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konours of the learned world, thought good letters so much interested in correct editions of the best English writers, that they, very lately, in their publick capacity, undertook one of this very author by subscription. And if the editor hath not discharged his talk 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 feek further for authorities. All that can be now decently urged, is the reason of the thing ; and this I shall 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 occupy 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 just and living paintings which he has given us of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits. These afford a leffon which can never be too often repeated, or too constantly inculcated; and, to engage the reader's due attention to it, hath been one of the principal objects of this edition.
As this science (whatever profound philosophers may think) is, to the rest, in things; fo, in words (whatever supercilious pedants may talk) every one's mother tongue is to all other languages. This hath ftill been the sentiment of nature and true wisdom. Hence, the greatest men of antiquity never thought themselves better employed, than in cultivating their
own country idiom. So Lycurgus did honour to Sparta, in giving the first complete edition of Homer ; and Cicero to Rome, in correcting the works of Lucretius. Nor do we want examples of the fame good fense in modern times, even amidst the cruel inroads that art and fafhion have made upon nature and the simplicity of wisdom. Menage, the greatest name in France for all kinds of philologick learning, prided himself in writing critical notes on their best lyrick poet Malherbe : and our greater Selden, when he thought it might reflect credit on his country, did not disdain even to comment a very ordinary poet, one Michael Drayton. But the English tongue, at this juncture, deserves and demands our particular regard. It hath, by means of the many 'excellent works of different kinds compofed in it, engaged the notice, and become the study, of almost every curious and learned foreigner, fo as to be thought even a part of literary accomplishment. This mult needs make it deferving of a critical attention : and its being yet destitute of a teft or standard to apply to, in cases of doubt or difficulty, shews how much it wants that attention. For we have neither GRAMMAR nor Dic; TIONARY, neither chart nor compass, to guide us through this wide fea of words. And indeed how fhould we? fince both are to be composed and finished on the authority of our best established writers. But their authority can be of little use, till the text hath been correctly fettled, and the phraseology critically examined. As then, by these aids, a Grammar and Dictionary, planned upon the best rules of logick and philosophy (and none but fuch will deserve the name) are to be procured; the forwarding of this will be a general concern : for, as Quintilian observes, “ Ver“ borum proprietas ac differentia omnibus, qui fer
monem curæ habent, debet effe communis." By this way, the Italians have brought their tongue to a degree of purity and stability, which no living lan
guage ever attained unto before. It is with pleasure
observe, that these things now begin to be understood amongst ourselves; and that I can acquaint the publick, we may foon expect very elegant editions of Fletcher and Milton's Paradise Loft from gentlemen' of distinguished abilities and learning. But this interval of good senfe, as it may be short, is indeed but new. For I remember to have heard of a very learned man, who, not long since, formed a design of giving a more correct edition of Spenser ; and, without doubt, would have performed it well; but he was dissuaded from his purpose by his friends, as beneath the dignity of a professor of the occult sciences. Yet these very friends, I suppose, would have thought it had added luftre to his high station, to have new-furbished out some dull northern chronicle, or dark Sibylline ænigma. But let it not be thought chat what is here faid insinuates any thing to the discredit of Greek and Latin criticisin. If the follies of particular men were sufficient to bring any branch of learning into disrepute, I do not know any that would stand in a worse situation than that for which I now apologize. For I hardly think there ever appeared, in any learned language, so execrable a heap of nonsense, under the name of commentaries, as hath been lately given us on a certain satirick poet, of the last age, by his editor and coadjutor.
I am sensible how unjustly the very best classical criticks haye been treated. It is said, that our great philosopher spoke with much contempt of the two finest scholars of this age, Dr. Bentley and Bishop Hare, for squabbling, as he expressed it, about an old play-book; meaning, I suppose, Terence's comedies. But this story is unworthy of him; though well enough suiting the fanatick turn of the wild writer that relates it ; such censures are amongst the follies of men immoderately given over to one science, and ignorantly undervaluing all the rest. Those
learned criticks might, and perhaps did, laugh in their turn (though still, sure, with the same indecency and indiscretion) at that incomparable man, for wearing out a long life in poring through a telescope. Indeed, the weaknesses of such are to be mentioned with reverence. Bụt who can bear, without indig. nation, the fashionable cant of every trifling writer, whose insipidity passes, with himself, for politeness, for pretending to be shocked, forsooth, with the rude and savage air of vulgar criticks; meaning such as Muretus, Scaliger, Casaubon, Salmasius, Spanheim, Bentley. When, had it not been for the deathless labours of such as these, the western world, at the sevival of letters, had foon fallen back again into a state of ignorance and barbarity, as deplorable as that from which Providence had just redeemed it.
To conclude with an observation of a fine writer and great philosopher of our own ; which I would gladly bind, though with all honour, as a phylactery, on the brow of every awful grammarian, to teach hiin at once the use and limits of his art : Words ARE THE MONEY OF FOOLS, SD THE COUNTERS OF WISE
TO , THE
R E A D E R.
[Prefixed to Mr. Steevens's Edition of Twenty of
the old Quarto Copies of SHAKESPEARE, &c. in 4 Vols. 8vo.]
HE plays of SHAKESPEARE have been fo
often republished, with every seeming ad
vantage which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could stand in need of
any thing beyond the illustration of some few dark palsages. Modes of expression must remain in obscurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who shall make a proper use of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue ob: scure to all those who are unacquainted with the proyincial expressions which they suppose him to have used; but, for my own part, I cannot believe but that those which are now local may once have been universal, and must have been the language of those persons before whom his plays were represented. However, it is certain that the instances of obscurity from this source are very few.