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dry, and unmannerly jefts of fools and clowns. Yet even in thefe, our Author's Wit buoys up, and is born above his fubject: his Genius in thofe low parts is like fome Prince of a Romance in the difguife of a Shepherd or Peafant; a certain Greatness and Spirit now and then break out, which manifest his higher extraction and qualities.
It may be added, that not only the common Audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better fort piqu'd themselves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way; 'till Ben Johnson getting poffef fion of the Stage, brought critical learning into vogue: And that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from thofe frequent leffons (and indeed almoft Declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his firft plays, and put into the mouth of his Actors, the Grex, Chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. 'Till then, our Authors had no thoughts of writ ing on the model of the Ancients: their Tragedies were only Hiftories in Dialogue; and their Comedies followed the thread of any Novel as they found it, no lefs implicitly than if it had been true History.
To judge therefore of Shakespear by Ariftotle's rules, is like trying a man by the Laws of one Country, who acted under thofe of another. He writ to the People; and writ at firft without patronage from the better fort, and there. fore without aims of pleafing them: without assistance or advice from the Learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them: without that knowledge of the beft models, the Ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them; in a word, without any views of Reputation, and of what Poets are pleas'd to call Immortality: Some or all of which have encourag'd the vanity, or animated the ambition, of other
Yet it must be obferv'd, that when his performances had merited the protection of his Prince, and when the encou ragement of the Court had fucceeded to that of the Town; the works of his riper years are manifeftly raised above shofe of his former, The Dates of his plays fufficiently evidence
evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the refpect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this obfervation would be found true in every inftance, were but Editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was compofed, and whether writ for the Town or the Court.
Another Caufe (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from our Author's being a Player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of that body of men' whereof he was a member. They have ever had a Standard to themselves, upon other principles than thofe of Arifrotle. As they live by the Majority, they know no rule but that of pleafing the prefent humour, and complying with the wit in fafhion; a confideration which brings all their judgment to a fhort point Players are just such judges of what is right, as Taylors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that moft of our Author's faults are lefs to be afcribed to his wrong judgment as a Poet, than to his right judgment as a Player.
By thefe men it was thought a praise to Shakespear, that he fcarce ever blotted a line. This they induftriously propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben Johnson in his Discoveries, and from the preface of Heminges and Condell to the first folio Edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the Comedy of the Merry Wives of Windfor, which he entirely new writ; the Hiftory of Henry the 6th, which was first published under the title of the Contention of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the 5th, extreamly improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almoft as much again as at firft, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of Learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a Praise by fome; and to this his Errors have as injudiciously been afcribed by others. For 'tis certain, were it true, it could concern but a fmall part of them; the most are fuch as are not properly Defects, but Superfætations; and arife not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinkVOL. I.
ing or judging: or rather (to be more just to our Author) from a compliance to thofe wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the fubject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, falfe thoughts, forc'd expreffions, &c. if these are not to be afcrib'd to the forefaid accidental reasons, they must be charg'd upon the Poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two Disadvantages which I have mention'd (to be obliged to please the loweft of people, and to keep the worft of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear fufficient to mif-lead and deprefs the greatest Genius upon earth. Nay the more modefty with which such a one is endued, the more he is in danger of fubmitting and conforming to others, against his own better judgment.
But as to his Want of Learning, it may be neceffary to fay fomething more: There is certainly a vast difference between Learning and Languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had much Reading at least, if they will not call it Learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has Knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a taste of natural Philofophy, Mechanicks, ancient and modern Hiftory, Poetical learning and Mythology: We find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of Antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæfar, not only the Spirit, but Manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn; and ftill a nicer diftinction is fhown, between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient Hiftorians is no lefs confpicuous, in many references to particular paffages: and the fpeeches copy'd from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an inftance of his learning, as those copy'd from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jobnfox's. The manners of other nations in general, the Ægyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of science, he either fpeaks of or describes; it is always with competent, if not extenfive knowledge: his defcriptions are till exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent
qualities of each subject. When he treats of Ethic or Politic, we may conftantly observe a wonderful justness of diftinction, as well as extent of comprehenfion. No one is more a master of the Poetical story, or has more frequent allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this laft particular) has not fhewn more learning this way than Shakespear. We have Tranflations from Ovid publifhed in his name, among thofe Poems which pafs for his, and for fome of which we have undoubted authority, (being published by himself, and dedicated to his noble Patron the Earl of Southampton :) He appears alfo to have been converfant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays : he foldows the Greek Authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another: (altho' I will not pretend to say in what language he read them.) The modern Italian writers of No. vels he was manifeftly acquainted with; and we may conIclude him to be no lefs converfant with the Ancients of his own country, from the ufe he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Creffida, and, in the Two Nable Kinfmen, if that Play be his, as there goes a Tradition it was, (and indeed it has little refemblance of Fletcher, and more of our Author than fome of those which have been received (as genuine.)
I am inclined to think, this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the Partizans of our Author and Ben
Jobnfon; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expence of the other. It is ever the nature of Parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben Johnson had much the most learning, it was faid on the one hand that Shakespear had none at all; and because Shakespear had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Johnson wanted both. Because Shakespear borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben John fon borrowed every thing. Because Jobnfon did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakespear wrote with ease and rapidity, they cry'd, he never once made a blot, Nay the fpirit of oppofition ran fo high, that whatever thofe of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the
rebound, and turned into Praises; as injudicioufly, as their antagonists before had made them Objections.
Poets are always afraid of Envy; but fure they have as much reafon to be afraid of Admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors; thofe who efcape one, often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum Laudantes, fays Tacitus: and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praise a Poet without rule or reason.
·Si ultra placitum laudârit, baccare frontem Cingito, ne Vati noceat
But however this contention might be carried on by the Partizans on either fide, I cannot help thinking these two great Poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in offices of fociety with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Jobnfon was introduced upon the Stage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakespear. And after his death, that Author writes To the memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespear, which hews as if the friendship had continued thro' life. I cannot for my own part find any thing Invidious or Sparing in those verfes, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his Contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenfer, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be rank'd with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Eschylus, nay all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him; and (which is very particular) exprefly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting Art, not enduring that all his excellencies fhould be attributed to Nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Difcoveries feems to proceed from a perfonal kindness he tells us that he lov'd the man, as well as honoured his memory;. celebrates the honefty, openness, and frank nefs of his temper; and only diftinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the Author, and the filly and derogatory applaufes of the Players. Ben Johnson might indeed be fparing in his Commendations (tho' certainly he is not fo in this inftance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more service in praising him justly,