Published in the Year 1768.


HAT Praifes are without Reason lavished on the Dead, and that the Honours due only to Excellence are paid to Antiquity, is a Complaint likely to be always continued by thofe, who, being able to add nothing to Truth, hope for Eminence from the Herefies of Paradox; or thofe, who, being forced by Difappointment upon confolatory Expedients, are willing to hope from Pofterity what the prefent Age refuses, and flatter themselves that the Regard which is yet denied by Envy, will be at last bestowed by Time.

Antiquity, like every other Quality that attracts the Notice of Mankind, has undoubtedly Votaries that reverence it, not from Reafon, but from Prejujudice. Some feem to admire indifcriminately whatever has been long preferved, without confidering that Time has fometimes co-operated with Chance; all perhaps are more willing to honour paft than prefent Excellence; and the Mind contemplates Genius through the Shades of Age, as the Eye furveys the Sun through artificial Opacity. The great Contention of Criticifm is to find the Faults of the Moderns, and the Beauties of the Ancients. While an Authour is yet living, we estimate his Powers by his worft Performance, and when he is dead, we rate them by his best.

To Works, however, of which the Excellence is not abfolute and definite, but gradual and compara

tive; to Works not raised upon Principles demonftrative and scientifick, but appealing wholly to Ob fervation and Experience, no other Teft can be applied than Length of Duration, and Continuance of Efteem. What Mankind have long poffeffed, they have often examined and compared; and if they perfift to value the Poffeffion, it is because frequent Comparisons have confirmed Opinion in its Favour. As among the Works of Nature no Man can properly call a River deep, or a Mountain high, without the Knowledge of many Mountains and many Rivers; fo, in the Productions of Genius, nothing can be ftiled excellent till it has been compared with other Works of the fame Kind. Demonftration immediately difplays its Power, and has nothing to hope or fear from the Flux of Years; but Works tentative and experimental muft be eftimated by their Proportion to the general and collective Ability of Man, as it is discovered in a long Succeffion of Endeavours. Of the firft Building that was raised, it might be with Certainty determined that it was round or fquare; but whether it was fpacious or lofty must have been referred to Time. The Pythagorean Scale of Numbers was at once difcovered to be perfect; but the Poems of Homer we yet know not to tranfcend the common Limits of human Intelligence, but by remarking, that Nation after Nation, and Century after Century, has been able to do little more than tranfpofe his Incidents, new name his Characters, and paraphrafe his Senti


The Reverence due to Writings that have long fubfifted, arifes therefore not from any credulous Confidence in the fuperior Wifdom of paft Ages, or gloomy Perfuafion of the Degeneracy of Mankind, but is the Confequence of acknowledged and indubitable Pofitions, that what has been longeft known


has been moft confidered, and what is most confidered is beft understood.

The Poet, of whofe Works I have undertaken the Revision, may now begin to affume the Dignity of an Antient, and claim the Privilege of established Fame and prefcriptive Veneration. He has long outlived his Century, the Term commonly fixed as the Teft of literary Merit. Whatever Advantages he might once derive from perfonal Allufions, local Customs, or temporary Opinions, have for many Years been loft; and every Topick of Merriment, or Motive of Sorrow, which the Modes of artificial Life afforded him, now only obfcure the Scenes which they once illuminated. The Effects of Favour and Competition are at an End; the Tradition of his Friendships and his Enmities has perished; his Works fupport no Opinion with Arguments, nor fupply any Faction with Invectives; they can neither indulge Vanity, nor gratify Malignity, but are read without any other Reason than the Defire of Pleasure, and are therefore praised only as Pleasure is obtained; yet, thus unaffifted by Interest or Paffion, they have paft through Variations of Tafte, and Changes of Manners, and, as they devolved from one Generation to another, have received new Honours at every Transmission.

But because human Judgment, though it be gradually gaining upon Certainty, never becomes infallible; and Approbation, though long continued, may yet be only the Approbation of Prejudice or Fashion: it is proper to inquire by what Peculiarities of Excellence Shakespeare has gained and kept the Favour of his Countrymen.

Nothing can pleafe many, and please long, but juft Representations of general Nature. Particular Manners can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge how nearly they are copied. The irregular Combinations of fanciful Invention may VOL. II. H


delight a-while, by that Novelty of which the com mon Satiety of Life fends us all in queft; but the Pleasures of fudden Wonder are foon exhausted, and the Mind can only repofe on the Stability of Truth.

Shakespeare is above all Writers, at least above all modern Writers, the Poet of Nature; the Poet that holds up to his Readers a faithful Mirrour of Manners and of Life. His Characters are not modified by the Customs of particular Places, unpractifed by the reft of the World; by the Peculiarities of Studies or Profeffions, which can operate but upon fmall Numbers; or by the Accidents of tranfient, Fashions, or temporary Opinions: They are the genuine Progeny of common Humanity, fuch as the World will always fupply, and Obfervation will always find. His Perfons act and speak by the Influence of thofe general Paffions and Principles by which all Minds are agitated, and the whole Syftem of Life is continued in Motion. In the Writings of other Poets a Character is too often an Individual; in thofe of Shakespeare it is commonly a Species.


It is from this wide Extenfion of Defign that fo much Inftruction is derived. It is this which fills the Plays of Shakespeare with practical Axioms and domeftick Wisdom. It was faid of Euripides, that every Verfe was a Precept; and it may be faid of Shakespeare, that from his Works may be collected a Syftem of civil and economical Prudence. Yet his real Power is not fhown in the Splendour of particular Paffages, but by the Progrefs of his Fable, and the Tenour of his Dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by felect Quotations, will fuceeed like the Pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his House to Sale, carried a Brick in his Pocket as a Specimen.

It will not easily be imagined how much Shakefpeare excells in accommodating his Sentiments to real

real Life, but by comparing him with other Authours. It was obferved of the ancient Schools of Declamation, that the more diligently they were frequented, the more was the Student difqualified for the World, because he found nothing there which he fhould ever meet with in any other Place. The fame Remark may be applied to every Stage but that of Shakespeare. The Theatre, when it is under any other Direction, is peopled by fuch Characters as were never feen, converfing in a Language which was never heard, upon Topicks which will never arife in the Commerce of Mankind. But the Dialogue of this Authour is often so evidently determined by the Incident which produces it, and is pursued with fo much Eafe and Simplicity, that it feems scarcely to claim the Merit of Fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent Selection out of com mon Converfation, and common Occurrences.

Upon every other Stage the univerfal Agent is Love, by whofe Power all Good and Evil is diftributed, and every Action quickened or retarded. To bring a Lover, a Lady and a Rival into the Fable; to entangle them in contradictory Obligations, perplex them with Oppofitions of Intereft, and harrafs them with Violence of Defires inconfiftent with each other ; to make them meet in Rapture, and part in Agony; to fill their Mouths with hyperbolical Joy, and outrageous Sorrow; to distress them as nothing human ever was diftreffed; to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered, is the Business of a modern Dramatist. For this Probability is violated, Life is misrepresented, and Language is depraved. But Love is only one of many Paffions, and as it has no great Influence upon the Sum of Life, it has little Operation in the Dramas of a Poet, who caught his Ideas from the living World, and exhibited only what he faw before him. He

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