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till very lately, that two large chests full of this great man's loose papers and manuscripts, in the hands of an ignorant baker of Warwick, (who married one of the descendants from our Shakspeare) were carelessly scattered and thrown about as garret lumber and litter, to the particular knowledge of the late Sir William Bishop, till they were all consumed in the general fire and destruction of that town. I cannot help being a little apt to distrust the authority of this tradition, because his wife survived him seven years; and, as his favourite daughter Susanna survived her twenty-six years, it is very improbable they should suffer such a treasure to be removed, and translated into a remoter branch of the family, without a scrutiny first made into the value of it. This, I say, inclines me to distrust the authority of the relation: but notwithstanding such an apparent improbability, if we really lost such a treasure, by whatever fatality or caprice of fortune they came into such ignorant and neglected hands, I agree with the relater, the misfortune is wholly irreparable.
To these particulars, which regard his person and private life, some few more are to be gleaned from Mr. Rowe's Account of his Life and Writings: let us now take a short view of him in his publick capacity as a writer: and, from thence, the transition will be easy to the state in which his writings have been handed down to us.
No age, perhaps, can produce an author more various from himself, than Shakspeare has been universally acknowledged to be. The diversity in style, and other parts of composition, so obvious in him, is as variously to be accounted for. His education, we find, was at best but begun: and he started early into a science from the force of genius, unequally assisted by acquired improvements. His fire, spirit, and exuberance of imagination, gave an impetuosity to his pen: his ideas flowed from him in a stream rapid, but not turbulent; copious, but not ever overbearing its shores. The ease and sweetness of his temper might not a little contribute to his facility in writing; as his employment as a player, gave him an advantage and habit of fancying himself the very character he meant to delineate. He used the helps of his function in forming himself to create and express that 81blime, which other actors can only copy, and throw out, in action and graceful attitude. But, Nullum sine veniâ placuit ingenium, says Seneca. The genius, that gives us the greatest pleasure, sometimes stands in need of our indulgence. Whenever this happens with regard to Shakspeare, I would willingly impute it to a vice of his times. We see complaisance enough, in our days, paid to a bad taste. So that his clinches, false wit, and descending beneath himself, may have proceeded from a deference paid to the then reigning
barbarism. I have not thought it out of my province, whenever occasion offered, to take notice of some of our poet's grand touches of náture, some, that do not appear sufficiently such, but in which he seems the most deeply instructed; and to which, no doubi,
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he has so much owed that happy preservation of his characters, for which he is justly celebraied. Great geniuses, like his, naturally unambitious, are satisfied to conceal their arts in these points. It is the foible of your worser poets to make a parade and ostentation of that little science they have; and to throw it out in the most ambitious colours. And whenever a writer of this class shail attempt to copy these artful concealments of our author, and shall either think them easy, or practised by a writer for his ease, he will soon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imitation of them.
“Speret idem, sudet multùm, frustráque laboret,
“ Ausus idem: Indeed to point out and exclaim upon all the beauties of Shakspeare, as they come singly in review, would be as insipid, as endless; as teclious, as unnecessary: but the explanation of those beauties that are less obvious to common readers, and whose illustration depends on the rules of just criticism, and an exact knowledge of human life, should deservedly have a share in å general critique upon the author. But to pass over at once to another subject:
It has been allowed on all hands, how far our author was in. debted to nature; it is not so well agreed, how much he owed to languages and acquired learning. * The decisions on this subject were certainly set on foot by the hint from Ben Jonson, that he had small Latin, and less Greek: and from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, " It is without controversy, he had no knowledge of the writings of the ancient poets, for that in his works we find no traces of
It has been allowed &c.] On this subject an eminent writer has given his opinion which should not be suppressed. “ You will ask me, perhaps, now I am on this subject, how it happens ed that Shakspeare's language is every where so much his own as to secure his imitations, if they were such, from discovery; when I pronounce with such assurance of those of our other poets. The answer is given for me in the preface to Mr. Theobald's Shakspeare; though the observation, I think, is too good to come from that critick. It is, that, though his words, agreea bly to the state of the English tongue at that time, be generally Latin, his phraseology is perfectly English: an advantage he owed to his slender acquaintance with the Latin idiom. Whereas the other writers of his age and such others of an older date as were likely to fall into his hands, had not only the most fami. liar acquaintance with the Latin idiom, but affected on all occasions to make use of it. Hence it comes to pass, that though he might draw sometimes from the Latin (Ben Jonson you know tells us, He had less Greek) and the learned English writers, he takes nothing but the sentiments; the expression comes of itself and is purely English.” Bishop Hard's Letter to Mr. Jlason, on the Marks of Imitation, 8vo. 1758. Reed.
any thing which looks like an imitation of the ancients. For the delicacy of his taste (continues he) and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal, if not superior, to some of the best of theirs,) would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mixed with, his own writings: and so his not copying, at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read them." I shall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous passages which I have occasionally quoted in my notes, in which our poet seems closely to have imitated the classicks, whether Mr. Rowe's assertion be so absolutely to be depended on. The result of the controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our author's honour: how happily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could think like them, without owing any thing to imitation.
Though I should be very unwilling to allow Shakspeare so poor a scholar, as many have laboured to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other side of the question; that is, with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the passages, that I occasionally quote from the classicks, shall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated those originals; but brought to shew how happily he has expressed himself upon the same topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a sameness of thought and sameness of expression too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent suspicion of the latter copying from his predecessor. I shall not therefore run any great risque of a censure, though I should venture to hint, that the resemblances in thought and expression of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in the one whose learning was not questioned) may sometimes take its rise from strength of memory, and those impressions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a possibility of this, considering that, when he quitted the school, he gave into his father's profession and way of living, and had, it is likely, but a slender library of classical learning; and considering what a number of translations, romances, and legends, started about this time, and a little before (most of which, it is very evident, he read); I think it may easily be reconciled why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more latter informations, than went back to those fountains, for which he might entertain a sincere veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a recourse.
In touching on another part of his learning, as it related to the knowledge of history and books, I shall advance something that, at first sight, will very much wear the appearance of a pa. radox. For I shall find it no hard matter to prove, that, from the grossest blunders in history, we are not to infer his real igno. rance of it; nor from a greater use of Latin words, than ever any other English author used, must we infer his intimate age quaintance with that language.
A reader of taste may easily observe, that though Shakspeare, almost in every scene of his historical plays, commits the grossest offences against chronology, history, and ancient politicks; yet this was not through ignorance, as is generally supposed, but through the too powerful blaze of his imagination, which, when once raised, made all acquired knowledge vanish and disappear before it. But this licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to ignorance, since as often we may find him, when occasion serves, reasoning up to the truth of history; and throwing out sentiments as justly adapted to the circumstances of his subject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, it is certain, there is a surprizing effusion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English author I have seen; but we must be cautious to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in this age, began extremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin: and this, to be sure, was occasioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, both great Latinists. For it is not to be wondered at, if both the court and schools, equal flatterers of power, should adapt themselves to the royal taste.
But now I am touching on the question (which has been so frequently agitated, yet so entirely undecided,) of his learning and acquaintance with the languages; an additional word or two naturally falls in here upon the genius of our author, as compared with that of Jonson his contemporary. They are confessedly the greatest writers our nation could ever boast of in the drama. The first, we say, owed all to his prodigious natural genius: and the other a great deal to his art and learning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable appearance in their writings. Besides those wonderful master-pieces of art and genius, which each has given us; they are the authors of other works, very unworthy of them: but with this difference, that in Jonson's bad pieces we do not discover one single trace of the author of The Fox and Alchemist; but, in the wild extra. vagant notes of Shakspeare, you every now and then encounter strains that recognize the divine composer. This difference may be thus accounted for. Jonson, as we said before, owing all his excellence to his art, by which he sometimes strained him. self to an uncommon pitch, when at other times he unbent and played with his subject, having nothing then to support him, it is no wonder that he wrote so far beneath himself. But Shak. speare, indebted more largely to nature than the other to acquired talents, in his most negligent hours could never so totally divest himself of his genius, but that it would frequently break out with astonishing force and splendor.
As I have never proposed to dilate farther on the character of my author, than was necessary to explain the nature and use of this edition, I shall proceed to consider him as a genius in possession of an everlasting name. And how great that merit must be, which could gain it against all the disadvantages of the horrid condition in which he has hitherto appeared! Had Homer, or any other admired author, first started into publick so maimed and deformed, we cannot determine whether they had not sunk for ever under the ignominy of such an ill appear. ance. The mangled condition of Shakspeare has been acknowledged by Mr. Rowe, who published him indeed, but neither corrected his text, nor collated the old copies. This gentleman had abilities, and sufficient knowledge of his author, had but his industry been equal to his talents. The same mangled con. dition has been acknowledged too by Mr. Pope, who published him likewise, pretended to have collated the old copies, and yet seldom has corrected the text but to its injury. I congratulate with the manes of our poet that this gentleman has been sparing in indulging his private sense, as he phrases it; for, he who tampers with an author, whom he does not understand, must do it at the expence of his subject. I have made it evident throughout my remarks, that he has frequently inflicted a wound where he intended a cure. He has acted with regard to our author, as an editor, whom Lipsius mentions, did with regard to MARTIAL; Inventus est nescio quis Popa, qui non vitia ejus, sed ipsum excîslit. He hus attacked him like an unnandy slaughterman ; and not lopped off the errors, but the poet.
When this is found to be the fact, how absurd must appear the praises of such an editor! It seens a moot point, whether Mr. Pope has done most injury to Shakspeare, as his editor and encomiast; or Mr. Rymer done him service, as his rival and censurer. They have both shewn themselves in an equal impuis. sance of suspecting or amending the corrupted passages: and though it be neither prudence to censure or commend what one does not understand; yet if a man must do one when he plays the critick, the latter is the more ridiculous office; and by that Shakspeare suffers most. For the natural veneration which we have for him makes us apt to swallow whatever is given us as his, and set off with encomiums; and hence we quit all suspi. cions of depravity: on the contrary, the censure of so divine an author sets us upon his defence; and this produces an exact scrutiny and examination, which ends in finding out and discriminating the true from the spurious. • It is not with any secret pleasure that I so frequently animad. vert on Mr. Pope as a critick, but there are provocations, which a man can never quite forget. His libels have been thrown out with so much inveteracy, that, not to dispute whether they should come from a christian, they leave it a question whether they could come from a man. I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like case:
“ Sive homo, seu similis turpissima bestia nobis
“ Vulnera dente dedit. The indignation, perhaps, for being represented a blockhead, may be as strong in us, as it is in the ladies for a reflection on their beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to him for some fq.