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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 some of the Greek ; the reformation had filled the kingdom with theological learning ; most of the topics of human disquisition had found English writers; and poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence, but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient for a mind so capable of appropriating and improving it. But the greater part of his excellence was the product of his own genius. He found the English stage in a state of the utmost rudeness; no essays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it could be discovered to what degree of delight either one or the other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue were yet understood. Shaksfleare may be truly said to have introduced them 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 fierhafts we are not to look for his beginning, like those of other writers, in Miis least fierfect works ; art had so little, and nature so targe a share in what he did, that for ought I know, says he, the fierformances of his youth, as they were 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 assist in combining or applying them. Shakspeare, however favoured by nature, could impart 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. Shaksheare must 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 same. 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. The contest about the original benevolence or malignity of man had not yet commenced. Speculation had not yet attempted to analyse the mind, to trace the passions to their sources, to unfold the seminal principles of vice and virtue, or sound the depths of the heart for the motives of action. All those inquiries, which from that time that human nature became the fashionable study, have been made sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle subtilty, were yet unattempted. The tales, with which the infancy of learning was satisfied, exhibited only the superficial appearances of action, related the events, but omitted the causes, and were formed for such as delighted in wonders rather than in truth. Mankind was not then to be studied in the closet; he that would know the world, was under the necessity of gleaning his own remarks, by mingling as he could in its business and amusements. Boyle congratulated himself upon his high birth, because it favoured his curiosity, by facilitating his access. Shakspeare had no such advantage ; he came to London a needy adventurer, and lived for a time by very mean employments. Many works of genius and learning have been performed in states of life that appear very little favourable to thought or to inquiry ; so many, that he who considers them is inclined to think that he sees enterprise and perseverance predominating over all external agency, and bidding help and hindrance vanish before them. The genius of Shakshcare was not to be depressed by the weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow conversation to which men in want are inevitably condemned ; the incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his mind, as dew drofls from a lion's mane. Though he had so many difficulties to encounter, and so little assistance to surmount them, he has been able to obtain an exact knowledge of many modes of life, and many casts of native dispositions ; to vary them with great multiplicity ; to mark them by nice distinctions; and to shew them in full view by proper combiWOL. II, - 15

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nations. In this part of his performances he had none
to imitate, but has been himself imitated by all succeed-
ing writers; and it may be doubted, whether from all
his successors more maxims of theoretical knowledge,
or more rules of practical prudence, can be collected,
than he alone has given to his country.
Nor was his attention confined to the actions of men ;
he was an exact surveyor of the inanimate world; his
descriptions have always some peculiarities, gathered by
contemplating things as they really exist. It may be ob-
served that the oldest poets of many nations preserve their
reputation, and that the following generations of wit,
after a short celebrity, sink into oblivion. The first, who-
ever they be, must take their sentiments and descriptions
immediately from knowledge; the resemblance is there-
fore just, their descriptions are verified by every eye, and
their sentiments acknowledged by every breast. Those
whom their fame invites to the same studies, copy partly
them and partly nature, till the books of one age gain such
authority, as to stand in the place of nature to another,
and imitation, always deviating a little, becomes at last
capricious and casual. Shaksheare, whether life or na-
ture be his subject, shews plainly that he has seen with
his own eyes; he gives the image which he receives, not
weakened or distorted by the intervention of any other
mind ; the ignorant feel his representations to be just,
and the learned see that they are complete.
Perhaps it would not be easy to find any author, except
Homer, who invented so much as Shaksheare, who so
much advanced the studies which he cultivated, or effus.

ed so much novelty upon his age or country. The form, the characters, the language, and the shows of the English drama are his. He seems, says llennis, to have seen the very original of our English tragical harmony, that is, the harmony of blank verse, diversified often by dissyllable and trissyllable terminations. For the diversity distinguishes it from heroic harmony, and by bringing it nearer to common use makes it more firosher to gain attention, and more fit for action and dialogue. Such verse we make when ove are writing firose ; we make such verse in common conversation, I know not whether this praise is rigorously just. The dissyllable termination, which the critic rightly appropriates to the drama, is to be found, though, I think, not in Gorboduc, which is confessedly before our author; yet in Hieronymo,” of which the date is not certain, but which there is reason to believe at least as old as his earliest plays. This however is certain, that he is the first who taught either tragedy or comedy to please, there being no theatrical piece of any older writer, of which the name is known, except to antiquaries and collectors of books, which are sought because they are scarce, and would not have been scarce, had they been much esteemed. To him we must ascribe the praise, unless Shemser may divide it with him, of having first discovered to how much smoothness and harmony the English language could be softened. He has speeches, perhaps sometimes scenes, which have all the delicacy of Rowe, without his

* It appears, from the induction of Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, to have been acted before the year 1590. STE Ev ENs:

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