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of his Successors, yet his just Admirers must confess, that if he had had the Poetical Art, he would have mov'd ten times more. For 'tis impossible that by a bare Historical Play he could move so much as he would have done by a Fable.
We find that a Romance entertains the generality of Mankind with more Satisfaction than History, if they read only to be entertain'd; but if they read History thro' Pride or Ambition, they bring their Passions along with them, and that alters the case. Nothing is more plain than that even in an Historical Relation some Parts of it, and some Events, please more than others. And therefore a Man of Judgment, who sees why they do so, may in forming a Fable, and disposing an Action, please more than an Historian can do. For the just Fiction of a Fable moves us more than an Historical Relation can do, for the two following Reasons : First, by reason of the Communication and mutual Dependence of its Parts. For if Passion springs from Motion, then the Obstruction of that Motion or a counter Motion must obstruct and check the Passion : And therefore an Historian and a Writer of Historical Plays, passing from Events of one nature to Events of another nature without a due Preparation, must of necessity stifle and confound one Passion by another. The second Reason why the Fiction of a Fable pleases us more than an Historical Relation can do, is, because in an Historical Relation we seldom are acquainted with the true Causes of Events, whereas in a feign'd Action which is duly constituted, that is, which has a just beginning, those Causes always appear. For 'tis observable, that, both in a Poetical Fiction and an Historical Relation, those Events are the most entertaining, the most surprizing, and the most wonderful, in which Providence most plainly appears. And 'tis for this Reason that the Author of a just Fable must please more than the Writer of an Historical Relation. "The Good must never fail to prosper, and the Bad must be always punish'd : Otherwise the Incidents, and particularly the Catastrophe which is the grand Incident,
are liable to be imputed rather to Chance, than to Almighty Conduct and to Sovereign Justice. The want of this impartial Distribution of Justice makes the Coriolanus of Shakespear to be without Moral. 'Tis true indeed Coriolanus is kill'd by those Foreign Enemies with whom he had openly sided against his Country, which seems to be an Event worthy of Providence, and would look as if it were contriv'd by infinite Wisdom, and executed by supreme Justice, to make Coriolanus a dreadful Example to all who lead on Foreign Enemies to the Invasion of their native Country; if there were not something in the Fate of the other Characters, which gives occasion to doubt of it, and which suggests to the Sceptical Reader that this might happen by accident. For Aufidius the principal Murderer of Coriolanus, who in cold Blood gets him assassinated by Ruffians, instead of leaving him to the Law of the Country, and the Justice of the Volscian Senate, and who commits so black a Crime, not by any erroneous Zeal, or a mistaken publick Spirit, but thro' Jealousy, Envy, and inveterate Malice ; this Assassinator not only survives, and survives unpunish'd, but seems to be rewarded for so detestable an Action, by engrossing all those Honours to himself which Coriolanus before had shar'd with him. But not only Aufidius, but the Roman Tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus, appear to me to cry
aloud for Poetick Vengeance. For they are guilty of two
Faults, neither of which ought to go unpunish'd : The - first in procuring the Banishment of Coriolanus. If they were really jealous that Coriolanus had a Design on their Liberties, when he stood for the Consulship, it was but just that they should give him a Repulse ; but to get the Champion and Defender of their Country banish'd upon a pretended Jealousy was a great deal too much, and could proceed from nothing but that Hatred and Malice which they had conceiv'd against him, for opposing their Institu- tion. Their second Fault lay in procuring this Sentence by indirect Methods, by exasperating and inflaming the People by Artifices and Insinuations, by taking a base Advantage of the Open-heartedness and Violence of Coriolanus, and by oppressing him with a Sophistical Argument, that he aim'd at Sovereignty, because he had not delivered into the Publick Treasury the Spoils which he had taken from the Antiates. As if a Design of Sovereignty could be reasonably concluded from any one Act; or any one could think of bringing to pass such a Design, by eternally favouring the Patricians, and disobliging the Populace. For we need make no doubt but that it was among the young Patricians that Coriolanus distributed the Spoils which were taken from the Antiates ; whereas nothing but caressing the Populace could enslave the Roman People, as Cæsar afterwards very well saw and experienc'd. So that this Injustice of the Tribunes was the original Cause of the Calamity which afterwards befel their Country, by the Invasion of the Volscians, under the Conduct of Coriolanus. And yet these Tribunes at the end of the Play, like Aufidius, remain unpunish’d. But indeed Shakespear has been wanting in the exact Distribution of Poetical Justice not only in his Coriolanus, but in most of his best Tragedies, in which? the Guilty and the Innocent perish promiscuously; as Duncan and Banquo in Mackbeth, as likewise Lady Macduffe and her Children ; Desdemona in Othello ; Cordelia, Kent, and King Lear, in the Tragedy that bears his Name; Brutus and Porcia in Julius Cæsar; and young Hamlet in the Tragedy of Hamlet. For tho' it may be said in Defence of the last, that Hamlet had a Design to kill his Uncle who then reign'd; yet this is justify'd by no less than a Call from Heaven, and raising up one from the Dead to urge him to it. The Good and the Bad then perishing promiscuously in the best of Shakespear's Tragedies, there can be either none or very weak Instruction in them : For such promiscuous Events call the Government of Providence into Question, and by Scepticks and Libertines are resolv'd into Chance. I humbly conceive therefore that this want of Dramatical Justice in the Tragedy of Coriolanus gave occasion for a
just Alteration, and that I was oblig'd to sacrifice to that Justice Aufidius and the Tribunes, as well as Coriolanus.
Thus have we endeavour'd to shew that, for want of the Poetical Art, Shakespear lay under very great Disadvantages. At the same time we must own to his Honour, that he has often perform'd Wonders without it, in spight of the Judgment of so great a Man as Horace.
Natura fieret laudabile carmen, an arte,
Altera poscit opem res, & conjurat amice. But from this very Judgment of Horace we may justly conclude that Shakespear would have wonderfully surpass'd himself, if Art had been join'd to Nature. There never was a greater Genius in the World than Virgil : He was one who seems to have been born for this glorious End, that the Roman Muse might exert in him the utmost Force of her Poetry : And his admirable and divine Beauties are manifestly owing to the happy Confederacy of Art and Nature. It was Art that contriv'd that incomparable Design of the Æneis, and it was Nature that executed it. Could the greatest Genius that ever was infus'd into Earthly Mold by Heaven, if it had been unguided and unassisted by Art, have taught him to make that noble and wonderful Use of the Pythagorean Transmigration, which he makes in the Sixth Book of his Poem? Had Virgil been a circular Poet, and closely adher'd to History, how could the Romans have been transported with that inimitable Episode of Dido, which brought a-fresh into their Minds the Carthaginian War, and the dreadful Hannibal ? When 'tis evident that that admirable Episode is so little owing to a faithful observance of History, and the exact order of Time, that 'tis deriv'd from a very bold but judicious Violation of these ; it being undeniable that Dido liv'd almost 300 Years after Æneas. Yet is it that charming Episode that makes the chief Beauties of a third part of the Poem. For the Destruction of Troy it self, which is so divinely related, is
still more admirable by the Effect it produces, which is the Passion of Dido.
I should now proceed to shew under what Disadvantages Shakespear lay for want of being conversant with the Ancients. But I have already writ a long Letter, and am desirous to know how you relish what has been already said before I go any farther : For I am unwilling to take more Pains before I am sure of giving you some Pleasure.
Your most humble, faithful Servant.
Feb. 6. 1711 Upon the Encouragement I have receiv'd from you, I shall proceed to shew under what Disadvantages Shakespear lay for want of being conversant with the Ancients. But because I have lately been in some Conversation, where they would not allow but that he was acquainted with the Ancients, I shall endeavour to make it appear that he was not; and the shewing that in the Method in which I pretend to convince the Reader of it, will sufficiently prove what Inconveniencies he lay under, and what Errors he committed for want of being conversant with them. But here we must distinguish between the several kinds of Acquaintance : A Man may be said to be acquainted with another who never was but twice in his Company ; but that is at the best a superficial Acquaintance, from which neither very great Pleasure nor Profit can be deriv'd.
Our Business is here to shew that Shakespear had no familiar Acquaintance with the Græcian and Roman Authors. For if he was familiarly conversant with them, how comes it to pass that he wants Art ? Is it that he studied to know them in other things, and neglected that only in them, which chiefly tends to the