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laws; nor is it more equitable to judge him entirely by the practice of any particular theatre.. Yet fome criterion must be esta-" blished by which we may determine his merits. First, we must take into confideration what is proposed to be done by the means of dramatic imitation. Every fpecies of poetry has its diftinct offices. The effecting certain moral purposes, by the representation of a fable, seems to have been the univerfal intention, from the first inftitution of the drama to this time; and to have prevailed, not only in Europe, but in all countries where the dramatic art has been attempted. It has indeed been the common aim of all poetry to please and instruct; but by means as various as the kinds of compofition. We are pleased with the ode, the elegy, the eclogue; not only for having invention, fpirit, elegance, and fuch perfections as are neceffary to recommend any fort of poetry, but we alfo require that each should have its fpecific merit; the ode, that which constitutes the perfection of an ode,
ode, &c. In thefe views, then, our author
is to be examined. First, if his fables
anfwer the noblest end of fable, moral inftruction; next, whether his dramatic imitation has its proper dramatic excellence. In the latter of these articles, perhaps, there is not any thing will more affift our judgment than a candid comparison (where the nature of the fubjects well bear it) between his and fome other celebrated dramatic compofitions. It is idle to refer to a vague, unrealized idea of perfection : we may fafely pronounce that to be well executed, in any art, which after the repeated efforts of great geniuses is equal to any thing that has been produced. We may fecurely applaud what the ancients have crowned; therefore fhould not withhold our approbation wherever we find our countryman has equalled the most admired paffages in the Greek tragedians: but we shall not do justice to his native talents, when they are the object of confideration, if we do not remember the different circumftances under which
which these writers were compofed. Shakefpear's plays were to be acted in a paltry tavern, to an unlettered audience, juft emerging from barbarity: the Greek trage dies were to be exhibited at the public charge, under the care and aufpices of the magistrates at Athens; where the very popu❤ lace were critics in wit, and connoiffeurs in public fpectacles. The period when Sophocles and Euripides wrote, was that in which the fine arts, and polite litera ture, were in a degree of perfection which fucceeding ages have emulated in vain..
It happened in the literary as in the moral world; a few fages, from the veneration which they had obtained by extraordinary wisdom and a faultlefs conduct, rofe to the authority of legiflators. The practice and manner of the three celebrated Greek trage dians were by fucceeding critics established as dramatic laws: happily for Shakespear, Mr. Johnfon, whofe genius and learning render
tender him fuperior to a fervile awe of pedantic institutions, in his ingenious preface to his edition of Shakespear has greatly obviated all that can be objected to our author's neglect of the unities of time and place.
Shakespear's felicity has been rendered compleat in this age. His genius produced works that time could not deftroy but fome of the lighter characters were become illegible; thefe have been restored by critics whose learning and penetration traced back the veftiges of fuperannuated opinions and customs. They are now no longer in danger of being effaced, and the teftimonies of these learned commentators to his merit, will guard our author's great monument of human wit from the prefumptuous inva fions of our rafh critics, and the fquibs of our witlings; fo that the bays will flourish unwithered and inviolate round his tomb; and his very spirit seems to come forth and to animate his characters, as often as Mr. Garrick,
Garrick, who acts with the fame inspiration with which he wrote, affumes them on the stage.
After our poet had received fuch important fervices from the united efforts. of talents and learning in his behalf, fome apology feems neceffary for this work. Let it be remembered that the most superb and lasting monument that ever was confecrated to beauty, was that to which every lover carried a tribute. I dare hope to do him honour only by augmenting the heap of volumes given by his admirers to his memory; I will own I was incited to this undertaking by great admiration of his genius, and still greater indignation at the treatment he had received from a French wit, who feems to think he has made prodigious conceffions to our prejudices in favour of the works of our countryman in allowing them the credit of a few fplendid paffages, while he speaks of every entire piece as a monftrous and ill-conftructed