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and pronounces on the final doom of a fellow creature, he transcends his just prerogative, and displays a feeling alien to the pure and benign spirit of the doctrines he professes to teach.
It is not only presumptuous, but far from charitable, for the minister of any sect of christians, to doom a fellow creature to eternal misery, because he likes to hear good poetry well recited, and occasionally visits a Theatre, the only place where his taste, in this respect, can possibly be gratified. Is a man to be told that he is no christian, and an enemy to God, for an offence of this description. No human creature, whether minister or layman, has, or can have, either moral or legal right to fix such a brand on the forehead of his neighbour, and having so marked him, to dispose of his future destiny accordingly.
The individuals who formed, and who now constitute the Shakespeare Club, although represented, for some purpose or other, as the blind idolators of the man under whose name they have assembled, never intended it to be understood, that they are the approvers of every sentence that may be found in his dramas. They know, that in his writings, many passages occur that are indefensible: are his works, then, which contain so many excellent moral apothegms, and so much of intellectual grandeur, to be rejected on this account ? Certainly not. We have books of much higher authority, and proceeding from a more hallowed source, that are, in part, scarcely less censurable ; must these be rejected ? The reply again is, certainly not. Why, then, be more fastidious in one instance, than another? Why strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel ? The Members of the Shakespeare Club regret sincerely that the dramatist they so much
admire, should ever have blurred his pages even with one offensive expression. It should, however, be recollected, in extenuation of the wrong he has done in this respect, that he wrote at a period, when both the court and the people were much less refined in manners and feeling than they are at present,
If this consideration plead not in his favour, let his faults and his excellencies, his beauties and his blemishes, be equitably adjusted, and the balance will be greatly in his favour.
To do honour to the talents and the memory of such a man, the Shakespeare Club assumed his name; and to mark their disapprobation of the condemnations fulminated against them from the pulpit, and, at the same time, to shew that they did not conceive the visiting the Theatre to be a damnatory sin, they originally associated together; and influenced by the same feelings and motives, they still continue an united body, notwithstanding the abuse with which they are annually assailed, and the total annihilation with which they have been threatened.
The admiration of Shakespeare is not a new feeling amongst Englishmen, and need not either excite surprise or provoke censure; it has existed through successive generations, and the feeling once excited, is not likely to be soon extinct. His talents and genius have enriched the literary stores of his country; and his name, and his works, are so identified with the language in which he wrote, as to warrant the prediction that their duration will be equally lasting. They will not be forgotten, until England is blotted out of the list of nations, and the record of her greatness, her achievements in literature, in arms, and in arts, is obliterated, and swallowed up in the gulph of time; a period, in all likelihood, so very remote, as not to enter into human calculation.
Numerous authorities might be quoted, if necessary, which would fully justify any eulogium, however extravagant, that might be pronounced on the various merits of the bard of Avon, from whose works it would not be difficult to form a code of benevolence and exemplary justice, enforced in language as powerful, as fascinating, and as poetically beautiful, as the mind of man ever conceived, or the pen of inspiration ever inscribed. He has made mankind his debtors, and the legacy he has left them, is of too valuable a nature to be lightly estimated, so long as taste and feeling have an abiding influence amongst us.
These remarks might be continued through a long succession of pages, and the works of Shakespeare might be resorted to for examples that would fully warrant a higher strain of paneygeric than is here indulged. One observation, however, ought not to be suppressed, as it refers to one of the peculiar excellencies of Shakespeare's Dramas,-his masterly and unrivalled delineation of the female character. No writer in his time, or in any time, has ever invested woman with so much of feminine grace and loveliness. In this respect he has no competitor. His Desdemona, Juliet, Viola, Cordelia, Imogen, Miranda, Hermione, and others, that might be mentioned, are some of the most delightful creations of his genius, and replete with unparalleled beauty. Another class of his female characters, including Rosalind, Beatrice, Portia, &c. are scarcely less excellent and who can behold his Lady Macbeth, Constance, Isabella, and Catherine, without feeling that Shakespeare had far transcended all his competitors, and left them behind at an immeasurable distance.
Dr. Johnson, no mean authority, either in literature
or morals, in his very eloquent and argumentative preface to the plays of Shakespeare, makes the following observations.
“Shakespeare is, above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds
to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world, by the peculiarities of studies or professions which can operate but upon small numbers, or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions : they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find. His persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets, a character is too often an individual; in those of Shakespeare, it is commonly a species.
“ It is from this wide extension of design that so much instruction is derived. It is this which fills the plays of Shakespeare with practical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was said of Euripides that every verse was a precept; and it may be said of Shakespeare, that from his works may be collected a system of civil and economical prudence.
Yet his real power is not shown in the splendour of particular passages, but by the progress of his fable, and the tenor of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his house for sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.
“ This, therefore, is the praise of Shakespeare, that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who has inazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may be here cured of his delirious ecstacies, by reading human sentiments in human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.
Boyle congratulated himself upon his high birth, because it favoured his curiosity by facilitating his access. Shakespeare had no such advantage; he came to London a needy adventurer, and lived for a time by very mean employments. Many works of genius and learning have been performed, in states of life that appear very
little favourable to thought or to enquiry; so many, that he who considers them is inclined to think that he sees enterprise and perseverence predominating over all external agency, and bidding help and lindrance vanish before them. The genius of Shakespeare was not to be depressed by the weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow conversation to which men in want are inevitably condemned : the incumbrances of his fortune, were shaken from his mind, as dew drops from a lion's mane. Though he had so many difficulties to encounter, and so little assistance to surmount them, he has been able to obtain an exact knowledge of many modes of life, many casts of native dispositions; to vary them with great multiplicity; to mark them by nice distinctions ; and to show them to full view, by proper combinations.
In this part of his performances, he had none to imitate, but has himself been imitated by