Sir John Falstaff by W. M.

"For those who read aright are well aware That Jaques, sighing in the forest green, Oft on his heart felt less the load of care Than Falstaff, revelling his rough mates between." MS. penes me.

"Jack Falstaff to my familiars!"—By that name, therefore, must he be known by all persons, for all are now the familiars of Falstaff. The title of "Sir John Falstaff to all Europe" is but secondary and parochial. He has long since far exceeded the limit by which he bounded the knowledge of his knighthood; and in wide-spreading territories, which in the day of his creation were untrodden by human foot, and in teeming realms where the very name of England was then unheard of, Jack Falstaff is known as familiarly as he was to the wonderful court of princes, beggars, judges, swindlers, heroes, bullies, gentlemen, scoundrels, justices, thieves, knights, tapsters, and the rest whom he drew about him.

It is indeed his court. He is lord paramount, the suzerain to whom all pay homage. Prince Hal may delude himself into the notion that he, the heir of England, with all the swelling emotions of soul that rendered him afterwards the conqueror of France, makes a butt of the ton of man that is his companion. The parts are exactly reversed. In the peculiar circle in which they live, the prince is the butt of the knight. He knows it not,—he would repel it with scorn if it were asserted; but it is nevertheless the fact that he is subdued. He calls the course of life which he leads, the unyoked humour of his idleness; but he mistakes. In all the paths where his journey lies with Falstaff, it is the hard-yoked servitude of his obedience. In the soliloquies put into his mouth he continually pleads that his present conduct is but that of the moment, that he is ashamed of his daily career, and that the time is ere long to come which will show him different from what he seems. As the dramatic character of Henry V. was conceived and executed by a man who knew how genius in any department of human intellect would work,—to say nothing of the fact that Shakspeare wrote with the whole of the prince's career before him,—we may consider this subjugation to Falstaff as intended to represent the transition state from spoiled youth to energetic manhood. It is useless to look for minute traces of the historical Henry in these dramas. Tradition and the chronicles had handed him down to Shakspeare's time as a prince dissipated in youth, and freely sharing in the rough debaucheries of the metropolis. The same vigour "that did affright the air at Agincourt" must have marked his conduct and bearing in any tumult in which he happened to be engaged. I do not know on what credible authority the story of his having given Gascoigne a box on the ear for committing one of his friends to prison may rest, and shall not at present take the trouble of inquiring. It is highly probable that the chief justice amply deserved the cuffing, and I shall always assume the liberty of doubting  that he committed the prince. That, like a "sensible lord," he should have hastened to accept any apology which should have relieved him from a collision with the ruling powers at court, I have no doubt at all, from a long consideration of the conduct and history of chief justices in general.

More diligent searchers into the facts of that obscure time have seen reason to disbelieve the stories of any serious dissipations of Henry. Engaged as he was from his earliest youth in affairs of great importance, and with a mind trained to the prospect of powerfully acting in the most serious questions that could agitate his time,—a disputed succession, a rising hostility to the church, divided nobility, turbulent commons, an internecine war with France impossible of avoidance, a web of European diplomacy just then beginning to develope itself, in consequence of the spreading use of the pen and inkhorn so pathetically deplored by Jack Cade, and forerunning the felonious invention, "contrary to the king's crown and dignity," of the printing-press, denounced with no regard to chronology by that illustrious agitator;—in these circumstances, the heir of the house of Lancaster, the antagonist of the Lollards,—a matter of accident in his case, though contrary to the general principles of his family,—and at the same time suspected by the churchmen of dangerous designs against their property,—the pretender on dubious title, but not at the period appearing so decidedly defective as it seems in ours, to the throne of France,—the aspirant to be arbiter or master of all that he knew of Europe,—could not have wasted all his youth in riotous living. In fact, his historical character is stern and severe; but with that we have here nothing to do. It is not the Henry of battles, and treaties, and charters, and commissions, and parliaments, we are now dealing with;—we look to the Henry of Shakespeare.

That Henry, I repeat, is subject and vassal of Falstaff. He is bound by the necromancy of genius to the "white-bearded Satan," who he feels is leading him to perdition. It is in vain that he thinks it utterly unfitting that he should engage in such an enterprise as the robbery at Gadshill; for, in spite of all protestations to the contrary, he joins the expedition merely to see how his master will get through his difficulty. He struggles hard, but to no purpose. Go he must, and he goes accordingly. A sense of decorum keeps him from participating in the actual robbery; but he stand close by, that his resistless sword may aid the dubious valour of his master's associates. Joining with Poins in the jest of scattering them and seizing their booty, not only is no harm done to Falstaff, but a sense of remorse seizes on the prince for the almost treasonable deed—

"Falstaff sweats to death, And lards the lean earth as he walks along; Wer't not for laughing, I should pity him."

At their next meeting, after detecting and exposing the stories related by the knight, how different is the result form what had been predicted by Poins when laying the plot! "The virtue of this jest will be, the incomprehensible lies that this same fat rogue will tell us when we meet at supper: how thirty, at least, he fought with; what wards, what blows, what extremities he endured; and in the reproof of this lies the jest." Reproof indeed! All is detected and confessed. Does Poins reprove him, interpret the word as we will? Poins  indeed! That were lèze majesté. Does the prince? Why, he tries a jest, but it breaks down; and Falstaff victoriously orders sack and merriment with an accent of command not to be disputed. In a moment after he is selected to meet Sir John Bracy, sent special with the villainous news of the insurrection of the Percies; and in another moment he is seated on his joint-stool, the mimic King of England, lecturing with a mixture of jest and earnest the real Prince of Wales.

Equally inevitable is the necessity of screening the master from the consequence of his delinquencies, even at the expense of a very close approximation to saying the thing that is not; and impossible does Hal find it not to stand rebuked when the conclusion of his joke of taking the tavern-bills from the sleeper behind the arras is the enforced confession of being a pickpocket. Before the austere king his father, John his sober-blooded brother, and other persons of gravity or consideration, if Falstaff be in presence, the prince is constrained by his star to act in defence and protection of the knight. Conscious of the carelessness and corruption which mark all the acts of his guide, philosopher, and friend, it is yet impossible that he should not recommend him to a command in a civil war which jeopardied the very existence of his dynasty. In the heat of the battle and the exultation of victory he is obliged to yield to the fraud that represents Falstaff as the actual slayer of Hotspur. Prince John quietly remarks, that the tale of Falstaff is the strangest that he ever heard: his brother, who has won the victory, is content with saying that he who has told it is the strangest of fellows. Does he betray the cheat? Certainly not,—it would have been an act of disobedience; but in privy council he suggests to his prince in a whisper,

"Come, bring your luggage [the body of Hotspur] nobly—"

nobly—as becomes your rank in our court, so as to do the whole of your followers, myself included, honour by the appearance of their master—

"Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back: For my part, if a lie may do thee grace, I'll gild it with the happiest terms I have."

Tribute, this, from the future Henry V.! Deeper tribute, however, is paid in the scene in which state necessity induces the renunciation of the fellow with the great belly who had misled him. Poins had prepared us for the issue. The prince had been grossly abused in the reputable hostelrie of the Boar's Head while he was thought to be out of hearing. When he comes forward with the intention of rebuking the impertinence, Poins, well knowing the command to which he was destined to submit, exclaims, "My lord, he will drive you out of your revenge, and turn all to merriment, if you take not the heat." Vain caution! The scene, again, ends by the total forgetfulness of Falstaff's offence, and his being sent for to court. When, therefore, the time had come that considerations of the highest importance required that Henry should assume a more dignified character, and shake off his dissolute companions, his own experience and the caution of Poins instruct him that if the thing be not done on the heat,—if the old master-spirit be allowed one moment's ground of vantage,—the game is up, the good resolutions dissipated into thin air, the grave rebuke turned all into laughter,  and thoughts of anger or prudence put to flight by the restored supremacy of Falstaff. Unabashed and unterrified he has heard the severe rebuke of the king—"I know thee not, old man," &c. until an opportunity offers for a repartee:

"Know, the grave doth gape For thee thrice wider than for other men."

Some joke on the oft-repeated theme of his unwieldy figure was twinkling in Falstaff's eye, and ready to leap from his tongue. The king saw his danger: had he allowed a word, he was undone. Hastily, therefore, does he check that word;

"Reply not to me with a fool-born jest;"

forbidding, by an act of eager authority,—what he must also have felt to be an act of self-control,—the outpouring of those magic sounds which, if uttered, would, instead of a prison becoming the lot of Falstaff, have conducted him to the coronation dinner, and established him as chief depositary of what in after days was known by the name of backstairs influence.

In this we find the real justification of what has generally been stigmatized as the harshness of Henry. Dr. Johnson, with some indignation, asks why should Falstaff be sent to the Fleet?—he had done nothing since the king's accession to deserve it. I answer, he was sent to the Fleet for the same reason that he was banished ten miles from court, on pain of death. Henry thought it necessary that the walls of a prison should separate him from the seducing influence of one than whom he knew many a better man, but none whom it was so hard to miss. He felt that he could not, in his speech of predetermined severity, pursue to the end the tone of harshness towards his old companion. He had the nerve to begin by rebuking him in angry terms as a surfeit-swelled, profane old man,—as one who, instead of employing in prayer the time which his hoary head indicated was not to be of long duration in this world, disgraced his declining years by assuming the unseemly occupations of fool and jester,—as one whom he had known in a dream, but had awakened to despise,—as one who, on the verge of the gaping grave, occupied himself in the pursuits of such low debauchery as excluded him from the society of those who had respect for themselves or their character. But he cannot so continue; and the last words he addresses to him whom he had intended to have cursed altogether, hold forth a promise of advancement, with an affectionate assurance that it will be such as is suitable to his "strength and qualities." If in public he could scarce master his speech, how could he hope in private to master his feelings? No. His only safety was in utter separation: it should be done, and he did it. He was emancipated by violent effort; did he never regret the ancient thraldom? Shakspeare is silent: but may we not imagine that he who sate crowned with the golden rigol of England, cast, amid all his splendours, many a sorrowful thought upon that old familiar face which he had sent to gaze upon the iron bars of the Fleet?

As for the chief justice, he never appears in Falstaff's presence, save as a butt. His grave lordship has many solemn admonitions, nay, serious threats to deliver; but he departs laughed at and baffled.  Coming to demand explanation of the affair at Gadshill, the conversation ends with his being asked for the loan of a thousand pounds. Interposing to procure payment of the debt to Dame Quickly, he is told that she goes about the town saying that her eldest son resembles him. Fang and Snare, his lordship's officers, are not treated with less respect, or shaken off with less ceremony. As for the other followers of the knight,—Pistol, Nym, Bardolph,—they are, by office, his obsequious dependents. But it is impossible that they could long hang about him without contracting, unknown even to themselves, other feelings than those arising from the mere advantages they derived from his service. Death is the test of all; and when that of Falstaff approaches, the dogged Nym reproaches the king for having run bad humours on the knight; and Pistol in swelling tone, breathing a sigh over his heart "fracted and corroborate," hastens to condole with him. Bardolph wishes that he was with him wheresoever he has gone, whether to heaven or hell: he has followed him all his life,—why not follow him in death? The last jest has been at his own expense; but what matters it now? In other times Bardolph could resent the everlasting merriment at the expense of his nose—he might wish it in the belly of the jester; but that's past. The dying knight compares a flea upon his follower's nose to a black soul burning in hell-fire; and no remonstrance is now made. "Let him joke as he likes," says and thinks Bardolph with a sigh, "the fuel is gone that maintained that fire. He never will supply it more; nor will it, in return, supply fuel for his wit. I wish that it could." And Quickly, whom he had for nine and twenty years robbed and cheated,—pardon me, I must retract the words,—from whom he had, for the space of a generation, levied tax and tribute as matter of right and due,—she hovers anxiously over his dying bed, and, with a pathos and a piety well befitting her calling, soothes his departing moments by the consolatory assurance, when she hears him uttering the unaccustomed appeal to God, that he had no necessity for yet troubling himself with thoughts to which he had been unused during the whole length of their acquaintance. Blame her not for leaving unperformed the duty of a chaplain: it was not her vocation. She consoled him as she could,—and the kindest of us can do no more.

Of himself, the centre of the circle, I have, perhaps, delayed too long to speak; but the effect which he impresses upon all the visionary characters around, marks Shakspeare's idea that he was to make a similar impression on the real men to whom he was transmitting him. The temptation to represent the gross fat man upon the stage as a mere buffoon, and to turn the attention of the spectators to the corporal qualities and the practical jests of which he is the object, could hardly be resisted by the players; and the popular notion of the Falstaff of the stage is, that he is no better than an upper-class Scapin. A proper consideration, not merely of the character of his mind as displayed in the lavish abundance of ever ready wit, and the sound good sense of his searching observation, but of the position which he always held in society, should have freed the Falstaff of the cabinet from such an imputation. It has not generally done so. Nothing can be more false, nor, pace tanti viri, more unphilosophical, than Dr. Johnson's critique upon his character. According to him,

"Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirizes in their absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice, but of this familiarity he is so proud, as not only to be supercilious and haughty with common men, but to think his interest of importance to the Duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety; by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy scapes and sallies of levity, which make sport, but raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.

"The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more dangerous than he that, with a will to corrupt, hath the power to please; and that neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves safe with such a companion, when they see Henry seduced by Falstaff."

What can be cheaper than the venting of moral apophthegms such as that which concludes the critique? Shakspeare, who had no notion of copybook ethics, well knew that Falstaffs are not as plenty as blackberries, and that the moral to be drawn from the representation is no more than that great powers of wit will fascinate, whether they be joined or not to qualities commanding grave esteem. In the commentary I have just quoted, the Doctor was thinking of such companions as Savage; but the interval is wide and deep.

How idle is the question as to the cowardice of Falstaff. Maurice Morgann wrote an essay to free his character from the allegation; and it became the subject of keen controversy. Deeply would the knight have derided the discussion. His retreat from before Prince Henry and Poins, and his imitating death when attacked by Douglas, are the points mainly dwelt upon by those who make him a coward. I shall not minutely go over what I conceive to be a silly dispute on both sides: but in the former case Shakspeare saves his honour by making him offer at least some resistance to two bold and vigorous men when abandoned by his companions; and, in the latter, what fitting antagonist was the fat and blown soldier of three-score for

"That furious Scot, The bloody Douglas, whose well-labouring sword Had three times slain the appearance of the king?"

He did no more than what Douglas himself did in the conclusion of the fight: overmatched, the renowned warrior

"'Gan vail his stomach, and did grace the shame Of those that turned their backs; and, in his flight, Stumbling in fear, was took."

Why press cowardice on Falstaff more than upon Douglas? In an age when men of all ranks engaged in personal conflict, we find him chosen to a command in a slaughterous battle; he leads his men to  posts of imminent peril; it is his sword which Henry wishes to borrow when about to engage Percy, and he refuses to lend it from its necessity to himself; he can jest coolly in the midst of danger; he is deemed worthy of employing the arm of Douglas at the time that Hotspur engages the prince; Sir John Coleville yields himself his prisoner; and, except in the jocular conversations among his own circle, no word is breathed that he has not performed, and is not ready to perform, the duties of a soldier. Even the attendant of the chief justice, with the assent of his hostile lordship, admits that he has done good service at Shrewsbury. All this, and much more, is urged in his behalf by Maurice Morgann; but it is far indeed from the root of the matter.

Of his being a thief and a glutton I shall say a few words anon; but where does he cheat the weak or prey upon the poor,—where terrify the timorous or insult the defenceless,—where is he obsequious; where malignant,—where is he supercilious and haughty with common men,—where does he think his interest of importance to the Duke of Lancaster? Of this last charge I see nothing whatever in the play. The "Duke" of Lancaster is a slip of the Doctor's pen. But Falstaff nowhere extends his patronage to Prince John; on the contrary, he asks from the prince the favour of his good report to the king, adding, when he is alone, that the sober-blooded boy did not love him. He is courteous of manner; but, so far from being obsequious, he assumes the command wherever he goes. He is jocularly satirical of speech; but he who has attached to him so many jesting companions for such a series of years, never could have been open to the reproach of malignity. If the sayings of Johnson himself about Goldsmith and Garrick, for example, were gathered, must he not have allowed them to be far more calculated to hurt their feelings than anything Falstaff ever said of Poins or Hal? and yet would he not recoil from the accusation of being actuated by malignant feelings towards men whom, in spite of wayward conversations, he honoured, admired, and loved?

Let us consider for a moment who and what Falstaff was. If you put him back to the actual era in which his date is fixed, and judge him by the manners of that time; a knight of the days perhaps of Edward III.—at all events of Henry IV.—was a man not to be confounded with the knights spawned in our times. A knight then was not far from the rank of peer; and with peers, merely by the virtue of his knighthood, he habitually associated as their equal. Even if we judge of him by the repute of knights in the days when his character was written,—and in dealing with Shakspeare it is always safe to consider him as giving himself small trouble to depart from the manners which he saw around him,—the knights of Elizabeth were men of the highest class. The queen conferred the honour with much difficulty, and insisted that it should not be disgraced. Sir John Falstaff, if his  mirth and wit inclined him to lead a reckless life, held no less rank in the society of the day than the Earl of Rochester in the time of Charles II. Henry IV. disapproves of his son's mixing with the loose revellers of the town; but admits Falstaff unreproved to his presence. When he is anxious to break the acquaintance, he makes no objection to the station of Sir John, but sends him with Prince John of Lancaster against the archbishop and the Earl of Northumberland. His objection is not that the knight, by his rank, is no fitting companion for a son of his own, but that he can better trust him with the steadier than the more mercurial of the brothers.

We find by incidental notices that he was reared, when a boy, page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, head of one of the greatest houses that ever was in England, and the personal antagonist of him who was afterwards Henry IV; that he was in his youth on familiar terms with John of Gaunt, the first man of the land after the death of his father and brother; and that, through all his life, he had been familiar with the lofty and distinguished. We can, therefore, conjecture what had been his youth and his manhood; we see what he actually is in declining age. In this, if I mistake not, will be found the true solution of the character; here is what the French call the mot d'énigme. Conscious of powers and talents far surpassing those of the ordinary run of men, he finds himself outstripped in the race. He must have seen many a man whom he utterly despised rising over his head to honours and emoluments. The very persons upon whom, it would appear to Doctor Johnson, he was intruding, were many of them his early companions,—many more his juniors at court. He might have attended his old patron, the duke, at Coventry, upon St. Lambert's day, when Richard II. flung down the warder amidst the greatest men of England. If he jested in the tilt-yard with John of Gaunt, could he feel that any material obstacle prevented him from mixing with those who composed the court of John of Gaunt's son?

In fact, he is a dissipated man of rank, with a thousand times more wit than ever fell to the lot of all the men of rank in the world. But he has ill played his cards in life. He grumbles not at the advancement of men of his own order; but the bitter drop of his soul overflows when he remembers how he and that cheeseparing Shallow began the world, and reflects that the starveling justice has land and beeves, while he, the wit and the gentleman, is penniless, and living from hand to mouth by the casual shifts of the day. He looks at the goodly dwelling and the riches of him whom he had once so thoroughly contemned, with an inward pang that he has scarcely a roof under which he can lay his head. The tragic Macbeth, in the agony of his last struggle, acknowledges with a deep despair that the things that should accompany old age,—as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,—he must not look to have. The comic Falstaff says nothing on the subject; but, by the choice of such associates as Bardolph, Pistol, and the rest of that following, he tacitly declares that he too has lost the advantages which should be attendant on years. No curses loud or deep have accompanied his festive career,—its conclusion is not the less sad on that account: neglect, forgotten friendships, services overlooked, shared pleasures unremembered, and fair occasions gone for ever by, haunt him, no doubt, as sharply as the consciousness of deserving universal hatred galls the soul of Macbeth.

And we may pursue the analogy farther without any undue straining. All other hope lost, the confident tyrant shuts himself up in what he deems an impregnable fortress, and relies for very safety upon his interpretation of the dark sayings of riddling witches. Divested of the picturesque and supernatural horror of the tragedy, Macbeth is here represented as driven to his last resource, and dependent for life only upon chances, the dubiousness of which he can hardly conceal from himself. The Boar's Head in Eastcheap is not the castle of Dunsinane, any more than the conversation of Dame Quickly and Doll Tearsheet is that of the Weird Sisters; but in the comedy, too, we have the man, powerful in his own way, driven to his last "frank," and looking to the chance of the hour for the living of the hour. Hope after hope has broken down, as prophecy after prophecy has been discovered to be juggling and fallacious. He has trusted that his Birnam Wood would not come to Dunsinane, and yet it comes;—that no man not of woman born is to cross his path, and lo! the man is here. What then remains for wit or warrior when all is lost—when the last stake is gone—when no chance of another can be dreamt of—when the gleaming visions that danced before their eyes are found to be nothing but mist and mirage? What remains for them but to die?—And so they do.

With such feelings, what can Falstaff, after having gone through a life of adventure, care about the repute of courage or cowardice? To divert the prince, he engages in a wild enterprise,—nothing more than what would be called a "lark" now. When deer-stealing ranked as no higher offence than robbing orchards,—not indeed so high as the taking a slice off a loaf by a wandering beggar, which some weeks ago has sent the vagrant who committed the "crime" to seven years' transportation,—such robberies as those at Gadshill, especially as all parties well knew that the money taken there was surely to be repaid, as we find it is in the end, were of a comparatively venial nature. Old father antic, the Law, had not yet established his undoubted supremacy; and taking purses, even in the days of Queen Elizabeth, was not absolutely incompatible with gentility. The breaking up of the great households and families by the wars of the Roses, the suppression of the monasteries and the  confiscation of church property by Henry VIII, added to are adventurous spirit generated throughout all Europe by the discovery of America, had thrown upon the world "men of action," as they called themselves, without any resources but what lay in their right hands. Younger members of broken houses, or aspirants for the newly lost honours or the ease of the cloister, did not well know what to do with themselves. They were too idle to dig; they were ashamed to beg;—and why not apply at home the admirable maxim,

"That they should take who have the power, And they should keep who can,"

which was acted upon with so much success beyond the sea. The same causes which broke down the nobility, and crippled the resources of the church, deprived the retainers of the great baron, and the sharers of the dole of the monastery, of their accustomed mode of living; and robbery in these classes was considered the most venial of offences. To the system of poor laws,—a system worthy of being projected "in great Eliza's golden time" by the greatest philosopher of that day, or, with one exception, of any other day,—are we indebted for that general respect for property which renders the profession of a thief infamous, and consigns him to the hulks, or the tread-mill, without compassion. But I must not wander into historical disquisitions; though no subject would, in its proper place, be more interesting than a minute speculation upon the gradual working of the poor-law system on English society. It would form one of the most remarkable chapters in that great work yet to be written, "The History of the Lowest Order from the earliest times,"—a work of far more importance, of deeper philosophy, and more picturesque romance, than all the chronicles of what are called the great events of the earth. Elsewhere let me talk of this. I must now get back again to Falstaff.

His Gadshill adventure was a jest,—a jest, perhaps, repeated after too many precedents; but still, according to the fashion and the humour of the time, nothing more than a jest. His own view of such transactions is recorded; he considers Shallow as a fund of jesting to amuse the prince, remarking that it is easy to amuse "with a sad brow" (with a solemnity of appearance) "a fellow that never had the ache in his shoulders." What was to be accomplished by turning the foolish justice into ridicule, was also to be done by inducing the true prince to become for a moment a false thief. The serious face of robbery was assumed "to keep Prince Harry in perpetual laughter." That, in Falstaff's circumstances, the money obtained by the night's exploit would be highly acceptable, cannot be doubted; but the real object was to amuse the prince. He had no idea of making an exhibition of bravery on such an occasion; Poins well knew his man when he said beforehand, "As for the third, if he fight longer than he see reason, I'll forswear arms:" his end was as much  obtained by the prince's jokes upon his cowardice. It was no matter whether he invented what tended to laughter, or whether it was invented upon him. The object was won so the laughter was in any manner excited. The exaggerated tale of the misbegotten knaves in Kendal-green, and his other lies, gross and mountainous, are told with no other purpose; and one is almost tempted to believe him when he says that he knew who were his assailants, and ran for their greater amusement. At all events, it is evident that he cares nothing on the subject. He offers a jocular defence; but immediately passes to matter of more importance then the question of his standing or running:

But, lads, I'm glad you have the money. Hostess! Clap to the doors; watch to-night, pray to-morrow. Gallants, lads, boys, hearts-o'-gold! All the titles of Good fellowship come to you!"

The money is had; the means of enjoying it are at hand. Why waste our time in inquiring how it has been brought here, or permit nonsensical discussions on my valour or cowardice to delay for a moment the jovial appearance of the bottle?

I see no traces of his being a glutton. His roundness of paunch is no proof of gormandising propensities; in fact, the greatest eaters are generally thin and spare. When Henry is running over the bead-roll of his vices, we meet no charge of gluttony urged against him.

"There is a devil Haunts thee i' the likeness of a fat old man; A ton of man is thy companion. Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours, That bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swoln parcel of Dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed Cloakbag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox With the pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, That grey iniquity, that father ruffian, That vanity in years? Wherein is he good But to taste sack, and drink it? Wherein neat And cleanly, but to carve a capon, and eat it?"

The sack and sugar Falstaff admits readily; of addiction to the grosser pleasures of the table neither he nor his accuser says a word. Capon is light eating; and his neatness in carving gives an impression of delicacy in the observances of the board. He appears to have been fond of capon; for it figures in the tavern-bill found in his pockets as the only eatable beside the stimulant anchovy for supper, and the halfpenny-worth of bread. Nor does his conversation ever turn upon gastronomical topics. The bottle supplies an endless succession of jests; the dish scarcely contributes one.

We must observe that Falstaff is never represented as drunk, or even affected by wine. The copious potations of sack do not cloud his intellect, or embarrass his tongue. He is always self-possessed, and ready to pour forth his floods of acute wit. In this he forms a contrast to Sir Toby Belch. The discrimination between these two characters  is very masterly. Both are knights, both convivial, both fond of loose or jocular society, both somewhat in advance of their youth—there are many outward points of similitude, and yet they are as distinct as Prospero and Polonius. The Illyrian knight is of a lower class of mind. His jests are mischievous; Falstaff never commits a practical joke. Sir Toby delights in brawling and tumult; Sir John prefers the ease of his own inn. Sir Toby sings songs, joins in catches, and rejoices in making a noise; Sir John knows too well his powers of wit and conversation to think it necessary to make any display, and he hates disturbance. Sir Toby is easily affected by liquor and roystering; Sir John rises from the board as cool as when he sate down. The knight of Illyria had nothing to cloud his mind; he never aspired to higher things than he has attained; he lives a jolly life in the household of his niece, feasting, drinking, singing, rioting, playing tricks from one end of the year to the other: his wishes are gratified, his hopes unblighted. I have endeavoured to show that Falstaff was the contrary of all this. And we must remark that the tumultuous Toby has some dash of romance in him, of which no trace can be found in the English knight. The wit and grace, the good-humour and good looks of Maria, conquer Toby's heart, and he is in love with her—love expressed in rough fashion, but love sincere. Could we see him some dozen years after his marriage, we should find him sobered down into a respectable, hospitable, and domestic country gentleman, surrounded by a happy family of curly-headed Illyrians, and much fonder of his wife than of his bottle. We can never so consider of Falstaff; he must always be a dweller in clubs and taverns, a perpetual diner-out at gentlemen's parties, or a frequenter of haunts where he will not be disturbed by the presence of ladies of condition or character. In the "Merry Wives of Windsor,"—I may remark, in passing, that the Falstaff of that play is a different conception from the Falstaff of Henry IV, and an inferior one,—his love is of a very practical and unromantic nature. The ladies whom he addresses are beyond a certain age; and his passion is inspired by his hopes of making them his East and West Indies,—by their tables and their purses. No; Falstaff never could have married,—he was better "accommodated than with a wife." He might have paid his court to old Mistress Ursula, and sworn to marry her weekly from the time when he perceived the first white hair on his chin; but the oath was never kept, and we see what was the motive of his love, when we find him sending her a letter by his page after he has been refused credit by Master Dombledon, unless he can offer something better than the rather unmarketable security of himself and Bardolph.

We must also observe that he never laughs. Others laugh with him, or at him; but no laughter from him who occasions or permits it. He jests with a sad brow. The wit which he profusely scatters about is from the head, not the heart. Its satire is slight, and never malignant or affronting; but still it is satirical, and seldom joyous. It is anything but fun. Original genius and long practice have rendered it easy and familiar to him, and he uses it as a matter of business. He has too much philosophy to show that he feels himself misplaced; we discover his feelings by slight indications, which are, however, quite sufficient. I fear that this conception of the character could never be rendered popular on the stage; but I have heard  in private the part of Falstaff read with a perfectly grave, solemn, slow, deep, and sonorous voice, touched occasionally somewhat with the broken tone of age, from beginning to end, with admirable effect. But I can imagine him painted according to my idea. He is always caricatured. Not to refer to ordinary drawings, I remember one executed by the reverend and very clever author of the "Miseries of Human Life," (an engraving of which, if I do not mistake, used to hang in Ambrose's parlour in Edinburgh, in the actual room which was the primary seat of the "Noctes Ambrosianæ,") and the painter had exerted all his art in making the face seamed with the deep-drawn wrinkles and lines of a hard drinker and a constant laugher. Now, had jolly Bacchus

"Set the trace in his face that a toper will tell,"

should we not have it carefully noted by those who everlastingly joked upon his appearance? should we not have found his Malmsey nose, his whelks and bubukles, his exhalations and meteors, as duly described as those of Bardolph? A laughing countenance he certainly had not. Jests such as his are not, like Ralph's, "lost, unless you print the face." The leering wink in the eye introduced into this portraiture is also wrong, if intended to represent the habitual look of the man. The chief justice assures us that his eyes were moist like those of other men of his time of life; and, without his lordship's assurance, we may be certain that Falstaff seldom played tricks with them. He rises before me as an elderly and very corpulent gentleman, dressed like other military men of the time, [of Elizabeth, observe, not Henry,] yellow-cheeked, white-bearded, double-chinned, with a good-humoured but grave expression of countenance, sensuality in the lower features of his face, high intellect in the upper.

Such is the idea I have formed of Falstaff and perhaps some may think I am right. It required no ordinary genius to carry such a character through so great a variety of incidents with so perfect a consistency. It is not a difficult thing to depict a man corroded by care within, yet appearing gay and at ease without, if you every moment pull the machinery to pieces, as children do their toys, to show what is inside. But the true art is to let the attendant circumstances bespeak the character, without being obliged to label him: "Here you may see the tyrant;" or, "Here is the man heavy of heart, light of manner." Your ever-melancholy and ostentatiously broken-hearted heroes are felt to be bores, endurable only on account of the occasional beauty of the poetry in which they figure. We grow tired of "the gloom the fabled Hebrew wanderer wore," &c. and sympathise as little with perpetual lamentations over mental sufferings endured, or said to be endured, by active youth and manhood, as we should be with its ceaseless complaints of the physical pain of corns or toothache. The death-bed of Falstaff, told in the patois of Dame Quickly to her debauched and profligate auditory, is a thousand times more pathetic to those who have looked upon the world with reflective eye, than all the morbid mournings of Childe Harold and his poetical progeny.

At the table of Shallow, laid in his arbour, Falstaff is compelled by the eager hospitality of his host to sit, much against his will. The wit of the court endures the tipsy garrulity of the prattling justice, the drunken harmonies of Silence, whose tongue is loosed  by the sack to chaunt but-ends of old-fashioned ballads, the bustling awkwardness of Davy, and the long-known alehouse style of conversation of Bardolph, without uttering a word except some few phrases of common-place courtesy. He feels that he is in mind and thought far above his company. Was that the only company in which the same accident had befallen him? Certainly not; it had befallen him in many a mansion more honoured than that of Shallow, and amid society loftier in name and prouder in place. His talent, and the use to which he had turned it, had as completely disjoined him in heart from those among whom he mixed, or might have mixed, as it did from the pippin-and-caraway-eating party in Gloucestershire. The members of his court are about him, but not of him; they are all intended for use. From Shallow he borrows a thousand pounds; and, as the justice cannot appreciate his wit, he wastes it not upon him, but uses other methods of ingratiating himself. Henry delights in his conversation and manner, and therefore all his fascinations are exerted to win the favour of one from whom so many advantages might be expected. He lives in the world alone and apart, so far as true community of thought with others is concerned; and his main business in life is to get through the day. That—the day—is his real enemy; he rises to fight it in the morning; he gets through its various dangers as well as he can; some difficulties he meets, some he avoids; he shuns those who ask him for money, seeks those from whom he may obtain it; lounges here, bustles there; talks, drinks, jokes, schemes; and at last his foe is slain, when light and its troubles depart. "The day is gone—the night's our own." Courageously has he put an end to one of the three hundred and sixty-five tormentors which he has yearly to endure; and to-morrow—why—as was to-day, so to-morrow shall be. At all events I shall not leave the sweet of the night unpicked, to think anything more about it. Bring me a cup of sack! Let us be merry! Does he ever think of what were his hopes and prospects at the time, when was

"Jack Falstaff, now Sir John, a boy, And page to Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk?"

Perhaps!—— but he chases away the intrusive reflection by another cup of sack and a fresh sally of humour.

Dryden maintained that Shakspeare killed Mercutio, because, if he had not, Mercutio would have killed him. In spite of the authority of

"All those prefaces of Dryden, For these our critics much confide in,"

Glorious John is here mistaken. Mercutio is killed precisely in the part of the drama where his death is requisite. Not an incident, scarcely a sentence, in this most skilfully managed play of Romeo and Juliet, can be omitted or misplaced. But I do think that Shakspeare was unwilling to hazard the reputation of Falstaff by producing him again in connexion with his old companion, Hal, on the stage. The dancer in the epilogue of the Second Part of Henry IV. promises the audience, that "if you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you  merry with fair Katharine of France; where, for any thing I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already he be killed with your hard opinions." The audience was not cloyed with fat meat, Sir John was not killed with their hard opinions; he was popular from the first hour of his appearance: but Shakspeare never kept his word. It was the dramatist, not the public, who killed his hero in the opening scenes of Henry V; for he knew not how to interlace him with the story of Agincourt. There Henry was to be lord of all; and it was matter of necessity that his old master should disappear from the scene. He parted therefore even just between twelve and one, e'en at turning of the tide, and we shall never see him again until the waters of some Avon, here or elsewhere,—it is a good Celtic name for rivers in general,—shall once more bathe the limbs of the like of him who was laid for his last earthly sleep under a gravestone bearing a disregarded inscription, on the north side of the chancel in the great church at Stratford.