Page images
PDF
EPUB

seem to have piqued themselves on the superiority of their exhibitions to those of the established theatres. Wishing, probably, to manifest this superiority to the Royal Pedant, it is not likely, that they would chuse for a collegiate interlude, a subject which had already appeared on the public stage, with all the embellishments that the magic hand of Shakspeare could bestow.

. This tragedy contains an allufion to the union of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, under one rovereign, and also, to the cure of the King's-Evit by the Royal touch (Act IV. Scene I, II.); but in what year that pretended power was assumed by King James I. is uncertain. Macbeth was not entered on the Stationers books, nor printed, till 1623.

At the time when Macbeth was supposed to have been written, the subject, it is probable, was considered as a topic the moft likely to conciliate the favour of the court, In the additions to Warner's Albion's England, which were first printed in 1606, the story of the Three Fairies or Weird Elves, as he calls them, is shortly told; and King James's descent from Banquo carefully deduced.

Ben Jonson, a few years afterwards, paid his court to his Majefty, by his Masque of Queens, presented at Whitehall, Feb. 12, 1609, in which he hath given a minute detail of all the magic rites that are recorded by King James, in his book of Demonologie, or by any other author ancient or modern.

Mr. Steevens hath lately discovered á MS. play, entitled the WITCH, written by Thomas Middleton, which renders it questionable, whether Shakspeare was not indebted to that author for the first hint of the magic introduced in this tragedy.

-The songs beginning Come away, &c. and Black Spirits, &c. being found at full length in Middleton's play, while only the two firft words of them are printed in Macbeth, favour the supposition, that Middleton's piece preceded that of Shakspeare, the latter, it should seem, thinking it unnecessary to set down verses which were probably well known, and perhaps then in the poffeffion of the nianagers of the Globe Theatre. The high reputation of Shakspeare's performances likewise strengthens this conjecture; for it is very improbable, that Middleton, or any other poet of that time, thould have ventured into those regions of fiation, in which our Author had already expatiated.'

Mr. Steevens hath produced some curious extracts from this old play, which, we are informed, ' will be published entire, for the fatisfa&ion of the intelligent readers of Shakspeare,'

By the very numerous quotations from old plays, ballads, hiftories, and romances, which Mr. Steevens hath produced, to illustrate fome obscure passages in Shakspeare, a hasty and superficial critic might be tempted to question his peculiar, and almost unrivalled claim to originality : or if he were not so pre

fumptuous

C4

fumptuous as to question what the united fuffrages of the beft judges have allowed him, yet, at least, to qualify it by a colder praise than hath , been hitherto bestowed on him. It muit, indeed, be acknowledged by the moft enthusiastic admirer of this immortal poet, that many of his plays, which owe their chief beauties to a boldness of invention, and a wildness of fancy, appear to have been in some degree indebted, either for plot, management, or machinery, to other writers. This remark receives confirmation from the discovery of Middleton's Ms. play, above mentioned; in which, somewhat of that imagery that hath equally astonished, charmed, and terrified us, in the closet and the theatre, in the tragedy of Macbeth, may be traced out by a curious and discerning eye. How far Shakspeare was indebted to old English tranflations of the Greek and Latin classics-to Stow, Hall, Holingded, and the translator of Hector Boethius's History of Scotland, hath been fufficiently noticed by preceding critics. It was, indeed, left to the indefatigable Mr. Steevens, to turn over a thousand dull and insignificant entries at Stationers Hall, in order to discover all the minutiæ of dates and titles which bore any reference to Shakspeare ; and after a most laborious research, with an eye (as Dr. Johnson says of the fagacious Mr. B-—'s) that looked keenly on vacancy, he made a discovery of several plays, on similar subjects with many of Shakspeare's, which were prior to his, and even before his first entrance on the stage. All this may be true : nay, we have not a doubt of the fact. But nothing that hath produced of Shakspeare's plagiarism, can deprive him of one tittie of his almost prescriptive right to all the honours of a great and unequalled original. The most captious critic, in the fulness of a desire to find fault, must allow, that Sbakspeare's borrowed ornaments fit on him with a more natural grace and elegance than on their original proprietors. They are so exquisitely disposed of-lo nicely blended with what is unquestionably his own property, that we know not where the borrowed parts end, nor where the original ones begin. The whole appears to be the production of the same master : simplex duntaxat

unum. We may, perhaps, aflert, that in the general and more disgraceful sense of the word, this great poet never appears to have borrowed at all. He had read indeed; and his capacious mind was stored with a vast treasure of knowledge and observation. He had reflected on the great acquisitions he had made ; had arranged them in his mind with much care and exactness. By thcle means, they became incorporated with his own natural, and in the truest sense of the serm, unborrowed refluctions. Hence it is obvious to suppose, that when he addressed himself to composition, he drew indiscriminately from the immense forehouse of his mind, whatever was fit for his purpose, whether

of

yet been

et

of native or acquired knowledge-indifferent, and perhaps unconscious, whole property any part of it might be. This is not an uncommon circumstance. The utmolt circumspection cannot always prevent its occurrence: for it is difficult to distinguish the power of invention from that of reflection. Fancy may claim for its own what had been first only adopted by memory.

Shakspeare hath the admirable art not only of applying his borrowed parts with propriety, but of embellishing and improving them. He adds to them a grace and dignity, which, at least, are his own. In the tragedy of Macbeth, his spirits, though similar in name to those of Middleton (particularly the presiding Deity hath in each the Grecian name of Hecate), yet they differ from Middleton's in almost every effential attribute of conduct and character. Middleton's fairies are light, frisky beings, who wreak their malice on small culprits, and revenge little mischiefs. Shakspeare's are brought on the stage for purposes of higher account. They are to be the inftruments of dire events-revolutions that were worthy the council of the Gods. This great object was of sufficient importance to excuse the interposition of supernatural beings. Hence, what Middleton invented to amuse, Shakspeare's more daring genius improved into an instrument of terror. This he bath accomplished with wonderful propriety: and we admire that Ikill and power which, on lo flight a basis, could erect such a Itupendous fabric.

Shakspeare's witches seem to be fully aware of the high importance of the subject of their incantations, by the number of zhe ingredients which they throw into the cauldron. Hecate is anxious for its success; and enquires into the particulars of the infernal mixture. They solemnly cast in their respective share of the composition : but instead of the gristle of a man hang’d: after fun-fet [i.e. a murderer, according to Middleton's play) they throw in the grease that's sweaten from a murderer's gibbet : and instead of Middleton's fat of an unbaptised child, they mix with the other ingredients of the cauldron, the finger of birth-ftrangled babe. Perhaps it may be imposible to describe the precise difference in the energy of thele expressions. It must be fele from their several effects on the imagination. Considered in that view, the difference is very great : at least, it is felt to be such by us ; and from a variety of circumstances of this kind, we are perfuaded, that Shakspeare never sat down to write from another's copy. His language was the natural expression of a mind fraught with the boldest conceptions, and the most lively ideas: and when the whole of Middleton's play is publishell, perhaps our convictions will be still farther corroborated, of Shakspeare's having never considered it as a model for his scene of the witches in Macbeth, however he might have fallen on some par. ticular modes of expression, that were scarce avoidable on the fame subject.

witches

The scene of the witches with Macbeth, after their incantations at the cauldron, is inexpressibly solemn: and the expedient of Thewing a future race of Kings, wonderfully striking and sublime. Distance and obscurity assist and increafe that terror which is one capital source of sublimity. But as if that were not suficient, others are shewn in a glass, as the descendents of Banquo, whose ruin he was contriving. To see them exalted to the height of power and authority, was an object to strike ambition to madness.- We have made these remarks, in order to ovince how cfentially different the gay witches of Middleton are from the awful fifters of Macbeth. : 'In a future Review, we will present our readers with fome curious illustrations of difficult passages in the plays, which cannot fail of being acceptable to all the lovers of Shakspeare.

[ocr errors]

Art IIf. Two Differtations. 1. On the Preface to St. John's : Gospel. 11. On praying to Jesus Chrift, By Theophilus Lindsey).

A. M. With a short Postscript by Dr. Jebb. 8vo. : 2 s. 6 d. Johnson, 1779. N the preface to this work, Mr. Lindsey gives his reasons

for this addition to his former publications on the subject, in the following terms:.. I had resolved to have left my argu: ments to take their fate, as I had first put them down in the Apology * and Sequel t. But the friend (Mr. Temple) who had confuced Mr. Burgh and Mr. Randolph, had also, with the fame disinterested regards to truth, published his diffatisfac: tion I with the interpretation I had given of the prologue of St. John's Gospel, the right understanding whereof seems of great importance towards settling the true character of Jesus Christ; and objections from such a pen demand respect. And a few months palt, an anonymous person, in a Letter to Dr. Jebb, with relation to his declared Sentiments about the Un. lawfulness of all religious Addresses to Jesus Chrift," has las boured much to thew, that I had not sufficiently proved that point. I have then judged it proper, and hope it may be of Come use, to review, and add farther support to what I had ad. vanced on both these subjects, with an eye, as I went along, to such objections as I had met with, but without entering into a direct controversy with any one, to which I am much averse:

fe

* Vide Review, vol. L. p. 56. 100.
+ Ibid. vol. lv. p. 195. 264. Vol. lvi. p. 14.

Ibid, vol. lvi. P. 367. || Ibid. vol. lx. p. 77.

The

The Differtation on the Preface to St. John's Gospel is die vided into four sections, the first of which more directly confiders the passage John i. 1-14. and is intended to support the affertion, or conclusion, that " That the Logos, the Word, in this preface, is not Christ, but the word, wildom, power of God, communicated to him, and manifested by him.'

The second section mentions the filence, as he apprehends, of the three other Evangelists on the subject of Christ's preexistence, and produces passages, from St. Luke's Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles, which he concludes express a very different idea.

' A brief account of certain forms of expression in St. John's Gospel, which have been thought to favour the supposition of Christ being the Word, Logos, mentioned John i. 1. conftia tutes the third section, and finishes what this writer has to offer on the immediate subject of the first differtation. For the fourih fiction, treats Of Socinianism and Socinus.'

« This fe&tion,' our Author informs us, has been added, to give some little information concerning F. Socinus, who was nearly coëval with those great men, Luther and Calvin, and was one of the lights which Divine Providence raised up at that period, to recover the loft truths of the Gospel. And that section, it is added, together with the whole of this work, may, perhaps, contribute to foften, if not to remove, the prejudices of some persons against chose to whom they give the name of Socinians, which name, as far as the author comprehends it, might be given to the Apostles of Jesus, as .equally belonging to them.'

The second dissertation, On praying to Jesus Christ, consists of several sections, which, under different heads, repeat and farther illustrate those arguments that have been frequently employed against the practice.

However different Mr. Lindsey's sentiments on the above subjects may be from those of many of his fellow-christians, it Thould be observed, and it is greatly to be wished that it might be attended to, that he has a high veneration for the Scriptures, that he diligently and modestly investigates scripture truth, and appears sincerely desirous to embrace it; no perfon, who may consider himself as most orthodox, or may be what is far better, really humble and pious, can be more truly and properly zealous for what he apprehends to be the truths of the Gospel, than this worthy divine; a consideration which thould awaken and increase mutual candour and benevolence.

The Postscript, written by Dr. Jebb, is addrefled to the author of ' A Letter to him, with relation to his declared Sentiments, &c.' as mentioned above. The writer of that letter, after having mentioned the Doctor's denial of the lawfulness of

religious

« PreviousContinue »