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of his actors, the grex, chorus, &ci to remove the preju. dices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. 'Till then, our authors had no thoughts of writing on the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only histories in dialogue; and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true history.
To judge therefore of Shakespeare by Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country, who acted under those of another. He writ to the people; and writ at first without patronage from the better fort, and therefore without aims of plealing them: without aslistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them: without that knowledge of the beit models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them; in a word, without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call immortality: fome or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambi. tion, of other writers.
Yet it must be observed, that when his performances had merited the protection of his prince, and when the encouragement of the court had succeeded to that of the town; the works of his riper years are manifestly raised above those of his former. The dates of his plays sufficiently evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the respect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this observation would be found true in every instance, were but editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was composed, and whether writ for the town, or the court.
Another cause (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from our author's being a player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a standard to themselves, upon other principles than those of Aristotle. As they live by the majority, they know no rule but that. of pleasing the present humour, and complying with the wit in fashion; a consideration which brings all their judgment to a short point. Players are just such judges of what is right, as taylors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our author's faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poet, than to his right judgment as a player.
By these inen it was thought a praife to Shakespeare, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they industrioully propa. Vol. I. [H]
gated, as appears from what we are told by Ben Jonson in his Discoveries, and from the preface of Heminges and Condell to the first folio edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the comedy of The Merry Wives of Windfor, which he entirely new writ; The History of Henry the Sixth, which was first published under the title of The Contention of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the Fifth, extremely improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at first, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might ... be thought a praise by fome, and to this his errors have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For it is certain, were it true, it could concern but a small part of them; the most are such as are not properly defects, but superfætations: and arise not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging: or rather (to be more just to our author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the subject, a wrong conduct of the inci-' dents, false thoughts, forced expreslions, &c. if these are not to be ascribed to the foresaid accidental reasons, they must be charged upon the poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two disadvantages which I have mentioned (to be obliged to please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company) if the consideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear fufficient to millead and depress the greatest genius upon earth. Nay, the more modesty with which such a one is endued, the more he is in danger of submitting and conforming to others, against his own better judgment.
But as to his want of learning, it may be necessary to say something more: there is certainly a vast difference between learning and languages. How far he was ignorant of the late ter, I cannot determine; but it is plain he had much read. ing at least, if they will not call it learning, Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is inore evident than that he had a taste of natural philosophy, mechanicks, ancient and modern history, poetical learning, and mythology: we find hiin very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of antiquity: In Coriolanus and Julius Cæfar, not only the spirit, but manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn; and still a nicer diflinction is shewn between
the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient historians is no less conspicuous, in many references to particular passages: and the speeches copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning, as those copied from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jonson's. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whata ever object of nature, or branch of science, he either speaks of or describes; it is always with competent, if not extenfive knowledge: his defcriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject. When he treats of ethick or politick, we may constantly observe a wonderful justness of distinction, as well as extent of comprehension. No one is more a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it : Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this last particular) has not shewn more learning this way than Shakespeare. We have translations from Ovid published in his name, among those poems which pass for his, and for some of which we have undoubted authority (being published by himself, and dedicated to his noble patron the earl of Southampton); he appears also to have been conversant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greck authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another: (although I will not pretend to say in what language he read them). The modern Italian writers of novels he was manifeftiy acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no less conversant with the ancients of his own country, from the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Cressida, and in The Two Noble Kinsmen, if that play be his, as there goes a tradition it was (and indeed it has little resemblance of Fletcher, and more of our author than some of those which have been received as genuine). · I am inclined to think this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the partizans of our author and Ben Jonson; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expence of the other. It is ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben Jonson had much the more learning, it was said on the one hand that Shakespeare had none at all; and because Shakefpeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonson wanted both. Because Shakespeare
borrowed borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben Jonson borrowed every thing. Because Jonson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakespeare wrote with ease and rapidity, they cried, he never once made a blot. Nay, the spirit of oppos sition ran so high, that whatever those of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into praises; as injudiciously, as their antagonists before had made them objections. porto salon : :
Poets are always afraid of envy; but sure they have as much reason to be afraid of admiration. They are the Scyl.
la and Charybdis of authors; those who efcape one, often * fall by the other.. Pessimum genus inimicorum laudantes, says
Tacitus: and Virgil desires to wear a charm against those who praise a poct without rule or reason. Powe
S i ultra placitum laudârit baccare frontent.,"
But however this contention might be carried on by the the partizans on either side, I cannot help thinking these two great poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in óslices of society with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Jonson was introduced upon the stage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakespeare. And after his death, that author writes, To ihe memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespeare, which shews as if the friendship had continued through life. I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious or sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spen'fer, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be ranked · with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euri
pides, and Æschyius, nay, all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him; and (which is very particular) expressly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting art, not enduring that all his excellencies should be attributed to nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Discoveries seems to proceed from a personal kindness; he tells us, that he loved the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honeity, openness, and frankness of his temper; and only distinguishes, as he reafonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the filly and derogatory applauses of the players. Ben Jonson might indeed be sparing in his commendations (though certainly he is not so in this instance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judge ment. For men of judgment think they do any man more service in praising him justly, than lavishly. I say, I would fain believe they were friends, though the violence and illbreeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rise to the contrary report. I hope that it may be with parties, both in vit and state, as with those monsters described by the poets; and that their heads at least may have something human, though their bodies and tails are wild beasts and serpents.
As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rise to the opinion of Shakespeare's want of learning; so what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first publishers of his works. In these edi. tions their ignorance shines in almost every page; nothing is more common than Aalus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches folus *. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in construction and spelling: their very Welsh is falfe. Nothing is more likely than that those palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Aristotle, with others of that grofs kind, sprung from the same root: it not being at all credible that these could be the errors of any man who had the least tincture of a school, or the least conversation with such as had. Ben Jonson (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had some Latin; which is utterly inconsistent with mistakes like these. Nay, the constant blunders in proper names of perfons and places, are such as must have proceeded from a man, who had not so much as read any history in any language: so could not be Shakespeare's.
I shall now lay before the reader fome of those almost innumerable errors, which have rifen from one fource, the ignorance of the players, both as his actors, and as his editors. When the nature and kinds of these are enumerated and confidered, I dare to say that not Shakespeare only, but Aristotle 'or Cicero, had their works undergone the same fate, might have appeared to want sense as well as learning. iit! Fifin.
* Enter tbree witches folusaThis blunder appears to be of Mr. Pope's own invention. It is not to be found in any one of the four folio copies of Macbeth, and there is no quarto edition of it extant,
STEEVENS. i !,