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He might have added the following obser: vation, from Longinus, to his remarks, who says, that “ In reading Homer, Plato, or any “other of the great geniuses of antiquity;. “ whenever we happen to meet with passages " which appear to be unintelligible or absurd, “ we ought fairly to conclude, that were they “ alive to explain themselves in those places, “ we should to our confufion be convinced, “ that the ignorance or error lay in our own “ conceptions alone.” Horace, too, may be referred to upon this occasion, who indulgently says, that The blaze of fine writing gilds o’er its blots. Such was the candor, iuch the and such the deference, shewn by Antient Com mentators to the works of literature or genius.
The brightness of the fun concealed its spots from them; but second-hand critics, to speak in the words of a modern Author, peer through a fmoked glass to observe them.
"?? The learned and ingenious Doctor Johnson has given us a just and beautiful fimile, on this subject : “ The works of a correct and te "gular writer, says he, is a garden accurately “ formed, and diligently planted; varied with “ Thades, and scented by flowers. The com« position 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 affording shelter “ to myrtles and roles ; filling the eye with “ awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with “ endless diversity." . This last-mentioned Editor is the only one who has confidered "Shakespeare's writings in a
moral light and therefore I confess myself of opinion that he has best underitood them, by thus pointing to their highest merit, and nobleft excellence. And from several passages in the Doctor's Preface, particularly where he says, that." From his writings, indeed, a system of “ fciat dutiesi may be selected; for he who “ thinks reasonably, mult. think morally ;” as well as from frequent reflections of my own, respecting the æconomical conduct of life and manners, which have always arisen in my mind on the perusal of Shakespeare's works, I have ventured to assume the taík of placing his Ethic merits in a more conspicuous point of view, than they have ever hitherto been presented in to the Public.
My difficulty will not be what to find, but wbat to chuse, amidst such a profusion of sweets, and variety of colours; nay, sometimes, how to separate the moral from the matter, in this Author's writings; which are often fo contexted, that, to continue Doctor Johnson's allegory above quoted, they may be compared to an intermixture of the physic with the kitchen garden, where both food and medi-, cine may be culled from the same spot. i Shakespeare is not only my Poct, but my Philosopher also. His anatomy of the human heart is delineated from nature, not from metapbyhics; referring immediately to our intuitive leníe, and not wandering with the schoolmen, through the pathleis wilds of theory. We not only fee, but feel his dissections just and Scientific.--The late ingenious Lord Lyttelton, fpeaking of Sakespeare, says, “ No author had
“ cver fo copious, so bold, so creative an ima-
Shakespeare seems to possess that happy and peculiar kind of fuperiority over all other Dramatic Authors, that the ancient poets and historians confessedly bear above the modern ones, with regard to the genuine characters, manners, and sentiments, of the persons exhibited in their respective writings. In the first, we see the men of Nature; in the latter, but the children of the Schools.
The world at present is held more in trammels, than it formerly was.-From our modes of education, policies, and breeding, our conduct and demeanor are become more sophisticate, our minds lefs candid, and our actions more disguised. Our modern literary painters represent us such as we appear; but the genuine unadulterate heart can be moved by no attection, allied by no lympathy, with such factitious personages, such puppets of polity, such automata of modern refinement. Hence, love, friendihip, patriotism, are long tince be• Dialogues of the Dead.
ever fo copious, so bold, so creative an imagination, with so perfect a knowledge of the passions, the humours,and sentiments of man. kind. He painted all characters, from heroes and kings, down to inn-keepers and peasants, with equal truth, and equal force. If human nature were quite destroyed, and no monument left of it, except his Works, other Beings might learn what man was, from
those writings *." And Ben Johnson had ig before said of him : « Nature herself was proud of his defigns, .!!! “ And joyed to wear the dresfings of his lines.” Shakespeare seems to possess that happy and culiar kind of fuperiority over all othe: ramatic Authors, that the ancient poets and storians confessedly bear above the modern ones, ith regard to the genuine characters, manners,
come the obsolete sentiments of chivalry and romance. But in all the representations of Shakespeare, we are sensible of a connection; his whole Dramatis Personæ seem to be our acquaintance and countrymen; while in most other exhibitions, they appear to be strangers and foreigner's. Doctor Johnson, upon comparing the Tragedy of Cato with one of our Author's plays, says justly, that “ Addison .. Speaks the language of Poets, but Shake“ speare that of Men.
Doctor Warburton fays, “ Of all the literary “ exercitations of speculative men, whether la designed for the use or entertainment of the * world, there are none of so much impor**tance, or what are more of our immediate
concern, than those which let us into a
knowledge of our nature. Others may exer* cife the reason, or amuse the imagination ; * båt these only can improve the heart, aná
form the mind to wisdom. Now, in this * science our Shakespeare is confessed to oc"cupy the foremost place ; whether we con
'fider the amazing fagacity with which he " 'investigates every hidden spring and wheel " of human action; or his happy manner of " communicating this knowledge, in the just " and lively paintings which he has given us " of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits. " Thele afford a'leffon, which can never be " too often repeated, or too strongly incul"cated.”
Shaftsbury, though severe, I think rather too much fo, against Shakespeare's faults, allows, that " By the juftness of his moral, the
d sentiments, of the persons exhibited in their
education, policies, and breeding, our con-
ve, friendship, patriotism, are long tince be-
“ aptness of his descriptions, and the plain
and natural turn of several of his characters, “ he pleases his audience, and gains their ear, " without a single bribe from luxury or vice."
Our Author's poetical beauties have been already selected, though they needed it not, as they are undoubtedly so striking as scarcely to require the being particularly pointed out to any Reader capable of conceiving or relishing them; but a single line, sometimes a word, in many instances throughout his Works, may convey a hint, or impress a sentiment upon the heart, if properly marked, which might posfibly be overlooked, while curiosity is attending to the fable, or the imagination transported with the splendor of diction, or sublimity of images.
There is a Moral sometimes couched in his Fable, which whenever I have been able to discover, I have pointed out to the Reader ; and froin those pieces where this excellence is deficient in the Argument, as particularly in his Historical Plays, where poetical justice cannot always obtain, human life not being the whole of our existence, I have given his moral and instruction in detail, by quoting the passages as they happen to lie detached, or referring to the scope and tenor of the dialogue.
In these remarks and observations I have not restricted myself to morals purely ethic, but have extended my observations and reflections to whatever las reference to the general æconomy of life and manners, respecting prudence, polity, decency, and decorum; or relative to the