August 25, 1894. Shakespeare’s Lyrics.
In their re-issue of The Aldine Poets, Messrs. George Bell & Sons have made a number of concessions to public taste. The new binding is far more pleasing than the old; and in some cases, where the notes and introductory memoirs had fallen out of date, new editors have been set to work, with satisfactory results. It is therefore no small disappointment to find that the latest volume, “The Poems of Shakespeare,” is but a reprint from stereotyped plates of the Rev. Alexander Dyce’s text, notes and memoir.
The Rev. A. Dyce.
Now, of the Rev. Alexander Dyce it may be fearlessly asserted that his criticism is not for all time. Even had he been less prone to accept the word of John Payne Collier for gospel; even had Shakespearian criticism made no perceptible advance during the last quarter of a century, yet there is that in the Rev. Alexander Dyce’s treatment of his poet which would warn us to pause before accepting his word as final. As a test of his æsthetic judgment we may turn to the “Songs from the Plays of Shakespeare” with which this volume concludes. It had been as well, in a work of this sort, to include all the songs; but he gives us a selection only, and an uncommonly bad selection. I have tried in vain to discover a single principle of taste underlying it. On what principle, for instance, can a man include the song “Come away, come away, death” from Twelfth Night, and omit “O mistress mine, where are you roaming?”; or include Amiens’ two songs from As you Like It, and omit the incomparable “It was a lover and his lass”? Or what but stark insensibility can explain the omission of “Take, O take those lips away,” and the bridal song “Roses, their sharp spines being gone,” that opens The Two Noble Kinsmen? But stay: the Rev. Alexander Dyce may attribute this last pair to Fletcher. “Take, O take those lips away” certainly occurs (with a second and inferior stanza) in Fletcher’s The Bloody Brother, first published in 1639; but Dyce gives no hint of his belief that Fletcher wrote it. We are, therefore, left to conclude that Dyce thought it unworthy of a place in his collection. On The Two Noble Kinsmen (first published in 1634) Dyce is more explicit. In a footnote to the Memoir he says: “The title-page of the first edition of Fletcher’s Two Noble Kinsmen attributes the play partly to Shakespeare; I do not think our poet had any share in its composition; but I must add that Mr. C. Lamb (a great authority in such matters) inclines to a different opinion.” When “Mr. C. Lamb” and the Rev. Alexander Dyce hold opposite opinions, it need not be difficult to choose. And surely, if internal evidence count for anything at all, the lines
“Maiden pinks, of odour faint,
Daisies smell-less, yet most quaint,
And sweet thyme true.”
“Oxlips in their cradles growing”
“Not an angel of the air,
Bird melodious, or bird fair,
Be absent hence.”
–were written by Shakespeare and not by Fletcher. Nor is it any detraction from Fletcher to take this view. Shakespeare himself has left songs hardly finer than Fletcher wrote at his best–hardly finer, for instance, than that magnificent pair from Valentinian. Only the note of Shakespeare happens to be different from the note of Fletcher: and it is Shakespeare’s note–the note of
“The cowslips tall her pensioners be”
(also omitted by the inscrutable Dyce) and of
“When daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight …”
–that we hear repeated in this Bridal Song.[A] And if this be so, it is but another proof for us that Dyce was not a critic for all time.