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this assertion to the proof by particular applications, we should poffibly find quot homines tot fententiæ.
After having enumerated the various excellencies of this great poet, our Editor proceeds to mention his faults ; faults, says he,
fufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit.' The first defect he charges him with, is, indeed, a very capital one; from which we should be glad, and shall endeavour, to exculpate him,
• His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books or in men. ' He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed a system of social duty may be selected, for he that thinks reasonably must think morally ; but his precepts and axioms drop casually from him ; he makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to shew in the virtuous a difappro. bation of the wicked; he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong, and at the close dismisses them without fur. ther care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the barba ity of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue independant on time or place.'
No question, says our Editor, in another place, can be more innocently discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to renown.: But, tho' this be true, some tenderness surely should be felt for his probity. . Shakespeare is here charged with • sacrificing vir tue to convenience,' for no other reason than that he seemed more careful to please than instruct, and to write without any moral purpose. But if it be admitted, as our Editor actually admits, that a system of facial duty may be selected from his writings, and that his precepts and axioms were virtuous; we may justly ask, whether they are less so for dropping casually from him? Must a writer be charged with making a sacrifice of vir. tue, because he does not profeffedly inculcate it? Is every writer ex profeffo a parion or a moral philosopher ? It is doubtless al. ways the moralist's duty, to strive at least, to make the world þetter ; but we should think it no inconsiderable merit in a comic-poet, to be able to divert and amuse the world without making it worfe ; especially if he should occasionally drop such virtuous precepts and axioms, as would serve to form a system of social duty. We are, for these reasons, so far from thinking that the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate the fault here censured, that we think he stands in need of no other excuse than our Editor hath on another occasion made for him, viz. his ignorance of poetical composition. He did not know that the rules of criticism required the drama to have a particular moral ; nor did he conceive himself bound, as a poet, to write like a philofo pher, He carries his persons, therefore, indifferently through
right and wrong, for the same reason as he makes them laugh and cry in the same piece; and is justifiable on the same principles ; it is a strict imitation of nature; and Shakespeare is the Poet of Nature. Were our Poet now living, and possessed of Dr. Johnson's critical knowledge, we presume he would make no more nor greater sacrifices of virtue to convenience than his Editors may have done. Shakespeare, it is true, hath- depicted none of is
« Those faultless monsters which the world ne'er faw ;” He did not prefume to limit the designs of providence to the narrow bounds of poetical justice ; but hath displayed the fun fhining, as it really does, both on the juft and the unjust. • The next fault our immortal Poet is charged with, is the want of connection and consistence in his plots; from which charge, with all the aggravating circumstances enumerated by the learned Editor, we shall not undertake to defend him, any more than from the charge, of paying no regard to distinction of time or place. It is certain he makes no scruple of giving, to one age or nation, the customs, institutions, and opinions of another, not only at the expence of likelihood, but even of possibility. But furely our Editor will admit that the barbarity of his age may extenuate this fault ; fince, by his own confeffion, Shakespeare was not the only violater of chronology in his time: Sidney, his contemporary, who wanted not the advantages of learning, having, in his Arcadia, confounded the pastoral with the feudal times, the days of innocence, quiet and security, with those of turbulence, violence, and adventure. -. Shakespeare is said to be seldom very successful in his comic fcenes, wben he engages his characters in raillery or repartée, or as Dr. Johnson more quaintly expreffes it, reciprocations of fmartness and contests of sarcasm.' Their jests, we are told, are commoly grofs and their pleafantry licentious: nor will, it feems, the barbarity of his age excuse our Poet with regard to this defect, any more than the former. For our part, however, we think that Shakespeare is sometimes peculiarly happy in hitting off that kind of sheer wit; for which some modern writers, particularly Congreve and Farquhar, have been so generally admired. The reciprocations of smartness between Benedict and Beatrice in Much-ado-about-Nothing, are scarce inferior to any thing of the kind; and tho' we cannot pretend that the dialogue of his gentlemen and ladies, is so delicate and refined, as that of Cibber and some other writers, it is full as witty, and not a jot more licentious, than what we frequently find in Vanbrugh and Congreve, who had not the barbarity of the age to plead in excuse.
As to the quirks and quibbles of Shakespeare's clowns, which sometimes infect the graver parts of his wricings, we cannot be
of of Dr. Johnson's opinion. He affirms that • A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures, it is fure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspence, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will al, ways turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose *it.
Quaintly as all this is expressed, and boldly as it is allerted, we cannot be persuaded that Shakespeare's native genius was not too sublime to be so much captivated with the charms of so con temptible an object. How poorly soever it might defcend to trifle with an ignis fatuus by.owl-light, we cannot think an eagle, soaring in the direct beams of the meridian sun, could be allured, to look down with pleasure on the feeble glimmerings of a rulh-light. It is not impossible, indeed, that the neceffity of accommodating himself in this particular fo fre: quently to the humour and taste of the times, had rendered a practice habitual to him, which his own better taste and judge ment could not fail to condemn. We do therefore readily adopt Sir Thomas Hanmer's defence of Shakespeare, with regard to this point. It must be remembered, says that judicious Editor, that our poet wrote for the stage, rude and unpolished as it then was; and the vicious taste of the age must stand condemn. ed for the poor witticisms and conceits that fell from his pen; fince he hath left upon record a signal proof how much he despised them. In his play of the Merchant of Venice, a clown is introduced quibbling in a miserable manner; upon which one who bears the character of a man of sense makes the following reflection : How etery fool can play upon a word! I think the bijt grace of wit will portly turn into silence, and discourse grow commend able in none but parrots. He could hardly have found ftronger
• Doth not this whole paragraph serve egregiously to prove, that, al. cho' our Editor may not be fond of down-right punning, he takes full as much delight in starting and hunting down a poor conceir as he af. firms Shakespeare did? We will venture to affert, indeed, that this is a fpecies of quibbling, which, barren and pitiful as it is, seems to give the critic himself fo much delight, that he is “content to purchale is, by Dhe facrifice of reason, propriety and truth.".
words to express his indignation at those false pretences to wit then in vogue; and therefore tho’ such trash is frequently interspersed in his writings, it would be unjust to caft it as an imputation upon his taste and judgment as a writer.'
We shall leave our Readers to determine, whether what the present Editor hath above advanced, is sufficient to invalidate this plea; or whether they will take the Editor's word for Shakespeare, rather than Shakespeare's word for himself.
In speaking of our poet's faults in tragedy, the Editor says, I his performance seems constantly to be worse as his labour is more. The effusions of passion which exigence forces out, are for the most part striking and energetic; but whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity.' And again
His declamations or set-speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature ; when he endeavoured, like other tragic writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how much his stores of knowlege could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader. It is a pity our Editor does not refer us to the particular passages, that justify these general assertions. For, admitting the truth of them, yet if it be very feldom, as we will venture to say it is, that Shakespeare appears reduced to the necessity of straining his faculties; if he be hardly ever endeavouring, like other tragic poets, at amplification, or to make an impertinent display of his knowledge, what shall we say to the candour of that commentator, who lays hold of a few defects, ubi plura nitent, on which to found a general charge against his author ? Were we disposed to be as harsh and severe on the learned Annotator, as the Annotator himself hath been on his GREAT, INIMITABLE Author, we might here appeal to the public, to decide which of them most demands our pily or merits our resentment.
He goes on. It is incident to Shakespeare to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well expreis, and will not reje&t; he struggles with it a while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in such words as occur, and leaves it to be disintangled and evolved by thofe who have more leisure to bestow upon it." .
We know not whether this inciderit might not be called with more propriety a misfortune rather than a fault, and be imputed with greater justice to thethen imperfect state of our language than to Shakespeare. But be this as it may; certain it is, that if our poet be fometimes entangled with his sentiments for want of words, our Editor is not feldom entangled with his, through a multiplicity of them; or, if he may understand his own meaning, it is not always the case with his reader, who, as he says of the poet, struggles with it for a while, and if it continues stubborn, leaves it comprised in the words that invelop it, to be disintangled and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it. It is possible that, in this, he may betray the want of patience, though we cannot admit that he betrays a want of judgment; being fully of opinion with our Editor, that where the language is intricate the thought is not always subtle, nor the image always great where the line is bulky. "The equality of words to things, as he justly observes, is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recommended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.”
Having thus endeavoured to prove the faults of Shakespeare • sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit,' our Editor attempts dexterously to change sides, and to stand up in his defence, against those who have accused him, of violating those laws, which have been instituted and established by the joint authority of poets and of critics; we mean, the unities of action, place and time.
From the censure, which this irregularity may bring upon him, says Dr. Johnson, I shall with due reverence to that learning which I must oppose, adventure to try how I can defend him.' · It happens, however, very unluckily for our Editor, that, in fpite of that respect which he is fò notoriously ready to pay to his opponents, he shews himself to be as indifferent a pleader for Shakespeare as he hath proved against him. Nay, we entertain some suspicion that the critical Reader will, on a due cona fideration of what is hereafter advanced, be apt to think Dr. Johnson too little acquainted with the nature and use of the drama, to engage successfully in a dispute of so much difficulty as that which relates to the breach or obfervation of the dra. matic unities. . To begin with the first. If we except the historical plays of Shakespeare, where these unities are never looked for; in his other works our Editor says, he has well enough preserved the unity of action. "He has not indeed,' continues he, can intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly unravelled; "he does not endeavour to hide his design only to discover it, for this is feldom the order of real events, and Shakespeare is the poet of nature : but his plan has commonly what Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle and an end ; one event is concatenatet with another, and the conclufion follows by an easy consequence.' All this, however, might be said of many simple histories, that make no pretences to unity of action. Their merely having a beginning, middle, and end, is not sufficient. Arifto:le's meaning is more distinctly explained by Bossu, thus: