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and perhaps wanted some visible and discriminated events, as comments on the dialogue. He knew how he should most please; and whether his practice is more agreeable to nature, or whether his example has prejudiced the nation, we fill find that on our stage something must be done as well as faid, and inactive declamation is very coldly heard, however musical or elegant, passionate or sublime.
Voltaire expreffes his wonder, that our authour's extravagancies are endured by a nation, which has seen she tragedy of Cato. Lut him be answered, that Alijon fpeaks the language of poets,
and ShakeSpeure, of men. We find in Cato innumerable beauties which enamour us of its authour, but we see nothing that acquaints us with human sentiments or human actions ; we place it with the fireft and the noblest progeny which judgment propagates by conjunction with learning, but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious offspring of observation impreg. nated by genius. Cato affords a splendid cxhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and delivers just and noble sentiments, in diction easy, elevated and harmonious, but its hopes and fears communicate no vibration to the heart; the composition refers us only to the writer ; we pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on Addison.
The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with shades, and scented with flowers; the composition of Shakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend b 2
their branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and to roses ; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into fhape, and polished unto brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in unexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals.
It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps of scholaftick education, the precepts of critical science, and the examples of ancient authours.
There has always prevailed a tradition, that ShakeSpeare wanted learning, that he had no regular edu. cation, nor much skill in the dead languages. Johnfon, his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, and no Greek; who, besides that he had no imaginable temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of Shakespeare were known to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore to decide the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force could be opposed.
Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep learning in many imitations of old writers; but the examples which I have known urged, were drawn from books translated in his time; or were
such easy coincidencies of thought, as will happen to all who consider the same subjects; or such remarks on life or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences.
I have found it remarked, that, in this important sentence, Go before, I'll follow, we read a transation of, I prae, Sequar. I have been told, that when Caliban, after a pleasing dream, says, I cry'd 10 sleep again, the authour imitates Anacreon, who had, like every other man, the fame wish on the same occasion.
There are a few passages which may pass for imitations, but so few, that the exception only confirms the rule; he obtained them from accidental quotations, or by oral communication, and as he used what he had, would have used more if he had obtained it.
The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken from the Menæcbmi of Plautus ; from the only play of Plautus which was then in English. What can be more probable, than that he who copied that, would have copied more ; but that those which were not translated were inacceffible?
Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain. That his plays have some French scenes proves but little; he might easily procure them to be written, and probably, even though he had known the language in the cominon degree, he could not have written it without affistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet he is observed to have followed the English translation, where it deviates from the Ita
lian; but this on the other part proves nothing against his knowledge of the original. He was to copy, not what he knew himself, but what was known to his audience.
It is most likely that he had learned Latin sufficiently to make him acquainted with construction, but that he never advanced to an easy perusal of the Roman authours. Concerning his skill in modern languages, I can find no sufficient ground of decermination; buç as no imitations of French or Italian authours have been discovered, though the Llalian poetry was then high in esteem, I am inclined to believe, that he read little more than English, and chose for his fables only fuch tales as he found translated.
That much knowledge is scattered over his works is very justly observed by Pope, but it is often such knowledge as books did not fupply. He that will understand Shakespeare, must not be content to study him in the closet, he must look for his meaning sometimes among the sports of the field, and some. times among the manufactures of the Thop.
There is however proof enough that he was a very diligent reader, nor was our language then so indigent of books, but that he mighe very liberally indulge his curiosity without excursion into foreign literature. Many of the Roman aui hours were translated, and some of the Greek; the reformation had filled the kingdom with theological learning; most of the topicks of human disquisition had found English writers; and poetry had been cultivated, not
only with diligence, but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient for a mind so capable of ap. propriating and improving it.
Bnt 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 eslays 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 nay 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 his beginning, like those of other writers, in his least perfect works ; art bad so little, and rature so large a fare in what he did, that for ought I know, 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 supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when images are collected by study and experience, can only assist in combining or applying them. Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could impare only what he had learned ; and as le must increase his ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, he, like them, grew wiser as he