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the force and luftre of poetical language join with the weight and authority of history, to impress the moral leffon on the heart. The poet collects, as it were, into a focus those truths, which lie fcattered in the diffuse volume of the hiftorian, and kindles the flame of virtue, while he fhews the miferies and calamities of vice.
The common interests of humanity make us attentive to every ftory that has an air of reality, but we are more affected if we know it to be true; and the interest is still heightened if we have any relation to the perfons concerned. Our noble countryman, Percy, engages us much more than Achilles, or any Grecian hero. The people for whose use these public entertainments should be chiefly intended, know the battle of Shrewfbury to be a fact they are informed of what has passed on the banks of the Severn; all that happened on the shore of the Scamander has to them the appearance of a fiction.
As the misfortunes of nations as well as of individuals often arise from their peculiar difpofitions, customs, prejudices, and vices, these home-born dramas are excellently calculated to correct them. The Grecian tragedies are so much established on their mythology as to be very improper on our stage. The paffion of Phædra and the death of Hippolytus, occafioned by the interpofition of Venus and Neptune, wear the apparent marks of fiction; and when we cease to believe, we cease to be affected.
The nature of the hiftorical play gave scope to the extenfive talents of Shakespear. He had an uncommon felicity in painting manners and developing characters, which he could employ with peculiar grace and propriety, when he exhibited the chiefs in our civil wars. The great Earl of Warwick, Cardinal Beaufort, Humphrey Duke of Gloucefter, the renowned Hotspur, were very interesting objects to their countrymen. Whatever fhewed them in a ftrong light, and
and represented them with fentiments and manners agreeable to their hiftorical characters; and those things common fame had divulged of them, must have engaged the attention of the fpectator, and affifted in that delufion of his imagination from whence his fympathies with the story must arise. We are affected by the catastrophe of a stranger, we lament the destiny of an Edipus, and the misfortunes of an Hecuba; but the little peculiarities of character touch us only where we have fome nearer affinity to the person than the common relation of humanity: nor, unless we are particularly acquainted with the original character, can these distinguishing marks have the merit of heightening the resemblance and animating the portrait.
We are apt to confider Shakespear only 25 a poet; but he is certainly one of the greatest moral philofophers that ever lived..
Euripides was highly esteemed for the moral fentences with which he has interfperfed the fpeeches in his tragedies; and certainly many general truths are expreffed in them with a fententious brevity. But he rather collects general opinions into maxims, and gives them a form which is easily retained by memory, than extracts any new observations from the characters in action, which every reader of penetration will find our author do continually; and when he introduces a general maxim, it seems forced from him by the occafion. As it arifes out of the action, it lofes itself again in it, and remains not, as in other writers, an ambitious ornament glittering alone, but is fo connected as to be an useful passage very naturally united with the ftory. The instances of this are fo frequent as to occur almost in every scene of his best plays. But left I fhould be misunderstood, I will quote one from the second part of Henry IV.; where the general maxim is, that
An habitation giddy and unsure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.
Let us on:
And publish the occafion of our arms.
The commonwealth is fick of their own choice:
Their over greedy love hath furfeited.
An habitation giddy and unfure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.
That thou provok'ft thyself to caft him up.
So, fo, thou common dog, didft thou difgorge
Thy glutton bofom of the royal Richard,
And now thou wouldst eat thy dead vomit up,
Thou that throwd'ft duft upon his goodly head,
After the admired heels of Bolingbroke,
Cry'st now, O earth, yield us that king again,