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for, which he entirely new writ; the Hftory of Henry the 6th, which was first publifhed under the Title of the Contention of York and Lancafter; and that of Henry the 5th, extreamly improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at firft, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of Learning. proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a Praise by fome; and to this his Errors have as injudiciously been afcribed by others. For 'tis certain, were it true, it could concern but a fmall part of them; the moft are fuch as are not properly Defects, but Superfotations: and arife not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging: or rather (to be more juft to our Author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the fubject, a. wrong conduct of the incidents, falfe thoughts, forc'd expreffions, &c. if thefe are not to be afcrib'd to the forefaid accidental reasons, they must be charg'd upon the Poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two Difadvantages which I have mentioned (to be obliged to please the loweft of people, and to keep the worst of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear fufficient to mif-lead and deprefs the greatest Genius upon earth. Nay


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the more modesty with which such an one is endued, the more he is in danger of submitting and conforming to others, against his own better judgment.

But as to his Want of Learning, it may be neceffary to fy fomething more: There is certainly a vaft difference between Learning, and Languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had much Reading at least, if they will not call it Learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has Knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a tafte of natural Philofophy, Mechanicks, ancient and mo dern History, Poetical learning and Mythology: We find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of Antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæfar, not only the Spirit, but Manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn; and ftill a nicer diftinction is shown, between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient Hiftorians is no lefs conspicuous, in many references to particular paffages: and the speeches copy'd from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an inftance of his learning, as thofe copy'd from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Johnson's. The manners of other nations in general, the




drawn from

Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn b with equal propriety. Whatever object of af nature, or branch of fcience, he either fpeaks of or defcribes; it is always with competent, if not extenfive knowledge: his defcriptions are ftill exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably the true nature and inherent qualities of each fubject. When he treats of Ethic or Politic, we may conftantly obferve a wonderful juftnefs of diftinction, as well as extent of comprehenfion. No one is more a master of the Poetical ftory, or has more frequent allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this laft particular) has not fhown more learning this way than Shakefpear. We have Tranflations from Ovid published in his name, among those Poems which pafs for his, and for fome of which. we have undoubted authority, (being pub-lished by himself, and dedicated to his noble Patron the Earl of Southampton:) He appears alfo to have been converfant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek Authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another (altho' I will not pretend to fay in what language he read them.) The modern Italian writers of Novels he was manifeftly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no lefs converfant with



the Ancients of his own country, from the ufe he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Creffida, and in the Two Noble Kinsmen, if that Play be his, as there goes a Tradition it was, (and indeed it has little resemblance of Fletcher, and more of our Author's worfe fort than fome of those which have been received as genuine.)

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I am inclined to think, this opinion pro ceeded originally from the Zeal of the Partizans of our Author and Ben Johnson; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expence of the other. It is ever the na ture of Parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben Johnson had much the most learning, it was faid on the one hand that Shakespear had none at all; and because Shakespear had much the moft wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Johnson wanted both. Because Shakespear borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben Johnson borrow ed every thing. Because Johnson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and be caufe Shakespear wrote with ease and rapidity, they cryed, he never once made a blot. Nay the fpirit of oppofition ran fo high, that whatever those of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into Praises; as injudi


ciously, as their Antagonists before had made them Objections.

Poets are always afraid of Envy; but fure they have as much reafon to be afraid of Admiration: They are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors; thofe who escape one, often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum Laudantes, fays Tacitus: and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praise a Poet without rule or reafon.

Si ultra placitum laudaret, baccare frontem
Cingite, ne Vati noceat

But however this contention might be carried on by the Partizans on either fide, I cannot help thinking these two great Poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in offices of fociety with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Johnson was introduced upon the Stage, and his firft works encouraged, by Shakespear. And after his death, that Author writes To the memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespear, which fhows as if the friendship had continued thro' life. I can not for my own part find any thing Invi dious or Sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his Contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenfer, whom


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