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fhould defervedly have a fhare in a general critique upon the author. But to pafs over at once to an other fubject
It has been allowed on all hands, how far our author was indebted to nature; it is not fo well agreed, how much he owed to languages and acquired learning. The decifions on this fubject were certainly fet on foot by the hint from Ben Jonfon, that he had small Latin, and lefs Greek and from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, "It is without controverfy, 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 tafte (continues he) and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal, if not fuperior, to fome of the best of theirs,) would certainly have led him
It has been allowed &c.] On this fubject an eminent writer has given his opinion which fhould not be fuppreffed. will ask me, perhaps, now I am on this fubject, how it happened that Shakspeare's language is every where fo much hist own as to fecure his imitations, if they were fuch, from difcovery; when I pronounce with fuch affurance of thofe of our other poets. The answer is given for me in the preface to Mr. Theobald's Shakspeare; though the obfervation, I think, is too good to come from that critick. It is, that though his words, agreeably to the ftate of the English tongue at that time, be generally Latin, his phrafeology is perfectly English: an advantage he owed to his flender acquaintance with the Latin idiom. Whereas the other writers of his age and fuch others of an older date as were likely to fall into his hands, had not only the most familiar acquaintance with the Latin idiom, but affected on all occafions to make use of it. Hence it comes to pass, that though he might draw fometimes from the Latin (Ben Jonfon you know tells us He had lefs Greek) and the learned English writers, he takes nothing but the fentiments; the expreffion comes of itself and is purely English." Bishop's Hurd's Letter to Mr. Mafon, on the Marks of Imitation, 8vo. 1758. REED.
to read and study them with fo much pleasure, that fome of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themfelves into, and been mixed with, his own writings and fo his not copying, at least fomething from them, may be an argument of his never having read them." I fhall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous paffages which I have occafionally quoted in my notes, in which our poet feems clofely to have imitated the clafficks, whether Mr. Rowe's affertion be fo abfolutely to be depended on. The refult of the controverfy muft 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 think like them, without owing any thing to imitation.
Though I fhould be very unwilling to allow Shakspeare fo poor a fcholar, as many have laboured to reprefent him, yet I fhall be very cautious of declaring too pofitively on the other fide of the queftion; that is, with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the paffages, that I occafionally quote from the clafficks, thall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated thofe originals; but brought to show how happily he has expreffed himself upon the fame topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a famenefs of thought and fameness of expreffion too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent fufpicion of the latter copying from his predeceffor. I fhall not therefore run any great rifque of a cenfure, though I fhould venture to hint, that the resemblances in thought and expreffion of our author and an ancient (which we fhould allow to be imitation in the one whofe learning was not quef
tioned) may fometimes take its rife from ftrength of memory, and thofe impreffions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a poffibility of this, confidering that, when he quitted the fchool, he gave into his father's profeffion and way of living, and had, it is likely, but a flender library of claffical learning; and confidering what a number of translations, romances, and legends, ftarted about his time, and a little before (moft of which, it is very evident, he read); I think it may eafily be reconciled why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more latter informations, than went back to those fountains, for which he might entertain a fincere veneration, but to which he could not have fo ready a recourfe.
In touching on another part of his learning, as it related to the knowledge of history and books, I fhall advance fomething that, at firft fight, will very much wear the appearance of a paradox. For I fhall find it no hard matter to prove, that, from, the groffeft blunders in history, we are not to infer his real ignorance of it; nor from a greater ufe of Latin words, than ever any other English author ufed, muft we infer his intimate acquaintance with that language.
A reader of tafte may easily obferve, that though Shakspeare, almoft in every fcene of his hiftorical plays, commits the groffeft offences against chronology, hiftory, and ancient politicks; yet this was not through ignorance, as is generally fuppofed, but through the too powerful blaze of his imagination, which, when once raifed, made all acquired knowledge vanifh and difappear before it. But this licence in him, as I have faid, muft not be imputed to ignorance, fince as often we may find him, when occafion ferves, reafoning up to the
truth of history; and throwing out fentiments as juftly adapted to the circumftances, of his subject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, it is certain, there is a furprizing effufion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English author I have feen; but we must be cautious to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in this age, began extremely to fuffer by an inundation of Latin: and this, to be fure, was occafioned by the pedantry of thofe two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, both great Latinifts. For it is not to be wondered at, if both the court and fchools, equal flatterers of power, fhould adapt themselves to the royal tafte.
But now I am touching on the queftion (which has been fo frequently agitated, yet fo entirely undecided,) of his learning and acquaintance with the languages; an additional word or two naturally falls in here upon the genius of our author, as compared with that of Jonfon his contemporary. They are confeffedly the greateft writers our nation could ever boast of in the drama. The first, we fay, owed all to his prodigious natural genius; and the other a great deal to his art and learning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable appearance in their writings. Befides thofe wonderful mafter-pieces of art and genius, which each has given us; they are the authors of other works very unworthy of them: but with this difference, that in Jonfon's bad pieces we do not difcover one fingle trace of the author of The Fox and Alchemist; but, in the wild extravagant notes of Shakspeare, you every now and then encounter ftrains that recognize the divine compofer. This
difference may be thus accounted for. Jonfon, as we faid before, owing all his excellence to his art, by which he fometimes ftrained himself to an uncommon pitch, when at other times he unbent and played with his fubject, having nothing then to fupport him, it is no wonder that he wrote fo far beneath himself. But Shakspeare, indebted more largely to nature than the other to acquired talents, in his moft negligent hours could never fo totally diveft himself of his genius, but that it would frequently break out with aftonishing force and fplendor.
As I have never propofed to dilate farther on the character of my author, than was neceffary to explain the nature and use of this edition, I fhall proceed to confider him as a genius in poffeffion of an everlasting name. And how great that merit muft be, which could gain it againft all the difadvantages of the horrid condition in which he had hitherto appeared! Had Homer, or any other admired author, first started into publick fo maimed and deformed, we cannot determine whether they had not funk for ever under the ignominy of fuch an ill appearance. The mangled condition of Shakspeare has been acknowledged by, Mr. Rowe, who published him indeed, but neither corrected his text, nor collated the old copies. This gentleman had abilities, and fufficient knowledge of his author, had but his induftry been equal to his talents. The fame mangled condition has been acknowledged too by Mr. Pope, who published him likewife, pretended to have collated the old copies, and yet feldom has corrected the text but to its injury. I congratulate with the manes of our poet, that this gentleman has been sparing in indulging his private fenfe, as he