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immortality; fome or all of which have encourag’d the vanity, or animated the ambition, of other writers.

YET it must be observed, that when his performances had merited the protection of his prince, and when the encouragement of the court had fucceeded to that of the town; the works of his riper years are manifeftly raised above thofe of his former. The dates of his plays fufficiently evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the refpect he had for his auditors. And, I make no doubt, this obfervation would be found true in every inftance, were but editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was compofed, and whether writ for the town, or the court.

ANOTHER Caufe (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from our author's being a player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a ftandard to themselves, upon other principals than those of Ariftotle. As they live by the majority, they know no rule but that of pleafing the present humour, and complying with the wit in fashion; a confideration which brings all their judgment to a fhort point. Players are just fuch judges of what is right, as taylors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that moft of our author's faults are lefs to be afcribed to his wrong judgment as a poet, than to his right judgment as a player.

By these men it was thought a praise to Shakespear, that he fcarce ever blotted a line. This they induftriously propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben. Jonfon in his difcoveries, and from the preface of Heminges and Condell to the first folio edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the comedy of the Merry Wives of Windfor, which he entirely new writ; the Hiftory of Henry the fixth,which was first published under the title of the Contention


of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the fifth, extremely improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at first, and many others. I believe, the common opinion of his want of learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a praife by fome; and to this his errours have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For 'tis certain, were it true, it could concern but a small part of them; the most are fuch as are not properly defects, but fuperfœtations; and arise not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging or rather (to be more just to our author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the fubject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, false thoughts, forc'd expreflions, &c. if thefe are not to be afcrib'd to the forefaid accidental reasons, they must be charg'd upon the poet himself, and there is no help for it. But, I think, the two disadvantages which I have mention'd (to be obliged to please the lowest of people, and to keep the worft of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear fufficient to mislead and deprefs the greatest genius upon earth. Nay the more modesty with which fuch a one is endued, the more he is in danger of fubmitting and conforming to others, against his own better judgment.

BUT as to his want of learning, it may be neceffary to say fomething more There is certainly a vaft difference between learning and languages: how far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had much reading at least, if they will not call it learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a tafte of natural philofophy, mechanicks, ancient and modern hiftory, poctical learning, and mythology: we find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners, of antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæfar, not only the fpirit, but manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn; and ftill a nicer diftinction is shown, between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former,


and of the latter. His reading in the ancient hiftorians is no less confpicuous, in many references to particular paffages: and the fpeeches copy'd from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an inftance of his learning, as thofe copy'd from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben. Jonson's. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of fcience, he either fpeaks of or defcribes; it is always with competent if not extenfive knowledge: his descriptions are ftill exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject. When he treats of ethick or politick, we may conftantly observe a wonderful justness of distinction,as well as extent of comprehenfion. No one is more a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this laft particular) has not shown more learning this way than Shakespear. We have tranflations from Ovid published in his name, among thofe poems which pafs for his, and for fome of which we have undoubted authority, (being published by himself, and dedicated to his noble patron the earl of Southampton :) he appears alfo to have been converfant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another: (although I will not pretend to say in what language he read them.) The modern Italian writers of novels he was manifeftly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no lefs converfant with the ancients of his own country, from the ufe he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Creffida, and in the Two Noble Kinfmen, if that play be his, as there goes a tradition it was, (and, indeed, it has little refemblance of Fletcher, and more of our author than fome of those which have been received. as genuine.)

I AM inclined to think, this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the partizans of our author and Ben. Jonfon; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expence of the other. It is


ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben. Jonfon had much the most learning, it was faid, on the one hand, that Shakespear had none at all; and because Shakespear had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonson wanted both. Because Shakespear borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben. Jonson borrowed every thing. Because Fonfon did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakespear wrote with ease and rapidity, they cry'd, he never once made a blot. Nay the spirit of oppofition ran fo high, that whatever those of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into praifes; as injudiciously, as their antagonists before had made them objections..

POETS are always afraid of envy; but, fure, they have as much reason to be afraid of admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of authors; those who escape one often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum laudantes, says Tacitus: and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praise a poet without rule or reason.

Si ultra placitum laudárit, baccare frontem
Cingito, ne vati noceat

But however this contention might be carried on by the partizans on either fide, I cannot help thinking these two great poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in offices of fociety with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben. Jon/on was introduced upon the stage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakespear. And after his death, that author writes To the memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespear, which shows as if the friendship had continued through life. I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious or fparing in thofe verfes, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenfer, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be rank'd with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and fchylus, nay all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him; and (which is very particular)



exprefsly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting art, not enduring that all his excellencies fhould be attributed to nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Difcoveries feems to proceed from a perfonal kindness; he tells us that he lov'd the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honesty, openness, and frankness, of his temper; and only distinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the filly and derogatory applaufes of the players. Ben. Jonfon might, indeed, be fparing in his commendations (though certainly he is not so in this inftance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more fervice in praising him justly, than lavishly. I fay, I would fain believe they were friends, though the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rife to the contrary report. I would hope, that it may be with parties, both in wit and ftate, as with thofe monfters defcribed by the poets; and that their heads at least may have something human, though their bodies and tails are wild beasts and serpents.

As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rife to the. opinion of Shakespear's want of learning; fo what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first publishers of his works. In these editions their

ignorance fhines almost in every page; nothing is more common than Actus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three witches folus. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in conftruction and spelling: their very Welsh is falfe. Nothing is more likely than that those palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Ariftotle, with others of that grofs kind, fprung from the fame root: it not being at all credible that thefe could be the errours of any man who had the leaft tincture of a fchool, or the leaft converfation with fuch as had. Ben. Fonfon (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at leaft to have had fome Latin; which is utter'y inconfiftent with mistakes like these. Nay the conftant blunders in proper names of perfons and places, are fuch as must have proceeded


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