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You must not think me infected with the spirit of Layder, if I give you another of Milton's imitations:
The swan with arched neck
"Between her white wings mantling proudly, rows
"The ancient poets, says Mr. Richardson, have not hit upon this beauty; so lavish have they been in their descriptions of the swan. Homer calls the swan long-necked, deλixodeípov; but how much more pittoresque, if he had arched this length of neck?"
For this beauty, however, Milton was beholden to Donne; whose name, I believe, at present is better known than his writings:
Like a ship in her full trim,
"A swan, so white that you may unto him
"And with his arched neck this poore fish catch'd."
Those highly finished landscapes, the Seasons, are indeed copied from nature, but Thomson sometimes recollected the hand of his master:
The stately sailing swan
"Gives out his snowy plumage to the gale;
But to return, as we say on other occasions. Perhaps the advocates for Shakspeare's knowledge of the Latin language may be more successful. Mr. Gildon takes the van. It is plain, that he was acquainted with the fables of antiquity very well: that some of the arrows of Cupid are pointed with lead, and others with gold, he found in Ovid; and what he speaks of Dido, in Virgil: nor do I know any translation of these poets so ancient as Shakspeare's time." The passages on which these sagacious remarks are made, occur in A Midsummer-Night's Dream; and exhibit, we see, a clear proof of acquaintance with the Latin classicks.
But we are not answerable for Mr. Gildon's ignorance; he might have been told of Caxton and Douglas, of
Surrey and Stanyhurst, of Phaer and Twyne, of Fleming and Golding, of Turberville and Churchyard! but these fables were easily known without the help of either the originals or the translations. The fate of Dido had been sung very early by Gower, Chaucer, and Lydgate; Marlowe had even already introduced her to the stage: and Cupid's arrows appear with their characteristick differences in Surrey, in Sydney, in Spenser, and every sonnetteer of the time. Nay, their very names were exhibited long before in "The Romaunt of the Rose:" a work, you may venture to look into, notwithstanding Master Prynne hath so positively assured us, on the word of John Gerson, that the author is most certainly damned, if he did not care for a serious repentance *.
Mr. Whalley argues in the same manner, and with the same success. He thinks a passage in The Tempest,
High queen of state,
"Great Juno comes; I know her by her gait."
a remarkable instance of Shakspeare's knowledge of ancient poetick story; and that the hint was furnished by the divúm incedo regina of Virgilt.
You know, honest John Taylor, the Water-poet, declares that he never learned his Accidence, and that Latin and
*Had our zealous puritan been acquainted with the real crime of De Mehun, he would not have joined in the clamour against him. Poor Jehan, it seems, had raised the expectations of a monastery in France, by the legacy of a great chest, and the weighty contents of it; but it proved to be filled with nothing better than vetches. The friars enraged at the ridicule and disappointment, would not suffer him to have christian burial. See the Hon. Mr. Barrington's very learned and curious Observations on the Statutes, 4to. 1766, p. 24. From the Annales d' Aquitaine. Par. 1537.
Our author had his full share in distressing the spirit of this restless man. "Some Play-books are grown from Quarto into Folio; which yet bear so good a price and sale, that I cannot but with griefe relate it.-Shackspeer's Plaies are printed in the best Crowne-paper, far better than most Bibles!"
+ Others would give up this passage for the vera incessu patuit dea; but I am not able to see any improvement in the matter: even supposing the poet had been speaking of Juno, and no previous translation were extant.
French were to him Heathen-Greek; yet by the help of Mr. Whalley's argument, I will prove him a learned man, in spite of every thing he may say to the contrary: for thus he makes a gallant address his lady:
"Most inestimable magazine of beauty in whom the port and majesty of Juno, the wisdom of Jove's brainebred girle, and the feature of Cytherea*, have their domestical habitation."
In The Merchant of Venice, we have an oath "By two-headed Janus;" and here, says Dr. Warburton, Shakspeare shows his knowledge in the antique; and so again does the Water-poet, who describes Fortune,
But Shakspeare hath somewhere a Latin motto, quoth Dr. Sewell; and so hath John Taylor, and a whole poem upon it into the bargain.
You perceive, my dear sir, how vague and indeterminate such arguments must be; for in fact this sweet swan of Thames, as Mr. Pope calls him, hath more scraps of Latin, and allusions to antiquity than are any where to be met with in the writings of Shakspeare. I am sorry to trouble you with trifles, yet what must be done, when grave men insist upon them?172 edok, thouod ¿tond ui
It should seem to be the opinion of some modern criticks, that the personages of classick land begun only to be known
*This passage recalls to my memory a very extraordinary fact. A few years ago, o, at a great court on the continent, a countryman of ours of high rank and character, [Sir C. H. W.] exhibited with many other candidates his complimental epigram on the birth day, and carried the prize in triumph:
"O Regina orbis prima et pulcherrima ridens
Literally stolen from Angerianus:
Tres quondam mudas vidit Priameius heros
Est Venus, incedens Juno, Minerva loquens."
Delitiæ Ital. Poet. by Gruter, under the anagrammatic name of Ranutius Gherus, 1608, vol. i. p. 189.
Perhaps the latter part of the epigram was met with in a whimsical book, which had its day of fame, Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, fol. 1652, 6th edit. p. 520.
in England in the time of Shakspeare; or rather, that he particularly had the honour of introducing them to the notice of his countrymen.
For instance," Rumour painted full of tongues," gives us a prologue to one of the parts of Henry the Fourth; and, says Dr. Dodd, Shakspeare had doubtless a view to either Virgil or Ovid in their description of Fame.
But why so? Stephen Hawes, in his Pastime of Pleasure had long before exhibited her in the same manner,
"A goodly lady envyroned about
and so had Sir Thomas More in one of his Pageants†:
"Fame I am called, mervayle you nothing
Though with tonges I am compassed all rounde."
not to mention her elaborate portrait by Chaucer, in The Boke of Fame; and by John Higgins, one of the assistants in The Mirrour for Magistrates, in his Legend of King Albanacte.
A very liberal writer on the Beauties of Poetry, who had been more conversant in the ancient literature of other countries, than his own, "cannot but wonder, that a poet, whose classical images are composed of the finest parts, and breathe the very spirit of ancient mythology, should pass for being illiterate:
"See, what a grace was seated on this brow!
"New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill." Hamlet.
Illiterate is an ambiguous term: the question is, whether poetick history could be only known by an adept in languages. It is no reflection on this ingenious gentleman, when I say, that I use on this occasion the words of a better critick, who yet was not willing to carry the illiteracy of our poet too far:-" They who are in such astonishment at the learning of Shakspeare, forget that the pagan imagery was familiar to all the poets of his
Cap. 1. 4to. 1556.
+ Amongst "the things, which Mayster More wrote in his youth for his pastime," prefixed to his Workes, 1557, Fol.
time; and that abundance of this sort of learning was to be picked up from almost every English book, that he could take into his hands." For not to insist upon Stephen Bateman's "Golden Booke of the Leaden Goddes," 1577, and several other laborious compilations on the subject, all this and much more mythology might as perfectly have been learned from the "Testament of Creseide," and the "Fairy Queent," as from a regular Pantheon or Polymetis himself.
Mr. Upton, not contented with heathen learning, when he finds it in the text, must necessarily super-add it, when it appears to be wanting; because Shakspeare most certainly hath lost it by accident!
In Much Ado about Nothing, Don Pedro says of the insensible Benedict, "He hath twice or thrice cut Cupid's bow-string, and the little hangman dare not shoot
This mythology is not recollected in the ancients, and therefore the critick hath no doubt but his author wrote -" Henchman,—a page, pusio: and this word seeming too hard for the printer, he translated the little urchin into a hangman, a character no way belonging to him."
But this character was not borrowed from the ancients;—it came from the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney :
"Millions of yeares this old drivell Cupid lives;
"Of all those fooles that will have all they see.'
I know it may be objected on the authority of such biographers as Theophilus Cibber, and the writer of the Life of Sir Philip, prefixed to the modern editions; that the Arcadia was not published before 1613, and consequently too late for this imitation: but I have a copy in
* Printed amongst the works of Chaucer, but really written by Robert Henderson, or Henryson, according to other authorities.
+ It is observable that Hyperion is used by Spenser with the same error in quantity.