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telligible. Hence several learned and discerning editors have rendered essential service to the literature of their country, by explaining his obsolete phrases, by freeing his text from spurious passages, and by elucidating his frequent allusions to obscure, or antiquated customs. Labours of this sort are so much the more valuable, as Shakespeare is justly accounted the great poet of human nature. Even to moralists and philosophers, his display and illustration of passions and manners, may afford not only amusement but instruction.
"The operations of the mind," as has been well observed by an anonymous writer, in his remarks on some of the preceding essays, are more complex than those of "the body: its motions are progressive: its "transitions abrupt and instantaneous: its "attitudes uncertain and momentary. The "passions pursue their course with celerity; "their direction may be changed, or their "impetuosity modified by a number of "causes which are far from being obvious, "and which frequently escape our observa"tion. It would therefore be of great im
"portance to philosophical scrutiny, if the "position of the mind, in any given cir"cumstances, could be fixed till it was de"liberately surveyed; if the causes which
alter its feelings and operations could be accurately shewn, and their effects ascertained with precision." To accomplish these ends, the dramatic writers, and particularly Shakespeare, may be of the greatest use. An attempt has accordingly been made, in the preceding discourses, to employ the light which he affords us in illustrating some curious and interesting views of human nature.
In Macbeth, misled by an overgrown and gradually, perverted passion, "we trace the progress of that corruption, by which "the virtues of the mind are made to contri"bute to the completion of its depravity*." In Hamlet we have a striking representation of the pain, of the dejection, and contention of spirit, produced in a person, not only of exquisite, but of moral, and correct sensibi
These words are extracted from a letter from Mr. Burke to the author, on the subjects of the preceding Essays.-See appendix.
lity, by the conviction of extreme enormity of conduct in those whom he loves, or wishes to love and esteem. We observe in Jacques, how
Goodness wounds itself,
And sweet affection proves the spring of woe.
We see in Imogen, that persons of real mildness and gentleness of disposition, fearing or suffering evil, by the ingratitude or inconstancy of those on whose affections they had reason to depend, are more solicitous than jealous; express regret rather than resentment; and are more apt to be overwhelmed with sorrow than inflamed with revenge. In contemplating the character of Richard the Third, we see, and are enabled to explain the effect produced upon the mind by the display of great intellectual ability, employed for inhuman and perfidious. purposes. We are led, on the other hand, by an obvious connection, to observe, in the character of Falstaff, the effect produced on the mind by the display of considerable ability, directed by sensual appetites and mean desires. King Lear illustrates, that mere sensibility, uninfluenced by a sense
of propriety, leads men to an extravagant expression both of social and unsocial feelings; renders them capriciously inconstant in their affections; variable, and of course irresolute in their conduct. In Timon of Athens, we have an excellent illustration of self-deceit, displayed in the consequences of that inconsiderate profusion which assumes the appearance of liberality; and is supposed, even by the inconsiderate person himself, to proceed from a generous principle; but which, in reality, has its chief origin in the love of distinction.
But while Shakespeare furnishes excellent illustrations of many passions and affections, and of many singular combinations of passion, affection, and ability, in various charac ters, we perceive, in the justness of his imitation, the felicity of his invention. While he holds up a mirror,' in which we recognize the features and complexions of many powers and principles in the human mind, we must admire that fine polish by which they are received, and reflected. He may be irregular in the structure of his fable, incorrect in his geographical or historical
knowledge, and too close an imitator of nature in his mixture of serious and ludicrous incidents; for these are his principal errors: but in the faithful display of character, he has not hitherto been surpassed. Nor can the carelessness imputed to him in some other respects, be charged upon him, without injustice, in his portraits of human life.
The true method of estimating his merit in this particular, is by such an examination as in the preceding discourses has been suggested, and in some measure attempted. General remarks are often vague; and, to persons of discernment, afford small satisfaction. But if we consider the sentiments and actions, attributed by the poet to his various characters, as so many facts; if we observe their agreement or disagreement, their aim, or their origin; and if we class them according to their common qualities, or connect them by their original principles, we shall ascertain, with some accuracy, the truth of the representation. For, without having our judgments founded in this manner, they are liable to change, error, and inconsistency. Thus the moralist becomes