« PreviousContinue »
(O shame to free born Englishmen!) of morals and manners. Hence every thing, unless of French extraction, appears aukward and antiquated. Our poets write to the humour of the age ; and when their own little stock is spent, they set themselves to work on new-modelling * Shakespeare's plays, and adapting them to the tast of their audience ; by stripping off their antique and proper tragic dress, and by introducing in these mock-tragedies, not only gallantry to women, but an endeavour to raise a serious distress from the disappointment of lovers ; not considering that the passion of love, which one would think they should understand something of, is a comic passion. In short
4 Sir William Davenant, and Dryden, began this just after the restoration ; and their example was soon followed by others,
s Love is a passion, in which the great and the little, the earthly and the heavenly, (to speak a little mysteriously) are so blended and mixed together, as to make it the fittest subject in the world for ridicule. Totus verò ifte, qui vulgà appellatur Amor, (nec hercule invenio, quo nomine alio poffit appellari) tantae levitatis eft, ut nihil videam, quod putem conferendum. ** O praeclaram emendationem vitae, Poeticam! quae Amorem, flagiti et levitatis auctorem, in concilio deorym conlocandum putet: DE COMOEDI A loquor : quae, la haec flagitia non probaremus, nulla cffet omnino. Cicero Tuscul. difp. iv. 32.
they make up a poet of shreds and patches ; sa that the ancient robe of our tragedian, by this miserable darning, and threadbare patchwork, resembles the long motley coat of the Fool, in our old plays, introduced to raise the laughter of the spectators. And I am afraid, if the matter was minutely examined into, we should find, that many passages, in some late editions of our poet, have been altered, or added, or lopped off, entirely thro' modern, and French refinement,
HE misfortune feems to be, that fcarcely
any one pays a regard to what Shakespeare does write, but they are always guessing at what he should write ; nor in any other light is he look'd on, than as a poor mechanic ; a fellow, 'tis true, of genius, who says, now and then, very good things, but wild and uncultivated ; and as one by no means proper company for lords and ladies, maids of honour and court-pages, 'till some poet or other, who knows the world better, takes him in hand, and introduces him in this modern dress to good company.
Whatever be the opinion of the vulgar, whether the great vulgar or the small, is of no great concernment ; but indeed it was a matter of some surprise to read the following account in a noble writer of a better taft : '14 Our old dra“ matick poet may witness for our good ear " and manly relish (notwithstanding bis natural “ rudeness, bis unpolish'd
stile, bis antiquated phrafe ss and wit, bis want of method and coherence, and « bis deficiency in almost all the graces and orna“ ments of this kind of writing ;] yet by the
justness of his moral, the aptness of “ his descriptions, and the plain and natural turn 6 of feveral of his characters; he pleases his au6c dience, and often gains their ear, without a " single bribe from luxury or vice.” Those ļines, that I have placed between two hooks, ought certainly to have been omitted, as they carry with them reflections false in every partiçular. Or shall we play the critic, and suppose them some marginal observation, not written by the learned Antony Ashley Cooper ; and from hence by the blundering transcriber foisted into the context?
Characteristicks, vol. I. Advice to an author, p. 275.
'Twas through such wrong notions of refinement, that ' bishop Burnet was led into no less mistakes concerning Milton: “ He was not sc excepted out of the act of indemnity ; and « afterwards he came out of his concealment, 46 and lived many years, much visited by all ** ftrangers, and much admired by all at home “ for the poems he writ, tho' he was then blind, *6 chiefly, that of Paradise loft, in which there is u a nobleness both of contrivance and execution, 55 that [tho' be affected to write in blank verse with* out rbyme, end made many new and rough words] those yet it was esteemed the beautifullest and per“ fedtest poem that ever was writ, at least in our language." This cenfure falls equally on
2 Burnet's history of his own times, vol. I. p. 163. Mr. Richardson tells us, that Sir William Davenant procured Milton's pardon. See his remarks, p. LXXXIX. Perhaps bifhop Burnet took his censure from Dryden's dedication before the tranflation of Juvenal; where he says, that Mikon rans into a flat of thought sometimes for “ a handred lines together : that he was transported too far “ in the use of obsolete words : and that he can by no “ means approve of his choice of blank verse.” Dryden might be willing the world should think this true, in order that his own wares might go off the better. The foHy is to be caught. But Burnet was not particular in his opinion, 'twas the reigning tast of the age: to comply with
Shakespeare ; for he too wrote in blank verfe witba out rhyme, and made many new and rough words. But let Milton speak for himself and his admired Shakespeare, for doubtless he means him, in his apology prefixed to the Paradise loft.
The “ measure is English heroic verse without rime; fe as that of Homer in Greek and Virgil in “ Latin ; rime being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of
poem or good verse, in long “ works especially, but the invention of a bar
which, Dryden turned the Paradise loft into rime, calling it, The State of Innocence, and Fall of Man. For which he received the complements of his poetical brothers : hear one of them.
For Milton did the wealthy mine disclafe,
And softest language, fweetest inanners taught, There spoke the courtiers and poets of Charles's reign, this was their taft : and exactly so did they ferre, and judge of Shakespeare.