1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Farmer

Hartley Coleridge, in "William Roscoe" Worthies of Yorkshire and Lancashire (1836) 483n.



Dr. Farmer is supposed to have settled the question as to Shakspeare's learning by proving (as far as the matter is capable of proof), that he used the translated, not the original classics. As it is always delightful to trace the reading of great men, Dr. Farmer's work is as pleasing as it is ingenious and satisfactory. But the inference, that Shakspeare, because he read Seneca done into English, and Dr. Philemon Holland's translation of Amyot's translation of Plutarch, (the best by the way that has appeared, far better than Langhorne's,) had never learned hic, haec, hoc, that his ignorance extended from Alpha to Omega, we reject without hesitation. Why might not Shakspeare, like a gentleman as he was, have learned Latin and forgotten it again? How many Eton scholars can read a page of Virgil, taken haphazard, with any degree of facility or pleasure at forty? Not more than could help to win a cricket match in their grand climacteric. Professional scholars, school-masters, &c. of course are excepted.

The question cannot be called uninteresting, for it regards Shakspeare; but it is of no sort of consequence. — Small Latin and less Greek, especially when forgotten, being for all purposes of wonder and astonishment, quite as good as none. Nor would it detract an atom from Shakspeare's fame, were he proved to have been a perfect Porson. But there are certain people who had rather look upon genius as something monstrous and magical, than as a healthy human power, effecting a noble end by intelligible means.