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not even to know the English alphabet; for in tranflating Porcia's words,
If it be no more,
Porcia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife.
He puts in a note upon Harlot, to affure us that the word in the original is W which, if he understood our blank verfe, he would know. could not make up the
Mr. Voltaire formerly understood the English language tolerably well. His tranflation of part of Antony's fpeech to the people, in his own play of the death of Julius Cæfar, though far inferior to the original, is pretty good; and in his tragedy of Junius Brutus he has improved upon the Brutus of our old poet Lee: he has followed the English poet in making the daughter of Tarquin feduce the fon of Junius Brutus into a scheme for the reftoration of her father; but with great judgment has imitated only what was worthy of imitation; and by
by the strength of his own genius has renderEd his piece much more excellent than that of Mr. Lee.
It must be allowed that Mr. Voltaire, in his tranflation of Shakespear, has nobly emulated those interpreters of Homer, who, Mr. Pope tells us, mifunderstand the text, and then triumph in the aukwardness of their own tranflations. To fhew he decides with the fame judgment and candour with which he tranflates, it will be neceffary to present the sentence he has pronounced upon the genius of our great poet. Speaking of Corneille he fays, he was unequal like Shakespear, and like him full of genius; mais le genie de Corneille etait à celui de Shakespear, ce q'un feigneur eft à l'egard d'un homme du peuple né avec le meme efprit que lui. I have given his own words because they do not carry any determinate fenfe. I conjecture they may be thus tranflated; The genius of Corneille is to that of Shakespear, what a man of great rank is to one of the lower fort born with the fame talents
talents of mind. When we speak of genius, we always mean that which is original and.. inherent, not any thing produced or derived from what is external. But Mr. Voltaire by faying the genius of Corneille has that superiority over our countryman, which a person of rank has over a man in a low station, born with the fame talents, perplexes the thing very much. It seems to carry the comparison from the genius to the manner of the writers.
If that manner is preferable, which gives the most becoming fentiments and the nobleft character to the principal person of his drama, there is no doubt but our poet has perfectly established his fuperiority over his competitor; for it cannot be denied, that Cinna is un homme du peuple, (a low fellow,) compared to Brutus,
Mr. Voltaire, in all the comparisons he has made between these authors, has not taken into the account that Shakespear has written the best comedy in our language: that
that the fame man fhould have had fuch variety of talents, as to have produced Macbeth and the Merry Wives of Windfor, is astonishing. Where is there an instance among the ancients or moderns of one poet's uniting the fublime and pathetic, the boldest inventions of fiction, and the moft juft and accurate delineation of characters; and alfo poffeffing the vis comica in its highest perfection? The best French poets have been those
Who from the ancients like the ancients writ ; and who have afpired to the fecondary praise of good imitators: but all our critics allow Shakespear to be an original. Mr. Pope confeffes him to be more so than even Homer himself. It has been demonftrated with great ingenuity and candour, that he was deftitute of learning: the age was rude and void of tafte: but what had a ftill more pernicious influence on his works, was, that the court and the univerfities the statesmen and scholars, affected a fcientific jargon. An obfcurity of expreffion was thought the veil of wisdom and knowledge;
ledge; and that mist common to the eve and morn of literature, which in fact proves it is not at its high meridian, was affectedly thrown over the writings, and even difcourfe of the learned, who often preferred images diftorted or magnified, to a fimple expofition of their thoughts. Shakefpear is never more worthy of the true critic's cenfure, than in thofe inftances in which he complies with this falfe pomp of manner. It was pardonable in a man of his rank, not to be more polite and delicate than his cotemporaries; but we cannot fo eafily excufe fuch fuperiority of talents for ftooping to any affectation.
I may perhaps be charged with partiality to my author, for not having indulged that malignant fpirit of criticism, which delights in expofing every blemish. I have paffed over beauties and defects in the fame filence, where they have not effentially affected the great purposes of the drama. They are of fo palpable a nature, the most inattentive reader must perceive them: the fplendor of