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formation had filled the kingdom with theological learning; most of the topicks of human difquifition had found English writers, and poetry had been cultivated, not only with diti. gence, but success. This was a stock of knowledge fufiscient 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 bad appeared, from which it could be discovered to what degree of delight either one or other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue were yet understood. Shakespeare 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 perbaps we are not to look for bis beginning, like those of orber writers, in bis least perfe&t works ; art bad fo little, and nature fo large a fare in wbat be did, ibat for ought I know, says he, ibe performances of bis yourb, as tbey were tbe most vigorous, were tbe beft. But the power of nature is only the power of using to any certain purpose the materials wbich diligence procures, or opportunity supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when images are collected by study and experience, can only affift in combining or applying them. Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could impart only what he had learned ; and as he must increase his ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquifition, he, like them, grew wiser as he grew older, could display life better, as he knew it more, and in-, ruct with more efficacy, as he was bimself 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, Shakespeare 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 pr sent manners; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the fame. Our authour 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 Englih, and perhaps not many in other modern languages, which shewed life in its native colours.

The conteft 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, of sound the depths of the heart for the motives of action. All those enquiries, which from that time that human nature became the fashionable study, have been made sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle fubtilty, 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 fuch as delighted in wonders rather than in truth. Mankind was not then to be ftudied 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. Shake{peare 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 ftates of life, that appear very little favourable to thought or to enquiry; so many, that he who considers them is in. clined to think that he fees enterprise and perseverance predominating over all external agency, and bidding help and hindrance vanish before them. The genius of Shakespeare 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 dewdrops 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 fhew them in full view by proper combinations. In this part of his performances he had none to imitate, but has himself been imitated by all succeeding writers; and it may be doubted, whether from all his fucceffors 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 exift. It may be observed, that the oldest poets of many nations preserve their reputation, and that the following generations of wit, after a short celebrity, fink into oblivion. The first, whoever they be, muft take their sentiments and descriptions immediately from knowledge; the resemblance is therefore juft, their defcriptions are verified by every eye, and their sentiments acknowledged by every breast. Those whom their fame invices 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 laft capricious and casual. Shakespeare, whether life or nature 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 compleat.

Perhaps it would not be easy to find any authour, except Homer, who invented so much as Shakespeare, who lo much advanced the studies which he cultivated, or effused so much novelty upon his age or country. The form, the characters, the language, and the shows of the English drama are his. He seen.s, says Dennis, to bave been the very original of our English tragical barmony, ibat is, the barmony of blank wverse, diversified often by.dissyllable and trisyllable terminations, For tbe diverfity diftinguishes it from beroick barmony, and by bringing it nearer to common use, makes it more proper to.gain at. tention, and more fit for action and dialogue. Sucb ver

se we make wben we are writing profe; we make sucb verse in common converfation.

I know not whether this praise is rigorously juft. The disfyllable termination, which the critick rightly appropriates to the drama, is to be found, though, I think, not in Gorboduc, which is confessedly before our authour, 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, exkept to antiquaries and collectors of books, which are fought

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because they are scarce, and would not have been scarce, had they been much esteemed.

To him we must afcribe the praise, unless Spenser may divide it with him, of having first discovered to how much fmoothness and harmony the English language could be softened. He has speeches, perhaps sometimes scenes, which have all the delicacy of Rowe, without his effeminacy. He endeavours indeed commonly to strike by the force and vigour of his dialogue, but he never executes his purpose better, than when he tries to sooth by softness.

Yet it must be at last confessed, that as we owe every thing to him, he owes fomething to us; that, if much of bis praise is paid by perception and judgment, much is likewise given by custom and veneration. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from his d formities, and endure in him what we should in another loath or despise. If we endured without praising, respect for the father of our drama might excuse us; but I have seen, in the book of some modern critick, a collection of anomalies, which shew that he has corrupted language by every mode of depravation, but which his admirer has accumulated as a monument of honour.

He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excellence, but perhaps/not one play, which, if it wete now exhibited as the work of a contemporary writer, would be heard to the conclusion. I am indeed far from thinking, that his works were wrought to his own ideas of perfection; when they were such as satisfied the audience, they satisfied the writer, It is seldom that authours, though more studious of fame than Shakespeare, rise much above the standard of their own age; to add a little to what is beft, will always be sufficient for present praise, and those who find themselves exalted into

Vol. I.



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