England, the Blackamoor must ‘have changed his skin, to look our house of lords in the face.'
Our critic next complains, that, in the second act, the poet shows the action, (he knows not how many leagues off,') in the Island of Cyprus, without our Bayes,' (as he pleasantly denominates Shakspeare) having made any provision of transport ships for the audience. The first scene in Cyprus, is then cut up' in a way, which might make the most skilful of modern reviewers turn pale with envy. After noticing the preliminary dialogue, Mr.
Rymer observes, now follows a long rabble of Jack Pudden farce e "between Iago and Desdemona, that runs on with all the little
plays, jingle and trash, below the patience of any country kitch-
Mr. Rymer contends that Desdemona's solicitations for Cassio,
ence with a nauseous repetition.' This remark introduces the following criticism on the celebrated scene in the third act, between Othello and lago, which is curious, not only as an instance of perverted reasoning, but as it shows, that in the performance, some great histrionic power must have been formerly exerted, not unlike the sublime energy of which we, in witnessing this tragedy, have been
spectators. Whence comes it then, that this is the top scene; the scene that raises Othello above all other tragedies at our the'atres ? It is purely from the action ; from the mops and the mows, the grimace, the grins, and gesticulation. Such scenes as this have made all the world run after Harlequin and Scaramoucio. The several degrees of action, were amongst the ancients distinguished by the cothurnas, the soccus, and the planipes. Had * this scene been represented at Old Rome, Othello and Iago must have quitted their buskins; they must have played barefoot: for the spectators would not have been content without seeing their