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or practised by a writer for his ease, he will soon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imitation of them."
Speret idem, sudet multùm, frustràque laborety
Indeed, to point out and exclaim upon all the beau. ties of Shakspere, as they come singly in review, would be as insipid, as endless; as tedious, as unnecessary : but the explanation of those beauties that are less obvious to common readers, and whose illustration depends on the rules of just criticism, and an exact knowledge of human life, should deservedly have a share in a general critique upon the author. But to pass over at once to another subject :· It has been allowed on all hands, how far our author was indebted to nature; it is not so well agreed. how much he owed to languages and acquired learning. The decisions on this subject were certainly set on foot by the hint from Ben Jonson, that he had small Latin, and less Greek : and from this' tradition, as it were. Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that; “ It is without controversy, he had no knowledge of " the writings of the ancient poets, for that in his “ works we find no traces of any thing which looks “ like an imitation of the ancients. For the delicacy " of his taste (continues he) and the natural bent of “ his own great genius (cqual, if not superior, to “ some of the best of theirs), would certainly have
« led him to read and study them with so much plea. “ sure, that some of their fine images would naturally “ have insinuated themselves into, and been mixed “ with, his own writings: and so his not copying, “ at least, something from them, may be an argu“ ment of his never having read them.” I shall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous passages which I have occasionally quoted in my notes, in which our poet seems closely to have imitated the classicks, whether Mr. Rowe's assertion be so absolutely to be depended on. The result of the controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our author's honour : how hiappily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could think like them, without owing any thing to imitation.
Though I should be very unwilling to allow Shakspere so poor a scholar, as many have laboured to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other side of the question ; that is with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the passages, that I occasionally quote from the classicks, shall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated those originals ; but brought to shew how happily he has expressed himself upon the same topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a sameness of thought, and sameness of expression too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent suspicion of the latter copying from
his predecessor. I shall not therefore run any great risque of a censure, though I should venture to hint, that the resemblances in thought and expression of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in the one, whose learning was not questioned), may sometimes take its rise from strength of memory, and those impressions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a possibility of this, considering that, when he quitted the school, he gave into his father's profession and way of living, and had, it is likely, but a slender library of classical learning ; and considering what a number of translations, romances, and legends, started about his time, and a little before (most of which, it is very evident, he read); I think it may easily be reconciled, why he rather schemed his plots and chara&ters from these more latter informations, than went back to those fountains, for which he might entertain a sincere veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a recourse.
In touching on another part of his learning, as it related to ihe knowledge of history and books, I shall advance something, that, at first sight, will very much wear the appearance of a paradox. For I shall find it no hard matter to prove, that, from the grossest blunders in history, we are not to infer his real ignorance of it ; nor from a greater use of Latin words, than ever any other English author used, must we infer his intimate acquaintance with that language,
A reader of taste may easily observe, that though Shakspere, almost in every scene of his historical plays, commits the grossest offences against chronology, his. tory, and ancient politicks; yet this was not through ignorance, as is generally supposed, but through the too powerful blaze of his imagination, which, when once raised, made all acquired knowledge vanish and disappear before it. But this licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to ignorance ; since as often we may find him, when occasion serves, reasoning up to the truth of history; and throwing out sentiments as justly adapted to the circumstances of his subject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, it is certain, there is a surprising effusion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English author I have seen; but we must be cautious to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in his age, began extremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin: and this, to be sure, was occa- ' sioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, Eliza. beth and James, both great Latinists. For it is not to be wondered at, if both the court and schools, equal flatterers of power, should adapt themselves to the royal taste. .
But now I am touching on the question (which has been so frequently agitated, yet so entirely undecided) of his learning and acquaintance with the languages; an additional word or two naturally falls in here upon
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the genius of our author, as compared with that of