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our Shakspeare,) were carclessly scattered and thrown about as garret lumber and litter, to the particular knowledge of the late Sir William Bishop, till they were all consumed in the general fire and destruction of that town. I cannot help being a little apt to distrust the authority of this tradition, because his wife survived him feven years; and, as his favourite daughter Susanna furvived her twenty-six years, it is very improbable they should suffer such a treasure to be removed, and translated into a remoter branch of the family, without a scrutiny first made into the value of it. This, I say, inclines me to distrust the authority of the relation: but notwithstanding such an apparent improbability, if we really lost such a treasure, by whatever fatality or caprice of fortune they came into fuch ignorant and neglectful hands, I agree with the relater, the misfortune is whoily I irreparable.
To these particulars, which regard his person and private life, some few more are to be gleaned from Mr. Rowe's Account of his Life and Writings : let us now take a fhort view of him in his publick capacity as a writer: and, from thence, the transition will be easy to the state in which his writings have been handed down to us.
No age, perhaps, can produce an author more various from himself, than Shakspeare has been universally acknowledged to be. The diversity in style, and other parts of compofition, so obvious in him, is as variously to be accounted for. His education, we find, was at best but begun: and he started early into a science from the force of genius, unequally assisted by acquired improvements.
His fire, fpirit, and exuberance of imagination, gave an impetuosity to his pen: his ideas flowed from him in a stream rapid, but not turbulent: copious, but not ever overbearing its fhores. The ease and sweetness of his temper might not a little contribute to his facility in writing; as his employment as a player, gave him an advantage and habit of fancying himself the very character he meant to delineate. He used the helps of his function in forming himself to create and express that sublime, which other actors can only copy, and throw out, in action and graceful attitude. But, Nullum fine veniâ placuit ingenium, says Seneca. The genius, that gives us the greatest pleasure, sometimes stands in need of our indulgence. Whenever this happens with regard to Shakspcare, I would willingly impute it to a vice of his times.
We fee complaisance enough, in our days, paid to a bad taste. So that his clinches, false wit, and descending beneath himself, may have proceeded from a deference paid to the then reigning barbarism.
I I have not thought it out of my province, whenever occasion offered, to take notice of some of our poet's grand touches of nature, some, that do not appear sufficiently such, but in which he seems the most deeply instructed; and to which, no doubt, he has so much owed that happy preservation of his characters, for which he is justly celebrated, Great geniuses, like his, naturally unambitious, are satisfied to conceal their art in these points. It is the foible of your worser poets to make a parade and oftentation of that little science they have ; and to throw it out in the most ambitious colours. And whenever a writer of this class shall attempt to copy these artful concealments of our author,
and shall either think them easy, or practised by a writer for his ease, he will soon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imitation of them.
Speret idem, fudet multúm fruftráque laboret,
“ Ausus idem : Indeed to point out and exclaim upon all the beauties of Shakspeare, as they come fingly in review, would be as insipid, as endless; as tedious, as unnecessary: but the explanation of those beauties that are less obvious to common readers, and whose illustration depends on the rules of just criticism, and an exact knowledge of human life, should defervedly have a share in a general critique upon the author.
But to pass over at once to another subject:
It has been allowed on all hands, how far our author was indebted to nature; it is not so well agreed, how much he owed to languages and acquired learning. The decisions on this subject were cer
3 It has been allowed &c.] On this subject an eminent writer has given his opinion which should not be suppressed. “You will alk me, perhaps, now I am on this subject, how it happened that Shakspeare's language is every where so much his own as to secure his imitations, if they were füch, from discovery; when I pronounce with such assurance of those of our other poets. The answer is given for me in the preface to Mr. Theobald's Shakspeare; though the observation, I think, is too good to come from that critick. It is, that, though his words, agreeably to the state of the English tongue at that time, be generally Latin, his phraseology is perfectly Engliih: an advantage, he owed to his slender acquaintance with the Latin idiom. Whereas the other writers of his age and such others of an older date as were likely to fall in his hands, had not only the most familiar acquaintance with the Latin idiom, but affected on all occasions to make use of it. Hence it comes to pafs, that though he might draw çainly set on foot by țhe hint from Ben Jonson, that he had small Latin, and less Greek: and from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, “It is without
, controverly, he had no knowledge of the writings of the ancient poets, for that in his works we find no traces of any thing which looks like an imitation of the ancients. For the delicacy of his taste (conținues he) and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal if not superior, to some of the best of theirs,) would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much pleasure, that some of their finc images would naturally have infinuated themselves into, and been mixed with, his own writings: and fo his not copying, at least, something from them, may be an argument of his never having read them." I shall leave it to the deterınination of my learned readers, from the numerous passages which I have occasionally quoted in my notes, in which our poet feems closely to have imitated the clafficks, whether Mr. Rowe's affertion be fo absolutely to be depended on.
The result of the controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our outhor's honour: how happily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could think like them, withput owing any thing to imitation.
Though I should be very unwilling to' allow Shakspeare so poor a scholar, as many have laboured
sometimes from the Latin (Ben Jonson you know tells us He had less Greek) and the learned English writers, he takes nothing but the sentiments; the expression comes of itself and is purely English. Bishop Hurd's Letter to Mr, Mafon, on the Murks of Imitation, 8vo. 1758, REED,
to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too pofitively on the other side of the question; that is, with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the passages, that I occasionally quote from the classicks, shall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated those originals; but brought to shew how happily he has expressed himself upon the same topicks. "A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a sameness of thought and sameness of expression too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent fufpicion of the latter copying from his predecessor. I shall not therefore run any great risque of a censure, though I should venture to hint, that the resemblances in thought and expression of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in the one whose learning was not questioned) may sometimes take its rise from strength of memory, and those impressions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a possibility of this, considering that, when he quitted the school, he
gave into his father's profession and way of living, and had, it is likely, but a flender library of classical learning; and considering what a number of transations, romances, and legends, started about his time, and a little before (most of which, it is very evident, he read); I think it may easily be reconciled why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more latter informations, than went back to those fountains, for which he might entertain a fincere veneration, but to which he fould not have so ready a recourse,