Imatges de pÓgina
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He might have added the following obfer: vation, from Longinus, to his remarks, who fays, that "In reading Homer, Plato, or any "other of the great geniuses of antiquity; "whenever we happen to meet with paffages

which appear to be unintelligible or abfurd, "we ought fairly to conclude, that were they "alive to explain themselves in thofe places," "we fhould to our confufion be convinced, "that the ignorance or error lay in our own.

conceptions alone." Horace, too, may be re-. ferred to upon this occafion, who indulgently fays, that The blaze of fine writing gilds o'er its blots. Such was the candor, fuch the modefty, and fuch the deference, fhewn by Antient Com mentators to the works of literature or genius.: The brightnefs of the fun concealed its spots from them; but fecond-hand critics, to fpeak in the words of a modern Author, peer through. a fmoked glass to obferve them.

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The learned and ingenious Doctor Johnfon has given us a juft and beautiful fimile, on this fubject: "The works of a correct and re

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gular writer, fays he, is a garden accurately formed, and diligently planted; varied with fhades, and fcented by flowers. The compofition of Shakespeare is a foreft, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tower "in the air, interfperfed fometimes with weeds "and brambles, and fometimes affording shelter "to myrtles and roles; filling the eye with "awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with "endless diverfity.”

This laft-mentioned Editor is the only one who has confidered Shakespeare's writings in a

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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 fyftem of "facial duties may be felected; for he who "thinks reafonably, muft, think morally;" as well as from frequent reflections of my own, refpecting the economical conduct of life and manners, which have always arifen 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 prefented in to the Public.

My difficulty will not be what to find, but what to chufe, amidst such a profufion of fweets, and variety of colours; nay, fometimes, how to feparate 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 Poct, but my Philofopher alfo. His anatomy of the human heart is delineated from nature, not from metaphyfics; referring immediately to our intuitive fenfe, and not wandering with the fchoolmen, through the pathle's wilds of theory. We not only fee, but feel his diffections juft and fcientific. The late ingenious Lord Lyttelton, fpeaking of Sakefpeare, 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 "thofe writings" And Ben Johnson had long before faid of him:

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"Nature herfelf 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, patriotiim, are long fince beDialogues of the Dead.

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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 ftrangers and foreigners. Doctor Johnfon, upon comparing the Tragedy of Cato with one of our Author's plays, fays juftly, that "Addison Speaks the language of Poets, but Shakefpeare that of Men."

Doctor Warburton fays, "Of all the literary "exercitations of fpeculative men, whether lec defigned for the ufe or entertainment of the

world, there are none of fo much importance, or what are more of our immediate concern, than those which let us into a "knowledge of our nature. Others may exer

cife 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 occupy 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."

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Shaftsbury, though fevere, I think rather too much fo, againft Shakespeare's faults, allows, that "By the juftnefs of his moral, the

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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.

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There is a Moral fometimes couched in his Fable, which whenever I have been able to discover, I have pointed out to the Reader; and from thofe pieces where this excellence, is deficient in the Argument, as particularly in his Hiftorical Plays, where poetical justice 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 reftricted myfelf 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

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