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made him a very dangerous rival in fame to | the greatest poets of antiquity; so far am I from seeing how this knowledge could either have curbed, confined, or spoiled the natural excellence of his writings. For, though I must always think our author a miracle for the age he lived in, yet I am obliged, in justice to reason and art, to confess that he does not come up to the ancients in all the beauties of the drama. But it is no small honour to him, that he has surpassed them in the topics or commonplaces. And to confirm the victory he obtained on that head at Mr. Hales's chamber, at Eton, I shall, in this present undertaking, not only transcribe the most shining, but refer the reader to the same subjects in the Latin authors. This I do that I might omit nothing that could do his memory that justice which he really deserves; but to put his errors and his excellences on the same bottom is to injure the latter, and give the enemies of our poet an advantage against him, of doing the same; that is, of rejecting his beauties, as all of a piece with his faults. This unaccountable bigotry of the town to the very errors of Shakespear was the occasion of Mr. Rymer's criticisms, and drove him as far into the contrary extreme. I am far from approving his | manner of treating our poet; though Mr. Dryden owns, that all, or most, of the faults he has found are just; but adds this odd reflection: And yet, says he, who minds the critic, and who admires Shakespear less? That was as much as to say, Mr. Rymer has indeed made good his charge, and yet the town admired his errors still: which I take to be a greater proof of the folly and abandoned taste of the town than of any imperfections in the critic; which in my opinion, exposed the ignorance of the age he lived in; to which Mr. Rowe very justly ascribes most of his faults. It must be owned that Mr. Rymer carried the matter too far, since no man that has the least relish of poetry can question his genius; for, in spite of his known and visible errors, when I read Shakespear, even in some of his most irregular plays, I am surprised into a pleasure so great, that my judgment is no longer free to see the faults, though they are never so gross and
evident. There is such a witchery in him that all the rules of art which he does not observe, though built on an equally solid and infallible reason, vanish away in the transports of those that he does observe, so entirely as if I had never known anything of the matter." The rules of art! It was the extraordinary folly of the age which produced these observations to believe that Shakspere realized his great endeavours without any rule at all, that is, without any method. Rymer was such a thorough believer in the infallibility of these rules of art, that he shut his eyes to the very highest power of Shakspere, because it did not agree with these rules. Gildon believed in the power, and believed in the rules at the same time: hence his contradictions. "The unaccountable bigotry of the town to the very errors of Shakespear" was the best proof of the triumphant privilege of genius to abide in full power and tranquillity amidst its own rules. The small poets, and the smaller critics, were working upon mechanic rules. When they saw in Shakspere something like an adherence to ancient rules of art, they cried out, Wonderful power of nature! When they detected a deviation, they exclaimed, Pitiable calamity of ignorance! It is evident that these critics could not subject the people to their laws; and they despise the ignorant people, therefore, as they pity the ignorant Shakspere. Hear Gildon again :-" A judicious reader of our author will easily discover those defects that his beauties would make him wish had been corrected by a knowledge of the whole art of the drama. For it is evident that, by the force of his own judgment, or the strength of his imagination, he has followed the rules of art in all those particulars in which he pleases. I know that the rules of art have been sufficiently clamoured against by an ignorant and thoughtless sort of men of our age; but it was because they knew nothing of them, and never considered that without some standard of excellence there could be no justice done to merit, to which poetasters and poets must else have an equal claim, which is the highest degree of barbarism. Nay, without an appeal to these very rules, Shakespear
himself is not to be distinguished from the most worthless pretenders, who have often met with an undeserved applause, and challenge the title of great poets from their success." We will only anticipate for a moment the philosophical wisdom of a later school of criticism, to supply an answer to Gildon: "The spirit of poetry, like all other living powers, must of necessity circumscribe itself by rules, were it only to unite power with beauty. It must embody in order to reveal itself; but a living body is of necessity an organized one; and what is organization but the connection of parts in and for a whole, so that each part is at once end and means?" *
The redoubted John DENNIS was another of the antagonists of Rymer. He carried heavier metal than Gildon; but he nevertheless belonged to the cuckoo school of "rules of art." He had a just appreciation of Shakspere as far as he went; and a few of his judgments certainly here deserve a place:-"Shakespear was one of the greatest geniuses that the world ever saw for the tragic stage. Though he lay under greater disadvantages than any of his successors, yet had he greater and more genuine beauties than the best and greatest of them. And what makes the brightest glory of his character, those beauties were entirely his own, and owing to the force of his own nature; whereas his faults were owing to his education, and to the age that he lived in. One may say of him as they did of Homer-that he had none to imitate, and is himself inimitable. His imaginations were often as just as they were bold and strong. He had a natural discretion which never could have been taught him, and his judgment was strong and penetrating. He seems to have wanted nothing but time and leisure for thought, to have found out those rules of which he appears so ignorant. His characters are always drawn justly, exactly, graphically, except where he failed by not knowing history or the poetical art. He has for the most part more fairly distinguished them than any of his successors have done, who have falsified them, or confounded them, by
making love the predominant quality in all. He had so fine a talent for touching the passions, they are so lively in him, and so truly in nature, that they often touch us more without their due preparations than those of other tragic poets who have all the beauty of design and all the advantage of incidents. His master-passion was terror, which he has often moved so powerfully and so wonderfully, that we may justly conclude that, if he had had the advantage of art and learning, he would have surpassed the very best and strongest of the ancients. His paintings are often so beautiful and so lively, so graceful and so powerful, especially where he uses them in order to move terror, that there is nothing perhaps more accomplished in our English poetry. His sentiments, for the most part, in his best tragedies, are noble, generous, easy and natural, and adapted to the persons who use them. His expression is in many places good and pure after a hundred years; simple, though elevated-graceful, though bold-and easy, though strong. He seems to have been the very original of our English tragical harmony; that is, the harmony of blank verse, diversified often by dissyllable and trisyllable terminations. For that diversity distinguishes it from heroic harmony, and, bringing it nearer to common use, makes it more proper to gain attention, and more fit for action and dialogue. Such verse we make when we are writing prose; we make such verse in common conversation. If Shakespear had these great qualities by nature, what would he not have been if he had joined to so happy a genius learning and the poetical art!”
It was this eternal gabble about rules of art,-this blindness to the truth that the living power of Shakspere had its own organization,—that set the metre-mongers of that day upon the task of improving Shakspere. Dennis was himself one of the great improvers. Poetical justice was one of the rules for which they clamoured. Duncan and Banquo ought not to perish in 'Macbeth,' nor Desdemona in 'Othello,' nor Cordelia and her father in 'Lear,' nor Brutus in 'Julius Cæsar,' nor young Hamlet in 'Hamlet.' So
Dennis argues:-"The good and the bad perishing promiscuously in the best of Shakespear's tragedies, there can be either none or very weak instruction in them." In this spirit Dennis himself sets to work to remodel "Coriolanus:'-"Not only Aufidius, but the Roman tribunes Sicinius and Brutus, appear to me to cry aloud for poetic vengeance; for they are guilty of two faults, neither of which ought to go unpunished." Dennis is not only a mender of Shakspere's catastrophes, but he applies himself to make Shakspere's verses all smooth and proper, according to the rules of art. One example will be sufficient. He was no common man who attempted to reduce the following lines to classical regularity:
"Boy! False hound!
If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there,
John Dennis has accomplished the feat :—
"This boy, that, like an eagle in a dovecote,
The alteration of 'The Tempest' by Davenant and Dryden was, as we have mentioned, an attempt to meet the taste of the town by music and spectacle. Shadwell went farther, and turned it into a regular opera; and an opera it remained even in Garrick's time, who tried his hand upon the same experiment. Dennis was a reformer both in comedy and tragedy. He metamorphosed 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' into 'The Comical Gallant,' and prefixed an essay to it on the degeneracy of the taste for poetry. Davenant changed 'Measure for Measure' into 'The Law against Lovers.' It is difficult to understand how a clever man and something of a poet should have set about his work after this fashion. This is Shakspere's Isabella :
"Could great men thunder
For every pelting, petty officer
Thou rather, with thy sharp and sulphurous
Splitt'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak,
This is Davenant's :
"If men could thunder
As great Jove does, Jove ne'er would quiet be;
For every choleric petty officer,
Would use his magazine in heaven for
We nothing should but thunder hear. Sweet
Thou rather with thy stiff and sulph'rous
Dost split the knotty and obdurate oak,
The Law against Lovers' was in principle one of the worst of these alterations; for it was a hash of two plays-of 'Measure for Measure,' and of 'Much Ado about Nothing.' This was indeed to destroy the organic life of the author. But it is one of the manifestations of the vitality of Shakspere that, going about their alterations in the regular way, according to the rules of art, the most stupid and prosaic of his improvers have been unable to deprive the natural man of his vigour, even by their most violent depletions. His robustness was too great even for the poetical doctors to destroy it. Lord Lansdowne actually stripped the flesh off Shylock, but the anatomy walked about vigorously for sixty years, till Macklin put the muscles on again. Colley Cibber turned 'King John' into 'Papal Tyranny,' and the stage 'King John' was made to denounce the Pope and Guy Faux for a century, till Mr. Macready gave us back again the weak and crafty king in his original truth of character. Nahum Tate deposed the 'Richard II.' of Shakspere wholly and irredeemably, turning him into The Sicilian Usurper.' How Cibber manufac
As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be tured 'Richard III.' is known to all men.
Durfey melted down 'Cymbeline' with no
Tate remodelled | In 'The Spectator,' 419, amongst the papers on 'The Pleasures of the Imagination,’ Shakspere's delineations of supernatural beings are thus mentioned:-"Among the English, Shakspeare has incomparably ex
of fancy, which he had in so great perfection, thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak superstitious part of his reader's imagination; and made him capable of succeeding where he had nothing to support him besides the strength of his own genius. There is something so wild, and yet so solemn, in the speeches of his ghosts, fairies, witches, and the like imaginary persons, that we cannot forbear thinking them natural, though we have no rule by which to judge of them; and must confess, if there are such beings in the world, it looks highly probable they should talk and act as he has represented them."
slight portion of alloy. 'Lear,'-and such a 'Lear!' Davenant mangled 'Macbeth;' but we can hardly quarrel with him for it, for he gave us the music of Locke in company with his own verses. It has been said, as a proof how little Shak-celled all others. That noble extravagance spere was once read, that Davenant's alteration is quoted in 'The Tatler' instead of the original. This is the reasoning of Steevens; but he has not the candour to tell us, that in The Tatler,' No. 111, there is a quotation from 'Hamlet,' with the following remarks:-"This admirable author, as well as the best and greatest men of all ages and of all nations, seems to have had his mind thoroughly seasoned with religion, as is evident by many passages in his plays, that would not be suffered by a modern audience." Steevens infers, that Steele, or ADDISON, was not a reader of Shakspere, because 'Macbeth' is quoted from an acted edition; and that, therefore, Shakspere was not read generally. If a hurried writer in a daily paper (as 'The Tatler' was) were to quote from some acted editions at the present day, he might fall into the same error; and yet he might be an ardent student of Shakspere, in a nation of enthusiastic admirers. The early Essayists offer abundant testimonies, indeed, of their general admiration of the poet. In No. 68 of 'The Tatler,' he is "the great master who ever commands our tears." In No. 160 of 'The Spectator' Shakspere is put amongst the first class of great geniuses, in company with Homer; and this paper contains a remarkable instance of a juster taste than one might expect from the author of 'Cato:' -"We are to consider that the rule of observing what the French call the bienséance in an allusion has been found out of later years, and in the colder regions of the world; where we could make some amends for our want of force and spirit, by a scrupulous nicety and exactness in our compositions."*
* Mr. De Quincey is certainly mistaken when he says, that "Addison has never in one instance quoted or made
We have again an instance of Addison's good taste in his remarks upon the critical notions of poetical justice, which he calls "a ridiculous doctrine in modern criticism.” Of the best plays which end unhappily he mentions 'Othello,' with others, and adds, "King Lear' is an admirable tragedy of the same kind, as Shakspeare wrote it; but as it is reformed, according to the chimerical notion of poetical justice, in my humble opinion it has lost half its beauty." All this exhibits a better taste than we find in Gildon and Dennis; and it certainly is very remarkable that Addison, who in his own tragedy was laboriously correct, as it was called, should have taken no occasion to comment upon the irregularities of Shakspere. Mr. De Quincey says of Addison, "The feeble constitution of the poetic faculty as existing in himself forbad him sympathising with Shakespear." The feebleness of the poetic faculty makes the soundness of the judgment more conspicuous.
any reference to Shakspear."
No. 160 bears the signature
THE commencement of the eighteenth cen-
• Life of Shakespear in 'Lardner's Cyclopædia.'
'Worthies,' 'The Cabbala, or Collections of Letters of State,' and a little book, 'Delices de Hollande,' with another little book or two, all of good use or serious pleasure; and 'Hudibras,' both parts, the book now in greatest fashion for drollery, though I cannot, I confess, see enough where the wit lies." These two folio editions supplied the readers of Shakspere for more than forty years, but we are not hence to conclude that he was neglected. Of Ben Jonson during the same period there was only one edition; of Beaumont and Fletcher only one; of Spenser only one. Rowe's edition of Shakspere, we doubt not, supplied a general want. Its critical merits were but small. The facts of the 'Life' which he prefixes have been sufficiently noticed by us in another place. The opinions expressed in that 'Life' are few, and are put forth with little pretension. As might be expected, they fully admit the excellence of Shakspere, but they somewhat fall into the besetting sin of attempting to elevate his genius by depreciating his knowledge:-" It is without controversy that in his works we scarce find any traces of anything that looks like an imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his taste, and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal, if not superior, to some of the best of theirs), would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much pleasure that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mixed with, his own writings; so that his not copying at least something from them may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute: for, though the knowledge of them might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity and deference for them, which would have attended that cor