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for, which he entirely new writ; the His ftory of Henry the 6th, which was first published under the Title of the Contention of York and Lancaster ;- and that of Henry the sth, extreamly improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at first, 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 some; and to this his Errors have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For 'tis certains were it true, it could concern but a small part of them; the most are such as are not properly Defects, but Superforations: and arise not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging: or rather (to be more just to our Author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the subject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, false thoughts, forc'd expressions, &c. if there 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 mentioned (to be obliged to please the lowest of people, and to keep the worst of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear sufficient to mis-lead and depress the greatest Genius upon earth. Nay
the more modesty with which such an one is endued, the more he is in danger of submitting and conforming to others, against his own betrer judgment.
But as to his Want of Learning, it may be necessary to fy something more: There is certainly a vaft difference between Learning, and Languages. How far he was igno rant of t'e latier, I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had much Reading ar leaft, if they will not call it Learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has Knowledge, whether he has it frm one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a tafte of natural Philosophy, Mechanicks, ancient and man dern History, Poetical learning and Mythology: We find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of Antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cesar, not only the Spirit, but Manners, of the Rom mans are exactly drawn; and still a nicer distinction is showil, between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient Historians is no less conlpicuous, in many references to particular passages: and the speeches copy'd from Plutarch in Corio. lanus may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning, as those copy'd from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jobnson's. The manners of other nations in general, the
Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of fcience, he either fpeaks of or describes; it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge: his descriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each fubject. When he treats of Ethic or Politic, we may constantly observe a wonderful justness of diftin&tion, as well as extent of comprehension. No one is more a master of the Poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this last particular) has not shown more learning this way than ShakeSpear. We have Translations from Ovid published in his name, among those Poems which pass for his, and for some of which we have undoubted authority, (being published by himself, and dedicated to his noble Patron the Earl of Southampton:) He appears also to have been conversant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek Authors, and particularly Dares
: Phrygius, in another : (altho’I will not pretend to fay in what language he read them.) The modern Italian writers of Novels he was manifeftly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no less conversant with
the Ancients of his own country, from the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Cresida, and in the Two Noble Kinsmen, if that Play be his, as there goes a Tradition it was, (and indeed it has little resemblance of Fletcher, and more of our Author's worse fort than some 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 Johnson; 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 said 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 Johnfon wanted both. Because Shakespear borrowed nothing, it was said that Ben Johnson borrow ed every thing. Because Johnson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and be cause Shakespear wrote with ease and rapidity, they cryed, he never orice made a blor. Nay the spirit of opposition raħ fo high, that whatever those of the one side objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into Praises; as injudi
ciously, as their Antagonists before had made them Objections.
Poets are always afraid of Envy ; but sure they have as much reason to be afraid of Admiration : They are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors; those who escape one, often fall by the other. Pellimum genus inimicorum Laudantes, fays Tacitus: and Virgil desires to wear a charm against thofe who praise a Poet without rule or reason.
---Si ultra placitum laudaret, baccare frontera
Cingite, ne Vati noceat
But however this contention might be carried on by the Partizans on either side, I cannot help thinking these two great Poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in offices of> society with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, g that Ben Johnson 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 shows as if the friendship bad continued thro' life. I cannot for my own part find any thing Invidious or Sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his Contempofaries, but above Chaucer and Spenser, whom