The Stratford Gallery: Or the Shakspeare Sisterhood

Comprising Forty-five Ideal Portraits, described by HENRIETTA LEE PALMER. Illustrated. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

THIS book is what it purports to be,— not a collection of elaborate essays devoted to metaphysical analysis or to conjectural emendations of doubtful lines, —but a series of ideal portraits of the women of Shakspeare’s plays. The reader may fancy himself led by an intelligent cicerone who pauses before each picture and with well-chosen words tells enough of the story to present the heroine, and then gives her own conception of the character, with such hints concerning manners and personal peculiarities as a careful study of the play may furnish. The narrations are models of neatness and brevity, yet full enough to give a clear understanding of the situation to any one unacquainted with it. The creations of Shakspeare have a wonderful completeness and vitality; and yet the elements of character are often mingled so subtilely that the sharpest critics differ widely in their estimates. Nothing can be more fascinating than to follow closely the great dramatist, picking out from the dialogue a trait of form here, a whim of color there, and at last combining them into an harmonious whole, with the truth of outline, hue, and bearing preserved. Often as this has been done, there is room still for new observers, provided they bring their own eyes to the task, and do not depend upon the dim and warped lenses of the commentators.

It is very rarely that we meet with so fresh, so acute, and so entertaining a student of Shakspeare as the author of this volume. Her observations, whether invariably just or not, are generally taken from a new stand-point. She is led to her conclusions rather by instinct than by reason. She makes no apology for her judgments.

“ I have no reason but a woman’s reason;
I think her so because I think her so."

And it would not be strange, if womanly instinct were to prove oftentimes a truer guide in following the waywardness or the apparent contradictions of a woman’s nature than the cold logical processes of merely intellectual men.

To the heroines who are most truly women the author’s loyalty is pure and intense. Imogen, the "chaste, ardent, devoted, beautiful” wife, — Juliet, whose “ingenuousness and almost infantile simplicity ” endear her to all hearts,—Miranda, that most ethereal creation, type of virgin innocence, — Cordelia, with her pure, filial devotion, — are painted with loving, sympathetic tenderness.

Altogether, this is a book which any admirer of the poet may read with pleasure ; and especially to those who have not ventured to think wholly for themselves it will prove a most useful and agreeable companion.

It is a matter of regret that the characters of the greatest of dramatists should not have been embodied by the greatest of painters. But no Michel Angelo, or Raphael, or Correggio, has illustrated these wonderful creations ; and the man who is capable of appreciating Miranda, or Ophelia, or Desdemona, finds the ideal heads of the painters, of our day at least, tame, vapid, and unsatisfactory. The heroine, as imaged in his mind, is arrayed in a loveliness which limner never compassed. We cannot promise our readers that the engravings in this beautifully printed and richly bound volume will prove to be exceptions to the usual rule. They are from designs by English artists,— “ Eminent Hands,” in the popular phrase ; the faces are often quite striking and expressive, and, up to a certain point, characteristic; moreover, they are smoothly finished, and will compare favorably with those in fashionable gift-books. Without being in the least degree examples of a high style of Art in its absolute sense, they answer well the purpose for which they were designed. Indeed, if they were more truly ideal, and, at the same time, more truly human, they would doubtless be far less popular.