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and Spleen, are no lefs at his command! that he is not more a mafter of the Great, than of the Ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tenderneffes, than of our vaineft foibles; of our strongeft emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!
Nor does he only excell in the Paffions: In the coolness of Reflection and Reafoning he is full as admirable. His Sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every fubject; but by a talent very peculiar, fomething between Penetration and Felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education, or experience in thofe great and publick fcenes of life, which are ufually the fubject of his thoughts: So that he feems to have known the world by Intuition, to have look'd thro' humane nature at one glance, and to be the only Author that gives ground for a very new opinion, That the Philofopher and even the Man of the world, may be Born, as well as the Poet.
It must be own'd that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defects and that as he has certainly written better, fo he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in fome measure account for these defects, from fe
veral causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlighten'd a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them. That all thefe Contingencies fhould unite to his disadvantage, feems to me almoft as fingularly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary) Talents fhould meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.
It must be allowed that Stage-Poetry of all other, is more particularly levell'd to please the Populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depending upon the Common Suffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakespear having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a fubfiftance, directed his endeavours folely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The Audience was generally compofed of the meaner fort of people; and therefore the Images of Life were to be drawn from thofe of their own rank: accordingly we find, that not our Author's only, but almost all the old Comedies, have their Scene among Tradesmen and Mechanicks And even their Hiftorical Plays ftrictly follow the common Old Stories or Vulgar Traditions of that kind of people. In Tragedy, nothing was fo fure to Surprize and cause Admiration, as the most ftrange, unexpected, and confequently most unnatural, Events and Incidents; the moft A S exagge-
exaggerated Thoughts; the moft verbofe and bombaft Expreffion; the most pompous Rhymes, and thundering Verfification. In Comedy, nothing was fo fure to pleafe, as mean buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jefts of fools and clowns. Yet even in thefe, our Author's Wit buoys up, and is born above his fubje&: his Genius in thofe low parts is like fome Prince of a Romance in the disguise of a Shepherd or Peasant; a certain Greatness and Spirit now and then break out, which manifeft 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 poffeffion of the Stage, brought critical learning into vogue: And that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from those 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 writing on the model of the Ancients : their Tragedies were only Hiftories in Dialogue; and their Comedies follow'd 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 those of another. He writ to the People; and writ at firft without patronage from the better fort, and therefore without aims of pleafing them without affiftance or advice from the Learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them without that knowledge of the best models, the Ancients, to infpire him with an emulation of them; in as word, without any views of Reputation, and of what Poets are pleas'd to call Im-mortality: Some or all of which have en-courag'd the vanity, or animated, the ambition, of other writers..
Yet it must be observed, that when his performances had merited the protection of his Prince, and when the encouragement of the Court had fucceeded to that of the Town; the works of his riper years are manifeftly raised above thofe of his former. The Dates of his plays fufficiently evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the respect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this obfervation would be found true in every instance, 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 Cause (and no lefs ftrong than the former) may be deduced from our Author's being a Player, and forming himself firft 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 Ariftotle. As they live by the Majority, they know no rule but that of pleafing the present humour, and complying with the wit in fashion; a confideration which brings all their judgment to a fhort point. Players are just fuch judges of what is right, as Taylors are of what is graceful.
And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most 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 these men it was thought a praise to Shakespear, that he scarce ever blotted a line: This they induftrioufly propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben JohnJon in his Difcoveries, 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 groundlefs report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the Comedy of the Merry Wives of Wind