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SHAKESPEARE, says a Brother of the Craft, a
is a vast garden of criticism :” and certainly no one can be favoured with more weeders gratis.
But how often, my dear Sir, are weeds and flowers torn up indiscriminately !--- the ravaged spot is re-planted in a moment, and a profusion of critical thorns thrown over it for security.
“ A prudent man therefore would not venture his fingers amongst them."
a Mr. Seward in his Preface to Beaumont and Fletcher, to Vol. 8vo. 1750. *Α
Be however in little pain for your friend, who regards himself sufficiently to be cautious :-yet he afferts with confidence, that no improvement can be expected, whilst the natural soil is mistaken for a hot-bed, and the Natives of the banks of Avon are fcientifically choked with the culture of exoticks.
Thus much for metaphor; it is contrary to the Statute to fly out so early: but who can tell, whether it may not be demonstrated by some critick or other, that a deviation from rule is peculiarly happy in an Essay of Shakespeare !
You have long known my opinion concerning the literary acquisitions of our immortal Dramatist; and remember how I congratulated myself on my coincidence with the last and best of his Editors. I told you however, that his small Latin and less Greek b would still be litigated, and you fee very affuredly that I was not mistaken. The trumpet hath been founded against “ the darling project of reprefenting Shakespeare as one of the illiterate vulgar;"> and indeed to so good purpose, that I would by all means recommend the performer to the army of
õ This passage of Ben. Jonson, so often quoted, is give en us in the admirable preface to the late Edition, with a various reading, “ small Latin and no Greek,” which hath been held up to the Publick for a modern fophiftication : yet whether an error or not, it was adopted above a Century ago by W. Towers in a Panegyrick on Cartwright. His Eulogy, with more than fifty others, on this now forgotten Poet, was prefixed to the Edit. 1651.
the braying Faction, recorded by Cervantes. The testimony of his contemporaries is again disputed ; constant tradition is opposed by flimsy arguments ; and nothing is heard, but confusion and nonsense, One could scarcely imagine this a topick very likely to inflame the passions : it is asserted by Dryden, that 6 those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greatest commendation;" yet an attack upon an article of faith hạth been usually received with more temper and complacence, than the unfortunate opinion, which I am about to defend.
But let us previously lament with every lover of Shakespeare, that the Question was not fully discussed by Mr. Johnson himself: what he sees intuitively, others must arrive at by a series of proofs; and I have not time to teach with precision : be contented therefore with a few cursory observations, as they may happen to arise from the Chaos of Papers, you have fo often laughed at, “ a stock fufficient to set up an Editor in form." I am convinced of the strength of my cause, and superior to any little advantage from sophistical arrangements.
General positions without proofs will probably have no great weight on either side, yet it may not seen fair to suppress them : take them therefore as their authors occur to me, and we will afterward proceed to particulars. The testimony of Ben, stands foremost; and
some have held it sufficient to decide the controversy : in the warmest Panegyrick, that ever was written, he apologizesc for what he supposed the only defect in his beloved friend,
Soul of the age ! Th’applause! delight! the wonder of our stage! whose memory he honoured almost to idolatry :"> and conscious of the worth of ancient literature, like any other man on the same occasion, he rather carries his acquirements above, than below the truth.
Jealousy ! cries Mr. Upton; People will allow others any qualities, but those upon which they highly value themselves.” Yes, where there is a competition, and the competitor formidable: but, I think, this Critick himself hath scarcely set in opposition the learning of Shakespeare and Jonson. When a superiority is universally granted, it by no means appears a man's literary interest to depress the reputation of his Antagonist.
In truth the received opinion of the pride and malignity of Jonson, at leait in the earlier part of life, is absolutely groundless : at this time scarce a play or a poem appeared without Ben's encomium, from the original Shakespeare to the translator of Du Bartas.
But Jonson is by no means our only authority, €" Though thou hadft small Latin, &c."
Drayton the countryman and acquaintance of ShakeSpeare, determines his excellence to the naturall Brained only. Digges, a wit of the town before our Poet left the stage, is very strong to the purpose,
“ Nature only helpt him, for looke thorow
Suckling opposes his easier ftrain to the sweat of learned Jonson. Denham assures us, that all he had was from old Mother-wit. His native wood-notes wild, every one remembers to be celebrated by Milton. Dryden observes prettily enough, that “he wanted not the spectacles of books to read Nature." He came out of her hand, as some one else expresses it, like Pallas out of Jove's head, at full growth and mature.
The ever memorable Hales of Eton, (who, notwithstanding his Epithet, is, I fear, almost forgotten,) had too great a knowledge both of Shakespeare and the
d In his Elegie on Poets and Poesie. p. 206. Fol. 1627.
• From his Poem “upon Master William Shakespeare,” intended to have been prefixed, with the other of his compofition, to the Folio of 1623; and afterward printed in several miscellaneous Collections : particularly the spurious Edition of Shakespeare's Poems, 1640. Soma account of him may be met with in Wood's Athena. 3