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this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occasion of doing it.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakspere. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of nature ; it proceeded through Ægyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakspere was inspiration indeed : he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument, of nature; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much nature herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as co. pies of her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shews that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image : each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakspere is as much an individual, as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike; and such, as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be 'twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.
- The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it: but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper. places : we are surprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment. - How astonishing is it again, that the passions directa ly opposite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his command ; that he is not more a master of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensas, tions!
Nor does he only excel in the passions; in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable, His sentiments are not only in general the most pertineng and judicious upon every subject; but, by a talent very peculiar, şomething between penetration and felią city, he hits upon that particular, point on which the bent of:each argument turns, or the force of each moa tive depends.. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of nə education or experience in those great and publick scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts :. so that he seems to haye known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground
for a very new opinion, that the philosopher, and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet.
It must be owned, that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps written worse than any other. But I think I can in some mea. sure account for these defects, from several causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that so large and so enlightened a mind could ever have been susceptible of them. That all these contingencies should unite to his disadvantage seems to me almost as singularly unlucky, as that so many various (nay contrary) talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.
It must be allowed that stage-poetry, of all other, is more particularly levelled to please the populace, and its success more immediately depending upon the common sufrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakspere, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a subsistence, directed his endeavours solely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The audience was generally composed of the meaner sort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from those of their own rank: accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almost all the old comedies have their scene among tradesmen and mechanicks : and even their historical plays strictly follow the common old, stories or vulgar traditions of that kind of people. In