« FöregåendeFortsätt »
farce.-Ridiculously has our poet, and ridiculously has our tafte been represented, by a writer of universal fame; and through the medium of an almost universal language. Superficial criticisms hit the level of fhallow minds, to whom a bon mot will ever appear reason, and an epigrammatic turn argument; fo that many of our countrymen have haftily adopted this lively writer's opinion of the extravagance and total want of defign in Shakespear's dramas. With the more learned, deep, and fober critics he lies under one confiderable disadvantage. For copying nature as he found it in the busy walks of human life, he drew from an original, with which the literati are feldom well acquainted. They perceive his portraits are not of the Grecian or of the Roman school: after finding them unlike to the celebrated forms preserved in learned museums they do not deign to enquire whether they resemble the living perfons they were intended to reprefent. Among these connoiffeurs, whose acquaintance with the characters of men is formed
formed in the library, not in the street, the camp, or village, whatever is unpolifhed and uncouth paffes for fantastic and abfurd, though, in fact, it is a faithful reprefentation of a really existing character.
But it must be acknowledged, that, when this objection is obviated there will yet remain another cause of cenfure; for though our author, from want of delicacy or from a defire to please the popular taste, thought he had done well when he faithfully copied nature, or represented cuftoms, it will appear to politer times the error of an untutored mind; which the example of judicious artifts, and the admonitions of delicate connoiffeurs had not taught, that only graceful nature and decent customs give proper fubjects for imitation. It may be faid in mitigation of his fault that the vulgar here had not, as at Athens, been used to behold,
In fcepter'd pall come sweeping by,
Homer's works alone were fufficient to teach the Greek poets how to write, and their audience how to judge. The fongs fung by our bards at feafts and merry-makings were of a very coarse kind as the people were totally illiterate, and only the better fort could read even their mother tongue, their tafte was formed on these compofitions. As yet our stage had exhibited only those palpable allegories by which rude unlettered moralists inftruct and please the grofs and ignorant multitude. Nothing can more plainly evince the opinion the poets of thofe times had of the ignorance of the people, than the condefcenfion fhewn to it by the learned Earl of Dorfet in his tragedy of Gorboduc; in which the moral of each act is represented on the ftage in dumb fhew. It is ftrange that Mr. de Voltaire who affects
an impartial and philofophic spirit, should not rather speak with admiration than contempt of an author, who by the force of genius rofe fo much above the age and circumstances in which he was born, and who, even when he deviates moft from rules, can rife to faults true critics dare not mend. In delineating characters he must be allowed far to furpass all dramatic writers, and even Homer himself; he gives an air of reality to every thing, and, in fpite of many and great faults, effects, better than any one has done, the chief purposes of the theatrical representation. It avails little to prove that the means by which he effects them are not those prescribed in any art of poetry. While we feel the power and energy of his predominant genius, shall we not be apt to treat the cold formal precepts of the critic, with the fame peevish contempt that the good lady in the Guardian, smarting in the anguish of a burn, does her fon's pedantic intrufion of Mr. Lock's doctrine, to prove that there is no heat in fire. Nature and fen