Science in The Magazines

    Abstract

    THOUGH articles on scientific subjects are sprinkled through this month's magazines, they contain little that is new or suggestive. In the Quarterly Review (No. 356) two interesting articles appear, one on “Shakespeare's Birds and Insects,” and another on “Ocean Meadows.” Much has been written concerning Shakespeare's natural history, but the conclusion to which an examination of the poet's writings inevitably leads is that he was not an observant student of animal and plant life. The Quarterly reviewer criticises Shakespeare's knowledge of these matters, pointing out that Chaucer wrote of what he saw and heard in the animal life about him with a sense of personal delight that convinces the reader of his familiarity with animate nature. So too with Spenser, and with Ben Jonson. But, says the reviewer, Shakespeare resembles neither of these. “He borrows from Gower and Chaucer and Spenser; from Drayton and Du Bartas and Lyle and William Browne; from Pliny, Ovid, Virgil, and the Bible; borrows, in fact, everywhere he can, but with a symmetry that makes his natural history harmonious as a whole, and a judgment that keeps it always moderate and passable.” This indictment is supported by uncontrovertible evidence, and concludes with the remark that Shakespeare's natural history “is commonplace when it is correct, and “Elizabethan” when it is wrong.” His method of handling animated nature has had a mementous effect on all succeeding poetry, so that poetry has sung of nature on Shakespeare's lines with an extraordinary fidelity. Groups of creatures which he misrepresented have been held up to reproach by poets since his time, and many others deserving of notice have been neglected. It is remarked, however, that “there is no necessity for a poet to te a naturalist in order to be true to nature; but there is the most urgent necessity that he should be in sympathy with nature and ready to acknowledge the good and beautiful, even if it should reach him in such questionable shapes as ‘the deadly owle’ or ‘a full-blown toad that venom spits.’”In fact, owing to the great influence of Shakespeare's writings, the peculiarities of his sympathies and antipathies have been followed by almost all succeeding poets. His natural history was largely at fault; indeed, the reviewer asserts that he was sadly unsymparhetic and unobservant. We conclude with a quotation which will come as a revelation to many people: “But taking men all round, ordirarily intelligent men of a country life (a town life was in Shakespeare's day what we should now call country life), was Shakespeare, as compared with these average individuals, an chserver of rature?' The question is one liable to shock whose who have followed blind guides so long. The answer to it is liable to shock them more severely. No. Shakespeare was curiously unobservant of animated nature. He seems to have seen very little. Our authority for this is his own works, which, while they abound with beauties of fancy and imagination, are most disappointing to lovers of nature by (their errors apart) their extraordinary omissions.”

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