« AnteriorContinuar »
slight portion of alloy. Tate remodelled In The Spectator,' 419, amongst the pa'Lear,'—and such a ‘Lear!' Davenant man pers on “The Pleasures of the Imagination,' gled 'Macbeth;' but we can hardly quarrel Shakspere's delineations of supernatural with him for it, for he gave us the music of beings are thus mentioned :-"Among the Locke in company with his own verses. It English, Shakspeare has incomparably exhas been said, as a proof how little Shak-celled all others. That noble extravagance spere was once read, that Davenant’s altera- of fancy, which he had in so great perfection, tion is quoted in “The Tatler' instead of thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak the original. This is the reasoning of Stee- superstitious part of his reader's imaginavens; but he has not the candour to tell us, tion; and made him capable of succeeding that in “The Tatler,' No. 111, there is a where he had nothing to support him besides quotation from ‘Hamlet,' with the following the strength of his own genius. There is remarks :-“This admirable author, as well something so wild, and yet so solemn, in the as the best and greatest men of all ages and speeches of his ghosts, fairies, witches, and of all nations, seems to have had his mind the like imaginary persons, that we cannot thoroughly seasoned with religion, as is forbear thinking them natural, though we evident by many passages in his plays, that have no rule by which to judge of them ; would not be suffered by a modern audience.” and must confess, if there are such beings Steevens infers, that Steele, or ADDISON, was in the world, it looks highly probable they not a reader of Shakspere, because ‘Macbeth' should talk and act as he has represented is quoted from an acted edition ; and that, them.” therefore, Shakspere was not read generally. We have again an instance of Addison's If a hurried writer in a daily paper (as “The good taste in his remarks upon the critical Tatler' was) were to quote from some acted notions of poetical justice, which he calls editions at the present day, he might fall a ridiculous doctrine in modern criticism." into the same error; and yet he might be of the best plays which end unhappily he an ardent student of Shakspere, in a nation mentions Othello,' with others, and adds, of enthusiastic admirers. The early Essayists “ King Lear' is an admirable tragedy of the offer abundant testimonies, indeed, of their same kind, as Shakspeare wrote it ; but as general admiration of the poet. In No. 68 it is reformed, according to the chimerical of “The Tatler,' he is “the great master notion of poetical justice, in my humble who ever commands our tears.” In No. 160 opinion it has lost half its beauty.” All of 'The Spectator'Shakspere is put amongst this exhibits a better taste than we find in the first class of great geniuses, in company Gildon and Dennis ; and it certainly is very with Homer; and this paper contains a remarkable that Addison, who in his own remarkable instance of a juster taste than tragedy was laboriously correct, as it was one might expect from the author of "Cato:' called, should have taken no occasion to _“We are to consider that the rule of ob comment upon the irregularities of Shakserving what the French call the bienséance spere. Mr. De Quincey says of Addison, in an allusion has been found out of later “ The feeble constitution of the poetic faculty years, and in the colder regions of the world; as existing in himself forbad him sympawhere we could make some amends for our thising with Shakespear.” The feebleness want of force and spirit, by a scrupulous of the poetic faculty makes the soundness of nicety and exactness in our compositions.”'* the judgment more conspicuous.
any reference to Shakspear." No. 160 bears the signature * Mr. De Quincey is certainly mistaken when he says, of C., and immediately follows • The Vision of Mirza,' that “ Addison has never in one instance quoted or made bearing the saine signature.
The commencement of the eighteenth cen Worthies,' "The Cabbala, or Collections of tury produced the first of the critical Letters of State,' and a little book, Delices editions of Shakspere. In 1709 appeared de Hollande,' with another little book or Shakespeare's Plays Revised and Corrected, two, all of good use or serious pleasure ; with an Account of his Life and Writings, and ‘Hudibras,' both parts, the book now by N. Rowe.' We should mention that the in greatest fashion for drollery, though I third edition of Shakspere's Comedies, His- cannot, I confess, see enough where the wit tories, and Tragedies, in folio, appeared in lies.” These two folio editions supplied the 1664. It has been said that the greater readers of Shakspere for more than forty number of the copies of this edition were years, but we are not hence to conclude that destroyed in the fire of London ; and a he was neglected. Of Ben Jonson during writer whom we must once more quote says, the same period there was only one edi“During a whole century, only four editions tion; of Beaumont and Fletcher only one; of his complete works, and these small, were of Spenser only one. Rowe's edition of published; and there would only have been Shakspere, we doubt not, supplied a general three, but for the destructive Fire of London want. Its critical merits were but small. in 1666. The destruction by the fire is The facts of the “Life' which he prefixes just as much proved as the smallness of the have been sufficiently noticed by us in edition. One of our best bibliographers, Mr. another place. The opinions expressed in Lowndes, whose ‘Bibliographer's Manual' is that ‘Life' are few, and are put forth with a model of accuracy, doubts the statement little pretension. As might be expected, they of the destruction by the fire, “though it has fully admit the excellence of Shakspere, but been frequently repeated.” Upon the face of they somewhat fall into the besetting sin it the statement is improbable. If it were a of attempting to elevate his genius by degood speculation to print the book two years preciating his knowledge :-“It is without before the fire, and the stock so printed had controversy that in his works we scarce find been destroyed in the fire, it would have any traces of anything that looks like an been an equally good speculation to have re imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of printed it immediately after the fire; and yet his taste, and the natural bent of his own the fourth edition did not appear till 1685. great genius (equal, if not superior, to some Some of the copies of the third edition bear of the best of theirs), would certainly have the date of 1663; and we have no doubt led him to read and study them with so that the book was then generally published ; much pleasure that some of their fine images for Pepys, under the date of December 10th, would naturally have insinuated themselves 1663, has a curious bibliographical entry : into, and been mixed with, his own writings; “To St. Paul's Churchyard, to my bookseller's, so that his not copying at least something and could not tell whether to lay out my from them may be an argument of his never money for books of pleasure, as plays, which having read them. Whether his ignorance my nature was most earnest in; but at last, of the ancients were a disadvantage to him after seeing Chaucer, Dugdale's 'History of or no, may admit of a dispute: for, though Paul's, Stow’s ‘London,' Gesner, ‘History the knowledge of them might have made of Trent,' besides Shakespeare, Jonson, and him more correct, yet it is not improbable Beaumont's plays, I at last chose Dr. Fuller's but that the regularity and deference for
* Life of Shakespear in Lardner's Cyclopædia.' them, which would have attended that cor
rectness, might have restrained some of that be no very hard task to find a great many
-“That Shakspeare had not only found out imitator as an instrument of Nature; and it
the same image: each picture, like a mock- | for a very new opinion—that the philosopher, rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. and even the man of the world, may be born But every single character in Shakspeare is as well as the poet.” as much an individual as those in life itself; These are the excellences of Shakspere; it is as impossible to find any two alike; and but Pope holds that he has as great defects, such as from their relation or affinity in any and he sets himself to excuse these by arguing respect appear most to be twins, will, upon that it was necessary to please the populace. comparison, be found remarkably distinct. He then proceeds :To this life and variety of character we must “ To judge, therefore, of Shakspeare by add the wonderful preservation of it; which Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the is such throughout his plays, that, had all laws of one country who acted under those of the speeches been printed without the very another. He wrote to the people, and wrote at names of the persons, I believe one might first without patronage from the better sort, have applied them with certainty to every and therefore without aims of pleasing them; speaker.
without assistance or advice from the learned, ver over our passions was never as without the advantage of education or acpossessed in a more eminent degree, or dis- quaintance among them; without that knowplayed in so different instances. Yet all ledge of the best models, the ancients, to inalong there is seen no labour, no pains to spire him with an emulation of them; in a raise them; no preparation to guide or guess word, without any views of reputation, and to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward of what poets are pleased to call immortality; it; but the heart swells, and the tears burst some or all of which have encouraged the out, just at the proper places: we are sur- vanity, or animated the ambition, of other prised the moment we weep; and yet upon writers. reflection find the passion so just, that we “ Yet it must be observed, that, when his should be surprised if we had not wept, and performances had merited the protection of wept at that very moment.
his prince, and when the encouragement of “How astonishing it is again that the pas- the court had succeeded to that of the town, sions directly opposite to these, laughter and the works of his riper years are manifestly spleen, are no less at his command! That he raised above those of his former. The dates is not more a master of the great than of the of his plays sufficiently evidence that his ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest productions improved in proportion to the tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of respect he had for his auditors. And I our strongest emotions, than of our idlest make no doubt this observation would be sensations !
found true in every instance, were but edi“Nor does he only excel in the passions; | tions extant from which we might learn the in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he exact time when every piece was composed, is full as admirable. His sentiments are not and whether wrote for the town or the court. only in general the most pertinent and ju “ Another cause (and no less strong than dicious upon every subject; but, by a talent the former) may be deduced from our poet's very peculiar, something between penetration being a player, and forming himself first upon and felicity, he hits upon that particular the judgments of that body of men whereof point on which the bent of each argument he was a member. They have ever had a turns, or the force of each motive depends. standard to themselves, upon other prinThis is perfectly amazing from a man of no ciples than those of Aristotle. As they live education or experience in those great and by the majority, they know no rule but that public scenes of life which are usually the of pleasing the present humour, and complysubject of his thoughts; so that he seems to ing with the wit in fashion—a consideration have known the world by intuition, to have which brings all their judgment to a short looked through human nature at one glance, point. Players are just such judges of what and to be the only author that gives ground | is right as tailors are of what is graceful.
And in this view it will be but fair to allow Jonson borrowed everything. Because Jonson that most of our author's faults are less to did not write extempore, he was reproached be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poet with being a year about every piece; and, than to his right judgment as a player.” because Shakspeare wrote with ease and
Of Shakspere’s learning his editor thus rapidity, they cried, he never once made a speaks:
blot. Nay, the spirit of opposition ran so “As to his want of learning it may be ligh, that whatever those of the one side necessary to say something more: there is objected to the other was taken at the certainly a vast difference between learning rebound, and turned into praises, as injuand languages. How far he was ignorant of diciously as their antagonists before had the latter I cannot determine; but it is plain made them objections." he had much reading at least, if they will Much of Pope's Preface is then occupied not call it learning. Nor is it any great with illustrations of his opinion that Shakmatter, if a man has knowledge, whether he spere's works have come down to us defaced has it from one language or from another. with innumerable blunders and absurdities Nothing is more evident than that he had a which are not to be attributed to the author. taste of natural philosophy, mechanics, We cannot at all yield our consent to this ancient and modern history, poetical learning, opinion, which goes upon the assumption and mythology: we find him very knowing that, whenever there is an obscure passage; in the customs, rites, and manners of an whenever “mean conceits and ribaidries" tiquity.
The manners of other are found ; whenever “low scenes of mobs, nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, plebeians, and clowns” are very prominent; French, &c., are drawn with equal propriety. there the players have been at work; and he Whatever object of nature or branch of thus argues upon the assumption :—“If we science he either speaks of or describes, it is give in to this opinion, how many low and always with competent if not extensive vicious parts and passages might no longer knowledge ; his descriptions are still exact; reflect upon this great genius, but appear all his metaphors appropriated, and remark- unworthily charged upon him! And, even ably drawn from the true nature and inherent in those which are really his, hồw many qualities of each subject. When he treats faults may have been unjustly laid to his of ethic or politic, we may constantly observe account from arbitrary additions, expunca wonderful justness of distinction as well as tions, transpositions of scenes and lines, extent of comprehension. No one is more a confusion of characters and persons, wrong master of the poetical story, or has more application of speeches, corruptions of infrequent allusions to the various parts of it. numerable passages by the ignorance, and Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this wrong corrections of them again by the last particular) has not shown more learning impertinence, of his first editors ! From one this way than Shakspeare.
or other of these considerations I am verily “I am inclined to think this opinion pro- | persuaded that the greatest and the grossest ceeded originally from the zeal of the parti- part of what are thought his errors would zans of our author and Ben Jonson, as they vanish, and leave his character in a light endeavoured to exalt the one at the expense very different from that disadvantageous one of the other. It is ever the nature of parties in which it now appears to us.
There is a to be in extremes; and nothing is so probable larger question even than this that Pope as that, because Ben Jonson had much the propounds. Are these parts and passages more learning, it was said on the one hand low and vicious ? Have we these cor tions that Shakspeare had none at all; and, because and imperfections? We believe not. Pope Sbakspeare had much the most wit and accepted Shakspere in the spirit of his time, fancy, it was retorted on the other that and that was not favourable to the proper Jonson wanted both. Because Shakspeare understanding of him. His concluding obborrowed nothing, it was said that Ben servations are characteristic of his critical