Page images

Think of Ariel, the very genius of the isle, with the cowslip's bell for a home, its honey for food, and the bee and the bat for his fellows in work or play. Let us think of all this, and then see if this island, lying in the blue Mediterranean, somewhere between Naples and Tunis, under that deep Italian sky, must not have been (as the Neapolitan says of his own lovely shore) a piece of heaven fallen upon earth,' a true Atlantis of Poesy!

[ocr errors]

These elves and spirits, with Ariel at their head, represent the natural, or elemental, powers and charms of the island. They are no arbitrary inventions of Shakespeare, nay, no arbitrary inventions of the popular mind which provided him with their traditional forms and names. They are realities, which in different countries and different ages are embodied in different shapes, and which we in England, in this nineteenth century, do not call, or believe in, by the old names of elves and fairies, but which are as true to us as they were to our forefathers, for all that. 'Tread gently, there's a spirit in the wood,' says Coleridge, describing an ordinary Somersetshire wood of the present day. And again, in more philosophical phraseology, but with the same meaning, in the poem in which he describes the conditions under which the enjoyment of nature is possible, he says

'Joy, Lady! is the spirit and the power,

Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower,
A new Earth and new Heaven,

Undreamt of by the sensual and the proud.'

The poet sees into the life of things; calls forth that life; and gives it body and form, though to the prosaic sense it seems airy nothing. Prospero or Shakespeare, which we will, comes to this island, and discovers, unveils and reveals, to common men, its mysteries: but he reveals beauties, does not make them; he employs powers, does not invent them. Here, as always in Shakespeare's creations of spirits, fairies, elves, or ghosts, the whole order of the world, natural and human, goes on in its proper, ordinary, course. The whole agency is the ordinary and orderly agency by which the man of genius, be he poet, or moral teacher, or ruler and guide, does actually delight, or direct, his fellow-men, now, in this very world around us. Nothing in the Play is foreign to or different from actual experience, or preternatural, except the form and without such a form we could not have a work of Art-a poem, written in a book, or acted on a stage. He who has never heard Ariel's voice and music, sad or gay, in his country walks, but


who, looking on the cowslip's bell and the sucking bee, has found them to be a cowslip and a bee to him, and nothing more: he who sitting, in the season of youth and romance and love, with one who to him is his

'admired Miranda,

Indeed the top of admiration, worth
What's dearest to the world:'

he who has seen with her no masque of Iris, Ceres, and Juno, nor rejoiced to hear with her the song of the Goddesseshe who knows none of these things may well fear that he must be classed with the Sebastians and Antonios, if not with the Trinculos and Stephanos.

Let us turn to Ferdinand's speech and Ariel's songs, when the former first comes on the stage. Here, following our method of interpretation, we should say that Ferdinand,

'sitting on a bank,

Weeping again the king his father's wreck,'

falls into a reverie which is so heightened by the soft, sunny scene and climate around him, that while he gazes idly and pensively on the waters, and the yellow sands, and the green fields, he feels as though all nature were instinct with life: he watches the ebbing and flowing tide till those countless ripples seem to be the footsteps of fairies who dance, and kiss into gentleness the waves of late so wild: he looks on the landscape till he hears, or seems to hear, the barking of dogs and crowing of cocks, telling him that the homes of men are not far distant, and that after all he may not be so utterly, hopelessly, alone and cast away as he had seemed just now and then, when these brighter fancies are driven back by the sudden recurrence of the sad thought that his father is drowned, even this grief becomes imaginative under the influence of the place. His father has not perished, but suffered a rich and strange transformation below the waters, while sea-nymphs ring his knell in each rolling wave, to which he listens till it seems to him again that 'this is no mortal business.'

In this Atlantis, this realm of poesy, Prospero is lord and master: but we must notice that it is not an arbitrary, but, so to speak, a scientific mastery over all the powers of nature, which he wields for moral as well as for material ends. An accident, as he himself says, has brought his enemies to the island; and he does but avail himself of this accident, and all its circumstances, just as any other wise and good man would do, and with a success proportioned to his wisdom and goodness. How naturally do the loves of Ferdinand and Miranda grow up


[ocr errors]

under the circumstances in which they are placed-under his sense of loss and desolation, and yet of youthful romance, and hope, and pride in the inheritance coming to him by his father's death and under hers of pity for the noble creatures' whom she supposed had perished in the wreck; of delight when she sees one of them safe, contrasts his manly beauty and manly worth, presenting themselves to her in the forms of chivalrous devotion, with the hideous shape and more hideous disposition of the 'villain she does not love to look on ;' and of the newly-imparted knowledge, and newly-born consciousness, that she is herself a princess, and a prince's heir, and no unworthy object of her lover's vows.

Not less naturally is Alonso's remorse awakened by his shipwreck, and the loss at once (as he supposes) of his son, his fleet, his kingdom, and his daughter, while he is left to perish on a desert island. And when he gives utterance to that remorse, we feel that it is but by a figure of poetic speech-a part of the dramatic representation of what has yet its counterpart in the commonest, though sternest, realities of our actual human life—that Prospero attributes this cry of an awakened conscience to his high charms,' or that Shakespeare gives the stage-directions of Solemn and strange music-thunder and lightning-enter Ariel like a harpy,' and puts into Ariel's mouth words which are in truth the echoes, not the inspirers, of the thoughts of those three men of sin.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

And, lastly, let us notice the contrast between the man and the spirit who is but air,' and so cannot pretend to more than a transient and, as it were, reflected, touch of human tenderness and pity. This contrast, not only here, but throughout the Play, may remind us of Fouqué's beautiful conception of Undine, the elemental spirit into whom a human soul is infused through marriage. Fouqué must have been possessed by the same idea as Shakespeare as to these elemental spirits: and each does but embody in his own poetic form an idea which is to be found at the bottom of the Greek tales of nymphs and satyrs, and hamadryads, and of the medieval traditions of elves and fairies and watersprites. Looking at them from this point of view, we see that Fouqué and Shakespeare throw each much light on the other's mode of treating the subject, and so on the subject itself. But for our present purpose the contrast is even more important than the resemblance; for it shows us the higher genius, the more thorough mastery of the laws of nature and life, in Shakespeare's creation. Fouqué would have made Ariel a female spirit becoming Miranda by the power of love, and marriage to Ferdinand: but how much finer, because truer, is Shakspeare's


Miranda, a real and complete woman, from first to last! Fouque's conception is indeed very charming, but wants the reality of Shakespeare's, without surpassing it in poetic ideality. Yes, they do not least appreciate and enjoy the presence of Ariel, who are most content that he should vanish at last into thin air, leaving us with common mortals in the common light of day, and among the common thoughts-common, yet solemn even to sadness—with which the Play concludes. Prospero, as we have said, represents the poet in the exercise of his art, infusing a new life of poetry and romance into all nature: yet who feels more deeply, who declares more plainly, than Prospero, that the time must come to every one, when not only does each glorious vision fade into the light of common day, but that light itself sinks into dusk and darkness. The romantic and the poetic cannot sustain the actual, but, having first themselves died out, leave this to perish too :

'Our revels now are ended: these our actors
(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this unsubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: we are such stuff
As dreams are made of; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.'


ART. V.-1. Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens. By Jane E. Harrison and Margaret de G. Verrall. London, 1890.

2. Die Akropolis von Athen. Von Adolf Bötticher. 1888.



T is only by slow degrees that the modern world has learned how much is left of ancient Athens. To the great scholars of the Renaissance, Athens was a name in history but not in geography, a vanished city like Babylon and Jerusalem. From the days when Ciriaco of Ancona, in 1447, first brought it to the knowledge of the learned world that, though the jewels were gone, valuable fragments of the casket still remained, down to the present year, archæological research has done more and more to recover the lost treasures, until it may fairly be said that as Athens is almost the most interesting of ancient cities, so the remains which it has left us are more extensive and suggestive than those of any other place, with the possible exception of Rome. And this is only natural. Jerusalem has

left an invisible record in the spiritual life of mankind; but the genius of the Athenians was pre-eminently plastic. What they thought and felt they worked out in their exquisite native marble, and the rocky soil and dry air of Attica have preserved at least some remains of their admirable creations through the political vicissitudes of twenty-five centuries.

The modern Athenians are possessed by a curious passion, intelligible but quite unhistorical. They are determined to obliterate so far as they can the whole tract of history which lies between the Roman Conquest and King George. Every year brings the spoken language of educated circles in Athens nearer to the language of Demosthenes. The children receive high-sounding names like Miltiades and Sophocles, and read in the elementary schools the great masterpieces of Hellenic literature. Cities and districts lose their mediæval and go back to their classical names. The Panathenaic festival has been brought to life, and Christian churches are demolished in order that the remains of pagan temples may be disinterred from their walls and foundations. Whether the modern Hellenes are quite wise in taking up a past to the burden of which they are scarcely equal, and forgetting a more recent past with its many useful lessons, may be doubted. In any case, it is in this spirit that they have dealt with the Athenian Acropolis. That they should clear away the mosque which occupied the interior of the Parthenon when it fell into their hands after Navarino, as well as the Turkish battery, and later the ugly tower which commanded

« PreviousContinue »