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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 excelience proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked upon mankind with perfpicacity, in the highest degree curious and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of prelent 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 contoft about the original benevolence or malignity of man had not yet commenced. Speculation had not yet attempted to analyse the inind, to trace the passions to their sources, to unfold the se· Ininal principles of vice and virtue, or found the depths of the heart for the motives of action. All those enquiries, which from that time that human nature became the fashionable study, have been made sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle subtily, were yet unattempted. The cales, with which the infancy of learning was satisfied, exhibited only the superficial appearances of action, 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 cloftt; he that would know the world, was under the neceflity of gleaning his own remarks, by mingling as he could in its buGiness and amusements.
Boyle congratulated himself upon his high birth, because it favoured his curiosicy, by facilitating his access. Shakespeare had no such advantage ; he came to London a needy adventurer, and lived for a time by very 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 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 Mew 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 succeeding 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 his country:
Nor was his attention confined to the actions of men; he was an exact surveyor of the inanimate world; his descriptions have always fome peculiarities, gathered by contemplating things as they really exist. It may be observed, that the oldest
many nations preserve their reputation, and that the following generations of wit, after a short celebrity, sink into oblivion. The fint, whoever they b:, must take their sentiments and descriptions immediately from knowledge; the resemblance is therefore just, their descriptions are verified by every eye, and their fentiments acknowledged by every breast. Those whom their fame invites to the same studies, copy parely them, and partly nature, till the books of one age gain such authority, as to stand in the place of nature to another, and initation, always deviating a lictle, becomes at last capricious and casual. Shakespeare, 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 see that they are compleat.
Perhaps it would not be easy to find any authour, except Homer, who invented so much as Shakespeare,
who so much advanced the studies which he cultivated, or effured so much novelty upon his age or county. The form, the characters, the language, and che shows of the English drama are his. He seems, says Dennis, 10 bave been the very original of our English tragical harmony, that is, the barmony of blank verse, diversified often by dillyllable and trillyllable termina!ions. For the diversity distinguißes it from heroick barniony, and by bringing il nearer to common use makes it more proper to gain attention, and more fit for allion and dialogue. Such verse we make when we are writing proje; we make fuchs ver, e in comision conversation.
I know not whether this praise is rigorously just. The diffyliable termination, which the critick rightly appropriates to the drama, is to be found, though, I think, not in Grboduc which is confeffeddy before our authour; yet in Hieronnymo, 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 pleak, there being no theatrical piece of any older writer, of which the name is known, except 10 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,
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 loftness.
Yer it must be at last confeffed, that as we owe every thing to him, he owes something to us; that, if much of his praile is paid by perception and judgement, much is likewise given by custom and veneration. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from his deformities, and endure in him what we fhould in another loath or defpife. If we endured without praising, respect for the father of our drama might excuse us; but I have seen, in the book of fome modern critick, a collection of anomalies which shew that he has corrupted language by every mode of depravation, but which his admirer has accumulated as a monument of honour.
He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excellence, but perhaps not one play, which, if it were now exhibited as the work of a contemporary writer, would be heard to the conclusion. P 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 feldom that auchours, 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.