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pardonable in such a master of fine raillery, frequently attacks our Shakespear for the want of delicacy and politeness in his pieces. It must be owned, that in some places they bear the marks of the unpolished times, in which he wrote, but one cannot forbear smiling to hear a critic, who professes himself an admirer of the tragedies of Corneille, object to the barbarism of Shakespear's. There never was a more barbarous mode of writing than that of the French romances in the last age, nor which from its tediousness, languor, and want of truth of character, is less fit to be copied on the stage: and what are most parts of Corneille’s boasted tragedies, but the romantic dialogue, its tedious soliloquy, and its extravagant sentiments in the true Gothic livery of rhyme ?
The French poets assume a superiority over Shakespear, on account of their more conftant adherence to Aristotle's unities of Time and Place.
The pedant who bought at a great price
the lamp of a famous Philosopher, expecting that by its assistance his lucubrations would become equally celebrated, was little more absurd than those poets, who suppose their dramas must be excellent if they are regulated by Aristotle's clock. To bring within a limited time, and an assigned fpace, a series of conversations (and French plays are little more) is no difficult matter; for that is the easiest part of every art perhaps (but in poetry without dispute) in which the connoiffeur can direct the artist,
I do not suppose the Critic imagined that à mere obedience to his laws of drama would make a good tragedy, tho' it might prevent a poet more bold than judicious, from writing a very absurd one. A painter can define the just proportion of the human body, and the anatomift knows what muscles constitute the strength of the limbs; but grace of motion, and exertion of strength, depend on the mind, which animates the form. The critic but fashions the Body of a work; the poet must add the Soul, which gives force and di
direction to its actions and gestures: when one of these critics has attempted to finish a work by his own rules, he has rarely been able to convey into it one fpark of divine fire; and the hero of his piece, whom he designed for a Man, remains a cold inanimate Statue; which, moving on the wood and wire of the great masters in the mechanical part of the drama, presents to the spectators a kind of heroic puppet-Chew. As these pieces take their rise in the school of Criticism, they return thither again, and are as good subjects for the students in that art, as a dead body to the professors in anatomy. Most minutely too have they been anatomised in learned academies: but works, animated by Genius, will not abide this kind of dissection.
Mr. Pope says, that, in order to form a judgment of Shakespear’s works, we are not to apply to the rules of Aristotle, which would be like trying a man by the laws of one country, who lived under those of another. Heaven-born Genius acts from something su
perior to Rules, and antecedent to Rules ; and has a right of appeal to Nature herself.
Great indulgence is due to the errors of original writers, who, quitting the beaten track which others have travelled, make daring incursions into unexplored regions of invention, and boldly strike into the pathless Sublime: it is no wonder if they are often bewildered, sometimes benighted : yet surely it is more eligible to partake the pleasure and the hazard of their adventures, than still to follow the cautious steps of timid Imitators through trite and common roads, Genius is of a bold enterprizing nature, ill adapted to the formal restraints of critic institutions, or indeed to lay down to itself rules of nice discretion. If perfect and faultless composition is ever to be expected from human faculties, it must be at some happy period, when a noble and graceful fimplicity, the result of well regulated and sober magnanimity, reigns through the general manners. Then the muses and the arts, neither effeminately deli
cate, nor audaciously bold, assume their highest character, and in all their compositions seem to respect the chastity of the public taste, which would equally disdain quaintness of ornament, or the rude neglect of elegance and decorum. Such periods had Greece, had Rome! Then were produced immortal works of every kind! But, when the living manners degenerated, in vain did an Ariftotle and a Quintilian endeavour to restore by doctrine, what had been inspired by fentiment, and fashioned by manners.
If the severer muses, whose sphere is the Library and the Senate, are obliged in complaisance to this degeneracy, to trick themfelves out with meretricious and frivolous ornaments, as is too apparent from the compositions of the Historians and Orators in declining empires, can we wonder that a dramatic poet, whose chief interest it is to please the people, should, more than any other writer, conform himself to their humour ;