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Dennis argues :-—“The good and the bad For every pelting, petty officer perishing promiscuously in the best of Shake- Would use his heaven for thunder: nothing spear's tragedies, there can be either none but thunder. or very weak instruction in them.” In this Merciful heaven ! spirit Dennis himself sets to work to remodel
Thou rather, with thy sharp and sulphurous * Coriolanus: -“Not only Aufidius, but the
bolt, Roman tribunes Sicinius and Brutus, appear
Splitt'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak,
Than the soft myrtle." to me to cry aloud for poetic vengeance ; for they are guilty of two faults, neither of This is Davenant's :which ought to go unpunished.” Dennis is not only a mender of Shakspere's cata- “If men could thunder strophes, but he applies himself to make As great Jove does, Jove ne'er would quiet Shakspere's verses all smooth and proper, according to the rules of art. One example
For every choleric petty officer, will be sufficient. He was no common man
Would use his magazine in heaven for
thunder: who attempted to reduce the following lines
We nothing should but thunder hear. Sweet to classical regularity :
Heaven ! “Boy! False hound ! Thou rather with thy stiff and sulph'rous If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there,
bolt That, like an eagle in a dovecote, I
Dost split the knotty and obdurate oak, Flutter'd your Volsces in Corioli.
Than the soft myrtle.” Alone I did it-Boy!”
“The Law against Lovers' was in prinJohn Dennis has accomplished the feat :
ciple one of the worst of these alterations; “ This boy, that, like an eagle in a dovecote,
for it was a hash of two plays-of 'Measure Flutter'd a thousand Volsces in Corioli,
for Measure,' and of 'Much Ado about NoAnd did it without second or acquittance,
thing.' This was indeed to destroy the orThus sends their mighty chief to mourn in ganic life of the author. But it is one of hell."
the manifestations of the vitality of ShakThe alteration of “The Tempest' by the regular way, according to the rules of
spere that, going about their alterations in Davenant and Dryden was, as we have mentioned, an attempt to meet the taste of the art, the most stupid and prosaic of his im
provers have been unable to deprive the town by music and spectacle. Shadwell natural man of his vigour, even by their went farther, and turned it into a regular most violent depletions. His robustness was opera ; and an opera it remained even in too great even for the poetical doctors to Garrick’s time, who tried his hand upon the destroy it. Lord Lansdowne actually stripped same experiment. Dennis was a reformer the flesh off Shylock, but the anatomy both in comedy and tragedy. He metamor- walked about vigorously for sixty years, till phosed “The Merry Wives of Windsor' into Macklin put the muscles on again. Colley The Comical Gallant,' and prefixed an
Cibber turned 'King John' into 'Papal Tyessay to it on the degeneracy of the taste ranny,' and the stage 'King John' was made for poetry. Davenant changed ‘Measure for to denounce the Pope and Guy Faux for a Measure into “The Law against Lovers.' It century, till Mr. Macready gave us back is difficult to understand how a clever man again the weak and crafty king in his oriand something of a poet should have set ginal truth of character. Nahum Tate deabout his work after this fashion. This is posed the ‘Richard II.' of Shakspere wholly Shakspere’s Isabella :
and irredeemably, turning him into “The “ Could great men thunder
Sicilian Usurper.' How Cibber manufacAs Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be tured 'Richard III.' is known to all men. quiet,
Durfey melted down Cymbeline' with no
slight portion of alloy. Tate remodelled In The Spectator,' 419, amongst the pa'Lear,'—and such a 'Lear!' Davenant man- pers on ‘The Pleasures of the Imagination, gled ‘Macbeth ;' but we can hardly quarrel Shakspere's delineations of supernatural with him for it, for he gave us the music of beings are thus mentioned :-“ Among the Locke in company with his own verses. It English, Shakspeare has incomparably exhas been said, as a proof how little Shak-celled all others. That noble extravagance spere was once read, that Davenant's altera- of fancy, which he had in so great perfection, tion is quoted in ‘The Tatler' instead of thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak the original. This is the reasoning of Stee- superstitious part of his reader's imaginavens; but he has not the candour to tell us, tion; and made him capable of succeeding that in “The Tatler,' No. 111, there is a where he had nothing to support him besides quotation from ‘Hamlet,' with the following the strength of his own genius. There is remarks :—“This admirable author, as well something so wild, and yet so solemn, in the as the best and greatest men of all ages and speeches of his ghosts, fairies, witches, and of all nations, seems to have had his mind the like imaginary persons, that we cannot thoroughly seasoned with religion, as is forbear thinking them natural, though we evident by many passages in his plays, that have no rule by which to judge of them; would not be suffered by a modern audience.” and must confess, if there are such beings Steevens infers, that Steele, or ADDISON, was in the world, it looks highly probable they not a reader of Shakspere, because ‘Macbeth' should talk and act as he has represented is quoted from an acted edition ; and that, them.” therefore, Shakspere was not read generally. We have again an instance of Addison's If a hurried writer in a daily paper (as "The good taste in his remarks upon the critical Tatler' was) were to quote from some acted notions of poetical justice, which he calls editions at the present day, he might fall“ a ridiculous doctrine in modern criticism." into the same error; and yet he might be of the best plays which end unhappily he an ardent student of Shakspere, in a nation mentions Othello,' with others, and adds, of enthusiastic admirers. The early Essayists “King Lear' is an admirable tragedy of the offer abundant testimonies, indeed, of their same kind, as Shakspeare wrote it ; general admiration of the poet. In No. 68 it is reformed, according to the chimerical of “The Tatler, he is "the great master notion of poetical justice, in my humble who ever commands our tears.” In No. 160 opinion it has lost half its beauty.” All of “The Spectator'Shakspere is put amongst this exhibits a better taste than we find in the first class of great geniuses, in company Gildon and Dennis ; and it certainly is very with Homer; and this paper contains a remarkable that Addison, who in his own remarkable instance of a juster taste than tragedy was laboriously correct, as it was one might expect from the author of Cato:' called, should have taken no occasion to -“We are to consider that the rule of ob- comment upon the irregularities of Shakserving what the French call the bienséance spere. Mr. De Quincey says of Addison, in an allusion has been found out of later “The feeble constitution of the poetic faculty years, and in the colder regions of the world; as existing in himself forbad him sympawhere we could make some amends for our thising with Shakespear.” The feebleness want of force and spirit, by a scrupulous of the poetic faculty makes the soundness of nicety and exactness in our compositions.”* the judgment more conspicuous.
any reference to Shakspear." No. 160 bears the signature * Mr. De Quincey is certainly mistaken when he says, of C., and immediately follows "The Vision of Mirza,' that “ Addison has never in one instance quoted or made bearing the same signature.
The commencement of the eighteenth cen- Worthies,' "The Cabbala, or Collections of tury produced the first of the critical Letters of State, and a little book, ‘Delices editions of Shakspere. In 1709 appeared de Hollande,' with another little book or “Shakespeare's Plays Revised and Corrected, two, all of good use or serious pleasure ; with an Account of his Life and Writings, and 'Hudibras,' both parts, the book now by N. ROWE.' We should mention that the in greatest fashion for drollery, though I third edition of Shakspere's Comedies, His- cannot, I confess, see enough where the wit tories, and Tragedies, in folio, appeared in lies.” These two folio editions supplied the 1664. It has been said that the greater readers of Shakspere for more than forty number of the copies of this edition were years, but we are not hence to conclude that destroyed in the fire of London; and a he was neglected. Of Ben Jonson during writer whom we must once more quote says, the same period there was only one edi“During a whole century, only four editions tion ; of Beaumont and Fletcher only one; of his complete works, and these small, were of Spenser only one. Rowe's edition of published; and there would only have been Shakspere, we doubt not, supplied a general three, but for the destructive Fire of London want. Its critical merits were but small. in 1666.” The destruction by the fire is The facts of the “Life' which he prefixes just as much proved as the smallness of the have been sufficiently noticed by us in edition. One of our best bibliographers, Mr. another place. The opinions expressed in Lowndes, whose ‘Bibliographer's Manual' is that 'Life' are few, and are put forth with a model of accuracy, doubts the statement little pretension. As might be expected, they of the destruction by the fire, “though it has fully admit the excellence of Shakspere, but been frequently repeated.” Upon the face of they somewhat fall into the besetting sin it the statement is improbable. If it were a of attempting to elevate his genius by degood speculation to print the book two years preciating his knowledge :—“It is without before the fire, and the stock so printed had controversy that in his works we scarce find been destroyed in the fire, it would have any traces of anything that looks like an been an equally good speculation to have re- imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of printed it immediately after the fire; and yet his taste, and the natural bent of his own the fourth edition did not appear till 1685. great genius (equal, if not superior, to some Some of the copies of the third edition bear of the best of theirs), would certainly have the date of 1663; and we have no doubt led him to read and study them with so that the book was then generally published; much pleasure that some of their fine images for Pepys, under the date of December 10th, would naturally have insinuated themselves 1663, has a curious bibliographical entry:- into, and been mixed with, his own writings; “To St. Paul's Churchyard, to my bookseller's, so that his not copying at least something and could not tell whether to lay out my from them may be an argument of his never money for books of pleasure, as plays, which having read them. Whether his ignorance my nature was most earnest in; but at last, of the ancients were a disadvantage to him after seeing Chaucer, Dugdale’s ‘History of or no, may admit of a dispute: for, though Paul's, Stow's ‘London,' Gesner, ‘History the knowledge of them might have made of Trent,' besides Shakespeare, Jonson, and him more correct, yet it is not improbable Beaumont's plays, I at last chose Dr. Fuller's but that the regularity and deference for
* Life of Shakespear in ‘Lardner's Cyclopædia.' them, which would have attended that cor
rectness, might have restrained some of that be no very hard task to find a great many fire, impetuosity, and even beautiful ex- faults ; but, as Shakspeare lived under a travagance, which we admire in Shakspere: kind of mere light of nature, and had never and I believe we are better pleased with been made acquainted with the regularity of those thoughts, altogether new and uncom- those written precepts, so it would be hard mon, which his own imagination supplied to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. him so abundantly with, than if he had We are to consider him as a man that lived given us the most beautiful passages out of in a state of almost universal licence and the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the ignorance: there was no established judge, most agreeable manner that it was possible but every one took the liberty to write acfor a master of the English language to cording to the dictates of his own fancy. deliver them.” Rowe also falls into the When one considers that there is not one notion that Shakspere did not arrive at his play before him of a reputation good enough perfection by repeated experiment and as- to entitle it to an appearance on the presiduous labour,—a theory which still has its sent stage, it cannot but be a matter of believers :-" It would be without doubt a great wonder that he should advance drapleasure to any man, curious in things of matic poetry so far as he did.” A second this kind, to see and know what was the edition of Rowe's 'Shakespeare' appeared first essay of a fancy like Shakspeare's. in 1714. Perhaps we are not to look for his be- In 1725 POPE produced his edition, magniginnings, like those of other authors, among ficent as far as printing went, in six volumes their least perfect writings; art had so little quarto. Of its editorial merits we may say a and nature so large a share in what he did, few words when we have to speak of Theobald. that, for aught I know, the performances of His Preface is a masterly composition, conhis youth, as they were the most vigorous, taining many just views elegantly expressed. and had the most fire and strength of ima- The criticism is neither profound nor original; gination in them, were the best. I would but there is a tone of quiet sense about it not be thought by this to mean that his which shows that Pope properly appreciated fancy was so loose and extravagant as to Shakspere's general excellence. He believes, be independent on the rule and government in common with most of his time, that this exof judgment; but that what he thought was cellence was attained by intuition, and that commonly so great, so justly and rightly the finest results were produced by felicitous conceived in itself, that it wanted little or accidents : no correction, and was immediately approved “If ever any author deserved the name of by an impartial judgment at the first sight.” an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himHe then enters into a brief criticism of some self drew not his art so immediately from of the leading plays. In speaking of “The the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Tempest,' he mentions the observation upor Egyptian strainers and channels, and came to the character of Caliban" which three very him not without some tincture of the learngreat men concurred in making”-telling us ing, or some cast of the models, of those in a note that these were Lord Falkland, before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was Lord Chief Justice Vaughan, and Mr. Selden inspiration indeed: he is not so much an —“That Shakspeare had not only found out imitator as an instrument of Nature; and it a new character in his Caliban, but had is not so just to say that he speaks from her also devised and adapted a new manner of as that she speaks through him. language for that character.” Of Shakspere's “His characters are so much Nature herplays, with reference to their art, he thus self, that it is a sort of injury to call them speaks :-“If one undertook to examine the by so distant a name as copies of her. Those greatest part of these by those rules which of other poets have a constant resemblance, are established by Aristotle and taken from which shows that they received them from the model of the Grecian stage, it would one another, and were but multipliers of
the same image: each picture, like a mock- | for a very new opinion that the philosopher, rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. and even the man of the world, may be born But every single character in Shakspeare is as well as the poet." as much an individual as those in life itself; These are the excellences of Shakspere ; it is as impossible to find any two alike; and but Pope holds that he has as great defects, such as from their relation or affinity in any and he sets himself to excuse these by arguing respect appear most to be twins, will, upon that it was necessary to please the populace. comparison, be found remarkably distinct. He then proceeds:To this life and variety of character we must “ To judge, therefore, of Shakspeare by add the wonderful preservation of it; which Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the is such throughout his plays, that, had all laws of one country who acted under those of the speeches been printed without the very another. He wrote to the people, and wrote at names of the persons, I believe one might first without patronage from the better sort, have applied them with certainty to every and therefore without aims of pleasing them; speaker.
without assistance or advice from the learned, “The power over our passions was never as without the advantage of education or ac possessed in a more eminent degree, or dis- quaintance among them; without that knowplayed in so different instances. Yet all ledge of the best models, the ancients, to inalong there is seen no labour, no pains to spire him with an emulation of them; in a raise them; no preparation to guide or guess word, without any views of reputation, and to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward of what poets are pleased to call immortality; it; but the heart swells, and the tears burst some or all of which have encouraged the out, just at the proper places: we are sur- vanity, or animated the ambition, of other prised the moment we weep; and yet upon writers. reflection find the passion so just, that we “Yet it must be observed, that, when his should be surprised if we had not wept, and performances had merited the protection of wept at that very moment.
his prince, and when the encouragement of “How astonishing it is again that the past the court had succeeded to that of the town, sions directly opposite to these, laughter and the works of his riper years are manifestly spleen, are no less at his command! That he raised above those of his former. The dates is not more a master of the great than of the of his plays sufficiently evidence that his ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest productions improved in proportion to the tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles ; of respect he had for his auditors. And I our strongest emotions, than of our idlest make no doubt this observation would be sensations !
found true in every instance, were but edi“Nor does he only excel in the passions; tions extant from which we might learn the in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he exact time when every piece was composed, is full as admirable. His sentiments are not and whether wrote for the town or the court. only in general the most pertinent and ju- “ Another cause (and no less strong than dicious upon every subject; but, by a talent the former) may be deduced from our poet's very peculiar, something between penetration being a player; and forming himself first upon and felicity, he hits upon that particular the judgments of that body of men whereof point on which the bent of each argument he was a member. They have ever had a turns, or the force of each motive depends. standard to themselves, upon other prinThis is perfectly amazing from a man of no ciples than those of Aristotle. As they live education or experience in those great and by the majority, they know no rule but that public scenes of life which are usually the of pleasing the present humour, and complysubject of his thoughts; so that he seems to ing with the wit in fashion—a consideration have known the world by intuition, to have which brings all their judgment to a short looked through human nature at one glance, point. Players are just such judges of what and to be the only author that gives ground is right as tailors are of what is graceful.