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makes the common riches of learning, as it does of civil government.
But suppose that Homer and Virgil were the only poets of their species, and that nature was so much worn out in producing them, that she is never able to bear the like again; yet the example only holds in heroic poetry. In tragedy and satire, I offer myself to maintain, against some of our modern critics, that this age and the last, particularly in England, have excelled the ancients in both these kinds.
Thus I might safely confine myself to my native country; but if I would only cross the seas, I might find in France a living Horace and a Juvenal, in the person of the admirable Boileau, whose numbers are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed, and whose sense is close. What he borrows from the ancients, he repays with usury of his own, in coin as good, and almost as universally valuable; for, setting prejudice and partiality apart, though he is our enemy, the stamp of a Louis, the patron of arts, is not much inferior to the medal of an Augustus Cesar. Let this be said without entering into the interests of factions and parties, and relating only the bounty of that king to men of learning and merit: a praise so just, that even we, who are his enemies, cannot refuse it to him.
Now, if it may be permitted me to go back again to the consideration of epic poetry, I have confessed that no man hitherto has reached, or so much as approached to the excellences of Homer or Virgil; I must further add, that Statius, the
best versificator next Virgil, knew not how to design after him, though he had the model in his eyes; that Lucan is wanting both in design and subject, and is besides too full of heat and affectation; that among the moderns, Ariosto neither designed justly, nor observed any unity of action, or compass of time or moderation in the vastness of his draught: his style is luxurious, without majesty or decency; and his adventures without the compass of nature and possibility. Tasso, whose design was regular, and who observed the rules of unity in time and place more closely than Virgil, yet was not so happy in his action: he confesses himself to have been too lyrical, that is, to have written beneath the dignity of heroic verse, in his episodes of Sophronia, Erminia, and Armida; his story is not so pleasing as Ariosto's; he is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times unequal, and almost always forced; and besides is full of conceptions, points of epigram, and witticisms; all which are not only below the dignity of heroic verse, but contrary to its nature. Virgil and Homer have not one of them: and those who are guilty of so boyish an ambition in so grave a subject, are so far from being considered as heroic poets, that they ought to be turned down from Homer to Anthologia, from Virgil to Martial and Owen's epigrams, and from Spenser to Flecno; that is, from the top to the bottom of all poetry. But to return to Tasso: he borrows from the invention of Boyardo, and in his alteration of his poem, which is infinitely the worst, imitates Homer so very servilely, that (for example) he gives the king of Jerusalem fifty sons
only because Homer had bestowed the like number on king Priam; he kills the youngest in the same manner, and has provided his hero with a Patroclus, under another name, only to bring him back to the wars, when his friend was killed. The French have performed nothing in this kind which is not below those two Italians, and subject to a thousand more reflections, without examining their St. Louis, their Pucelle, or their Alarique. The English have only to boast of Spenser and Milton, who neither of them wanted either genius or learning to have been perfect poets, and yet both of them are liable to many censures. For there is no uniformity in the design of Spenser; he aims at the accomplishment of no one action; he raises up a hero for every one of his adventures, and endows each of them with some particular moral virtue, which renders them all equal, without subordination or preference. Every one is most valiant in his own legend; only we must do them the justice to observe, that magnanimity, which is the character of prince Arthur, shines through the whole poem, and succours the rest, when they are in distress. The original of every knight was then living in the court of queen Elizabeth; and he attributed to each of them that virtue which he thought most conspicuous in them: an ingenious piece of flattery, though it turned not much to his account. Had he lived to finish his poem, in the six remaining legends, it had certainly been more of a-piece; but could not have been perfect, because the model was not true. But prince Arthur, or his chief patron sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended
to make happy by the marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, deprived the poet both of means and spirit to accomplish his design. For the rest, his obsolete language, and ill choice of his stanza, are faults but of the second magnitude: for notwithstanding the first, he is still intelligible, at least after a little practice; and for the last, he is the more to be admired, that labouring under such a difficulty, his verses are so numerous, so various, and so harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he professedly imitated, has surpassed him among the Romans, and only Mr. Waller among the English. Dryden.
REMARKS ON SOME OF THE BEST ENGLISH
SHAKSPEARE was the man who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches; his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him: no man can
say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
Quantùm lenta solent inter viburna cnpressi.
The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eaton say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever wrote, but he would produce it much better treated in Shakspeare; and however others are now generally preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him Fletcher and Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem. And in the last king's court, when Ben's reputation was at the highest, sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakspeare far above him.
Beaumont and Fletcher, of whom I am next to speak, had with the advantage of Shakspeare's wit, which was their precedent, great natural gifts, improved by study; Beaumont especially being so accurate a judge of players, that Ben Jonson, while he lived, submitted all his writings to his censure, and, it is thought, used his judgment in correcting, if not contriving, all his plots. What value he had for him, appears by the verses he wrote to him, and therefore I need speak no further of it. The first play which brought Fletcher and him in esteem was their Philaster; for before that, they had written two or three very unsuccessfully and the like is reported of Ben Jonson, before he wrote Every Man in his Humour. Their plots were generally more regular than Shakspeare's, especially those which were made