Imatges de pàgina

But he seems 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 pretensions 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 ascribed to ignorant credulity, and national prepossession. Our Shakespear, whose


faults pass here unquestioned, or are perhaps consecrated through the enthusiasm 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 monstrous Farces, called by him Tragedies ; and barbarism and ignorance are attributed to the nation, by which he is adınired. Yet if wits, poets, critics, could ever be charged with presumption, one might say there was some degree of it in pronouncing, that, in a country where Sophocles and Euripides are as well


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understood as in any part of Europe, the perfections of dramatic poetry should be as lita țle comprehended as among the Chinese.

Learning here is not confined to ecclefiaftics, 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 spectator at the theatre in London, it is probable he has already heard the tragic musę as the spoke at Athens, and as she now speaks at Paris, or in Italy; and he can discern between the natural language, in which she once addressed the human heart, and the artificial dialect which the has acquired from the prejudices of a particular nation, or the jargọn caught from the tone of a court. In or der to please upon the French stage, every person of every age and nation was made to adopt French manners. A 2


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,
L'air ni l'esprit François à l'antique Italie ;
Et sous des noms Romains faissant notre portrait,
Peindre Caton galant, & Brutus damoret.

The Horatii are represented no less obsequious in their address to their king, than the courtiers of the grand monarque. Theseus is made a mere sighing swain. 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 shewn to the spectator. And yet the editor of Corneille's works, in terms so gross as are hardly


pardonable in such 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 some places they bear the marks of the unpolished times, in which he wrote, but one cannot forbear smiling 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 soliloquy, and its extravagant sentiments in the true Gothic livery of rhyme ?

The French poets assume a superiority over Shakespear, on account of their more conftant adherence to Aristotle's unities of Time and Place.

The pedant who bought at a great price


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the lamp of a famous Philosopher, expecting that by its assistance his ļucubrations would become equally celebrated, was little more absurd than those poets, who suppose their dramas must be excellent if they are regulated by Aristotle's clock. To bring within a limited time, and an assigned space, a series of conversations (and French plays are little more) is no difficult matter; for that is the easiest every art perhaps (but in

poetry without dispute) in which the connoisseur can direct the artist.

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I do not suppose the Critic imagined that á 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 absurd one. A painter can define the just proportion of the human body, and The anatomist knows what muscles constitute the strength of the limbs; but grace of motion, and exertion of strength, 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 di


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