« ElőzőTovább »
art and design. The publick tafte was in its infancy; and delighted (as it always does during that state) in the high and turgid ; which leads the writer to disguise a vulgar expression with hard and forced construction, whereby the sentence frequently becomes cloudy and dark. Here his criticks shew their modesty, and leave him to himself. For the arbitrary change of a word doth little towards dispelling an obscurity that ariseth, not from the licentious ufe of a single term, but from the unnatural arrangement of a whole sentence. And they risqued nothing by their silence. For Shakespeare was too clear in fame to be suspected of a want of meaning; and too high in fashion for any one to own he needed a critick to find it out. Not but, in his best works, we must allow, he is often so natural and flowing, so pure and correct, that he is even a model for stile and language.
3. As to his far-fetched and quaint allusions, these are often a cover to common thoughts ; just as his hard construction is to common expression. When they are not so, the explanation of them has this further advantage, that, in clearing the obscurity, you frequently discover some latent conceit not unworthy of his genius.
III. The third and last fort of notes is concerned in a critical explanation of the author's beauties and defects; but chiefly of his beauties, whether in stile, thought, sentiment, character, or composition. An odd humour of finding fault hath long prevailed amongst the criticks; as if nothing were worth remarking, that did not, at the same time, deserve to be reproved. Whereas the publick judgment hath less need to be assisted in what it shall reject, than in what it ought to prize ; men being generally more ready at spying faults than in discovering beauties. Nor is the value they set upon a work, a certain proof that they understand it. For it is ever seen, that half a dozen voices of credit give the lead : and if the publick chance to be in good humour, or the author much in their favour, the people are sure to follow: Hence it is that the true critick hath so frequently attached himself to works of established reputation ; not to teach the world to admire, which, in those circumstances, to say the truth, they are apt enough to do of themselves; but to teach them how, with reason to admire : no easy matter, I will assure you, on the subject in question : for though it be very true, as Mr. Pope hath observed, that Shakespeare is the fairejt and fullest subject for criticism, yet it is not such a fort of criticism as may be raised mechanically on the rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Bossu have collected from Entiquity; and of which, such kind of writers as Rymer, Gildon, Dennis, and Oldmixon, have only gathered and chewed the husks : nor on the other hand is it to be fornied on the plan of those crude and superficial judgments, on books and things, with which a certain celebrated paper so much abounds ; too good indeed to be named with the writers last mentioned, but being unluckily mistaken for a model, because it was an original, it hath given rise to a deluge of the worst fort of critical jargon; I mean that which looks most like sense. But the kind of criticism here required, is such as judgeth our author by those only laws and principles on which he wrote, NATURE, and COMMON-SENSE.
Our obfervations, therefore, being thus extensive, will, I presume, enable the reader to form a right judgment of this favourite poet, without drawing out his character, as was 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 ferious applications : and what, certainly, the publick, at this time of day, had never been troubled with, Vol. I.
but for the conduct of the two last editors, and the persuasions of dear Mr. Pope ; whose memory and name,
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 inine, as it would, he said, afford him (so great is the modesty of an ingenuous temper) a fit opportunity of confessing his mistakes 2. In memory of our friendship, 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, Shakespeare or good letters have received any advantage, and the publick any benefit, or entertainment, the thanks are due to the propriesors, who have been at the expence of procuring this edition. And I should be unjust to several deserving men of a reputable and useful profession, if I did not, on this occasion, acknowledge the fair dealing I have always found amongit 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 fellow-citizens enjoy. A prejudice in part arising from the frequent piracies (as they are called) conmitted by members of their own body. But fuch 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 profession, who suffer more from such injuries than any other men. It hath, in part too, arisen from the clamours of profiigate scriblers, ever ready, for a piece of money, to prostitute their bad senfe for or against any cause prophane or facred; or in any scandal publick 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 themfelves to people of condition ; and fupport their importunities by false complaints against booksellers.
* See his Letters to me.
But I should now, perhaps, rather think of my own apology, than buly myself in the defence of others. I fhall have fome Tartuffe ready, on the first appearance of this edition, to call out again, and tell me, that I suffer myself to be wholly diverted from my purpose by these matters less suitable to my clerical profession. « Well, but (fays a friend) why not take fo “ candid an intimation in good part? Withdraw your
self again, as you are bid, into the clerical pale ; “ examine the records of sacred and prophane anti
quity; and, on them, erect a work to the con“ fufion of infidelity.” Why, I have done all this, and more: and hear now what the same men have faid to it. They tell me, I have wrote to the wrong and injury of religion, and furnished out more handles for anbelievers. ci Oh! now the secret is out; and you may have your pardon, I find, upon easier
It is only, to write no more.” -Good gentlemen ! and shall I not oblige them? They would gladly obstruet my way to those things which every man, who endeavours well in his profesion, must needs think he has some claim to, when he fees them given to those who never did endeavour ; at the same time that they would deter me from taking those advantages which letters enable me to procure for myself. If then I am to write no more (though as much out of my profession as they may please to represent this work, I suspect their modesty 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 publick, who have a better pretence to demand it of me, fome reason for my presenting them with these amusements; which, if I am not much mittaken, may be excused by the best and fairest examples; and, what is more, may be justified on the surer reason of things.
The great Saint Chrysostom, a name consecrated to immortality by his virtue and eloquence, is known to have been lo fond of Aristophanes, as to wake with him at his studies, and to Neep 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, Aristophanes's best wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's freedoms, Shakespeare writes with the purity of a vestal. But they will say, St. Chrysostom contracted a fondness for the comick poet for the sake of bis Greek. To this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far be it from me to insinuate so unscholarlike a thing, as if we had the fame use for good English, that a Greek had for his Attick elegance. Critick Kuster, in a taste and language peculiar to grammarians of a certain order, hath decreed, that the history and chronology of Greek words is the most SOLID entertainment of a man of letters.
I fy then to a higher example, much nearer home, and itill more in point, the famous university of Oxford. This illustrious body, which hath long so justly held, and with such equity dispensed, the chief