صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

: The French, indeed, in support of the unity of place, maintain that the stage never should be einpty during the act; in consequence of their observance of this rule, however, they are guilty of much greater absurdities than would arise from shifting che scene. It is mentioned, as an instance of consummate skill in Corneille, that he hath provided, in one of his plays, for keeping the stage full, while one of the characters goes to the field io fight, and returns conqueror. Now had this supposed combat passed during the interval between the acts, or even during the Thifting of the scene, it had not tranfgressed the bounds of dramatic probability, because it then had passed during the interlude of the imagination ; but the audience would not fail of perceiving the improbability of a combat's being fought while they had been listening to some twenty or thirty lines, spoken by the persons of the stage. The unity of time, is, indeed, so far essential to the drama, that the fucceffive actions represented must be .confined to the time of actual representation ; although the intervals between them may be as long as the poet pleases, consistent with the preservation of the unity of character, and that of the design of the fable.

In respect to the unity of place; it appears more than probable, that the pretended neccility of it originally arose from the imperfect state of the ancient theatres, as it is plain that the French poets have absurdly involved themselves in the most ridiculous perplexities by adopting it to an unnecessary degree. There can be no doubt, however, that it is so far esential to the drama, as it is necessary to preserve the unity of a&tion : for as the interval of time may in some cases be so great as to vary the personality, or destroy the unity of character, fo the transition of place may be fo great as to destroy the unity of the action. We fhould not be more vehement, indeed, than Dr. Johnson, in reproaching a poet who should make his first act pass in Ve nice, and his next in Cyprus, provided they were both so nearly related as when Shakespeare wrote his Othello; but we should no great opinion of the dramatic conduct of a piece, the first scene of which should be laid in England, and the last in China. In any other respect, however, it is certain that the unity of place is unnecessary to the modern drama, as the attention of the spectator is always diverted from the action of the piece, and the imagination is at liberty during the change of the scene.

- It appears, on the whole, that the unities are essential to the drama, though not in that degree as hath been afferted by the critics; so that the result of Dr. Johnson's enquiries concerning them, is as erroneous as his supposition of the neceflity on which they were founded.

Having dismissed this subject, our Editor proceeds to give us kis sentiments, concerning Shakespeare as a writer, in general.

The

have/

Сс 3

The scholarship of this great genius hath been a point much dirputed among the critics. Dr. Johnson is of opinion, that he had some little learning, though not so much as some other of his editors are willing to allow him. " It is most likely, says le, that he had learned Latin sufficiently to make him acquainted with construction, but that he never advanced to an easy perusal of the Roman authors. Concerning his skill in modern languages, I can find no sufficient ground of determination ; but as no imitations of French or Italian authors have been discovered, though the Italian poetry was then high in efteem, I am inclined to believe, that he read little more than Englith, and chose for his fables only such 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 supply. He that will understand Shakespeare, muft not be content to study him in the closet, he must look for his mean. ing sometimes among the sports of the field, and sometimes among the manufactures of the shop.

There is however proof enough that he was a very diligent reader, nor was our language then lo indigent of books, but that he might very liberally indulge his curiolity without excurfion into foreign literature. Many of the Roman authors were translated, and some of the Greek; the reformation had filled the kingdom with theological learning; most of the topics 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 fo capable of appropriating and improving it.

• But the greater part of his excellence was the product of his own genius. He found the English Itage in a state of the utmost rudeness; no eflays 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 may be truly faid to have introduced them boh amongst us, and in some of his happier scenes to have carried them both to the utmoft height.

By what gradation of improvement he proceeded, is nog 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 leaft perfect works ; art had so little, and nature so large a share in what he did, that for ought I know, says he, the performances of his 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 collect

ed

[ocr errors]

1

ed by study and experience, can only aslift in combining or applying them. Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could impart only what he had learned ; and as he must increase his ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, he, like them, grew wifer as he 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 excellence proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked upon mankind with perfpicacity, in the highest de. gree curious and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of prefent manners; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the fame. 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 other modern languages, which shewed life in its native colours.'

On the other hand, Dr. Johnson observes, • It must be at least 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. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from his deformities, and endure in him what we should in another loath or despise. 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 fcenes 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 conclofion. 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 fatisfied the writer. It is seldom that authours, 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.'

One of the greateft encomiums, however, that can be paid to Shakespear, and in which all his commentators seem to agree,

is that remarkable modefty, which caused him to think so lightly of his own productions. How different, in this respect, was this

Сс 4

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

inimitable writer to the modern tribe of authors, who pluma themselves so highly, and set such an enormous value on the literary Nothings they occasionally produce !

"It does not appear, says our Editor, that Shakespeare thought his works worthy of pofterity, that he levied any ideal tribute upon future times, or had any further prospect, than of present popularity and present profit. When his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end; he follicited no addition of honour from the reader. He therefore made no scruple to repeat the same jefts in many dialogues, or to entangle different plots by the same knot 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 malk, 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 defired to rescue those that had been already published from the depravations that obscured them, or secure to the rest a better destiny, by giving them to the world in their genuine state.

• Of the plays which bear the name of Shakespeare in the Ja'e editions, the greater part were not published till about seven years after his death, and the few which appeared in his life are apparently thrust into the world without the care of the authour, and therefore probably without his knowledge.'

Having treated of the character and abilities of the poet, Dr. Johnson proceeds to consider those of his editors :

Of all the publishers, says he, clandestine or professed, their negligence and unskilfulness has by the late revisers been sufficiently fhown. The faults of all are indeed numerous and gross, and' have not only corrupted many passages perhaps beyond recovery, but have brought others into suspicion, which are only obscured by obsolete phraseology, or by the writer's unskilfulness and affectation. To alter is more easy than to explain, and temerity is a more common quality than diligence. Those who saw that they must employ conjecture to a certain degree, were willing to indulge it a little further. Had the authour pubJished his own works, we should have fat quietly down to difentangle his intricacies, and clear his obfcurities; but now we tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we happen not to understand.

! The faults are more than 'could have happened without the concurrence of many causes, The stile of Shakespeare was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed and obscure; his works were transcribed for the players, by those who may be supposed to have

seldom

[ocr errors]

feldom understood them; they were transmitted by copiers equally unskilful, who still multiplied errours; they were perhaps Sometimes mutilated by the actors, for the sake of shortening the speeches; and were at last printed without correction of the press.

• In this state they remained, not, as Dr. Warburton supposes, because they were unregarded, but because the editor's art was not yet applied to modern languages, and our ancestors were accustomed to so much negligence of English printers, that they could very patiently endure it. At last an edition was undertaken by Rowe ; not because a poet was to be published by a poet, for Rowe seems to have thought very little on correction or explanation, but that our authour's works might appear like those of his fraternity, with the appendages of a life and recommendatory preface. "Rowe has been clamorously blamed for not performing what he did not undertake, and it is time that justice be done him, by confesfing, that though he seems to have had no thought of corruption beyond the printer's errours, yet he has made many emendations, if they were not made before, which his successors have received without acknowledgment, and which, if they had produced them, would have filled pages and pages with censures of the stupidity by which the faults were committed, with displays of the absurdities which they involved, with ostentatious expositions of the new reading, and self-congratulations on the happinels of discovering it.'

The nation, continues the Prefacer, had been for many years content enough with Mr. Rowe's performance, when Mr. Pope made them acquainted with the true state of Shakespeare's text, thewed that it was extremely corrupt, and gave reason to hope that there were means of reforming it. Mr. Pope's edition, however, he observes, fell below his own expectations, and be was so much offended, when he was found to have left any thing for others to do, that he passed the latter part of his life in a Itate of hoftility with verbal criticism.Dr. Johnson proceeds

Pope was succeeded by Theobald, a man of narrow comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native and intrinsic {plendour of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing. He collated the ancient copies, and rectified many erjours. A man so anxiously scrupulous might have been expected to do more, but what little he did was commonly right.” —Is our Editor here altogether confiftent? Is Theobald's doing little, compatible with his having been zealously and diligently attached to minute accuracy; with his having collated the ancient copies and rectified many errours? Dr. Johnson indeed proceeds to trcat poor Theobald with

great

« السابقةمتابعة »