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MR. Pope, in the preface to his edition
of Shakespear, fets out with declaring, that, of all English poets, this author offers the fullest and fairest subject for criticism. Animated by an opinion of fuch authority, some of the most learned and ingenious of our critics have made correct editions of his works, and enriched them with notes. The fuperiority of talents and learning, which I acknowledge in these editors, leaves me no room to entertain the vain presumption of attempting to correct any paffages of this celebrated Author; but the whole, as corrected and elucidated by Them, lies open to a thorough enquiry into the genius of our great English claffic. Unprejudiced and candid Judgment will be the surest basis of his fame.
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 fuperftition of the times, bestowed an apotheofis founded on pretenfions 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 afcribed to ignorant credulity, and national prepoffeffion. Our Shakespear, whofe very faults pafs here unqueftioned, or are perhaps confecrated through the enthufiafm 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 neighbour ́ing nation, treated as a writer of monftrous Farces, called by him Tragedies; and barbarifin and ignorance are attributed to the nation, by which he is admired. Yet if wits, poets, critics, could ever be charged with prefumption, one might fay there was fome -degree of it in pronouncing, that, in a country where Sophocles and Euripides are as well understood
understood as in any part of Europe, the perfections of dramatic poetry fhould be as little comprehended as among the Chinese.
Learning here is not confined to ecclefiaf tics, 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 periód, which Mr. de Voltaire calls Le Siecle de Louis quatorze. Before he is admitted as a fpectator at the theatre in London, it is probable he has already heard the tragic muse as she spoke at Athens, and as fhe now speaks at Paris, or in Italy; and he can difcern between the natural language, in which the once addreffed the human heart, and the artificial dialect which she has acquired from the prejudices of a particular nation, or the jargon caught from the tone of a court. In order to please upon the French stage, every person of every age and nation was made to adopt French manners.
The Heroes of antiquity were not more disguised in the romances of Calprenede and Scuderi, than in the tragedies of Corneille. In fpite 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'efprit François à l'antique Italie ;
The Horatii are represented no less obsequious in their address to their king, than the courtiers of the grand monarque. Thefeus is made a mere fighing fwain. 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 fpinning, that was fhewn to the fpectator. And yet the editor of Corneille's works, in terms fo grofs as are hardly pardonable