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admirable genius pierced into the necessity of such
Servetur ad imum Qualis ab inccepto pracesserit, & fibi conftet. For what can be more ridiculous, than, in our modern writers, to make a debauched young man, immersed in all the vices of his
and time, in a few hours take up, confine himself in the
way of honour to one woman, and moralize in good earnest on the follies of his past behaviour ? Nor can, that great examplar of Comic writing, Terence be altogether excused in this regard; who, in his Adelphi, has left Demea in the Jaft fcenes so unlike himfelf: whom, as Shakespeare expresses it, he has turn’d with the feamy • fide of his wit outward.' This conduct, as errors are more readily imitated than perfections, Beaumont and Fletcher seem to have followed in a character in their Scornful Lady. It may be objected, perhaps, by some who do not go to the bottom of our Poet's conduct, that he has likewise transgressed against the rule himself, by making Prince Harry at once, upon coming to the crown, throw off his former diffoluteness, and take up the practice of a sober 'morality and all the kingly virtues. But this would be a mistaken objection. The Prince's reformation is not so sudden, as not to be prepared and expected by the audience. He gives, indeed, a loose to vanity, and a light unweighed behaviour, when he is trifling among his dissolute companions ; but the
sparks of innate honour and true nobleness break from him upon every proper occasion, where we would hope to see him awake to sentiments suiting his birth and dignity. And our Poet has so well, and artfully, guarded his character from the suspicions of habitual and unreformable profigateness; that even from the first shewing him upon the stage, in the First Part of Henry IV. when he made him consent to join with Falstaff in a robbery on the highway, he has taken care not to carry him off the scene, without an intimation that he knows them all, and their unyoked humour; and that, like the sun, he will permit them only for a while to obscure and cloud his bright. ness; then break through the mist, when he pleases to be himself again; that his lustre, when wanted, may be the more wondered at.
Another of Shakespeare's grand touches of nature, and which lies still deeper from the ken of common obfervation, has been taken notice of in a note upon The Tempeft; where Prospero at once interrupts the masque of spirits, and starts into a sudden passion and disorder of mind. As the latent cause of his emotion is there fully inquired into, I Thall no farther dwell upon it here.
Such a conduct in a poet (as Shakespeare has manifested on many like occasions ;) where the turn of action arises from reflections of bis characters, where the reason of it is not expressed in words, but drawn from the inmost resources of nature, thews him truly capable of that art,
which is more in rule than practice : Ars est celare artem. 'Tis the foible of your worser poets to make a parade and oftentation of that little science they have; and to throw it out in the most ambitious colours. And whenever a writer of this class shall attempt to copy these artful concealments of our author, and shall either think them easy, or practised by a writer for his ease, he will soon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imitation of them.
Speret idem, sudet multùm, fruftráque laboret, Aufus idem: Another grand touch of nature in our author, (not less difficult to imitate, tho' more obvious to the remark of a common reader) is, when he brings down at once any character from the ferment and height of passion, makes him correct himfelf for the unruly difpofition, and fall into reflections of a sober and moral tenour. An exquisite fine instance of this kind occurs in Lear, where that old King, hafty and intemperate in his passions, coming to his son and daughter Cornwall, is told by the Earl of Gloucester that they are not to be spoken with : and thereupon throws himself into a rage, supposing the excuse of sickness and weariness in them to be a purposed contempt: Gloucester begs him to think of the fiery and unremoveable quality of the Duke: And this, which was defigned to qualify his passion, serves to exaggerate the transports of it.
As the conduct of Prince Henry in the first instance, the secret and mental reflections in the cale of Prospero, and the instant detour of Lear from the violence of rage to a temper of reafoning, do so much honour to that surprising knowledge of human nature, which is certainly our author's masterpiece, I thought, they could not be set in too good a light. Indeed, to point out, and exclaim upon, all the beauties of ShakeSpeare, as they come fingly in review, would be as insipid, as endless; as tedious, as unnecessary: But the explanation of those beauties, that are Jels obvious to common readers, and whose illustration depends on the rules of just criticism, and an exact knowledge of human life, should defervedly have a share in a general critic upon the author.
I shall dismiss the examination into these his latent beauties, when I have made a short comment upon a remarkable passage from Julius Cæfar, which is inexpressibly fine in itself, and greatly discovers our Author's knowledge and researches into nature.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing,
It has been allowed on all hands, how far our author was indebted to nature : it is not so well agreed, how much he owed to languages and acquired learning. The decisions on this subject were certainly set on foot by the hint from Ben Fohnson, that he had fmall Latin and less Greek: And from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, “ It is
without controversy, he had no knowledge of “ the writings of the ancient poets, for that in his " works we find no traces of any thing which « looks like an imitation of the ancients. For the “ delicacy of his taste (continues he,) and the “ natural bent of his own great genius (equal, “ if not superior, to some of the best of theirs ;) « would certainly have led him to read and ftudy " them with so much pleasure, that some of their “ fine images would naturally have infinuated " themfelves into, and been mixed with, his own “ writings: fo that his not copying, at least, " something from them, may be an argument of “ his never having read them.” I shall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous passages, which I have occasionally quoted in my notes, in which our Poet seems closely to have imitated the classics, whether Mr. Rowe's affertion be so absolutely to be depended
The result of the controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our Author's honour; 'how happily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could