Text: Anonymous, [Review of Graham's Magazine for September], Boston Morning Post (Boston, MA), vol. XX, no. 50, August 27, 1841, p. 1, col. 6


[page 1, column 6, continued:]

Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine for September: Boston — Jordan & Co. — The first article in this number is a long rhapsody about “Shakspeare,” by Theodore S. Fay. The writer seems to be one of those who, to parody Shakspeare's own glorious words, would find actual, bona fide “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and profound philosophy in every thing.”

Our meaning, however, may perhaps be better illustrated by quoting a few words from a very spirited satirical sketch by Edgar A. Poe, entitled “Never bet your Head,” and which luckily happens to be in this very number. Mr Poe says: —

“Every fiction should have its moral; and, what is more to the purpose, our modern critics have discovered that every fiction has. These ingenious fellows demonstrate a hidden meaning in the “Ante-diluvians,” a parable in “Powhatan,” new views in “Cock Robin,” and transcendentalism in “Hop O’-My Thumb.” It has been proved that no man can sit down to write without a very profound design. Thus to authors in general much trouble is spared. A novelist, for example, need have no care of his moral. It is there — that is to say it is somewhere — and the moral and the critics can take care of themselves. When he proper time arrives, all that the gentleman intended, and all that he did not intend, will be brought, to light, in the “Dial,” or the “Down-Easter” together with all that he ought to have intended, and the rest that he clearly meant to intend; — so that it will all come very straight in the end.”

Now, without naming Shakspeare in comparison with the above named works, Mr Fay seems to be one of those over-critical critics. Hear him talk about Othello: —

“The meaning of Othello has always been locked from me. I have not yet been a reader of commentators, and, perhaps, some of the crowd of distinguished writers who, ever since his death, have been endeavoring to throw light on him, may have accounted for the till now inexplicable mystery of it. But I could never conceive it. Why a perfectly noble mind should be so cruelly tortured without guilt on its own part; why a scene of innocent happiness should be thus wantonly destroyed, was always an unanswerable question I asked myself on seeing or reading this, one of the greatest of his five great tragedies.”

If any other dramatist than Shakspeare had written Othello, Mr Fay would probably never have found any very “inexplicable mystery” about it. — Indeed we do not perceive that it differs at all from quite a number of tragedies, in all of which “noble minds” are “cruelly tortured,” without “guilt on their own parts;” and moreover, as in almost every tragedy we ever heard of, numerous “scenes of innocent happiness” are “wantonly destroyed” by the blood-thirsty dramatist, he being moved to the commission of that crime, by the knowledge that there is nothing like oppressed innocence to call forth the sympathies of his audience. Now with all our admiration for the genius of Shakspeare, (and we rejoice to praise him as THE poet of the world,) we opine that he manufactured his tragedies in nearly the same fashion that other people manufactured theirs. He undoubtedly used the same words, and in most cases attached the same meanings to them; be consulted stage effect a good deal, and had a small inclination for the horrible, (vide Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth) and probably was delighted when he obtained Giraldi Cinthio's old novel, containing the germ of Othello. We cannot conceive what “inexplicable mystery” is involved in a plain, simple story of a man, hurried on by jealousy to kill his wife; neither can we imagine any “inexplicable mystery” is involved in the moral of the tragedy. If Mr Fay means that he cannot penetrate the purpose of the sorrows of human life, we can readily believe him, quite a number of people having been and still being in the mine predicament. The only mystery about Shakspeare's plays is, that they should be so far beyond those of any other dramatist; and yet we suppose that they are better in degree only, and not in kind.

Again, if any other writer produces either a sentence, which appears to his critics to be nonsense; or a character, which seems badly drawn and inconsistent, he is very fairly taxed with his faults. And if his work is formed on a badly constructed plot, in fine, if there is any blemish about his production, in the opinion of his readers, his reputation is injured in proportion to that blemish. But if any thing of the kind (and in our idea there are many) appear in Shakspeare, critics would have us pass it over, as the fault of our own little minds, rather than of Shakspeare's great one. We cheerfully admit, however, that these blemishes are but as spots on the sun, and should not, could not impede, from their comparative insignificance, the glorious flood of light. Still they are spots, and will never be otherwise; and in speaking of them, it may be as well to call them by their right names, or we are in danger of praising Shakspeare (as these critics do) for his very defects.

We have no patience with these people. They seem to write upon the old adage, that “what is one man's meat is another man's poison.” The indistinctness, the conceit, the bombast and carelessness which they would and do decry in any other author, is all swallowed with intense admiration, when they get to Shakspeare. They admire, or at least pretend to admire, every thing. At any rate, they puff every thing to the skies — laying on their “moonshine” so thick, that it is evident they are only fearful lest they may damn with too faint praise, and that they do not really appreciate the mighty master, at whose name they fling their unnumbered sentences. We refer our readers to the article in question, upon “Shakspeare,”assuming them we have quoted the most sensible part of it. Among the remaining contents, the “Reefer of ‘76” — the “ Saxon's Bridal” — “Never bet your Head” — and “Leslie Pierpont,” are the best, and are all well written, in their several ways. There are beside, two engravings, a popular song with the music, and numerous stanzas on various subjects. The Magazine, on the whole, is a good one. Among the editorials there is a fair review’ of “Joseph Rushbrook, the Poacher.”





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