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Penelope's suitors, only betray their weakness by an attempt superior to their strength, or ill adapted to their faculties. Why should not Poetry, in all her different forms, claim the same indulgence as her sister art? The nicest connoiffeurs in painting have applauded every master, who has justly copied näture. Had Michael Angelo's bold pencil been dedicated to drawing the Graces, or Rembrandt's to trace the soft bewitching smile of Venus, their works had probably proved very contemptible. Fashion does not so easily impose on our senses, as it misleads our judgment. Truth of Design, and natural colouring, will always please the eye; we appeal not here to any set of rules: but in an imitative art we require only just imitation, with a certain freedom and energy, which is always necessary to form a compleat resemblance to the pattern, which is borrowed from nature. I will own, the fi, gures of gods and goddesses, graceful nymphs, and beautiful Cupids, are finer subjects for the pencil, than ordinary human forms ; yet if the painter imparts to
these á resemblance to celebrated persons, throws them into their proper attitudes, and gives a faithful copy of the Coftumi of the age country, his work will create sensations of a different; but not less pleasing kind, than those excited by the admiration of exquisite beauty, and perfect excellence of workmanship. Perhaps He should rather be accounteda nice Virtuoso than a consummate Critic, who prefers the Poet or Sculptor's fairest idea to the various and extensive me. rits of the historic reprefentation.
Nothing great is to be expected from any set of artists, who are to give only copies of copies. The treasures of nature are inexhaustible, as well in moral as in phyfical fubjects. The talents of Shakespear were univerfal, his penetrating mind saw through all characters; and, as Mr: Pope says of him, he was not more a master of our strongest emotions, than of our idleft sensations.
One cannot wonder, that endued with so
great and various powers, he broke down the barriers that had before confined the . dramatic writers to the regions of comedy, or tragedy. He perceived the fertility of the subjects that lay between the two extreams; he saw, that in the historical play he could represent the manners of the whole people, give thegeneral temper of the times, and bring in view the incidents that affected the common fate of his country. The Gothic muse had a rude spirit of liberty, and delighted in painting popular tumults, the progress of civil wars, and the revolutions of government, rather than a catastrophe within the walls of a palace. At the time he wrote, the wars of the Houses of York and Lancaster were fresh in mens minds. They had received the tale from some Nestor in their family, or neighbourhood, who had fought in the battle, he related. Every spectator's affections were ranged under the white or red Rose, in whose contentions some had lost their parents and friends, others had gained establishments and honours.
All 'the inducements which the Greek tragedians had to chuse their heroes from the works of the poets, who had sung the wars of Troy, and the Argonautic expedition, were still in greater force with our countryman to take his subjects from the history and traditions of those more recent transactions, in which the spectator was informed and interested more personally and locally.. There was not a, family fo low, that had not had some of its branches torn off in the storms of these intestine commotions: nor a valley so happily retired, that at some time, the foot of hostile paces had not bruis’d her flow'rets. In these characters the rudest peasant read the sad history of his country: while the better sort were informed of the most minute circumstances by our chronicles. The tragedians who took their subjects from Homer, had all the advantage a painter would have, who was to draw a picture from a statue of Phidias or Praxiteles. Poor Shakespear from the wooden E 2
images in our mean chronicles was to form his portraits. What judgment was there in discovering, that by moulding them to an exact resemblance he thould engage and please! And what discernment and penetration into characters, and what amazing skill in moral painting, to be able, from such uncouth models, to bring forth not only a perfect, but, when occasion required, a graceful likeness !
The patterns from which he drew, were not only void of poetical spirit and ornament, but also of all historical dignity. The histories of those times were a mere heap of rude undigefted annals, coarse in their style, and crouded with trivial anecdotes. No Tacitus had investigated the obliquities of our statesmen, or by diving into the profound secrets of policy had dragged into light the latent motives, the secret machinations of our politicians: yet how does he enter into the deepest mysteries of fate! There cannot be a stronger proof of