Page images
PDF
EPUB

The hero, therefore; full of this idea of facrificing Caesar to his injured country, after stabbing him in the senate, tells the Romans to stoop, and besmear their hands and their swords in the blood of the facrifice. This was agreeable to an ancient and religious custom. So in 18 Aeschylus we read, that the seven captains, who came against Thebes, facrificed a bull, and dipped their hands in the gore, invoking, at the same time, the gods of war, and binding themselves with an oath to revenge the cause of Eteocles. And "9 Xenophon tells us, that when the barbarians ratified their treaty with the Greeks, they made a sacrifice, and dipped their spears and swords in the blood of the victim. By this solemn action Brutus gives the aflaffination of Caesar a religious air and turn ; and history too informs us, that he marched out of the senate house, with his bloody hands, proclaiming liberty.

As there is nothing pleases the human mind so much as order, and consistency ; so when the

poet has art to paint this uniformity in manners, he not only hinders confusion, but brings the audience acquainted, as it were, with the person represented ; you see into his character,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

know how he will behave, and what párt he will take on any emergency. And Shakespeare's characters are all thus strongly marked and manner'd.

SECT. XI.

Question here arises, which I shall leave A

to the reader's consideration. It being proved that manners are essential to poetry, must not the poet, not only know what morals and manners are, but be himself likewise a moral and honest man? Or can there be knowledge without practice ? 'Tis certain no one can express and paint manners, without knowing what manners are, how they become deformed and monstrous, how natural and beautiful. Nor can he know others without knowing himself ; what he is, what constitutes his good, and what his ill. But whether such an enquiry will be attended with answerable practice, will depend on the fairness and sincerity of the enquirer. For there is not that man living, who does not act the hypocrite more with respect to himself, than to the rest of the world.But this is a mysterious subject, too long for this place : and it may be sufficient therefore at present, if we have the authorities of a poet or two, with

out

out being at the trouble of going to the more abstruse philosophers. Let us hear Horace :

Qui didicit patriae quid debeat, et quid amicis ; Quo fit amore parens, quo frater amandus et bofpes;

Quod fit conscripti, quod judicis officium, quae Partes in bellum misi ducis ; ILLE PROFECTO REDDERE PERSONAE SCIT

CUIQUE.

CONVENIENTIA

And Johnson, in his dedication of his Volpone to the two universities : “ It is certaine, nor can “ it with any fore-head be opposed, that the

too much license of poetasters, in this time, “ hath much deformed their mistriss; that

every day, their manifold and manifeft igno“ rance, doth stick unnatural reproaches upon “ her : but for their petulancy, it were an act “ of the greatest injustice, either to let the « learned suffer ; or so divine a skill (which “ should not indeed be attempted with uncleane

hands) to fall under the least contempt. For, “ if men will impartially, and not a-squint “ looke toward the offices, and fanction of a

poet, they will easily conclude to themselves, " the impoflibility of any one man's being the good poet, without first being a good man.Our learned comedian being a great reader of

G

Greek

Greek authors, has literally translated : Strabo's words. Η δε ποιητά συνέζευκίας τη τα ανθρώπων έχ οίόν τε ΑΓΑΘΟΝ γενέσθαι ΠΟΙΗΤΗN, μη πρότερον γεννηθέντα ΑΝΔΡΑ ΑΓΑΘΟΝ. As to our poet, he is an undoubted example for that side of the question, which one would wish to hold true in general. All his contemporaries answer for his honefty. Look how the father's face Lives in bis ifjue, even fo the race Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines In bis ? well-torned and true-filed lines.

And in his Discoveries. " I remember the s players have often mention'd it as an honour $6 to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatso

ever he penn'd) he never blotted out a line. ! My answer hath been, Would he had blotted " a thousand. Which they thought a malevo“ lent speech. I had not told pofterity this, " but for their ignorance, who chose that cir“ cumstance to commend their friend by, " wherein he most faulted. And to justifie “ mine own candor, (for I loved the Man, and

Strabo, 1. 1. p. 33. 2 Johnfon had the expression of the ancients in view, bene tornatos, et limatos verfus.

to do honour bis memary, on this fide idolatry, as * much as any.) HE WAS INDEEP HONEST

AND QF AN OPEN AND FREE NATURE : had

an excellent phantfie, brave notions, and « gentle expreffions : wherein he flowed with so that facility, that fometime it was neceffary « he should be stop'd : fuffiaminandus erat ; as $ ? Auguftus said of Haterius. His wit was in " bis own power; would the rule of it had been “ fo too. Many times he fell into thofe things, " that could not efcape laughter: As when he “ faid in the person of Caefar, one speaking to « him, + Caefar, thoth doft me wrong. He reSo ply'd; Caefar did neuer wrong but seith just

caufe : and such like ; which were ridiculous, 66 But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. • There was ever more in him to be praised ¢ than to be pardoned.”

If Shakespeare was this honeft man, he muft have felt what the charms of honesty were, and

3 Seneca 4.

declam. 4. He cites by memory, which is often treacherous. In Julius Caefar, Ad III, the passage is thus, Caefar. Know, Caefar doth not wrong, nor without cause

Will he be satisfied. The same kind of treacherous memory made. Longinus cenfure Xenophon, for what Xenophon never wrote. See: his treatise wigi wito xop.d.

G 2

thus

« PreviousContinue »