« PreviousContinue »
counts involved the unfortunate pair in the deepest affliction; they immediately took shipping to be convinced of what they so much dreaded to know; the one for Corsica, the other for Genoa. A violent storm arose, which drove both their vessels upon a little island in the Mediterranean. Marini's ship landed first, when, while the crew were refreshing themselves, the inconsolable widower, as he deemed himself, wandered into a little wood near the shore to indulge his grief. Soon afterwards the Genoese ship reached the land, and the same motive led Monimia, with one of her maids, to the place where her husband was bewailing his loss. They beard each other's complaint, and drew nearer mutually to see a wretch whom they deemed more miserable than themselves. But how great was the astonishment of both, when they met in a little path, and saw each other. So great and sudden was the transition from misery to joy, that they fell into each others arms, and expired in a few minutes. Their bodies were conveyed to Italy, and interred in the same vault with all the solemnity and magpificence due to their quality and eminent virtue. ESSAY 25.
ON THE CHARACTERS OF OUR
GREAT DRAMATIC POETS.
SHAKESPEARE was the man who of all modern and perhaps antient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him of wanting learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned, he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature, he looked inwards and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid : his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swell
ing into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him ; no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.*
Virgil's Eclogues. The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eton say, that there was no subject of wbich any poet ever wrote but he could produce it much better done in Shakespeare; and however others are now generally preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him, Fletcher and Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem: and in the last king's court, when Ben's reputation was at the highest, sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakespeare far above him.
Beaumont and Fletcher, of whom I am next to speak, had, with the advantage of Shakespeare's wit, which was their precedent, great natural gifts improved by study; Beaumont, especially, being so accurate a judge of plays, that Ben Jonson while he lived, submitted all his writings to his censure, and it is thought used his judgment in correcting, if not contriving, all his plots. What value he bad for him appears by the verses he wrote to him, and therefore I need speak no farther of it. The first play that brought Fletcher and him in esteem was their Philaster; for before that they had written two or three yery unsuccessfully, as the like is reported of Ben Jonson, before he wrote Every Man in his Humour. Their plots were generally more regular than Shakespeare's, especially those which were made before Beaumont's death ; and they understood and imitated the conversation of gentlemen much better, whose wild debaucheries and quickness of wit in repartees, no poet before them could paint as they have done. Humour, which Ben Jonson derived from particular persons, they made it not their business to describe : they represented all the passions very lively, but, above all, love. I am inclined to believe the English language in them arrived to its highest perfection; what words have been since taken in, are rather superfluous than ornamental. Their plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage; two of theirs being acted through the year for one of Shakespeare's or Jonson's* : the reason is, because there is a certain gaiety in their comedies, and pathos in their more serious plays, which suits generally with all men's humours. Shakespeare's language is likewise a little obsolete, and Ben Jonson's wit comes short of theirs.
* As cypresses above the humble shrubs.
* The reader will recollect that this essay was written in the latter end of the reign of Charles the second, when it was the fashion to admire and imitate the
As for Junson, to whose character I am now arrived, if we look upon him while he was himself, (for bis last plays were but his dotages) I think bim the most learned and judicious writer which
theatre ever had. He was a most severe judge of himself, as well as others. One cannot say
that he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it. In his works you find little to retrench or alter. Wit, and language, and humour also in some measure, we had before him; but something of art was wanting to the drama till he came. He managed bis strength to more advantage than any who preceded bim. You
regularity and taste of the French drama. Hence the plays of our immortal bard, who so boldly broke through the unities of time and place; and whose wit though natural was uncultivated, were less esteemed than the more regular and studied productions of his cotemporary dramatists. A great revolution has since taken place in the national taste, and the plays of Shakespeare have experienced such great and deserved approbation, that they have almost totally superseded those which die vided with them the public applause in the time of Dryden.