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The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
* Ben, not satisfied with allowing his friend all natural powers, gives him here the advantages of art; hence it appears he would not have willingly withheld any due point of praise.
+ This allusion to a Smith’s forge is rather laboured, uncouth, and ill applied.
# This observation is extremely just; for mere genius, save some very extraordinary exceptions, is and must be rude without cultivation. A load of learning is prejudicial, but some knowledge of letters, and an extensive intimacy with mankind, are peculiarly requisite for a dramatic writer.
Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage,
It is beyond a doubt, that Nature never favoured a son of Parnassus more than she did Shakespeare; and as Garrick may be said to be the first actor who did justice to our author, the corporate body of Stratford upon Avon, our author's place of birth, complimented him, in the year 1769, with the freedom of a burgess; and did it with great politeness. Properly feeling this compliment, and eager to give his Shakespeare's memory a fresh and new extensive instance of regard, as well as to do the town some service, by an uncommon assemblage of company, he projected a jubilee procession of all Shakespeare's principal characters, properly habited, which, had the weather permitted, would have been a very nouvelle and striking exhibition ; even on the stage it met with uncommon approbation, merely as a pageant. It was well fancied, and well executed ; however, Mr. Garrick enriched the design with an exertion of his poetical abilities, in composing a commemoration Ode, which contains much of fire, feeling, and description; yet it appears very languid in perusal, compared to the author's spirited recitation of it.
Such was the respect had for our author's memory, that thousands carried it to absolute extravagance, by searching after, and most curiously preserving, in different shapes, pieces of a mulberry tree, planted by his own hand. Enthusiastic admirers may depend on it, that
his works will last much longer than any remnants of the tree, and need no such perishable proofs of their fame.
As to the religious principles of this great man, we are not positively certain; but from the liberality of sentiment and universal benevolence, which breathe through his works, we are led to believe him of the established church; though some strokes of Popery appear in his Hamlet.
In regard to his political tenets, they seem inextricable, and we are sorry to pronounce him rather a timeserver; for though upon Roman subjects he has promulged the noblest ideas of general and particular liberty, yet, in his plays, founded on English history, he has advanced laborious deceptive arguments in favour of divine right, non-resistance, passive obedience, &c. but this being chiefly done under the reign of a Stuart, though to be lamented, it need not to be wondered at.
As a private man, we have all imaginable reason to suppose him a humane, mild, affable member of society, who had prudence without avarice, and philosophy to be satisfied with a competence; but one who moved through life as a shining and benign planet, calculated to shed pleasure and advantage. We could dwell much longer, with great satisfaction to ourselves, on the agreeable subject of paying grateful tribute, faint as it might be, to so valuable a memory; but few who read this will want animation, or further information on the subject; therefore we shall, as a just and concise climax of praise, conclude with an observation from his own works, which seems prophetically suggested for himself:
G........... “ Take him for all in all,
We have already observed, that Shakespeare was, at first, more esteemed as a poet than a dramatist, though as the latter he is now perferred. His poems certainly possess many instances of powerful genius; but are, notwithstanding, censurable for trifling subjects, laboured versification, quibbles, and licentiousness. To gra. tify, however, the desire of those who wish to be in possession of the entire works of our author, we have republished his Miscellaneous Productions, particularly as there was no modern edition of them extant worthy the name of Shakespeare; and it is presumed, that if pieces of a perishable tree were deemed so precious, these LEAVES, that will never fade, being the first blossoms of genius, will be deemed more worthy of preservation; and we are assured that there are many admirers of Shakespeare, who would, upon no account, lose any of his BRANCHES.
London, Nov. 12, 1803.