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Tnar praises are without reason lavished on the dead, and that the honours due only to excellence are paid to antiquity, is a complaint likely to be always continued by those, who, being able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence from the heresies of paradox; or those, who, being forced by disappointment upon consolatory expedients, are willing to hope from posterity what the present age refuses, and flatter themselves that the regard which is yet denied by envy, will be at last bestowed by time.

Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the notice of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries that reverence it, not from reason, but from prejudice. Some seem to admire indiscriminately whatever has been long preserved, without considering that time has sometimes co- operated with chance; all perhaps are more willing to honourpast than present excellence; and themind contemplates genius through the shades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through artificial opacity. The great contention of criticism is to find the faults of the moderns, and the beauties of the ancients. While anauthor is yet living, we estimate his powers by his worst performance; and when he is dead, we rate them by his best.

To works, however, of which the excellence is not absolute and definite, but gradual and comparative; to works, not raised upon principles demonstrative and scientific, but appealingwholly to observation and experience, no other test can be applied than leélvgtll of duration and continuance of esteem. hat mankind have long possessed they have often examined and compared, and if they persist to value the possession, it is because frequent comparisons have confirmed opinion in its favour. As among the works of naturlno man can properly call a river deep, or a mountain high, without the knowledge of many mountains, and many rivers ; so, in the productions of genius, nothing can be styled excellent till it has been compared with other works of the same kind. Demonstration immediately displays its power, and has nothing to hope or fear from the flux of years; but works tentative and experimental must be estimated by their proportion to the general and collective ability of man, as it is discovered in a long succession of endeavours. Of the first building that was raised, it might be with certainty determined that it was round or square; but whether it was spacious or lofty must have been referred to time. The Pythagorean scale of numbers was at once discovered to be perfect; but the poems of Homer we et know not to transcend the common limits of human intelligence, but by remarking, that nation after nation, and century after century, has been able to do little morevthan transpose his incidents, new name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments.

The reverence due to writings that have long subsisted, arises therefore, not from any credulous confidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the de eneracy of mankind, but is the consequence of acknowledged andindubitablepositipns,.th.mt whathas beenlong

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est known hasbeen most considered, and what is most considered is best understood.

The poet, of whose works I have undertaken the revision, may mow be in to assume the dignity of an ancient, and cfiiim the privilege of established fame and prescriptive vencration. He has long outlived his century, the term commonly fixed as the test of literary merit. Whatever advantages he might once derive from personal allusions, local customs, or temporary opinions, have for many years been lost; and every topilo of !1;6l‘l'llIé8Di71O{&.Xl(J:g0 (f, sorrow, which the mo es o arti cia ' e or ed him, now onl obscure the scenes which they once illuminatedi The effects of favour and com petition are at an end; the tradition of his friendships and his enmities has perished ;his works support no opinion with arguments, nor supply anyzfaction with invectives; they can neither indulge vanity, nor gratify malignity; but are read without any other reason than the desire of pleasure, and are therefore praised only as pleasure is obtained; fit, thus unlassisted by interest or passion, they

ve passe through variations of taste and changes of manners, and, as they devolved fromone generation to another, have received new honours at every transmission.

But because human judgment, though it be grfiaiipizlzllly gaiiaing upcgn certairfity, riileyer becomes in a e; an appro ation, t ong ong continued, may yet be only the approbation of prejudice or fashion; it is proper to inquire, by what pegulkiearitiis off excelleriiqf Shakspeare has gained an pt t e avour 0 is countr en.

Nothing can please many, and pmse long, but {list representatiqps £11; generalfnatureé Particu

ar manners can e own to ew, an there ore few only can judge how nearly they are copied. The (gage, combinations of faziciful invention may e ig t awhile, by that nove t of which the common satiety of life sends us quest; but the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhaust? and the mind canonly repose on the stability

trut i.

Shakespeare is above all writers, at least aboveall modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds 115) to his readers a faithful mirror of manners an of life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the pecu

uiritics of studies or professions, which can operate but upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are t e genuine rogen o common humanity , such as Jr :iorld)wfiill(ii1l'wa_E supply, and 0bse¥vation ' wa s n . is rsons act and speak by the infiiience of those Iéneral passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and thi \vl7ilple system otélifqlis continued in. motion. m e writings 0 ot er oets a character is too often an individual : inthgse of Shakspeare it its corpmonly a species.

t is rom this wide extension of desi that so much instruction is derived. It is this glitch fills the plays of Shakespeare with practical axioms and domestic wisdom It was said of Euripides,

that every verse was a precept; and it is said of Shakspeare, that from his works may be collected a system of civil and ceconomical prudence. Yet his real power is not shown in the splendour -of particular passages, but b the progress of his fable, and the tenor of his dialogue;-and he that tries to recommend him by select uotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierodles, who, when he ofi'ered his house to sale, carried a brickin his pocket as a specimen.

It will -not easilybe imaglizied how much Shakspeare excels in accommo ting his sentiments to real life, but by comparing him with other authors. It was observed of theancient schools of declamation, that the more diligently they were frequented, the more was the student disqualified for the world, because he found nothing there which he should ever meet in any other place. The same remark may be applied to every stage but that of Shakspeare. The theatre, when it is under any other direction, is -peopled by such characters as were never seen,conversing in a language which was never heard, upon topics which will never arise inthe commerce of mankind. But the dialogue of-this author is often so evidently determined by the incident which -produces it, and is pursued with so much ease and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by -diligent selection out of common conversation, and common occurrences.

Upon-every other stpfie the universal agent is ‘love, by whose power good and evil -is distributed, and every action quickenedior retarded. To bring a lover, a lady, and a rival into the fable; to entangle -them in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppositions 0 interest and harass them with violence of desires inconsistent with each other; to make -them meet in rapture, and part in agony: to fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow; -to distress them as nothing human ever was dis-tressed; to deliver -them as nothing human ever was delivered, is the business of a modern dra-matist. For this, probability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language is depraved. But dove is only one of many passions, and as it has no great influence upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a dpoet, who -caught his ideas from the living -worl , and exhibited only what he saw before him. He knew, that any other passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, _was~a-cause of hap iness or calamity.

Characters thus ample and general were not easily discriminated and preserved, yet perhaps no poet ever kept his personages more distinct from each other. I will not say with Pope, that evex speech may be assigned to the proper spe er, because many speeches there are which have nothing characteristical; but, perhaps, though some may “be equall adapted to every person, it will be diflicult to dud any that-can be properly transferred from the present possessor to another claimant. The choice is right, when there is reason for choice.

Other dramatists can only -gain attention by hyperbolical or aggravated -characters, by fabulous and unexhmpled excellence or depravity, as the writers of barbarous -romances invigorated the reader by a giant and a dwarf; and he =that should form his expectations of human affairs from the play, or from the tale, would be -equally deceived. Shakspeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men, who act and speak as the reader ~thinks that -he should himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion; oven where the agency is supernatural, the dia.


logue is level with life. Other writers disguise the most natural passions and most frequent in-cidents; so that e who contemplates them in the book will not know them in the world; Shakspeare approximates the remote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he represents will not happen, but if it were possible, itseffeets would probably be suchas he has assigned; and it may be said, that he has not only shown human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed.

Thi therefore is the praise of Shakspeare, that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his deilrious ecstasies, by reading human sentiments in human language; by scenes frem which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and aconfessor predict the regress of the passions.

His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the censure of critics, who form their yiizidgment upon narrower principles. Dennis and

ymer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman ; and Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should lay the bulfoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakspeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preserves the essential character, is not very careful of distinctions superinduced and adventitious. His story requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all dispositions; and wanting a buifoon, he went into the senate-house for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to show an usurper and a murderer, not only odious but despicable; he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its-natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overlooks the casual distinction ofcountry and condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglectsthe drapery. 9

The censure which he has incurred by mixing comic and tragic scenes, as it extends to all his works, deserves more consideration. Let the fact -be first stated, and then examined.

Shakspeare’s plays are not in the rigorouaand critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination ; and expressing the course of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain of another; in which, at the same time, the reveller is basting to his wine, and the mourner burying his friend; in which the malignity of one is sometimes defeated by the frolic of another; and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and hindered -without design.

Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties, the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, selected some the crimes of men, and some their absurdities: some the momentous vicissitudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences; some the terrors of distress, and some the gaieties of prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, known by the names of tragedy and comedy, compositions intended to promote different ends by contrary means, and considered as so little allied, that I

do not recollect among the Greeks or Romansa single writer who attem ted both.

Shakspeare has united) the powers of exciting laughter and sorrow, not only in one mind, but in one composition. Almost all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in the successive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce seriousness and sorrow, and sometimes evity and laughter.

That this is a practice contrar to the rules of criticism will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open rom criticism to nature. The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetrly is to instruct by pleasing. That the ming ed drama may convey all the instruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it includes both in its alternations of exhibition, and approaches nearer than either to the appearance 0 ‘life, by showing how great machinations and slender designs may promote or obviate one another, and the high an the low co-operate in the general system by unavoidable concatenation.

It is objected, that by this change of scenes the passions are interrupted in their progression, and that the principal event, being not advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at last the power to move, which constitutes the perfection of dramatic poetry. This reasoning 1s so specious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. The interchanges of mingled scenes seldom fail to produce the intended vicissitudes of passion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that the attention may be easily transferred; and though it must be allowed that pleasing melanchol may be sometimes interrupted by unwelcome ll-zvity, yet let it be considered likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, and that the disturbance of one man may be the relief of another; that difl'ei-ent auditors have different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, all pleasure consists in variety.

The players, who in their edition divided our author s works into comedies, histories, and traggdies, seem not to have distinguished the three

ds by any ve exact or definite ideas.

An action whicrli ended happily to the principal persons, however serious or distressful through its intermediate incidents, in their opinion constituted a comedy. This idea of a comedy continued long among us, and plays were written, which, by changing the catastrophe, were tragedies to-day, and comedies to-morrow.

Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more general dignity or elevation than comedy; it required only a calamitous conclusion, with which the common criticism of that age was satisfied, whatever lighter pleasure it aflbrded in its progress.

History was a series of actions -with no other than chronological succession, independent on each other, and without any tendency to introduce and regulate the conclusion. It is not always very nicely distinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer approach to unity of action in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, than in the history of Richard the Second. But 0. history might _ be continued through man y plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits.

Through all these denominations of the drama, Shakspeare’s mode of composition is the same; an interchange of seriousness and merriment, by which the mind is softened at one time, and exhilarated at another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to ladden or depress, or to

conduct the story, without vehemence or emotion, through tracts of easy and familiar dialogue,


he never fails to attain his purpose; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit silent with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indifference.

When Shakspeare’s plan is imderstood, most of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Hamlet is opened, without impropriety, by two centinels: Iago bellows at Bi-abantio’s window, without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms which a modern audience would not easily endure; the character of Polonius is seasonable and useful; and the Gravediggers themselves may be heard with applause.

Shakspeare engaged in dramatic poetry with the world open before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; the public 'udgment was unformed; he had no example oi] such fame as might force him upon imitation, nor eritics of such authoriiéy as mi ht restrain his extravagance; he there ore infulged his natural disposition, and his disposition, as Rymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he often writes with great a pearance oi toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comic scenes, he seems to produce without labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to be comic, but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragic scenes there is always something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases b the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy tin the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.

The force of his comic scenes has suffered little diminution from the changes made by a century and a half, inmanners or in words. As his personages act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very ittle modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits are only superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet soon fadmg to a dim tinct, without any remains of former lustre; but the discriminations of true passion are the colorus of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them. The accidental compositions of the heterogeneous modes are dissolved by the chance that combined them; but the uni orm simplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The sand heaped b one flood is scattered by another, but the rock agvays continues in its place. The stream of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes without in'ury by the adamant of Shakspeare.

JIf there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a st le which never becomes obsolete, a certain mode of phraseology so consonant and congenial to the analogy and principles of its respective language, as to remain sett ed and unaltered: this style is probably to be sought in the common intercourse of life, among those who speak only to be understood, without ambition or elegance. The polite are always catching modish innovations, and the learned depart frorn the established forms of speech, in hope of finding or making better; those who wish for distinction forsake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but there is a conversation above grossness and below refinement, where propriety rcsides, and where this poet seems to have gather

ed his comic dialogue. He is, therefore, more agreeable to the ears of the present age, than any other author equally remote, and, among his other exeellencies, deserves to be studied as one of the original masters of our language.

These observations are to be consic ered not as unexceptionably constant, but as containing general and predominant truth. Shakspca.re’s familiar dialogue is afiirmed to be smooth and clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or dithculty; as a country may be eminently fruitful, though it has spots unfit for cultivation: his characters are praised as natural, though their sentiments are sometimes forced, and their actions improbable; as the earth upon the whole is spherical, though its surface is varied with protuberances and cavities.

Shakspeare with his excellencies has likewise faults, and faults sufiicient tb obscure and overwhelm any other merit. I shall show them in the proportion in which they appear tome, without envious malignity or superstitious veneration. N 0 question can be more innocently disdiscussed than a dead poet’s pretensions to renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry which sets candour higher than truth.

His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed a system of social duty may be selected , for he that thinks reasonably must think morally; but his precepts and axioms drop casually from him : he makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to show in the virtuous, disapprobation of the wicked; he carries his persons indiiferently through right

and wrong, and at the close dismisses them with

out further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always a\rriter’s duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue independent on time or place.

The plots are often so loosely formed, that 0. very slight consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to comprehend his own design. He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting, which the train of his story seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects those exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the sake of those which are more easy.

It may be observed, that in many of his plays the latter part is evidently neglected. When he found himself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened the labour, to snatch the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he_ should most vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced or imperfectly represented.

He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions of another, at the expense not only of likelihood, but of possibility. These faults Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal than judgment, to transfer to his imagined interpolators. We need not wonder to find Hector quoting Aristotle, when we see the loves of Theseus and Hippolyta combined with the Gothic mythology of fairies. Shakspeare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology, for in the same age Sidney, who wanted not the advantages of learning, has, in his Arcadia, confounded the pastoral with the feudal

iiines, the days of innocence, quiet, and security, with those of turbulence,violence, and adventure.

l Iii his comic scenes, he isseldom very successful, when he engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of sarcasm; their goats are commonly gross, and their pleasantry

licentious; neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are sulficiently distinguished from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners. Whether he represented the real conversation of his time is not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly supposed tobave been a time of stateliness, formality, and reserve, yet perhaps the relaxations of that severity were not very elegant. There must, however, have been always some modes of gaiety preferable to others, and a writer ought to choose the best.

In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worse, as his labour is more. The effusions of passion, which exigence forces out, are for the most part striking and energetic; but whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity.

In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of_diction, and a wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly in many words,wliich might have been more plainly delivered in few. Narration in dramatic poetry is naturally tedious, as it is unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the action; it should therefore always be rapid, and enlivened by frequent interruption. Shakespeare found it an inoumbrance, and instead of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and splendour.

His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature; when he endeavoured, like other tragic writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader.

It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles with it awhile, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it.

Not that always where the language is intri‘ cate, the thought is subtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recommended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.

But the admirers of this great poethave most reason to complain when he approaches nearest to his hi hest excellence, and seems fully resolved to sinl; them in dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. What he does best, he soon ceases to do. He is not long soft and pathetic without some idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner be ' s to move, than he counteracts himself; ungmterror and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidit .

I quibble is to Shakspeare what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him inthe mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity 1 or profuiidity of his disquisition, whether lie be

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