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Mr. Pope's Preface.


T is not my defign to enter into a Criticism upon this Author; tho' to do it effectually and not fuperfici ally, would be the beft occafion that any juft Writer could take, to form the judgment and tafte of our nation. For of all English Poets Shakespear must be confelfed to be the fairest and fulleft fubject for Criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as moft confpicuous inftances, both of Beauties and Faults of all forts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a Preface, the business of which is only to give an account of the fate of his Works, and the difadvantages under which they have been tranf mitted to us. We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: A defign, which tho' it can be no guide to future Criticks to do him juftice in one way, will at least be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.

I cannot however but mention fome of his principal and characteristic Excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and univerfally elevated above all other Dramatick Writers. Not that this is the proper place of praifing him, but because I would not omit any occafion of doing it.

If ever any Author deferved the name of an Original, it was Shakespear. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of Nature, it proceeded thro' Egyptian trainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or fome cat of the models, of thofe before him. The Poetry of Shakespear was Inspiration indeed: he is not fo much an


Imitator, as an Inftrument, of Nature; and 'tis not fo juft to fay that he fpeaks from her, as that the fpeaks thro' him.

His Characters are fo much Nature herfelf, that 'tis a fort of injury to call them by fo diftant a name as Copies of her. Those of other Poets have a conftant resemblance, which fhews that they receiv'd them from one another, and were but multipliers of the fame image: each picture like á mock-rainbow is but the reflexion of a reflexion. But every fingle character in Shakespear is as much an Individual, as thofe in Life itself; it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear to be two Twins, will upon comparison be found remarkably diftinct. To this life and variety of Character, we must add the wonderful Prefervation of it which is fuch throughout his plays, that had all the Speeches been printed without the very names of the Perfons, I bes lieve one might have apply'd them with certainty, to every Speaker.

The Power over our Paffions was never poffefs'd in a more eminent degree, or difplay'd in fo different inftances. Yet all along, there is feen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our gueft to the effect, or be perceiv'd to lead toward it: But the heart fwells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: We are furpriz'd, the moment we weep; and yet upon reflexion find the paffion fo juft, that we shou'd be furpriz'd if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.

How aftonishing is it again, that the Paffions directly oppofite to thefe, Laughter and Spleen, are no lefs at his command! that he is not more a mafter of the Great, than of the Ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tenderneffes, than of our vaineft foibles; of our strongest emo tions, than of our idleft fenfations!

Nor does he only excel in the Paffions: In the coolness of Reflexion and Reasoning he is full as admirable. His Sentiments are not only in general the moft pertinent and judicious upon every fubject; but by a talent very peculiar, fomething between Penetration and Felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argu


mant turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and publick scenes of life which are ufually the fubject of his thoughts: So that he feems to have known the world by Intuition, to have look'd thro' human nature at one glance, and to be the only Author that gives ground for a very new opinion, That the Philo fopher and even the Man of the world, may be Born, as well as the Poet.

It must be own'd that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, fo he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in fome measure account for thefe defects, from several caufes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlighten'd a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them. That all these Contingencies fhould unite to his disadvantage feems to me almost as fingularly unlucky, as that so many various (nay contrary) Talents fhould meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.

It must be allowed that Stage-Poetry of all other, is more particularly levell'd to please the Populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depending upon the Common Suf frage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakespear having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a fubfiftence, directed his endeavours folely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The Audience was generally compofed of the meaner fort of people; and therefore the Images of Life were to be drawn from thofe of their own rank: accordingly we find, that not our Aue thor's only but almost all the old Comedies have their Scene among Tradesmen and Mechanicks: And even their Hifto rical Plays ftrictly follow the common Old Stories or Vulgar Traditions of that kind of people. In Tragedy, nothing was fo fure to Surprize and caufe Admiration, as the most frange, unexpected, and confequently moft unnatural, Events and Incidents; the most exaggerated Thoughts; the moft verbofe and bombaft Expreffion; the most pompous Rhymes, and thundering Verfification. In Comedy, nothing was fo fure to Pleafe, as mean buffoonry, vile ribal


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