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But I think the two difadvantages which I have mentioned (to be obliged to please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reafonably may, will appear fufficient to mislead and deprefs the greatest genius upon earth. Nay, the more modefty with which fuch a one is endued, the more he is in danger of submitting and conforming to others, against his own better judg
But as to his want of learning, it may be neceffary to fay fomething more: there is certainly a vaft difference between learning and languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but it is plain he had much reading at leaft, 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 tafte 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 fpirit, but manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn; and still 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 copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an inftance of his learning, as those copied from Cicero in Catiline of Ben Jonfon's. The manners of
2 Thefe, as the reader will find in the notes on that play, Shakspeare drew from Sir Thomas North's tranflation, 1579. MALONE.
other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of fcience, he either speaks of or defcribes, it is always with competent, if not extenfive knowledge: his defcriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each fubject. When he treats of ethick or politick, we may conftantly observe a wonderful juftnefs of distinction, as well as extent of comprehenfion. No one is more a mafter of the political ftory, or has more frequent allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this laft particular) has not shown more learning this way than Shakspeare. We have translations from Ovid publifhed in his name,3 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 follows the Greek authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another, (although 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 lefs converfant with the ancients of his own country, from the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Crefsida, and in The Two Noble Kinfmen, 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 than fome of those which have been received as genuine).
3 They were written by Thomas Heywood. See [Mr. Malone's] Vol. X. p. 321, n. 1. MALONE.
I am inclined to think this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the partizans of our author and Ben Jonfon; 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 Jonfon had much the more learning, it was faid on the one hand that Shakspeare had none at all; and because Shakspeare had much the moft wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonfon wanted both. Because Shakspeare borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben Jonfon borrowed every thing. Because Jonfon did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakspeare wrote with eafe and rapidity, they cried, 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 injudiciously, 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; those who escape one, often fall by the other. Pefsimum genus inimicorum laudantes, fays Tacitus; and Virgil desires to wear a charm against those. who praise a poet without rule or reafon :
fi ultra placitum laudârit, baccare frontem Cingite, ne vati noceat
But however this contention might be carried on by the partizans on either fide, I cannot help thinking thefe two great poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms, and in offices of fociety VOL. I.
with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Jonfon was introduced upon the ftage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakspeare. And after his death, that author writes, To the memory of his beloved William Shakspeare, which shows as if the friendship had continued through life. I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious or Sparing in thofe 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 ranked with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Æfchylus, nay, all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him: and (which is very particular) exprefsly 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 hindness; he tells us, that he loved the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honesty, openness, and frankness of his temper; and only distinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the filly and derogatory applaufes of the players. Ben Jonfon might indeed be fparing in his commendations (though certainly he is not so 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 juftly, than lavishly. I fay, I would fain believe they were friends, though the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rife to the contrary report. I hope that it may be with parties, both in wit and ftate, as with thofe monfters described by the poets; and that their heads at least may have
fomething human, though their bodies and tails are wild beafts and ferpents.
As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rife to the opinion of Shakspeare's want of learning; fo what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first publishers of his works. In thefe editions their ignorance fhines in almost every page; nothing is more common than Actus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches folus.4 Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in conftruction and spelling: their very Welsh is falfe. Nothing is more likely than that thofe palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Ariftotle, with others of that grofs kind, fprung from the fame root: it not being at all credible that these could be the errors of any man who had the leaft tincture of a school, or the leaft converfation with fuch as had. Ben Jonfon (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had fome Latin; which is utterly inconfiftent with mistakes like these. Nay, the constant blunders in proper names of perfons and places, are fuch as must have proceeded from a man, who had not fo much as read any history in any language: fo could not be Shakspeare's.
I fhall now lay before the reader fome of those almost innumerable errors, which have risen from one fource, the ignorance of the players, both as his actors, and as his editors. When the nature and kinds of these are enumerated and confidered, I dare to say that not Shakspeare only, but Ariftotle
• Enter three Witches folus.] This blunder appears to be of Mr. Pope's own invention. It is not to be found in any one of the four folio copies of Macbeth, and there is no quarto edition of it extant. STEEVENS.