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his fortune were shaken from his mind, as dew drops 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 shew them in full view by proper combinations. In this part of his performance he had more to imitate, but has been himself imitated by all succeeding writers; and it may be doubted, whether, from all his succession, more maxims of theoretical knowledge, or more rules of practical prudence, can be colJected, than he alone has given to his country.
“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, 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 something to us; that if much of his praise is paid by perception and judgment, much is likewise given by custom and veneration. I am, indeed, far from thinking, that his works were wrought to his own ideas of perfection; when they were such as would satisfy the audience, they satisfied the writer. It is seldom that authors, though more studious of fame than Shakespeare, rise much above the standard of their own age : to add a little to what is best, will always be sufficient for present praise ; and those who find themselves exalted into fame, are willing to credit their encomiasts, and to spare the labour of contending with themselves.
“ It does not appear, that Shakespeare thought his works worthy of posterity ; that he levied any ideal tribute upon future times, or had any future prospects than of present popularity and present profits; when his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end; he solicited no addition of honour from the reader. He therefore made no scruple to repeat the same jests in many dialogues, or to entangle different plots by the same kind of perplexity, which may be at least forgiven him, by those who recollect, that of Congreve's four comedies, two are concluded by a marriage in a mask, by a deception, which perhaps never happened, and which, whether likely or not, he did not invent.
“ So careless was this great poet of future fame, that though he retired to ease and plenty, while he was yet little declined into the vale of years, before he could be disgusted with fatigue, or disabled by infirmity, he made no collection of his works, nor desired to rescue those that had been already published from the depravations that obscured them; or secure to the rest a bet. ter destiny, by giving them to the world in their genuine state.” Dr. Johnson's Preface.
One singular point of this great man's character we are clear in, that is, his unparalleled neglect of the correction and publication of his works; these matters seem
to have been of no consequence in his judgment, which, however, has been a literary misfortune to his multitudinous admirers, even in the unparental state, the offspring of his brain were thrown into public view : however, the same point evidently proves he was a most spontaneous author, and despised, perhaps too much, all mechanism in literary composition.
It seems very probable, as Ben Jonson had admirers as well as Shakespeare, that the friends of each depreciated the opposite party. Partizans are ever in extremes; and as it is universally allowed that Ben had much more school learning, it was ridiculously asserted that Shakespeare had none; and vice versa, as Shakespeare had more brilliancy of wit, more ease and elegance of expression, it was said that Jonson was deficient in all : because the latter was slow in his productions, his care was interpreted into literary drudgery; while the former's negligent facility, which occasioned him to be too sparing of correction, was magnified into the utmost test of exalted genius. Because Shakespeare did not borrow from the classics, he was deemed all originality; while poor Ben, from translating several passages, rather pedantically, we confess, was pronounced a plagiary throughout. Contentions of this sort are generally partial and illiberal; in this view we consider the assertion, that Ben was envious of Shakespeare, which point seems better supported by that trite opinion, that two of a trade can never agree, than by any other proof: it lays on Jonson the grievous charge of ingratitude, as Shakespeare introduced him and his talents on the stage, and fostered them there : in just re
membrance of which cordial assistance (or else he must have been a most complete and contemptible hypocrite) he wrote the following verses :--
TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED,
The Author, Mr. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE,
AND WHAT HE HAS LEFT US.
« To draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name,
* We think this couplet goes as far in panegyric as can be justified.
+ Jonson here points at and frees himself from the imputation which has been so ill-naturedly suggested against him.
A little further, to make thee a room;
* Though the vērsification of this poem is, in general, stiff and uncouth; yet we perceive great sincerity and warmth of praise in it.
+ Could there be conceived a more comprehensive or more delicate panegyric than this ?