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“ ations, jointly proclaim their approbation and esteem of “ him; and will, I hope, be found true in most of the pal“ sages which are lire collected from him; I say, molt, “ because there are some, which I am convinced will not ** ftand this test. The old, the grave, and the severe, “ will disapprove, perhaps, the more soft, (and as they
may call them,) trifling love-tales, so elegantly breath“ed forth, and so emphatically extolled by the young, “ the gay, and the passionate; while these will esteem as " dull and languid, the fober Jaws of morality, and the “ home-felt observations of experience. However, as it
was my business to collect for readers of all taites and “ all complexions, let me defire none to disapprove what " hits not with their own humour; but to turn over the “ page, and they will surely find something acceptable “ and engaging."
But a further account of our author is to be met with in Mr. Pope's excellent preface, and likewise in Mr. Rowe's account of his life and writings, and in Ben Jolinfon's poem; all which are given entire, together with Mr. Warburton's general criticism on his plays; by which the reader will see his opinion of the rank and precedence of each, as reduced to certain classes.
It is not my design to enter into a criticifin
upon this author; though to do it effectually, and not fuperficially, would be the best occasion that any just writer could take, to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespeare must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as moft conspicuous instances, both of beauties and faults of all sorts. But this far ex. ceeds the bounds of a preface; the business of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works, and the disadvantages under which they have been transmitted to
We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: A design which, though it can be no guide to future critics to do him justice in one way, will at least be sufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.
I cannot however but mention some of his principal and characteristic excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly, and universally elevated above all other dramatic writers. Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occasion of doing it.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakespeare. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Agyptian ftrainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakespeare was inspiration indeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument, of Nature; and it is not fo jult 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 so distant a name as copies
Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shews that they received them from one
another, and were but multipliers of the fame image: each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakespeare is as much an individual as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear moft to be twins, will upon comparison be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every fpeaker.
The power over our paffions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it: but the heart swells, and the tears'burst out, juft at the proper places. We are surprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion fo just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.
How aftonishing is it again, that the passions directly opposite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his command! that he is not more a master of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongeft emotions, than of our idlett sensations!
Nor does he only excel in the paffions: in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and public scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts: so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, 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 philosopher, and even the man of the world, may
be born, as well as the poet. Ít must be owned, that with all these great excellen,
' cies, he has almost as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps written worse than any
other. But I think I can in some measure ac, count for these defects, from several causes and accidents; without, which it is hard to imagine, that so large and so enlightened a mind could ever have been susceptible of them. That all these contingencies fhould unite to his disadvantage, seems to me almost as fingularly unlucky, ag that so many various (nay contrary) talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary:
It muft be allowed, that stage-poetry, of all other, is more particularly levelled to please the populace, and its fuccess more immediately depending upon the conmon fuffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakespeare, having at his first appearance no other aim in his wri. tings than to procure a subsistence, directed his endeavours solely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The audience was generally: composed of the meaner sort 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 almost all the old comedies, have their scene among tradesmer and mechanics: and even their historical plays ftrialy.follow the common old stories or vulgar traditions of that kind of people. In tragedy, nothing was so sure to surprise, and cause admiration, as the most strange, unexpected, and confequently most unnatural events and incidents; the moft exaggerated thoughts; the moft verbofe and bombast expression; the most pompous' rhimes, and thundering versification. In comedy, nothing was so fure to please, as mean buffoonery, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jelts of fools and clowns. Yet even in these our author's wit buoys up, and is borne above his subject : his genius in those low parts, is like some prince of a romance in the disguise of a shepherd or peafant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then break out, which manifeft 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 Johníon getting possession of the stage, brought critical learning into vogue: and that this was not done without diffi culty, may appear from those frequent lessons (and indeed almost 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 histories in dialogue; and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true history.
To judge therefore of Shakespeare by Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country, who acted under those of another. He writ to the people; and writ at first without patronage from the better sort, and therefore without aims of pleafing them; without affiftance or advice from the learned, as without the advarrtage of education or acquaintance among them; without that knowledge of the best models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them; in a word, withont any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call immortality: fome or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambition of other writers.
Yet it muft be observed, that when his performances had merited the protection of his prince, and when the encouragement of the court had succeeded to that of the town; the works of his riper years are manifestly raised above those of his former. The dates of his plays sufficiently evidence, that his productions improved, in proportion to the respect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this observation would be found true iu every instance, were but editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was compoled, and whether writ for the town or the court.
Another cause (and no lefs ítrong than the former) may be deduced from our author's being a player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of that body