صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

think like them, without owing any thing to imitation,

Tho! I should be very unwilling to allow Shakespeare fo poor a fcholar, as many have lastaboured to reprefent him; yet I shall be very cau

tious of declaring too positively on the other side osof the question : «that is, with regard to my opi€nion of his knowledge in the dead languages. i And therefore the paffages, that I occasionally 2 quote from the classics, shall not be urged as d proofs, that he knowingly imitated those origionals; buta brought to thew how happily he has exprefled himself upon the same topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a fameness of thought and fameness of expreffion too, in two Writers of a different age, 1 can hardly happen, without a violent fufpicion of the latter copying from his predecessor. I thall not therefore run any great risque of a censure, tho! I should venture to hint, that the resemblance, in thought and expreffion, of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in one, whofe learning was not questioned) may fometimes take its rife from strength of memory, and those impreslions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a possibility 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 dender library of classical learning: and considering what a number of tranflations, romances, and legends, started about

his time, and a little before ; (most of which tis very evident, he read;). I think, it may easily be reconciled, why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more Jatter informations, than went back to thofe fountains, for which he might entertain a sincere veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a recourse, 311223119)

In touching on another part of his learning, as it related to the knowledge of history and books, I shall advance fomething, that, at first sight, will very much wear the appearance of a paradox. For I shall find it no hard matter to prove, that from the groffest 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, must we infer his knowledge of that language.

A reader of taste may easily observe, that tho' Shakespeare, almost in every scene of his historical plays, commits the groffest offences against chronology, history, and ancient politicks; yet this was not thro'ignorance, as is generally supposed, but thro’ the too powerful blaze of his imagination; which, when once raised, made all acquired knowledge vanish and disappear before it. For instance, in his Timon, he turns Athens, which was a perfect Democracy, into an Aristocracy; while he ridiculously gives a senator the power of banishing Alcibiades. On the contrary, in Coriolanus, he makes Rome, which at that time was a perfect Aristocracy, a Democracy full as ridiculously, by

[ocr errors]

making the people choose Coriolanus consul: Whereas, in fact, it was not till the time of Manlius Torquatus, that the people had a right of choofing one "conful. 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 juftly adapted to the circumftances of his subject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general. 2 Then, to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, 'tis certain, there is a surprising effusion 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 extremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin į and to be overlaid, as it were, by its nurse, when it had just began to speak by her before-prudent

care and alliance. And this, to be fure," was occafioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, , Elizabeth ant James, both great Latinists. 'For it is not

ot to be wondered at, if both the court and chools, equal fatterers of power, should adapt

them felves to the royal taste. This, then, was the condition of the English tongue when Shakespeare took it up: like a beggar in a rich ward

robe. He found the pure native English too cold and poor to second the heat and abundance of his imagination: and therefore was forced to dress it up in the robes, he saw provided for it: rich in

them

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

The

themselves, but ill-Shaped ; cut out to an àir of
magnificence, but disproportioned and cuiber-
fome. To the coftlinefs of ornament, he added
all the graces and decorum of it. It may be
faid, this did not require, or discover á knowledge os
of the Latin. To the first, I think, it did not } 11!
to the second, it is so far from discovering it, that, 'p
I think, it discovers the contrary. To make this
more obvious by a modern instance : great
Milton likewise laboured under the like incon-
venience; when he first set upon adorning his
own tongue, he likewise animated and enriched
it with the Latin, but from his own stock:' and
fo, rather by bringing in the phrases, than the
words : And this was natural; and will, I bee?
lieve, always be the case in the same circums *
stances. His language, especially his profe, is
full of Latin words indeed, but much fuller of
Latin phrases: and his mastery in the tongue
made this unavoidable. On the contrary, Shake-
speare, who, perhaps, was not so intimately versed
in the language, abounds in the words of it, but
has few or none of its phrases: Nor, indeed, if
what I affirm be true, could he. This I take to
be the truest criterion to determine this long agi.
tated question.

It may be mentioned, tho' no certain conclufion can be drawn from it, as a probable argument of his having read the ancients; that he perpetually expresses the genius of Homer, and other great poets of the old, world, in animating all the

pasts

parts of his descriptions; and, by bold and breathing metaphors and images, giving the properties in of life and action to inanimate things. He is a copy too of those Greekmasters in the infinite use of compound and de-compound epithets. I will not, indeed, bäver, bat that one with Shakespeare's ex+ quifite genius and observation might have traced these glaring characteristics of antiquity by read- ! ing Homer in Chapman's verfion.

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 greateft writers our nation could ever boast of in the Drama. The firft, 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. Befides those wonderful màsterpieces 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 fingle trace of the author of the Fox and Alchemist: but in the wild extravagant notes of Shakespeare, you every now and then encounter strains that recognize the divine composer, This difference may be thus accounted for. Johnfon, as we said before, owing all his excellence to his att,' by which he fometimes strained himself to an uncommon pitch, when at other times he unbent and played with his subject, having

nothing

« السابقةمتابعة »