Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
The Elizabethan Age
By Thomas Warton (1728–1790)
 
From the History of English Poetry

IT may here be added, that only a few critical treatises, and but one Art of Poetry, were now written. Sentiments and images were not absolutely determined by the canons of composition; nor was genius awed by the consciousness of a future and final arraignment at the tribunal of taste. A certain dignity of inattention to niceties is now visible in our writers. Without too closely consulting a criterion of correctness every man indulged his own capriciousness of invention. The poet’s appeal was chiefly to his own voluntary feelings, his own immediate and peculiar mode of conception. And this freedom of thought was often expressed in an undisguised frankness of diction;—a circumstance, by the way, that greatly contributed to give the flowing modulation which now marked the measures of our poets and which soon degenerated into the opposite extreme of dissonance and asperity. Selection and discrimination were often overlooked. Shakespeare wandered in pursuit of universal nature. The glancings of his eye are from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. We behold him breaking the barriers of imaginary method. In the same scene, he descends from his meridian of the noblest tragic sublimity, to puns and quibbles, to the meanest merriments of a plebeian farce. In the midst of his dignity, he resembles his own Richard the Second, the skipping King, who sometimes discarding the state of a monarch,
        Mingled his royalty with carping fools.
He seems not to have seen any impropriety, in the most abrupt transitions, from dukes to buffoons, from senators to sailors, from counsellors to constables, and from kings to clowns. Like Virgil’s majestic oak,
                    … Quantum vertice ad auras
Ætherias, tantum radice in Tartara tendit. 1
  1
 
Note 1. Quantum vertice ad auras, etc.  “Far as with his top he reaches to the breezes of the air, so far with his root, he pierces to the nether regions.” [back]
 
 
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