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by the strength of his own genius, has rendered his piece much more excellent than that of Mr. Lee.
It must be allowed that Mr. Voltaire, in his tranflation of Shakespear, has nobly emulated those interpreters of Homer, who, Mr. Pope tells us, misunderstand the text, and then triumph in the awkwardness of their own tranflations. To fhew he decides with the fame judgment and candour with which he tranflates, it will be neceffary to present the sentence he has pronounced upon the genius of our great Poet. Speaking of Corneille he fays, he was unequal like Shakespear, and like him full of genius; mais le genie de Corneille etait à celui de Shakespear, ce q'un feigneur eft à l'egard d'un bomme du peuple né avec le meme efprit que lui. I have given his own words, because they do not carry any determinate fense. I conjecture they may be thus tranflated; The genius of Corneille is to that of Shakefpear, what a man of great rank is to of the lower fort born with the fame
talents of mind. When we speak of genius, we always mean that which is original and inherent, not any thing produced or derived from what is external. But Mr. Voltaire, by faying the genius of Corneille has that fuperiority over our countryman, which a perfon of rank has over a man in a low station, born with the fame talents, perplexes the thing very much. It feems to carry the comparison from the Genius, to the Manner, of the writers.
If that manner is preferable, which gives the most becoming fentiments and the noblest character to the principal person of his drama, there is no doubt but our Poet has perfectly established his fuperiority over his competitor; for it cannot be denied, that Cinna is un homme du peuple, (a low fellow,) compared to Brutus.
Mr. Voltaire, in all the comparisons he has made between these authors, has not taken into the account that Shakespear has written the best comedy in our language::
that the fame man fhould have had fuch variety of talents, as to have produced Macbeth and the Merry Wives of Windfor; is aftonishing. Where is there an instance, among the Ancients or Moderns, of one Poet's uniting the fublime and pathetic, the boldeft inventions of fiction, and the most just and accurate delineation of characters; and also poffeffing the vis comica in its highest perfection? The best French Poets have been those
Who from the ancients like the ancients writ;
and who have afpired to the fecondary praise of good imitators: but all our critics allow Shakespear to be an original. Mr. Pope confeffes him to be more so than even Homer himfelf. It has been demonftrated with great ingenuity and candour, that he was deftitute of learning; the age was rude and void of tafte; but what had a still more pernicious influence on his works, was, that the court and the univer fities, the statesman and scholars, affected a fcientific jargon. An obfcurity of expreffion was thought the veil of wisdom and know
ledge and that mist common to the Morn and Eve of literature, which in fact proves it is not at its high meridian, was affectedly thrown over the writings, and even the converfation of the learned, who often preferred images distorted or magnified, to a fimple exposition of their thoughts. Shakefpear is never more worthy of the true critic's cenfure, than in those inftances in which he complies with this false pomp of It was pardonable in a man of his rank, not to be more polite and delicate than his contemporaries; but we cannot fo easily excuse such superiority of talents for stooping to any affectation.
I may perhaps be charged with partiality to my author, for not having indulged that malignant spirit of criticism, which delights in expofing every blemish. I have paffed over beauties and defects in the fame filence, where they have not effentially affected the great purposes of the drama. They are of so palpable a nature, that the most inattentive reader must perceive them: the fplendor of
his fine paffages is equally ftriking. It appears to me that the dramatic requires a different fpecies of criticism from any other poetry. A drama is to be confidered in the light of a living body; regularity of features, grace of limbs, fmoothness and delicacy of complexion, cannot render it perfect, if it is not properly organized within, as well as beautiful in its external ftructure. Many a character in a play, like a handsome perfon paralytic, is inert, feeble, and totally unfit for its duties and offices, fo that its neceffary exertions must be supplied by fome fubftitute. The action is carried on much after the manner it is done in epic poetry, by the help of description and narration, and a series of detached parts.
It is unfair to judge fingly of every line, in a work where the merit depends on the refult of various operations, and repeated efforts to obtain a particular end. Works without genius are ufually regularly dull, and coldly correct, resembling those living characters that want, while.