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ed him, how easy it is to excite a sympathy with things believed real. He knew too, that curiosity is a strong appetite, and that every incident connected with a great event, and every particularity belonging to a great character, engages the spectator. He wrote to please an untaught people, guided wholly by their feelings, and to those feelings he applied: and they are often touched by circumstances that have not dignity and splendour enough to please the eye accustomed to the specious miracles of ostentatious art, and the nice selection of refined judgment. If we blame his making the tragic muse too subservient to the historical, we must at least allow it to be much less hurtful to the effect of his representation upon the passions, than the liberties taken by many poets to represent well-known characters and events, in lights so absolutely different from whatsoever universal fame, and the testimony of ages, had taught us to believe of them, that the mind resists the new impression attempted to be made upon it. Shakspeare, perhaps not injudiciously, thought that it was more the business of the
dramatic writer to excite sympathy than admiration; and that to acquire an empire over the passions, it was well worth while to relinquish some pretensions to excellencies of less efficiency on the stage.
As it was Shakspeare's intention to make Brutus his hero, he has given a disadvantageous representation of Cæsar, and thrown an air of pride and insolence into his behaviour, which is intended to create an apprehension in the spectator of his disposition to tyrannize over his fellow-citizens. In this haughty style he answers the petitions of Metellus Cimber, and the other conspirators, for the repeal of Publius Cimber's banishment: the speech suits the purpose of the poet, but is very blameable if compared with the historical character of the speaker, which ought certainly to have been more attended to. It will divert the English reader to see what Mr. Voltaire assures us to be a faithful translation of this speech; and I will therefore give the original and translation. When Metellus is going to fall at Cæsar's feet, he says to him:
I must prevent thee, Cimber.
These crouchings and these lowly curtesies
To think that Cæsar bears such rebel blood,
That will be thaw'd from the true quality
With that which melteth fools; I mean, sweet words,
If thou dost bend, and pray, and fawn for him,
Know, Cæsar doth not wrong; nor without cause
Cimber, je t'avertis que ces prosternemens,
Ces génuflexions, ces basses flateries,
Peuvent sur un cœur foible avoir quelque pouvoir,
Les prières, les cris, les vaines simagrées,
Les airs d'un chien couchant peuvent toucher un sot; Mais le cœur de César résiste à ces bassesses.
Par un juste décret ton frère est exilé.
Flate, prie à genoux, & léche moi les pieds;
Ben Jonson, by a faulty transcript of this speech, or the blunder of a player, had been led into the mistake of charging Shakspeare with the absurdity of making Cæsar say, he never did wrong without just cause: and Mr. Voltaire has seized on this false accusation. It is perfectly apparent to any person who understands English, that Cæsar by pre-ordinance and first decree means that ordinance and first decree which he had before past for Cimber's banishment. And he says, I will not be prevailed upon, by these prostrations and prayers of yours, to turn my decrees into such momentary laws as children make. If there had been any doubt of his meaning, the latter part would have cleared it.
1 was constant, Cimber should be banish'd; And constant do remain to keep him so.
It is surprizing, that some friend did not prevent the critic from falling into so strange a blunder,
a blunder, about changing the eternal order in the minds of children. Many of his countrymen understand our language very well, and could easily have explained to him the signification of the preposition into, and that to change into always signifies to convert from one thing to another. Sweet words, crooked curtsies, and base fawnings, he translates, the airs of a setting dog. Lecher les pieds is not a proper translation of to fawn. Fawning courtiers would be strangely rendered by feet-licking courtiers; a fawning style, afawning address, are common expressions; but did any one everthink of a feet-licking style? a feet-licking address? Nor is Je te rosserai a juster translation of I will spurn thee: the first being a very low phrase; and to spurn is in our language a very noble one, and not unfit for the highest poetry or eloquence; indeed is of tener so used than in ordinary discourse.
Mr. Rowe, in the Fair Penitent, makes Horatio say to Lothario,
1 hold thee base enough
To break through law, and spurn at sacred order.