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But he feems now in danger of incurring the fate of the heroes of the fabulous ages, on whom the vanity of their country, and the superstition of the times, bestowed an apotheofis founded on pretenfions to achievements beyond human capacity, by which they loft in a more sceptical and critical age, the glory due to them for what they had really done; and all the veneration they had obtained, was afcribed to ignorant credulity, and national prepoffefsion. Our Shakespear, whose very faults pafs here unquestioned, or are perhaps confecrated through the enthusiafm of his admirers, and the veneration paid to long-established fame, is by a great wit, a great critic, and a great poet of a neighbouring nation, treated as a writer of monftrous Farces, called by him Tragedies; and barbarifm and ignorance are attributed to the nation, by which he is admired. Yet if wits, poets, critics, could ever be charged with prefumption, one might fay there was fome degree of it in pronouncing, that, in a country where Sophocles and Euripides are as well
understood as in any part of Europe, the perfections of dramatic poetry fhould be as lit tle comprehended as among the Chinese.
Learning here is not confined to ecclefiaf tics, or a few lettered fages and academics: every English gentleman has an education, which gives him an early acquaintance with the writings of the ancients. His knowledge of polite literature does not begin with that period, which Mr. de Voltaire calls Le Siecle de Louis quatorze. Before he is admitted as a fpectator at the theatre in London, it is probable he has already heard the tragic muse as the spoke at Athens, and as fhe now speaks at Paris, or in Italy; and he can difcern þe tween the natural language, in which the once addressed the human heart, and the artificial dialect which he has acquired from the prejudices of a particular nation, or the jargon caught from the tone of a court. In or der to please upon the French stage, every perfon of every age and nation was made to adopt French manners.
The Heroes of antiquity were not more disguised in the romances of Calprenede and Scuderi, than in the tragedies of Corneille. In spite of the admonitions given by that admirable critic Boileau to their dramatic writers in the following lines:
Gardez donc de donner, ainfi que dans Clélie,
: Et fous des noms Romains faiffant notre portrait,
Peindre Caton galant, & Brutus damoret.
The Horatii are represented no less obfequious in their address to their king, than the courtiers of the grand monarque. Thefeus is made a mere fighing fwain. Many of the greatest men of antiquity, and even the roughest Heroes amongst the Goths and Vandals, are exhibited in this effeminate form. The poet dignified the piece, perhaps with the name of an Hercules, but, alas! it was always Hercules spinning, that was fhewn to the fpectator. And yet the editor of Corneille's works, in terms fo grofs as are hardly pardonable
pardonable in fuch a master of fine raillery, frequently attacks our Shakespear for the want of delicacy and politeness in his pieces. It must be owned, that in fome places they bear the marks of the unpolished times, in which he wrote, but one cannot forbear fmiling to hear a critic, who professes himself an admirer of the tragedies of Corneille, object to the barbarism of Shakespear's. There never was a more barbarous mode of writing than that of the French romances in the last age, nor which from its tediousness, languor, and want of truth of character, is less fit to be copied on the stage: and what are most parts of Corneille's boasted tragedies, but the romantic dialogue, its tedious foliloquy, and its extravagant fentiments in the true Gothic livery of rhyme ?
The French poets affume a fuperiority over Shakespear, on account of their more conftant adherence to Ariftotle's unities of Time and Place.
The pedant who bought at a great price A 3
the lamp of a famous Philofopher, expecting that by its affistance his lucubrations would become equally celebrated, was little more abfurd than those poets, who suppose their dramas must be excellent if they are regulated by Ariftotle's clock. To bring within a limited time, and an affigned space, a serieș of conversations (and French plays are little more) is no difficult matter; for that is the easiest part of every art perhaps (but in poetry without difpute) in which the connoiffeur can direct the artist.
I do not fuppofe the Critic imagined that a mere obedience to his laws of drama would make a good tragedy, tho' it might prevent a poet more bold than judicious, from writing a very abfurd one. A painter can define the juft proportion of the human body, and the anatomist knows what muscles conftitute the strength of the limbs; but of mograce tion, and exertion of ftrength, depend on the mind, which animates the form. The critic but fashions the Body of a work; the poet must add the Soul, which gives force and direction