Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

the noblest parts of speech, such as mixed-modes ; which, as they are most susceptible of abuse, so their abuse most hurts the clearness of the discourse. The critics (to whom Shakespeare's licence was still as much a secret as his meaning, which that licence had obscured) fell into two contrary mistakes ; but equally injurious to his reputation and his writ.' ings. For some of them observing a darkness, that pervaded his whole expression, have censured him for confufion of ideas and inaccura y of reasoning. In the neighing of a borse, (says Rymer) or in the growling of a mastiff, there is a meaning, there is a lively expression, and, may I say, more bumanity than many times in the tragical flights of Sheakespeare. The ignorance of which censure is of a piece with its brutality. The truth is, no one thought clearer, or argued more closely than this immortal bard. But his superiority of genius less needing the intervention of words in the act of thinking, when he came to draw out his contemplations into discourse, he took up (as he was hurried on by the torrent of his matter) with the first words that lay in his way; and if, amongst these, there were two mixed-modes that had but a principal idea in common, it was enough for him; he regarded them as synonymous, and would use the one for the other without fear or scruple.Again, there have been others, such as the two last editors, who have fallen into a contrary extreme; and regarded Shakespeare's anomalies (as we may call them) amongst the corruptions of his text; which, therefore, they have cashiered in great numbers, to make room for a jargon of their own. This hath put me to additional trouble ; for I had not only their interpolations to throw out again, but the genuine text to replace, and esta. blish in its stead; which, in many cases, could not be done without shewing the peculiar sense of the terms, and explaining the causes which led the poet to so perverse an use of


favourite poet, without drawing out his character, as once intended, in a continued discourse.

These, such as they are, were amongst my younger amusements, when many years ago, I used to turn over these Sort of writers to unbend myself from more serious applications: And what, certainly, the public, at this time of day, had never been troubled with, but for the conduct of the two last editors, and the persuasions of dear Mr. POPE; whose memory and name,

femper acerbum, Semper bonoratum ( fic Di voluiftis) babebo. He was desirous I should give a new edition of this poet, as he thought it might contribute to put a stop to a prevailing folly of altering the text of celebrated authors without talents or judgment. And he was willing that his edition should be melted down into mine, as it would, he said, afford him (so great is the modesty of an ingenuous temper) a fit opportuni. ty of confefsing his mistakes * In memory of our friendfhip, I have therefore, made it our joint edition. His admirable preface is here added ; all his notes are given, with his name annexed; the scenes are divided according to his regulation ; and the most beautiful passages distinguished, as in his book, with inverted commas. In imitation of him, I have done the same by as many others as I thought most deserving of the reader's attention, and have marked them with double commas.

If, from all this, Sheakespeare or good letters have received any advantage, and the public any benefit, or entertainment, the thanks are due to the proprietors, who have been at the expence of procuring this edition. And I should be

# See his Letters to me.

unjuft to several deserving men of a reputable and useful profeffion, if I did not, on this occafion, acknowledge the fair dealing I have always found amongf them; and profess my sense of the unjust prejudice which lies against them; whereby they have been, hitherto, unable to procure that security for their property, which they see, the rest of their fel. low-citizens enjoy. A prejudice in part arising from the frequent Piracies, (as they are called) committed by members of their own body. But such kind of members no body is without. And it would be hard that this should be turned to the discredit of the honest part of the profeffion, who suffer more from such injuries than any other men. It hath, in part too, arisen from the clamours of profligate scriblers, ever ready, for a piece of money, to prostitute their bad sense for or against any cause prophane or sacred; or in any fcandal public or private : These meeting with little encouragement from men of account in the trade (who even in this enlightened age are not the very worst judges or rewarders of merit) apply themselves to people of condition ; and support their importunities by false complaints against booksellers.

But I should now, perhaps, rather think of my own apology, than busy myself in the defence of others. I shall have some Tartuffe ready, on the first appearance of this edi. tion, to call out again, and tell me, that I suffer myself to be wbolly diverted from my purpose, by these matters less suitable 10 my clerical profession. “ Well, but says a friend, why not “ take so candid an intimation in good part ? Withdraw. “ yourself, again, as you are bid, into the clerical pale ; “ examine the records of sacred and prophane antiquity ; “ and, on them, erect a work to the confusion of infide.

Why, I have done all this, and more: And hear now what the same men have said to it. They tell me, I

6 lity'

bave turote to the wrong and injury of religion, and furnished out more bandles for unbelievers. Oh, now the secret's out; “ and you may have your pardon, I find upon eafer terms, “ 'tis only, to write no more.” --Good Gentlemen! and fhall I not oblige them? They would gladly obftruét my way to those things which every man, who endeavours well in his profession, muft needs think he has some claim to, when he fees them given to those who never did endeavour; at the fame time that they would deter me from taking those advanEages which letters enable me procure for myself. If then I am to write no more; (tho' as much out of my profession as they may please to represent this work, I fufpect their modefty would not insist on a scrutiny of our several applications of this prophane profit and their purer gains) if, I say, I am to write no more, let me at least give the public, who have a better prétence to demand it of me, fome reafon for my presenting them with these amufements. Which, if I am not mu h mistaken, may be excused by the best and fair. est examples; and, what is more, may be justified on the surer reason of things.

The great saint CHRYSOSTOM, a name confecrated to immortality by his virtue and eloquence, is known to have been fo fond of Ariftophanes as to wake with him at his Audies, and to sleep with him under his pillow : and I never heard that this was objected either to his piety or his preaching, not even in those times of pure zeal and primitive religion. Yet, in respect of Shakespeare's great sense, Ariftophanes's best wit is but buffoonry; and, in comparison of Ariftophanes's freedom's, Shakespeare writes with the purity of a vestal. But they will say, St. Chrysostom contracted a fondness for the comic poet for the sake of bis Greek. Το this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far be it from me to infinuate so unscholarlike a thing, as if we had the fame

ose for good English that a Greek had for his Attic elegance. Critic Kufter, in a taste and language peculiar to grammari. ans of a certain order, hath decreed, that the History and Chror:ology of Greek words is the most solid entertainment of a Man of Letters.

I fly, then, to a higher example, much nearer home and Aill more in point, the famous university of Oxford. This illustrious body, which hath long fo juftly held, and, with fuch equity, difpenfed, the chief honours of the learned world, thought good letters so much interested in correct editions of the best English writers, that they, very lately, in their public capacity, undertook one, of this very author, by subscription. And if the editor hath not discharged his task with suitable abilities for one so much honoured by them, this was not their fault but his, who thrust himself into the employment. After such an example, it would be weakening any defence to seek further for authorities. All that can be now decently urged is the reason of the thing ; and this I fall do, more for the sake of that truly venerable body than my own.

Of all the literary exercitations of speculative men, whether designed for the use or entertainment of the world, there are none of so much importance, or what are more our immediate concern, than those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercise the reason or amuse the imagination ; but these only can improve the heart, and form the human mind to wisdom. Now, in this science, our Shakespeare is confessed to ocupy the foremost place; whether we consider the amazing fagacity with which he investigates every hidden spring and wheel of human action; or his happy manner of communicating this knowledge, in the juft and living paintings which he has given us of all our paflions, appetites and pursuits. These afford a lesson which

« ZurückWeiter »