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of the fame image: each picture, like a mockrainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every fingle character in Shakspeare is as much an individual, as thofe in life itfelf; it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear moft to be twins, will, upon comparison be found remarkably diftinct. To this life and variety of character, we muft add the wonderful preservation of it; which is fuch throughout his plays, that had all the fpeeches been printed without the very names of the perfons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.
The power over our paffions was never poffeffed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in fo different inftances. Yet all along, there is feen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it: but the heart fwells, and the tears burft out, juft at the proper places: we are furprifed the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the paffion so just, that we should be furprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very
How astonishing it is again, that the paffions directly oppofite to thefe, laughter and spleen, are no lefs at his command! that he is not more a mafter of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tenderne ffes, than of our vaineft foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!
Nor does he only excel in the paffions: in the coolness of reflection and reafoning he is full as
admirable. His fentiments are not only in general. the most pertinent and judicious upon every fubject; but by a talent very peculiar, fomething between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfeâly amazing, from a man of no edution or experience in thofe great and publick scenes of life which are ufually the fubject of his thoughts: fo that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, that the philofopher, and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet.
It must be owned, that with all these great excellencies, he has almoft as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in fome meafure account for thefe defects, from feveral causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlightened a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them. That all these contingencies fhould unite to his disadvantage feems to me almost as fingularly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary) talents fhould meet in one man, was happy and extraordi
It must be allowed that ftage-poetry, of all other, is more particularly levelled to pleafe the populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depending upon the common fuffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakspeare, having at his firft appearance na other aim in his writings than to procure a fub
fiftence, directed his endeavours folely to hit the tafte and humour that then prevailed. The audience was generally composed of the meaner sort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from thofe of their own rank; accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almost all the old comedies have their fcene among tradefmen and mechanicks: and even their hiftorical plays ftrictly follow the comon old ftories or vulgar traditions of that kind of people. In tragedy, nothing was fo fure to furprize and caufe admiration, as the moft ftrange, unexpected, and confequently moft unnatural, events and incidents; the most exaggerated thoughts; the moft verbose and bombaft expreffion; the moft pompous rhymes, and thundering verfification. In comedy, nothing was fo fure to pleafe, as mean buffoonery, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jefts of fools and clowns. Yet even in these our outhor's wit buoys up, and is borne. above his fubject: his genius in those low parts is like fome prince of a romance in the difguife of a fhepherd or peafant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then break out, which manifeft his higher extraction and qualities.
It may be added, that not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better fort piqued themselves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way; till Ben Jonfon getting poffeffion of the ftage, brought critical learning into vogue: and that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from thofe frequent leffons (and indeed almoft declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his
first plays, and put into the mouth of his actors, the grex, chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. Till then, our authors had no thoughts of writing on the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only hiftories in dialogue: and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true history.
To judge therefore of Shakspeare by Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country, who acted under thofe of another. He writ to the people; and writ at firft without patronage from the better fort, and therefore without aims of pleafing them: without affiftance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them: without that knowledge of the beft models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them; in a word, without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call immortality; fome or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambition of other writers.
Yet it must be obferved, that when his performances had merited the protection of his prince, and when the encouragement of the court had fucceeded to that of the town; the works of his riper years are manifeftly raised above those of his former. The dates of his plays fufficiently evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the respect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this obfervation would be found true in every inftance, were but editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece
was compofed, and whether writ for the town, or the court.
Another caufe (and no lefs ftrong than the former) may be deduced from our poet's being a player, and forming himself firft upon the judgments of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a flandard to themfelves, upon other principles than thofe of Ariftotle. As they live by the majority, they know no rule but that of pleafing the prefent humour, and complying with the wit in fafhion; a confideration which brings all their judgment to a fhort point. Players are just such judges of what is right, as tailors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our author's faults are lefs to be afcribed to his wrong judgment as a poet, than to his right judgment as a player.
By these men it would be thought a praise to Shakspeare, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they induftriously propagated; as appears from what we are told by Ben Jonfon in his Difcoveries, and from the preface of Heminge and Condell to the first 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 Hiftory 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 learn