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think like them, without owing any thing to imitation.
Tho' I should be very unwilling to allow Shakespeare so poor a scholar, as many have laboured to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other side of the question : that is, with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the passages, that I occafionally quote from the classics, shall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated those originals; but brought to fhew how happily he has expressed himself upon the same topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a sameness of thought and sameness of expression too, in two Writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent suspicion of the latter copying from his predecessor. I shall not therefore run any great risque of a censure, tho' I should venture to hint, that the resemblance, in thought and expression, of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in one, whose learning was not questioned) may sometimes take its rise from strength of memory, and those impressions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a possibility of this, confidering that, when he quitted the school, he gave into his father's profession and way of living, and had, 'tis likely, but a fender library of claffical learning: and considering what a number of tranflations, romances, and legends, started about
his time, and a little before; (most of which, 'tis very evident, he read ;) I think, it may easily be reconciled, why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more latter informations, than went back to thofe fountains, for which he might entertain a fincere veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a recourse.
In touching on another part of his learning, as it related to the knowledge of history and books, I shall advance fomething, that, at first sight, will very much wear the appearance of a paradox. For I shall find it no hard matter to prove, that from the grofleft blunders in history, we are not to infer his real ignorance of it: Nor from a greater use of Latin words, than ever any other English author used, must we infer his knowledge of that language.
A reader of taste may easily observe, that tho' Shakespeare, almost in every scene of his historical plays, commits the groffest offences against chronology, history, and ancient politicks; yet this was not thro' ignorance, as is generally supposed, but thro' the too powerful blaze of his imagination; which, when once raised, made all acquired knowledge vanish and disappear before it. For instance, in his Timon, he turns Athens, which was a perfect Democracy, into an Aristocracy; while he ridiculously gives a senator the power of banishing Alcibiades. On the contrary, in Coriolanus, he makes Rome, which at that time was a perfect Aristocracy, a Democracy full as ridiculously, by
making the people choose Coriolanus consul: Whereas, in fact, it was not till the time of Manlius Torquatus, that the people had a right of choosing one consul. But this licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to ignorance: fince as often we may find him, when occasion serves, reasoning up to the truth of history; and throwing out sentiments as juftly adapted to the circumstances of his subject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then, to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, 'tis certain, there is a surprising effufion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English Author I have seen ; but we must be cautious to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in his age, began extremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin ; and to be overlaid, as it were, by its nurse, when it had just began to speak by her before-prudent care and assistance. And this, to be sure, was occasioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, both great Latinifts. For it is not to be wondered at, if both the court and schools, equal Alatterers of power, should adapt themselves to the royal tafte. This, then, was the condition of the English tongue when Shakespeare took it up: like a beggar in a rich wardrobe. He found the pure native English too cold and poor to second the heat and abundance of his imagination: and therefore was forced to dress it up in the robes, he saw provided for it: rich in
themselves, but ill-fhaped; cut out to an air of magnificence, but disproportioned and cumberfome. To the costliness of ornament, he added all the graces and decorum of it. It may be faid, this did not require, or discover a knowledge of the Latin. To the first, I think, it did not ; to the fecond, it is so far from discovering it, that, I think, it discovers the contrary.
To make this more obvious by a modern instance : The great Milton likewise laboured under the like inconvenience; when he first fet upon adorning his own tongue, he likewise animated and enriched it with the Latin, but from his own ftock: and fo, rather by bringing in the phrases, than the words: And this was natural; and will, I be. lieve, always be the case in the same circumstances. His language, especially his profe, is full of Latin words indeed, but much fuller of Latin phrases: and his mastery in the tongue made this unavoidable. On the contrary, Shakespeare, who, perhaps, was not so intimately versed in the language, abounds in the words of it, but has few or none of its phrases: Nor, indeed, if what I affirm be true, could he. This I take to be the truest criterion to determine this long agitated question.
It may be mentioned, tho' no certain conclusion can be drawn from it, as a probable argument of his having read the ancients; that he perpetually expresses the genius of Homer, and other great poets of the old world, in animating all the
parts of his descriptions; and, by bold and breathing metaphors and images, giving the properties of life and action to inanimate things. He is a copy too of those Greek masters in the infinite use compound and de-compound epithets. I will not, indeed, aver, but that one with Shakespeare's exquisite genius and observation might have traced these glaring characteristics of antiquity by reading Homer in Chapman's version.
An additional word or two naturally falls in here upon the genius of our author, as compared with that of Johnson his contemporary. They are confessedly the greatest writers our nation could ever boast of in the Drama. The first, we say, owed all to his prodigious natural genius; and the others a great deal to his art and learning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable appearance in their writings. Besides those wonderful masterpieces of art and genius, which each has given us; they are the authors of other works very unworthy of them : But with this difference'; that in Johnson's bad pieces, we don't discover one single trace of the author of the Fox and Alchemist: but in the wild extravagant notes of Shakespeare, you every now and then encounter strains that recognize the divine composer, This difference may be thus accounted for. Johnfon, as we said before, owing all his excellence to his art, by which he fometimes strained himself to an uncommon pitch, when at other times he unbent and played with his subject, having