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His fire, fpirit, and exuberance of imagination, gave an impetuosity to his pen: his ideas flowed from him in a stream rapid, but not turbulent: copious, but not ever overbearing its shores. The ease and sweetness of his temper might not a little contribute to his facility in writing; as his employment as a player, gave him an advantage and habit of fancying himself the very character he meant to delineate. He used the helps of his function in forming himself to create and express that sublime, which other actors can only copy, ‘and throw out, in action and graceful attitude. But, Nullum fine veniâ placuit ingenium, says Seneca. The genius, that gives us the greatest pleasure, sometimes stands in need of our indulgence. Whenever this happens with regard to Shakspeare, I would willingly impute it to a vice of his times.
We see complaisance enough, in our days, paid to a bad taste. So that his clinches, false wit, and descending beneath himself, may have proceeded from a deference paid to the then reigning barbarism.
I have not thought it out of my province, whenever occasion offered, to take notice of some of our poet's grand touches of nature, fome, that do not appear sufficiently such, but in which he seems the most deeply instructed; and to which, no doubt, he has so much owed that happy preservation of his characters, for which he is justly celebrated, Great geniuses, like his, naturally unambitious, are satisfied to conceal their art in these points. It is the foible of your worser poets to make a parade and oftentation of that little science they have; and to throw it out in the most ambitious colours. And whenever a writer of this class shall attempt to copy these artful concealments of our author,
and shall either think them easy, or practised by a writer for his ease, he will soon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imitation of them.
Speret idem, sudet multum fruftráque laboret,
6 Aufus idem : Indeed to point out and exclaim upon all the beauties of Shakspeare, as they come singly in review, would be as infipid, as endless; as tedious, as unnecessary: but the explanation of those beauties that are less obvious to common readers, and whose illusiration depends on the rules of just criticism, and an exact knowledge of human life, , should deservedly have a share in a general critique upon the author.
But to pass over at once to another subject :
It has been allowed on all hands, how far our author was indebted to nature; it is not fo well agreed, how much he owed to languages and acquired learning.' The decisions on this subject were cer
3 It has been allowed &c.] On this subject an eminent writer has given his opinion which should not be fuppressed. “ You will ask me, perhaps, now I am on this subject, how it happened that Shakspeare's language is every where so much his own as to secure his imitations, if they were such, from discovery; when I pronounce with such assurance of those of our other poets. The answer is given for me in the preface to Mr. Theobald's Shakspeare; though the observation, I think, is too good to come from that critick. It is, that, though his words, agreeably to the state of the English tongue at that time, be generally Latin, his phraseology is perfectly English: an advantage, he owed to his flender acquaintance with the Latin idiom. Whereas the other writers of his age and such others of an older date as were likely to fall in his hands, had not only the most familiar acquaintance with the Latin idiom, but affected on all occasions to make use of it. Hence it comes to pass, that though he might draw
tainly fet on foot by the hint from Ben Jonson, that he had fmall Latin, and lefs Greek: and from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, “ It is without controverly, he had no knowledge of the writings of the ancient poets, for that in his works we find no traces of any thing which looks like an imitation of the ancients. For the delicacy of his taste (continues he) and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal if not superior, to fome of the best of theirs,) would certainly have led him to read and study them with fo much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themselves into, and been mixed with, his own writings: and so his not copying, at least, something from them, may be an argument of his never having read them." I shall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous passages which I have occasionally quoted in mny notes, in which our poet feems closely to have imitated the clafficks, whether Mr. Rowe's affertion be fo abfolutely to be depended on.
The result of the controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our outhor's honour: how happily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could think like them, withput owing any thing to imitation.
Though I should be very unwilling to allow Shakspeare so poor a scholar, as many have laboured
sometimes from the Latin (Ben Jonson you know tells us He ħad less Greek) and the learned English writers, he takes no: thing but the sentiments; the expression comes of itself and is purely English. Bishop Hurd's Letter to Mr. Mafon, on the Marks of Imitation, 8vo. 1758. REED.
to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other fide of the question; that is, with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And there fore the passages, that I occasionally quote from the classicks, shall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated those originals; but brought to shew how happily he has expressed himself upon the same topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a sameness of thought and sameness of expression too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent fufpicion of the latter copying from his predecessor. I shall not therefore run any great risque of a cens sure, though I should venture to hint, that the resemblances in thought and expression of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in the one whose learning was not questioned) may sometimes take its rise from strength of memory, and those impressions which he owed to the school.
And if we may allow a possibility of this, considering that, when he quitted the school, he gave into his father's profession and way of living, and had, it is likely, but a flender library of classical learning; and considering what a number of transations, romances, and legends, started about his time, and a little before (most of which, it is very evident, he read); I think it may easily be reconciled why he rather fchemed his plots and characters from these more latter informations, than went back to those fountains, for which he might entertain a fincere veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a recourse,
În touching on another part of his learning, as it related to the knowledge of history and books, I shall advance something that, at first sight, will very much wear the appearance of a paradox. For I shall find it no hard matter to prove, that, from the groffest blunders in history, we are not to infer his real ignorance of it; nor from a greater use of Latin words, than ever any other English author used, must we infer his intimate acquaintance with that language.
A reader of taste may easily observe, that though Shakspeare, almost in every scene of his historical plays, commits the grossest offences against chronology, history, and ancient politicks; yet this was not through ignorance, as is generally supposed, but through the too powerful blaze of his imagination, which, when once raised, made all acquired knowledge vanish and disappear before it. But this licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to ignorance, fince as often we may find him, when occasion serves, reasoning up to the truth of history; and throwing out sentiments as justly adapted to the circumstances of his subject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, it is certain, there is a surprizing effusion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English author I have feen; but we must be cautious, to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in this age, began extremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin : and this, to be sure, was occafioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, both