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triously vindicated. It is farther obfervable, that the confequences flowing from the system of Neceffity, and which appear to the affertors of free-will fo alarming and dreadful, are light and trivial, when compared with thofe which must neceffarily refult from the denial of the Divine prefcience; which may be faid to wreft the fceptre from the hand of the Creator, and to place that capricious and undefinable principle, the felf-determining power of man, upon the throne of the univerfe. If the abfolute foreknowledge of God is admitted, every one muft fee that contingency is excluded; and confequently the whole fabric reared upon the fhallow and visionary basis of man's free agency, must instantly diffolve; “and, like an insubstantial pageant faded, leave "not a wreck behind."
T appears paradoxical, but it is ftrictly true, that the faults of Shakespeare, great and numerous as his warmeft advocates must allow them to be, afford the most decifive proofs of his excellence. It is an acknowledged fact, that to his works all claffes of men, the young and the old, the learned and the ignorant, the clown and the courtier, are indebted for the most exquifite entertainment and delight; and yet, what rule of compofition can be named which he has not violated; what species of impropriety, from which he is entirely exempt? How transcendent, then, must be the merit of that writer, how ftriking the luftre of those beauties, which have power to excite fuch delightful emotions, under fuch difadvantages, and combined with fuch defects? It is a fubject of liberal curiofity to enquire into the nature of those beauties, and in what manner they concur, to produce this extraordinary effect. Much has been faid and much been done by critics of the first eminence in order to illuftrate those points, but I am of opinion that it will ever remain in
fome degree a myftery, why one writer pleases above another, and confequently why Shakespeare pleafes above all others. I believe it requires a much more intimate acquaintance with the human mind than the acuteft philofopher can boaft, to be able to trace the origin and progrefs of all thofe affociations which contribute to the formation of pleafurable ideas. We know, indeed, from experience, that the obfervation of certain long established rules of compofition pleases in a certain degree; and we can account tolerably, upon philofophical principles, for the pleasure we derive from thofe fources: but unfortunately for the lovers of fyftem, Shakespeare has dared to please in contradiction to rules, and that in a much higher degree than the most admired writers who have adhered to them. For I think it will be acknowledged, that even the Edipus and Iphigenia of Sophocles and Euripides are inferior to Lear and Othello, in regard to the general effect of the compofition; and to put the Cid and Athalie, thofe chef d'œuvres of the French theatre, in competition with Shakespeare, is, as it were, to bring Paris into the lifts to encounter Ajax or Achilles. Without pretending to enter very deeply into the fubject, I shall offer a few remarks, fuch as occur to me, on the causes of this evident and prodigious fuperiority; or, in other words, I propofe to point out fome of those characteristic beauties which predominate in the works of Shakespeare, and which appear to me to constitute their principal excellence: and
perhaps the moft ftriking feature appertaining to them is this," that they ftrongly arreft the attention."-Our curiofity is powerfully excited at the commencement of each piece, and it is never fuffered to fubfide till the conclufion of it: this is the most infallible teft and proof of genius. Many of our modern tragedies, it must be acknowledged, are regular and faultlefs performances; fome of them are not only free from material defects, but poffefs a confiderable fhare of real excellence; for instance, Cato, Irene, and Phædra and Hyppolitus. The diction of these plays is lofty and poetical, without being inflated; the fentiments just and noble, the plots regularly conducted, the characters fkilfully diverfified, and the unities ftrictly preferved. What can be wanting then to the perfection of tragedy? I know not; but this I know, that these tragedies, and fuch as thefe, I read without emotion or fympathy, with a certain fenfation of pleasure indeed, but fo weak as scarcely to induce me to take up the performance a fecond time, except it may be for the purpose of committing a few fplendid paffages to memory. They are defective in that first and greatest power of compofition, the power of feizing, fascinating, and enchaining the attention: in a word, they are defective in genius, a term equally impoffible to miftake or to define. On the contrary, I am still unable to read Lear, Macbeth, or Othello, often as I have perufed them, without the ftrongest emotions; not of admiration, for I have not leifure
to admire till I have laid down the book-but of pity, terror, indignation, folicitude, and forrow; but is there not a fufficient quantum of distress and misfortune to produce thefe effects in our modern dramas? Diftreffes and misfortunes there are in abundance, certainly; but fo perverfe is my difpofition, that where the poet is most inclined to be ferious, I am often moft difpofed to be merry. I am as void of compaffion as Launce's dog Crab.
I think," fays he, " Crab, my dog, be the fourestnatured dog that lives; my mother weeping, my father wailing, my fifter crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands, and all our houfe in great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear." But not to dwell any longer on this obfcure and general caufe of the fuperiority of Shakespeare above all other dramatic writers, I believe it will be universally allowed, that his skill in difcriminating, and his attention to the prefervation, of his characters, constitute a distinguished branch of his fuperior excellence. It is true, that in many other productions of the drama we meet with characters natural and confiftent, conceived with judgment, and sustained with propriety but the characters of Shakespeare are drawn with fuch furprising force, as well as propriety and truth, that we can scarcely forbear to confider them as originals actually in exiftence. Many fcenes are penned with such an air of animation, of nature, and reality, that one is almoft tempted to fuppofe that the poet had, like Bayes, overheard the dialogue