صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

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 copies 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 wępt, and wept at that very moment. in :- How astonishing. is it again, that the passions directly 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 sensa, tions ! : "Nor does he only excel in the passions; in the cool. ness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable, His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but, by a talent very peculiar, şoinething between penetration and felia city, he hits upon that particular point; on which the bent of:each argument turns, or the force of each mo. tive depends... This is perfectly amazingfrom a man. of nö education or experience in those great and publick scenes of life which are usually the subject of his, thoughts :. so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature ag 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 excel. lencies, 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 measure 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 suffrage. 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


tragedy, nothing was so sure to surprize and case ad 11 miration, as the most strange, unexpected, and consequently most unnatural, events and incidents; the top most exaggerated thoughts ;the most verbose and bombast expression ; the most pompous rhymes, and thundering versification. In comedy, nothing was se llam sure to please, as mean buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and IR unmannerly jest of fools and clowns. Yet even in on these our author's wit buoys up, and is borne above his subject: his genius in those low parts is like some prince of a romance in the disguise of a shepherd or peasant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then break out, which manifest his higher extraction and qualities. ... ... . .

: It may be added, that not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better sort piqued themselves upon any great de. gree of knowledge or nicety that way; till Ben Jon- li se son, getting possession of the stage, brought critically learning into vogue: and that this was not done with it out difficulty, may appear from those frequent lessons por (and indeed almost declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouth of het his actors, the grex, chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. ''Till then, our authors. had no thoughts of writing on the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only histories in dialogue; and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true history,



[ocr errors]

a conse.

Jose and ples, and

was so dry, and

even in ne above

ike some

epherd or

and then


1. To judge, therefore of 'Shakspere - by Aristotle's

rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country,

who acted under those of another. He writ to the _ts; thé

people ; and writ at first without patronage from the þetter sort; and therefore without aims of pleasing them; without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them; without that knowledge of the best models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them ; in a word, without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call immortality; some or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or

animated the ambition, of other writers.
Etion and

· Yet it must be observed, that when his performances
had merited the protection of his prince, and when the
encouragement of the court had succeeded to that of
the town, the works of his riper years are manifestly
raised above those of his formet. The dates of his
plays sufficiently evidence that his productions. im-
proved in proportion to the respect he had for his aué
ditors. And I make no doubt this observation would
be found true in every instance, were but editions exi
tant from which we might learn the exact time when
every piece was composed, and whether writ for the
town, or the court.
· Another cause (and no less strong than the former).
may be deduced from our author's being a player, and
forming himself first upon the judginents of that body

of men whereof he was a member. They have ever I had a standard to themselves, upon other principles


y audience w even of

great deal Ben Jon It critical / one with it lessons ras forced nouth of le prejuis 'Till

s on the only his. ved the



[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »