« AnteriorContinua »
moral light and therefore I confefs myself of. opinion that he has beft understood them, by thus pointing to their highest merit, and nobleft excellence. And from feveral paffages in the Doctor's Preface, particularly where he fays, that "From his writings, indeed, a system of facial duties may be felected; for he who "thinks reasonably, muft. think morally;" as well as from frequent reflections of my own, refpecting the economical conduct of life and manners, which have always arisen in my mind on the perufal of Shakespeare's works, I have ventured to affume the task of placing his Ethic merits in a more confpicuous point of view, than they have ever hitherto been pre
fented in to the Public.
My difficulty will not be what to find, but what to chufe, amidst fuch a profufion of fweets," and variety of colours; nay, fometimes, how to separate the moral from the matter, in this Author's writings; which are often fo contexted, that, to continue Doctor Johnson's allegory above quoted, they may be compared to an intermixture of the phyfic with the kitchen garden, where both food and medi-, cine may be culled from the fame spot.
Shakespeare is not only my Poet, but my Philofopher also. His anatomy of the human heart is delineated from nature, not from metaphyfics; referring immediately to our intuitive fenfe, and not wandering with the schoolmen, through the pathleis wilds of theory. We not only fee, but feel his diffections juft and fcientific.The late ingenious Lord Lyttelton, fpeaking of Sakespeare, fays, "No author had
"ever fo copious, fo bold, fo creative an imagination, with fo perfect a knowledge of the paffions, the humours, and fentiments of man"kind. He painted all characters, from heroes "and kings, down to inn-keepers and peasants, "with equal truth, and equal force. If human "nature were quite destroyed, and no monu"ment left of it, except his Works, other
Beings might learn what man was, from "those writings." And Ben Johnson had long before faid of him:
"Nature herself was proud of his defigns,
"And joyed to wear the dreffings of his lines."
Shakespeare feems to poffefs that happy and peculiar kind of fuperiority over all other Dramatic Authors, that the ancient poets and hiftorians confeffedly bear above the modern ones, with regard to the genuine characters, manners, and fentiments, of the perfons exhibited in their refpective writings. In the firft, we fee the men of Nature; in the latter, but the children of the Schools.
The world at prefent is held more in trammels, than it formerly was.-From our modes of education, policies, and breeding, our conduct and demeanor are become more fophifticate, our minds lefs candid, and our actions more difguifed. Our modern literary painters reprefent us fuch as we appear; but the genuine unadulterate heart can be moved by no affection, allied by no fympathy, with fuch factitious perfonages, fuch puppets of polity, fuch automata of modern refinement. Hence, love, friendship, patriotifm, are long fince beDialogues of the Dead.
come the obfolete fentiments of chivalry and romance. But in all the reprefentations of Shakespeare, we are fenfible of a connection his whole Dramatis Perfonæ feem to be our acquaintance and countrymen; while in moft other exhibitions, they appear to be strangers and foreigners. Doctor Johnfon, upon comparing the Tragedy of Cato with one of our Author's plays, fays juftly, that "Addison fpeaks the language of Poets, but Shakefpeare that of Men".
Doctor Warburton fays, "Of all the literary "exercitations of fpeculative men, whether defigned for the ufe or entertainment of the world, there are none of fo much importance, or what are more of our immediate than those which let us into a "knowledge of our nature. Others may exercife the reafon, or amuse the imagination; "but these only can improve the heart, and form the mind to wifdom. Now, in this "science our Shakespeare is confeffed to
cupy the foremost place; whether we con"fider the amazing fagacity with which he "investigates every hidden fpring and wheel "of human action; or his happy manner of
communicating this knowledge, in the juft " and lively paintings which he has given us "of all our paffions, appetites, and purfuits. "Thefe afford a leffon, which can never be too often repeated, or too ftrongly incul"cated."
Shaftsbury, though fevere, I think rather too much fo, againft Shakespeare's faults, allows, that " By the juftnefs of his moral, the
aptnefs of his defcriptions, and the plain "and natural turn of feveral of his characters, "he pleafes his audience, and gains their ear, "without a fingle bribe from luxury or vice."
Our Author's poetical beauties have been already felected, though they needed it not, as they are undoubtedly fo ftriking as fcarcely to require the being particularly pointed out to any Reader capable of conceiving or relishing them; but a fingle line, fometimes a word, in many inftances throughout his Works, may convey a hint, or imprefs a fentiment upon the heart, if properly marked, which might poffibly be overlooked, while curiofity is attending to the fable, or the imagination tranfported with the fplendor of diction, or fublimity of images.
There is a Moral fometimes couched in his Fable, which whenever I have been able to difcover, I have pointed out to the Reader; and from those pieces where this excellence, is deficient in the Argument, as particularly in his Hiftorical Plays, where poetical juftice cannot always obtain, human life not being the whole of our existence, I have given his moral and inftruction in detail, by quoting the paffages as they happen to lie detached, or referring to the fcope and tenor of the dialogue.
In these remarks and obfervations I have not restricted myself to morals purely ethic, but have extended my obfervations and reflections to whatever has reference to the general economy of life and manners, refpecting prudence, polity, decency, and decorum; or relative to the
tender affections and fond endearments of human nature; more especially regarding thofe moral duties which are the trueft fource of mortal blifs-domeftic ties, offices, and obligations.
This code of morality has an advantage over any other of the kind, on account of its not being conducted fyftematically. In all books that treat upon thefe fubjects, the precepts are difpofed methodically, under feparate heads or chapters; as Ambition, Bravery, Conftancy, Devotion, and fo on to the end of the alphabet; which mode, though ufeful on account of references, or as a common-place book, cannot be near fo entertaining, and confequently fo well able to answer the utile dulci, as a work of this fort, where the documents rife out of the action immediately before our eyes, and are conftantly varying with the quick fhifting of scenes, perfon, and fubjects; where love fometimes follows war, jealoufy fucceeds friendship, parfimony liberality; and fo proceeding throughout the intire quicquid agunt homines of human life.