Imatges de pÓgina
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T is she who was thy book, O Shakfpeare; it is

she who was thy study day and night ; it is she from whom thou haft drawn those beauties which are at once the glory and delight of thy nation. Thou wert the eldest son, the darling child, of Na, ture; and, like thy mother, enchanting, astonishing, fublime, graceful, thy variety is inexhaustible. Always original, always new, thou art the only prodigy which Nature has produced. Homer was the first of men, but thou art more than man. The reader who thinks this elogium extravagant is a stranger to my fubject, To say that Shakspeare had the imagination of Dantè, and the depth of Machiavel, would be a

* The work from which it is taken is mentioned by Mr. Sherlock, in Letter xx, vol. I,

weak

To say

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A FRAGMENT weak encomium : he had them, and more. that he possessed the terrible graces of Michael Angelo, and the amiable graces of Correggio, would be a weak encomium: he had them, and more. To the brilliancy of Voltaire he added the strength of Demosthenes; and to the fimplicity of La Fontaine, the majesty of Virgil.-But, say you, we have never seen such “ a being." You are in the right; Nature made it, and broke the mould.

The merits of this poet are so extraordinary, that the man, who should speak of them with the most rigid truth, would seem to the highest degree extravagant. But what signifies what I seem, if really I be true? I will therefore fay, because a more certain truth was never faid; Shakspeare poflefed, in the highest degree of perfeation, all the most excellent talents of all the periters that I bave ever known.

“ Horace,” says Bacon, " is the most popular of all “ the poets of antiquity, because he coritains most ob“ servations applicable to the business of human life.” Shakspeare contains more of them than Horace.

One of the chief merits of the Greek tragic poets (principally of Euripides) is, that they abound with morality. Shakspeare has more morality than they. :.

Dramatic poetry is a picture made to be seen at a certain point of view. This point of sight is the theatre. Moliere, who was an actor, had occasion, when he was on the stage, to observe the effects produced during the representation. This advantage is one of the reasons of Moliere's being superior in theatric effect to all the comic actors of his nation. Shakspeare had the same advantage: he was also an actor ; and in that

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ON. SH A K S P E A R E.

15 perspective of poetry (if I may be allowed the expresfion) Shakspeare is equal to Moliere.

Other poets have made men speak by means of words: Shakspeare alone has made filence speak * Othello, a man of a noble heart, but violent to an extreme, deceived by a villain, thinks that his wife, whom he adores, is unfaithful to him, and kills her. In such a situation another poet would have made Othello fay; Good God! what a punishment! what miseries are equal to mine !-Shakspeare petrifies his Othello; he becomes a statue motionless and dumb.

Tacitus and Machiavel together could not have painted nor supported the character of a villain better than that of lägo.

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What is a poet, if he be stripped of his language and harmony? See then what Shakspeare is, deprived of these advantages. (He is speaking of two princes.) They are soft as the Zephyrs which blow on the violet without moving its fragrant head; but, when their royal blood is kindled, they are furious as the storm which seizes by the top the mountain pine, and makes it bend down to the valley

With other poets a simile is a principal beauty : in Shakspeare the most beautiful similes are frequently lost in a croud of superior beauties. I will explain myself. Whoever has observed Nature knows, that, when a man of courage is once provoked, he endeavours to

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* Surely not alone, when we recollect the expressive filence of the ghost of Ajax in the Odyssey, imitated by Virgil in his Dido; both which have been always justly admired. A dissertation on the latter, by the earl of Corke, was printed in the paper called Tbe Old Maid, 1755. English Translator.

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A FRAGMENT strengthen his ideas by metaphors; he makes fimilitude, without knowing it, and these fimilitudes are always short. The excessive fenfibility of Coriolanus, his intrepidity, and his pride, are well known. After his return from Rome to Antium, Tullus, the general of the Volscians, was jealous of him, accused him in the public square before the affembly of the nobles, the people, and the soldiers, with having betrayed their interests by a boyish tenderness for his mother, by a weakness which had astonished the whole army. Coriolanus exclaims,

“ Hear's thou, Mars? Tullus. Name not the God, thou boy * of tears hti."

At this insult the dispute grows warm, and one of the nobles raising his voice, says,

“ Peace both, and hear me speak.” Then Coriolanus:

“ Cut me to pieces, Volscians, men and lads,
“ Stain all your edges in me. Boy? false hound !
you

have writ your annals true, 'tis there,
* That, like an eagle in a dove-coat, I
“ Flutter'd your Volscians in Corioli.
“ Alone I did it-Boy?”

There are some critics who will condemn this expreffion. They have forgotten that Homer, to convey a reproach, has ufed the feminine gender ;

Αχαιιδες 8κ ετ' Αχαιοι. And Virgil, after Homer,

O vere Pbrygiæ neque enim Phryges. Neither of these reproaches is so well founded as that of Tullus to Coriolanus.

† “ Boy of rears" is a strange expression ; weeping boy would have been a trifling one. I would rather have Shakspeare seem strange than groveling, French Translator.

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ON SHA K SPEARE.

17 A more juft, a more noble, a more apposite comparison cannot be conceived. A lion amidst heifers, a wolf among sheep: this has been said a thousand times. An eagle among doves presents a new image. But it is more than an eagle among doves; it is an eagle among doves, in a dove-house, where the disturbance and the terror are far greater. But the beauty of the comparison is lost, as it were, among other superior beauties. This image is here a characteristic stroke, it is a sentiment, and a sentiment which can only suit that particular moment. It is to the valiant, the sufceptible, the proud Coriolanus, that Tullus gives an af. front, and an affront which touches him in the most delicate point, his military glory. His heart inflamed, his imagination fired, Coriolanus replies,

“ Boy? false hound !--you know,
“ That, like an eagle in a dove-cote, I
56 Flutter'd your Volscians in Corioli *.”

Coriolanus

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* Mr. Sherlock quotes this comparison among a thousand others, which he might as well have chosen. The reasons which he gives to convince us of its beauty seem to me extremely just; but I fear that they will not be sufficiently clear to a superficial reader, or a faftidious fine gentleman. Let us endeavour to add some more.

What then is there here fo admirable? Let me be told. How! Tullus reproaches Coriolanus with his weakness, and he diverts himself with speaking of an eagle, and a dove-house. In the height of his rage, he makes a fimilitude, which, besides, is very common, to say no more, and has not even the weak merit of being brilliant. For my part, I maintain that the imagination of man can never go farther, nor nature be better represented, than in this passage of Shakspeare. I maintain that the answer of the warrior is the only one which the poet ought to have put into his mouth. Reader, the only favour that I request of you is, not to condemo me before you have heard me. B

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