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This, I fay, inclines me to diftrust the authority of the relation: but notwithstanding fuch an apparent improbability, if we really loft fuch a treafure, by whatever fatality or caprice of fortune they came into fuch ignorant and neglected hands, I agree with the relater, the misfortune is wholly irreparable.

To thefe particulars, which regard his perfon and private life, fome few more are to be gleaned from Mr. Rowe's Account of his Life and Writings: let us now take a fhort view of him in his publick capacity as a writer: and, from thence, the tranfition will be eafy to the ftate in which his writings have been handed down to us.


No age, perhaps, can produce an author more various from himself, than Shakspeare has been univerfally acknowledged to be. The diverfity in ftyle, and other parts of compofition, fo obvious in him, is as varioufly to be accounted for. His education, we find, was at beft but begun and he started early into a science from the force of genius, unequally affifted by acquired improvements. His fire, fpirit, and exuberance of imagination, gave an impetuofity to his pen: his ideas flowed from him in a stream rapid, but not turbulent ; copious, but not ever overbearing its fhores. The eafe 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 ufed the helps of his function in forming himself to create and exprefs that fublime, which other actors can only copy, and throw out, in action and graceful attitude. But, Nullum fine venia placuit ingenium, fays Seneca. The genius, that gives us the greatest pleasure, fometimes fiands in

need of our indulgence. Whenever this happens with regard to Shakspeare, I would willingly impute it to a vice of his times. We fee complaifance enough, in our days, paid to a bad tafte. So that his clinches, falfe wit, and defcending beneath himself, may have proceeded from a deference paid to the then reigning barbarifm.

I have not thought it out of my province, whenever occafion offered, to take notice of fome of our poet's grand touches of nature, fome, that do not appear fufficiently fuch, but in which he seems the most deeply inftructed; and to which, no doubt, he has fo much owed that happy prefervation of his characters, for which he is justly celebrated. Great geniufes, like his, naturally unambitious, are fatisfied to conceal their arts in thefe points. It is the foible of your worfer poets to make a parade and oftentation of that little fcience they have; and to throw it out in the most ambitious colours. And whenever a writer of this clafs fhall attempt to copy these artful concealments of our author, and fhall either think them eafy, or practifed by a writer for his eafe, he will foon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imitation of them.

"Speret idem, fudet multùm, frustráque laboret,
"Aufus idem :-

Indeed to point out and exclaim upon all the beauties of Shakspeare, as they come fingly in review, would be as infipid, as endless; as tedious, as unneceffary: but the explanation of thofe beauties that are lefs obvious to common readers, and whofe illustration depends on the rules of just criticism, and an exact knowledge of human life,

fhould defervedly have a fhare in a general critique upon the author. But to pafs over at once to another fubject

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 decifions on this fubject were certainly fet on foot by the hint from Ben Jonson, that he had small Latin, and lefs Greek and from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, "It is without controverfy, 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 fuperior, to fome of the best of theirs,) would certainly have led him

It has been allowed &c.] On this fubject an eminent writer has given his opinion which fhould not be fuppreffed. "You will ask me, perhaps, now I am on this fubject, how it happened that Shakspeare's language is every where fo much his own as to fecure his imitations, if they were fuch, from difcovery; when I pronounce with fuch affurance of thofe of our other poets. The answer is given for me in the preface to Mr. Theobald's Shakspeare; though the obfervation, I think, is too good to come from that critick. It is, that though his words, agreeably to the ftate of the English tongue at that time, be generally Latin, his phrafeology is perfectly English: an advantage he owed to his flender acquaintance with the Latin idiom. Whereas the other writers of his age and fuch others of an older date as were likely to fall into his hands, had not only the most familiar acquaintance with the Latin idiom, but affected on all occafions to make use of it. Hence it comes to pass, that though he might draw fometimes from the Latin (Ben Jonfon you know tells us He had lefs Greek) and the learned English writers, he takes nothing but the fentiments; the expreffion comes of itself and is purely English." Bishop's Hurd's Letter to Mr. Mafon, on the Marks of Imitation, 8vo. 1758. REED.

to read and study them with fo much pleasure, that fome of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themselves into, and been mixed with, his own writings and fo his not copying, at leaft fomething from them, may be an argument of his never having read them." I fhall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous paffages which I have occafionally quoted in my notes, in which our poet feems clofely to have imitated the clafficks, whether Mr. Rowe's affertion be fo abfolutely to be depended on. The refult of the controversy muft certainly, either way, terminate to our author's honour: how happily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could think like them, without owing any thing to imitation.

Though I fhould be very unwilling to allow Shakspeare fo poor a scholar, as many have laboured to reprefent him, yet I fhall be very cautious of declaring too pofitively on the other fide of the queftion; that is, with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the paffages, that I occafionally quote from the clafficks, fhall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated thofe originals; but brought to fhow how happily he has expreffed himfelf upon the fame topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a fameness of thought. and fameness of expreffion too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent fufpicion of the latter copying from his predeceffor. I fhall not therefore run any great rifque of a cenfure, though I fhould venture to hint, that the refemblances in thought and expreffion of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in the one whose learning was not quef

tioned) may fometimes take its rife from ftrength of memory, and thofe impreffions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a poffibility of this, confidering that, when he quitted the fchool, he gave into his father's profeffion and way of living, and had, it is likely, but a flender library of claffical learning; and confidering what a number of translations, romances, and legends, started about his time, and a little before (moft of which, it is very evident, he read); I think it may eafily be reconciled why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more latter informations, than went back to thofe fountains, for which he might entertain a fincere veneration, but to which he could not have fo ready a recourse.

In touching on another part of his learning, as it related to the knowledge of history and books, I fhall advance fomething that, at firft fight, will very much wear the appearance of a paradox. For I fhall find it no hard matter to prove, that, from, the groffeft blunders in hiftory, we are not to infer his real ignorance of it; nor from a greater use of Latin words, than ever any other English author ufed, muft we infer his intimate acquaintance with that language.

A reader of tafte may easily obferve, that though Shakspeare, almoft in every scene of his hiftorical plays, commits the groffeft offences against chronology, hiftory, and ancient politicks; yet this was not through ignorance, as is generally fuppofed, but through the too powerful blaze of his imagination, which, when once raised, made all acquired knowledge vanifh and disappear before it. But this licence in him, as I have faid, must not be imputed to ignorance, fince as often we may find him, when occafion ferves, reafoning up to the

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