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The patricians were the few in conspiracy against the many. And the struggles of the people were an honeft ftruggle for that share of power, which was kept unjustly from them. No wonder the hiftorians have reprefented the tribunes factious, and the people rebellious, when most of that fort now remaining wrote after the fubversion of their conftitution, and under the fear or favour of the Caefars. One would think our poet had been bred in the court of Nero, when we see in what colours he paints the tribunes, or the people : he seems to have no other idea of them, than as a mob of Wat Tylers and Jack Cades. Hence he has fpoiled, one of the finest fubjects of tragedy from the Roman history, his Coriolanus. But if this be the fault of Shakespeare, 'twas no less the fault of Virgil and Horace ; he errs in good company. Yet this is a poor apology, for the poet ought never to submit his art to wrong opinions, and prevailing fashion.
AND now I am considering the faulty side of our poet, I cannot pass over his ever and anon confounding the manners of the age which he is describing, with those in which he lived : for if these are at all introduced, it should be done with great art and delicacy; and with such an
antique caft, as Virgil has given to his Roman customs and manners.
Much less can many of his anacronisms be defended. Other kind of errors (if they may be so called) are properly the errors of great genius's ; such are inaccuracies of language, and a faulty sublime, which is surely preferable to a faultless mediocrity. Shakespeare labouring with a multiplicity of sublime ideas often gives himself not time to be delivered of them by the rules of Now-endeavouring art : hence he crowds various figures together, and metaphor upon metaphor ; and runs the hazard of far-fetched expressions, whilst intent on nobler ideas he condescends not to grammatical niceties : here the audience are to accompany the poet in his conceptions, and to supply what he has sketched out for them. I will mention an instance or two of this fort. Hamlet is speaking to his father's ghoft,
Ob! answer me,
5 Such expressions, Longinus fect. 32. calls prettily enough, (after better critics than himself) wagaxuduvetloκώτιρα. .
Again, Macbeth in a soliloquy before he murders Duncan,
Besides, this Duncan Hatb born bis faculties so meek, bath been So clear in bis great office, that bis virtues Will plead, like angels, trumpet-tongu'd against The deep damnation of bis taking off: And Pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blaft, or beav'n's cherubim bors'd Upon the hightless couriers of the air Shall blow tbe borrid deed in every eye ; That tears fall drown the wind.
Many other passages of this kind might be mention’d, which pass off tolerably well in the mouth of the actor, while the imagination of the spectator helps and supplies every seeming inaccuracy ; but they will no more bear a close view, than fome designedly unfinished, and rough sketches of a masterly hand.
AVING spoken of the poet's province, I return to the subject of critics
and criticism, and shall consider not what they have been, but what their assumed character requires them to be. If a critic, as the original word imports, can truly judge of authors, he must have formed his judgment from the perfectest models. 1 Horace sends
i Hor. art. poet. .323. and 268. Horace does not seem to have any great opinion of his countrymen, as to their learned capacity. Plautus and Terence are copies of the Grecian ftage; the latter, Caefar called, dimidiate Menander. If their tragic poets were no better than Seneca, their less is not greatly to be regretted. It might not be displeasing to the reader to know Virgil's opinion ; and he might be pretty certain 'twas the same as Horace's, had not he left us his testimony, which is as follows, even where he is celebrating the Roman worthies : Aen. VI, 842.
Excudent alii spirantia mollius aera,
Orabunt caufas melius, &c. 'Tis truly observed by Mr. Ascham in his Scholeinafter, p. 55. That Athens within the memory of one man's life bred greater men, than Rome in the compass of those seven hundred years when it flourished most.
you to Grecian writers to gain a right relish of literature.
“ Graiis ingenium, Graiis dedit ore rotundo
.“ Vos exemplaria Graeca
When a taste and relish is well modeled and formed, and our general science of what is fair and good improved ; 'tis no very difficult matter to apply this knowledge to particulars. But if I have no standard of right and wrong, no criterion of foul and fair ; if I cannot give a reason for my liking or disliking, how much more becoming is modesty and filence ?
I would beg leave to know, what ideas can he be supposed to have of a real sublime in manners and sentiments, who has never gone further for his instruction, than what a puffy rhetorician, who wrote in a barbarous age, can teach? Or what admirer of monkish fophifts and casuists, can ever have any relish at all ?
The human mind naturally and necessarily perfues truth, it's second self; and, if not rightly set to work, will soon fix on some false
appearance and borrowed representations of what is fair and good : here it will endeavour to ac