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In passing, we may remark upon this confession of Lord Campbell, so flattering to literature, that it is a matter of deep sympathy that he felt himself forced to enter upon, and now feels hiniself bound to continue, the task which (for the first time) we here learn is uncongenial to him. For half a century he has been self-condemned to take a part in the litigation or "wrangling” of Westminster Hall; and, when he had the
opportunity of being finally released therefrom, he resumed his bonds on the bench when Lord Denman retired. He feels now, we learn, how much happier, more useful, not to say more remunerative, would have been his lot, if he had dedicated himself to literature. His proper calling was to woo the muses ; to have inscribed immortal pages, rather than frame ephemeral pleas; to have composed rather than pass sentences. He believes, now that he is Chief-Justice of England, that he has mistaken bis profession. This reflection must indeed, we fear, embitter his existence. Henceforth, whenever we see him on the bench, we shall be haunted with the fancy that his aching heart tells him hourly he has blighted bis prospects by the great error he committed in early life, in having chosen to practise at the bar ; we shall feel that he is in secret longing even now to be once again free, and able to add to the permanent and immortal literature of his country. What pangs for an aspiring soul to endure in reflecting, that whilst Shakespeare emancipated himself from the fetters of the law, and became one of the great poets of the world, Lord Campbell hesitated, and was lost—remained at the bar, and has been degraded to the Chief Justiceship of England ! What has not Lord Campbell-nay, the world—thus lost? There has occurred to him, however, the rare chance of being both a literary man and a chief justice. To effect this combination successfully was no easy matter. The ambition of being “a wit among lords, and a lord among wits,” is always accompanied with danger to reputation. Nevertheless, the learned author of this magnun opus on Shakespeare, ventured boldly, and became a biographer among the lawyers, and a lawyer among biographers. The latter capacity, at least, has been remarked by some who, hav
ing been already engaged in cultivating the fields subsequently walked over by his lordship, have seemed to think, and indeed said, that with his character of biographer he conjoined very successfully that of the nisi prius leader; for it is well known to be an essential quality in the latter, that in the consultation room and chamber he should skilfully draw upon, and boldly appropriate, the labours of his juniors; so that, having adopted all he cares to use, he successfully parades the well-prepared and arranged learning of the younger or less known practitioner who sits behind him. From whatever sources derived, however, Lord Campbell has a recognised literary character; and this work on Shakespeare will be, we doubt not, perused in consequence.
We need hardly inform our readers that Lord Campbell's letter to “My dear Mr. Payne Collier," commits the author to no opinion whatever upon the subject he discusses. In point of fact, he keeps very safe himself, while he “chaffs” his correspondent. He sums up his evidence in the old-fashioned judicial manner. “ If you think the testimony is strong enough to enable you to find a verdict for the plaintiff, you will do so; if not, you won't. Again, if the facts justify you in drawing a rational inference either in one way or the other, you will be safe in taking either course; but if not, you had better avoid the responsibility.”
Many of the passages collected from Shakespeare's plays might, of course, have been written, so far as legal knowledge is concerned, by any man of the world. The whole together merely shows that our great poet, in knowledge, and in power of using it-in wisdom, and the faculty of employing it—in observation, wit, and other mental qualities, far surpassed all other men. Lord Campbell indeed admits this. He tells us, in one of the inost sensible and strikingly original remarks in the book, that it behoves us to bear in mind that Shakespeare “was a mortal man, and nothing miraculous can be attributed to him.” The first branch of which statement is a fact, of which contemporary testimony, and indeed the certificate of his death, sufficiently assure us; and the second branch is not open to much doubt among the orthodox. The writer seems really to sum up the
truth on this subject when he says
that Shakespeare lectually, the most gifted of mankind;" and "he was capable of acquiring knowledge where the opportunities he enjoyed would have been insufficient for
from the first act of Henry V., in which Prince Hal is described, is happily applied to the dramatist himself (p. 116):
“ Hear him but reason in divinity,
And, all-admiring, with an inward wish,
Above all, Shakespeare knew life in all its forms and phases life in the great world and in the common world. He describes kings and beggars, queens and courtesans, lawyers and fools, the noble heart and the mean sycophant, the pomp of courts and the poverty of the garret, with equal truth. His poetic genius enabled him to depict what by his extraordinary apprehension he had mastered. His mind was framed to penetrate and portray man in all his moods. The conflict of the camp and the "wrangling” of the courts were alike subject to his pen. He must have been a soldier, statesman, merchant, ecclesiastic, as well as a lawyer, if vivid description of the life of each class could him to have personally experienced what he described.
William Shakespeare was landowner, proprietor of playhouses, manager of theatres, and hence it is not strange that he should have learnt something of leases, bonds, and generally of the law of property, of securities, and other cognate topics, with and by which lawyers' minds and mouths are filled. We fancy Mr. Lumley, Mr. Gye, and Mr. E T. Smith-perhaps, too, Mr. Farren, Charles
Matthews, Mr. Buxton, and others in like position—would, on examination, pass very fairly in matters relating to bonds, bills, contracts, insolvencies, and much of what popular “Handybooks” now profess to reveal to the public.
Other dramatists besides Shakespeare abound in allusions to legal topics; and, seeing that almost all mankind must be more or less subjected to the lawyer as well as the physician during their lives, and so feel some interest in their doings, arising either from admiration or disgust, satisfaction or horror—it is not very remarkable to find abundance of allusions to such topics in those authors who reflect the doings and thoughts of mankind. Let us take an example, picked up cursorily from Massinger. In “The Old Law," Act I., Scene 1, Simonides thus introduces two lawyers to Cleanthes :
“ These are lawyers, man,
1st Law.–0, sir, we must undertake of both parts;
But the good we have most good on.” After some interchange of remarks upon the difference between law and conscience, Cleanthes exclaims, with reference to an acute interpretation of an act of parliament
" A fine law evasion !
’Mongst many words may be found contradictions,
The statute in question (a very fair mock enactment) is set out at length, thereby showing Massinger's close acquaintance with the statute-book. Indeed, he may have been, so far as this passage is evidence, apprenticed in a parliamentary agent's office, who had possibly done business for the firm of attorneys in which Shakespeare was the conveyancing clerk.
Again, when Cleanthes wants the opinion of the first lawyer
upon the clause of the statute, Massinger exhibits familiar acquaintance with the professional feelings in the course which he now makes Cleanthes take:
“Clean.—Come, sir ! I know How to make you speak.
Will this do it ?
(Gives him his purse. 1st Law.-I will afford you my opinion, sir.”
The lawyer's opinion appearing, however, to Simonides mere quibble, he bids him restore his fee
“Give him his fee again ; 'tis not worth two deniers."
Mark the reply, which displays extraordinary knowledge of the detail of legal conduct :
“1st Law.— There is no law for restitution of fees, sir.” The above passage affords more palpable evidence of legal acquirements than that quoted by Lord Campbell out of “King Lear:"—
"Lear.- This is nothing, fool.
gave me nothing for it." If, as Lord Campbell says, the latter passage shows “that Shakespeare had frequently been present at trials in courts of justice," the former proves beyond all question that Massinger must have been familiar with a very important branch of chamber practice.
Another instance of Massinger's intimate acquaintance with the law of Dower is seen in the same play from which we have already quoted, when one of his characters, who desires the death of his father's widow, says
“ Then would her thirds be saved, too."
Many like passages, in aid of the theory that Massinger was at one time of his life connected with the legal profession, could be adduced, but the above will in his case suffice.
We will turn next to Beaumont and Fletcher's plays. Here