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view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our author's faults are lefs to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poet, than to his right judgment as a player.

By these men it was thought a praise to Shakespeare, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they industrioufly propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben Jonfon in his Difcoveries, and from the preface of Heminges and Condell to the firft folio edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the comedy of The Merry Wives of Windfor, which he entirely new writ; The History of Henry the Sixth, which was first published under the title of The Contention of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the Fifth, extremely improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at firft, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a praise by fome, and to this his errors have as injudiciously been afcribed by others. For it is certain, were it true, it could concern but a small part of them; the most are fuch as are not properly defects, but fuperfotations: and arise not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging or rather (to be more just to our author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the fubject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, falfe thoughts, forced expreffions, &c. if these are not to be afcribed to the forefaid accidental reasons, they must be charged upon the poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two difadvantages which I have mentioned (to be obliged to please the lowest of people, and to keep the worst of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear fufficient to mifead and deprefs the greatest genius upon earth. Nay, the


more modesty with which fuch a one is endued, the more he is in danger of fubmitting and conforming to others, against his own better judgment.

But as to his want of learning, it may be neceffary to fay fomething more: there is certainly a vaft difference between learning and languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but it is plain he had much reading at least, if they will not call it learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a taste of natural philosophy, mechanicks, ancient and modern history, poetical learning, and mythology: we find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæfar, not only the fpirit, but manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn; and ftill a nicer diftinction is fhewn between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient hiftorians is no less confpicuous, in many references to particular paffages: and the fpeeches copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an inftance of his learning, as thofe copied from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jonfon's. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of fcience, he either fpeaks of or describes; it is always with competent, if not extenfive knowledge: his defcriptions are ftill exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each fubject. When he treats of ethick or politick, we may conftantly obferve a wonderful juftnefs of dif tinction, as well as extent of comprehenfion. No one is more a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this laft parti


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cular) has not fhewn more learning this way than Shakespeare. We have translations from Ovid published in his name, among those poems which pafs for his, and for fome of which we have undoubted authority (being publifhed by himself, and dedicated to his noble patron the earl of Southampton): he appears alfo to have been converfant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another: although I will not pretend to fay in what language he read them). The modern Italian writers of novels he was manifeftly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no lefs converfant with the ancients of his own country, from the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Creffida, and in The Two Noble Kinfmen, if that play be his, as there goes a tradition it was (and indeed it has little refemblance of Fletcher, and more of our author than fome of those which have been received as genuine).

I am inclined to think this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the partizans of our author and Ben Jonfon; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expence of the other. It is ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben Jonfon had much the more learning, it was faid on the one hand that Shakespeare had none at all; and because Shakespeare had much the moft wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonfon wanted both. Because Shakespeare borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben Jonfon borrowed every thing. Because Jonfon did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakespeare wrote with ease and rapidity, they cried, he never once made a blot. Nay, the fpirit of oppofition ran fo high, that whatever thofe of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into praifes; as injudiciously,

ciously, as their antagonists before had made them objections.

Poets are always afraid of envy; but fure they have as much reafon to be afraid of admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of authors; those who escape one, often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum laudantes, fays Tacitus and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praise a poet without rule or reason.

-Si ultra placitum laudârit baccare frontem
Cingito, ne vati noceat.

But however this contention might be carried on by the partizans on either fide, I cannot help thinking these two great poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in offices of fociety with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Jonfon was introduced upon the stage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakespeare. And after his death, that author writes, To the memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespeare, which fhews as if the friendship had continued through life. I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious or fparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his cotemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenfer, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be ranked with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Æschylus, nay, all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him; and (which is very particular) exprefly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting art, not enduring that all his excellencies fhould be attributed to nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Discoveries feems to proceed from a perfonal kindnefs; he tells us, that he loved the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honefty, openness, and franknefs of his temper; and only distin


guishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the filly and derogatory applaufes of the players. Ben Jonfon might indeed be Iparing in his commendations (though certainly he is not fo in this inftance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more service in praifing him justly, than lavishly. I fay, I would fain believe they were friends, though the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rise to the contrary report. I hope that it may be with parties, both in wit and ftate, as with those monsters described by the poets; and that their beads at least may have fomething human, though their bodies and tails are wild beasts and serpents.

As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rife to the opinion of Shakespeare's want of learning; fo what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first publishers of his works. In these editions their ignorance fhines in almost every page; nothing is more common than Altus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches folus. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in conftruction and fpelling: their very Welsh is false. Nothing is more likely than that thofe palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Ariftotle, with others of that grofs kind, fprung from the fame root: it not being at all credible that thefe could be the errors of any man who had the leaft tincture of a school, or the leaft converfation with fuch as had. Ben Jonfon (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had fome Latin; which is utterly inconfiftent with mistakes like these. Nay, the conftant blunders in proper names of perfons and places, are fuch as must have proceeded from a man, who had not fo much as read any history in any language: fo could not be Shakespeare's.

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