« PreviousContinue »
Mr. Pope supposed, "little ground for the common opinion of his want of learning" once indeed he made a proper distinction between learning and languages, as I would be understood to do in my title-page; but unfor tunately he forgot it in the course of his disquisition, and endeavoured to persuade himself that Shakspeare's acquaintance with the ancients might be actually proved by the same medium as Jonson's.
Mr. Theobald is "very unwilling to allow him so poor a scholar, as many have laboured to represent him;" and yet is "cautious of declaring too positively on the other side of the question."
Dr. Warburton hath exposed the weakness of some ar guments from suspected imitations; and yet offers others, which, I doubt not, he could as easily have refuted.
Mr. Upton wonders" with what kind of reasoning any one could be so far imposed upon, as to imagine that Shakspeare had no learning;" and lashes with much zeal and satisfaction" the pride and pertness of dunces, who, under such a name would gladly shelter their own idleness and ignorance."
He, like the learned knight, at every anomaly in gram- ` mar or metre,"
Hath hard words ready to show why, "And tell what rule he did it by.".
How would the old bard have been astonished to have found, that he had very skilfully given the trochaic dimeter brachycatalectic, commonly called the ithyphallic measure to the Witches in Macbeth! and that now and then a halt ing verse afforded a most beautiful instance of the pes proceleusmaticus!
"But," continues Mr. Upton, "it was a learned age;" Roger Ascham assures us, that Queen Elizabeth read more Greek every day, than some dignitaries of the church did Latin in a whole week." This appears very probable; and a pleasant proof it is of the general learning of the times, and of Shakspeare in particular. I wonder, he did not corroborate it with an extract from her injunctions to her clergy, that "such as were but mean readers should peruse over before, once or twice, the chapters and homilies, to the intent they might read to the better understanding of the people.".
Dr. Grey declares, that Shakspeare's knowledge in the
Greek and Latin tongues cannot reasonably be called in question. Dr. Dodd supposes it proved, that he was not such a novice in learning and antiquity as some people would pretend. And to close the whole, for I suspect you to be tired of quotation, Mr. Whalley, the ingenious editor of Jonson, hath written a piece expressly on this side the question: perhaps from a very excusable partiality, he was willing to draw Shakspeare from the field of nature to classick ground, where alone, he knew, his author could possibly cope with him.
These criticks, and many others their coadjutors, have supposed themselves able to trace Shakspeare in the writings of the ancients; and have sometimes persuaded us of their own learning, whatever became of their author's. Plagiarisms have been discovered in every natural description and every moral sentiment. Indeed by the kind assistance of the various Excerpta, Sententiæ, and Flores, this business may be effected with very little expence of time or sagacity; as Addison hath demonstrated in his comment on Chevy-chase, and Wagstaff on Tom Thumb; and I myself will engage to give you quotations from the elder English writers (for to own the truth, I was once idle enough to collect such,) which shall carry with them at least an equal degree of similarity. But there can be no occasion of wasting any future time in this department : the world is now in possession of the Marks of Imitation. "Shakspeare, however, hath frequent allusions to the facts and fables of antiquity." Granted-and as Mat. Prior says, to save the effusion of more Christian ink, I will endeavour to show, how they came to his ac quaintance.
It is notorious, that much of his matter of fact knowledge is deduced from Plutarch: but in what language he read him, hath yet been the question. Mr. Upton is pretty confident of his skill in the original, and corrects accordingly the errors of his copyists by the Greek standard. Take a few instances, which will elucidate this matter sufficiently.
In the third Act of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavius represents to his courtiers the imperial pomp of those illustrious lovers, and the arrangement of their dominion, Unto her
"He gave the 'stablishment of Egypt, made her
Read Libya, says the critick authoratively, as is plain from Plutarch,
This is very true: Mr. Heath * accedes to the correction, and Mr. Johnson admits it into the text: but turn to the translation, from the French of Amyot, by Thomas North, in folio, 1579+, and you will at once see the origin of the mistake.
"First of all he did establish Cleopatra queene of Egypt, of Cyprus, of Lydia, and the lower Syria." Again, in the fourth Act:
"He hath whipt with rods, dares me to personal combat, "Cæsar to Antony. Let th' old ruffian know
"I have many other ways to die; mean time
"Laugh at his challenge."
"What a reply is this?" cries Mr. Upton, "'tis acknowledging he should fall under the unequal combat. But if we read,
Let the old ruffian know
"He hath many other ways to die; mean time
"I laugh at his challenge
we have the poignancy and the very repartee of Cæsar in Plutarch."
This correction was first made by Sir Thomas Hanmer, and Mr. Johnson hath received it. Most indisputably it is the sense of Plutarch, and given so in the modern translation: but Shakspeare was misled by the ambiguity of the old one: "Antonius sent again to challenge Cæsar to fight him: Cæsar answered, That he had many other ways to die, than so."
In the third Act of Julius Cæsar, Antony, in his wellknown harangue to the people, repeats a part of the emperor's will:
* It is extraordinary, that this gentleman should attempt so voluminous a work, as the Revisal of Shakspeare's Text, when, he tells us in his Preface," he was not so fortunate as to be furnished with either of the folio editions, much less any of the ancient quartos:" and even Sir Thomas Hanmer's performance was known to him only by Mr. Warburton's representation.
I find the character of this work pretty early delineated:
To every Roman citizen he gives,
"To every sev'ral man, seventy-five drachmas.-
"His private arbours, and new-planted orchards,
"Our author certainly wrote," says Mr. Theobald,— "On that side Tiber
"Trans Tiberim-prope Cæsaris hortos."
And Plutarch, whom Shakspeare very diligently studied, expressly declares, that he left the publick his gardens and walks, wépav To Пoraus, beyond the Tyber."
This emendation likewise hath been adopted by the subsequent editors; but here again the old translation, where Shakspeare's study lay: "He bequeathed unto every citizen of Rome seventy-five drachmas a man, and he left his gardens and arbours unto the people, which he had on this side of the river of Tyber." I could furnish you with many more instances, but these are as good as a thousand.
Hence had our author his characteristick knowledge of Brutus and Antony, upon which much argumentation for his learning had been founded: and hence literatim the epitaph on Timon, which it was once presumed, he had corrected from the blunders of the Latin version, by his own superior knowledge of the original*.
I cannot, however, omit a passage from Mr. Pope: "The speeches copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, be as well made an instance of the learning of Shakspeare, as those copy'd from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jonson's." Let us inquire into this matter, and transcribe a speech for a specimen. Take the famous one of Volumnia:
"Should we be silent and not speak, our raiment
* See Theobald's Preface to King Richard II. 8vo. 1720.
"The son, the husband, and the father tearing
"Our wish, which side shou'd win. For either thou
"With manacles thorough our streets; or else
"These wars determine: if I can't persuade thee
" (Trust to't, thou shalt not,) on a
I will now give you the old translation, which shall effectually confute Mr. Pope: for our author hath done little more, than thrown the very words of North into blank
"If we helde our peace (my sonne) and determined not to speake, the state of our poore bodies, and present sight of our rayment, would easely bewray to thee what life we haue led at home, since thy exile and abode abroad. But thinke now with thy selfe, howe much more unfortunately, then all the women liuinge we are come hether, consider-, ing that the sight which should be most pleasaunt to all other to beholde, spitefull fortune hath made most fearfull to us making my selfe to see my sonne, and my daughter here, her husband, besieging the walles of his natiue countrie. So as that which is the only comfort to all other in their adversitie and miserie, to pray unto the goddes, and to call to them for aide; is the onely thinge which plongeth us into most deepe perplexitie. For we cannot (alas) together pray, both for victorie, for our countrie, and for safety of thy life also: but a worlde of grievous curses, yea more than any mortall enemie can heappe