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Plays not to imbibe an irrepressible curiosity to know something personally of a writer so immeasurably superior and different from all others. That this is the case is proved by the innumerable books published endeavouring to dissipate the darkness that shrouds his biography by the piecing together the few fragmentary scraps that relate to him. This natural, if not laudable curiosity, extends to those connected with him, and in the utter hopelessness of getting any full particulars of the great one himself, we extend our researches to his great contemporaries and his as great representors. Here then is a volume the fruit of a life of diligent research guided by scrupulous truth and controlled by the most cautious investigation. We know, bulky as the book is (upwards of 300 pages), that every fact has been sifted, and the whole mass winnowed by the faithful author. Mr. Collier stands above suspicion, and may be cited in this particular as the contrast of Stevens, who also spent a life and a fortune on the same researches, but who rendered nugatory all his labour by an utter disregard for truth.
The volume contains the lives of twenty-five performers, all the principal actors but one in the plays of Shakespeare. Commencing with the “renowned Burbadge,” and ending with John Rice, who seems so far like his modern namesake to have “jumped Jim Crow," that he went from stage-playing to preaching; no such extraordinary change in those days, however, when the stage had not very long emerged from the church.
We have said all the principal actors but one in the plays of Shakespeare are included in this volume ; that one omitted is the great one himself. His life has been already as elaborately given by Mr. Collier as the known details will admit; and he justly belongs to another volume of still higher natures,—the dramatists. The interest of the volume consists in the collection of numerous facts which incidentally shadow forth the modes of life of our “buried ancestors,” and we read it with that solemn but not gloomy interest, wherewith, on a bright summer day, we peruse the inscriptions in an ancient churchyard. We are reminded of our mortality at every turn; we read of christenings and burials, intermingled with marriages and solemnities; but we are in such goodly company, and so plainly perceive that death, at all events, is not invidious, but that in departing with him we only fulfil the inevitable law, that we are sobered but not saddened ; interested and not depressed. In this particular, too, the biographies assimilate with the subjects; their lives were spent in uttering dramas, where all these mingled elements of our existence were the constant theme.
The Life of Richard Burbadge is intensely interesting: Of all men he must have known most of Shakespeare. The words of Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Richard, Romeo, were first given to the world, never afterwards to be forgoften, by him. He must have known the whole process of their creation. He must have heard from the lips of Shakespeare himself his own commentary upon them. All that scholars of all realms have since so eagerly sought to learn must have been familiar to
him. Every vibration of feeling, every reach of the author's thought
Thy stature small, but every thought and mood
From ancient Lear to youthful Pericles.
To charm tlie faculty of cars and eyes, there is testimony more trustworthy than that of modern newspapers.
He survived his friend and coadjutor only three years, dying also at an age too premature.
We have left ourselves no space to remark on the remaining twentyfour biographies, but cordially commend the volume to the perusal of all lovers of literature. It is a book that ought greatly to add to the numbers of the Shakespeare Society.
THE SHIP OF GLASS : or, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. A Romance in 3 vols.
By HARGRAVE JENNINGS. Post 8vo. London : T. C. Newby. We have felt, like this author, oppressed with the everlasting facts of this working-day world, as doubtless have hundreds of readers in our overwrought age, when as much work is done and expected of a man in a day as in a month of the old leisurely barbaric time; and have also been ready to plunge into any stream of ideas, however unreasoning or unreasonable, that the dilated spirit might bathe” in the fiery floods of some glorious imagination. Seeking away from every-day life, to stray deep in the forest glens and necromantic regions of the Fairy Queen
Or call up him that left half-told
It was therefore with a prejudice greatly in favour of the work that we sat down to it. “ The Ship of Glass” was a poetic title, and seemed to bespeak that power of mingling the fancy with facts which made the writings of the early romancers such enchanting reading. But we regret to say we have been disappointed : for so far from there being a wild and wondrous vein of thought in the tale, we find ourselves chained to fact in a most painful manner. For instance, in the midst of a narration of a violent brawl in a Spanish posado, we have a parenthesis of the following kind—“Viva ! Viva! Here are the bulls !” (“a proverbial Spanish exclamation of delight.") Now, a writer who is so extremely minute in his facts, is not very capable of sustaining the illusion of high
The author has evidently made himself acquainted with the facts of magic and necromancy by the long list of magicians' names and works he quotes, but, he gives no proof of being inspired with their genius. He does occasionally, however, soar out of the common-place, and Klypp, the magical ship-builder's character, has some felicitous touches. There is also something poetical in the prediction which leads to the main incident of the story. “ The bold must put forth his one life to win a double. His ship must be of woven light, and shadowless must be his crew.". But his dreadfully prosaic style cannot maintain or bring its flight above fact.
Yet the author has powers of description and finer sympathies, and we are loth to represent him too unfavourably to the reader. He has capacities, perhaps great ones in him, and if he would or could adopt a better style, might yet "enchant the eye or ear” of numerous readers. The following bespeaks “observations impregnated with feeling”?
“ Phroditis' window looked down upon the ancient shipyard, where the slips of water gleamed, and all remote objects, and the towering buildings intermingled in dubious obscurity like the chiaro' scuro of a Rembrandt, or some of the oldest of the old Spanish painters, in whose amber shadows and dusky twilights, flat, even, and uniform as the tint may be, you are deceived in gradually distinguishing unsubstantial and incoherent shapes of structures and representations of objects, which in their uncertainty might be anything or nothing. In fact, in the very picturesqueness of the doubtfulness and immateriality and uncertainty of this southern twilight, filling and penetrating into the depths, and closing up into the corners of the ship-building domains you might have laid out, and arranged, and pictured to yourself a whole region of things, and persuaded your readily credulous imagination that there had been, and was still going on an actual wreathing into forms and embodiment of articulated shadows.
“Gaunt, giant like—nay awful, rose spire and turret. Doors looked more than doors. Holes looked dens. Every shadow quickened as if it could breed its ghost. Out of the depthi and darkness below, rendered more curious from a strange sort of blue glow which spread abroad, you might have thought the moresco steeples, and the fretted and crocketted pinnacles, were happy in escaping into air, and catching the last warning light, and a glimpse of pale undecided moonshine, too grey for starlight, as it was too watery and shimmeringly yellow for moonlight.”
Atcherley is a tale connected with the Rye-house plot; and although it betrays the same want of artistic power, this deficiency is not felt to be so unpleasant, because it is not so antagonistic in style and subject as in the former story. The powers of description here also, displayed, and the delicacy of sentiment and feeling make us take leave of these volumes with regret mingled with expectation. Regret that an author of so much pleasing capacity should by the want of some one element of construction so mar his own powers, and with the expectation that we shall yet have from his hands a fine and noble fiction.
ENGLAND'S COLONIAL EMPIRE: an Historical, Political, and Statistical
Account of the Empire, its Colonies, and Dependencies. Vol. I. By
CHARLES PRIdham, Esq. B.A. Smith, Elder, & Co. This undertaking, we fear too gigantic to be completed in any reasonable limit of time, or mass of paper and printing, singularly enough commences with the small Island of Mauritius, and occupies a very closely printed volume in octavo of above four hundred pages. The history of an island discovered three centuries ago, and of which no valid trace beyond that period of time is to be found, required no
drawing upon ancient and obscure allusions about African navigation to assist in stating known facts. Our author in describing a modern island and people gives it to us in the manner of the ancients.” Thus the policy of the planters in giving allotments to the negro slaves, common once in our own colonies, was, it seems, derived from the Romans and their peculiarii ! The early state of the French colony is compared to that of Corcyra from Thucydides. The chapter heads have Greek and Latin mottoes, and the first opens with statements from Herodotus, the Bible, and Pliny, about the discovery of Africa, all which is utterly superfluous and out of place. The volume itself is compiled from French accounts of the islands ; Bernardin de St. Pierre, English state documents, Montgomery Martin, and the Colonial Gazette, among the rest. The account of naval operations in the Indian seas, and a good deal of extraneous matter, too, swell the volume out most unreasonably. If a petty island be thus treated, to what extent must other colonies run, India from Alexander the Great, no doubt, and Bencoolen from the time of King Solomon and Ophir. To say nothing of the mother country or empire included in the title, where will the colonies and dependencies stop if the author go back to Ulysses under the head of the Ionian Islands, and to St. Paul for Malta! Mr. Pridham should have tact enough to perceive that such a history as he has projected must, to be successful, consist of condensed facts, confined to authenticated records, and well-ascertained dates of discovery. The design is praiseworthy, but the judgment displayed in the execution cannot receive the same measure commendation. Mr. Pridham must forget his college propensities, and use his classic knowledge with more discretion. His compilation is spun out too much, and he has not in consequence availed himself of that advantage which his materials afforded him in obtaining effect by their concentration. A good colonial and statistical history of the British dependencies is much wanted—we trust Mr. Pridham will improve in his next volume, and, benefiting by experience, yet supply the existing deficiency in a satisfactory manner. The matter in the present volume shows that such a work, well carried out, will afford both amusement and information. It will serve the purpose also of giving the public an idea of the amazing extent and importance of our colonial possessions, which number in themselves, including India, upwards of one hundred and thirty-three millions of souls.
The statistical tables in the appendix, annexed to the history, are valuable records copied from various sources.
The table of the climate of St. Louis is from Montgomery Martin on the same colony, others are from public communications and documents. They are all useful for reference, being particularly full. It is facts like these which are valuable. The system of taxation, the plague-spot of the British colonies from following the example of the mother country and giving extravagant salaries to employés, is here as visible in the state of the finances as elsewhere. The revenue, nearly £300,000 per annum, is