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writer; others please us by particular speeches, but he always makes us anxious for the event, and has perhaps excelled all but Homer in fecuring the first purpose of a writer, by exciting reftlefs and unquenchable curiofity, and compelling him that reads his work to read it through.
The fhows and buftle with which his plays abound have the fame original. As knowledge advances, pleasure paffes from the eye to the ear, but returns, as it declines, from the ear to the eye. Those to whom our author's labours were exhibited had more fkill in pomps or proceffions than in poetical language, and perhaps wanted fome vifible and difcriminated events, as comments on the dialogue. He knew how he should most please; and whether his practice is more agreeable to nature, or whether his example has prejudiced the nation, we ftill find that on our ftage fomething muft be done as well as faid, and inactive declamation is very coldly heard, however mufical or elegant, paffionate or fublime.
Voltaire expreffes his wonder, that our author's extravagancies are endured by a nation, which has feen the tragedy of Cato. Let him be answered, that Addifon fpeaks the language of poets, and Shakspeare, of men. We find in Cato innumerable beauties which enamour us of its author, but we fee nothing that acquaints us with human fentiments or human actions; we place it with the faireft and the nobleft progeny which judgment propagates by conjunction with learning; but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious offspring of obfervation impregnated by genius. Cato affords a fplendid exhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and delivers juft and noble fentiments, in diction easy, elevated, and harmonious, but its
hopes and fears communicate no vibration to the heart; the compofition refers us only to the writer; we pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on Addifon.5
The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with fhades, and fcented with flowers: the compofition of Shakspeare is a foreft, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tower in the air, interfperfed fometimes with weeds and brambles, and fometimes giving fhelter to myrtles and to rofes; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diverfity. Other poets difplay cabinets of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into fhape, and polished into brightness. Shakspeare opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in unexhauftible plenty, though clouded by incruftations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner
It has been much difputed, whether Shakspeare owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps of fcholaftick education, the precepts of critical fcience, and the examples of ancient authors.
There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shakspeare wanted learning, that he had no regular education, nor much fkill in the dead languages. Jonfon, his friend, affirms, that he had fmall Latin, and lefs Greek; who, befides that he had no imaginable temptation to falfehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquifitions of Shakspeare were known to multitudes. His evidence ought there
s See Mr. Twining's commentary on Aristotle, note 51.
fore to decide the controverfy, unless fome teftimony of equal force could be oppofed.
Some have imagined, that they have difcovered deep learning in imitation of old writers; but the examples which I have known urged, were drawn from books tranflated in his time; or were fuch eafy coincidencies of thought, as will happen to all who confider the fame fubjects; or fuch remarks on life or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are tranfmitted through the world in proverbial sentences.
I have found it remarked, that, in this important fentence, Go before, I'll follow, we read a tranflation of, I prae fequar. I have been told, that when Caliban, after a pleasing dream, fays, I cried to fleep again, the author imitates Anacreon, whọ had, like every other man, the fame wifh on the fame occafion.
There are a few paffages which may pass for imitations, but fo few, that the exception only confirms the rule; he obtained them from accidental quotations, or by oral communication, and as he used what he had, would have used more if he had obtained it.
The Comedy of Errors is confeffedly taken from the Menæchmi of Plautus; from the only play of Plautus which was then in English. What can be more probable, than that he who copied that, would have copied more; but that those which were not tranflated were inacceffible?
Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain. That his plays have fome French scenes proves but little; he might eafily procure them to be written, and probably, even though he had known the language in the common degree, he could not have written it without affiftance. In the
ftory of Romeo and Juliet he is obferved to have followed the English translation, where it deviates from the Italian; but this on the other part proves nothing against his knowledge of the original. He was to copy, not what he knew himself, but what was known to his audience.
It is most likely that he had learned Latin fufficiently to make him acquainted with construction, but that he never advanced to an eafy perufal of the Roman authors. Concerning his skill in modern languages, I can find no fufficient ground of determination; but as no imitations of French or Italian authors have been discovered, though the Italian poetry was then in high efteem, I am inclined to believe, that he read little more than English, and chofe for his fables only fuch tales as he found tranflated.
That much knowledge is fcattered over his works is very juftly obferved by Pope, but it is often fuch knowledge as books did not fupply. He that will understand Shakspeare, muft not be content to study him in the closet, he must look for his meaning fometimes among the fports of the field, and fometimes among the manufactures of the shop.
There is, however, proof enough that he was a very diligent reader, nor was our language then fo indigent of books, but that he might very liberally indulge his curiofity without excurfion into foreign literature. Many of the Roman authors were tranflated, and fome of the Greek; the Reforma tion had filled the kingdom with theological learning; moft of the topicks of human difquifition had found English writers; and poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence, but fuccefs. This was a stock of knowledge fufficient for a
mind fo capable of appropriating and improving it.
But the greater part of his excellence was the product of his own genius. He found the English flage in a ftate of the utmost rudeness; no eflays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it could be difcovered to what degree of delight either one or other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue were yet understood. Shakspeare may be truly faid to have introduced them both amongst us, and in fome of his happier scenes to have carried them both to the utmost height.
By what gradations of improvement he proceeded, is not eafily known; for the chronology of his works is yet unfettled. Rowe is of opinion, that perhaps we are not to look for his beginning, like thofe of other writers, in his leaft perfect works; art had fo little, and nature fo large a fhare in what he did, that for aught I know, fays he, the performances of his youth, as they were the moft vigorous, were the best. But the power of nature is only the power of ufing to any certain purpofe the materials which diligence procures, or opportunity fupplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when images are collected by study and experience, can only affift in combining or applying them. Shakspeare, however favoured by nature, could impart only what he had learned; and as he must encreafe his ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquifition, he, like them, grew wifer as he grew older, could difplay life better, as he knew it more, and inftruct with more efficacy, as he was himself more amply inftructed.
There is a vigilance of obfervation and accuracy of diftinction which books and precepts cannot