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laws ; nor is it more equitable to judge him entirely by the practice of any particular theatre,.' Yet some criterion must be established by which we may determine his merits. First, we must take into consideration what is proposed to be done by the means of dramatic imitation. Every species of poetry has its distinct offices. The effecting certain moral purposes, by the representation of a fable, seems to have been the universal intention, from the first institution of the drama to this time, and to have prevailed, not only in Europe, bụt in all countries where the dramatic art has been attempted. It has indeed been the common aim of all poetry to please and instruct; but by means as various as the kinds of composition. We are pleased with the ode, the elegy, the eclogue ; not only for having invention, spirit, elegance, and such perfections as are necessary to recommend any fort of poetry, but we also require that each should have its fpecific merit; the ode, that which constitutes the perfection "of an
ode, &c. In these views, then, our author is to be examined. First, if his fables answer the noblest end of fable, moral instruction ;. next, whether his dramatic imitation has its proper dramatic. excellence. In the latter of these articles, perhaps, there is not any thing will more affift our judgment than a candid comparison (where the nature of the subjects well bear it) between his and some other celebrated dramatic compositions.
It is idle to refer to a vague, unrealized idea of perfection : we may fafely pronounce that to be well executed, in any art, which after the repeated efforts of great geniuses is equal to any thing that has been produced. We may securely applaud what the ancients have crowned; therefore should not withhold our approbation wherever we find our countryman has equalled the most admired passages in the Greek tragedians : but we shall not do justice to his native talents, when they are the object of consideration, if we do not remember the different circumstances under which these writers were composed. Shake fpear's plays were to be acted in a paltry tavern, to an unlettered audience, juft emerging from barbarity : the Greek trage+ dies were to be exhibited at the public charge, under the care and auspices of the magistrates at Athens; where the very populace were critics in wit, and connoisseurs in public spectacles. The period when Sophocles and Euripides wrote, was that in which the fine arts, and polite literature, were in a degree of perfection which succeeding ages have emulated in vain..
It happened in the literary as in the moral world; a few sages, from the veneration which they had obtained by extraordinary wisdom and a faultless conduct, rose to the authority of legislators. The practice and manner of the three celebrated Greek tragedians were by succeeding critics established as dramatic laws : happily for Shakespear, Mr. Johnson, whose genius and learning
render him superior to a fervile awe of pedantic institutions, in
his. ingenious preface to his edition of Shakespear has greatly obviated all that can be objected to our author's neglect of the unities of time and place.
Shakespear's felicity has been rendered compleat in this
His genius produced works that time could not destroy :but fome of the lighter characters were become illegible; these have been restored by critics whose learning and penetration traced back the vestiges of fuperannuated opinions and customs.' They are now no longer in danger of being effaced, and the testimonies of these learned commentators to his merit, will guard our author's great monument of human wit from the presumptuous invafions of our rash critics, and the squibs of our witlings ; so that the bays will flourish unwithered and inviolate round his tomb; and his very spirit seems to come forth and to animate his characters, as often as Mr.
Garrick, who acts with the fame inspiration with which he wrote, assumes them on the ftage.
After our poet had received such important services from the united efforts of talents and learning in his behalf, fome apology seems neceffary for this work. Let it be remembered that the most superb and lasting monument that ever was confecrated to beauty, was that to which every lover carried a tribute. I dare hope to do him honour only by augmenting the heap of volumes given by his admirers to his memory ; I will own I was incited to this undertaking by great admiration of his genius, and still greater indignation at the treatment he had received from a French wit, who feems to think he has made prodigious concessions to our prejudices in favour of the works of our countryman in allowing them the credit of a few fplendid passages, while he speaks of piece as a monstrous and ill-constructed