Neither does one need to go very far beneath the surface, to perceive a new and extraordinary treatment of the ethical principle in this play throughout; one which the new, artistic, practical 'stand-point' here taken naturally suggested, but one which could have proceeded only from the inmost heart of the new philosophy. It is just the kind of treatment which the proposal to introduce the Inductive method of inquiry into this department of the human practice inevitably involved. A disposition to go behind the ethical phenomena, to pursue the investigation to its scientific conclusion, a refusal to accept the facts which, to the unscientific observation, appear to be the ultimate ones—a refusal to accept the coarse, vague, spontaneous notions of the dark ages, as the solution of these so essential phenomena, is everywhere betraying and declaring itself. Cordelia's agonised invocation and summons to the unpublished forces of nature, to be aidant and remediate to the good man's distress, is continually echoed by the poet, but with a broader application. It is not the bodily malady and infirmity only—it is not that kind of madness, only with which the poor king is afflicted in the later stages of the play, which appears to him to need scientific treatment—it is not for the cure of these alone that he would open his Prospero book, 'nature's infinite book of secresy,' as he calls it in Mark Antony—'the true magic,' as he calls it elsewhere—the book of the unpublished laws—the scientific book of 'KINDS'—the book of 'the historic laws'—'the book of God's power.'
All the interior phenomena which attend the violation of duty are strictly omitted here. That psychological exhibition of it belongs to other plays; and the Poet has left us, as we all know, no room to suspect the tenderness of his moral sensibility, or the depth of his acquaintance with these subjective phenomena. The social consequences of the violation of duty in all the human relationships, the consequence to others, and the social reaction, limits the exhibition here. The object on which our sympathies are chiefly concentrated is, as he himself is made to inform us—
'One more sinned against, than sinning.' 'Oh, these eclipses do portend these divisions,'
says the base-born Edmund, sneeringly. 'Fa sol la mi,' he continues, producing that particular conjunction of sounds which was forbidden by the ancient musicians, on account of its unnatural discord. The monkish writers on music call it diabolical. It is at the conclusion of a very long and elaborate discussion on this question, that he treats us to this prohibited piece of harmony; and a discussion in which Gloster refers to the influence of the planets, this unnaturalness in all the human relations—this universal jangle—'this ruinous disorder, that hunts men disquietly to their graves.' But the 'base' Edmund is disposed to acquit the celestial influences of the evil charged on them. He does not believe in men being—
'Fools, by heavenly compulsion; knaves and thieves, by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that they are evil in, by a divine thrusting on.'
He has another method of accounting for what he himself is. He does not think it necessary to go quite so far, to find the origin of his own base, lawless, inhuman, unconscionable dispositions. But the inquiries, which are handled so boldly in the soliloquies of Edmund, are started again and again elsewhere; and the recurrence is too emphatic, to leave any room to doubt that the author's intention in the play is concerned in it; and that this question of 'the several dispositions and characters of men,' and the inquiry as to whether there be 'any causes in nature' of these degenerate tendencies, which he is at such pains to exhibit, is, for some reason or other, a very important point with him. That which in contemplative philosophy corresponds to the cause, in practical philosophy becomes the rule, the founder of it tells us. But the play cannot be studied effectually without taking into account the fact, that the author avails himself of the date of his chronicle to represent that stage of human development in which the mysterious forces of nature were still blindly deified; and, therefore, the religious invocations with which the play abounds, are not, in the modern sense of the term, prayers, but only vague, poetic appeals to the unknown, unexplored powers in nature, which we call second causes. And when, as yet, there was no room for science in the narrow premature theories which men found imposed on them—when the new movement of human thought was still hampered by the narrowness of 'preconceived opinions,' the poet was glad to take shelter under the date of his legend now and then, here, as in Macbeth and other poems, for the sake of a little more freedom in this respect. He is very far from condemning 'presuppositions' and 'anticipations' but only wishes them kept in their proper places, because to bring them into the region of fact and induction, and so to falsify the actual condition of things—to undertake to face down the powers of nature with them, is a merely mistaken mode of proceeding; because these powers are powers which do not yield to the human beliefs, and the practical doctrine must have respect to them. The great battle of that age—the battle of the second causes, which the new philosophers were compelled to fight in behalf of humanity at the peril of their lives—the battle which they fought in the open field with Aristotle and Plato—fills all this magnificent poetry with its reverberations.
It must be confessed, that those terrible appeals to the heavens, into which King Lear launches out in his anguish now and then, are anything but pious; but the boldness which shocks our modern sensibilities becomes less offensive, if we take into account the fact that they are not made to the object of our present religious worship, but are mere vague appeals, and questioning addresses to the unknown, unexplored causes in nature—the powers which lie behind the historical phenomena.
For that divine Ideal of Human Nature to which 'our large temples, crowded with the shows of peace,' are built now, had not yet appeared at the date of this history, in that form in which we now worship it, with its triumphant assurance that it came forth from the heart of God, and declared Him. Paul had not yet preached his sermon at Athens, in the age of this supposed King of Britain; and though the author was indeed painting his own age, and not that, it so happened that there was such a heathenish and inhuman, and, as he intimates, indeed, quite 'fiendish' and diabolical state of things to represent here then, that this discrepancy was not so shocking as it might have been if he had found a divine religion in full operation here.
'If it be you,' says Lear, falling back upon the theory, which Edmund has already discarded, of a divine thrusting on—
'If it be you that stir these daughters' hearts Against their father, fool me not so much To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger.'
And here is an echo of the 'spherical predominance' which Gloster goes into so elaborately in the outset, confessing, much to the amusement of his graceless offspring, that he is disposed to think, after all, there may be something in it. 'For,' he says, 'though the wisdom of nature [the spontaneous wisdom] can REASON IT thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by THE SEQUENT EFFECT;' and he is talking under the dictation of a philosopher who, though he ridicules the pretensions of astrology in the next breath, lays it down as a principle in the scientific Art, as a chief point in the science of Practice and Relief, that the sequent effects, with which nature finds itself scourged, are a better guide to the causes which the practical remedy must comprehend, than anything which the wisdom of nature can undertake to reason out beforehand, without any respect to the sequent effect—'thus, and—thus.' But here is the confirmation of Gloster's view of the subject, which the sound-minded Kent, who is not at all metaphysical, finds himself provoked to utter; and though this is in the Fourth Act, and Gloster's opinions are advanced in the First, the passages do, notwithstanding, 'look towards each other.'
'It is the stars. The stars above us govern our conditions, Else one self mate and mate could not beget Such different issues.'
Of course, it is not the astrological theory of the constitutional original differences in the human dispositions which the honest Kent is made to advocate here, literally and in earnest. It is rather the absence of any known cause, and the necessity of supposing one in a case where this difference is so obtrusive and violent, which he expresses; the stars being the natural resort of men in such circumstances, and when other solutions fail; though Poor Tom appears to be in possession of a much more orthodox theory for the peculiar disorders in his moral constitution: but, at the same time, it must be conceded that it is one which does not appear to have led, in his case, to any such felicitous practical results as the supposed origin of it might have seemed to promise.
For, indeed, this point of natural differences in the human dispositions, though, of course, quite overlooked in the moral regimen which is based on a priori knowledge, and is able to dispense with science, and ride over the actual laws; this point of difference— not in the dispositions of individuals only, but the differences which manifest themselves under the varying conditions of age and bodily health, of climate, or other physical differences in the same individual, as well as under the varying moral conditions of differing social and political positions and relations; this so essential point, overlooked as it is in the ordinary practice, has seized the clear eye of this great scientific practitioner, this Master of Arts, and he is making a radical point of it in his new speculation; he is making collections on it, and he will make a main point of it in 'the part operative' of his New Science, when he comes to make out the outline of it elsewhere, referring us distinctly to this place for his collections in it, for his collections on this point, as well as on others not less radical.
Lear himself, in his madness, appears, as we have seen already, much disposed to speculate upon this same particular question, which Gloster and Edmund and Kent have already indicated as 'a necessary question of the play'; namely, the question as to 'the causes in nature' of the phenomena which the social condition of man exhibits; that is, the causes of that degeneracy, that violation of the essential human law to which all the evil is tracked here; and it is the scientific doctrine, that the nature of a thing cannot be successfully studied in itself alone. It is not in water or in air only, or in any other single substance, that we find the nature of oxygen, or hydrogen, or any other of those principles in nature, which the application of this method to another department evolves from things which present themselves to the unscientific experience as most dissimilar. 'It is the greatest proof of want of skill to investigate the nature of any object in itself alone; for the same nature which seems concealed and hidden in some instances, is manifest and almost palpable in others; and, in general, those very things which are considered as secret, are manifest and common in other objects, but will never be clearly seen if the experiments and conclusions of men be directed to themselves alone': for it is a part of this doctrine, that man is not omitted in the order of nature—that the term HUMAN NATURE is not a misnomer. The doctrine of this Play is, that those same powers which are at work in man's life, are at work without it also; that they are powers which belong, in their highest form, to the nature of things in general; and that man himself, with all his special distinctions, is under the law of that universal constitution. The scientific remedy for the state of things which this play exhibits is the knowledge of 'causes in nature,' which must be found here, as in the other case, by scientific investigation—the spontaneous method leading to no better result here than in the other case. Under cover of the excitements of this play, this inquiry is boldly opened, and the track of the new science is clearly marked in it.
Poor Lear is, indeed, compelled to leave the practical improvement of his hints for another; and when it comes to the open question of the remedy for this state of things, which is the term of the inquiry, when he undertakes to put his absolute power in motion for the avowed purpose of effecting an improvement here, he appears indeed disposed to treat the subject in the most savage and despairing manner—that is, on his own account; but the vein of the scientific inquiry still runs unbroken through all this burst of passion. For in his scorn for that failure in human nature and human life of which society, as he finds it, stands convicted—that failure to establish the distinctive law of the human kind—that failure from which he is suffering so deeply—and in his struggle to express that disgust, he proposes, as an improvement on the state of things he finds, a law which shall obliterate that human distinction; though certainly that is anything but the Poet's remedy; and the poor king himself does not appear to be in earnest, for the moral disgust in which the distinctive sentiment of the nobler nature, and the knowledge of human good and evil betrays itself, breaks forth in floods of passion that overflow all the bounds of articulation before he can make an end of it.
But the radical nature of this question of natural causes, which the practical theory of the social arts must comprehend, is already indicated in this play, in the very beginning of the action.
This author is everywhere bent on graving the scientific distinction between those instinctive affections in which men degenerate, and tend to the rank of lower natures, and the noble natural, distinctively human affections; and when, in the first scene, the king betrays the selfishness of that fond preference for his younger daughter,—tender, and paternal, and deep as it was,—and the depth of those hopes he was resting on her kind care and nursery, by the very height of that frenzied paroxysm of rage and disappointment, which her unflattering and, as it seems to him, her unloving reply, creates;—when that 'small fault, which showed,' he tells us, 'so ugly' in her whom 'he loved most'—which turned, in a moment, all the sweetness of his love for her 'to gall, and like an engine, wrenched his nature from its firm place';—these are the terms in which he undertakes to annul the natural tie, and disown her—
Lear. So young, and so untender?
Cordelia. So young, my lord, and true.
Lear. Let it be so.—Thy truth then be thy dower: For, by the sacred radiance of the sun; The mysteries of Hecate, and the night; By all the operations of the orbs, From whom we do exist, and cease to be, Here I disclaim all my paternal care, Propinquity and property of blood, And as a stranger to my heart and me Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian, Or he that makes his generation messes To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom Be as well neighboured, pitied, and relieved, As thou, my sometime daughter.
'This even-handed justice Commends the ingredients of his poisoned chalice To his own lips'—
when his 'dog-hearted daughters' have returned to his own bosom the cruel edge of that unnatural wrong which he has impiously dared to summon nature herself—violated nature—to witness, this is the greeting which the unnatural Goneril receives, on her return to her husband, when she complains to him of her welcome—
Goneril. I have been worth the whistle.
Albany. O Goneril! You are not worth the dust which the rude wind Blows in your face.—I fear your disposition: That nature, which contemns ITS ORIGIN, CANNOT BE BORDERED CERTAIN IN ITSELF; She that herself will sliver and disbranch From her MATERIAL SAP, PERFORCE MUST WITHER, And come to deadly use.
[Prima Philosophia. Axioms which are not limited to the particular parts of sciences, but 'such as are more common, and of a higher stage.']
Goneril. No more; the text is foolish. Albany. Tigers, not daughters,—
[You have practised on yourself—you have destroyed in yourself the nobler, fairer nature which the law of human kind—the law of human duty and affection—would have given you. Not DAUGHTERS,—Tigers.]
'A father, and a gracious aged man, Whose reverence the head-lugged bear would lick, Most barbarous, most DEGENERATE!'—
[degenerate—that is the point—most degenerate]—
'have you madded. If that the heavens do not their visible spirits Send quickly down, to tame these vile offences 'Twill come, HUMANITY must perforce prey on itself, Like monsters of the deep.'
[the land refuses a parallel.]
And it is the scientific distinction between man and the brute creation—it is the law of nature in the human kind, which the Poet is getting out scientifically here, in the face of that terrific failure and degeneration in the kind—which he paints so vividly, for the purpose of inquiring whether there is not, perhaps, after all, some more potent provisioning and arming of man for his place in nature, than this state of things would lead one to suppose—whether there are not, perhaps, some more efficacious 'humanities' than those mild ones which appear to operate so lamely on this barbaric, degenerate thing. 'Milk-liver'd man!' replies Goneril, speaking not on her own behalf only, for the words have a double significance; and the Poet glances through them at that sufferance with which the state of things he has just noted was endured—
'Milk-livered man, That bear'st a cheek for blows, a HEAD for WRONGS; Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning Thine honour from thy sufferance; that not know'st, FOOLS do those villains pity, who are punished Before they have done their mischief. Where's thy drum? France spreads his banners in our noiseless land; With plumed helm thy slayer begins threats; Whilst thou, a Moral Fool, sit'st still, and cry'st, Alack! why does he so?'
This is found to be an appeal of the Poet's own when all is done, and one that goes far into the necessary questions of the play.
But Albany, in his rejoinder, returns to the idea of the lost, degenerate, dissolute Humanity again. He has talked of tigers, and head-lugged bears (and it was necessary to combine the proverbial sensitiveness of that animal to that particular mode of treatment, with the natural amiability of his disposition in general, in order to do justice to the Poet's conception here);—he has called upon 'the monsters of the deep,' and quoted the laws of their societies, in illustration of the state of things to which the unscientific human combination appears to him to be visibly tending. But this human degeneracy and deformity, which the action of the play exhibits in diagrams—the descent to the lower nature from the higher; the voluntary descent; the voluntary blindness and narrowness; the rejection of the distinctive human law—of VIRTUE and DUTY, as reason and conscience interpret it—appears to the scientific mind to require yet other terms and comparisons. These conceits and comparisons, drawn from the habits of innocent, though not to man agreeable, animals, who have no law but blind instinct, do not suffice to convey the Poet's idea of this human failing; and, accordingly, he instructs this gentle and noble man, whom this criticism best becomes, to complete this view of the subject, in his attempt to express the disgust with which this inhuman, this more than brutal conduct, in his high-born, and gorgeously-robed, and delicately-featured spouse, inspires him—
'See thyself, devil!'—
nay, he corrects himself—
Proper deformity [DE-FORMITY] seems not in the fiend So horrid, as in woman.
Goneril. O vain fool!
Albany. Thou changed and self-covered thing. For shame, Be-monster not thy feature. Were it my FITNESS'—
for here it is the human, and not the instinctive element—not 'the blood' element that rules—
'Were it my FITNESS To let these hands obey my blood, They are apt enough to dislocate and tear Thy flesh and bones,'
Rather tiger-like impulses for so mild a gentleman to own to; but the process which he confesses his hands are already inclined to undertake, is not half so cruel as the one which this woman has practised on herself while she was meditating only wrong to another, and pursuing her 'horrible pleasure' at the expense of madness and death to another; not half so cruel and injurious, for in that act she has trampled down, and torn, and dislocated, she has slaughtered in cold blood, the divine, angelic form of womanhood—that form of worth and celestial aspiration which great nature stamped upon her, and gave to her for her law in nature, her type, her essence, her ORIGINAL. She has desecrated, not that common form of humanity only which the common human sentiment of reason, which the human sentiment of duty is everywhere struggling to fulfil, but that lovelier soul of humanity—that softer, subtler, more gracious, more celestial, more commanding spirit of it, which the form of womanhood in its integrity must carry with it—which the form of womanhood will carry with it, if it be not counterfeit or degenerate, gone down into a lower range, 'be-monstered'—'a changed and self-covered thing.' That is the Poet's reading.
'Howe'er,' the Duke of Albany concludes, after that struggle with his hands he speaks of—chivalrously refusing to let them obey that impulse of 'blood,' as a gentleman in such circumstances, under any amount of provocation, should—true to himself, true to his manliness and to his gentle breeding, though his wife is false to hers, and 'false to her nature'—
'Howe'er thou _art_ a, _fiend, A woman's shape doth shield thee.
Goneril_. Marry! YOUR MANHOOD NOW.'
This is indeed a discourse in which the reader must have 'the text,' or ever he can begin to catch the meaning of those philosophic points with which this orator, who talks so 'pressly,' studs his lines.
For the passage which Goneril dismisses with such scorn is indeed the text, or it will be, when the word which her commentary on it contains has been added to it: for it is 'the foolishness' of struggling with great Nature, and her LAW of KINDS—it is the folly of ignorance, the stupidity of living without respect to nature and its sequent effects, as well as its preformed decree—
('Perforce must wither, And come to deadly use'—)
which this discourse is intended to illustrate. And one who has once tracked the dramatic development of this text, through all this moving exhibition of human society, and its violated rule in nature, will be at no loss to conjecture out of what 'New' book it comes, if indeed that book has ever been opened to him.
The whole subject is treated here scientifically—that is, from without. The generalizations of the higher stages of philosophy—the axioms of a universal philosophy—with all the force of their universality, must be brought to bear upon it, through all its developments. The universal historical laws, in that modification of them which the speciality of the human kind creates, must be impartially set forth here. The law of DUTY, as the NATURAL LAW of human society; the law of humanity, as the law, nay, THE FORM, of the HUMAN kind, stamped on it with the Creator's stamp, that order from the universal law of kinds that gives to all life its SPECIAL bounds, its 'border in itself'—that form so essential, that there is no humanity or kind-ness where that is not—that law which we hear so much of, in its narrower aspects, under various names, in all men's speech, is produced here, in its broader relations, as the necessary basis of a scientific social art. And it is this author's deliberate opinion as a Naturalist, it is the opinion of this School in Natural Science, from which this work proceeds, that those who undertake to compose human societies, large or small, whether in families, or states, or empires, without recognising this principle—those who undertake to compose UNIONS, human unions and societies, on any other principle—will have a diabolical jangle of it when all is done. For this law of unity, which is written on the soul of man, this law of CONSCIENCE within, is written without also; and to erase it within is to get the lesson from without in that universal and downright speech and language which the axioms of nature are taught in—it is to get it in that fearful school in which nature repeats the doctrine of her violated law, for those who are not able to solve and comprehend the science of it as it is written—written beforehand—in the natural law and constitutions of the human soul.
'That nature which, contemns its ORIGIN Cannot be bordered certain in itself.'
[These are the mysteries of day and night, that Lear, in his ignorance, vainly invokes, the operations of the orbs from whom we do exist and cease to be.]
'She that herself will sliver and disbranch From her material sap, perforce must wither, And come to deadly use.' 'The text is—FOOLISH.'
The teacher who takes it upon himself to get out this text from the text-book of Universal Laws, for the purpose of conducting it to its practical application in human affairs, for the purpose of suggesting the true remedy for those great human wants which he exhibits here, is not one of those 'Milk-livered men,' those Moral Fools, that Goneril delicately alludes to, who bear a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs; who have not in their brows an eye discerning their honour from their sufferance; who think it enough to sit still under the murderous blows of what they call misfortune, fate, Providence, when it is their own im-providence; who think it is enough to sit still, and cry, Alack! without inquiring what it is that makes that lack; without ever putting the question in earnest, 'Why does he so?' His Play is all full of the practical application of the text, the application of it which Gloster sums up in a word—
''T is the Time's plague when MADMEN lead THE BLIND.'
'I will preach to thee. Mark me: [says Lear] When we are born, we cry that we are come To this great stage of FOOLS. [Mark me!']
The whole Play is one magnificent intimation, on the part of the Poet, that eyes are made to see with; and that there is no so natural and legitimate use of them as that which human affairs were crying for, through all their lengths and breadths, in his time. It is that eye which is one of the distinctive features of the human kind; that eye which looks before and after, which extends human vision so far beyond individual sensuous experience, which is able to converge the light of universal truth upon particular experience, which is able to bring the infallible guidance of universal axioms into all the particulars of human conduct—that is the eye which he finds wanting in human affairs. The play is pointing everywhere with the Poet's scorn of 'Blind Men,' 'who will not see because they do not feel,'—who wait for the blows of 'fortune,' to teach them the lesson of Nature's laws—who wait to be scourged, or dashed to pieces with 'the sequent effect,' instead of making use of their faculty of reason to ascend to causes, and so 'to trammel up the consequence.'
It is that same combination of human faculties, that same combination of sense and reason, which the Novum Organum provides for; it is that same scorn of abstract wordy speculation, on the one hand, and blind experimental groping, on the other, that is everywhere suggested here. But with the aid of the persons of the Drama, and their suggestions, the new philosophy is carried into departments which it would have cost the Author of the Novum Organum and the Advancement of Learning his head to look into. He might as well have proposed to impeach the Government in Parliament outright, as to offer to advance his Novum Organum into these fields; fields which it enters safely enough under the cover of a spontaneous, inspired, dramatic philosophy, though it is a philosophy which overflows continually with those practical axioms, those aphorisms, which the Author of the Advancement of Learning assures us 'are made of the pith and heart of sciences'; and that 'no man can write who is not sound and grounded.' But then, if they are only written in 'with a goose-pen,' they pass well enough for unconscious, unmeaning, spontaneous felicities.
'Canst thou tell why one's nose stands in the middle of his face?' says the Fool, in the First Act, by way of entertaining his master, when the poor king's want of foresight and 'prudence' begins to tell on his affairs a little. 'Canst thou tell why one's nose stands in the middle of his face?' 'No.' 'Why, to keep his eyes on either side of it, that what a man cannot smell out he may spy into.'
Fool. Canst tell how an oyster makes his shell?'
Fool. Nor I neither; but I can tell why a snail has a house.
Fool. Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his daughters, and leave his horns without a case.
Lear. ... Be my horses ready?
Fool. Thy asses are gone about 'em. The reason why the seven stars are no more than seven, is a pretty reason.
Lear. Because they are not eight?
Fool. Yes, indeed: Thou wouldest make a good—fool.
He cannot tell how an oyster makes his shell, but the nose has not stood in the middle of his face for nothing. There has been some prying on either side of it, apparently; and he has pried to such good purpose, that some of the prime secrets of the new philosophy appear to have turned up in his researches. 'To take it again perforce,' mutters the king. 'If thou wert my fool, Nuncle, I'd have thee beaten for being OLD before thy time.' [This is a wit 'of the self-same colour' with that one who discovered that the times from which the world's practical wisdom was inherited, were the times when the world was young. 'They told me I had white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there!'] 'I'd have thee beaten for being old before thy time.'—'How's that?'—'Thou shouldst not have been OLD before thou hadst been WISE.'
And it is in the Second Act that poor Kent, in his misfortunes, furnishes occasion for another avowal on the part of this same learned critic, of a preference for a practical philosophy, though borrowed from the lower species. He comes upon the object of his criticism as he sits in the stocks, because he could not adopt the style of his time with sufficient earnestness, though he does make an attempt 'to go out of his dialect,' but was not more happy in it than some other men of his politics were, in the Poet's time.
'Sir, in good sooth, in sincere verity, Under the allowance of your grand aspect, Whose influence, like the wreath of radiant fire On flickering Phebus' front—
Cornwall. 'What mean'st by this?'
Kent. 'To go out of my dialect, which you discommend so much.
[Halting in his blank verse for the explanation]:—It is from that seat, to which the plainness of this man, with the official dignities of his time, has conducted him, that he puts the inquiry to that keen observer, whose observations in natural history have just been quoted,—
Kent. How chances that the king comes with so small a train?
Fool. An thou had'st been set in the stocks for that question, thou, had'st well deserved it.
Kent. Why, fool?
Fool. We'll set thee to school to an ant, to teach thee there is no labouring in the winter. All that follow their noses are led by their eyes, but—BLIND MEN.
Kent. Where learned'st thou that, fool?
Fool. Not in the stocks, fool.
[Not from being punished with the sequent effect; not in consequence of an improvidence, that an ant might have taught me to avoid.]
'I have no way, and therefore want no eyes,' says another duke, who is also the victim of that 'absolute' authority which is abroad in this play. 'I stumbled when I saw,' and this is his prayer.
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man That slaves your ordinance; that will not SEE Because he doth not FEEL, feel your power quickly.
'Thou seest how this world goes,' says the outcast king, meeting this poor outcast duke, just after his eyes had been taken out of his head, by the persons then occupying the chief offices in the state. 'Thou seest how this world goes.' 'I SEE it FEELINGLY,' is the duke's reply.
Lear. What! art mad? A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears.
And his account of how it goes is—as we shall see—one that requires to be looked at with ears, for it contains, what one calls elsewhere in this play,—ear-kissing arguments.—'Get thee glass eyes,' he says, in conclusion, 'and like a scurvy politician pretend to SEE, the things thou dost not.' And that was not the kind of politician, and that was not the kind of political eye-sight, to which this statesman, and seer, proposed to leave the times, that his legacy should fall on, whatever he might be compelled to tolerate in his own.
'Upon the crown o' the cliff. What thing was that Which parted from you?'
'A poor unfortunate beggar.' [Softly.] 'As I stood here BELOW, methought his eyes Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses. Horns welked and waved, like the enridged sea.'
'Now, Sir, what are you?' says the poor outcast duke to his true son, when in disguise he offers to attend him. 'A most poor man,' is the reply, 'made lame by fortune's blows; who, by the ART of KNOWN AND FEELING SORROWS, am pregnant to good PITY. Give me your hand, I'll lead you to some BIDING. Bear free and patient thoughts,' is his whisper to him.
Surely this is a poet that has got an inkling, in some way, of the new idea of an experimental philosophy,—of a combination of the human faculties of sense and reason in some organum; one, too, whose eye passes lightly over the architectonic gifts of univalves and bivalves, and entomological developments of skill and forethought, intent on that great chrysalis, which has never been able to publish yet its Creator's glory. Here is a naturalist who would not think it enough to combine reason with experiment, in wind, and rain, and fire, and thunder, who would not think it enough to bring all the unpublished virtues of the earth, to the relief of the bodily human maladies. It is the Poet, who says elsewhere, 'Can'st thou not minister to a mind diseased? No? Throw physic to the dogs, I'll none of it.' It is the poet who says, 'Nor wind, rain, fire, thunder, are my daughters.' 'Nothing could have brought him to such a lowness in nature, but his un-kind daughters.' It is the naturalist who says, 'Then let Regan's heart be anatomized, and see what it is that breeds about it. Is there any cause in NATURE that makes these hard hearts?'
In short, this play is from the hand of one who thinks that the human affairs are of a kind to require scientific investigation, scientific foresight and conduct. He is much of Lear's opinion on many points, and evidently judges that there would be no harm in getting a philosopher enrolled among the king's hundred. Not a logician, not a metaphysician, according to the common acceptance of these terms; not merely a natural philosopher, in the low and limited sense of that term, in which we use it; but a man of science—one who is able, by some method or other, to ascend to the actual principles of things, and so to base his remedies for the social evils, on the forms which are forms, which have efficacy in nature as such, instead of basing them on certain chimeras, or so-called logical conclusions of the human mind—conclusions which the logic of nature contradicts— conclusions to which the universal consent of things is wanting.
Nature, in the sense in which Edmund uses that term, is not this poet's goddess, or his LAW; though he regards 'the plague of CUSTOM' and 'the curiosity of nations,' and all their fantastic and arbitrary sway in human affairs, with an eye quite as critical—though he looks at 'that old Antic, the law,' as he expresses it elsewhere, with an eye quite as severe, on the world's behalf, as that which Edmund turns on it, on his own; he is very far from contending for the freedom of that savage, selfish, unreclaimed, spontaneous nature,—that lawless nature, to which the natural son of Gloster claims 'his services are due.' The poet teaches that the true and successful Social Art is, and must be scientific. That it must be based on the science of nature in general, and on the science of human nature in particular, on a science that recognizes the double nature in man, that takes in, its heights as well as its depths, and its depths as well as its heights, that sounds it 'from its lowest note to the top of its key;' but it is one thing to quarrel with the unscientific, imperfect social arts, and it is another to prefer nature in man without arts. The picture of 'the Unaccommodated Man,' which forms so prominent a part of the representation here,—'the thing itself,' stripped of its social lendings, or setting at nought the social restraints, is not by any means an attractive one, as this philosopher does it for us. The scientific artist is no better pleased, than the king is with this kind of 'nature.' It is the imperfection of the civilization which still generates, or leaves unchecked these savage evils, that he exposes.
But it is impossible, that the true social arts should be smelt out, or stumbled on, by accident, or arrived at by any kind of empirical groping; just as impossible as it is, on the other hand, that 'the wisdom of nature,' by throwing itself on its own internal resources, and reasoning it 'thus and thus,' without taking into account the actual forces, should be able to invent them. Those forces which enter into all the plot of our human life, unworthy of philosophic note as they had seemed hitherto, those terrific, unmeasured strengths, against which the human kind are continually dashing themselves in their blind experiments,—those engines on which the human heart is racked, 'and stretched out so long,'—those rocky structures on which its choicest treasures are so wildly wrecked, these natural forces,—no matter what artificial combinations of them may have been accomplished,—'the causes in nature,' of the phenomena of human life, appeared to this philosopher a very fitting subject for philosophy, and one quite too important in its relation to human well-being and the Arts that promote it, to be left to mere blundering experiment; quite too subtle to be reached by any kind of empirical groping, quite too subtle to be entangled with the conclusions of the philosophy which he found in vogue in his time, whose social efficacies and gifts in exorcisms, he has taken leave to connect in some way, with the appearance of Tom o' Bedlam in his history; a philosophy which had built up its system in defiant scorn of the nature of things; as if 'by reasoning it thus and thus,' without any respect to the actual conditions, it could undertake to bridle the might of nature, and put a hook in the nose of her oppositions.
It did not seem to this philosopher well, that men who have eyes—eyes that are great nature's gift to them,—her gift to them in chief,—eyes that were meant to see with, should go on in this groping, star-gazing, fatally-stumbling fashion any longer.
Lear. [To the Bedlamite.] I do not like the fashion of your garments. You will say that they are—Persian:—but let them be ALTERED.
THE STATESMAN'S NOTE-BOOK—AND THE PLAY.
Brutus. How I have thought of this, and of these times, I shall recount hereafter.
Hamlet. The Play's the thing.
Brutus. Tell us the manner of it, gentle Casca. Casca. I can as well be hanged as tell the manner of it.
Posthumus. 'Shall's have a Play of this.—
The fact that the design of this play, whatever it may be, is one deep enough to go down to that place in the social system which Tom o' Bedlam was then peacefully occupying,—thinking of anything else in the world but a social revolution on his behalf—to bring him up for observation; and that it is high enough to go up to that apex of the social structure on which the crown was then fastened, to fetch down the impersonated state itself, for an examination not less curious and critical; the fact, too, that it was subtle enough to penetrate the retirement of the domestic life, and bring out its innermost passages for scientific criticism;—the fact that the relation of the Parent to the Child, and that of the Child to the Parent, the relation of Husband and Wife, and Sister and Brother, and Master and Servant, of Peasant and Lord, nay, the transient relation of Guest and Host, have each their place and part here, and the question of their duty marked not less clearly, than that prominent relation of the King and his Subjects;—the fact that these relations come in from the first, along with the political, and demand a hearing, and divide throughout the stage with them; the fact of the mere range of this social criticism, as it appears on the surface of the play, in these so prominent points,—is enough to show already, that it is a Radical of no ordinary kind, who is at work behind this drop-scene.
It was evident, at a glance, that this so extensive bill of grievances was not one which any immediate or violent political revolution, or any social reformation which was then in contemplation, would be able to meet; and that very circumstance gave to the whole essay its profoundly quiet, conservative air. It passed only for one of those common outcries on the ills of human life, which men in general are expected, or permitted to make, according to their several abilities; one of those 'Alacks!'—'why does he so'? which, by relieving the mind of the complainant, tend to keep things quiet on the whole. This Poet, whoever he was, was making rather more ado about it than usual, apparently: but Poets are useful for that very purpose; they express other men's emotions for them, in a higher key than they could manage it themselves.
It was the breadth then,—the philosophic comprehension of this great philosophic design, which made it possible for the Poet to introduce into it, and exhibit in it, so glaringly, those evils of his time that were crying out to Heaven then, for redress, and could not wait for philosophic revolutions and reformations.
Tom o' Bedlam, strictly speaking, does appear, indeed, to have been one of those Elizabethan institutions which were modified or annulled, in the course of the political changes that so soon followed this exhibition of his case. 'Tom' himself, in his own proper person, appears to have been left—by accident or otherwise—on the other side of the Revolutionary gulf. 'I remember,' says Aubrey, 'before the civil wars, Tom o' Bedlams went about begging,' etc.—but one cannot help remarking that a very numerous family connection of the collateral branches of his house—bearing, on the whole, a sufficiently striking family resemblance to this illustrious subject of the Poet's pencil,—appear to have got safely over all the political and social gulfs that intervene between our time and that. And, as to some of those other social evils which are exhibited here in their ideal proportions, they are not, perhaps, so entirely among the former things which have passed away with our reformations, that we should have to go to Aubrey's note book to find out what the Poet means. As to some of these, at least, it will not be necessary to hunt up an antiquary, who can remember whether any such thing ever was really in existence here, 'before the civil wars.' And, notwithstanding all our advancements in Natural Science, and in the Arts which attend these advancements; notwithstanding the strong recommendations of the inventors of this Science,—Regan's heart, and that which breeds about it, appear, by a singular oversight, to have escaped, hitherto, any truly scientific inquiry; and the arts for improving it do not appear, after all, to have been very materially advanced since the time when this order was issued.
But notwithstanding that the subject of this piece appears to be so general,—notwithstanding the fact, that the social evils which are here represented include, apparently, the universal human conditions, and include evils which are still understood to be inherent in the nature of man, and, irreclaimable, or not, at least a subject for Art,—and notwithstanding the fact that this exhibition professes to borrow all its local hues and exaggerations from the barbaric times of the Ancient Britons—it is not very difficult to perceive that it does, in fact, involve a local exhibition of a different kind; and that, under the cover of that great revolution in the human estate, which the philosophic mind was then meditating,—so broad, that none could perceive its project,—another revolution,—that revolution which was then so near at hand, was clearly outlined; and that this revolution, too, is, after all, one towards which this Poet appears to 'incline,' in a manner which would not have seemed, perhaps, altogether consistent with his position and assumptions elsewhere, if these could have been produced here against him; and in a manner, perhaps, somewhat more decided than the general philosophic tone, and the spirit of those large and peaceful designs to which he was chiefly devoted, might have led us to anticipate. This Play was evidently written at a time when the conviction that the state of things which it represents could not endure much longer, had taken deep hold of the Poet's mind; at a time when those evils had attained a height so unendurable—when that evil which lay at the heart of the commonweal, poisoning all the social relations with its infection, had grown so fearful, that it might well seem, even to the scientific mind, to require the fierce 'drug' of the political revolution,—so fearful as to make, even to such a mind, the rude surgery of the civil wars at last welcome.
For, indeed, it cannot be denied that the state of things which this Play represents, is that with which the author's own experience was conversant; and that all the terrible tragic satire of it, points—not to that age in the history of Britain in which the Druids were still responsible for the national culture,—not to that time when the Celtic Triads, clothed with the sanctities of an unknown past, still made the standard works and authorities in learning, beyond which there was no going,—not to the time when the national morality was still mystically produced at Stonehenge, in those national colleges, from whose mysterious rites the awful sanctities of the oak and the mistletoe drove back in confusion the sacrilegious inquirer,—not to that time, but to the Elizabethan.
That instinctive groping and stumbling in all human affairs, that pursuit of human ends without any science of the natures to be superinduced, and without any science of the natures that were to be subjected,—those eyes of moonshine speculation, those glass eyes with which the scurvy politician affects to see the things he does not—those thousand noses that serve for eyes, and horns welked and waved like the enridged sea, and all the wild misery of that unlearned fortuitous human living, that waits to be scourged with the sequent effect, and knows not how to ascend to the cause—colossally exaggerated as it seems here—heightened everywhere, as if the Poet had put forth his whole power, and strained his imagination, and availed himself of his utmost poetic license, to give it, through all its details, its last conceivable hue of violence, its pure ideal shape, is, after all, but a copy an historical sketch. The ignorance, the stupidity, 'the blindness,' that this author paints, was his own 'Time's plague'; 'the madness' that 'led it,' was the madness of which he was himself a mute and manacled spectator.
By some singular oversight or caprice of tyranny, or on account of some fastidious scruple of the imagination perhaps, it does not appear, indeed, to have been the fashion, either in the reigns of the Tudors or the Stuarts, to pluck out the living human eye as Gloster's eyes were plucked out; and that of itself would have furnished a reason why this poor duke should have been compelled to submit to that particular operation, instead of presenting himself to have his ears cut off in a sober, decent, civilized, Christian manner; or to have them grubbed out, if it happened that the operation had been once performed already; or to have his hand cut off, or his head, with his eyes in it; or to be roasted alive some noon-day in the public square, eyes and all, as many an honest gentleman was expected to present himself in those times, without making any particular demur or fuss about it. These were operations that Englishmen of every rank and profession, soldiers, scholars, poets, philosophers, lawyers, physicians, and grave and reverend divines, were called on to undergo in those times, and for that identical offence of which the Duke of Gloster stood convicted, opposition to the will of a lawless usurping tyranny,—to its merest caprice of vanity or humour, perhaps,—or on grounds slighter still, on bare suspicion of a disposition to oppose it.
But then that, of course, was a thing of custom; so much so, that the victims themselves often took it in good part, and submitted to it as a divine institution, part of a sacred legacy, handed down to them, as it was understood, from their more enlightened ancestors.
Now, if the Poet, in pursuance of his more general philosophic intention, which involved a moving representation of the helplessness of the Social Monad—that bodily as well as moral susceptibility and fragility, which leaves him open to all kinds of personal injury, not from the elements and from animals of other species merely or chiefly, but chiefly from his own kind,—if the Poet, in the course of this exhibition, had caused poor Gloster to be held down in his chair on the stage, for the purpose of having his ears pared off, what kind of sensation could he hope to produce with that on the sensibility of an audience, who might have understood without a commentator an allusion to 'the tribulation of Tower Hill'—spectators accustomed to witness performances so much more thrilling, and on a stage where the Play was in earnest. And as to that second operation before referred to, which might have answered the poetic purpose, perhaps; who knows whether that may not have been a refinement in civilization peculiar to the reign of that amiable and handsome Christian Prince, who was still a minor when this Play was first brought out at Whitehall? for it was in his reign that that memorable instance of it occurred, which the subsequent events connected with it chanced to make so notorious. It was a learned and very conscientious lawyer, in the reign of Charles the First, whose criticism upon some of the fashionable amusements of the day, which certain members of the royal family were known to be fond of, occasioned the suggestion of this mode of satisfying the outraged Majesty of the State, when the prying eye of Government discovered, or thought it did, remains enough of those previously-condemned appendages on this author's person, to furnish material for a second operation. 'Methinks Mr. Prynne hath ears!' does not, after all, sound so very different from—'going to pluck out Gloster's other eye,' as that the governments under which these two speeches are reported, need to be distinguished, on that account only, by any such essential difference as that which is supposed to exist between the human and divine. Both these operations appear, indeed to the unprejudiced human mind, to savour somewhat of the diabolical—or of the Dark Ages, rather, and of the Prince of Darkness. And, indeed, that 'fiend' which haunts the Play—which the monster, with his moonshine eyes, appeared to have a vague idea of—seems to have been as busy here, in this department, as he was in bringing about poor Tom's distresses.
But in that steady persevering exhibition of the liabilities of individual human nature, the COMMON liabilities which throw it upon the COMMON, the distinctive law of humanity for its WEAL—in that continuous picture of the suffering and ignominy, and mutilation to which it is liable, moral and intellectual, as well as physical, where that law of humanity is not yet scientifically developed and scientifically sustained—the Poet does not always go quite so far to find his details. It is not from the Celtic Regan's time that he brings out those ancient implements of state authority into which the feet of the poor Duke of Kent, travelling on the king's errands, are ignominiously thrust; while the Poet, under cover of the Fool's jests, shows prettily their relation to the human dignity.
But then it is a Duke on whom this indignity is practised; for it is to be remarked, in passing, that though this Poet is evidently bent on making his exhibition a thorough one, though he is determined not to leave out anything of importance in his diagrams, he does not appear inclined to soil his fingers by meddling with the lower orders, or to countenance any innovation in his art in that respect. Whenever he has occasion to introduce persons of this class into his pieces, they come in and go out, and perform their part in his scene, very much as they do elsewhere in his time. Even when his Players come in, they do not speak many words on their own behalf. They stand civilly, and answer questions, and take their orders, and fulfil them. That is all that is looked for at their hands. For this is not a Poet who has ever given any one occasion in his own time, to distinguish him as the Poet of the People. It is always from the highest social point of observation that he takes those views of the lower ranks, which he has occasion to introduce into his Plays, from the mobs of 'greasy citizens' to the details of the sheep-shearing feast; and even in Eastcheap he keeps it still.
There never was a more aristocratic poet apparently, and though the very basest form of outcast misery 'that ever penury in contempt of man brought near to beast,' though the basest and most ignoble and pitiful human liabilities, are every where included in his plan; he will have nothing but the rich blood of dukes and kings to take him through with it—he will have nothing lower and less illustrious than these to play his parts for him.
It is a king to whom 'the Farm House,' where both fire and food are waiting, becomes a royal luxury on his return from the Hovel's door, brought in chattering out of the tempest, in that pitiful stage of human want, which had made him ready to share with Tom o' Bedlam, nay, with the swine, their rude comforts. 'Art cold? I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow. Your hovel:—come bring us to your hovel.'
It is a king who gets an ague in the storm, who finds the tyranny of the night too rough for nature to endure; it is a king on whose desolate outcast head, destitution and social wrongs accumulate their results, till his wits begin to turn, till his mind is shattered, and he comes on to the stage at last, a poor bedlamite.
Nay, 'Tom' himself, is a duke's son, we are told; though that circumstance does not hinder him from giving, with much frankness and scientific accuracy, the particulars of those personal pursuits, and tastes, and habits, incidental to that particular station in life to which it has pleased Providence to call him.
And so by means of that poetic order, which is the Providence of this piece, and that design which 'tunes the harmony of it,' it is a duke on whom that low correction, 'such as basest and most contemned wretches are punished with,' is exhibited, in spite of his indignant protest.
Kent. Call not your stocks for me. I serve the king, On whose employment I was sent to you. You shall do small respect, show too bold malice Against the grace and person of my master, Stocking his messenger.
Cornwall. Fetch forth the stocks. As I have life and honour, there shall he sit till noon.'
Regan. Till noon,—till night my lord, and all night too.
[In vain the prudent and loyal Gloster remonstrates]
—The king must take it ill That he, so slightly valued in his messenger, Should have him thus restrained.
Cornwall. I'll answer that.
Regan. Put in his legs.
But then it must be confessed that the poet was not without some kind of precedent for this bold dramatic proceeding. He had, indeed, by means of the culture and diligent use of that gift of forethought, with which nature had so largely endowed him, been enabled thus far to keep his own person free from any such tangible encumbrance, though the 'lameness' with which fortune had afflicted him personally, is always his personal grievance; but he had seen in his own time, ancient men and reverend,—men who claimed to be the ministers of heaven, and travelling on its errands, arrested, and subjected to this ludicrous indignity: he had seen this open stop, this palpable, corporeal, unfigurative arrest put upon the activity of scholars and thinkers in his time, conscientious men, between whose master and the state, there was a growing quarrel then, a quarrel that these proceedings were not likely to pacify. From noon till night, they, too, had sat thus, and all night too, they had endured that shameful lodging.
'When a man is over lusty at legs,' says the Fool, who arrives in time to put in an observation or two on this topic, and who seems disposed to look at it from a critical point of view, concluding with the practical improvement of the subject, already quoted—'When a man is over lusty at legs'—(when his will, or his higher intelligence, perhaps, is allowed to govern them too freely,) 'he wears wooden nether stocks,' or 'cruel garters,' as he calls them again, by way of bestowing on this institution of his ancestors as much variety of poetic imagery as the subject will admit of. 'Horses are tied by the head, dogs and bears by the neck, monkeys by the loins, and men by the legs'; and having ransacked his memory to such good purpose, and produced such a pile of learned precedents, he appears disposed to rest the case with these; for it is a part of the play to get man into his place in the scale of nature, and to draw the line between him and the brutes, if there be any such thing possible; and the Fool seems to be particularly inclined to assist the author in this process, though when we last heard of him he was, indeed, proposing to send the principal man of his time 'to school to an ant,' to improve his sagacity; intimating, also, that another department of natural science, even conchology itself, might furnish him with some rather more prudent and fortunate suggestions than those which his own brain had appeared to generate; and it is to be remarked, that in his views on this point, as on some others of importance, he has the happiness to agree remarkably with that illustrious yoke-fellow of his in philosophy, who was just then turning his attention to the 'practic part of life' and its 'theoric,' and who indulges himself in some satires on this point not any less severe, though his pleasantries are somewhat more covert. But the philosopher on this occasion, having produced such a variety of precedents from natural history, appears to be satisfied with the propriety and justice of the proceeding, inasmuch as beasts and men seem to be treated with impartial consideration in it; and though a certain distinction of form appears to obtain according to the species, the main fact is throughout identical.
'Then comes the time,' he says, in winding up that knotted skein of prophecy, which he leaves for Merlin to disentangle, for 'he lives before his time,' as he takes that opportunity to tell us—
'Then comes the time, who lives to see't, That going shall be used with feet.'
Yes, it is a duke who is put in the stocks; it is a duke's son plays the bedlamite; it is a king who finds the hovel's shelter 'precious'; and it is a queen—it is a king's wife, and a daughter of kings—who is hanged; nay more, it is Cordelia—it is Cordelia, and none other, whom this inexorable Poet, primed with mischief, bent on outrage, determined to turn out the heart of his time, and show, in the selectest form, the inmost lining of its lurking humanities—it is Cordelia whom he will hang—And we forgive him still, and bear with him in all these assaults on our taste—in all these thick-coming blows on our outraged sensibilities; we forgive him when at last the poetic design flashes on us,—when we come to understand the providence of this piece, at least,—when we come to see at last that there is a meaning in it all, a meaning deep to justify even this procedure.
'We are not the first who, with the best meaning, have incurred the worst,' says the captive queen herself; nor was she the last of that good company, as the Poet himself might have testified;—
Upon such sacrifices the gods themselves throw incense.
We forgive the Poet here, as we forgive him in all these other pitiful and revolting exhibitions, because we know that he who would undertake the time's cure—he who would undertake the relief of the human estate in any age, must probe its evil—must reach, no matter what it costs, its deadliest hollow.
And in that age, there was no voice which could afford to lack 'the courtier's glib and oily art.' 'Hanging was the word' then, for the qualities of which this princess was the impersonation, or almost the impersonation, so predominant were they in her poetic constitution. There was no voice, gentle and low enough, to speak outright such truth as hers; and 'banishment' and 'the stocks' would have been only too mild a remedy for 'the plainness' to which Kent declares, even to the teeth of majesty, 'honour's bound, when majesty stoops to folly.'
The kind, considerate Gloster, with all his loyalty to the powers which are able to show the divine right of possession, and with all his disposition to conform to the times, is greatly distressed and perplexed with the outrages which are perpetrated, as it were, under his own immediate sanction and authority. He has a hard struggle to reconcile his duty as the subject of a state which he is not prepared to overthrow, with his humane impulses and designs. He goes pattering about for a time, remonstrating, and apologizing, and trying 'to smooth down,' and 'hush up,' and mollify, and keep peace between the offending parties. He stands between the blunt, straightforward manliness of the honest Kent on the one hand, and the sycophantic servility and self-abnegation, which knows no will but the master's, as represented by the Steward, on the other.
'I am sorry for thee,' he says to Kent, after having sought in vain to prevent this outrage from being perpetrated in his own court—
'I am sorry for thee, friend: tis the duke's pleasure, Whose disposition all the world well knows, Will not be rubbed or stopped'—
as he found to his cost, poor man, when he came to have his own eyes gouged out by it. He 'saw it feelingly' then, as he remarked himself.
'I'll entreat for thee,' he continues, in his conversation with the disguised duke in the stocks. 'The duke's to blame in this. 'Twill be ill taken.'
And when the king, on his arrival, kept waiting in the court, in his agony of indignation and grief, is told that Regan and Cornwall are 'sick,' 'they are weary,' 'they have travelled hard to-night,' denounces these subterfuges, and bids Gloster fetch him a better answer, this is the worthy man's reply to him—
'My dear lord, You know the fiery quality of the duke, How unremovable and fixed he is In his own course.'
But Lear, who has never had any but a subjective acquaintance hitherto with reasons of that kind, does not appear able to understand them from this point of view—
Lear. Vengeance! plague! death! confusion! Fiery?—what quality? Why Gloster, Gloster, I'd speak with the Duke of Cornwall and his wife.
Gloster. Well, my good lord, I have informed them so.
Lear. Informed them? Dost thou understand me?
Gloster. Ay, my good lord.
But though Gloster is not yet ready to break with tyranny, it is not difficult to see which way he secretly inclines; and though he still manages his impulses cautiously, and contrives to succour the oppressed king by stealth, his courage rises with the emergency, and grows bold with provocation. For he is himself one of the finer and finest proofs of the times which the Poet represents; one, however, which he keeps back a little, for the study of those who look at his work most carefully. This man stands here in the general, indeed, as the representative of a class of men who do not belong exclusively to this particular time—men who do not stand ready, as Kent and his class do, to fly in the face of tyranny at the first provocation; they are not the kind of men who 'make mouths,' as Hamlet says, 'at the invisible event;'—they are the kind who know beforehand that to break with the powers that are, single-handed, is to sit on the stage and have your eyes gouged out, or to undergo some process of mutilation and disfigurement, not the less painful and oppressive, by this Poet's own showing, because it does not happen, perhaps, to be a physical one, and not the less calculated, on that account, to impair one's usefulness to one's species, it may be.
But besides that more general bearing of the representation, the part and disposition of Gloster afford us from time to time, glimpses of persons and things which connect the representation more directly with the particular point here noted. Men who found themselves compelled to occupy a not less equivocal position in the state, look through it a little now and then; and here, as in other parts of the play, it only wants the right key to bring out suppressed historical passages, and a finer history generally, than the chronicles of the times were able to take up.
'Alack, alack, Edmund,' says Gloster to his natural son, making him the confidant of his nobler nature, putting what was then the perilous secret of his humanity, into the dangerous keeping of the base-born one—for this is the Poet's own interpretation of his plot; though Lear is allowed to intimate on his behalf, that the loves and relations which are recognised and good in courts of justice, are not always secured by that sanction from similar misfortune; that they are not secured by that from those penalties which great Nature herself awards in those courts in which her institutes are vindicated.
'Alack, alack, Edmund, I like not THIS UNNATURAL DEALING! When I desired their leave that I might pity him, they took from me the use of mine own house, and charged me on pain of their perpetual displeasure, neither to speak of him, entreat for him, nor in any way to sustain him.'
Edmund. Most savage and unnatural.
Gloster. Go to, say you nothing.
[And say you nothing, my contemporary reader, if you perceive that this is one of those passages I have spoken of elsewhere, which carries with it another application besides that which I put it to].
'There is division between the dukes—and a worse matter than that: I have received a letter this night,—'tis dangerous to be spoken;—I have locked the letter in my closet: these injuries the king now bears, will be revenged at home' [softly—say you nothing]. 'There is part of a power already footed: we must incline to the king. I will seek him and privily relieve him. Go you and maintain talk with the duke, that my charity be not of him perceived. If he ask for me, I am ill, and gone to bed. If I die for it,—as no less is threatened me,—the king, my old master—MUST BE RELIEVED. There is some strange thing toward, Edmund. Pray you be careful.'
Even Edmund himself professes to be not altogether without some experience of the perplexity which the claims of apparently clashing duties, and relations in such a time creates, though he seems to have found an easy method of disposing of these questions. Nature is his goddess and his law (that is, as he uses the term, the baser nature, the degenerate, which is not nature for man, which is unnatural for the human kind), and in his own 'rat'-like fashion, 'he bites the holy cords atwain.'
'How, my lord,' he says, in the act of betraying his father's secret to the Duke of Cornwall, in the hope of 'drawing to himself what his father loses'—'how I may be censured that NATURE, thus gives way to LOYALTY, something fears me to think of.' And again, 'I will persevere in my course of loyalty, though the conflict be sore between that and my blood.'
'Know thou this,' he says afterwards, to the officer whom he employs to hang Cordelia, 'THAT MEN ARE AS THE TIME IS. Thy great employment will not bear question. About it, I say, instantly, and carry it so as I have set it down.' 'I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats,' is the officer's reply, who appears to be also in the poet's secret, and ready to aid his intention of carrying out the distinction between the human kind and the brute, 'I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats;—if it be MAN'S WORK I will do it.'
But it is the steward's part, as deliberately explained by Kent himself, which furnishes in detail the ideal antagonism of that which Kent sustains in the piece; for beside those active demonstrations of his disgust, which the poetic order tolerates in him, though some of the powers within appear to take such violent offence at it, besides these tangible demonstrations, and that elaborate criticism, which the poet puts into his mouth, in which the steward is openly treated as the representative of a class, who seem to the poet apparently, to require some treatment in his time, Kent himself is made to notice distinctly this literally striking opposition.
'No contraries hold more antipathy than I, and such a knave,' he says to Cornwall, by way of explaining his apparently gratuitous attack upon the steward.
No one, indeed, who reads the play with any care, can doubt the poet's intention to incorporate into it, for some reason or other, and to bring out by the strongest conceivable contrasts, his study of loyalty and service, and especially of regal counsel, and his criticism of it, as it stood in his time in its most approved patterns. 'Such smiling rouges as these' ('that bite the holy cords atwain').
'Smooth every passion That in the nature of their lord rebels; Bring oil to fire, snow to their colder moods; Revenge, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks With every gale and vary of their masters, As knowing nought like dogs but—following.'
Such ruses as this would not, of course, be wanting in such a time as that in which this piece was planned, if Edmund's word was, indeed, the true one. 'Know thou this, men are as the time is.'
And even amidst the excitement and rough outrage of that scene—in which Gloster's trial is so summarily conducted, even in that so rude scene—the relation between the guest and his host, and the relation of the slave to his owner, is delicately and studiously touched, and the human claim in both is boldly advanced, in the face of an absolute authority, and age and personal dignity put in their claims also, and demand, even at such a moment, their full rights of reverence.
[Re-enter servants with GLOSTER.]
Regan. Ingrateful fox! 'tis he.
Cornwall. Bind fast his corky arms.
Gloster. What mean your graces?—Good my friends, consider. You are my guests: do me no foul play, friends.
Cornwall. Bind him, I say.
Regan. Hard, hard:—O filthy traitor!
Gloster. Unmerciful lady as you are, I am none.
Cornwall. To this chair bind him:—Villain, thou shalt find—[REGAN plucks his beard].
Gloster. By the KIND gods [for these are the gods, whose 'Commission' is sitting here]'tis most ignobly done, To pluck me by the beard.
Regan. So white, and such a traitor!
Gloster. Naughty lady, These hairs, which thou dost ravish from my chin, Will quicken and accuse thee. I am your host: With robber hands, my hospitable favours You should not ruffle thus.
Tied to the stake, questioned and cross-questioned, and insulted, finally, beyond even his faculty of endurance, he breaks forth, at last, in strains of indignation that overleap all arbitrary and conventional bounds, that are only the more terrible for having been so long suppressed. Kent himself, when he 'came between the dragon and his wrath,' was not so fierce.
Cornwall. Where hast thou sent the king?
Gloster. To Dover.
Regan. Wherefore To Dover, was't thou not charged at peril?—
Cornwall. Wherefore to Dover? Let him first answer that.
Regan. Wherefore to Dover?
Gloster. Because I would not see thy cruel nails Pluck out his poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs.
Regan. One side will mock another; the other too.
Cornwall. If you 'see vengeance.'
Servant. Hold your hand, my lord: I have served you ever since I was a child; But better service have I never done you, Than now to bid you hold.
Regan. How now, you dog?
Servant. If you did wear a beard upon your chin, I'd shake it on this quarrel: What do you mean?
[Arbitrary power called to an account, requested to explain itself.]
Cornwall. My villain!
Regan. A PEASANT stand up thus?
Thus too, indeed, in that rude scene above referred to, in which the king finds his messenger in the stocks, and Regan's door, too, shut against him, the same ground of criticism had already been revealed, the same delicacy and rigour in the exactions had already betrayed the depth of the poetic design, and the real comprehension of that law, whose violations are depicted here, the scientific law, the scientific sovereignty, the law of universal nature; commanding, in the human, that specific human excellence, for the degenerate movement is in violation of nature, that is not nature but her profanation and undoing.
This is one of those passages, however, which admit, as the modern reader will more easily observe than the contemporary of the Poet was likely to of a second reading.
Goneril. Why might not you, my lord, receive attendance From those that she calls servants, or from mine?
* * * * *
What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five, To follow in a house, where twice so many Have a command to tend you?
Regan. What need one?
Lear. O reason not the need: our basest beggars Are in the poorest things superfluous.
[Poor Tom must have his 'rubans.']
Allow not NATURE more than NATURE needs, MAN'S LIFE were cheap as BEASTS [and that's not nature] Thou art a lady; If only to go warm were gorgeous, Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st, Which scarcely keeps thee warm.—But, for TRUE NEED, You heavens, give me THAT patience.—Patience I need.
It is, indeed, the doctrine of the 'true need' that is lurking here, and all that puts man into his true place and relations in the creative order, whether of submission or control is included in it. It is the doctrine of the natural human need, and the natural ground and limits of the arts, for which nature has endowed man beforehand, with a faculty and a sentiment corresponding in grandeur to his need,—large as he is little, noble as he is mean, powerful as he is helpless, felicitous as he is wretched; the faculty and the sentiment whereby the want of man becomes the measure of his wealth and grandeur,—whereby his conscious lowness becomes the means of his ascent to his ideal type in nature, and to the scientific perfection of his form.
And this whole social picture,—rude, savage as it is,—savage as it shews when its sharp outline falls on that fair ideal ground of criticism which the doctrine of a scientific civilization creates,—is but the Poet's report of the progress of human development as it stood in his time, and of the gain that it had made on savage instinct then. It is his report of the social institutions of his time, as he found them on his map of human advancement. It is his report of the wild social misery that was crying underneath them, with its burthen of new advancements. It is the Poet's Apology for his new doctrine of human living, which he is going to publish, and leave on the earth, for 'the times that are far off.' It is the negative, which is the first step towards that affirmation, which he is going to establish on the earth for ever, or so long as the species, whose law he has found, endures on it. Down to its most revolting, most atrocious detail, it is still the Elizabethan civility that is painted here. Even Goneril's unscrupulous mode of disposing of her rival sister, though that was the kind of murder which was then regarded with the profoundest disgust and horror—(the queen in Cymbeline expresses that vivid sentiment, when she says: 'If Pisanio have given his mistress that confection which I gave him for a cordial, she is served as I would serve a rat')—even as to that we all know what a king's favourite felt himself competent to undertake then; and, if the clearest intimations of such men as Bacon, and Coke, and Raleigh, on such a question, are of any worth, the household of James the First was not without a parallel even for that performance, if not when this play was written, when it was published.
It is all one picture of social ignorance, and misery, and frantic misrule. It is a faithful exhibition of the degree of personal security which a man of honourable sentiments, and humane and noble intentions, could promise himself in such a time. It shows what chance there was of any man being permitted to sustain an honourable and intelligent part in the world, in an age in which all the radical social arts were yet wanting, in which the rude institutions of an ignorant past spontaneously built up, without any science of the natural laws, were vainly seeking to curb and quench the Incarnate soul of new ages,—the spirit of a scientific human advancement; and, when all the common welfare was still openly intrusted to the unchecked caprice and passion of one selfish, pitiful, narrow, low-minded man.
To appreciate fully the incidental and immediate political application of the piece, however, it is necessary to observe that notwithstanding that studious exhibition of lawless and outrageous power, which it involves, it is, after all, we are given to understand, by a quiet intimation here and there, a limited monarchy which is put upon the stage here. It is a constitutional government, very much in the Elizabethan stage of development, as it would seem, which these arbitrary rulers affect to be administering. It is a government which professes to be one of law, under which the atrocities of this piece are sheltered.
And one may even note, in passing, that that high Judicial Court, in which poor Lear undertakes to get his cause tried, appears to have, somehow, an extremely modern air, considering what age of the British history it was, in which it was supposed to be constituted, and considering that one of the wigs appointed to that Bench had to leave his speech behind him for Merlin to make, in consequence of living before his time: at all events it is already tinctured with some of the more notorious Elizabethan vices—vices which our Poet, not content with this exposition, contrived to get exposed in another manner, and to some purpose, ere all was done.
Lear. It shall be done, I will arraign them straight! Come, sit thou here, most learned Justice.
[_To the_ BEDLAMITE_.]
Thou, sapient Sir, sit here. [To the FOOL.]
I'll see their trial first. Bring in the evidence. Thou robed MAN of JUSTICE take thy place.
[To TOM O'BEDLAM.]
And thou, his yoke fellow of EQUITY bench by his side.
[To the FOOL.]
You are of 'the Commission'—sit you too.
Truly it was a bold wit that could undertake to constitute that bench on the stage, and fill it with those speaking forms,—speaking to the eye the unmistakeable significance, for these judges, two of them, happened to be on the spot in full costume,—and as to the third, he was of 'the commission.' 'Sit you, too.' Truly it was a bold instructor that could undertake 'to facilitate' the demonstration of 'the more chosen subjects,' with the aid of diagrams of this kind.
Arms! Arms! Sword, fire! CORRUPTION IN THE PLACE! False justicer, why hast thou let her scape?
The tongues of these ancient sovereigns of Britain, 'tang' throughout with Elizabethan 'arguments of state,' and even Goneril, in her somewhat severe proceedings against her father, justifies her course in a very grave and excellent speech, enriched with the choicest phrases of that particular order of state eloquence, in which majesty stoops graciously to a recognition of the subject nation;—a speech from which we gather that the 'tender of a wholesome weal' is, on the whole, the thing which she has at heart most deeply, and though the proceeding in question is a painful one to her feelings, a state necessity appears to prescribe it, or at least, render it 'discreet.'
Even in Gloster's case, though the process to which he is subjected, is, confessedly, an extemporaneous one, it appears from the Duke of Cornwall's statement, that it was only the form which was wanting to make it legal. Thus he apologizes for it.—
Though well we may not pass upon his life Without the form of justice, yet our power Shall do a courtesy to our wrath, which men May blame, but not control.
Goneril, however, grows bolder at the last, and says outright, 'Say if I do, the laws are mine NOT THINE.' But it is the law which is thine and mine, it is the law which is for Tom o' Bedlam and for thee, that great nature speaking at last through her interpreter, and explaining all this wild scene, will have vindicated.
Most MONSTROUS, exclaims her illustrious consort; but at the close of the play, where so much of the meaning sometimes comes out in a word, he himself concedes that the government which has just devolved upon him is an absolute monarchy.
'For us,' he says, 'WE WILL RESIGN, during the life of this old Majesty, OUR ABSOLUTE POWER.'
So that there seems to have been, in fact,—in the minds, too, of persons who ought, one would say, to have been best informed on this subject,—just that vague, uncertain, contradictory view of this important question, which appears to have obtained in the English state, during the period in which the material of this poetic criticism was getting slowly accumulated. But of course this play, so full of the consequences of arbitrary power, so full of Elizabethan politics, with its 'ear-kissing arguments,' could not well end, till that word, too, had been spoken outright; and, in the Duke of Albany's resignation, it slips in at last so quietly, so properly, that no one perceives that it is not there by accident.
This, then, is what the play contains; but those that follow the story and the superficial plot only, must, of course, lose track of the interior identities. It does not occur to these that the Poet is occupied with principles, and that the change of persons does not, in the least, confound his pursuit of them.
The fact that tyranny is in one act, or in one scene, represented by Lear, and in the next by his daughters;—the fact that the king and the father is in one act the tyrant, and in another, the victim of tyranny, is quite enough to confound the criticism to which a work of mere amusement is subjected; for it serves to disguise the philosophic purport, by dividing it on the surface: and the dangerous passages are all opposed and neutralised, for those who look at it only as a piece of dramatized, poetic history.
For this is a philosopher who prefers to handle his principles in their natural, historical combinations, in those modified unions of opposites, those complex wholes, which nature so stedfastly inclines to, instead of exhibiting them scientifically bottled up and labelled, in a state of fierce chemical abstraction.
His characters are not like the characters in the old 'Moralities,' which he found on the stage when he first began to turn his attention to it, mere impersonations of certain vague, loose, popular notions. Those sickly, meagre forms would not answer his purpose. It was necessary that the actors in the New Moralities he was getting up so quietly, should have some speculation in their eyes, some blood in their veins, a kind of blood that had never got manufactured in the Poet's laboratory till then. His characters, no matter how strong the predominating trait, though 'the conspicuous instance' of it be selected, have all the rich quality, the tempered and subtle power of nature's own compositions. The expectation, the interest, the surprise of life and history, waits, with its charm on all their speech and doing.
The whole play tells, indeed, its own story, and scarcely needs interpreting, when once the spectator has gained the true dramatic stand-point; when once he understands that there is a teacher here,—a new one,—one who will not undertake to work with the instrumentalities that his time offered to him, who begins by rejecting the abstractions which lie at the foundation of all the learning of his time, which are not scientific, but vague, loose, popular notions, that have been collected without art, or scientific rule of rejection, and are, therefore, inefficacious in nature, and unavailable for 'the art and practic part of life;' a teacher who will build up his philosophy anew, from the beginning, a teacher who will begin with history and particulars, who will abstract his definitions from nature, and have powers of them, and not words only, and make them the basis of his science and the material and instrument of his reform. 'I will teach you differences,' says Kent to the steward, alluding on the part of his author, for he does not profess to be metaphysical himself to another kind of distinction, than that which obtained in the schools; and accompanying the remark, on his own part, with some practical demonstrations, which did not appear to be taken in good part at all by the person he was at such pains to instruct in his doctrine of distinctions.