Изображения страниц


affords a splendid exhibition of artificial the author imitates Anacreon, who had, and fictitious manners, and delivers just like every other man, the same wish on the and noble sentiments, in diction easy, ele- same occasion. vated and harmonious, but its hopes and There are a few passages which may pass fears communicate no vibration to the for imitations, but so few, that the excepheart; the composition resers us only to tion only confirms the rule; he obtained the writer; we pronounce the name of them from accidental quotations, or by Cato, but we think on Addison.

oral communication, and as he used what The work of a correct and regular he had, would have used more if he had writer is a garden accurately formed and obtained it, diligently planted, varied with shades, and The Comedy of Errors is confessedly scented with flowers; the composition of taken from the Menæchmi of Plautus, Shakspeare is a forest, in which oaks ex- from the only play of Plautus which was tend their branches, and pines tower in then in English. What can be more prothe air, interspersed sometinies with weeds bable, than that he who copied that would and brambles, and sometimes giving shel- have copied more; but that those which ter to myrtles and to roses; filling the eye were not translated were inaccessible? with awful pomp, and gratifying ihe mind Whether be knew the modern languages with endless diversity. Other poets dis- is uncertain. That his plays have some play cabinets of precious rarities, minutely French scenes, proves but little; he might finished, wrought into shape, and polished easily procure them to be written, and prointo brightness. Shakspeare opens a bably, even though he had known the lanmine which contains gold and diamonds in guage in the common degree, he could inexhaustible plenty, though clouded by not have written it without assistance. lo incrustations, debased by impurities, and the story of Romeo and Juliet, he is obmingled with a mass of meaner minerals. served to have followed the English trans

It has been much disputed whether lation, where it deviates from the Italian; Shakspeare owed his excellence to his but this, on the other part, proves pothing own dative force, or whether he had the against his knowledge of the original. He common helps of scholastic education, the was to copy, not what he knew himself, precepts of critical science, and the exam- but what was known to his audience. ples of ancient authors.

It is most likely that he had learned LaThere has always prevailed a tradition, tin sufficiently to make him acquainted that Shakspeare wanted learning, that he with construction, but that he never ad. had no regular education, nor much skill vanced to an easy perusal of the Roman in the dead languages. Jonson, his friend, authors. Concerning his skill in modern affirms, that he had small Latin and less languages, I can find no sufficient ground Greek; wbo, besides that he had no ima- of determination ; but, as no imitations of ginable temptation to falsehood, wrote at French or Italian authors have been disco. a time when the character and acquisitions vered, though the Italian poetry was then of Shakspeare were known to multitudes. high in esteem, I am inclined to believe, His evidence ought therefore to decide the that he read little more than English, and controversy, unless some testimony of equal chose for his fables only such tales as he force could be opposed.

found translated. Some bave imagined, that they have dis- That much knowledge is scattered over covered deep learning in many imitations his works is very justly observed by Pope, of old writers; but the examples which I but it is often such knowledge as books did have known urged were drawn from books not supply. He that will understand Shaktranslated in his time; or were such easy speare must not be content to study him in coincidences of thought, as will happen to the closet, he must look for his meaning all who consider the same subjects; or such sometimes among the sports of the field, remarks on life, or axioms of morality, as and sometimes among the manufactures of float in conversation, and are transmitted the shop. through the world in proverbial sentences. There is, however, proof enough that

I have found it remarked, that in this he was a very diligent reader, nor was our important sentence, Go before, I'll follow, language then sø indigent of books, but we read a translation of I pre, sequar. I that he might very liberally indulge his have been told, that when Caliban, after a curiosity without excursion into foreign pleasing dream, says, I cried to sleep again, literature. Many of the Roman authors




were translated, and some of the Greek; and form to provide; for, except the chathe Reformation had filled the kingdom racters of Chaucer, to whom I think he is with theological learning; most of the pot much indebted, there were no writers topics of human disquisition had found in English, and perhaps not many in other English writers; and poetry had been cul- modern languages, which shewed life in its tivated, not only with diligence, but suc- native colours.

This was a stock of knowledge suf- The contest about the original benevoficient for a mind so capable of appropri- lence or malignity of man, had not yet ating and improving it.

commenced. Speculation had not yet alBut the greater part of his excellence tempted to analyse the mind, to trace the was the product of his own genius. He passions to their sources, to unfold the sefound the English stage in a state of the minal principles of vice and virtue, or utmost rudeness; no essays either in tra. sound ihe depths of the heart for the gedy or comedy had appeared, from which lives of action. All those inquiries, which it could be discovered to what degree of from the time that human nature became delight either one or other might be car- the fashionable study, have been made ried. Neither character nor dialogue were sometimes with nice discernment, but ofyet understood. Shakspeare may be truly ten with idle subtlety, were yet unattempt said to have introduced them both amongst ed. The tales with which the infancy of us, and in some of his happier scenes to learning was satisfied, exhibited only the have carried them both to the utmost superficial appearances of action, related beight.

the events, but omitted the causes, and By what gradations of improvement he were formed for such as delighted in wonproceeded, is not easily known; for the ders rather than in truth. Mankind was chronology of his works is yet unsettled. not then to be studied in the closet; he Rowe is of opinion, that “perhaps we are that would know the world, was under the not to look for his beginning, like those of necessity of gleaning his own remarks, by other writers, in his least perfect works; mingling, as he could, in its business and art had so little, and nature so large a amusements, share in what he did, that for aught I Boyle congratulated himself upon his know," says he, “the performances of his high birth, because it favoured his curioyouth, as they were the most vigorous, sity, by facilitating his access. Shakspeare were the best."

But the power of nature had no such advantage; he came to Lonis only the power of using, to any certain don a needy adventurer, and lived for a purpose, the materials which diligence pro- time by very mean employments. Many cures, or opportunity supplies. Nature gives works of genius and learning have been no man knowledge, and, when images performed in states of life that appear very are collected by study and experience, little favourable to thought, or to inquiry: can only assist in combining or applying so many, that he who considers them, is them. Shakspeare, however favoured by inclined to think that he sees enterprise nature, could impart only what he had and perseverance predominating over all learned ; and, as he must increase his ideas, external agency, and bidding help and like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, hindrance vanish before them. he, like them, grew wiser as he grew older, nius of Shakspeare was not to be decould display life better, as he knew it pressed by the weight of poverty, nor limore, and instruct with more efficacy, as mited by the narrow conversation to which he was himself more amply instructed. men in want are inevitably condemned;

There is a vigilance of observation, and the incumbrances of his fortune were shaken accuracy of distinction, which books and from his mind, as dew-drops from a lion's precepts cannot confer; from this, almost mane, all original and native excellence proceeds. Though he had so many difficulties to Shakspeare must have looked

upon man. encounter, and so little assistance to surkind with perspicacity, in the highest de- mount them, he has been able to obtain an gree curious and attentive. Other writers exact knowledge of many modes of life, borrow their characters from preceding and many casts of native dispositions; to writers, and diversify them only by the ac- vary them with great multiplicity; to cidental appendages of present manners; mark them by nice distinctions; and to the dress is a little varied, but the body is shew them in full view by proper combithe same. Our author had both matter nations. In this part of his performances

The ge

he had done to imitate, but has been him- rously just. The dissyllable termination, self imitated by all succeeding writers; and which the critic rightly appropriates to it may be doubted whether, from all his the drama, is to be found, though, I successors, more maxims of theoretical think, not in Gorboduc, which is confessedly knowledge, or more rules of practical pru- before our author; yet in Hieronymo*, of dence, can be collected, than he alone has which the date is not certain, but which given to his country.

there is reason to believe at least as old as Nor was his attention confined to the his earliest plays. This however is ceractions of meu; he was an exact surveyor tain, that he is the first who taught either of the inanimate world; his descriptions tragedy or comedy to please, there being have always some peculiarities, gathered no theatrical piece of any older writer, of by contemplating things as they really which the name is known, except to antiexist. It may be observed, that the oldest quaries and collectors of books, which are poets of many nations preserve their repu- sought because they are scarce, and would tation, and that the following generations not have been scarce had they been much of wit, after a short celebrity, sink into ob- esteemed. livion. The first, whoever they be, must To him we must ascribe the praise, untake their sentiments and descriptions im- less Spenser may divide it with him, of mediately from knowledge; the resem- having first discovered to how much blance is therefore just; their descriptions smoothness and harmony the English are verified by every eye, and their senti- language could be softened. He has ments acknowledged by every breast. speeches, perhaps sometimes scenes, which Those whom their fame invites to the same have all the delicacy of Rowe, without studies, copy partly them, and partly na- his effeminacy. He endeavours, indeed, ture, till the books of one age gain such commonly to strike by the force and via authority, as to stand in the place of na- gour of his dialogue, but he never exeture to another; and imitation, always cutes his purpose better, than when he deviating a little, becomes at last capri- tries to sooth by softness. cious and casual. Shakspeare, whether Yet it must be at last confessed, that as life or nature be his subject, shews plainly we owe every thing to him, he owes somethat he has seen with his own eyes; he thing to us; that, if much of his praise is gives the image which he receives, not paid by perception and judgment, much weakened or distorted by the intervention is likewise given by custom and veneraof any other mind; the ignorant feel his tion. We fix our eyes upon his graces, representations to be just, and the learned and turn them from his deformities, and see that they are complete.

endure in him what we should in another Perhaps it would not be easy to find loath or despise. If we endured without any author, except Homer, who invented praising, respect for the father of our draso much as Shakspeare, who so much ad- ma might excuse us; but I have seen, in vanced the studies which he cultivated, or the book of some modern critic, a colleceffused so much novelty upon his age or tion of anomalies, which shew that he has country. The form, the characters, the corrupted language by every mode of delanguage, and the shows of the English pravation, but which his admirer has acdrama are his. “ He seems,” says Den- cumulated as a monument of honour. nis, “ to have been the very original of He has scenes of undoubted and

perpeour English tragical harmony, that is, the tual excellence, but perhaps not one play, harmony of blank verse, diversified often which if it were now exhibited as the work by dissyllable and trisyllable terminations. of a contemporary writer, would be heard For the diversity distinguishes it from he- to the conclusion. I am indeed far from roic harmony, and by bringing it nearer thinking that his works were wrought to to common use makes it more proper to his own ideas of perfection; when they gain attention, and more fit for action and were such as would satisfy the audience, dialogue. Such verse we make when we they satisfied the writer. It is seldom that are writing prose; we make such verse in authors, though more studious of fame than common conversation.”

Shakspeare, rise much above the standard I know not whether this praise is rigo- of their own age; to add a little to what

* It appears, from the induction of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew-Fair, to have been acted before the year 1590.



is best, will always be sufficient for present ties of nature to more regularity, and such praise, and those who find themselves ex- a figure, which the common eye may betalted into fame, are willing to credit their ter take in, and is therefore more enterencomiasts, and to spare the labour of con- tained with. And perhaps the reason why tending with themselves.

common critics are inclined to prefer a ju. It does not appear, that Shakspeare dicious and methodical genius to a great thought his works worthy of posterity, and fruitful one is, because they find it that he levied any ideal tribute upon fu- easier for themselves to pursue their obserture times, or had any further prospect, vations through an uniform and bounded than of present popularity and present pro- walk of art, than to comprehend the vast fit. When his plays had been acted, his and various extent of nature. hope was at an end; he solicited no addi- Our author's work is a wild paradise, tion of honour from the reader. He there where if we cannot see all the beauties so fore made no scruple to repeat the same distinctly as in an ordered garden, it is jests in many dialogues, or to entangle dif- only because the number of them is infiferent plots by the same knot of perplex- nitely greater. It is like a copious nursery, ity; which may be at least forgiven him which contains the seeds and first proby those who recollect, tbat of Congreve's ductions of every kind, out of which four comedies, two are concluded by a those who followed him bave but selected marriage in a mask, by a deception, which, some particular plants, each according to perhaps, never happened, and which, whe- his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If ther likely or not, he did not invent. some things are too luxuriant, it is owing

So careless was this great poet of future to the richness of the soil; and if others fame, that, though he retired to ease and are not arrived to perfection or maturity, plenty, while he was yet little declined into it is only because they are over-run and the vule of years, before he could be dis

opprest by those of a stronger nature. gusted with fatigue, or disabled by infir- It is to the strength of this amazing inmity, he made no collection of his works, vention we are to attribute that unequalled nor desired to rescue those that had been fire and rapture, which is so forcible in already published from the depravations Homer, that no man of a true poetical that obscured them, or secure to the rest a spirit is master of himself while he reads better destiny, by giving them to the world him. What he writes, is of the most aniin their genuine state.

Johnson. mated nature imaginable; everything $ 229. Pope's Preface to his HOMER.

moves, every thing lives, and is put in

action. If a council be called, or a battle Homer is universally allowed to have fought, you are not coldly informed of had the greatest Invention of any writer what was said or done as from a third whatever. The praise of Judgment Virgil person, the reader is hurried out of himself has justly contested with him, and others by the force of the poet's imagination, may have their pretensions as to particular and turns in one place to a hearer, in anoexcellencies; but his Invention remains yet ther to a spectator. The course of his verses unrivalled. Nor is it a wonder if he has resembles that of the army

he describes: ever been acknowledged the greatest of poets, who most excelled in that which is Οι δ' άρ' ίσαν, ωσεί τε πυρί χθών πάσα the very foundation of poetry. It is the

νέμοιτο. Invention that in different degrees distin- They pour along like a fire that sweeps guishes all great geniuses; the utmost“ the whole earth before it.” It is how

; stretch of human study, learning, and in- ever remarkable that his fancy, which is dustry, which masters every thing besides, every where vigorous, is not discovered can never attain to this. It furnishes Art immediately at the begioning of his poem with all her materials, and without it, in its fullest splendour; it grows in the proJudgment itself can at best but steal wise- gress both upon himself and others, and ly; for Art is only like a prudent steward becomes on fire, like a chariot-wheel, by that lives on managing the riches of Na- its own rapidity. Exact disposition, just ture. Whatever praises may be given to thought, correct elocution, polished numworks of judgment, there is not even a sin- bers, may have been found in a thousand; gle beauty in them to which the invention but this poetical fire, this “ vivida vis animust not contribute; as in the most regu- mi,” in a very few. Even in works where lar gardens, art can only reduce the beau. all those are imperfect or neglected, this



[ocr errors]

can overpower criticism, and make us ad- battles, and episodes of all kinds, than are mire even while we disapprove. Nay, to be found even in those poems whose where this appears, though attended with schemes are of the utmost latitude and irabsurdities, it brightens all the rubbish regularity. The action is hurried on with about it, till we see nothing but its own the most vehement spirit, and its whole splendour. This fire is discerned in Virgil, duration employs not so much as fifty days. but discerned as through a glass, reflected Virgil, for want of so warm a genius, aided from Homer, more shining than fierce, but himself by taking in a more extensive subevery where equal and constant: in Lucan ject, as well as a greater length of time, and Statius, it bursts out in sudden, sbort, and contracting the design of both Homer's and interrupted flashes: in Milton it glows poems into one, which is yet but a fourth like a furnace kept up to an uncommon part as large as his. The other epic poets ardour by the force of art: in Shakspeare, have used ihe same practice, but generally it strikes before we are aware, like an ac- carried it so far as to superinduce a multicidental fire from heaven : but in Homer, plicity of fables, destroy the unity of acand in him only, it burns every where tion, and lose their readers in an unreasonclearly, and every where irresistibly, able length of time. Nor is it only in the

I shall bere endeavour to shew, how this main design that they have been unable to vast Invention exerts itself in a manner su- add to his invention, but they have followed perior to that of any poet, through all the him in every episode and part of story. main constituent parts of his work, as it is If he has given a regular catalogue of an the great and peculiar characteristic which army, they all draw up their forces in the distinguishes him from all others.

same order.

If he has funeral games for This strong and ruling faculty was like Patroclus, Virgil has the same for Anchises ; a powerful star, which, in the violence of and Statius (rather than omit them) deits course, drew all things within its vortex, stroys the unity of bis action for those of It seemed not enough to have taken in the Archemoras. If Ulysses visits the shades, whole circle of arts and the whole compass the Æneas of Virgil, and Scipio of Silius, of nature, to supply his maxims and reflec- are sent after him. If he be detained from tions; all the inward passions and affec- bis return by the allurements of Calypso, tions of mankind, to furnish his characters; so is Æneas by Dido, and Rinaldo by Arand all the outward forms and images of mida. If Achilles be absent from the army things for his descriptions; but, wanting on the score of a quarrel through half the yet an ampler sphere to expatiate in, he poem, Rinaldo must absent himself just as opened a new and boundless walk for his long, on the like account. If he gives bis imagination, and created a world for bim- hero a suit of celestial armour, Virgil and self in the invention of fable. That which Tasso make the same present to theirs. Aristotle calls the “ Soul of poetry," was Virgil has not only observed this close first breathed into it by Homer. 'Í sball imitation of Homer, but where he had not begin with considering him in this part, as led the way, supplied the want from other it is naturally the first; and I speak of it Greek authors. Thus the story of Sinon both as it means the design of a poem, and and the taking of Troy was copied (says as it is taken for fiction.

Macrobius) almost word for word from Fable may be divided into the Probable, Pisander, as the loves of Dido and Æneas the Allegorical, and the Marvellous. The are taken from those of Medea and Jason probable fable is the recital of such actions in Apollonius, and several others in the as though they did not happen, yet might, same manner. in the common course of nature; or of To proceed to the allegorical fable: if such as, though they did, become fables by we reflect upon those innumerable knowthe additional episodes and mapoer of tell- ledges, those secrets of nature and physical ing them. Of this sort is the main story pbilosophy, which Homer is generally supof an epic poem, the return of Ulysses, the posed to have wrapped up in his allegories, settlement of the Trojans in Italy, or the what a new and ample scene of wonder may like. That of the Iliad is the anger of this consideration afford us! how fertile Achilles, the most short and single subject will that imagioation appear, which was that ever was chosen by any poet. Yet able to clothe all the properties of elements, this

he has supplied with a vaster variety the qualifications of the mind, the virtues of incidents and events, and crowded with and vices, in forms and persons; and to a greater number of councils, speeches, introduce them into actions agreeable to

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »