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triously vindicated. It is farther observable, that the consequences flowing from the system of Necessity, and which appear to the affertors of free-will fo alarming and dreadful, are light and trivial, when compared with those which must necessarily result from the denial of the Divine prescience ; which may be said to wrest 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 universe. If the absolute foreknowledge of God is admitted, every one must see that contingency is excluded ; and consequently the whole fabric reared upon the shallow 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 strictly true,
that the faults of Shakespeare, great and numerous as his warmest advocates must allow them to be, afford the most decisive proofs of his excel. lence. It is an acknowledged fact, that to his works all classes of men, the young and the old, the learned and the ignorant, the clown and the courtier, are indebted for the most exquisite entertainment and delight; and yet, what rule of composition 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 striking the lustre of those beauties, which have power to excite such delightful emotions, under such disadvantages, and combined with such defects ? It is a subject of liberal curiosity to enquire into the nature of those beauties, and in what manner they concur, to produce this extraordinary effect. Much has been said and much been done by critics of the first eminence in order to illustrate those points, but I am of opinion that it will ever remain in
fome degree a mystery, 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 acutest philosopher can boast, to be able to trace the origin and progress of all those affociations which contribute to the formation of pleasurable ideas. We know, indeed, from experience, that the observation of certain long established rules of composition pleases in a certain degree ; and we can account tolerably, upon philosophical principles, for the pleasure we derive from thofe fources: but unfortunately for the lovers of system, 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 composition; and to put the Cid and Athalie, those chef d'æuvres of the French theatre, in competition with Shakespeare, is, as it were, to bring Paris into the lists to encounter Ajax or Achilles. Without pretending to enter very deeply into the subject, I shall offer a few remarks, such as occur to me, on the causes of this evident and prodigious superiority;
in other words, I propofe to point out some of those characteristic beauties which predominate in the works of Shakespeare, and which appear to me to constitute their principal excellence: and
perhaps the most striking feature appertaining to them is this, “ that they strongly arrest the attention.”-Our curiosity is powerfully excited at the commencement of each piece, and it is never fuffered to subside till the conclusion of it: this is the most infallible test and proof of genius. Many of our modern tragedies, it must be acknowledged, are regular and faultless performances ; some of them are not only free from material defects, but possess a considerable share of real excellence; for instance, Cato, Irene, and Phædra and Hyppolitus. The diction of these plays is lofty and poetical, without being inflated; the sentiments just and noble, the plots regularly conducted, the characters skilfully diversified, and the unities ítrialy preserved. What can be wanting then to the perfection of tragedy? I know not; but this I know, that these tragedies, and such as these, I read without emotion or fympathy, with a certain sensation of pleasure indeed, but so weak as scarcely to induce me to take up the performance a second time, except it may be for the purpose of committing a few fplendid passages to memory. They are defective in that first and greatest power of composition, the power of seizing, fascinating, and enchaining the attention: in a word, they are defective in genius, a term equally impossible to mistake or to define. On the contrary, I am still unable to read Lear, Macbeth, or Othello, often as I have perused them, without the strongest emotions; not of admiration, for I have not leisure
to admire till I have laid down the book--but of pity, terror, indignation, folicitude, and forrow
; but is there not a sufficient quantum of distress and misfortune to produce these effects in our modern dramas? Distresses and misfortunes there are in abundance, certainly ; but so perverse is my disposition, that where the poet is most inclined to be serious, I am often most disposed to be merry. I am as void of compassion as Launce's dog Crab.
I think,” says he, “ Crab, my dog, be the fourestnatured dog that lives ; my mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands, and all our house in great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear.” But not to dwell any longer on this obfcure and general cause of the fuperiority of Shakespeare above all other dramatic writers, I believe it will be universally allowed, that his skill in discriminating, and his attention to the preservation, of his characters, constitute a distinguished branch of his superior excellence. It is true, that in many other productions of the drama we meet with characters natural and consistent, conceived with judgment, and sustained with propriety : but the characters of Shakespeare are drawn with such surprising force, as well as propriety and truth, that we can scarcely forbear to consider them as originals actually in existence. Many scenes are penned with such an air of animation, of nature, and reality, that one is almost tempted to suppose that the poet had, like Bayes, overheard the dialogue