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bers that death may take it from her. The delights of tragedy proceed from our conscioušness of fiction ; if we thought murders and treasons real, they would please no more.
“Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide, and useless to enquire. We may reasonably suppose, that when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics, and that he at last deliberately persisted in a practice which he might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential to the fable but unity of action, and as the unities of time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, and by cir. cumscribing the extent of the drama, lessen its variety; I cannot think it much to be lamented, that they were unknown by him or not observed ; nor, if such another poet could arise, should I very vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules, merely positive, become the comprehensive genius of Shakespeare, and such censures are suitable to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire. : .“ Voltaire expresses his wonder that our author's extravagancies are endured by a nation, which has seen the tragedy of Cato. Let him be answered that Addison speaks the language of poets, and Shakespeare of men. We find in Cato innumerablc beauties, which enamour us of its author; but we see nothing that acquaints us with human sentiments, or human actions; we place it with the fairest and the noblest progeny which judge ment propagates by conjunction with learning; but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious offspring of observation impregnated by genius. Cato affords a splendid exhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and delivers just and noble sentiments in diction easy, ele. vated, and harmonious; but its hopes and fears commu. nicate no vibrations to the heart; the composition refers us only to the writer; we pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on Addison.
“ The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with shades and scented with flowers; the composition of Shakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and roses; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought in shape, and polished in brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in inexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals.
“ It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps of scholastic education, the precepts of critical science, and the examples of ancient authors. There has always prevailed a tradition that Shakespeare wanted learning, that he had no regular education, nor much skill in the dead languages. Jonson, his friend, affirms, that he “ had small Latin and
Yess Greek ;" who, besides, that he had no imaginable temptation to falshood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of Shakespeare were known to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore to decide the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force could be opposed.
“Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep learning in many imitations of old writers ; but the examples which I have known urged, were drawn from books translated in his time, or were such easy coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who consider the same subjects; or such remarks on life, or axioms of morality, as float in conversation, and are transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences.
“ Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain. That his plays have some French scenes proves but little; he might easily procure them to be written; and probably, even though he had known the language in the common degree, he could not have written it without assistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet, he is observed to have followed the English translation, where it deviates from the Italian; but this, on the other part, proves nothing against his knowledge of the original. He was to copy, not what he knew himself, but what was known to his audience.
“ It is most likely that he had learned Latin sufficiently to make him acquainted with construction; but that he never advanced to an easy pervsal of the Roman authors. Concerning his skill in modern languages, I can find nu sufficient ground of determination; but as
no intimations of French or Italian authors have been discovered, though the Italian poetry was then in high estimation, I am inclined to believe, that he read little more than English, and chose for his fables only such tales as he found translated.
“ That much knowledge is scattered over his works is very justly observed by Pope; but it is often such knowledge as books did not supply. He that will understand Shakespeare, must not be content to study him in the closet; he must look for his meaning sometimes among the sports of the field, and sometimes among the manufactures of the shop: there is, however, proof enough that he was a very diligent reader; nor was our language then so indigent of books, but that he might very liberably indulge his curiosity without excursion into foreign literature. Many of the Roman authors were translated, and some of the Greek. The Reformation had filled the kingdom with theological learning; most of the topics of human disquisition had found English writers; and poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence, but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient for a mind so capable of appropriating and improving it.
“ But the greater part of his excellence was the product of his own genius. He found the English stage in a state of the utmost rudeness; no éssays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it could be discovered to what degree of delight either one or the other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue were yet understood. Shakespeare may be truly said
to have introduced them among us, and in some of his happier scenes to have carried them both to the utmost height.
« There is a vigilance of observation, and accuracy of distinction, which books and precepts cannot confer; from this almost all original and native excellence proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked upon mankind with perspicacity, in the highest degree curious and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of present manners; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the same. Our author had both matter and form to provide ; for, except the characters of Chaucer, to whom I think he is not much indebted, there were no writers in English, and perhaps not many in other modern languages, which shewed life in its native colours.
“ Boyle congratulated himself upon his high birth, because it favoured his curiosity, by facilitating his access. Shakespeare had no such advantage; he came to London a needy adventurer, and lived for a time by very mean employments. Many works of genius and of learning have been performed in states of life that appear very little favourable to thought or inquiry, so many, that he who considers them, is inclined to think that he sees enterprise and perseverance predominating over all external agency, and bidding help and lindrance vanish before them. The genius of Shakespeare was not to be depressed by the weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow conversation, to which men in want are inevitably condemned; the incumbrances of