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results of human nature 'which are constantly repeated and always the same, which follow one another in regular succession, which are acted upon by large classes of men and embodied in received customs, laws, language, and institutions, and it was in arranging, comparing, and arguing on these kinds of general results, that Johnson's excellence lay. But he could not quit his hold of the cominon place and mechanical, and apply the general rule to the particular exception, or shew how the nature of man was inodified by the workings of passion, or the infinite fluctuations of thought and accident. Hence he could judge neither of the heights nor depths of poetry. Nor is this all; for being conscious of great powers in himself, and those powers of an adverse tendency to those of his author, he would be for setting up a foreign jurisdiction over poetry, and making criticism a kind of Procrustes' bed of genius, where he might cut down imagination to matter of fact, regulate the passions according to reason, and translate the whole into logical diagrams and rhetorical declamation. Thus he says of Shakspeare's characters, in contradiction to what Pope had observed, and to what every one else feels, that each character is a species instead of being an individual. He in fact found the general species or didactick form in Shakspeare's characters, which was all he sought or cared for; he
did not find the individual traits, or the dramatick distinctions which Shakspeare has engrafted on this general nature, because he felt no interest in them. Shakspeare's bold and happy flights of imagination were equally thrown away upon our author.
He was not only without any particular fineness of organick sensibility, alive to all the “mighty world of ear and eye,” which is necessary to the painter or musician, but without that intenseness of passion which, seeking to exaggerate whatever excites the feelings of pleasure or power in the mind, and moulding the impressions of natural objects according to the impulses of imagination, produces a genius and a taste for poetry. According to Dr. Johnson, a mountain is sublime, or a rose is beautiful; for that their name and definition imply. But he would no more be able to give the description of Dover cliff in Lear, or the description of flowers in The Winter's Tale, than to describe the objects of a sixth sense ; nor do we think he would have any very profound feeling of the beauty of the passages here referred to. A stately common place, such as Congreve's description of a ruin in the Mourning Bride, would have answered Johnson's purpose just as well, or better than the first; and an indiscriminate profusion of scents and hues would have interfered less with the ordinary routine of his imagination than Perdita's lines, which seem enamoured of their own sweet
No one who does not feel the passion which these objects inspire can go along with the imagination which seeks to express that passion and the uneasy sense of delight by something still more beautiful, and no one can feel this
passionate love of nature without quick natural sensibility. To a mere literal and formal apprehension, the inimitably characteristick epithet, “ violets dim,” must seem to imply a defect, rather than a beauty; and to any one, not feeling the full force of that epithet, which suggests an image like “ the sleepy eye of love," the allusion to “ the lids of Juno's eyes” must appear extravagant and unmeaning. Shakspeare's fancy lent words and images to the inost refined sensibility to nature, struggling for expression: his descriptions are identical with the things themselves, seen through the fine medium of passion : strip them of that connexion, and try them by ordinary conceptions and ordinary rules, and they are as grotesque and barbarous as
you please.-By thus lowering Shakspeare's genius to the standard of common place invention, it was easy to shew that his faults were as great as his beauties: for the excellence, which consists merely in a conformity to rules, is counterbalanced by the technical violation of them. Another circumstance which led to Dr. Johnson's indiscriminate praise or censure of Shakspeare, is the very structure of his style. Johnson wrote a kind of rhyming prose, in which he was compelled as much to finish the different clauses of his sentences, and to balance one period against another, as the writer of heroick verse is to keep to lines of ten syllables with similar terminations. He no sooner acknowledges the merits of bis author in one line than the periodical revolution of his style carries the weight of his opinion.completely over to the side of objection, thus keeping up a perpetual alternation of perfections and absurdities. We do not otherwise know how to account for such assertions as the following:-"In his tragick scenes, there is always something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy, for the greater part, by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct." Yet after saying that “ his tragedy was skill,” he affirms in the next page, “ His declamations or set speeches commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature: when he endeavoured, like other tragick writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to shew how much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader."
Poor Shakspeare ! Between the charges here brought against him, of want of nature in the first instance, and of vant of skill in the second, he could hardly escape being condemned. And again, “ But the admirers of this great poet have most reason to complain when he approaches nearest to bis highest excellence, and seems fully resolved to sink them in dejection, or mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. What he does best, he soon ceases to do. He no sooner begins to move than he counteracts himself; and terrour and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity.” In all this, our critick seems more bent on maintaining the equilibrium of his style than the consistency or truth of his opinions.- If Dr. Johnson's opinion was right, the following observations on Shakspeare's Plays must be greatly exaggerated, if not ridiculous. If he was wrong, what has been said