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we like him, too; for we all have plenty of selfish and sensual prose in us, and are at least half amused when it gets open and effective utterance. After all, we are always conscious of our senses ; and only occasionally aware, alas, most of us, that we so much as possess souls. Humani nihil. There is no one who will deny his kinship with Falstaff ; and this kind of kinship always means at least liking, if not love.
What is the secret of this wonderful being who is externally nothing but a gross old scoundrel, coward, liar, drunkard and worse, a mere cumberer of the earth and polluter of the air ? And yet we love him, always want him on the stage, and learn his sayings by heart more often than any other prose of Shakespeare's. Why? Because he can tell us all about himself. Tout savoir c'est tout pardonner. But it is more than that. Knowing all is more than pardoning ; it is nearly always loving. If Falstaff were silent and helpless of speech he would be nothing but a disreputable and disgusting old drunkard. But he is divinely gifted with ingenious thoughts and witty words ; there is nothing that he dare not confess and nothing that he cannot make pleasant and plausible. He disarms our judgement : we delight in a man who more than any other man can pour the whole of himself into speech and reveal all mankind in revealing himself. No truthful man among us tells the whole truth as this liar tells it. How can we refuse to forgive him, like him, love him ?
Then of course there is his humour, the most lovable of qualities. And his is of precisely the most lovable sort ; for it is constantly directed against himself. That is part of the lovableness of such great writers as Horace, Cervantes, Scott : it is one of the chief charms of such letters as those of Cowper and Edward FitzGerald. There is a touch of it in Madame de Sévigné. But it is not a very French quality, and perhaps the only Frenchman who has it in abundance
is La Fontaine, naturally enough by far the best loved of French poets. Frenchmen admire Racine or Hugo ; they love le bonhomme. So with Falstaff. We cannot but have a kindly feeling for him directly he says such things as 'when I was about thy years, Hal, I was not an eagle's talon in the waist : I could have crept into any alderman's thumb-ring : a plague of sighing and grief ! it blows a man up like a bladder’; or complains that he has fallen away vilely' and compares himself to an old lady's loose gown’; or declares that he has lost his voice with 'hallowing and singing of anthems'; or moralizes with half-Biblical, halfdrunken eloquence, 'Dost thou hear, Hal ? thou knowest in the state of innocency Adam fell ; and what should poor Jack Falstaff do in the days of villany? Thou seest I have more flesh than another man, and therefore more frailty.' And when he plays the king's part and makes the king sing his praises we love him outright for a man who has that gift of genius, the power to see his own true picture and to laugh at it : “a goodly portly man, i' faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage ; and, as I think, his age some fifty, or by 'r lady, inclining to three score: and now I remember me, his name is Falstaff; if that man should be lewdly given, he deceiveth me; for, Harry, I see virtue in his looks.'
What words he finds, this ugly old sinner, to make his way to our hearts with! Does the prose of Shakespeare ever move with a more entire felicity both of phrase and of rhythm than in these speeches of his ? The truth is that Falstaff is artist as well as epicurean, and takes evident pleasure, like Dr. Johnson whom he resembles in more ways than one, in the surprise and felicities of his own talk. He always talks like a man playing on an instrument of which he knows he is a master. He laughs at Lancaster's promise to speak better of him than he deserves. 'I would you had but the wit : 'twere better than your dukedom.' And like
all artists he is impatient of people who do not understand his art. People must have ears to appreciate a musician ; to appreciate such a talker as Falstaff they must have quick wits. And though, as artists create art-lovers, he is not only witty in himself but the cause of wit in other men, yet, as some men are colour blind or tone deaf, so there are people in his day and ours not to be captivated by Falstaff's tongue. 'Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love me : nor a man cannot make him laugh ; but that 's no marvel, he drinks no wine.' There is the Chief Justice, too. Sir John gives him of his very best in two incomparable scenes : it is to him that he proves his youth by the offer : ‘he that will caper with me for a thousand marks, let him lend me the money and have at him'; it is to him that he says of himself : 'it was alway yet the trick of our English nation, if they have a good thing, to make it too common ;' it is before him that he escapes so victoriously from Mrs. Quickly's accusations :
my lord, this is a poor mad soul : and she says up and down the town that her eldest son is like you ’. Yet even such a pearl as this speech is cast in vain before the old judge who is plainly no connoisseur in wit ; and all it wins for Falstaff is a reproof about 'the throng of words that come with such more than impudent sauciness from you ’. And, alas, the world is so made that, as we know, all his victories end in the great defeat : defeat' at the hands of the very man who had all the faculties for enjoying his intellectual music ; to whom he rides post haste from Gloucestershire devising ‘matter enough out of this Shallow to keep Prince Harry in continual laughter and confident that ' it is much that a lie with a slight oath and a jest with a sad brow will do with a fellow that never had the ache in his shoulders '. But, unhappily, if the prince had never had the ache in his shoulders he now had the weight of a kingdom upon them. And that proved fatal to Falstaff. In enjoying life
and thinking and talking about it no man was ever in closer touch with reality; in the conduct of it, which is an affair of will and conscience as well as of intellect, he is never in touch with reality at all. And that is just what Henry V is, as we shall see, from first to last.
Henry IV is a greater play by far than Henry V mainly because in it Falstaff is almost constantly present, living and life-giving, while in Henry V we only get one picture of him, among the most wonderful scenes in Shakespeare, but brief and final, a mere death-bed on which nothing follows but the silence of the closed curtain. It is true Shakespeare had to bring him to life again in The Merry Wives, as Dumas had to give Chicot his resurrection when life proved too dull without him. But the Falstaff of The Merry Wives, though not so inferior to his old self as is often asserted, is not the triumphant genius of Henry IV. Some of the things which he says show him at his highest, show that the brains are still in him in all their power, though the last shreds of honour or self-respect have gone. Even in Henry IV he seldom says anything greater than
O powerful love ! that in some respects makes a beast a man ; in some other, a man a beast !' But he is now a butt and a victim : a mere instance of how all the world despises the grey hairs which cover a fool; a proof, if we choose to be so cruel as to look at him curiously and seriously, of what a little way intellect alone can go to save life. In Henry IV he still can affect enough youth to blind us as well as himself to the inevitable end ; and like him we enjoy the present without thought of the future. There he can still be king of his company and of all who, in every succeeding generation, are lucky enough, by Shakespeare's help, to come into it. With him Shakespeare turned the chronicle of things into a picture of human life, filled out the peace and war pageantry of history with the reality of the life of ordinary men and women which is always going on by its
side. The personal History becomes the universal Comedy, and it is on the rude, realist, unofficial, unceremonious side of the drama that he lavishes his genius most freely. The realism of genius, so different from the realism of industry with which we are too familiar, has entered here once for all into the Shakespearean drama and will soon kill the old semi-official chronicling History. In Henry IV it fills the side scenes which are far more interesting than the centre of the stage. In Henry V it partly reaches the centre, even mounting the throne itself. And that is the end of Shakespeare's History of England. For Henry VIII is of late and doubtful authorship, partly a reversion to the Chronicle and still more an anticipation of the Masque. It has as little plot as Henry VI, and only rises above these earliest Histories in its finer poetry and in the two great characters and the three or four great scenes in which alone it reaches the level of drama.
But to return to Henry V. Not so great a play because not so broadly human as Henry IV, it is the culmination and glory of the Histories as history. It is written almost throughout by that 'Muse of fire' to whom its very first line makes appeal. In it the trumpet of the national spirit sounds its loudest and most heroic blast. All the pride of England is in it and all the valour, concentrated in the most incredible of English victories and in the English king who united in himself, as only one or two men in the history of the world, those qualities of youth and victory and early death which make heroic legends. It is nothing to Shakespeare that the war of Agincourt was unjustifiable, purposeless, useless, and even disastrous in its ultimate results. The philosophy of history in this sense is no concern of his. Men are blind creatures, knowing little what they do or why they do it. Shakespeare's business is to show them doing it with an intensity and power of which they themselves are unaware. No Englishman, except such a withered