Page images
PDF
EPUB

tiquity: such a taste as both feeds and polishes the mind, and enriches it by enabling it to appropriate the wealth of foreigners, and to exert its natural fertility in exquisite productions ; such a taste as gave the Racines, the Molieres, the Boileaus, the Fontaines, the Patrus, the Pelessons, and many other great geniuses of the last age, all that they were, and all that they will always be; such a taste as puts the seal of immortality to those works in which it is discovered; a taste so necessary, that without it we may be certain that the greatest powers of nature will long continue in a state below themselves; for no man ought to allow himself to be flattered or seduced by the example of some men of genius, who have rather appeared to despise this taste than to despise it in reality. It is true that excellent originals have given occa. sion, without

any

fault of their own, to very bad copies. No man ought severely to ape either the ancients or the moderns: but if it was necessary to run into an extreme of one side or the other, which is never done by a judicious and well-directe ed mind, it would be better for a wit, as for a painter, to enrich himself by what he can take from the ancients, than to grow poor by taking all from his own stock; or openly to affect an imitation of those moderns whose more fertile genius has produced beauties peculiar to themselves, and which themselves only can display with grace: beauties of that peculiar kind, that they are not fit to be imitated by others; though in those who first invented them they may be justly esteemed, and in them only.

MISCELLANEOUS OBSERVATIONS

ON THE

TRAGEDY OF MACBETH:

WITH

REMARKS

ON

SIR THOMAS HANMER'S EDITION

OP

SHAKESPEARE.

First Printed in the Year 1745.

" -As to all those things which have been published " under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on “ Shakespeare, (if you except some critical notes on Macbeth,

given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as

appears, by a man of parts and genius) the rest are abso* lutely below a serious notice."

WARBURTON'S Preface to Sbakespeare. E.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

Enter three Witches. In order to make a true estimate of the abilities and merit of a writer, it is always necessary to examine the genius of his age, and the opinions of his contemporaries. A poet who should now make the whole action of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce the chief events by the assistance of supernatural agents, would be censured as transgressing the bounds of probability, he would be banished from the theatre to the pursery, and condemned to write Fairy Tales instead of Tragedies; but a survey of the notions that prevailed at the time when this play was written, will prove

that Shakespeare was in no danger of such censures, since he only turned the system that was then universally admitted to his advantage, and was far from overburthening the credulity of his audience.

The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, though not strictly the same, are confounded in this play, has in all ages and countries been credited by the common people, and in most by the learned themselves. These phantoms have indeed appeared more frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance has been more gross; but it cannot be shown, that the brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been sufficient to drive

them out of the world. The time in which this kind of credulity was at its height, seems to have been that of the holy war, in which the Christians imputed all their defeats to enchantment or diabolical opposition, as they ascribe their success to the assistance of their military saints; and the learned Mr Warburton appears to believe (Suppl. to the Introduction to Don Quixote) that the first accounts of enchantments were brought into this part of the world by those who returned from their eastern expeditions. But there is always some distance between the birth and maturity of folly as of wickedness: this opinion had long existed, though perhaps the application of it had in no foregoing age been so frequent, nor the reception 80 general. Olympiodorus, in Photius's Extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who practised this kind of military magick, and having promised kugle o ritão relè Bezbeqwe švegyños, to perform great things against the Barbarians without soldiers, was, at the instance of the empress Placidia, put to death, when he was about to have given proofs of Kisabilities. The empress shewed some kindness in her anger by cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation.

But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of this notion may be found in St Chrysostom's book de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments not exceeded by any romance of the middle age; he supposes a spectator, overlooking a field of battle, attended by one that points out all the various objects of horror, the engines of destruction, and the arts of slaughter. As.XVÚTO δε ότι παρά τους ένα βίος και πεζομένες ίππες διά τινοΔιαγ[ανείαι, και οπλίτας δι αερG- Φερομένας, και πάου, γοήθειας δύναμιν και ιδεαν. Let him then proceed to

. show him in the opposite armies horses flying by enchantment, armed men transported through the air, and every power and form of magick. Whether St Chrysostom believed that such performances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only endeavoured to enliven his description, by adopting the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that such notions were in his time received, and that therefore they were not imported from the Saracenis in a later age; the wars with the Saracens, however, gave occasion to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was removed to a greater distance, and distance either of time or place is sufficient to reconcile weak minds to wonderful relations.

The Reformation did not immediately arrive at its meridian, and though day was gradually in creasing upon us, the goblins of witchcraft still continued to hover in the twilight. In the time of Queen Elizabeth was the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose conviction is still commemorated in an annual sermon at Huntingdon. But in the reign of King James, in which this tragedy was written, many circumstances concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. The king, who was much celebrated for his knowledge, had, before his arrival in England, not only examined in person a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given a very formal account of the practices and illusions of evil spirits, the compacts of witches, the ceremonies used by them, the manner of detecting

« PreviousContinue »