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Mr. Johnson, whose genius and learning render him superior to a servile awe of pedantic institutions, in his ingenious preface to his edition of Shakespear, has well obviated all that can be objected to our author's neglect of the unities of time and place.
Shakespear's felicity has been rendered compleat in this
His genius produced works that time could not destroy: but some of the lighter characters were become illegible; these have been restored by critics, whose learning and penetration have traced back the vestiges of superannuated opinions and customs. They are now no longer in danger of being effaced, and the testimony of these learned commentators to his merit, will guard our author's great monument of human wit from the presumptuous invasions of our rash critics, and the squibs of our witlings; so that the bays will for ever flourish unwithered and inviolate roundhis tomb; and his
very spirit seems to come forth and to animate his characters, as often as Mr. Garrick,
who acts with the same inspiration with which He wrote, assumes them on the ftage.
After our poet has received such important services from the united efforts of talents and learning in his behalf, some apology seems necessary for this work. But let it be remembered, that the most superb and lasting monument that ever was consecrated to Beauty, was that to which every lover carried a tribute. I dare hope to do him honour only by augmenting the heap of volumes given by his admirers to his memory. I will own, I was incited to this undertaking by great admiration of his genius, and still greater indignation at the treatment he has received from a French wit, who seems to think he has made prodigious concessions to our prejudices in favour of the works of our countryman, in allowing them the credit of a few splendid paffages, while he speaks of every entire piece as a monstrous and ill - constructed
farce.-Ridiculously has our poet, and ridiculoully has our taste been represented, by a writer of universal fame ; and through the medium of an almost universal language. Superficial criticisms hit the level of Ihallow minds, to whom a Bon Mot will appear Reason, and an epigrammatic Turn, Argument; so that
of our countrymen have hastily adopted this lively writer's opinion of the extravagance, and total want of design in Shakespear's dramas. With the more learned, deep, and sober critics, however, he lies under one considerable disadvantage. For copying nature, as he found it, in the busy walks of human life, he drew from an original, with which the Literati are seldom well acquainted. They perceive his portraits are not of the Grecian or of the Roman school; so that after finding them unlike to the dignified characters preserved in learned museums, they do not deign to enquire, whether they resemble the living persons, they were intended to represent. Among
Among these connoisseurs, whose acquaintance with man
kind is formed in the library, not in the street, the camp, or village, whatever is unpolished and uncouth paffes for fantastic and absurd, though, in fact, it is a faithful representation of a really existing character.
: But it must be acknowledged, that, when this objection is obviated, there will yet remain another cause of cenfure ; for though our author, from want of delicacy or from a defire to please the popular taste, thought he had done well, when he faithfully copied nature, or represented customs, it will
appear to politer times, the error of an untutored mind, which the example of judicious artists, and the admonitions of delicate connoiffeurs had not taught, that only graceful nature and decent customs give proper subjects for imitation. It may be said in mitigation of his fault, that the vulgar here had not, as at Athens, been used to behold,
Homer's works alone were fufficient to teach the Greek poets how to write, and their audience how to judge. The songs sung by our bards at feasts and merry-makings were of a very coarse kind: as the people were totally illiterate, and the better fort alone could read even their mother tongue, their taste was formed on these compositions. As yet our stage had exhibited only those palpable allegories, by which rude unlettered moralists instruct and please the gross and ignorant multitude. Nothing can more plainly evince the opinion, the poets of those times had of the ignorance of the people, than the condescension shewn to it by the learned Earl of Dorset, in his tragedy of Gorboduc; in which the moral of each act is represented on the stage in dumb shew. It is therefore strange that Mr. de Voltaire,