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Homer's works alone were fufficient to teach the Greek poets how to write, and their audience how to judge. The fongs sung by our bards at feasts and merry-makings were of a very coarse kind: as the people were totally illiterate, and the better fort alone could read even their mother tongue, their taste was formed on these compofitions. As yet our stage had exhibited only those palpable allegories, by which rude unlettered moralists instruct and please the gross and ignorant multitude. Nothing can more plainly evince the opinion, the poets of those times had of the ignorance of the people, than the condescension shewn to it by the learned Earl of Dorset, in his tragedy of Gorboduc; in which the moral of each act is represented on the stage in dumb fhew. It is therefore strange that Mr. de Voltaire,
who affects an impartial and philosophic spirit, should not rather speak with admiration, than contempt, of an author, who by the force of genius rose so much above the age and circumstances in which he was born, and who, even when he deviates most from rules, can rise to faults true critics dare not mend. In delineating characters he must be allowed very far to surpass all dramatic writers, and even Homer himself; he gives an air of reality to every thing, and, in spite of many and great faults, effects, better than any one has ever done, the chief purposes of theatrical representation. It avails little to prove, that the means by which he effects them are not those prescribed in any Art of Poetry. While we feel the power
and energy of his predominant genius, shall we not be apt to treat the cold formal precepts of the Critic, with the fame peevish contempt, that the good lady in the Guardian, smarting in the anguish of a burn, does her son's pedantic intrusion of Mr. Lock’s doctrine, to prove that there is no heat in fire? Nature
and sentiment will pronounce our Shakespear a mighty Genius ; judgment and taste will confess, that as a Writer he is far from being faultless.