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Shake their heads,
And whisper one another in the ear;
And he, that speaks, doth gripe the hearer's wrist;
It is curious how few passages in Shakspeare refer directly to the history of the times. I think the poets of the present day are storing up for coming generations far more of the events which are passing around; far more at any rate on one subject-the life and virtues of the Queen, in her relationships of wife, mother, widow and sovereign. In one passage, Cranmer prophesies the glorious career of Anne Boleyn's daughter as follows
Truth shall nurse her,
Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her:
She shall be lov'd and fear'd: Her own shall bless her:
Her foes shake like a field of beaten corn,
And hang their heads with sorrow: Good grows with her :
In her days, every man shall eat in safety
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
There is another passage in the Midsummer-Night's Dream, where the courtier poet pours forth those dulcet strains of adulation which were so dear to the woman's heart of the great Virgin Queen. He makes Oberon allude to her in the scene near the enchanted bowers of Fairyland, where he says of Cupid
• King John, Act iv, Scene 2.
+ Henry VIII, Act v, Scene 4.
A certain aim he took
At a fair vestal, throned by the west;
And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon;
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.*
It is not my intention to enter at any length into the long list of Shakspeare's nobles, or to show how they set forth the various phases of statecraft; yet a few of them I must mention. Falconbridge, raised almost from the ranks on account of his abilities in the council and the camp, fighting for his native land against foreign foes, and boasting
This England never did (nor never shall)
But when it first did help to wound itself.+
Bolingbroke, of noble almost royal birth, yet courting the common people's love
Wooing poor craftsmen, with the craft of smiles.
Hotspur, the great border chief, whose trade was war, murmuring even in his sleep of "iron wars, and terms of "manage to his bounding steed," untameable among his comrades, untameable in the presence of his king, untameable even by the winsome ways of woman. Talbot, the great captain of an English host, rejoicing in the prowess of his followers, "his substance, sinews, arms, and strength," and when environed by a hostile "waist of iron," turning grimly at bay, and like a bull-dog fighting till he died. John of Gaunt, "time-honour'd Lancaster," the aged statesman, who had spent a long life in state affairs at home
* Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act ii, Scene 2. It was written during Queen Elizabeth's life, 1594.
+ King John, Act v, Scene 7.
and abroad, and even when death looked him in the face, speaking words of wisdom and sage counsel for the good of his native land. He is, perhaps, the noblest of all the great band of nobles who have been immortalized by Shakspeare. One cannot held asking if these are not the likenesses of the mighty men who rallied round the good Queen Bess, and enabled her, by their bravery and hardihood and statesmanship, to preserve, during a time of sore trial, the independence and liberties of England.
But there is one picture, and it is evidently a life picture, of a very different kind: it exhibits a class of the nobility who became very numerous during the times of the Stuarts. The passage occurs where the headstrong Hotspur gives his reasons for refusing to deliver his captives to the king's envoy, whom he describes as follows:
To see him shine so brisk, and smell so sweet,
If there is one thing more than another in which the present age differs from that of Queen Elizabeth, it is in the modern love of mountain scenery-in the taste, the passion I may rather call it, which year by year sends no small portion. of the community away from their homes in search of the wild and picturesque. There is no reason to suppose that Shakspeare, bred in the fat champaign of the midland counties, ever saw a real mountain. He speaks of "the smug * 1 Henry IV, Act i, Scene 3.
"and silver Trent," and of " the gentle Severn's sedgy bank," but not a word of the ranges of hills and valleys which lie beyond. Even the cliffs at Dover affright him
There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows, and choughs, that wing the midway air,
Almost too small for sight.*
This is by no means in accordance with the Excelsior spirit of the present day-the poor cliff at Dover, Shakspeare's cliff,† is almost scorned by Messieurs les voyageurs pour Paris et la Suisse, who hurry past it day by day. I think if our great poet could have conceived such a thing as the Alpine Club, some of their feats would have afforded him subjects for raillery-the great pleasure, for instance, to be derived from passing over a dangerous col enveloped in a mist or driving storm, or of glissading down a snow slope almost to the edge of a precipice, the luxury of sleeping in châlets where the beds are formed of a mixture of damp hay and fleas, and the intellectual advantage of rushing from civilized life to enter into very close companionship with peasants who often can only speak an unintelligible patois. Yet I also think there is much of Alpine life which, if it had ever been Shakspeare's fortune to experience it, would have found a place in his verses. Not least would have been the manly nature of the adventures of mountain life, the hardihood, the self-reliance, the powers of self-control, which must be called
* Lear, Act iv, Scenes 1 and 6.
The railway has destroyed a considerable part of this cliff,
into play. Nor could he have been indifferent to the glories of the mountains, the silver peaks, the rugged cliffs, the emerald valleys, the sunrise on the boundless plain, the radiance of the evening glow. Nor would he have been unmindful of the wayside charms of the mountains, the chamois bounding over the snowy slopes or rocky precipices, the hunter's jodel, the songs of the cow-maidens, the bright flowers of the upland slopes and meadows. I think it would not have been left for a lady of the present day to sing the praises of the Alpine gentian
She 'mid ice mountains vast
Long had lain sleeping,
Through the blue sky.
Loving on high;
Till she grew heavenly,
Milton, who had enjoyed the advantages of foreign travel and of a liberal education, embellished his great poem with many descriptions of romantic scenery-but he also was ignorant of the genuine love of a mountain. He speaks of Paradise as bounded by that "steep savage hill," and in another place he calls it" that shaggy hill." Cotton, in the second part of the Complete Angler, expresses unmingled horror at having to pass over the little hills of Derbyshire. Whilst John Bunyan, whose mind was stored with all the imagery of the sacred poets of the hill country of Judea, often brings in mountains as something beautiful; yet, as he had never seen one, his descriptions make them very similar to the level plain-for instance, he speaks of the Delectable Mountains as "a plea
* Three Wakings, by Mrs. Charles.