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and he that tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.
"It will not easily be imagined how much Shakespeare excels in accommodating his sentiments to real life, but by comparing him with other authors. It was observed by the ancient schools of declamation, that the more diligently they were frequented, the more was the student disqualified for the world; because he found nothing there which he should ever meet in any other place. The same remark may be applied to every stage but that of Shakespeare. The theatre, when it is under any other direction, is peopled by such characters as were never seen, conversing in a language that was never heard, upon topics which will never arise in the commerce of mankind. But the dialogue of this author is often so evidently determined by the incident which produces it, and is pursued with so much ease and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent selection out of common conversation, and common occurrences.
"This, therefore, is the praise of Shakespeare, that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his delirious, ecstasies, by reading human sentiments in human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions,
"His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the censure of critics, who form their judgments upon narrow principles. Dennis and Ryruer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman; and Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated, when the Danish usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature predominant over accident, and if he preserves the essential character, is not very careful of distinctions, superinduced and adventitious. His story requires Romans, or kings, but he thinks only oh men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all dispositions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senate-house for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to shew an usurper and a murderer not only odious, but despicable ; he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.
"The censure which he has incurred by mixing comic and tragic scenes, as it extends to all his works, deserves more consideration. Let the facts be first stated, and then examined Shakespeare's plays are not, in the rigorous sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhihiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil* joy, and sorrow, mingled with endless proportion, and innumerable modes of comhination; and expressing the coarse of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain of the other. But of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties, the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, selected some of the crimes of men, and some of their absurdities ; some the momentous vicissitudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences; some the terrors of distress, and some the gaieties of prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, tragedy, and comedy, compositions intended to promote different ends, by contrary means, and considered as so little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks and Romans, a single writer that attempted both. Shakespeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and sorrow, not only in one mind, but in one composition. Almost all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and in the successive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce seriousness and sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter.
"Through all the different denominations of the drama, Shakespeare's mode of composition is the same; an interchange of seriousness and merriment, by which the mind is softened at one time, and exhilarated at another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to gladden or depress, or to conduct the story with vehemence or emotion, through tracts of easy and familiar dialogue, he. never fails to attain his purpose ; as he commands us, we laugh or moorn, or sit silent with quiet expectation, in tranquillity, without indifference.
** When Shakespeare's plan is understood, most of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Hamlet is opened, without impropriety* by two centinels: Iago bellows at Brabantio's window without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms which a modern audience would not easily endure. The character of Polonius is reasonable and useful, and the Grave-diggers themselves may be heard with applause.
"Shakespeare engaged in dramatic poetry with the world open before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; the public judgment was unformed; he had no example of such fame as might force him upon imitation, nor critics of such authority, as might restrain his extravagance. He therefore indulged bis natural disposition; and his disposition, as Rymer has remarked, led him to comedy. Tragedy he often writes with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comic scenes, he seems to produce, without labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to be comic; but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragic scenes there is always something wanting; but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thought* and the language; and his tragedy, for the greater part, by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy instinct. The force of his comic scenes has suffered little diminution from the change made by •
l -.it century and an half in manners or in words. As his personages act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations are communicable to all times, and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are only superficial dyes, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet soon fading to a dim tint, without any remains of former lustre; but the discrimination of true passion are the colours of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes are dissolved by the chance which combined them; but the uniform simplicity of primitive qualities neither admits nor suffers decay. The sand heaped by one flood is scattered by another, but the lock always continues in its place. Thestreamof time, which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of Other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare.
: "Shakespeare, with his excellencies, has likewise faults, and faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit. I shall shew in the proportion in which they appear to me, without envious malignity, or superstitious veneration. No question can be more innocently discussed, than a dead poet's pretensions to renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry which sets candour higher than truth.
"His first defect is that to which may be imputed must of the evil in books or in men. . He sacrifices vir* tue to convenience, and is so much more careful to