Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/242

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230

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of beauty, beauty be bereft. There is no more marvelous picture in all the vegetal world than that of a great tree with all its myriad cells, in summer so filled with the rush of life's activity and change that we might hear its music, in autumn sinking to quiescence, and the winter's silent chill where liquid prisoners sleep 'neath walls of glass. The poet did not understand it; he simply prophesied better than he knew. He makes us think of Goethe, of Lucretius. These men made happy guesses. Lucretius especially surprises us by his views of the constitution of matter—unverified, so far as we can know. Goethe lived in the age of science and went on laboriously to verify his surmises. The only natural science which Shakespeare knew was gardening—if that may be called a science. His Sonnets are supposed to have been written about 1590, and the first scientific glimpse of the "prisoner pent in walls of glass" came about 1670, through the lenses of Nehemiah Grew, a Puritan physicist and botanist.

I am aware that it is said by some that in a critique like this we are apt to read much into the writings of our author. The quotations I have submitted show, it seems to me, that this is unnecessary in the present case at least. The words are generally unequivocal Of course, the language is poetical, metaphoric, but the metaphor has reference to something else; the description is not the metaphor. But, in fact, ought we to expect in Shakespeare very exact or complete description? His whole art lies in the power of suggestion. The deep impressions a man of genius makes upon our minds lie often, if not always, in what he does not say. A word or two and the vision rises, whether in Nature or in life, a passion or a landscape. Take the broken phrases of Ophelia depicting her broken heart, her "no more but so"; or the picture of the winter woods in Sonnet LXXIII:

"That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves or none or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang."

Does any one pretend that we are reading into the lines when we appreciate the marvelous sorrow of the one picture or the exquisite truthfulness and splendor of the other?

Shakespeare's natural eye was clear indeed, but none the less he seems to have seen everything with the eye of his mind. Faraday so saw the world of force, Newton of mathematical law, and Tyndall's scientific use of the imagination lies in the same direction.

And so the man of science and the poet have much in common. Both use the natural world, and the imagination is for each an instrument of effort. The poet's generalization is a splendid vision