« ZurückWeiter »
I SHALL not attempt any labored encomiums on Shakspeare, or endeavour to set forth his perfections, at a time when such universal and just applause is said him, and when every tui.guo is big with his boundless fame. He nimselí tells us,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess. And wasteful ard ridiculous indeed it would be, to say any thing in his praise, when presenting ine world with such a collection of BEAUTIES as perhaps is no where to be met with, and, I may very safely affirm, cannot be paralleler' from the productions of any other single author, ancient or modern. There is scarcely a topic, common with other writers, on which he has not excelled them all; there are niany nobly peculiar to bimself, where he shines unrivalled, and, like the eagle, , roper. est emblem of his daring genius, soars beyond the common reach, and gazes undazzled on the sun. His flights are sometimes so bold, frigid criticism almost dares to disapprove them: anu those narı oz minds which are incapable of elevating their ideas to the sublimity of thei- author's, are wiling to bring them down to a level with their own. Hence many tine passages have been condemned in Seakspeare,'as ran: ond fustian, intolerable boin. past, and turgid nonsense, which, if read with the least glow of the same imayination that was mua the writer's bosom, w.uld blaze in the robes of sublimjoy, and obain the commendations of a Longinus. And, unless soint or ane same spirit that elevated ho poet, elevate ile reader tos, ho inust not presume to talk of liste and elegance; he will prove a languid reader, an indiffer and judge, and a far more indifferent critic and commentator.
It is some time since I first proposed publishing this collecti n; for Shakspeare was ever, of all modern authors, my chief favor ite; and during my relaxations from my more severe and nec ssary studies at college, I never omitted to read and indulg? mysl in the rapturous fights of this delightful and sweetest child of fancy: and when my imagination has been heated by the glow. ardour of his uncommon fire, have never failed to lament, that is
BEAUTIES should be so obscured, and that he himself should be made a kind of stage, for bungling critics to show their clumsy activity upon.
It was my first intention to have considered cach play criti. cally and regularly through all its parts; but as this would have swelled the work beyond proper bounds, I was obliged to confino myself solely to a collection of his Poetical Beauties: and I doubt not, every rcader will find so large a fund for observation, so much excellent and refined morality, that he will prize the work as it deserves, and pay, with me, all due adoration to the mancs of Shakspeare.
Longinus* tells us, that the most infallible test of the true sublime, is the impression a performance makes upon our minds when 'read or recited. “If,” says he, “a person finds, that a performance transports not his soul, nor exalts his thoughts; that it calls not up into his mind ideas more enlarged than the mere sounds of the words convey, but on attentive examination its dignity lessens and declines, he may conclude, that whatever pierces no deeper than the ears, can never be the true sublime That, on the contrary, is grand and lofty, which the more we consider, the greater ideas we conceive of it: whose force we cannot possibly withstand; which immediately sinks deep, and makes such impression on the mind as cannot easily be worn out or effaccd: in a word, you may pronounce that sublime, beautiful, and genuine, which always pleases and takes equally with all sorts of men. For when persons of different humours, ages, professions, and inclinations, agree in the same joint approbation of any performance, then this union of assent, this conibination of so many different judgments, stamps a high and indisputable value on that performance, which meets with such general appause.". This fine observation of Longindis is mios! remarkably verified in Shakspeare foi all humours, 103, and mclinations, jointly proclaim their approbation Ind esteem of 119; and will, I hope, be found true in most of the:Pusages shich are here collected from him: I say, mosi, beczuse: there are some which I am convinced will not stand ins test: the old, the grave, and the severe, will disapprove, perhaps the morp soft(and as they may call them) tritling lovgalales, so plegmegobreathed forth, and 60 emphatically extolled byahe young, thicagay, indehe passionate; while these will esteem as dull and languid, the sober saws of morality, and the home-felt observations of experience. However, as it was my business to collect for readers of all tastes, and all complexions, let me desire none to disapprove what hits not their own humour, but to turn over the page, and they will surely find something acceptable and engaging. But I have yet another apology to make, for some passages introduced merely on account
See Longinus on the Sublime, Sect. 7. The translation in the text u from the learned Mr. Smith.
of their peculiarity, which to some, possibly, will appear neither sublime nor beautiful, and yet deserve attention, as indicating the vast stretch, and sometimes particular turn of the poet's imagination.
There are many passages in Shakspeare so closely connected with the plot and characters, and on which their beautics so wholly depend, that it would have been absurd and idle to have produced them here: hence the reader will find little of the inimitable Falstaff in this work, and not one line extracted from the Merry Wives of Windsor, one of Shakspeare's best, and most justly admired comedies: whoever reads that play, will immediately sce, there was nothing either proper or possible for this work; which, such as it is, I most sucerely and cordially recommended to the candour and benevolence of the world: and wish every one that peruses it, may feel the satisfaction I have frequently felt in composing it, and receive such instructions and advantages from it, as it is well calculated and well able to bestow. For my own part, better and more important things henceforth demanded my attention, and I here, with no smali pleasure, take leave of Shakspeare and the critics; as this work was begun and finished, before I entered upon the sacred function, in which I am now happily employed, let me trust, this juvenile performance will prove no objection, since graver, and some very eminent inembers of the church, have thought it no improper employ, to comment, explain, and publish ihe works of their own country poets.