The warm commendations from respected critics elsewhere, which had heralded the appearance of Mr. Hudson among us, secured him a good audience for his first lecture—good in every sense, both as including a sufficient range of minds and some of the best minds. We believe the audience were very favorably impressed. Indeed, no one could refuse sympathy to the straight-forward manner of the address. There was no phrasing, no pretension, no persuasion, but just what the lecturer had to say, stated without circumlocution. And, strange to say, this is a rare merit. Though any person, of native tact and shrewdness, must see that a manner of the greatest simplicity and directness, whether that manner be vulgar or refined, clumsy or beautiful, is the only one that can succeed, yet there are few who are not too weak or vain to act upon this knowledge. Their minds stammer, and their lips weave phrases in the face of a multitude; they dread its censure more than their own. Mr. Hudson faces his audience like a man; he is willing they should take him as he is, for better or for worse.
Though his manner is, in itself, very bad, yet it is well calculated to set off his own best things. He brings down every sentence with a knock at the end, as if he was nailing down shingle after shingle, and when he makes a good hit, the effect is excellent. His general appearance is merely that of a Yankee pedlar, shrewd and knowing, but his eye has an unusual brilliancy, and when kindled by thought or feeling, gives forth sparks that do not fail to kindle the spectator likewise. They bespeak an intellect ardent but also genial, and which has the dignity of earnestness.
We liked the lecturer better than his lecture, and expect more satisfaction from that on Macbeth, which we shall attend next Friday evening. The view of Hamlet was not unworthy, but this is a theme where we are as fastidious as we can be with regard to any production of human genius. To speak of Hamlet is to speak of the whole capacity of man. The view which is taken of it by any one mind seems poor and partial to another, who, perhaps, could not succeed as well in reflecting the desired image. This revelation, as to our inmost nature, seems to have been given us as one of the few things great enough to be our companions and instructors through life; we may daily learn and draw illustrations from it, but the attempt to survey it from any one point is useless; we must first complete the circle of our own development.
Some excellent things were said in speaking of Ophelia. We will not assail as to others where we are not pleased, since the character seems the idol of the lecturer’s imagination. We liked the energy of his feeling and expression about it, even when we were tired by his prolixity as to details.
We should have many exceptions to take as to the sketch of Polonius. Shakespeare never painted men in that one-sided way. Polonius is as poor and mean, as bad as Mr. Hudson represents, but also better. The noble sentence,
Thou canst not then be false to any man,”
was represented by the politic old courtier, because that which had no root in his life found an echo in the chambers of his brain.
Such seeming contradictions we see on every side; ay! here in New-York, in the next street thou may’st see them. The most selfish and worldly man will admire a grand sentiment till he is made to understand the cost of putting it into practice.
Mr. Hudson’s style is worse that his elocution: it is overloaded, too full of antitheses, and diffuse. It reminds us of several well-known writers, and not of their best qualities. Here and there bursts of simple energy relieve it, and indicate the power of forming a better style and one more in harmony with the mind of the speaker.
If people in general read Shakespeare, we must say, for ourselves, that we could not recommend their listening to these, or any lectures on the subject. Shakespeare is not a subject for critical essays, but for devoted study, reverence and love. It were better to yield ourselves to be raised by his power, without caring to take measure of our impressions at any one period, for they must vary with our growth. The world at large has felt this, and but little has been written expressly on Shakespeare, and of that little the least part by minds really worthy to share his influence. Some of these names we mention with gratitude. Of Schlegel we do not think as highly as is comfortable with the received opinion. Schlegel did not content himself with a simple statement of what he received, but tried too hard to comprehend and make a whole; therefore a large part of what he has written is without permanent value.
The few sentences which Goethe has given are worth volumes of Schlegel. Goethe never overstates his thought, never pushes it beyond its natural limits; whatever he has given us is real experience, and of inestimable worth. All that Coleridge has said is admirable; perhaps the best things ever written on the plays of Shakespeare are in Coleridge’s “Remains.” Some noble and penetrating remarks, worthy to be put in the same line with those, may be found in essays, not yet published, by our countryman, R. H. Dana. Lamb is always excellent; what he says may not be perfectly just in itself, but it is the genuine result of genius upon his individuality, and valuable as the clear verdict of one mind. Mrs. Jameson sees and feels; there is always a basis of truth in her statements, but she gilds the refined gold, and paints the lily. With her and with Hazlitt Mr. Hudson may well compare. Those who take pleasure in them may take as much or more in him; for he has the warm sympathies of the lady without her sentimentality, and the brilliancy, and, sometimes, the point of Hazlitt, with a better moral nature. And thus, to the attention of the many who, as sad experience has convinced us, are so lost and poor as not to read Shakespeare, and to those others, many, if fewer, who, reading him, delight in a comparison of experiences, we cordially commend these lectures. They are the expressions of a sincere, an ardent, and vigorous mind, and if they do not meet the same reception as in a sister city, one of whose favorite “notions” it is to load a new acquaintance with garlands, only to give him the cold shoulder if he is encouraged to repeat his visit, perhaps a better grounded and more permanent sympathy may be expected in an atmosphere where more various elements impede the too rapid spread of mental epidemics.*
“Mr. Hudson’s Lecture on Hamlet.” New-York Daily Tribune, 19 February 1845, p. 2.