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others, who have gone before as. There has been long preserved, without considera is nothing more useful than the knowledge ing that time has sometimes co-operated of history. But if we rest satisfied in load. with chance : all perhaps are more willing ing our memory with a multitude of facts to honour past than present excellence ; of no great cariosity or importance, if we and the mind contemplates genius through dwell only upon dates and difficulties in the shade of age, as the eye surveys the chronology or geography, and take no sun through artificial opacity. The great pains to get acquainted with the genius, contention of criticism is to find the faults manners, and characters of the great men of the moderns, and the beauties of the we read of, we shall have learnt a great ancients. While an author is yet living, deal, and know but very little. A treatise we estimate his powers by his worst perof rhetoric may be extensive, enter into a formance; and when he is dead, we rate long detail of precept, define very exactly them by his best. every trope and figure, explain well their To works, however, of which the exdifferences, and largely treat such questions cellence is not absolute and definite, but as were warmly debated by the rhetori- gradual and comparative; to works not eians of old; and with all this be very like raised upon principles demonstrative and that discourse of rhetoric Tully speaks of scientific, but appealing wholly to obserwhich was only fit to teach people not to vation and experience, no other test can speak at all, or not to the purpose. Scrip- be applied than length of duration and contis artem rhetoricam Cleanthes, sed sic, ut tinuance of esteem. What mankind have si quis obmutescere concupierit, nihil aliud long possessed they have often examined legere debeat. In philosophy one night and compared; and if they persist to value spend abundance of time in knotty and the possession, it is because frequent comabstruse disputes, and even learn a great parisons have confirmed opinion in its many fine and curious things, and at the favour. As among the works of nature no same time neglect the essential part of the man can properly call a river deep, or al study, which is to form the judgment and mountain high, without the knowledge of direct the manners.
many mountains, and many rivers; so In a word, the most necessary qualifi- in the productions of genius, nothing cart cation, not only in the art of speaking and be styled excellent till it has been comthe sciences, but in the whole conduct of pared with other works of the same kind. our life, is that taste, prudence, and discre. Demonstration immediately displays its tion, which upon all subjects and on every power, and has nothing to hope or fear occasion teaches us what we should do, from the flux of years; but works tentaand how to do it. Illud dicere satis habeo, tive and experimental must be estimated nihil esse, non modo in orando, sed in om- by their proportion to the general and ni vita, prius consilio.
Rollin. collective ability of man, as it is discovered Ø 228. Dr. Johnson's Preface to his the first building that was raised, it miglit
in a long succession of endeavours. Of Edition of SHAKSPEARE.
be with certainty determined, that it was That praises are without reason lavished round or square; but whether it was spaon the dead, and that the honours due only cious or lofty must have been referred to to excellence are paid to antiquity, is a time. The Pythagorean scale of numbers complaint likely to be always continued was at once discovered to be perfect : but by those, who, being able to add nothing the poems of Homer we yet know not to to truth, hope for eminence from the he- transcend the common limits of liumar resies of paradox; or those, who, being intelligence, but by remarking, that nation forced by disappointment upon consola- after nation, and century after century, has tory expedients, are willing to hope from been able to do little more than transposé posterity what the present age refuses, and his incidents, new name his characters, Hatter themselves that the regard, which and paraphrase his sentiments. is yet denied by envy,
will be at last be- The reverence due to writings that have stowed by time.
long subsisted, arises, therefore, not from Antiquity, like every other quality that any credulous confidence in the superior attracts the notice of mankind, has un- wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion doubtedly votaries that reverence it, not of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the from reason, but from prejudice. Somo consequence of acknowledged and indubiseem to admire indiscriminately whatever table positions, that what has been longest
known has been most considered, and what the accidents of transient fashions or temis most considered is best understood. porary opinions; they are the genuine
The poet, of whose works I have un- progeny of common humanity, such as the dertaken the revision, may now begin world will always supply, and observation to assume the dignity of an ancient, and will always find. His persons act and claim the privilege of established fame and speak by the influence of those general prescriptive veneration. He has long out- passions and principles by which all minds lived his century, the term commonly are agitated, and the whole system of life fixed as the test of literary merit. What is continued in motion. In the writings of ever advantages he might once derive from other poets, a character is too often an personal allusion, local customs, or tempo- individual; in those of Shakspeare, it is rary opinions, have for many years been commonly a species. lost; and every topic of merriment, or mo- It is from this wide extension of design tive of sorrow, which the modes of artifi- that so much instruction is derived. It is cial life afforded him, now only obscure this which fills the plays of Shakspeare the scenes which they once illuminated. with practical axioms and domestic wiga The effects of favour and competition are dom. It was said of Euripides, that every at an end; the tradition of his friendships verse was a precept; and it may be said of and his enemies bas perished; his works Shakspeare, that from his works may be support no opinion with arguments, not collected a system of civil and economisupply any faction with invectives; they cal prudence. Yet his real power is not can neither indulge vanity, nor gratify shewn in the splendour of particular pasmalignity ; but are read without any other sages, but by the progress of his fable, and reason than the desire of pleasure, and are the tenor of his dialogue; and he that tries therefore praised only as pleasure is ob- to recommend him by select quotations, tained : yet, thus unassisted by interest or will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, passions, they have past through variations who, when he offered his house to sale, carof taste and change of manners, and, as
ried a brick in his pocket as a specimer. they devolved from one generation to an- It will not easily be imagined how much other, have received new honours at every Shakspeare excels in accommodating his transmission.
sentiments to real life, but by comparing But because human judgment, though him with other authors. It was observed it be gradually gaining upon certainty, of the ancient schools of declamation, that never becomes infallible; and approbation, the more diligently they were frequented, though long continued, may yet be only the more was the student disqualified for the approbation of prejudice or fashion; the world, because he fonnd nothing there it is proper to inquire, by what peculiarities which he should ever meet in any other of excellence Shakspeare has gained and place. The same remark may be applied kept the favour of his countrymen. to every stage but that of Shakspeare.
Nothing can please many and please The theatre, when it is under any other long, but just representations of general direction, is peopled by such characters as nature. Particular manners can be known were never seen, coaversing in a language to few, and therefore few only can judge which was never heard, upon topics which how nearly they are copied. The irregu- will never arise in the commerce of manlar combinations of fanciful invention may kind. But the dialogue of this author is delight awhile, by that novelty of which often so evidently determined by the incithe common satiety of life sends us all in dent which produces it, and is pursued quest; but the pleasures of sudden wonder with so much ease and simplicity, that it are soon exhausted, and the mind can only seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, repose on the stability of truth.
but to have been gleaned by diligent seSbakspeare is, above all writers, at least lection out of common conversation and above all modern writers, the poet of pa- common occurrences. ture; the poet that holds up to his readers Upon every other stage the universal a faithful mirror of manners and of life. agent is love, by whose power all good His characters are not modified by the and evil is distributed, and every action customs of particular places, unpractised quickened or retarded. To bring a lover, by the rest of the world; by the peculiu a lady, and a rival into the fable; to enarities of studies or professions, which can tangle them in contradictory obligations, operate but upon small numbers; or by perplex them with oppositions of interest,
and harass them with violence of desires This therefore is the praise of Shake inconsistent with each other; to make them speare, that his drama is the mirror of meet in rapture, and part in agony; to fill life; that be who has mazed his imaginatheir mouths with hyperbolical joy and tion, in following the phantoms which outrageous sorrow; to distress them as other writers raise up before him, may nothing human ever was distressed; here be cured of his delirious ecstacies, deliver them as nothing human ever was by reading human sentiments in human delivered; is the business of a modern dra- language, by scenes from which a hermit matist. For this, probability is violated, may estimate the transactions of the world, life is misrepresented, and language is de- and a confessor predict the progress of the praved. But love is only one of many passions. passions; and as it has no greater influence His adherence to general nature has upon the sum of life, it has little operation exposed him to the censure of critics, in the dramas of a poet, who caught bis who form their judgments upon narrower ideas from the living world, and exhibited principles. Dennis and Rymer think his only what he saw before him. He knew Romans not sufficiently Roman; and Volthat any other passion, as it was regular taire censures his kings as not completely or exorbitant, was a cause of happiness or royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, calamity.
a senator of Rome, should play the buf. Characters, thus ample and general, were foon; and Voltaire perbaps thinks decenoy not easily discriminated and preserved; yet violated when the Danish usurper is ree perhaps no poet ever kept his personages presented as a drunkard. But Shakspeare more distinct from each other. I will not always makes nature predominate over say with Pope, that every speech may be as- accident; and if he preserves the essential signed to the proper speaker, because many character, is not very careful of distinctions speeches there are which have nothing cha- superinduced and adventitious. His story racteristical: but, perhaps, though some requires Romans or Kings, but he thinks may be equally adapted to every person, it only on men. He knew that Rome, like will be difficulí to find any that can be pro- every other city, had men of all disposiperly transferred from the present possessor tions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into to another claimant. The choice is right, the senate-house for that which the senatewhen there is reason for choice.
house would certainly have afforded him. Other dramatists can only gain attention He was inclined to shew an usurper and a by hyperbolical or aggravated characters, murderer not only odious, but despicable ; by fabulous and unexampled excellence or he therefore added drunkenness to his other depravily, as the writers of barbarous ro- qualities, knowing that kings love wine mances invigorated the reader by a giant like other men, and that wine exerts its and a dwarf; and he that should form bis natural power upon kings. These are the expectations of human affairs from the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet over: play, or from the tale, would be equally looks the casual distinction of country and deceived. Shakspeare has no heroes; his condition, as a painter, satisfied with the scenes are occupied only by men, who act figure, neglects the drapery. and speak as the reader thinks that he The censure which he has incurred by should himself have spoken or acted on the mixing comic and tragic scenes, as it exsame occasion : even where the agency is tends to all his works, deserves more consupernatural, the dialogue is level with sideration. Let the fact be first stated, and life. Other writers disguise the most na- then examined. tural passions and most frequent incidents ; Shakspeare's plays are not, in the ris so that he who contemplates them in the gorous and critical sense, either tragedies book will not know them in the world : or comedies, but compositions of a distinct Shakspeare approximates the remote, and kind : exhibiting the real state of sublufamiliarizes the wonderful; the event nary nature, which partakes of good and which he represents will not happen; but, evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless if it were possible, its effects would pro- variety of proportion, and innumerable bably be such as he has assigned ; and it modes of combination ; and expressing the may be said, that he has not only shewn course of the world, in which the loss of human nature as it acts in real exigencies, one is the gain of another; in which, at but as it would be found in trials, to the same time, the reveller is hastening to which it cannot be exposed,
his wine, and the mourner burying his
friend : in which the malignity of one is wise, that melancholy is often not please sometimes defeated by the frolic of another; ing, and that the disturbance of one man and many mischiefs and many benefits are may be the relies of another: that diffedone and hindered without design. rent auditors have different habitudes; and
Out of this chaos of mingled purposes that upon the whole, all pleasure consists and casualties, the ancient poets, according in variety. to the laws which custom had prescribed, The players, who in their edition din selected, some the crimes of men, and some vided our author's works into comedies, their absurdities; some the momentous vi- histories, and tragedies, seem not to have cissitudes of life, and some the lighter oc- distinguished the three kinds by any very currences; some the errors of distress, and exact or definite ideas, some the gaieties of prosperity. Thus rose An action which ended happily to the the two modes of imitation, known by the principal persons, however serious or dis-, names of tragedy and comedy, compositions tressful through its intermediate incidents, intended to promote different ends hy con- in their opinion constituted a comedy. trary means, and considered as so little This idea of a comedy continued long allied, that I do not recollect, among the amongst us; and plays were written, which, Greeks or Romans, a single writer who by changing the catastrophe, were trageattempted both.
dies to-day, and comedies to-morrow. Shakspeare has united the powers of Tragedy was not in those times a poem exciting laughter and sorrow, not only in of more general dignity or elevation than one mind, but in one composition. Almost comedy ; it required only a calamitous all his plays are divided between serious conclusion, with which the common cri. and ludicrous characters; and in the suo- ticism of that age was satisfied, whatcessive evolutions of the design, sometimes ever lighter pleasure it afforded in its proproduce seriousness and sorrow, and some gress. times levity and laughter.
History was a series of actions, with no That this is a practice contrary to the other than chronological succession, inderules of criticism will be readily allowed; pendent of each other, and without any but there is always an appeal open from tendency to introduce or regulate the concriticism to nature. The end of writing clusion. It is not always very nicely disis to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct tinguished from tragedy. There is not by pleasing. That the mingled drama may much nearer approach to unity of action convey all the instruction of tragedy or in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, comedy cannot be denied, because it in- than in the history of Richard the Secludes both in its alterations of exhibition, cond. But a history might be continued and approaches nearer than either to the through many plays; as it had no plan, it appearance of life, by showing how great had no limits. machinations and slender designs may pro- Through all these denominations of the mote or obviate one another, and the high drama, Shakspeare's mode of composition and the low co-operate in the general sys- is the same; an interchange of seriousness tem by unavoidable concatenation. and merriment, by which the mind is soft
It is objected, that by this change of ened at one time, and exhilarated at anscenes the passions are interrupted in their other. But, whatever be his purpose, wheprogression, and that the principal event, ther to gladden or depress, or to conduct being not advanced by a due gradation of the story, without vehemence or emotion, preparatory incidents, wants at least the through tracts of easy and familiar diapower to move, whicle constitutes the per- logue, he never fails to attain his purpose; fection of dramatic poetry. This reason- as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, ing is so specious, that it is received as true or sit silent with quiet expectation, in traneven by those who in daily experience feel quillity without indifference. it to be false. The interchanges of min- When Shakspeare's plan is understood, gled scenes seldom sail to produce the in- most of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltended vicissitudes of passion. Fiction taire vanish away. The play of Hamlet cannot move so much, but that the atten- is opened, without impropriety, by two tion may be easily transferred; and though centinels. Iago bellows at Brabantio's it must be allowed that pleasing melan- wiodow, without injury to the scheme of choly be sometimes interrupted by unwel- the play, though in terms which a modero come levity, yet let it be considered like audience would not easily endure; the
character of Polonius is seasonable and every nation, a style which never becomes useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves obsolete, a certain mode of phraseology so may be heard with applause.
conson:int and congenial to the analogy and Shakspeare engaged in dramatic poetry principles of its respective language, as to with the world open before him; the rules remain settled or unaltered; this style is of the ancients were yet known to few; probably to be sought in the common inthe public judgment was unformed: he iercourse of life, among those who speak had no example of such fame as might only to be understood, without ambition force him upon imitation, nor critics of of elegance. The polite are always catchsuch authority as might restrain his extra- ing modish innovations, and the learned vagance; he therefore indulged his natural depart from established forms of speech, disposition; and his disposition, as Rymer in hopes of finding or making better; those has remarked, led him to comedy. In tra- wlio wish for distinction forsake the vulgar gedy be often writes, with great appear- when the vulgar is right; but there is a ‘ance of toil and study, what is written at conversation above grossness and below Jast with little felicity; but in his comic refinement, where propriety resides, and scenes, he seems to produce, without la- where this poet seems to have gathered his bour, what no labour can improve. In tra- comic dialogue. He is therefore more gedy he is always struggling after some oc- agreeable to the ears of the present age casion to be comic; but in comedy he than any other author equally remote, and seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a among his other excellencies deserves to mode of thinking congenial to his nature. be studied as one of the original masters In his tragic scenes there is always some- of our language. thing wanting; but his comedy often sur- These observations are to be considered passes expectation or desire. His comedy not as unexceptionably constant, but as pleases by the thoughts and the language, containing general and predominant truth. and his tragedy, for the greater part, by in- Shakspeare's familiar dialogue is affirmed cident and action. His tragedy seems 10 to be smooth and clear, yet not wholly be skill, his comedy to be instinct. without ruggedness or difficulty; as The force of his comic scenes has suf
country may be eminently fruitful, though sered little diminution, from the changes it has spots unfit for cultivation; his chamade by a century and a half, in manners racters are praised as natural, though their or in words. As his personages upon sentiments are sometimes forced, and principles arising from genuine passion, their actions improbable; as the earth ' very little modified by particular forms, upon the whole is spherical, though its their pleasures and vexations are communi- surface is varied with protuberances and cable to all times and to all places; they are cavities.
. natural, and therefore durable; the ad- Shakspeare with his excellencies bas ventitious peculiarities of personal habits likewise faults, and faults sufficient to obare only superficial dyes, bright and pleas- scure and overwhelm any other merit. ing for a little while, yet soon fading to I shall shew them in the proportion in a dim tint, without any remains of former which they appear to me, without enviouz lustre; but the discriminations of true malignity or superstitious veneration. No passion are the colours of nature; they question can be more innocently dispervade the whole mass, and can only cussed than a dead poet's pretensions to perish with the body that exhibits them. renown; and little regard is due to that The accidental compositions of hetero- bigotry which sets candour higher than geneous modes are dissolved by the truth. chance which combined them; but the His first defect is that to which may uniform simplicity of primitive qualities be imputed most of the evil in books or neither admits increase, nor suffers de- in men. He sacrifices virtue to convecay. The sand heaped by one flood is nience, and is so much more careful to 'scattered by another, but the rock always please than to instruct, that he seems to continues in its place. The stream of write without any
moral purpose. From time, which is continually washing the his writings, indeed, a system of social dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes duty may be selected, for he that thinks . without injury to the adamant of Shak- reasonably must think morally; but his speare.
precepts and axioms drop casually from If there be, what I believe there is, in him; he makes no just distribution of