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Had Shakespear made one unsuccessful attempt in the manner of the ancients (that he had any knowledge of their rules, remains to be proved) it would certainly have been recorded by contemporary writers, among whom Ben Jonson would have been the first
. Had his darling ancients been unikilfully imitated by a rival poet, he would at least have preserved the memory of the fact, to fhew how unsafe it was for any one, who was not'as thorough a scholar as himself, to have meddled with their sacred remains.
“ Within that circle none durft walk but he.” He has represented Inigo Jones as being ignorant of the very names of those classic authors, whose architecture he undertook to correct: in his Poetafter he has in several places hinted at our poet's injudicious use of words, and seems to have pointed his ridicule more than once at some of his descriptions and characters. It is true that he has praised him, but it was not while that praise could have been of any service to him; and posthumous applause is always to be had on easy conditions. Happy it was for Shakespear, that he took nature for his guide, and, engaged in the warm pursuit of her beauties, left to Jonfon the repofitories of learning: fo has he escaped a contest which might have rendered his life unealy, And bequeathed to our poffeffion the more valuable con pies from nature herself: for Shakespear was (says Dr. Hurd, in his notes on Horace's Art of Poetry) first that broke through the bondageof classical superstition. And heowed this felicity as he did some others, to his want of what is called the advantage of a learned education. Thus, uninfluenced by the weight of early prepossession, he struck at once into the road of nature and common sense: and without designing, without knowing it, hath left us in his historical plays, with all their anomalies, an exact resemblance of the Athenian stage, than is any where to be found in its most professed admirers and copyists.” Again, ibid. “It is possible, there are, who think a want of reading, as well as vast superiority of genius, hath contributed to lift this astonishing man, to
the glory of being esteemed the most original THINKET and SPEAKER, fince the times of Homer.
To this extract I may add the sentiments of Dr. Edu ward Young on the same occasion. 66 Who knows whether Shakespear might not have thought less, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonson's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the most mountainous oppression would have breathed out fone of his inextinguishable fire; yet poflibly, he might not have risen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatic province required; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books, which the last conflagration alone can destroy; the book of nature, and that of man.
These he had by heart, and has tranferibed many admirable
of them into his immortal works. These are the fountain-head, whence the Caftalian ítreams of original compofition flow; and these are often mudded by other waters, though waters, in their distinet channel, most wholesome and pure: as two chemical liquors, separately clear as cryftal, grow foul by mixture, and offend the fight. So that he had not only as much learning as his dramatic province required, but, perhaps, as it could safely bear. If Milton had fpared iome of his learning, his muse would have gained more glory than he would have lost by it.",
Conje&tures on Original Composition,
and his queen.
THE first remark of Voltaire on this tragedy, is that the former king had been poisoned by his brother
The guilt of the latter, however, is far from being ascertained. The Ghost forbears to accuse her as an acceffary, and very forcibly recommends her to the mercy of her son. I may add, that her con, (cience appears undisturbed during the exhibition of the mock tragedy, which produces fo visible a diforder in her husband who was really criminal. The last obferva.
tion of the fame author has no greater degree of veracity to boast of; for now, says hc, all the actors in the piece are swept away, and one Monsieur Fortenbras is introduced to conclude it. Can this be true, when Horatio, Ofrick, Voltimanı, and Cornelius survive? Thele, together with the whole court of Denmark, are fupposed to be present at the catastrophe, so that we are not indebted to the Norwegian chief for having kept the stage from vacancy.
Monsieur de Voltaire has since transmitted, in an Epistle to the Academy of Belles Lettres, fome remarks on the late French translation of Shakespear; but alas! no traces of genius or vigour are difeoverable in this erambe repetita, which is notorious only for its insipidity, fallacy, and malice. It ferves indeed to shew an apparent decline of talents and spirit in its writer, who no longer relies on his own ability to depreciate a rival, but appeals, in a plaintive strain, to the queen, and princelles of France for their affistance to stop the further circulation of Shakespear's renown. : In.partiality, nevertheles, muft acknowledge that his private correspondence displays a superior degree of animation. Perhaps an ague shook him when he appealed to the public on this subject; but the effects of a fever seem to predominate in his fut fequent letter to Monsieur D'Argenteu:l on the fame occafion; for such a letter it is as our John Dennis (while his frenzy lasted) might be supposed to have written. 66 C'e autrefois parlai le premier de ce Shakespear: c'est moi qui le premier montrai aux François quelques perles quels j'avois trouvé dans fön enorme fumier.'
Mrs. Montague, the justly celebrated authoress of the Essay on the genius and writings of our author, was at Paris, and in the circle where there. ravings of the Frenchman were fiist publicly recited. On hearing the illiberal expression already quoted, with no less elegance than readiness fhe replied--c'est un fumier qui a fertilizé une terre bien in rate."... in Short, the author of Zayre, Mahomet, and simiramis, pulleiles all the mischievous
qualities of a midnight felon, who, in the hope to con-
As for Messieurs D'Alembert and Marmontet, they
END OF THE SECOND VOLUME,