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return. By this due recollection, they will be induced to return; and, perhaps, to dwell in our breasts for ever. But, without such resolutions; without acting as if we felt compassion and humanity, in the hope that we shall really feel them; and without rendering the sense of duty an established principle of action, we shall, in moments of feeble coldness, be, not only feeble, but selfish; and not only cold, but inhuman., Our reason will be of no other service, than to assist or justify the perverse inclination; and a habit of callous insensibility may thus be contracted. It is needless to pursue the resemblance. It might easily be shewn, that in the conduct of life, no less than in our judgments concerning fine composition, if we have no determined principles, independent of present emotion, our deportment will be capricious, unsteady, and inconsistent *.
In particular, the man of mere sensibility, who has not established to himself, either in morals.or in criticism, any rule of immutable conduct, and who depends on feel
See the Essay on Lear:
ing alone for the propriety of his judgments, may be misled by the application of those general rules that direct the conduct of others. His bosom is not always equally susceptible of fine emotion; yet, under the necessity of acting or of judging, and in a moment of dreary dereliction, forsaken for a time by those boasted feelings that are the guides of his life, he will be apt to follow the fashion ; or, apprehending that he is conducting himself according to those well-established principles that influence men of worth, he will be apt to fall into error. This will be particularly the case, should any maxim be held forth as a rule of conduct, proceeding upon rational views, and coinciding in general with the prepossessions of sensibility; but which required to be attentively studied, well understood, and admitted with due extension, may nevertheless be expressed in such general terms with so much brevity, and apparently of such easy comprehension, as that it is often adopted without due extension, without being studied or understood. Moreover, the warmest advocate for the powers of feeling will allow,
that they are often attended with distrust, hesitation, and something like conscious weakness. Hence it is that persons of mere sensibility are ready to avail themselves of any thing like a general maxim, which falls in with their own inclinations; and having no general maxim which is really their own, ascertained and established by their own experience and reflection, they will be apt to embrace the dictates of others, Thus even an excellent rule, ill understood, will consequently be ill applied, and instead of guiding men aright, will lead them into the mazes
of error. I am inclined to believe, and shall now endeavour to illustrate that the greatest blemishes in Shakespeare have proceeded from his want of consummate taste. Having no perfect discernment, proceeding from rational investigation, of the true cause of beauty in poetical composition, he had never established in his mind any system of regular
process,' or any standard of dramatic excellence. He felt the powerful effects of beauty; he wrote under the influence of feeling; but was apt to be misled by those general maxims, which are often repeated, but ill understood; which have a fuundation in truth, but must be followed with caution.
No maxim has been more frequently repeated, and more strongly enforced upon poets, than that which requires them to “ follow nature.” The greatest praise they expect is, that their representations are natural; and the greatest censure they dread is, that their conduct is opposite. It is by this maxim that the errors of Shakespeare have been defended ; and probably by this maxim he was perverted. “Can we sup* pose,” it may be said,
" that the ruin of “ kings, and the downfal of kingdoms, have « been accomplished merely by heroes and “ princes? May not inferior agents, and " even the meanest of mankind, have con« tributed to such a catastrophe? Or can we “ suppose, that during the progress of great " events, none of the real agents have ever “ smiled, or have ever indulged themselves
in trifling discourse? Must they main* tain, during the whole performance, the 4. most uniform gravity of aspect, and solemn
• state of demeanour? Is it not natural, if a
grave must be dug for a dead body, that * the grave-diggers be persons of the lowest * ránk; and if so, that their conversation be * suited to their condition? Of consequence, “ the language of Tragedy will not always " maintain the same dignity of expression. • Even kings and queens, moved by some 66. violent passion, will be inclined to speak « like their subjects, and utter terms, that,
to very delicate critics, may seem ill suited 56 to their rank. Solemn statesmen may « indulge in trivial garrulity; and grave “ 'senators may act or speak like the vulgar. " Now, is not the poet to follow nature ! “ And if he is to represent persons in the
highest departments of life, must he not
represent them in their real appearance?. 4. Or must they be totally disguised, refined, * and exalted, according to the enthusiasm • of a glowing fancy 9"- It is in this manner that the mixture of tragic with comic scenes, and the gross vulgarity of language to which our poet, 'notwithstanding his amazing powers of expression, too often descends, are defended; and, perhaps, at