Letters on England eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 113 pages of information about Letters on England.
this ingenious system will be favourably received; and whether these notions will prevail so far with the learned, as to prompt them to reform the chronology of the world.  Perhaps these gentlemen would think it too great a condescension to allow one and the same man the glory of having improved natural philosophy, geometry, and history.  This would be a kind of universal monarchy, with which the principle of self-love that is in man will scarce suffer him to indulge his fellow-creature; and, indeed, at the same time that some very great philosophers attacked Sir Isaac Newton’s attractive principle, others fell upon his chronological system.  Time that should discover to which of these the victory is due, may perhaps only leave the dispute still more undetermined.

LETTER XVIII.—­ON TRAGEDY

The English as well as the Spaniards were possessed of theatres at a time when the French had no more than moving, itinerant stages.  Shakspeare, who was considered as the Corneille of the first-mentioned nation, was pretty nearly contemporary with Lopez de Vega, and he created, as it were, the English theatre.  Shakspeare boasted a strong fruitful genius.  He was natural and sublime, but had not so much as a single spark of good taste, or knew one rule of the drama.  I will now hazard a random, but, at the same time, true reflection, which is, that the great merit of this dramatic poet has been the ruin of the English stage.  There are such beautiful, such noble, such dreadful scenes in this writer’s monstrous farces, to which the name of tragedy is given, that they have always been exhibited with great success.  Time, which alone gives reputation to writers, at last makes their very faults venerable.  Most of the whimsical gigantic images of this poet, have, through length of time (it being a hundred and fifty years since they were first drawn) acquired a right of passing for sublime.  Most of the modern dramatic writers have copied him; but the touches and descriptions which are applauded in Shakspeare, are hissed at in these writers; and you will easily believe that the veneration in which this author is held, increases in proportion to the contempt which is shown to the moderns.  Dramatic writers don’t consider that they should not imitate him; and the ill-success of Shakspeare’s imitators produces no other effect, than to make him be considered as inimitable.  You remember that in the tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice, a most tender piece, a man strangles his wife on the stage, and that the poor woman, whilst she is strangling, cries aloud that she dies very unjustly.  You know that in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, two grave-diggers make a grave, and are all the time drinking, singing ballads, and making humorous reflections (natural indeed enough to persons of their profession) on the several skulls they throw up with their spades; but a circumstance which will surprise you is, that this ridiculous incident

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Letters on England from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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