Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

“ dern. There is scarcely a topic, common with o“ ther writers, on which he has not excelled them all; “ there are many nobly peculiar to himself, where “ he shines unrivalled, and, like the eagle, properest “ emblem of his daring genius, soars beyond the com

mon reach, and gazes undazzled on the sun. His

flights are sometimes so bold, frigid criticism almost “ dares to disapprove them; and those narrow minds “ which are incapable of elevating their ideas to the “ sublimity of their author's, are willing to bring " them down to a level with their own. Hence ma

ny fine passages have been condemned in SHAKESPEAR, as rant and fuftian, intolerable bombast, and

turgid nonsense ; which, if read with the least glow “ of the same imagination that warmed the writer's

bosom, would blaze in the robes of sublimity, and " obtain the commendations of a Longinus. And un“ less some little of the tame fpirit that elevated the

poet, elevate the reader too, he must not presume “ to talk of taste and elegance; he will prove but a

languid reader, an indifferent judge, but a far more • indifferent critic and commentator.” And again (says he) I doubt not every reader will find [in “ SHAKESPEAR's beauties] so large a fund for obser“ vation, so much excellent and refined morality, and, “ I may venture to say, so much good divinity, that “ he will prize the work as it deserves, and pay, with

me, all due adoration to the manes of SHAKESPEAR.”


Longinus (continues Mr. Dodd) tells us, that the “ most infallible test of the true sublime, is the impresa “ fion a performance makes upon our minds, when " read or recited. “ If, says he, a person finds, that “ a performance transports not his soul, nor exalts his

thoughts; that it calls not up into his mind ideas more enlarged than the mere sounds of the words

convey, but on attentive examination its dignity les“ sens and declines, he may conclude, that whatever “ pierces no deeper than the ears, can never be the 6 true sublime. That, on the contrary, is grand and

lofty, which the more we consider, the greater i" deas we conceive of it; whole force we cannot pofb 2



“ fibly withstand; which immediately finks deep, and " and makes such impression on the mind, as cannot « easily be worn out or effaced. In a word, you may " pronounce that sublime, beautiful, and genuine, " which always pleases, and takes equally with all « forts of men.

For when persons of different hu"mours, ages, professions, and inclinations, agree in " the same joint approbation of any performance, then “ this union of affent, this combination of fo many * different judgments, stamps an high and indisput* able value on that performance, which meets with fuch general applaufe.” This fine obfervation of Longinus is most remarkably verified in SHAKE

SPEAR : for all humours, ages, and inclinations, “ jointly proclaim their approbation and esteem of “ hinı; and will, I hope, be found true in most of " the passages which are here collected from him : I fay, moft, because there are fome, which I am con« vinced will not stand this test. The old,


grave, « and the severe, will disapprove, perhaps, the more “ foft, (and as they may call them), trifling love-tales, « so elegantly breathed forth, and fo emphatically ex«*. tolled by the young, the gay, and the passionate ; “ while there will esteem as dull and languid, the so“ ber saws of morality, and the home-felt observatiof experience. However, as it was my

business to collect for readers of all tastes and all complexi

ons, let me desire none to disapprove what hits not “ with their own humour; but to turn over the page, " and they will surely find fomething acceptable and “ engaging."

Box 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 johnfon's poem; all which are given entire, together with Mr. Warburton's general criticifm on his plays; by which the reader will see his opinion of the rank and precedence of each, as reduced to certain classes.





[ocr errors]

T is not my design to enter into a criticisin upon this author ; though to do it effećtually, and not

fuperficially, would be the best occafion that any just writer could také, to formi the judgment and taite of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespear must be confessed to be the fairelt and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as most conspicuous instances, both of beauties and faults of all furts. But this far exceeds 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 us. 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 crities 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 juftly 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 Shakespear. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Ægyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakespear was inspiration indeed : he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument, of Nature; and it is not fo just to say, that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.

His characters are so much Nature herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant à name as copies of her. 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 :

[ocr errors]


image: each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakespear 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 most 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 speaker.

The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labour nor 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, just at the

proa per places. We are surprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the paflion 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 paflions 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 strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations !

Nor does he only excel in the passions: 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.

It must be owned, that with all these great excellencies, 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 account 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 should unite to his disadvantage, seems to me almost as singularly unlucky, as that so many various (nay contrary) talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.

It must be allowed, that stage-poetry, of all other, is more particularly.levelled to please the populace, and its success more immediately depending upon the conmon sufferage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakefpear, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings 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 tradesmen and mechanics : and even their historical plays ftri&tly follow the common old stories or vulgar traditions of that kind of people. In tragedy, nothing was so sure to surprise, and cause admin ration, as the most strange, unexpected, and confequently most unnatural events and incidents; the most exaggerated thoughts; the most verbofe and bombast expression; the most pompous rhymes, and thundering versification. In comedy, nothing was so sure to please, as mean buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jes 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 disuise of a shepherd or peasant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then break out, which manifeft his higher extraction and qualities.


[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »