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Speret idem, fudet multim, fruftráque laboret,
Aufus idem :Indeed, to point out, and exclaim upon, all the beauties of Shakespeare, as they come fingly in review, would be as infipid, as endless; as tedious, as unnecessary : But the.explanation of those beauties, that are less obvious to common readers, and whose illuftration depends on the rules of juft criticism, and an exact knowledge of hạman life, fhould de. servedly have a share in a general critic upon the author. But, to pass over at once to another subject :
It has been allow'd on all hands, how far our author was indebted to nature ; it is not so well agreed, how much he ow'd to languages and acquir'd learning. The decisions on this subject were certainly set on foot by the hint from Ben. Johnson, that he had fmall Latin and less Greek: And from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, “ It is without controversy, he “ had no knowledge of the writings of the ancient poets, u for that in his works we find no traces of any thing which “ looks like an imitation of the ancients. For the delicacy “ of his tafte (continues be,) and the natural bent of his
own great genius, (equal, if not fuperior, to some of the “ best of theirs ;) would certainly have led him to read and " Atudy them with so much pleafure, that some of their fine « images would naturally have infinuated themfelves into, .« and been mix'd with his own writings : And so his not “ copying, at least, something from them, may be an argu," ment of his never having read them.” I shall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous passages, which I have occafionally quoted in my notes, in which our poet seems closely to have imitated the classics, whether Mr. Rowe's assertion be so absolutely to be depende
The result of the controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our authour's honour : How happily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could think like them, without owing any thing to imitation.
Tho' I should be very unwilling to allow Shakespeare so poor a scholar, as many have laboured to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other side of the question : That is, with regard to my opi. nion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the passages, that I occasionally quote from the Classics, 'fhall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated those originals ; but brought to thew how happily, he has express'd himself upon the same topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declar’d, that a sameness of thought and fameness of expression too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent suspicion of the latter copying from his predeceffor. I shall not therefore run any great risque of a censure, tho' 1 should venture to hint, that the resemblances in thought and expression, of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in the one, whose learning was not question’d) may sometimes take its rise from strength of memory, and those impressions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a pofsibility of this, confidering that, when he quitted the school he gave into his father's profession and way of living, and had, 'tis likely, but a slender library of classical learning ; and considering what a number of translations, romances, and legends, started about his time, and a little before; (most of which, 'tis very evident, he read ;) I think, it may eafily be reconciled why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more latter informations, than went back to
those fountains, for which he might entertain a fincere veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a recourse.
In touching on another part of his learning, as it relates to the knowledge of history and books, I shall advance something, that, at first fight, will very much wear the appearance of a paradox. For I shall find it no hard matter to prove, that, from the grofseft blunders in history, we are, not to infer his real ignorance of it: nor from a greater use of Latin words, than ever any other English author used, muit we infer his acquaintance with that language. · A reader of tafte may easily conceive, that though Shakespeare, almost in every scene of his hiftorical plays, com mits the grosseft offences against chronology, history, and ancient politicks; yet this was not through ignorance, as is generally supposed, but through the too. powerful blaze of bis imagination, which, when once raised, made all acas quired knowledge vanish and disappear
ore it. But this licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to ignorance : fince as often we may find him, when occasion serves, reasoning up to the truth of history, and throwing out sentiments as justly adapted to the circumstances of his, fubject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, 'tis certain, there is a surprising effufion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English author I have seen; but we must be cautious to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in his age, began ex., tremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin : and this, 'to be sure, was occasioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, both great Latinists. For it.
is not to be wondered at, if both the court and schools, equal Aatterers of power, should adapt themselves to the royal taste.
But now I am touching the question (which has been so frequently agitated, yet so entirely undecided) of his learning and acquaintance with the languages; an additional word or two naturally falls in here upon the genius of our author, as compared with that of Johnson his contemporary. They are confessedly the greatest writers our nation could boaft of in the drama." The first, we say, owed all to his prodigious natural genius; and the other a great deal to his art and learning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable appearance in their writings. Besides those wonderful masterpieces of art and genius, which each has given us, they are the authors of other works, very unworthy of them : but with this difference, that in Johnson's bad pieces we don't discover one trace of the author of the Fox and Alchymift : but in the wild extravagant notes of Shakespeare, you every now and then encounter Arains that recognize the divine composer. This difference may be thus accounted for: Johnson, as we said before, owing all his excellence to his art, by which he sometimes strain'd himself to an uncommon pitch, when at other times he unbent and play'd with his subject, having nothing then to support him, it is no wonder he wrote so far beneath himself. But Shakespeare, indebted more largely to nature, than the other to acquired talents, in his most negligent hours could never fo totally diveft himself of his genius, but that it would frequently break out with astonishing force and fplendor.
As I have never proposed to dilate farther on the character of my author, than was necessary to explain the na
ture and use of this edition, I shall proceed to consider him as a genius in poffeffion of an everlasting name. And how great that merit muft be, which could gain it againft all the disadvantages of the horrid condition in which he has hitherto appeared ! Had Homer, or any other admired author, firft started into publick fo maimed and deformed, we cannot determine whether they had not funk for ever under the igAominy of fuch an ill appearance. The mangled condition of Shakespeare has been acknowledged by Mr. Rowe, wha published him indeed, but neither corrected his text, nor. collated the old copies.* This gentleman had abilities, and suficient knowledge of his author, had but his industry been egoal to his talents. The same mangled condition has been acknowledged too by Mr. Pope, who published i him like. wise, pretended to have collated the old copies, and yet selv dom has corrected the text but to its injury.-- I congratulate with the manes of our poet; that this.gentleman has been spare ing in indulging bis private senfez as he phrases itz..for she who tampers with an author whom he does not understand, must do it at the expence of his subject.. I have made it evident throughout my remarks, that he has frequently in. ficted a wound where he intended a cure. He has acted with regard to our author, as an editor, whom Lipfius mentions, did with regard to Martial, Inventus eft nefcio quis Popa, qui non vitia ejus, sed ipsum excidit. He has attacked him like an unhandy Naughterman ; and not lopped off the errors,
but the poet.
When this is found to be the fact, how abfúrd must appear the praises of such an editor? It seems a moot point, whether Mr. Pope has done moft injury to Shakespeare as his editor and encomiast, or Mr. Rymer done him service as his rival and cenfurer. They have both shewn themselves