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As his per
The force of his coinick scenes has suffered little diminution from the changes made by a century and a half, in manners or in words. sonages act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very little modified by particular forms, their pleasuies and vexations are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are only superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet foon faded to a dim tinet, without any remains of former lustre; but the discriminations of true passion are the colours of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them., The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes are dissolved by the chance which combined them; but the uniform fimplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The fand heaped upon one food is scattered by another, but the rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, which is coitinually washing the dissoluble fabricks of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakspeare.
If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a style which never becomes obsolete, a certain inode of phraseology fo consonant and congenial to the analogy and principles of its respective language, as to remain settled and unaltered; this style is probably to be fought in the common intercourse of life, among those who fpeak only to be understood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always catching modifh. innovations, and the learned depart from eftablished forms of speech, in hope of finding or making VOL. I.
better; those who wish for distinction forsake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but there is a conversation above grossness and below refinement, where propriety resides, and where this poet seems
, to have gathered his comick dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the present age than any other author equally remote, and among his other excellencies deserves to be studied as one of the original masters of our language.
These observations are to be confidered not as unexceptionably constant, but as containing general and predominant truth. Shakspeare's familiar dialogue is affirmed to be smooth and clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or difficulty; as a country may be eminently fruitful, though it has spots unfit for cultivation; his characters are praised as natural, though their sentiments are sometimes forced, and their actions improbable; as the earth upon the whole is spherical, though its furface is varied with protuberances and cavities.
Shakspeare with lis excellencies has likewise faults, and faults sufficient to obfcure and overwhelm any other merit. I shall shew them in the
I proportion in which they appear to me, without envious malignity or superstitious veneration. No question can be more innocently discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry which fets candour higher than truth.
His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to infirult, that he seems to write without any moral purpose. From his writings
indeed a system of social duty niay be selected, for hè that thinks reasonably must think motally; but his precepts and axioms drop casually from hiin; he makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to fhew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong, and at the close dismisses them without further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue independent on time or places
The picts are often so loofely formed, that a very flight consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to comprehend his own design.
He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting, which the train of his story seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects those exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the sake of those which are more easy,
It may be observed, that in many of his plays the latter part is evidently veglected. When he found himself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened the labour to snatch the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he should most vigoroudly exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced or imperfe&tly represented.
He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions of another, at the expence not only of likelihood, but of polli
bility. These faults Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal than judgment, to transfer to his imagined interpolations. We need not wonder to find Hector quoting Aristotle, when we see the loves of Theseus and Hippolyta combined with the Gothick mythology of fairies.
Shakspeare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology, for in the same age Sidney, who wanted not the advantages of learning, has, in his Arcadia, confounded the paftoral with the feudal times, the days of innocence, quiet, and security, with those of turbulence, violence, and adventure.'
In his comick scenes he is feldom very successful, when he engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of farcasm; their jests are commonly grofs, and their pleasantry licentious ; neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are sufficiently distinguished from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners. Whether he represented the real conversation of his time is not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly supposed to have been a time of stateliness, formality and reserve, yet perhaps the relaxations of that severity were not very elegant. There must, however, have been always fome modes of gaiety preferable to others, and a writer ought to choose the best.
? As a further extenuation of Shakspeare's error, it may be arged that he found the Gothick mythology of Fairies already incorporated with Greek and Roman Itory, by our early tranflators. Phaer and Golding, who first gave us Virgil and Ovid in an English dress, introduce Fairies almost as often as Nymphs are mentioned in these claffick authors. Neither are our ancient versifiers less culpable on the score of anachro
In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worse, as his labour is more. The effufions of passion, which exigence forces out, are for the most part striking and energetick; but whenever he folicits his invention, or ftrains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumor, mcanness, tediousness, and obscurity.
In narration he affećts a disproportionatė pomp of diction, and a wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly in many words, which might have been more plainly delivered in few. Narration in dramatick poetry is naturally tedious, as it is unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the action; it should therefore always be rapid and enlivened by frequent interruption, Shakspeare found it an encumbrance, and instead of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and fplendour.
His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature; when he endeavoured like other tragick writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to shew how much his stores of knowledge could fupply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader.
It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles
nisms. Under their hands the balista becomes a cannon, and other modern instruments are perpetually substituted for such as were the produce of the remotest agese SLEEVENS.