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Players are just such judges of what is right, as Taylors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our Author's faults are less to be ascribed to his
wrong judgment as a Poet, than to his right judgment as a Player.
By these men it was thought a praise to ShakeSpear, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they industriously propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben Yobnfon in his Discoveries, and from the preface of Heminges and Condell to the first folio Edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the Comedy of the Merry Wives of Windsor, which he entirely new writ; the History of Henry the 6th, which was first published under the title of the Contention of York and Lancaster ; and that of Henry the 5th, extreamly improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at first, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of Learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a Praise by fome, and to this his Errors have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For 'tis certain, were it true, it could concern but a small part of them; the most are such as are not properly Defects, but Superfætations : 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 those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the subject, a wrong conduct of the incidents,
false thoughts, forc'd expressions, &c. if these are not to be ascrib'd to the foresaid accidental reasons, they must be charg'd upon the Poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two Difadvantages which I have mention’d (to be obliged to please the lowest of people, and to keep the worst of company) if the consideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear fufficient to mislead and depress the greatest Genius upon earth. Nay the more modesty with which such 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 necessary to say something more: There is certainly a vast difference between Learning and Languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had much Reading at least, 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 Philosophy, Mechanicks, ancient and modern History, Poetical learning and Mythology: We find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of Antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæfar, not only the Spirit, but Manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn; and still a nicer distinction is shown, between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient Historians is no less conspicuous, in many references to particular passages : and the speeches copy'd from Plutarch in Coriolanus
may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning, as those copy'd from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Johnson'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 science, he either speaks of or describes; it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge: his descriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject. When he treats of Ethic or Politic, we may constantly observe a wonderful justness of distinction, as well as extent of comprehension. No one is more å master of the Poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it : Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this last particular) has not shewn more learning this way than Shakespear. We have Translations from Ovid published in his name, among those Poems which pass for his, and for some of which we have undoubted authority, (being published by himself, and dedicated to his noble Patron the Earl of Southampton :) He appears also to have been conversant 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: (altho' I will not pretend to say in what language he readthem.) The modern Italian writers of Novels he was manifestly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no less conversant with the Ancients of his own country, from the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Cressida, and in the Two Noble Kinsmen, if that Play be his, as there goes a
Tradition it was, (and indeed it has little resem. blance of Fletcher, and more of our Author than some of those 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 Johnson; 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 so probable, as that because Ben Johnson had much the more learning, it was said on the one hand' that Shakespear had none at all, and because Shakespear had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Yohnson wanted both. Because Shakespear borrowed nothing, it was said that Ben Johnson borrowed every thing. Because Johnson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece ; and because Shakespear wrote with eafe and rapidity, they cry'd, he never once made a blot. Nay the spirit of opposition ran so high, that whatever thofe of the one side 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 reason to be afraid of Admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors; those who escape one, often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum Laudantes, says Tacitus: and Virgil desires to wear a charm against those who praise a Poet without rule or reason.
Si ultra placitum laudárit, baccare fronteni Cingito, ne Vati noceat
But however this contention might be carried on by the Partizans on either side, I cannot help thinking these two great Poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in offices of society with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Johnson was introduced upon the Stage, and his first works 'encouraged, by Shakespear. And after his death, that Author writes To the memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespear, which shows as if the friendship had continued thro' life. I cannot for my own part
any thing Invidious or Sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his Contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenser, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be rank'd with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Æschylus, nay all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him; and (which is very particular) exprelly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting Art, not enduring that all his excellencies shou'd be attributed to Nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Discoveries seems to proceed from a personal kindnefs ; he tells us that he lov'd the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honesty, openness, and frankness of his temper ; and only distinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the Author, and the filly and derogatory applauses of the Players. Ben Johnson might in