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alleviation of our sympathy. He had not those rude ideas of his art which many moderns seem to have, as if the poet, like the clown in the proverb, must strike twice on the same place. An ancient rhetorician delivered a caution against dwelling too long on the excitation of pity; for nothing, he said, dries so soon as tears; and Shakspeare acted conformably to this ingenious maxim, without knowing it.
“ The objection, that Shakspeare wounds our feelings by the open display of the most disgusting moral odiousness, harrows up the mind unmercifully, and tortures even our senses by the exhibition of the most insupportable and hateful spectacles, is one of much greater importance. He has never, in fact, varnished over wild and blood-thirsty passions with a pleasing exterior, never clothed crime and want of principle with a false show of greatness of soul; and in that respect he is every way deserving of praise. Twice he has pourtrayed downright villains; and the masterly way in which he has contrived to elude impressions of too painful a nature, may be seen in Iago and Richard the Third. The constant reference to a petty and puny race must cripple the boldness of the poet. Fortunately for his art, Shakspeare lived in an age extremely susceptible of noble and tender impressions, but which had still enough of the firmness inberited from a vigorous olden time, not to shrink back
with dismay-from every strong and violent picture. We have lived to see tragedies of which the catastrophe consists in the swoon of an enamoured princess. If Shakspeare falls occasionally into the opposite extreme, it is a noble errour, originating in the fulness of a gigantick strength: and yet this tragical Titan, who storms the heavens, and threatens to tear the world from off its hinges; who, more terrible than Æschylus, makes our hair stand on end, and congeals our blood with horrour, possessed, at the same time, the insinuating loveliness of the sweetest poetry. He plays with love like a child; and his songs are breathed out like melting sighs. He unites in his genius the utmost elevation and the utmost depth ; and the most foreign, and even apparently irreconcileable properties subsist in him peaceably together. The world of spirits and nature have laid all their treasures at his feet. In strength a demi-god, in profundity of view a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a protecting spirit of a higher order, he lowers himself to mortals, as if unconscious of his superiority: and is as open and unassuming as a child.
“ Shakspeare's comick talent is equally wonderful with that which he has shown in the pathetick and tragick: it stands on an equal elevation, and possesses equal extent and profundity. All that I before, wisbed was, not to admit that
the former preponderated. He is highly inventive in comick situations and motives. It will be hardly possible to show whence he has taken any of them; whereas, in the serious part of his drama, he has generally laid hold of something already known. His comick characters are equally true, various, and profound, with his serious. So little is he disposed to caricature, that we may rather say many of his traits are almost too nice and delicate for the stage, that they can only be properly seized by a great actor, and fully understood by a very acute audience. Not only has he delineated many kinds of folly ; he has also contrived to exbibit mere stupidity in a most diverting and entertaining manner." Vol. ii. p. 145.
We have the rather availed ourselves of this testimony of a foreign critick in behalf of Shakspeare, because our own countryman, Dr. Johnson, has not been so favourable to him. It may be said of Shakspeare, that “ those who are not for him are against him:" for indifference is here the height of injustice. We may sometimes, in order “ to do a great right, do a little wrong." An overstrained enthusiasm is more pardonable with respect to Shakspeare than the want of it ; for our admiration cannot easily surpass his genius. We have a high respect for Dr. John. son's character and understanding, mixed with something like personal attachment: but he was
neither a poet nor a judge of poetry. He might in one sense be a judge of poetry as it falls within the limits and rules of prose, but not as it is poetry. Least of all was he qualified to be a judge of Shakspeare, who " alone is high fantastical." Let those who have a prejudice against Johnson read Boswell's Life of him : as those whom he has prejudiced against Shakspeare should read his Irene. We do not say that a man to be a critick must necessarily be a poet: but to be a good critick, he ought not to be a bad poet. Such poetry as a man delibe. rately writes, such, and such only will he like. Dr. Johnson's Preface to bis edition of Shak. speare looks like a laborious attempt to bury the characteristick merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and to weigh kis excellencies and defects in equal scales, stuffed full of “swelling figures and sonorous epithets." Nor could it well be otherwise ; Dr. Johnson's general powers of reasoning overlaid his critical susceptibility. All his ideas were cast in a given mould, in a set form : they were made out by rule and system, by climax, inference, and antithesis :-Shakspeare's were the
Johnson's understanding dealt...only in round numbers: the fractions were lost upon him. He reduced every thing to the com.. inon standard of conventional propriety; and.. the most exquisite refinement or sublimity pro
duced an effect on his mind, only as they could be translated into the language of measured prose. To him an excess of beauty was a fault; for it appeared to bim like an excrescence; and his imagination was dazzled by the blaze of light. His writings neither shone with the beams of native genius, nor reflected them. The shifting shapes of fancy, the rainbow hues of things, made no impression on bim: he seized only on the permanent and tangible. He had no idea of natural objects but “such as he could measure with a two-foot rule, or tell upon ten fingers :" he judged of human nature in the same way, by mood and figure: he saw only the definite, the positive, and the practical, the average forms of things, not their striking differences,
their classes, not their degrees. man of strong common sense and practical wisdom, rather than of genius and feeling. He retained the regular, habitual impressions of actual objects, but he could not follow the rapid flights of fancy, or the strong movements of passion. That is, he was to the poet what the painter of still life is to the painter of history. Common sense sympathizes with the impressions of things on ordinary minds in ordinary circumstances : genius catches the glancing combinations presented to the eye of fancy, under the influence of passion. It is the province of the didactick reasoner to take cognizance of those