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witlings; so that the bays will for ever flourish unwithered and inviolate round his tomb; and his very spirit seems to come forth and to animate his characters, as often as Mr. Garrick, who acts with the same inspiration with which he wrote, assumes them on the stage.
After our Poet has received such important services from the united efforts of talents and learning in his behalf, some apology seems necessary for this work. But let it be remembered, that the most superb and lasting monument that ever was consecrated to Beauty, was that to which every lover carried a tribute. I dare hope to do him honour only by augmenting the heap of volumes given by his admirers to his memory. I will own, I was incited to this undertaking by great admiration of his genius, and still greater indignation at the treatment he has received from a French wit, who seems to think he has made prodigious concessions to our prejudices in favour of the works of our countryman, in allowing them the credit of a few splendid passages, while he speaks of every en
tire piece as a monstrous and ill-constructed farce. -Ridiculously has our Poet, and ridiculously has our taste been represented, by a writer of universal fame; and through the medium of an almost universal language. Superficial criticisms hit the level of shallow minds, to whom a bon mot will appear reason, and an epigrammatic turn, argument; so that many of our countrymen have hastily adopted this lively writer's opinion of the extravagance, and total want of design in Shakspeare's dramas. With the more learned, deep, and sober critics, however, he lies under one considerable disadvantage. For, copying nature, as he found it, in the busy walks of human life, he drew from an original, with which the Literati are seldom well acquainted. They perceive his portraits are not of the Grecian or of the Roman school; so that, afer finding them unlike to the dignified characters preserved in learned museums, they do not deign to enquire, whether they resemble the living persons, they were intended to represent. Among these connoisseurs, whose acquaintance with mankind is formed in the library, not in the street,
the camp, or village, whatever is unpolished and uncouth, passes for fantastic and absurd, though, in fact, it is a faithful representation of a really existing character.
But it must be acknowledged, that, when this objection is obviated, there will yet remain another cause of censure; for though our Author, from want of delicacy, or from a desire to please the popular taste, thought he had done well, when he faithfully copied nature, or represented customs, it will appear to politer times, the error of an untutored mind, which the example of judicious artists, and the admonitions of delicate connoisseurs had not taught, that only graceful nature and decent customs give proper subjects for imitation. It may be said in mitigation of his fault, that the vulgar here had not, as at Athens, been used to behold,
In scepter'd pall come sweeping by,
Homer's works alone were sufficient to teach the Greek poets how to write, and their audience how to judge. The songs sung by our bards at feasts and merry-makings, were of a very coarse kind; as the people were totally illiterate, and the better sort alone could read even their mother tongue, their taste was formed on these compositions. As yet our stage had exhibited only those palpable allegories, by which rude unlettered moralists instruct and please the gross and ignorant multitude. Nothing can more plainly evince the opinion, the poets of those times had of the ignorance of the people, than the condescension shewn to it by the learned earl of Dorset, in his tragedy of Gorboduc; in which the moral of each act is represented on the stage in dumb shew. It is therefore strange that Mr. de Voltaire, who affects an impartial and philosophic spirit, should not rather speak with admiration, than contempt, of an author, who by the force of genius rose so much above the age and circumstances in which he was born, and who, even when he deviates most from rules, can rise to faults true critics dare not
mend. In delineating characters he must be allowed very far to surpass all dramatic writers,
and even Homer himself; he gives an air of reality to every thing, and, in spite of many and great faults, effects, better than any one has ever done, the chief purposes of theatrical representation. It avails little to prove, that the means by which he effects them are not those prescribed in any Art of Poetry. While we feel the power and energy of his predominant genius, shall we not be apt to treat the cold formal precepts of the Critic, with the same peevish contempt, that the good lady in the Guardian, smarting in the anguish of a burn, does her son's pedantic intrusion of Mr. Lock's doctrine, to prove that there is no heat in fire? Nature and sentiment will pronounce our Shakspeare a mighty genius; judgment and taste will confess, that as a writer he is far from being faultless.