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force and direction to its actions and gestures : when one of these critics has attempted to finish a work by his own rules, he has rarely been able to convey into it one spark of divine fire; and the hero of his piece, whom he designed for a man, remains a cold inanimate statue; which, moving on the wood and wire of the great masters in the mechanical part of the drama, presents to the spectators a kind of heroic puppetshew. As these pieces take their rise in tha school of criticism, they return thither again, and are as good subjects for the students ist that art, as a dead body to the professors iri physic. Most minutely too have they been anatomised in learned academies: but works animated by genius will not abide this kind of dissection.
Mr. Pope says, that, to form a judgment of Shakespear's works, We are not to apply to the rules of Aristotle, which would be like trying a man by the laws of one country, who lived under those of another.- ■
Heaven-born genius acts from something A 4 superior superior to rules, and antecedent to rules j and has a right of appeal to nature herself.
Great indulgence is due to the errors of original writers, who, quitting the beaten track which others have travelled, make daring incursions into unexplored regions of invention, and boldly strike into the pathless sublime: it is no wonder if they are often bewildered, sometimes benighted; yet surely it is more eligible to partake the pleasure and the toil of their adventures, than still to follow the cautious steps of timid imitators through trite and common roads. Genius is of a bold enterprizing nature, ill adapted to the formal restraints of critic institutions, or indeed to lay down to itself rules of nice discretion. If . perfect and faultless composition is ever to be expected from human faculties, it must be at some happy period when a noble and graceful simplicity, the result of well regulated and sober magnanimity, reigns through the general manners. Then the muses and the arts, neither effeminately delicate nor audacioufly
; \ ■. bold, bold, assume their highest character, and in all their compositions seem to respect the chastity of the public taste, which would equally disdain quaintness of ornament, or the rude neglect of elegance and decorum. Such periods had Greece, had Rome ! Then were produced immortal works of every kind! But, when the living manners degenerated, in vain did an Aristotle and a Quin* tilian endeavour to restore by doctrine what had been inspired by sentiments, and fashioned by manners.
If the severer muses, whose sphere is the library and the senate, are obliged in complaisance to this degeneracy, to trick themselves out with meretricious and frivolous ornaments, as is too apparent from the compositions of the historians and orators in declining empires, can we wonder that a dramatic poet, whose chief interest it is to please the people, should, more than any other writer, conform himself to their humour; and appear most strongly infected with the faults of the times, whether they be such as belong to unpolished, or corrupted taste. '..J. •
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Shakelpear wrote at a time when learning was tinctured with pedantry j wit was un* polished, and mirth ill-bred. The court of Elizabeth spoke a scientific jargOn, and a certain obscurity of style was universally affected. James brought an addition of pedantry, accompanied by indecent and indelicate manners and language; By contagion, or from complaisance to the taste of the public, Shakespear falls sometimes into the fashionable mode of writing: but this is ordy by fits j. for many parts of all his plays1 are Written with the most noble, ele* ganti - and uncorrupted simplicity.. Such it his merit,. that the more just and refined the taste of the nation has become, the more he has encreafed in reputation. Hplwas approved by his own age, admired by the next, and is revered, and almost adored by the present.. His merit is disputed by little wits, and his errors are the jests of little critics; but there has not been a great
poet, pott, or great critic, since his time, ? who has not spoken of him with the highest veneration, Mr. Voltaire excepted. His translations often, his criticisms still oftener* prove he did not perfectly understand the words of the author; and therefore it is certain he could not enter into his meaning; He comprehended enough to perceive he was unobservant of some established rules of composition; the felicity with which he performs what no rules can teach escapes him. Will not an intelligent spectator admirt <he prodigious structures of Stone-Henge, because he does not know by what law of mechanics they were raised? Like them, our author's works will remain for ever the greatest monuments of the amazing force of nature, which we ought to view as we do other prodigies, with an attention to, and admiration of their stupendous parts, and proud irregularity of greatness.