Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

MR POPE'S PREFACE.

It

T is not my defign to enter into a criticism upon this author; though to do it effectually and not fuperficially, would be the best occafion that any juft writer could take, to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespear muft be confeffed to be the faireft and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as most confpicuous inftances, both of beauties and faults of all forts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a preface, the business of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works, and the disadvantages under which they have been tranfmitted to us. We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: a defign, which, though it can be no guide to future criticks to do him justice in one way, will at least be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice

in the other.

I CANNOT, however, but mention fome of his principal and characteristick excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and univerfally elevated above all other dramatick writers. Not that this is the proper place of praifing him, but because I would not omit any occafion of doing it.

Ir ever any author deferved the name of an original, it was Shakespear. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Egyptian ftrainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or fome caft of the models, of thofe before him. The

[blocks in formation]

poetry of Shakespear was infpiration indeed: he is not fo much an imitator, as an inftrument, of nature; and 'tis not so just to say, that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.

His characters are fo much nature herself, that 'tis a fort of jnjury to call them by fo diftant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a conftant refemblance, which shows that they receiv'd them from one another, and were but multipliers of the fame image: each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every fingle character in Shakespear is as much an individual, as thofe in life itself; it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear moft to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably diftinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is fuch throughout his plays, that, had all the fpeeches been printed without the very names of the perfons, I believe, one might have apply'd them with certainty to every speaker.

THE power over our paffions was never poffefs'd in a more eminent degree, or display'd in fo different inftances. Yet all along, there is feen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceiv'd to lead toward it: but the heart fwells, and the tears burft out, juft at the proper places: we are furpriz'd, the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the paffion fo juft, that we should be furpriz'd if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.

How aftonishing is it again, that the paffions directly oppofite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his commandÎ that he is not more a master of the great, than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tenderneffes, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations!

NOR does he only excel in the paffions: in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His fentiments

are

are not only in general the moft pertinent and judicious upon every fubject; but, by a talent very peculiar, fomething between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in thofe great and publick scenes of life which are ufually the fubject of his thoughts: fo that he feems to have known the world by intuition, to have look'd through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, that the philofopher, and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet.

It must be own'd, that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, so he has, perhaps, written worse, than any other. But I think, I can in fome measure account for thefe defects, from feveral caufes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlighten'd a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them. That all thefe contingencies fhould unite to his disadvantage feems to me almoft as fingularly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary) talents fhould meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.

Ir must be allowed, that ftage-poetry of all other, is more particularly levell'd to please the populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depending upon the common fuffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakespear, having at his firft appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a subsistence, directed his endeavours. folely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The audience was, generally, compofed of the meaner fort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from thofe of their own rank: accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almost all the old comedies have their scene among tradesmen and mechanicks: and even their historical plays ftrictly follow the common old stories, or vulgar traditions, of that kind of people. In tragedy, nothing was fo fure to surprise and

b 2

caufe

caufe admiration, as the moft ftrange,unexpected, and confequently most unnatural, events and incidents; the most exaggerated thoughts; the most verbose and bombaft expreffion; the most pompous rhymes, and thundering verfification. In comedy, nothing was fo fure to please, as mean buffoonery, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jefts of fools and clowns. Yet even in thefe, our author's wit buoys up, and is born above his subject: his genius in those low parts is like fome prince of a romance in the disguise of a fhepherd or peafant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then break out, which manifeft his higher extraction and qualities.

Ir may be added, that not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better fort piqu'd themfelves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way; till Ben. Jonfon, getting poffeffion of the stage, brought critical learning into vogue: and that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from those frequent lessons (and indeed almost declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouth of his actors, the grex, chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. Till then, our authors had no thoughts of writing on the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only histories in dialogue; and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no lefs implicitly than if it had been true hiftory.

To judge therefore of Shakespear by Ariftotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country, who acted under thofe of another. He writ to the people; and writ at first without patronage from the better fort, and therefore without aims of pleafing them: without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them: without that knowledge of the best models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them: in a word, without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleas'd to call

immortality;

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »