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with which he is made to co-operate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked son with the wicked daughters, to impress this important moral, that villainy is never at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last terminate in ruin.
But though this moral be incidentally enforced, Shakspeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and what is yet more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified by The Spectator, who blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and happiness in his alteration, and declares, that in his opinion, “the Tragedy has lost half its beauty.” Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to secure the favourable reception of Cato, “the town was poisoned with much false and abominable criticism," and that endeavours had been used to discredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life: but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or, that if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.
In the present case the publick has decided.* Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.
There is another controversy among the criticks concerning this play. It is disputed whether the predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a very judicious critick, has evinced by induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes, with great justness, that Lear would move our compassion but little, did we not rather consider the injured father than the degraded king.
The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, which is
* Dr. Johnson should rather have said that the managers of the theatres-royal have decided, and the publick has been obliged to acquiesce in their decision. The altered play has the upper gallery on its side; the original drama was patronized by Addison :
Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni. SȚEEVENS,
derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom Holinshed generally copied ; but perhaps im. mediately from an old historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakspeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications : it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had seen Shakspeare. Johnson.
The episode of Gloster and his sons is borrowed from Sidney's Arcadia, in which we find the following chapter, which is said to be entitled, in the first edition of 1590, “The pitifull state and storie of the Paphlagonian unkinde king, and his kind sonne : first related by the sonne, then by the blind father.”
In the second edition printed in folio in 1593, there is no division of chapters. There the story of the king of Paphlagonia commences in p. 69, b, and is related in the following words :
“ It was in the kingdome of Galacia, the season being (as in the depth of winter) very cold, and as then sodainely growne to so extreame and foule a storme, that neuer any winter (I thinke) brought foorth a fowler child; so that the princes were euen compelled by the haile, that the pride of the winde blew into their faces, to seeke some shrowding place, which a certaine hollow rocke offering vnto them, they made it their shield against the tempests furie. And so staying there, till the violence thereof was passed, they heard the speach of a couple, who, not perceiuing them, (being hidde within that rude canapy) helde a straunge and pitifull disputation, which made them steppe out; yet in such sort, as they might see vnseene. There they perceaued an aged man, and a young, scarcely come to the age of a man, both poorely arayed, extreamely weather-beaten ; the olde man blinde, the young man leading him: and yet through all those miseries, in both there seemed to appeare a kind of noblenesse, not sutable to that affliction. But the first words they heard, were these of the old man. Well, Leonatus, (said he) since I cannot perswade thee to leade mee to that which should end my griefe, and thy trouble, let me now entreat thee to leaue me : feare not, my miserie cannot be greater then it is, and nothing doth become me but miserie ; feare not the danger of my blind steps ; I cannot fall worse then I am. And doo not, I pray thee, doo not obstinately continue to infect thee with my wretchedness. But flie, flie from this region, only worthy of me. Deare father, (answered he,) doo not take away from me the onely remnant of my happinesse : while I haue power to doo you seruice, I am not wholly
miserable : Ah, my sonne, (said he, and with that he groned, as if sorrow straue to breake his harte,) how euill fits it me to have such a sonne, and how much doth thy kindnesse vpbraide my wickednesse! These dolefull speeches, and some others to like purpose, (well showing they had not been borne to the fortune they were in,) moued the princes to goe out vnto them, and aske the younger, what they were. Sirs, (answered he, with a good grace, and made the more agreeable by a certain noble kinde of pitiousnes) I see well you are straungers, that know not our miserie, so well here knowne, that no man dare know, but that we must be miserable. In deede our state is such, as though nothing is so needful vnto vs, as pittie, yet nothing is more dangerous ynto vs then to make our selues so knowne as may stirre pittie. But your presence promiseth, that cruelty shall not ouer-runne hate. And if it did, in truth our state is soncke below the degree of feare.
“ This old man whom I leade, was lately rightfull prince of this countrie of Paphlagonia, by the hard-harted vngratefulnes of a sonne of his, depriued, not onely of his kingdome (whereof no forraine forces were euer able to spoyle him) but of his sight; the riches which nature graunts to the poorest creatures. Whereby, and by other his vnnaturall dealings, he hath been driuen to such griefe, as euen now he would haue had me to haue led him to the toppe of this rocke, thence to cast himselfe headlong to death : and so would have made me, who receiued my life of him, to be the worker of his destruction. But noble gentlemen, (said he) if either of you haue a father, and feele what duetifull affection is engraffed in a sonnes heart, let me entreate you to conuay this afflicted prince to some place of rest and securitie. Amongst your worthie actes it shall be none of the least, that a king, of such might and fame, and so vniustlie oppressed, is in any sort by you relieved.
“ But before they coulde make him aunswere, his father began to speake. Ah, my sonne, (said he) how euill an historian are vou, that leaue out the chief knot of all the discourse ? my wickednes, my wickednes. And if thou doest it to spare my ears, (the onely sense now left mee proper for knowledge,) assure thy selfe thou doest mistake me. And I take witnesse of that sunne which you see, (with that he cast vp his blinde eies, as if he would hunt for light,) and wish my selfe in worse case then I doe wish my find selfe, which is as euill as may bee, if I speake yntruely, that nothing is so welcome to my thoughts, as the publishing of my shame. Therefore know you, gentlemen, (to whome from my heart I wish that it may not proue some ominous foretoken of misfortune to haue met with such a miseras I am,) that whatsoeuer my sonne (Ô God, that truth bindes me to reproach him with the name of my son !) hath saide, is true. But besides those truthes, this also is true; that hauing
had in lawfull marriage, of a mother fitte to beare roiall children, this sonne, (such a one as partly you see, and better shall knowe by my short declaration) and so enjoyed the expectations in the world of him, till he was growen to justifie their expectations, (so as I needed enuie no father for the chiefe comfort of mortalitie, 10 leaue an other ones selfe after me,) I was carried by a bastard sonne of mine (if at least I be bounde to beleeue the words of that base woman my concubine, his mother,) first to mislike, then to hate, lastly to destroy, or to doo my best to destroy, this sonne (I thinke you thinke) vndeseruing destruction. What waies he vsed to bring me to it, if I shoulde tell you, I shoulde tediouslie trouble you with as much poisonous hypocrisie, desperate fraud, smooth malice, hidden ambition, and smiling enuie, as in any Jiuing person could be harbored. But I list it not; no remembraunce of naughtinesse delightes me, but mine owne; and me thinkes, the accusing his trappes might in some manner excuse my fault, which certainelie I loth to doo. But the conclusion is, that I gaue order to some seruauntes of mine, whom I thought as apte for such charities as my selfe, to lead him out into a forrest, and there to kill him.
“ But those theeues (better natured to my sonne than my selfe) spared his life, letting him goe, to learne to liue poorlie : which he did, giuing himself to be a priuate souldier, in a countrey here by. But as he was ready to be greatlie aduaunced for some noble peeces of seruice which he did, he heard newes of me: who, dronke in my affection to that vnlawfull and vnnaturall sonne of mine, suffered my selfe so to be gouerned by him, that all fauours and punishments passed by him ; all offices, and places of importance, distributed to his fauourites; so that ere I was aware, I had left my selfe nothing but the name of a king: which he shortly wearie of too, with manie indignities, if any thing may be called an indignitie, which was laide vpon me, threw me out of my seate, and put out my eies ; and then, proud in his tirannie, let me goe, neither imprisoning nor killing me: but rather delighting to make me feele my miserie ; miserie in deede, if euer there were any; full of wretchednesse, fuller of disgrace, and fullest of guiltines. And as he came to the crowne by so vniust meanes, as vniustlie he kept it, by force of straunger souldiers in cittadels, the nestes of tirannie, and murderers of libertie ; disarming all his own countrimen, that no man durst shew himselfe a wellwiller of mine; to say the truth, (I thinke) few of them being so, considering my cruell folly to my good sonne, and foolish kindnesse to my vnkind bastard : but if there were any who felt a pitty of so great a fall, and had yet any sparkes of vnslaine duety lefte in them towards me, yet durst they not shewe it, scarcely with giuing me almes at their doores; which yet was the onely sustenaunce of my distressed life, no body daring to showe so much charitie, as to lende mee a hande to guide my darke steppes: till this sonne of mine, (God knowes, woorthy of a more vertuous, and more fortunate father,) forgetting my abhominable wronges, not recking daunger, and neglecting the present good way hee was in of doing himselfe good, came hether to doo this kind office you see him performe towardes me, to my vnspeakable griefe ; not only because his kindnes is a glasse euen to my blind eies, of my naughtines, but that, aboue all griefes, it greeues me he should desperatlie aduenture the losse of his well deseruing life for mine, that yet owe more to fortune for my deserts; as if hee woulde cary mudde in a chest of christall. For well I know, he that now raigneth, howe much soeuer (and with good reason) he despiseth me, of all men despised, yet hee will not let slippe any aduantage to make away him, whose iust title, enobled by courage and goodnes, may one day shake the seate of a neuer-secure tyrannie. And for this cause I craued of him to leade mee to the toppe of this rocke, indeede I must confesse, with meaning to free him from so serpentine a companion as I am. But he finding what I purposed, onely therein since hee was borne, shewed himselfe disobedient vnto mee. And now, gentlemen, you haue the true storie, which I pray you publish to the world, that my mischieuous proceedings may bee the glorie of his filiall pietie, the onely reward now left for so greate a merite. And if it may be, let ine obtaine that of you, which my sonne denies me : for neuer was there more pity in sauing any, then in ending me; both because therein my agonies shall ende, and so shall you preserue this excellent young man, who els wilfully followes his owne ruine.
“ The matter in it selfe lamentable, lamentably expressed by the old prince, which needed not take to himselfe the gestures of pitie, since his face coulde not put of the markes thereof, greatly moued the two princes to compassion, which coulde not stay in such harts as theirs without seeking remedie. But by and by the occasion was presented : for Plexirtus (so was the bastard called) came thether with fortie horse, onely of purpose to murder this brother ; of whose comming he had soone aduertisement, and thought no eyes of sufficient credite in such a matter, but his owne; and therefore came himselfe to be actor, and spectator. And as soone as hee came, not regarding the weake (as hee thought) garde of but two men, commaunded some of his followers to set their handes to his, in the killing of Leonatus. But the young prince, though not otherwise armed but with a sworde, howe falsely soeuer he was dealt with by others, would not betray him selfe; but brauely drawing it out, made the death of the first that assayled him warne his fellowes to come more warily after him. But then Pyrocles and Musidorus were quickly become parties, (so iust a defence deserving as much as old friendship,) and so did behave them among that companie, more iniurious then valiant, that many of them lost their liues for their wicked maister.