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only with diligence, but success. This was a fock of knowledge fufficient for a mind fo 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 had 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 perhaps we are not to look for bis beginnirg, like those of other writers, in bis lenst perfeet works ; art bid so little, and mature so large a share in what be did, ibat for ought I krow, says he, the performances of bis youth, as they were the most vigorous, were the best. But the power of nature is only the power of using to any certain purpose the materials which diligence procures, or opportunity fupplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when images are colected by study and experience, can only aslift in combining or applying chem. Sbakespeare, however favoured by nature, could impart only what he had learned ; and as he must increase his ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquisicion, he, like them, grew wiser as he
grew older, could display life better, as he knew it more, and instruct with more efficacy, as he was himself 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 cha . racters from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of present manners; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the same. 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 English, and perhaps not many in other modern languages, which shewed life in its native colours.
The contest 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, or found the depths of the heart for the motives of action. All thole enquiries, which from that time that human nature became the fashionable study, have been made sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle subtilty, were yet unatrempted. The tales, with which the infancy of learning was fatisfied, exhibited only the fuper Scial aprearances of a&tions related
the events but omitted the causes, and were formed for such as delighted in wonders rather than in truth. Mankind was not then to be studied 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. Shakespeare had no such advantage ; he came to London a needy adventurer, and lived for a time by ve mean employments. Many works of genius and learning have been performed in states of life, that appear very little favourable to thought or to enquiry; so many, that he who considers them is inclined to think that he sees 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 fo little affistance to surinount 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 shew 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 succeeeding 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
Nor was his attention confined to the actions of men; he was an exact surveyor' of the inanimate world ; his descriptions have always some peculiariries, gathered by contemplating things as they really exist. It may be observed, that the oldes poets of many nations preserve their reputation, and that the following generations of wit, after a mort celebrity, fink into oblivion. The first, whoever they be, must take their fintiments and descriptions in mediately from knowledge; the resemblance is therefore just, their descriptions are verised by every eye, and their sentiments acknowledged by every breast. Those whom their fame invites 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 last capricious and casual. Shakefreere, 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 fee that they are compleat.
Perhaps it would not be easy to find any authour, except Humer, who invented so much as Shakespeare,
who so much advanced the studies which he cultivated, or effuf-d so much novelty upon his age or country. The form, the characters, the language, and the shows of the English drama are bis. He seemis, says Dennis, to kave been the very original of our English tragical barmony, that is, the barmowy, of blank verse, diversifier! often by disyllable and trisyllable terminations. For the diversity distinguibes it from heroic harmony, and by bringing it nearer to commın use makes it more proper to gain attention, and more' fit for action ard dialogue. Such verse we make when we are writing profe; we make such verse in common conversation.
I k. ow not whether this praise is rigorously just. The disyllable 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 Ilieronnymo, 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 plase, there being no theatrical piece of any older writer, of which the naine is known, except to antiquaries and collectors of books, which are fought because they are scarce, and would not have been scarce, had they been much esteemed.
To him we must ascribe the praise, unless Spenser may divide it with him, of having first discovered to how much smoothness and harmony the English language could be softened. He has speeches, perhaps sometimes scenes, which have all the delicacy of Rowe,