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wgaiety and with diligence, and travel on a while in the „ straight road of piety towards the mansions of rest. „ short time we remit our fervor, and endeavour to find some „ mitigation of our duty, and some more easy means of ob„, taining the same end. We then relax our vigour, and „ resolve no longer to be terrified' with crimes at a distance, but rely upon our own constancy, and venture to approach „what we resolve never to touch. We thus enter the bowers „of ease, and repose in the shades of security. Here the
heart softens, and vigilance subsides; we are then willing to „enquire whether another advance cannot be made, and whether we may not,
at least, turn our eyes upon the ngardens of pleasure. We approach them with scruple and „besitation; we enter them, but enter timorous and trembling, „, and always hope to pass through them without losing the „road of virtue, which we, for a while, keep in our sight, , and to which we propose to return. But temptation succeeds „temptation, and one compliance prepares us for another;
we in time lose the bappiness of innocence, and solace our „disquiet with sensial gratifications. By degrees we let fall
the remembrance of our original intention, and quit the only „ adequate object of rational desire. We entangle ourselves in
business, immerge ourselves in luxury, and rove through the „labyrinths of incunstancy, till the darkness of old age begins „ to invade us, and disease and anxiety obstruct our way. „We then look back upon our lives with horror, with sorrow, „with repentance; and wish, but too often vainly wish, that we had not forsaken the ways of virtue. Happy are they, ,, my son, who shall learn from thy example not to despair, „bit shall remember, that though the day is past, and their , trengih is wasted, there yet remains one effort to be made; that reformation is never hupeless," nor sincere endeavours „ever unassisted ; that the Wanderer may at length return „after all his errors, and that he who implores strength and „courage from above, shali find danger and difficulty give way „before him. Go now, my son to thy repuse, commit thy„selt to the care of Omnipotence, and when the morning calls again to toil, begin anew thy journey and thy life.“
2) BY WHAT PARTICULARITIES OF EXCELLENCE SHAXSPEARE KAS
GAINED AND KEPT THE FAVOUR OF HIS COUNTRYMEN *). The
be reverence due to writings that have long subsisted arises not from
credulous confidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions, that what has been longest known bas been most considered, and what is most considered is best understood.
The poet, of whose works I have undertaken the revision, may now begin to assume the dignity of an ancient, and 'elaim the privilege of established fame and prescriptive veneration. He has loog outlived his century, the term commonly fixed as the test of literary merit. Whatever advantages he might onçe derive from personal allusions, local customs, or temporary opinions, have for many years been lost; and every topick of merriment, or motive of sorrow, which the modes of artificial life afforded him, now only obscure the scenes, which they once illuminated. The effects of favour and competition are at an end; the tradition of his friendships and his enmities has perished; his works support no opinion with arguments, nor supply any faction with invectives; they can neither indulge vanity, nor gratify malignity; but are read without
than the desire of pleasure, and are therefore praised only as pleasure is obtained; yet thus unassisted by interest or passion, they have past through cariations of taste and changes of manners, and, as they devolved from one generation to another, have received new honours al every transmission.
But because human judgment, thongh it be gradually gaining upon certainty, never becomes infallible; and approbation though long continued, · may yet be only the approbation of prejudice or fashion; it is proper to inquire, by what peculiarities of excellence Shakspeare has gained and kept the favour of his countrymen.
Nothing can please many and please long, but just representations of general nature. Particular manners can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge how nearly they are copied. The irregular combinations of fanciful in
) Johnson's Preface to his edition of Shakspear's works (printed in 1765).
vention may delight a while, by that novelty of which the common satiety' of life sends us all in quest; the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the stability of truth.
Shakspeare is above all writers, at least above all modern. writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of quanners and of life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the particularities of studies or professions, which can operate but upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common bumanity; such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find. His persons, act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets a character is too often an individual ; in those of Shakspeare it is commonly a species.
It is from this wide extension of design that so much instruction is derived. It is this which fills the plays of Sbakspeare with practical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was said of Euripides, that every verse was a precept; and it may be said of Shakspeare, that from his works may be col- ! lected a system of civil and economical prudence. Yet his real power is not shown in the splendor of particular passages, but by the progress of his fable, and the tenor of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles *), , who, when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.
It will not easily be imagined how much Shakspeare excels in accomodating his sentiments to real life, but by comparing him with other authors. It was observed of the ancient schools of declamation, that the more diligently they were frequented, the more was the student disqualified for the world, because he found nothing there which he should ever meet in any other place. The same remark may
*) Hierocles lebte im 5ten Jahrhundert nach Christo. Die Anekdote
, welche Johnson erzählt, steht in dem ihm beigelegten Werkchen betitelt agria (facetiae).
plied to every stage but that of Shakspeare. The theatre, when it is under any other direction, is peopled by such characters as were never seen, conversing in a language which was never heard, upon topicks which will never arise in the commerce of mankind. But the dialogue of this author is often so evidently determined by the incident which produces it, and is pursued with so much ease and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent selection out of commun conversation, and common pccurrences.
Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, hy whose power all good and evil is distributed, and every action quickened or retarded. To bring a lover, a lady, and a rival into the fable; to entangle them in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppositions of interest, and barrass them with violence of desires ivconsistent with each other; to make them meet în rapture, and part in agony; to fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow; to distress them as nothing buman ever was distressed; to deliver thern as nothing human ever was delivered, is the business of a modern drama:ist. For this, probability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language is depraved. But love is only one of
many passions, and as it has no great influence upon the sum i of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who
caught his ideas from the living wrld, and exhibited only what he saw before him. He knew, tbat any other passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a a cause of happiness or calamity.
Characters thus ample and general were not easily discriminated and preserved, yet perhaps no poet ever kup' his personages more distinct from each other. I will not say with Pope, that every speech may be as.
signed to the proper speaker, because many speeches there are wb ch bave nothing characteristical; but, perhaps, though some may be eq-ally adapted to every person, it will be a fficult io food any that can be properly transferred from the present possessor to another claimant. The choice is right, when there is reason for choice.
Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyperbolical or aggravated characters, by fabulous and uaexampled excellence or depravity, as the writers of barbarous romances invigorated the reader by a giant and a dwarf; and he that should
form his expectations of human affairs from the play, or from the tale, would be equally deceived. Shakspeare bas no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men, who act and speak as the reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion; even where the agency is supernatural, the dialogue is level with life. Orber writers disguise the most natural passions and most frequent incidents; so that he who contemplates them in the book will not know them in the world ; Shakspeare approximates the remote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he represents will not happen, but if it were possible, its effects would probably be such as he has assigned; and it may be, said, that he has not only shewa human nature as it acts in real exigences, but as it would be found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed.
This therefore is the praise of Shakspeare, that bis drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise
before him, may here be cured of his delirious ecstasies, by reading bunan sentiments in human language; by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.
His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the censure of criticks, who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rymer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman *); and Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a senator of Rome should play the buffoon: and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakspeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preserves the essential character, is not very careful of distinctions superir:duced and adventitious. His story requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on
He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all dispositions ; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senate-house for that which the sepate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to shew an usurper and a murderer not only odious, but despicable; he therefure ad
*) Der erste (gest. 1734.) in seinem Advanceinent and Reformation of modern Poetry, und der andere (gest. 1713.) in , seinem View of the tragedies of the last age.