Page:Studies of a Biographer 4.djvu/52

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38
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

to be satisfied by the poems and by the circulation of the sonnets in manuscript. The plays were in the first instance pot-boilers. He could not help putting his power into them when the situation laid hold of his imagination; but the haste, the frequent flagging of interest, the curious readiness with which he sometimes forgives a character or accepts an unsatisfactory catastrophe, tends to show a singular indifference. In the greatest plays the inspiration lasts throughout; but in most he does not take the trouble to keep up to the highest level.

I need not ask whether the opinions attributed to Scott and Shakespeare are defensible. Some people, I know, consider that 'devotion to art' is the cardinal virtue, and that it is better to turn out a good poem and starve than to write down to the public and pay your bills. That is an old controversy; but, at any rate, Shakespeare's view is in character. He was never blind to the humorist's point of view, and humour has its questionable ethical quality. It helps some people to see the charm of the 'simple faith miscalled simplicity,' and Shakespeare's cordial appreciation of a fool shows one side of an amiable disposition. But a saint can hardly be a humorist. It is his