Imatges de pÓgina
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direction to its actions and gestures: when one of these critics has attempted to finish a work by his own rules, he has rarely been able to convey into it one spark of divine fire; and the hero of his piece, whom he defigned for a Man, remains a cold inanimate Statue; which, moving on the wood and wire of the great masters in the mechanical part of the drama, presents to the fpectators a kind of heroic puppet-shew. As these pieces take their rife in the fchool of Criticifm, they return thither again, and are as good fubjects for the students in that art, as a dead body to the profeffors in anatomy. Most minutely too have they been anatomised in learned academies: but works, animated by Genius, will not abide this kind of diffection.

Mr. Pope fays, that, in order to form a judgment of Shakespear's works, we are not to apply to the rules of Ariftotle, which would be like trying a man by the laws of one country, who lived under thofe of another.Heaven-born Genius acts from fomething fu

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perior to Rules, and antecedent to Rules and has a right of appeal to Nature herself.

Great indulgence is due to the errors of original writers, who, quitting the beaten track which others have travelled, make daring incurfions into unexplored regions of invention, and boldly strike into the pathless Sublime: it is no wonder if they are often bewildered, fometimes benighted: yet furely it is more eligible to partake the pleasure and the hazard of their adventures, than still to follow the cautious fteps of timid Imitators through trite and common roads. Genius is of a bold enterprizing nature, ill adapted to the formal reftraints of critic inftitutions, or indeed to lay down to itself rules of nice discretion. If perfect and faultless compofition is ever to be expected from human faculties, it must be at some happy period, when a noble and graceful fimplicity, the result of well regulated and fober magnanimity, reigns through the general manners. Then the mufes and the arts, neither effeminately deli

cate,

cate, nor audaciously bold, affume their higheft character, and in all their compofitions seem to respect the chastity of the public taste, which would equally difdain quaintness of ornament, or the rude neglect of elegance and decorum. Such periods had Greece, had Rome! Then were produced immortal works of every kind! But, when the living manners degenerated, in vain did an Ariftotle and a Quintilian endeavour to restore by doctrine, what had been infpired by fentiment, and fashioned by manners.

If the feverer mufes, whose sphere is the Library and the Senate, are obliged in complaifance to this degeneracy, to trick themfelves out with meretricious and frivolous ornaments, as is too apparent from the compofitions of the Hiftorians and Orators in declining empires, can we wonder that a dramatic poet, whose chief interest it is to please the people, fhould, more than any other writer, conform himself to their humour; and appear more strongly infected

with

with the faults of the times, whether they be fuch as belong to unpolished, or corrupted taste.

Shakespear wrote at a time, when learning was tinctured with pedantry; wit was unpolished, and mirth ill-bred. The court of Elizabeth spoke a scientific jargon, and a certain obscurity of ftyle was univerfally affected. James brought an addition of pedantry, accompanied by indecent and indelicate manners and language. By contagion, or from complaifance to the taste of the public, Shakespear falls fometimes into the fashionable mode of writing: but this is only by fits; for many parts of all his plays are written with the most noble, elegant, and uncorrupted fimplicity. Such is his merit, that the more just and refined the taste of the nation is become, the more he has encreased in reputation. He was approved by his own age, admired by the next, and is revered, and almost adored by the prefent. His merit is difputed by little

wits, and his errors are the jets of little critics; but there has not been a great poet, or great critic, fince his time, who has not spoken of him with the highest veneration, Mr. Voltaire alone excepted; whofe tranflations often, whofe criticisms still oftener, prove he did not perfectly understand the Words of the Author; and therefore it is certain he could not enter into his Meaning. He comprehended enough to perceive that Shakespear was unobfervant of fome established rules of compofition; the felicity, with which he performs what no rules can teach, escapes him. Will not an intelligent fpectator admire the prodigious ftructures of Stone-Henge, because he does not know by what law of mechanics they were raised? Like them, our author's works will remain for ever the greatest monuments of the amazing force of nature, which we ought to view as we do other prodigies, with an attention to, and admiration of their ftupendous parts, and proud irregularity of Greatness.

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