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spersed 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 shape, and polished into brightness. Shaksperę opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in inex., . haustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals. ..
It has been much disputed, whether Shakspere owed his excellence to his own native force, or whe. ther he had the common helps of scholastick educa. tion, the precepts of critical science, and the examples of ancient authors,
There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shake spere wanted learning, that he had no regular education, nor much skill in the dead languages. Jon son, his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, and less Greek; who, besides that he had no imaginable temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of Shakspere 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 coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who
142 DR. JOHNSON'S PREFACE."
I have found it remarked, that in this important
There are few passages which may pass for imita. tions, but so few, that the exception only confirms ..the rule ; he obtained thein from accidental quota.
tions, or by oral communication ; and as he used what he had, would have used more if he had obtained
· The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken from the Menæchmi of Plautus; from the only play of Plautus which was then in English. What can be more pro. bable, than that he who copied that would have copied more; but that those which were not translated were inaccessible ? .. Whether he knew the modern languages is un certain. 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 coniinon degree, he could not have written it without assistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet, he is observed to have followed the
English translation, where it deviates from the Italian; bụt 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 authors. Concerning his skill in modern languages, I can find no sufficient ground of deter. inination ; but as no imitations of French or Italian authors have been discovered, though the Italian poetry was then high in eșteem, I am inclined to believe, that he read little more than English, 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 Shakspere must not be content to study him in the closet, he must look for his meaning some.. times among the sports of the field, and soinetimes . among the manufactures of the shop.
There is, however, proof enough that he was a very diligent reader, nor was our language then so indigent of books, but that he might very liberally indulge his curiosity without excursion 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 to-,
picks of human disquisition had found English wrie ters; and poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence, but success. This was a stock of know'ledge sufficient for a mind so capable of appropriating and improving it...,
But 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 essays 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 dia. logue were yet understood. Shakspere may 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 had so little, and nature so large a share in what he did, that for auglit 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 collected by study and experience, can only assist in combining or applying them., Shakspere, however favoured by nature, could impart only what he had learned ; and, as he
must increase his ideas, like other mortals, by gra. dual acquisition, he, like them, grew wiser 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 cone fer; from this, almost all original and native excellence proceeds. Shakspere must have looked upon mankind with perspicacity, in the highest degree curious and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of present manners; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the same. Our author had both matter and form to provide ; for, except the characters of Chúcèr, 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 contest about the original benevolence or ma-' lignity of mañ, had not yet commenced. Speculation had not yet attempted to analyse the mind, to trace the passions to tlieir solirces, to unfold the seminalprinciples of vice and virtue, or sound the depths of the heart for the motives of action. All those inquia ries, which'from that time that human nature became the fashionable study, have been made sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle subtilty, were yet unattempted. The tales, with which the