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junction with learning ; but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious. offspring of observation impregnated by genius. Cato affords a splendid exhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and delivers just and noble sentiments, in diction easy, elevated, and harmonious, but its hopes and fears communicate no vibration to the heart; the composition refers us only to the writer; we pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on Addison.
The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with fhades, and scented with flowers; the compofition of Shakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and to roses; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diversity. Other poets diíplay cabinets of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and polished into brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in funexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals.
It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps of scholastick education, the precepts of critical science, and the examples of ancient authors.
There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shakespeare wanted learning, that he had no regular education, nor much skill in the dead languages. Jonfon, his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, and less Greek; who, besides that he had no imaginable temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of Shakespeare were known to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore to decide the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force could be opposed.
Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep learning in many imitations of old writers; but the examples which I have known urged, were drawn from books translated in his time; or were such easy coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who consider the same subjects; or such remarks on life or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences.
I have found it remarked, that, in this important sentence, Go before, I'll follow, we read a translation of, I prae, fequar. I have been told, that when Ca. liban, after a pleasing dream, fays, I cry'd to sleep again, the author imitates Anacreon, who had, like every other man, the fame with on the fame occafion.
There are a few passages which may pass for imitations, but fo few, that the exception only confirms the rule; he obtained them from accidental quotations, or by oral communication, and as he used what he had, would have used more if he bad obtained it.
The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken from the Menechmi of Plautus; from the only play of Plautus which was then in English. What can be more pro. bable, than that he who copied that, would have copied more; but that those which were not translated were inaccessible
Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain. That his plays have some French scenes proves but little; he might eafily procure them to be written, and probably, even though he had known the language in the common degree, he could not have written it without affistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet he is observed to have followed the English translation, where it deviates from the Italian; but this on the other part proves nothing against his knowledge of the original. He was to copy, not what he knew himself, but what was known to his audience.
It is most likely that he had learned Latin fufficiently to make him acquainted with construction, but that he never advanced to an easy perusal of the Roman authors. Concerning his skill in modern languages, I can find no sufficient ground of determination ; but as no imitations of French or Italian authors have been discovered, though the Italian poetry was then high in esteem, I am inclined to believe, that he read little more than English, and chose for his fables only such tales as he found translated.
That much knowledge is scattered over his works is very justly observed by Pope, but it is often such Vol. I. [C]
knowledge as books did not supply. He that will understand Shakespeare, must not be content to study him in the closit, he must look for his meaning fometimes among the sports of the field, and sometimes among the manufactures of the shop.
There is however proof enough that he was a very diligent reader, nor was our language then so indigent of books, but that he might very liberally indulge his curiosity without excursion into foreign literature. Many of the Roman authors were translated, and fome of the Greek; the Reformation had filled the kingdom with theological learning; most of the topicks of human disquisition had found English writers; and poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence, but success. This was a stock of knowJedge fufficient for a mind so capable of appropriating and improving it.
But the greater part of his excellence was the product of bis own genius. He found the English stage in a state of the utmoit rudeness; no eslays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it could be discovered to what degree of delight either one or other might be carried. Neither character nor dialosue were yet understood. Shakespeare may be truivjaid to have introduced ihem both amongst us, and in some of his happier scenes to have carried them both to the utmost height.
By what gradations of improvement he proceeded, is not easily known; for the chronology of his works is yet unsettled. Rowe is of opinion, that perkeps
we are not to look for his beginning, like those of other writers, in his least perfect works; art had so little, and nature fo large a Jhaie in what he did, that for ought I know, says he, the performances of his youth, as they zvere the most vigorous, were the best. But the power of nature is only the power of using to any certain purpose the materials which diligence procures, or opportunity supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when images are collected by study and experience, can only affist in combining or applying them. Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could inupart only what he had learned, and as he must increase his ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, he, like them, grew wiser as he grew older, could display life better, as he knew it more, and instruct with more efficacy, as he was himself more amply instructed.
There is a vigilance of observation and accuracy of distinction which books and precepts cannot confer; from this almost all original and native excellence proceeds. Shakespeare muft have looked upon mankind with perspicacity, in the highest degree curious and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of present manners ; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the fame. Our author had both matter and form to provide ; for, except the characters of Chaucer, to whom I think he is not much indebted, there were no writers in English, and perhaps not many in other modern languages, which shewed life in its native colours, [ C 2 ]