One difficulty yet remains. We scarcely think that the managers will have the confidence, in future, to play Shakespeare as they have been accustomed to do; and yet, to present him, as now so happily “restored,” would, for some time at least, render him caviare to the general. We know that Livius Andronicus, when grown hoarse with repeated declamation, was allowed a second rate actor, who stood at his back and spoke while he gesticulated, or gesticulated while he spoke. A hint may be borrowed from this fact. We therefore propose that Mr. Andrew Becket be forthwith taken into the pay of the two theatres, and divided between them. He may then be instructed to follow the dramatis personae of our great poet’s plays on the stage, and after each of them has made his speech in the present corrupt reading, to pronounce aloud the words as “restored” by himself. This may have an awkward effect at first; but a season or two will reconcile the town to it; Shakespeare may then be presented in his genuine language, or, as our author better expresses it, be HIMSELF AGAIN.
ON MOXON’S SONNETS
[From The Quarterly Review, July, 1837]
Sonnets by EDWARD MOXON. Second Edition. London, 1837.
This is quite a dandy of a book. Some seventy pages of drawing-paper— fifty-five of which are impressed each with a single sonnet in all the luxury of type, while the rest are decked out with vignettes of nymphs in clouds and bowers, and Cupids in rose-bushes and cockle-shells. And all these coxcombries are the appendages of, as it seems to us, as little intellect as the rings and brooches of the Exquisite in a modern novel. We shall see presently, by what good fortune so moderate a poet has found so liberal a publisher.
We are no great admirers of the sonnet at its best—concurring in Dr. Johnson’s opinion that it does not suit the genius of our language, and that the great examples of Shakespeare and Milton have failed to domesticate it with us. It seems to be, even in master hands, that species of composition which is at once the most artificial and the least effective, which bears the appearance of the greatest labour and produces the least pleasure. Its peculiar and unvaried construction must inevitably inflict upon it something of pedantry and monotony, and although some powerful minds have used it as a form for condensing and elaborating a particular train of thought—an Iliad in a nutshell—yet the vast majority of sonneteers employ it as an economical expedient, by which one idea can be expanded into fourteen lines—fourteen lines into one page—and, as we see, fifty-four pages into a costly volume.
The complex construction, which at first sight seems a difficulty, is, in fact, like all mechanism, a great saving of labour to the operator. A sonnet almost makes itself, as a musical snuff-box plays a tune, or rather as a cotton Jenny spins twist. When a would-be poet has collected in his memory a few of what may have struck him as poetical ideas, he puts them into his machine, and after fourteen turns, out comes a sonnet, or—if it be his pleasure to spin out his reminiscences very fine—a dozen sonnets.