صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

How much our author employed himself in poetry, after his retirement from the stage, does not so evidently appear : Very few pofthumous sketches of his pen have been recovered to ascertain that point. We have been told, indeed, in print, but not till very lately, that two large chests full of this great man's loose papers

and manuscrips, in the hands of an ignorant baker of Warwick, (who married one of the descendants from our Shakespeare) were carelessly scattered and thrown about, as garret-lumber, and litter, to the particular knowledge of the late Sir William

Bishop, till they were all consumed in the general fire and destruction of that Town. I cannot help being a little apt to distrust the authority of this tradition, because as his wife survived him feven years, and as his favourite daughter Susanna survived her twenty-six years,'tis very improbable, they fhould suffer such a treasure to be removed, and translated into a remoter branch of the family, without a scrutiny first made into the value of it. This, I say, inclines me to distrust the authority of the relation : but, notwithstanding such an apparent improbability, if we really lost such a treasure, by whatever fatality or caprice of fortune they came into such ignorant and neglectful hands, I agree with the Relater, the misfortune is wholly irreparable.

To these particulars, which regard his person and private life, fome few more are to be gleaned

from

1

from Mr. Rowe's account of his Life and Write ings : Let us now také a short view of him in his publick capacity, as a Writer: and, from thence, the transition will be easy to the State in which his Writings have been handed down to us.

No age, perhaps, can produce an author more various from himself, than Shakespeare has been universally acknowledged to be. The diversity in stile, and other parts of composition, so obvious in him, is as variously to be accounted for. His education, we find, was at best but begun: and he started early into a science from the force of genius, unequally assisted by acquir'd improvements. His fire, spirit, and exuberance of imagination gave an impetuosity to his pen : His ideas fowed from him in a stream rapid, but not turbulent; copious, but not ever overbearing its shores. The ease and sweetness of his temper might not a little contribute to his facility in writing: as his employment, as a Player, gave him an advantage and habit of fancying himself the very character he meant to delineate. He used the helps of his function in forming himself to create and express that Sublime, which other actors can only copy, and throw out, in action and graceful attitude, But nullum fine veniâ placuit ingenium, says Seneca. The genius, that gives us the greatest pleasure, sometimes stands in need of our indulgence. Wheneverthis happens with regard to Shakespeare, I would willingly impute it to a vice of his times. We see complaisance enough, in our own days,

paid

à 2

paid to a bad taste. His clinches, false wit, and descending beneath himself, seem to be a deference paid to reigning barbarism. He was a Sampfon in strength, but he suffer'd some such Dalilab to give him up to the Philistines.

As I have mention'd the sweetness of his difpofition, I am tempted to make a reflection or two on a sentiment of his, which, I am persuaded, came from the heart.

The inan, that hath no music in hiniself,
Noris not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils :
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus :
Let no such man be trusted.-

Shakespeare was all openness,candour, and complacence; and had such a share of harmony in his fraine and temperature, that we have no reason to doubt from a number of fine passages, allusions, fimilies, &c. fetched from musick, but that he was a passionate lover of it. And to this, perhaps, we may owe that great number of Tonnets, which are sprinkled thro' his plays. I have found, that the Itanzas tung by the Grave-digger in Hamlet, are not of Shakespeare's own composition, but owe their original to the old Earl of Surrey's poems. Many other of his occasional little songs, I doubt not, but he purposely copied from his contemporary writers; sometimes, out of banter; fometimes, to do them honour. The manner of their

introduction, and the uses to which he has assigned them, will easily determine for which of the reasons they are respectively employed. In As you like it, there are several little copies of verses on Rosalind, which are said to be the right Butterwoman's rank to market, and the very false gallop of verses. Dr. Thomas Lodge, a physician who flourished early in Queen Elizabeth's reign, and was a great Writer of the Pastoral Songs and Madrigals, which were so much the strain of those times, composed a whole volume of poems in praise of his mistress, whom he calls Rofalinde. I never yet could meet with this collection; but whenever I do, I am persuaded, I shall find many of our Author's Canzonets on this subject to be scraps of the Doctor's amorous Muse: as, perhaps, those by Biron too, and the other lovers in Love's Labour's loft, may prove to be.

It has been remarked in the course of my notes, that musick in our author's time had a very different use from what it has now. At this time, it is only employed to raise and infame the passions ; it, then, was applied to calm and allay all kinds of perturbations. And, agreeable to this observation, throughout all Shakespeare's plays, where musick is either actually used, or its powers. described, it is chiefly said to be for these ends. His Twelfth-Night, particularly, begins with a fine reAection that admirablymarksitssoothingproperties.. That strain again ;-It had a dying tall. Oh, it came o'er iny ear like the sweet south;

That

2 3

That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odour ! This fimilitude is remarkable not only for the beauty of the image that it presents, but likewise for the exactness to the thing compared. This is a way of teaching peculiar to the Poets ; that, when they would describe the nature of any thing, they do it not by a direct enumeration of its attributes or qualities, but by bringing something into comparison, and describing these qualities of it that are of the kind with those in the thing compared. So, here for instance, the Poet willing to instruct in the properties of musick, in which the fame strains have a power to excite pleasure, or pain, according to that state of mind the hearer is then in, does it by presenting the image of a sweet South wind blowing o'er a violet-bank; which wafts away the odour of the violets, and at the same time communicates to it, its own sweetness : by this insinuating, that affecting mulick, tho' it takes away the natural sweet tranquillity of the mind, yet, at the same time, communicates a pleasure the mind felt not before. This knowledge, of the same objects being capable of raising two contrary affections, is a proof of no ordinary progress in the study of human nature. The general beauties of those two poems of MILTON, intitled, L'Allegro and Il Penforoso, are obvious to all readers, because the descriptions are the most poetical in the world ; yet there is a peculiar beauty in those two excellent pieces, that will

much :

1

« السابقةمتابعة »