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the Great than of the Ridiculous in human nature ; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vaineit foibles ; of our strongest emotions, than of our idleft sensations !
Nor does he only excel in the Passions : In the coolnefs of Reflection and Reasoning he is full as admirable. His Sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between Penetration and Felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each moment depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and publick scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts: So that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have look'd thro' human nature at one glance, and to be the only Author that gives ground for a very new opinion, That the Philosopher, and even the Man of the world, may be Born, as well as the Poet.
It must be own'd that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defects, and that as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in some measure account for thefe defects, from several causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that so large and so enlighten'd a mind could ever have been susceptible of them. That all these Contingencies should unite to his disadvantage seems to me almost as singularly unlucky, as that so many.various (nay contrary) Talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.
It must be allowed that Stage-Poetry of all other, is more particularly levelld to please the Populace, and its success more immediately depending upon the Common Suffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakespear, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a sublittance, directed
his endeavours solely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed.
The Audience was generally composed of the meaner sort of people; and therefore the Images of Life were to be drawn from those of their own rank: accordingly we find, that not our Author's only but almost all the old Comedies have their Scene among Tradesmen and Mechanicks : And even their Historical Plays strictly follow the common Old Stories or Vulgar Traditions of that kind of people. In Tragedy, nothing was so sure to Surprize and cause Admiration, as the most strange, unexpected, and con, sequently most unnatural, Events and Incidents ; the most exaggerated Thoughts; the most verbose and bombast Expression; the most pompous Rhymes, and thundering Versification. In Comedy, nothing was so sure to Please, as mean buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jelts of fools and clowns. Yet even in these, our Author's wit buoys up, and is born above his subject : his Genius in those low parts is like some Prince of a Romance in the disguise of a Shepherd or Peasant; a certain Greatness and Spirit now and then break out, which manifest his higher extraction and qualities.
It may be added, that not only the common Audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better fort piqu’d themselves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way ; 'till Ben Johnson getting possession of the Stage, brought critical learning into vogue: And that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from those frequent lessons (and indeed almost Declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouth of his actors, the Grex, Chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. Till then, our Authors had no thoughts of writing on the model of the Ancients : their Tra. gedies were only Histories in Dialogue ; and their Co
medies followed the thread of any Novel as they found it, no less impli, itly than if it had teen true History.
To judge the efore of Shakespear by Arifimile's rules, is like crving a man by the laws of one country, who acted under those of another. He wric to the People ; and writ ac first without patrona 'e from the better fort, and therefore without aims of pleasing them : without affistance or advice from the Learned, as without tlie advantage of education or acquaintance among them : without that knowledge of the best models, the Ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them ; in a word, without any views of Reputation, and of what Poets are pleas'd to call Immortality : Some or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambition of other writers.
Yet it must be observed, that when his pasformances had merited the protection of his liince, and when the encouragement of the Court had fucceeded to that of the town; the works of his riper year. are manifestly raised above those of his former. The Dates of his plays fufficiently evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the respect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this ob/ervacion would be found true in every instance, were but Editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was composed, and whether writ for the Town, or the Court.
Another Cause (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from our Author's being a Player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a Standard to themselves, upon other principles than those of Aristotle. As they live by the Majority, they know no rule but that of pleasing the prefent humour, and complying with the wit in fashion ; a consideration which brings all their judgment to a short point. Players are just such judges of what is right, as Taylors are of włat is gracefi... And in this Vol. I.
view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our Author's faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a Poet, than to his right judgment as a Player.
By these men it was thought a praise to Shakespear, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they industriously propagared, as appears from what we are told by Ben Johnson in his Discoveries, and from the pieface of Heminges and Condell to the first folio Edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the Comedy of the Merry Wives of Windsor, which he entirely new writ; the History of Henry ihe 6th, which was first published under the title of the Contention of York and Lancaster ; and that of Henry the 51h, extremely improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as ac firit, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of Learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a praise by fome, and to this his Errors have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For 'cis certain, were it true, it could concern but a small part of them ; the most are such as are not properly Defects, but Superfætations: and arise not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging: or rather (to be more jest to our Author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the subject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, false thoughts, forced expressions, &c. if these are not to be ascrib'd to the foresaid accidental reasons, they must be chargéd upon the Poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two Difadvantages, which I have mention’d (to be oblig'd to please the loweit of people, and to keep the worit of company) if the contideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear fufficient to mislead and depress the greatest Genius upon earth.
more modesty with which such a one is endued, the more he is in danger of submitting and conforming to others, against his own better judgment.
But as to his Want of L-ering, it may be necessary to say something more : There is certainly a valt difference between Learning and Languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine ; but 'uis plain he had much Reading at least, if they will not call it Learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evidene than that he had a taste of natural Philosophy, Mechanicks, ancient and Modern History, Poetical learning and Mythology: We find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of Antiquity. In Coriclanus and Julius Cæsar, not only the Spirit, buc Manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn ; and still a nicer distinction is shewn, between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient Historians is no less conspicuous, in many references to particular passages; and the speeches copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning as those copie! from Cic:ro in Catiline, of Ben Jobnson's. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of science, he either speaks of or describes ; it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge ; his descriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject. When he treats of Ethic or Politic, we may contantly observe a wonderful jullness of diflinct on, as well as extent of compreheision. No one is more a master of the Poetical flory, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it: Mr. It'a'ler (who has been cele. braced for this last particular) has not shewn more