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then it could be loft. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe: and if then you doe not like him, furely you are in fome manifeft danger, not to understand him. And fo we leave you to other of his friends, who, if you need, can bee your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade yourselves, and others. And fuch readers we with him.
IT is not my defign to enter into a criticism upon this author; though to do it effectually, and not fuperficially, would be the best occafion that any juft writer could take, to form the judgment and tafte of our nation. For of all English poets Shakspeare must be confeffed to be the faireft and fulleft fubject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as most conspicuous inftances, both of beauties and faults of all forts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a preface, the business
of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works, and the difadvantages under which they have been tranfmitted to us. We fhall hereby ex
tenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not a defign, which, though it can be no guide to future criticks to do him juftice in one way, will at leaft be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.
I cannot however but mention fome of his principal and characteristick excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is juftly and univerfally elevated above all other dramatick writers. Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occafion of doing it.
If ever any author deferved the name of an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of nature, it proceeded through Ægyptian ftrainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of thofe before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was infpiration indeed: he is not fo much an imitator, as an inftrument, of nature; and it is not fo just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much nature herself, that it is a fort of injury to call them by fo diftant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a conftant resemblance, which shows that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the fame image: each picture, like a mockrainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every fingle character in Shakspeare is as much an individual, as thofe in life itfelf: it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any refpect appear moft to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably
diftinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful prefervation of it; which is fuch throughout his plays, that had all the fpeeches been printed without the very names of the perfons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.'
The power over our passions was never poffeffed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in fo different instances. Yet all along, there is feen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide or guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it but the heart fwells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: we are furprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the paffion fo juft, that we fhould be furprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very
How astonishing is it again, that the paffions directly oppofite to thefe, laughter and fpleen, are no lefs at his command! that he is not more a mafter of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tenderneffes, than of our vaineft foibles; of our ftrongest emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!
Nor does he only excel in the paffions in the coolness of reflection and reafoning he is full as admirable. His fentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every fubject; but by a talent very peculiar, fomething between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argu
Addifon, in the 273d Spectator, has delivered a fimilar opinion respecting Homer: "There is fcarce a speech or action in the Iliad, which the reader may not afcribe to the person who speaks or acts, without feeing his name at the head of it."
ment turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in thofe great and publick scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts: fo that he seems to have known the world by intu ition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, that the philofopher, and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet.
It must be owned, that with all thefe great excellencies, he has almoft as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, fo he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in fome measure account for thefe defects, from feveral caufes and accidents; without which it is 'hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlightened a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them. That all these contingencies fhould unite to his disadvantage feems to me almoft as fingularly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary) talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordi
It must be allowed that ftage-poetry, of all other, is more particularly levelled to please the populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depending upon the common fuffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakspeare, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a fubfiftence, directed his endeavours folely to hit the tafte and humour that then prevailed. The audience was generally compofed of the meaner fort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from those of their own rank: accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almoft all the old comedies have their fcene among
tradesmen and mechanicks: and even their historical plays ftrictly follow the common old ftories or vulgar traditions of that kind of people. In tragedy, nothing was fo fure to furprize and caufe admiration, ás the moft ftrange, unexpected, and confequently moft unnatural, events and incidents; the moft exaggerated thoughts; the most verbose and bombaft expreffion; the most pompous rhymes, and thundering verfification. In comedy, nothing was fo fure to please, as mean buffoonery, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jefts of fools and clowns. Yet even in these our author's wit buoys up, and is borne above his fubject: his genius in thofe low parts is like fome prince of a romance in the difguife of a fhepherd or peasant; a certain greatness and fpirit now and then break out, which manifest his higher extraction and, qualities.
It may be added, that not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better fort piqued themselves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way; till Ben Jonfon getting poffeffion of the ftage, brought critical learning into vogue: and that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from those frequent leffons (and indeed almoft declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouth of his actors, the grex, chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. Till then, our authors had no thoughts of writing on the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only hiftories in dialogue; and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true hiftory.
To judge therefore of Shakspeare by Ariftotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one coun