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Montagu on the Genius of Shakespeare.
expence to ourselves, and most com- to perceive he was unobfervant of monly much mifchief to our neigh-fome established rules of compofition; bours. the facility with which he performs Your opinion, Madam, on this fub- what no rules can teach, escapes him. ject is defired by, Happily for Shakefpeare, Dr. Johnfon, whofe genius and learning render him fuperior to a fervile ufe of pedantic inftitutions, in his ingenious preface to his edition of Shakespeare, has greatly obviated all that can be objected to our author's neglect of the
Your conftant reader,
And very humble fervant,
The Matron will return an anfwer to this letter in her next Num-unities of time and place. ber.
(To be continued.)
Shakespeare's felicity has been renM. G. dered complete in this age. His ge nius produced works that time could not deftroy; but fome of the lighter characters were become illegible; these have been restored by critics, whofe learning and penetration traced back the veftiges of fuperannuated opinions and customs. They are now no longer in danger of being effaced, and the teftimonies of thefe learned commentators to his merit, will guard our author's great monument of human wit, from the prefumptuous invafions of our rafh critics, and the fquibs of our witlings; fo that the bays will flourish unwithered and inviolate round his tomb; and his very, fpirit seems to come forth and animate' his characters, as often as Mr. Garrick, who acts with the fame infpiration with which he wrote, affumes them on of the flage.
General Obfervations on SHAKESPEARE, by Mrs. MONTAGU. [From her FJ fay on bis Writings and Genius.]
Shakespeare was born in a rank of
HAKESPEARE wrote at a time when learning was tinctured with pedantry; wit was unpolifhed, and mirth ill-bred. The court of Elizabeth spoke a fcientific jargon, and a certain obfcurity of flyle was univerfally affected; James brought an addition of pedantry, accompanied by indecent and indelicate manners and language. By contagion, or from complaifance to the taste of the public, Shakespeare falls fometimes into the fashionable mode of writing, but this is only by fits; for many parts of all his plays are written with the molt noble, elegant, and uncorrupted fim-life in which men indulge themfelves plicity. Such is his merit, that the in a free expreffion of their paffions, more juft and refined the taste of the with little regard to their exterior apage has become, the more he has enpearance. This, perhaps, made him creased in reputation. He was ap- more acquainted with the movements proved by his own age, admired by the of the heart, and lefs knowing or obnext, and is revered, and almost adored fervant of outward forms: again the by the prefent. His merit is difputed one he often offends; he very rarely by little wits, and his errors are the mifreprefents the other. jeas of little critics; but there has not been a great poet or great critic, fince bis time, who has not ipoken of him with the highest veneration, Mr. Voltaire excepted. His tranflations of ten, his criticifms ftill 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
Thofe dramas of Shakespeare which he diftinguishes by the name of Hiftories, being of an original kind, and peculiar conftruction, cannot come within any rules which are prior to their exiftence. The office of the critic, in regard to poetry, is like that of the grammarian and rhetorician in refpect to language; it is their bufi-, nels to fhew why fuch and fuch modes
of fpeech are proper and graceful. others improper and graceful; but they pronounce on fuch words and expreffions only as are actually ex
mon fame had divulged of them, muk
One cannot wonder, that endued with fo great and various powers, he
If it be the chief ufe of hiftory, that it teaches philofophy by examples, this fpecies of history must be allowed to be the best preceptor. The fentiments and the manners, the paffions and their confequence, are openly expofed, and immediately united: the force and luftre of poetical language joins with the weight and authority, of bitory to imprefs the moral leffon on the heart. The poet collects, as it were into a focus, thofe truths which lie fcattered in the diffufe volume of the hiftorian, and kindles the flame of virtue while he fhews the miferies and calamities of vice. The common interefts of humanity make us attentive to every flory that has an air of reali-broke down the barriers that had before confined the dramatic writers to the regions of comedy or tragedy. He perceived the fertility of the subjects that lay between the two extremes; he faw, that in the historical play, he could reprefent the manners of the whole people, give the general temper of the times, and bring in view incidents that affected the common fate of his country. The Gothic mufe had a rude fpirit of liberty, and delighted in painting popular tumults, the progrefs of civil wars, and the revolutions of government, rather than a cataftrophe within the walls of a The nature of the hiftorical play palace. At the time he wrote, the gave fcope to the extenfive talents of wars of the houfes of York and LanShakespeare. He had an uncommon cafter were fresh in men's minds.felicity in painting manners, and de- They had received the tale from fome veloping characters, which he could Neftor in their family or neighbouremploy with peculiar grace and pro-hood, who had fought in the battle priety, when he exhibited the chiefs he related. Every fpectator's affecin our civil wars. The great earl of tions were ranged under the white or Warwick, cardinal Beaufort, Humph-red rofe, in whofe contentions fome ry duke of Gloucefter, the renowned had loft their parents and friends, Hotspur, were very interefting objects to their countrymen. Whatever fhewed them in a ftrong light, and represented them with fentiments and manners agreeable to their hiftorical characters, and to thofe things com
ty, but we are more affected if we know it to be true; and the intereft is ftill heightened if we have any relation to the perfons concerned. Our noble countryman, Percy, engages us much more than Achilles, or any Grecian hero. The people, for whofe ule thefe public entertainments fhould be chiefly intended, know the battle of Shrewsbury to be a fact: they are informed of what has paffed on the banks of the Severn: all that hap pened on the fore of the Scamander has to them the appearance of a fiction.
We are apt to confider Shakespeare only as a poet; but he is certainly one of the greatefl moral philofophers that ever lived *.
Nothing great is to be expected from any fet of artists, who are to give only copies of copies. The treafures of nature are inexhaullible, as well in moral as in phyfical fubjects. The talents of Shakespeare were univerfal: his penetrating mind faw thro' all characters, and, as Mr. Pope fays of him, he was not more a matter of our ftrongest emotions, thau of our idleft fenfations.
The truth of this affertion the ingenious Mrs. Griffiths, has ftrongly fupported by nnmerous proofs, in a volume which does equal credit to her understanding and her taffe.
On the Hiftorical Plays of Shakespeare.
others had gained eftablishments and
Well, fay there is no kingdom then for
The tragedians who took their subjects from Homer, had all the advantage a painter would have, who was to draw a picture from a ftatue of Phidias or Praxiteles. Poor Shakefpeare, from the wooden images in our mean chronicles, was to form his portraits. What judgment was there in difcovering, that by moulding them to an exact resemblance, he should engage and please, and what difcernment and penetration into characters, and what amazing skill in moral painting, to be able, from fuch uncouth models, to bring forth not only a perfect, but, when occafion required, a graceful likenefs!
The patterns from whence he drew, were not only void of poetical fpirit and ornament, but also of all historical dignity. The hiftories of thefe times were a mere heap of rude indigested annals, coarfe in their ftyle, and erouded with trivial anecdotes. No Tacitus had inveftigated the obliquities of our ftatefmen, or, by diving into the profound fecrets of policy, had dragged into light the latent motives, Oh Jefus blefs us, he is born with teeth! the fecret machinations of our politi-And fo I was, which plainly fignified cians; yet how does he enter into the deepest mysteries of the ftate? There cannot be a ftronger proof of the fuperiority of his genius over the hiftoans of the times than the following inftance.
The midwife wonder'd, and the woman cry'd,
That I fhould fnarl, and bite, and play the
ing, but as inftigating his cruel ambition; and finely accounts in the fol. lowing fpeeches, for the afperity of his temper, and his fierce and unmitigated defire of dominion, from his being by his perfon difqualified for the fofter engagements of fociety.
What other pleasure can the world afford?
Oh! miferable thought! and more unlikely,
Then fine: the world affords no joy to me,
make my heav'n to dream upon the crown,
Then fince the heav'ns have shap'd my body
The learned Sir Thomas More, in his Hiftory of Crookback Richard, tells, with the garrulity of an old Durfe, the current ftories of this king's deformity, and the monstrous appearances of his infancy, which he feems with fuperftitious credulity to believe to have been the omens and prognoftics of his future villany. Shake fpeare, with a more philofophic turn of
Be refident in men like one another,
mind, confiders them, not as prefag-dience, who, as he fays, loved a noise of targets. His poverty, and the low condition of the stage (which at that time was not frequented by persons of rank) obliged him to this complaifance; and unfortunately he had not been tu tored by any rules of art, or informed by acquaintance with juft and regular drama
dramas. Even the politer fort, by reading books of chivalry, which were the polite literature of the times, were accustomed to bold adventures and atchievements.
He calls up all the ftately phantoms in the regions of fuperftition, which our faith will receive with reverence. He throws into their manners and language a myfterious folemnity, favourable to fuperftition in general, with fomething highly characteristic of each particular being which he exhibits. His witches, his ghoits, and his fairies, feem fpirits of health or goblins damn'd; bring with them airs from heav'n, or blafts from hell." His ghofts are fullen, melancholy, and terrible. Every fentence, uttered by the witches, is a prophecy or a charm ; their manners are malignant, their phrafes ambiguous, their promifes delufive. The witches cauldron is a collection of all that is moft horrid in their fuppofed incantations. Ariel is a fpirit mild, gentle, and sweet, poffeffed of fupernatural powers, but fubject to the command of a great magician.
The fairies are fportive and gay; the innocent artificers of harmlefs frauds, and mirthful delufions. Puck's enumeration of the feats of a fairy is the most agreeable recital of their fuppofed gambols.
As the genius of Shakespeare, thro' the whole extent of the poet's province, is the object of our enquiry, we fhould do him great injuftice, if we did not attend to his peculiar felicity in thefe fictions and inventions from To all these beings our poet has afwhich poetry derives its higheft dif- figned tasks, and appropriated mantinction, and from whence it firft af-ners adapted to their imputed difpofifumed its pretenfions to divine infpira- tions and characters, which are contition, and appeared the affociate of re-nually developing through the whole ligion. piece, in a series of operations condųcive to the catastrophe. They are not brought in as fubordinate, or cafual agents, but lead the action, and govern the fable.
Shakespeare's dramatis perfonæ are men, frail by conftitution, hurt by ill habits, faulty and unequal; but they fpeak with human voices, are ac'tuated by human paffions, and are engaged in the common affairs of human life. We are interested in what they do, or fay, by feeling every moment that they are of the fame nature with ourfelves. Their precepts, therefore, are an inftruction, their fates and for tunes an experience, their teftimony an authority, and their misfortunes a warning.
Shakespeare, in various nature wife, does not confine himself to any particular paffion. When he writes from history, he attributes to the perfons fuch fentiments as agree with their characters.
Shakespeare faw how useful the popular fuperftitions had been to the ancient poets: he felt that they were neceffary to poetry itself. Ghofts, fairies, goblins, elves, were as propi tious, were as affiftant to Shakespeare, and gave as much of the fublime, and of the marvellous, to his fictions, as nymphs, fatyrs, fauns, and even the triple Gorgon, to the works of ancient bards. Our poet never carries his preternatural beings beyond the limits of the popular tradition. It is true, that he boldly exerts his poetic genius and fafcinating powers in that magic circle" in which none ere durft walk but he;" but as judicious as old, he contains himfelf within it.
The genius of Shakespeare informed him that poetic fable must rise above the fimple tale of the nurfe; therefore he adorns the beldame, Tradition, with flowers gathered on claffic ground, but ftill wifely fuffering thofe fimples of her native foil, to which the eftablifhed fuperftition of her country has attributed a magic fpell, to be predominant. Can any thing be more poetical than Profpero's addrefs to his attendant fpirits before he difmifles them? PROS
True Meaning of the Word Good-nature.
Ye elves of hills, brooks, ftanding lakes,
And ye that on the fands with print'efs foot
By the moonthine, the gr en four ringlets
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you whofe pa ime
Is to make midnight mushrooms; that rejoice
To hear the folemn curfew; by whofe aid
And 'twixt the green fea and the azur'd van!t
Have I made thake, and by the fpurs pluckt up
By my to potent art.
Here are agreeably collected the popular ftories concerning the power of magicians. The incantations in Macbeth are more folemn and terrible than thofe of the Erichto of Lucan, or of the Canidia of Horace. It may be faid, indeed, that Shakespeare had an advantage derived from the more direful character of his natural fuper
Shakespeare, in the dark fhades of Gothic barbarifm, had no refources but in the very phantoms that walked the night of ignorance and fuperftition; or in touching the latent pallions of civil rage and difcord; fure to plecafe beft his fierce and barbarous audience when he raifed the bloody ghoft, reared the warlike tandard. His choice of thefe fubjects was judicious, if we confider the times in which he lived; his management of them fo mafterly, that he will be admired in all
of his genius, was defirous to give a
In the fame age, Ben Johnfon, more proud of his learning than confident
The pagan necromancers had a hundred lirtle tricks by which they pretended to cal up the ghofts, or thadows of the dead; bat thefe, in the ideas of paganifm, were quite another thing from Shaketpeare's feepers. HURD,
To the EDITOR of the LADY's Ma
The word in question is good-nature. Can the abufe of fuch an expreffion be daily heard, without being correctored by thofe whofe ears are pained by it? By the common ufe of the word good-nature, one would be led to ima gine that it fignified folly: but without a violent perverfion of language, folly and good-nature can never be deemed infeparable by the true judges of verbal propriety. As every fool is not a good-natured man, neither is every good-natured man a fool. By the word good-nature, according to my conception of its meaning, is implied a goodness of difpofition, which the intellectual powers: for do we not has not an immediate connection with fee men with very good understand
HOUGH I do not pretend to be a critic by profeffion, efpecially when the English language comes under my confideration, I will venture to reflore a certain compound word in it, which is greatly abufed by common ufe, to its original and beautiful fimplicity. The attempt has been made before, I grant, but the abufe ftill contienes. I fear, indeed, I fhall prove unfaccessful; but there are certainrts which will even be deemed laudable, though they never anfwer the expectations of thofe who make them.