1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Upton

Henry Headley, in "Miscellaneous Observations" Fugitive Pieces (1785) 56-57.



Few subjects of inquiry have been investigated by abler hands, or with greater attention, than the learning of Shakspeare; many have concluded, that the intimate knowledge both of art and nature, with which his works are pregnant, could only be the result of the strongest genius, assisted by a regular education, and improved by subsequent study. Amongst the foremost in this opinion was Upton, a man, whose literary errors, however occasionally glaring, are always worth attending to, since in him, where we do not find truth, we seldom miss of information: to a large stock of ancient erudition, he added some taste, and to unwearied diligence much critical sagacity; what still further enhanced the value of the commentator, many of his hours had been spent amidst the dry dust of the Black-letter and the solitary pages of long-forgotten translation. The question, whether or no Shakspeare had read the ancients in their respective languages, for a long time remained a matter of doubt; there appeared no reason sufficiently determinate to ascertain the question, till it was decided by the short and satisfactory Essay of Dr. Farmer: a circumstance productive of much pleasure to the admirers of our English bard; as many of those beauties, which from a knowledge of his classical ignorance can only be his own, would have been frequently attributed to imitation, where passages in the ancients had been discovered, in the smallest degree, apposite or similar. I shall, therefore, endeavour to point out some few instances where the sentiments or expressions in Shakspeare and the ancients are immediately parallel, or passages where the ideas in both are carried on in a similar spirit.