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and a superficial one, appears to be their Equal or their Superiour by the Force of Genius and Nature, or to have bred one who, knowing the Ancients, falls infinitely short of them in Art, and consequently in Nature it self? Great Britain has but little Reason to boast of its Natives Education, since the same that they had here, they might have had in another place. But it may justly claim a very great share in their Nature and Genius, since these depend in a great measure on the Climate ; and therefore Horace, in the Instruction which he gives for the forming the Characters, advises the noble Romans for whose Instruction he chiefly writes to consider whether the Dramatick Person whom they introduce is
Colchus an Assyrius, Thebis nutritus an Argis. Thus, Sir, I have endeavour'd to shew under what great Disadvantages Shakespeur lay, for want of the Poetical Art, and for want of being conversant with the Ancients.
But besides this, he lay under other very great Inconveniencies. For he was neither Master of Time enough to consider, correct, and polish what he wrote, to alter it, to add to it, and to retrench from it, nor . had he Friends to consult upon whose Capacity and Integrity he could depend. And tho' a Person of very good Judgment may succeed very well without consulting his Friends, if he takes time enough to correct what he writes; yet even the greatest Man that Nature and Art can conspire to accomplish, can never attain to Perfection, without either employing a great deal of time, or taking the Advice of judicious Friends. Nay, 'tis the Opinion of Horace that he ought to do both.
Siquid tamen olim
Et Patris, & nostras ; nonumque prematur in Annum. Now we know very well that Shakespear was an Actor,
at a time when there were seven or eight Companies
- Vos, o
Præsectum decies non castigavit ad unguem.
Poets lose half the Praise they should have got,
Could it be known what they discreetly blot. These Friends then of Shakespear were not qualify'd to advise him. As for Ben Johnson, besides that Shakespear began to know him late, and that Ben was not the most communicative Person in the World of the Secrets of his Art, he seems to me to have had no right Notion of Tragedy. Nay, so far from it, that he who was indeed a very great Man, and who has writ Comedies, by which he has born away the Prize of Comedy both from Ancients and Moderns, and been an Honour to Great Britain ; and who has
done this without any Rules to guide him, except what his own incomparable Talent dictated to him ; This extraordinary Man has err'd so grossly in Tragedy, of which there were not only stated Rules, but Rules which he himself had often read, and had even translated, that he has chosen two Subjects, which, according to those very Rules, were utterly incapable of exciting either Compassion or Terror for the principal Characters, which yet are the chief Passions that a Tragick Poet ought to endeavour to excite. So that Shakespear having neither had Time to correct, nor Friends to consult, must necessarily have frequently left such faults in his Writings, for the Correction of which either a great deal of Time or a judicious and a well-natur'd Friend is indispensably necessary.
Vir bonus & prudens versus reprehendet inertes,
Arguet ambigue dictum, mutanda notabit. There is more than one Example of every kind of these Faults in the Tragedies of Shakespear, and even in the Coriolanus. There are Lines that are utterly void of that celestial Fire of which Shakespeare is sometimes Master in so great a Degree. And consequently there are Lines that are stiff and forc'd, and harsh and unmusical, tho' Shakespear had naturally an admirable Ear for the Numbers. But no Man ever was very musical who did not write with Fire, and no Man can always write with Fire, unless he is. so far Master of his Time, as to expect those Hours when his Spirits are warm and volatile. Shakespear must therefore sometimes have Lines which are neither strong nor graceful: For who ever had Force or Grace that had not Spirit ? There are in his Coriolanus, among a great many natural and admirable Beauties, three or four of those Ornaments which Horace would term ambitious; and which we in English
are apt to call Fustian or Bombast. There are Lines in some Places which are very obscure, and whole Scenes which ought to be alter'd.
I have, Sir, employ'd some Time and Pains, and that little Judgment which I have acquir'd in these Matters by a long and a faithful reading both of Ancients and Moderns, in adding, retrenching, and altering several Things in the Coriolanus of Shakespear, but with what Success I must leave to be determin'd by you. I know very well that you will be surpriz'd to find, that after all that I have said in the former Part of this Letter against Shakespear's introducing the Rabble into Coriolanus, I have not only retain'd in the second Act of the following Tragedy the Rabble which is in the Original, but deviated more from the Roman Customs than Shakespear had done before me. I desire you to look upon it as a voluntary Fault and a Trespass against Conviction : 'Tis one of those Things which are ad populum Phalere, and by no means inserted
which are ad ih Men as you before you a
Thus, Sir, have I laid before you a short but impartial Account of the Beauties and Defects of Shakespear, with an Intention to make these Letters publick if they are approv'd by you; to teach some People to distinguish between his Beauties and his Defects, that while they imitate the one, they may with Caution avoid the other [there being nothing of more dangerous Contagion to Writers, and especially to young ones, than the Faults of great Masters], and while with Milton they applaud the great Qualities which Shakespear had by Nature, they may follow his wise Example, and form themselves as he assures us that he himself did, upon the Rules and Writings of the Ancients.
Sir, if so candid and able a Judge as your self shall happen to approve of this Essay in the main, and to excuse and correct my Errors, that Indulgence and that Correction will not only encourage me to make these Letters publick, but will enable me to bear the
Reproach of those who would fix a Brand even upon the justest Criticism, as the Effect of Envy and Illnature ; as if there could possibly be any Ill-nature in the doing. Justice, or in the endeavouring to advance a very noble and a very useful Art, and consequently to prove beneficent to Mankind. As for those who may accuse me of the want of a due Veneration for the Merit of an Author of so establish'd a Reputation as Shakespear, I shall beg leave to tell them, that they chuse the wrongest time that they could possibly take for such an Accusation as that. For I appeal to you, Sir, who shews most Veneration for the Memory of Shakespear, he who loves and admires his Charms and makes them one of his chief Delights, who sees him and reads him over and over and still remains unsatiated, and who mentions his Faults for no other Reason but to make his Excellency the more conspicuous, or he who, pretending to be his blind Admirer, shews in Effect the utmost Contempt for him, preferring empty effeminate Sound to his «solid Beauties and manly Graces, and deserting him every Night for an execrable Italian Ballad, so vile that a Boy who should write such lamentable Dogrel would be turn'd out of Westminster-School for a desperate Blockhead, too stupid to be corrected and amended by the harshest Discipline of the Place ?