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Parade and Ostentation of that little Science they have ; and to throw it out in the most ambitious Colours. And whenever a Writer of this Class shall attempt to copy these artful Concealments of our Author, and shall either think them easy, or practised by a Writer for his Ease, he will soon be convinced of his Mistake by the Difficulty of reaching the Imitation of them.
Speret idem, sudet multum, frustraque laboret,
Indeed, to point out, and exclaim upon, all the Beauties of Shakespeare, as they come singly in Review, would be as insipid, as endless; as tedious, as unnecessary: But the Explanation of those Beauties that are less obvious to common Readers, and whose Illustration depends on the Rules of just Criticism, and an exact knowledge of human Life, should deservedly have a Share in a general Critic upon the Author. But, to pass over at once to another Subject :
It has been allow'd on all hands, how far our Author was indebted to Nature ; it is not so well agreed, how much he ow'd to Languages and acquired Learning. The Decisions on this Subject were certainly set on Foot by the Hint from Ben Jonson, that he had small Latin and less Greek: And from this Tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, “ It is without Controversy, he had no Knowledge of the Writings of the ancient Poets, for that in his Works we find no Traces of any thing which looks like an imitation of the Ancients. For the Delicacy of his Taste (continues He), and the natural Bent of his own great Genius (equal, if not superior, to some of the Best of theirs), would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much Pleasure, that some of their fine Images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mix'd with his own Writings : and so his not copying at least something from them, may be an Argument of his never having read them.” I shall leave it to the Determination of my Learned Readers, from the numerous Passages, which I have occasionally quoted in my Notes, in which our Poet seems closely to have imitated the Classics, whether Mr. Rowe's Assertion be SO absolutely to be depended on. The Result of the Controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our Author's Honour: how happily he could imitate them, if that Point be allowed ; or how gloriously he could think like them, without owing any thing to Imitation.
Tho' I should be very unwilling to allow Shakespeare so poor a Scholar as Many have labour'd to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other side of the Question: that is, with regard to my Opinion of his Knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the Passages, that I occasionally quote from the Classics, shall not be urged as Proofs that he knowingly imitated those Originals; but brought to shew how happily he has express'd himself upon the same Topicks. A very learned Critick of our own Nation has declar'd, that a Sameness of Thought and Sameness of Expression too, in Two Writers of a different Age, can hardly happen, without a violent Suspicion of the latter copying from his Predecessor. I shall not therefore run any great Risque of a Censure, tho' I should venture to hint, that the Resemblances in Thought and Expression of our Author and an Ancient (which we should allow to be Imitation in the One whose learning was not question'd) may sometimes take its Rise from Strength of Memory, and those Impressions which he owed to the School. And if we may allow a Possibility of This, considering that, when he quitted the School he gave into his Father's Profession and way of Living, and had, 'tis likely, but a slender Library of Classical Learning; and considering what a Number of Translations, Romances, and Legends, started about his Time, and a little before (most of which, 'tis very evident, he read); I think, it may easily be reconciled why he rather schemed his Plots and Characters from
these more latter Informations, than went back to those Fountains, for which he might entertain a sincere Veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a Recourse.
In touching on another Part of his Learning, as it related to the Knowledge of History and Books, I shall advance something that, at first sight, will very much wear the Appearance of a Paradox. For I shall find it no hard Matter to prove, that, from the grossest Blunders in History, we are not to infer his real Ignorance of it: Nor from a greater Use of Latin Words, than ever any other English Author used, must we infer his intimate Acquaintance with that Language.
A Reader of Taste may easily observe, that tho' Shakespeare, almost in every Scene of his historical Plays, commits the grossest Offences against Chronology, History, and Ancient Politicks; yet This was not thro' Ignorance, as is generally supposed, but thro' the too powerful Blaze of his Imagination; which, when once raised, made all acquired Knowledge vanish and disappear before it. But this Licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to Ignorance : since as often we may find him, when Occasion serves, reasoning up to the Truth of History; and throwing out Sentiments as justly adapted to the Circumstances of his Subject, as to the Dignity of his Characters, or Dictates of Nature in general.
Then to come to his Knowledge of the Latin Tongue, 'tis certain there is a surprising Effusion of Latin Words made English, far more than in any one English Author I have seen ; but we must be cautious to imagine this was of his own doing. For the English Tongue, in this Age, began extremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin : And this, to be sure, was occasion'd by the Pedantry of those two Monarchs, Elizabeth and James, Both great Latinists. For it is not to be wonder'd at, if both the Court and Schools, equal Flatterers of Power, should adapt themselves to the Royal Taste.
But now I am touching on the Question (which has been so frequently agitated, yet so entirely undecided) of
ature into the
his Learning and Acquaintance with the Languages; an additional Word or two naturally falls in here upon the Genius of our Author, as compared with that of Jonson his Contemporary. They are confessedly the greatest Writers our Nation could ever boast of in the Drama. The first, we say, owed all to his prodigious natural Genius; and the other a great deal to his Art and Learning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable Appearance in their Writings. Besides those wonderful Masterpieces of Art and Genius, which each has given us, They are the Authors of other Works very unworthy of them : But with this Difference, that in žonson's bad Pieces we don't discover one single Trace of the Author of the Fox and Alchemist : but in the wild extravagant Notes of Shakespeare, you every now and then encounter Strains that recognize the divine Composer. This Difference may be thus accounted for. Jonson, as we said before, owing all his Excellence to his Art, by which he sometimes strain'd himself to an uncommon Pitch, when at other times he unbent and play'd with his Subject, having nothing then to support him, it is no wonder he wrote so far beneath himself. But Shakespeare, indebted more largely to Nature than the Other to acquired Talents, in his most negligent Hours could never so totally divest himself of his Genius, but that it would • frequently break out with astonishing Force and Splendor.
As I have never propos'd to dilate farther on the Character of my Author than was necessary to explain the Nature and Use of this Edition, I shall proceed to consider him as a Genius in Possession of an everlasting Name. And how great that Merit must be, which could gain it against all the Disadvantages of the horrid Condition in which he had hitherto appear'd! Had Homer, or any other admir'd Author, first started into Publick so maim'd and deform’d, we cannot determine whether they had not sunk for ever under the Ignominy of such an ill Appearance. The mangled Condition of Shakespeare has been acknowledg'd by Mr. Rowe, who publish'd him
indeed, but neither corrected his Text, nor collated the old Copies. This Gentleman had Abilities, and a sufficient Knowledge of his Author, had but his Industry been equal to his Talents. The same mangled Condition has been acknowledg’d too by Mr. Pope, who publish'd him likewise, pretended to have collated the old Copies, and yet seldom has corrected the Text but to its Injury. I congratulate with the Manes of our Poet, that this Gentleman has been sparing in indulging his private Sense, as he phrases it; for He who tampers with an Author whom he does not understand, must do it at the Expence of his Subject. I have made it evident throughout my Remarks, that he has frequently inflicted a Wound where he intended a Cure. He has acted with regard to our Author, as an Editor, whom Lipsius mentions, did with regard to Martial; Inventus est nescio quis Popa, qui non vitia ejus, sed ipsum excidit. He has attack'd him like an unhandy Slaughterman ; and not lopp'd off the Errors, but the Poet.
When this is found to be Fact, how absurd must appear the Praises of such an Editor! It seems a moot Point, whether Mr. Pope has done most Injury to Shakespeare as his Editor and Encomiast, or Mr. Rymer done him Service as his Rival and Censurer. They have Both shewn themselves in an equal Impuissance of suspecting, or amending, the corrupted Passages : and tho' it be neither Prudence to censure, or commend, what one does not understand ; yet if a man must do one when he plays the Critick, the latter is the more ridiculous Office : And by That Shakespeare suffers most. For the natural Veneration which we have for him, makes us apt to swallow whatever is given us as his, and set off with Encomiums; and hence we quit all suspicions of Depravity: On the contrary, the Censure of so divine an Author sets us upon his Defence; and this produces an exact Scrutiny and Examination, which ends in finding out and discriminating the true from the spurious.
It is not with any secret Pleasure that I so frequently
int, whetheraises of sucho be Fact.