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force and direction to its actions and geftures: when one of these critics has attempted to finish a work by his own rules, he has rarely been able to convey into it one fpark of divine fire; and the hero of his piece, whom he defigned for a man, remains a cold inanimate ftatue; which, moving on the wood and wire of the great masters in the mechanical part of the drama, presents to the fpectators a kind of heroic puppetfhew. As these pieces take their rife in the school of criticism, they return thither again, and are as good subjects for the students in that art, as a dead body to the professors in phyfic. Moft minutely too have they been anatomifed in learned academies: but works animated by genius will not abide this kind of diffection.
Mr. Pope fays, that, to form a judgment of Shakespear's works, we are not to apply to the rules of Ariftotle, which would be like trying a man by the laws of one country, who lived under thofe of another. Heaven-born genius acts from fomething A 4
fuperior to rules, and antecedent to rules; and has a right of appeal to nature herself.
Great indulgence is due to the errors of original writers, who, quitting the beaten track which others have travelled, make daring incurfions into unexplored regions of invention, and boldly ftrike into the pathless fublime it is no wonder if they are often bewildered, fometimes benighted; yet furely it is more eligible to partake the pleasure and the toil of their adventures, than still to follow the cautious steps of timid imitators through trite and common roads. Genius is of a bold enterprizing nature, ill adapted to the formal restraints of critic institutions, or indeed to lay down to itself rules of nice discretion. If.perfect and faultless compofition is ever to be expected from human faculties, it must be at fome happy period when a noble and graceful fimplicity, the refult of well regulated and fober magnanimity, reigns through the general manners. Then the muses and the arts, neither effeminately delicate nor audaciously
bold, aflume their highest character, and in all their compofitions seem to respect the chastity of the public tafte, which would equally disdain quaintness of ornament, `or the rude neglect of elegance and decorum. Such periods had Greece, had Rome! Then were produced immortal works of every kind! But, when the living manners degenerated, in vain did an Aristotle and a Quintilian endeavour to restore by doctrine what had been inspired by fentiments, and fashioned by manners.
If the feverer mufes, whofe fphere is the library and the fenate, are obliged in complaifance to this degeneracy, to trick themfelves out with meretricious and frivolous ornaments, as is too apparent from the compofitions of the hiftorians and orators in declining empires, can we wonder that a dramatic poet, whofe chief interest it is to please the people, should, more than any other writer, conform himself to their humour ; and appear most strongly infected with the faults of the times, whether they
be fuch as belong to unpolished, or cor
Shakespear wrote at a time when learning
was tinctured with pedantry; wit was un
polished, and mirth ill-bred. The court of
Elizabeth spoke a fcientific jargon, and a certain obfcurity of ftyle was univerfally affected. James brought an addition of pedantry, accompanied by indecent and indelicate manners and language. By conta→ gion, or from complaifance to the taste of the public, Shakespear falls fometimes into the fafhionable mode of writing but this is only by fits for many parts of all his plays are written with the most noble, elet gant, and uncorrupted fimplicity. Such is his merit, that the more juft and refined the tafte of the nation has become, the more he has encreafed in reputation. He was approved by his own age, admired by the next, and is revered, and almost adored by the prefent. His merit is difputed by little wits, and his errors are the jefts of little crítics; but there has not been a great poet,
poet, or great critic, fince his time, who has not spoken of him with the highest veneration, Mr. Voltaire excepted. His tranflations often, his criticisms still oftener, prove he did not perfectly understand the words of the author; and therefore it is certain he could not enter into his meaning♪ He comprehended enough to perceive he was unobfervant of fome established rules of compofition; the felicity with which he performs what no rules can teach escapes him. Will not an intelligent fpectator admire the prodigious ftructures of Stone-Henge, because he does not know by what law of mechanics they were raised? Like them, our author's works will remain for ever the greatest monuments of the amazing force of nature, which we ought to view as we do other prodigies, with an attention to, and admiration of their ftupendous parts, and proud irregularity of greatness.
It has been already declared that Shakefpear is not to be tried by any code of critic