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labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to be comick, but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a inode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragick scenes there is always something wanting, but his comedy often furpaffes expectation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct,
The force of his comick scenes has suffered little diminution from the changes made by a century and a half, in manners or in words. As his personages act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are only superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet foon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of former lustre; but the discriminations of true passion are the colours..of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes are diffolved by the chance which combined them; but the uniform fimplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The sand heaped by one flood is scattered by another, but the rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, which is continually washing the diffoluble fabricks of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare.
If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a stile which never becomes obsolete, a certain mode of phraseology lo confonant and congenial to the analogy and principles of its respective language, as to remain settled and unaltered; this style is probably to be sought in the common intercourse of life, among those who speak only to be understood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always catching modish innovations, and the learned depart from established forms of speech, in hope of finding or making better; those who wish for distinction forfake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but there is a conversation above grossness and below refinement, where propriety resides, and where this poet seems to have gathered his comick dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the present age than any cther author equally remote, and among his other excellencies deserves to be studied as one of the original masters of our language.
These observations are to be considered not as unexceptionably constant, but as containing general and predominant truth. Shakespeare's familiar dialogue. is affirmed to be smooth and clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or difficulty ; as a country may be, eminently fruitful, though it has spots unfit for cultivation : his characters are praised as natural, though their sentiments are sometimes forced, and their actions improbable; as the earth upon the whole is spherical, though its surface is varied with protuberances and cavities.
Shakespeare with his excellencies has likewise faults, and faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit. I shall shew them in the proportion in which they appear to me, without envious malignity or superstitious veneration. No question can be more innocently discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry which sets candour higher than truth.
His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed a system of social duty may be selected, for he that thinks reasonably must think morally; but his '; precepts and axioms drop. casually from him; he makes no just diftribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to thew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong, and at the close dismisses them without further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the barbarity, of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue in, dependent on time or place.
The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very flight consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to comprehend his own design. He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting, which the train of his story seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects
those exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the sake of those which are more easy.
It may be observed, that in many of his plays the latter part is evidently neglected. When he found himself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened the labour 'to snatch the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he should moft vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced or imperfectly represented.
1. He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions of another, at the expence not only of likelihood, but of possibia lity. These faults Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal than judgment, to transfer to his iinagined in. terpolators. We need not wonder to find Hector quoting Aristotle, when we see the loves of Theseus and Hippolyta combined with the Gothick mythology of fairies. Shakespeare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology, for in the fame age Sidney, who wanted not the advantages of learning, has, in his Arcadia, confounded the pastoral with the feudal times, the days of innocence, quiet, and security, with those of turbulence, violence, and ad-' venture.
In his comick scenes he is seldom very successful, when he engages his characters in reciprocations of sinartness and contests of sarcasm; their jests are commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious; neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor
are sufficiently diftinguished from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners. Whether he reprefented the real conversation of his time is not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly supposed to have been a tiine of stateliness, formality, and reserve, yet perhaps the relaxations of that seterity were not very elegant. There must, however, have been always some modes of gaiety preferable to others, and a writer ought to chuse the best.
In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be. worse, as his labour is more. The effufions of pasfion, which exigence forces out, are for the most part striking and energetick; but whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and ob-
In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction, and a wearisome train of circumlocution, i and tells the incident imperfectly in many words, which might have been more plainly delivered in few. Narration in dramatick poetry is naturally,tedious, as it is unanionated and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the action; it should therefore always be rapid, and enlivened by frequent interruption. Shakespeare found it an encumbrance, and instead of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and splendor.
His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature; when he endeavoured, like other tragick VOL. I.
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