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philosophers; you have now only a few obscure poets to dismiss in like manner, and you will have a clear field for yourself and your friends."


Ingeniis non ille favet, plauditque sepultis,
Nostra sed impugnat, nos nostraque lividus odit.
HOR. EPL. 2, 1, 88.

THE sarcastic speech of the old snarler, with which we concluded the last paper, being undeserved on the part of the person to whom it was applied, was very properly disregarded; and the clergyman proceeded as follows:

"The poets you have named will never be mentioned by me but with a degree of enthusiasm, which I should rather expect to be accused of carrying to excess, than of erring in the opposite extreme, had you not put me on my guard against partiality, by charging me with it beforehand. I shall, therefore, without further apology or preface, begin with Shakspeare, first named by you, and first in fame as well as time. It would be madness in me to think of bringing any poet now living into competition with Shakspeare; but I hope it will not be thought madness, or any thing resembling to it, to observe to you, that it is not in the nature of things possible for any poet to appear in an age so polished as this of ours, who can be brought into any critical comparison with that extraordinary and eccentric genius.

"For let us consider the two great striking features

of his drama, sublimity and character. Now sublimity involves sentiment and expression; the first of these is in the soul of the poet; it is that portion of inspiration, which we personify when we call it The Muse; so far, I am free to acknowledge, there is no immediate reason to be given why her visits should be confined to any age, nation, or person; she may fire the heart of the poet on the shores of Ionia three thousand years ago, or on the banks of the Cam or Isis at the present moment; but so far as language is concerned, I may venture to say, that modern diction will never strike modern ears with that awful kind of magic, which antiquity gives to words and phrases no longer in familiar use. In this respect our great dramatic poet hath an advantage over his distant descendants, which he owes to time, and which, of course, is one more than he is indebted for to his own preeminent genius. As for character, which I suggested as one of the two most striking features of Shakspeare's drama, or, in other words, the true and perfect delineation of nature, in this our poet is, indeed, a master unrivalled; yet, who will not allow the happy coincidence of time for this perfection in a writer of the drama? The different orders of men, which Shakspeare saw and copied, are, in many instances, extinct, and such must have the charms of novelty at least in our eyes. And has the modern dramatist the same rich and various field of character? The level manners of a polished age furnish little choice to an author, who now enters on the task, in which such numbers have gone before him, and so exhausted the materials, that it is justly to be wondered at, when any thing like variety can be struck out. Dramatic characters are portraits drawn from nature, and if all the sitters have a family likeness, the artist must either

depart from the truth, or preserve the resemblance; in like manner the poet must either invent characters, of which there is no counterpart in existence, or expose himself to the danger of an insipid and tiresome repetition. To add to his difficulties, it so happens that the present age, whilst it furnishes less variety to his choice, requires more than ever for its own amusement; the dignity of the stage must of course be prostituted to the unnatural resources of a wild imagination, and its propriety disturbed; music will supply those resources for a time, and accordingly we find the French and English theatres in the dearth of character, feeding upon the airy diet of sound; but this, with all the support that spectacle can give, is but a flimsy substitute, whilst the public, whose taste in the mean time becomes vitiated

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the latter of which monstrous prostitutions we have lately seen our national stage most shamefully exposed to.

"By comparing the different ages of poetry in our own country with those of Greece, we shall find the effects agree in each; for as the refinement of manners took place, the language of poetry became also more refined, and, with greater correctness, had less energy and force; the style of the poet, like the characters of the people, takes a brighter polish, which, whilst it smooths away its former asperities and protuberances, weakens the staple of its fabric, and what it gives to the elegance and delicacy of its complexion, takes away from the strength and sturdiness of its constitution. Whoever will compare Eschylus with Euripides, and Aristophanes

with Menander, will need no other illustration of this remark.

"Consider only the inequalities of Shakspeare's dramas. Examine not only one with another, but compare even scene with scene in the same play. Did ever the imagination of man run riot into such wild and opposite extremes? Could this be done, or, being done, would it be suffered in the present age? How many of these plays, if acted as they were originally written, would now be permitted to pass ? Can we have a stronger proof of the barbarous taste of those times, in which Titus Andronicus first appeared, than the favour which that horrid spectacle was received with? Yet of this we are assured by Ben Jonson. If this play was Shakspeare's, it was his first production, and some of his best commentators are of opinion it was actually written by him whilst he resided at Stratford-uponAvon. Had this production been followed by the three parts of Henry the Sixth, by Love's Labour Lost, the Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Comedy of Errors, or some few others, which our stage does not attempt to reform, that critic must have had a very singular degree of intuition, who had discovered in those dramas a genius capable of producing the Macbeth. How would a young author be received in the present time, who was to make his first essay before the public with such a piece as Titus Andronicus? Now if we are warranted in saying there are several of Shakspeare's dramas, which could not live upon our present stage at any rate, and few, if any, that would pass without just censure in many parts, were they represented in their original state, we must acknowledge it is with reason that our living authors, standing in awe of their audiences, dare not aim at those bold and irregular flights

of imagination, which carried our bard to such a height of fame; and therefore it was that I ventured awhile ago to say, there can be no poet in a polished and critical age like this, who can be brought into any fair comparison with so bold and eccentric a genius as Shakspeare, of whom we may say, with Horace

Tentavit quoque, rem si digne vertere posset,
Et placuit sibi, natura sublimis et acer:
Nam spirat tragicum satis, et feliciter audet:
Sed turpem putat in scriptis metuitque lituram.

EPL. 2, 1, 164.

When I bring to my recollection the several periods of our English drama since the age of Shakspeare, I could name many dates when it has been in hands far inferior to the present, and were it my purpose to enter into particulars, I should not scruple to appeal to several dramatic productions within the compass of our own times; but as the task of separating and selecting one from another amongst our own contemporaries can never be a pleasant task, nor one I would willingly engage in, I will content myself with referring to our stock of modern acting plays; many of which having passed the ordeal of critics, who speak the same language with what I have just now heard, and are continually crying down those they live with, may, perhaps, take their turn with posterity, and be hereafter as partially overrated upon a comparison with the productions of the age to come, as they are now undervalued when compared with those of the ages past.

"With regard to Milton, if we could not name any one epic poet of our nation since his time, it would be saying no more of us than may be said of the world in general, from the era of Homer to that of Virgil. Greece had one standard epic poet;

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