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according to Virgil's account, peopled chiefly with women. At least, in going over the names of the most celebrated among the inmates of these abodes, he mentions the name of only one man, Sichous.
But though death, or a life of blighted sorrow, is, in the case of women, a commoner and more natural consequence of bereavements, or disappointments in love, than it is in that of men, I think I need hardly say that it is neither necessary nor advisable that it should produce this result in either case. And, indeed, I believe that it is not the largest hearts, either in men or women, which are broken or soured by disappointment. A large heart has the materials for cure within itself; when driven out of one channel it forces itself into another; or else, like a river, which, from being dammed up, has overflowed its banks, and waters the surrounding country, it spreads far and wide, and diffuses its genial influence over society. The heart which has lost the object on which it used to centre its affection, sometimes learns by that very loss to love mankind.
But to return to Romeo : had he loved like a man, he would not have destroyed himself, and then his dearest wishes would have been crowned with success. It is inexpressibly mournful to see a man so near to happiness, and yet finally stopping short of it. It is like seeing a ship go down at sea when just nearing the shore; and were it not that the catastrophe is partly to be ascribed to the fault of the parties who are the subject of it, the story would be too sad to read. But, even in spite of this slight alloy which the poetical justice of the author introduces, we can heartily subscribe to the last words of the play, and say that
“Never was a tale of greater woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
And now, having disposed of the principal personages of the drama, our task is nearly done; but we must say something respecting the subordinate characters. Of these there are only three which deserve notice—the Nurse, the Friar, and Mercutio. The Nurse is admirably drawn. She is a most correct specimen of the class to which she belongs; not, indeed, altogether a favourable one, for she is both coarse and low-principled. These qualities, however, belong to her merely as an individual; and besides them, she possesses, in an eminent degree, the virtues and peculiarities of her sex. She is affectionate, faithful, devoted, garrulous, and fidgetty. Every trifling incident which relates to her young charge is as important in her eyes as the smallest facts in the life of a great man are to his biographer. Though she would be almost willing to die for Juliet, she enhances the importance of her smallest services, and endeavours to make her news more valuable, by grumbling before she communicates them, and tries the patience of her young charge—a quality of which Juliet has none to spare—by delay.
There is something beautiful in the devotion which nurses exhibit, and retain to the last hour of their lives, towards the family in which they have lived, and especially towards the members of it who have been the former objects of their care. With less than a mother's privileges, they exhibit all the affection of a mother; and though that affection occasionally exhibits itself in a somewhat grotesque form, i.e. “in the chronicling of small beer,” it must be recollected that it is not their own small beer nor that of their own family which they chronicle. An unselfish, disinterested devotion, in whatever form it may exhibit itself, is not a thing to be despised. Let those who are the objects of it show that they value it. If any of you have one of these faithful retainers of whom I have been just speaking, still living, let it be your care (especially in their declining years) to repay their former service and their present undying devotion, by providing for their wants, ministering to their comfort, and endeavouring to listen to them with sympathy, even when they dwell with tedious circumstantiality on the events of your early life.
The next character we must notice is the Friar. He stands to Romeo in somewhat the same relation that the Nurse does to Juliet. The task of forming their pupil's mind devolves upon each of them. But as the Friar is wise, and the Nurse foolish, the former endeavours to eradicate his pupil's faults, whereas the latter fosters, if she does not create, the faults of Juliet. It is no slight praise to say of the Friar that he is of all mentors the most tolerable; he is not always trying to keep his pupil in leading-strings, nor does he bore him with too much advice. Though a churchman, and, by his profession, prohibited from
marriage, he is not, like the Mentor of Telemachus, an enemy to love in laymen. Altogether, he is indulgent to the feelings of youth, and possesses none of that severity which generally characterizes a recluse. Indeed, his faults lie on the more amiable side of too great indulgence. It cannot be denied that he was wrong in joining the young couple clandestinely, and thus conniving at an act of filial disobedience. But the request which he makes in the last scene-a request which seems to come from his heart—that if anyone is to suffer the punishment, it may fall upon himself, disposes us to pardon him.
The last personage which we shall notice is Mercutio. He is of all Shakespeare's lighter characters, the most buoyant and mercurial, and perhaps for this very reason, he is of all, the least really humorous. As I am not delivering a lecture on humour, I must be brief in explaining this apparent paradox. But in the first place I will appeal to facts, in confirmation of what I have said. It is well known that all the celebrated humourists, with scarcely an exception, were men subject to melancholy; and it is generally admitted that the power of pathos and of humour go together. The reason for these facts is as follows :—The feeling of the ludicrous is produced by incongruities, and incongruities arise, chiefly from the fallen condition of man, from the contrast which continually presents itself, between what he is and what he was evidently intended to be. In its more serious developments this contrast is too mournful to be made a subject for mirth; it produces either pure compassion, or compassion mixed with a feeling of reprobation ; but in matters of more trifling importance it excites laughter. Now the same power of discrimination and the same acuteness of sensibility enable men to see and feel both the more serious and the trifling incongruities of life. The humourous man cannot therefore really be the light-minded butterfly which he sometimes appears. But Mercutio is essentially light-minded. He has not sufficient sense of the ills of life to be a real humourist; but his volubility and high spirits will not allow us to be over critical as to the subjectmatter of what he says; he is a capital foil to Romeo, an agreeable relief to the seriousness and earnestness of his friend.
It is well indeed that ardent lovers should possess, as they sometimes do, some such jocose friend, who good-naturedly makes a butt of them, or their company would be intolerable. But as we remarked before, it is well that Mercutio is removed early in the play, for besides the fact that he would have spoilt the most tragic scenes, he is a person whose company would very soon have wearied us.
And now having come to the end of my subject, I must draw to a conclusion, which I will do with one final observation. I can easily conceive that before hearing this lecture, many persons might have been inclined to smile at the idea of a grave lecturer selecting so sentimental a subject (for such it would be generally esteemed) as the play of “Romeo and Juliet.” They could not have foreseen how remorsely