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his fame. He is now in danger of incurring the fate of the heroes of the fabulous ages, on whom the vanity of their country, and the superstition of the times, bestowed an apotheofis founded on pretenfions to achievements beyond human capacity, by which they lost in a more sceptical and critical age, the glory that was due to them for what they had really done; and all the veneration they had obtained, was afcribed to ignorant credulity, and national prepoffeffion. Our Shakespear, whofe very faults pass here unqueftioned, or are perhaps confecrated through the enthusiasm of his admirers, and the veneration paid to long-established fame, is by a great wit, a great critic, and a great poet of a neighbouring nation, treated as the writer of monftrous farces, called by him tragedies; and barbarifm and ignorance are attributed to the nation by which he is ad mired. Yet if wits, poets, critics, could ever be charged with prefumption, one might fay there was fome degree of it in pronounc ing, that, in a country where Sophocles and Euripides are as well understood as in any
in Europe, the perfections of dramatic poetry fhould be as little comprehended as among the Chinese.
Learning here is not confined to ecclefiaftics, or a few lettered fages and academics every English gentleman has an education, which gives him an early acquaintance with the writings of the ancients. His knowledge of polite literature does not begin with that period which Mr. de Voltaire calls Le Siecle de Louis quatorze. Before he is admitted as a spectator at the theatre at London, it is probable he has heard the tragic mufe as the spoke at Athens, and as the now fpeaks at Paris, or in Italy; and he can difcern between the natural language in which the addreffed the human heart, and the artificial dialect which fhe has acquired from the prejudices of a particular nation, or the jargon caught from the tone of a court. To please upon the French ftage, every person of every age and nation was made to adopt their manners.
The heroes of antiquity were not more disguised in the romances of Calprenede and Scuderi than in the tragedies of Corneille. In spite of the admonition given by that admirable critic Boileau to their dramatic writers in the following lines :
Gardez donc de donner, ainfi que dans Clélie,
Et fous des noms Romains faissant notre portrait,
The Horatii are reprefented no less obfequious in their address to their king than the courtiers of the grand monarque. Thefeus is made a mere fighing swain. Many of the greatest men of antiquity, and even the roughest heroes among the Goths and Vandals, were exhibited in this effeminate form. The poet dignified the piece, perhaps with the name of an Hercules, but, alas! it was always Hercules fpinning that was fhewn to the spectator. The editor of Corneille's works, in terms fo grofs as are hardly par
donable in fuch a master of fine raillery, frequently attacks our Shakespear for the want of delicacy and politenefs in his pieces: it must be owned, that in fome places they bear the marks of the unpolished times inwhich he wrote, but one cannot forbear fmiling to hear a critic, who profeffes himself an admirer of the tragedies of Corneille, object to the barbarism of Shakespear's. There never was a more barbarous mode of writing than that of the French romances in the laft age, nor which from its tediousness, languor, and want of truth of character is lefs fit to be copied on the stage: and what are most the parts of Corneille's boafted tragedies, but the romantic dialogue, its tedious foliloquy, and its extravagant sentiments in the true Gothic livery of rhyme?
The French poets affume a fuperiority over Shakespear, on account of their more conftant adherence to Ariftotle's unities of time and place.
The pedant who bought at a great price
lamp of a famous philofopher, expecting that by its affiftance his lucubrations would become equally celebrated, was little more absurd than those poets who fuppofe their dramas will be excellent if they are regulated by Aristotle's clock. To bring within a limited time and an affigned space certain series of converfations (and French plays are little more) is no difficult matter; for that is the easiest part of every art perhaps, but in poetry without difpute, in which the connoiffeur can direct the artist.
I do not believe the critic imagined that a mere obedience to his laws of drama would make a good tragedy, tho' it might prevent a poet more bold than judicious, from writing a very abfurd one. abfurd one. A painter can define the just proportion of the human body, and the anatomist knows what muscles conftitute the strength of the limbs; but grace of motion, and exertion of ftrength, depend on the mind, which animates the form. The critic but fashions the body of a work; the poet must add the foul, which gives