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hope. There is no scene which does not contribute to the aggravation of the distress or conduct of the action, and scarce a line which does not conduce to the progress of the scene. So powerful is the current of the poet's imagination, that the mind, which once ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly along.
On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct it may be observed, that he is represented according to histories at that time vulgarly received as true. And perhaps if we turn our thoughts upon the barbarity and ignorance of the age to which this story is referred, it will appear not so unlikely as while we estimate Lear's manners by our own. --Such preference of one daughter to another, or resignation of dominion on such conditions, would be yet credible, if told of a petty prince of Guinea or Madagascar. Shakespeare, indeed, by the mention of his Earls and Dukes, has given us the idea of times more civilised, and of life regulated by softer manners; and the truth is,-that-though he so nicely discriminates, and so minutely describes the characters of men, he commonly neglects-and.confounds. the characters of ages, by mingling -customs-ancient and modern, English and foreign.
My learned friend Mr. Warton, who has in the Adventurer very minutely criticised this play, remarks, that the instances of cruelty are too savage and-shocking, and that the intervention of Edmund destroys the simplicity of the story. These objections may, I think, be answered, by repeating, that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical fact, to which the poet has added little, having only drawn it into a series by dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologize with equal plausibility for the extrusion of Gloucester's eyes, which seems an act too horrid to be endured in dramatick exhibition, and such as must always compel the mind to relieve its distress by incredulity. Yet
let it be remembered that our authour well knew what would please the audience for which he wrote.
The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the action is abundantly recompensed by the addition of variety, by the art with which he is made to co-operate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked son with the wicked daughters, to impress this important moral, that villany is never at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last terminate in ruin
But though this moral be incidentally enforced, Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and, what is yet more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified by the Spectator, who blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and happiness in his alteration, and declares, that, in his opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty. Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to secure the favourable reception of Cato, the town was poisoned with much false and abominable criticism, and that endeavours had been used to discredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, and the .virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life : but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse ; or, that if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not. always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.
In the present case the publick has decided. Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, that I was
many years ago shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.
There is another controversy among the criticks concerning this play. It is disputed whether the predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a very judicious critick, has evinced by induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil; He observes with great justness, that Lear would move our compassion but-little, did we not rather consider the injured father than the degraded king
The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom
Hollingshead generally copied ; but perhaps immediately from an old historical ballad, of which I shall insert the greater part. My reason for believing that the play was posteriour to the ballad rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle ; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications : it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had seen Shakespeare.
TIMON OF ATHENS.
Act I. SCENE I. (1. i. 21 foll.) Our Poesy is as a Gum, &c.
This speech of the poet is very obscure. He seems to boast the copiousness and facility of his vein, by declaring that verses drop from a poet as gums from odoriferous trees, and that his flame kindles itself without the violence necessary to elicite sparkles from the fint. What follows next? that it, like a current, fies each bound it chafes. This may mean, that it expands itself notwithstanding all obstructions : but the images in the comparison are so ill sorted, and the effect so obscurely expressed, that I cannot but think something omitted that connected the last sentence with the former. It is well known that the players often shorten speeches to quicken the representation; and it may be suspected, that they sometimes performed their amputations with more haste than judgment. Act I. SCENE ii. (1. i. 108-9.)
'Tis not enough to belp the feeble up,
But to support bim after. This thought is better expressed by Dr. Madden in his elegy on Archbishop Boulter.
-He thought it mean
Act III. SCENE ü. (m. iii. 33–4.)
Those that under bot, ardent, zeal would set wbole Realms on fire.
This is a reflection on the Puritans of that time. These people were then set upon a project of newmodelling the ecclesiastical and civil government according to scripture rules and examples. Which makes him say, that under zeal for the word of God, they would set whole realms on fire. ACT III. SCENE iv. (1. iv. 67.) Enter Servilius. It may
be observed that Shakespeare has unskilfully filled his Greek story with Roman names. Act IV. SCENE ii. (ıv. ii.) Enter Flavius.
Nothing contributes more to the exaltation of Timon's character than the zeal and fidelity of his servants. Nothing but real virtue can be honoured by domesticks ; nothing but impartial kindness can gain affection from dependants. Act IV. SCENE V.
I cannot concur to censure Theobald as a critick very unhappy. He was weak, but he was cautious : finding but little power in his mind, he rarely ventured far under its conduct. This timidity hindered him from daring conjectures, and sometimes hindered him happily. Act IV. SCENE VI. (iv. üži. 253 foll.) Hadst thou, like us.
There is in this speech a sullen haughtiness, and malignant dignity, suitable at once to the lord and the manhater. The impatience with which he bears to have his luxury reproached by one that never had luxury within his reach, is natural and graceful.
There is in a letter written by the earl of Essex, just before his execution, to another nobleman, a passage somewhat resembling this, with which I believe every reader will be pleased, though it is so serious and solemn that it can scarcely be inserted without irreverence.
“ God grant your lordship may quickly feel the comfort I now enjoy in my unfeigned conversion, but that you may never feel the torments I have suffered for