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ing proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a praise by fame, and to this his errors have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For 'tis certain, were it true, it would concern but a fmall part of them; the moft are fuch as are not properly defects, but fuperfotations: and arise not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging: or rather (to be more just to our author) from a compliance to thofe wants in others. As to a wrong, choice of the fubject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, falfe thoughts, forced expreffions, &c. if these are not to be afcribed to the aforefaid accidental reasons, they must be charged upon the poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two disadvantages which I have mentioned (to be obliged to please the loweft of the people, and to keep the worft of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reasonably 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 judgment.
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 taste 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 Cafar, not only the fpirit, but manners of the Romans are exactly drawn; and ftill a nicer diftinction is fhewn 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 instance of his learning, as thofe copied from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jonfon's. The manners of 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 describes, it is always with competent, if not extenfive knowledge: his defcriptions are ftill 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 master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this last particular) has not fhewn more learning this way than Shakspeare. We have tranflations from Ovid publifhed in his name," among thofe poems which pafs
• Thefe, as the reader will find in the notes on that play, Shakspeare drew from Sir Thomas North's Tranflation, 1579. MALONE.
They were written by Thomas Heywood. See Vol. XII.
1. n. I.
for his, and for fome of which we have undoubted authority (being publifhed by himfelf, 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 say 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 ufe he has mad eof Chaucer in Troilus and Creffida, and in The Two Noble Kinfmen, if that play be his, as there goes a tradition it was (and indeed it has little refemblance of Fletcher, and more of our author than fome of thofe which have been received as genuine).
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 Shakfpeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonson wanted both. Because Shakspeare borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben Jonfon borrowed every thing. Becaufe 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 efcape one, often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum laudantes, says Tacitus; and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praise a poet without rule or reafon.
66- fi ultra placitum laudârit, baccare frontem
But however this contention might be carried on by the partizans of either fide, I cannot help thinking thefe two great poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms, and in offices of fociety with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Jonfon was introduced upon the stage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakspeare. And after his death, that author writes, To the memory of his beloved William Shakspeare, which fhews as if the friendship had continued through life. I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious or fparing in those verses, 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) expressly 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 kindness; he tells us, that he loved the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honefty, openness, and franknefs of his temper; and only diflinguishes, 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 fo in this inftance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more fervice in praifing 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 those monsters described by the poets; and that their heads at leaft may have fomething human, though their bodies and tailes 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 firft publifhers of his works. In thefe editions their ignorance fhines in almost every page; nothing is more common than Adlus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches folus. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in conftruction and fpelling: their very Welsh is falfe. Nothing is more likely than that
2 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.