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"dern. There is scarcely a topic, common with o"ther writers, on which he has not excelled them all; "there are many nobly peculiar to himself, where "he fhines unrivalled, and, like the eagle, properest " emblem of his daring genius, foars beyond the com66 mon reach, and gazes undazzled on the fun. His flights are sometimes fo bold, frigid criticism almost "dares to disapprove them; and those narrow minds "which are incapable of elevating their ideas to the fublimity of their author's, are willing to bring "them down to a level with their own. Hence many fine paffages have been condemned in SHAKESPEAR, as rant and fuftian, intolerable bombaft, and turgid nonfenfe; which, if read with the least glow "of the fame imagination that warmed the writer's "bofom, would blaze in the robes of fublimity, and "obtain the commendations of a Longinus. And un"lefs fome little of the tame fpirit that elevated the poet, elevate the reader too, he must not presume 66 to talk of taste and elegance; he will prove but a
languid reader, an indifferent judge, but a far more "indifferent critic and commentator." And again (fays he) "I doubt not every reader will find [in
SHAKESPEAR's beauties] fo large a fund for obser"vation, fo much excellent and refined morality, and, "I may venture to say, fo much good divinity, that "he will prize the work as it deferves, and pay, with me, all due adoration to the manes of SHAKESPEAR."
Longinus (continues Mr. Dodd) tells us, that the "most infallible test of the true fublime, is the impref"fion a performance makes upon our minds, when "read or recited. 66 If, fays he, a person finds, that "a performance tranfports not his foul, nor exalts his thoughts; that it calls not up into his mind ideas more enlarged than the mere founds of the words. convey, but on attentive examination its dignity les"fens and declines, he may conclude, that whatever "pierces no deeper than the ears, can never be the "true fublime. That, on the contrary, is grand and lofty, which the more we confider, the greater i"deas we conceive of it; whole force we cannot pofb 2
fibly withftand; which immediately finks deep, and "and makes fuch impreffion on the mind, as cannot "eafily be worn out or effaced. In a word, you may pronounce that fublime, beautiful, and genuine, which always pleafes, and takes equally with all "forts of men. For when perfons of different hu06 mours, ages, profeffions, and inclinations, agree in "the fame joint approbation of any performance, then "this union of affent, this combination of fo many
different judgments, ftamps an high and indifput"able value on that performance, which meets with
fuch general applaufe." This fine obfervation of "Longinus is moft remarkably verified in SHAKE"C SPEAR: for all humours, ages, and inclinations, jointly proclaim their approbation and efteem of hin; and will, I hope, be found true in most of "the paffages which are here collected from him: I fay, moft, because there are fome, which I am con"vinced will not ftand this teft. The old, the grave, " and the fevere, will difapprove, perhaps, the more "foft, (and as they may call them), trifling fove-tales, "fo elegantly breathed forth, and fo emphatically ex
tolled by the young, the gay, and the paffionate; "while thefe will efteem as dull and languid, the fo"ber saws of morality, and the home-felt obfervati"ons of experience. However, as it was my bufinefs "to collect for readers of all taftes and all complexi
ons, let me defire none to difapprove what hits not "with their own humour; but to turn over the page, " and they will furely find fomething acceptable and "engaging."
But a further account of our author is to be met with in Mr. Pope's excellent preface, and likewife in Mr. Rove's account of his life and writings, and in Ben Johnson's poem; all which are given entire, together with Mr. Warburton's general criticifm on his plays; by which the reader will fee his opinion of the rank and precedence of each, as reduced to certain claffes.
MR. PO PE'S PREFACE.
Tis not my design to enter into a criticifm upon this author; though to do it effectually, and not fuperficially, would be the best occafion that any juft writer could take, to form the judgment and taite of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespear must be confeffed to be the fairest and fullest 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 bufinefs of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works, and the disadvantages under which they have been tranfmitted to us. We fhall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: A defign which, though it can be no guide to future crities to do him justice in one way, will at least be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injuftice in the other.
I cannot however but mention fome of his principal and characteristic excellencies, for which (notwithftanding his defects) he is justly and univerfally elevated above all other dramatic 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 through Egyptian ftrainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or fome caft of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakespear was infpiration indeed: he is not fo much an imitator, as an inftrument, of Nature; and it is not fo juft to fay, that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are fo much Nature herself, that it is a fort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Thofe of other poets have a conftant refemblance, which fhews that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the fame
image: each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every fingle character in Shakespear is as much an individual as thofe in life itfelf; it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any refpect appear moft to be twins, will upon comparison be found remarkably distinct. 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 fpeeches been printed without the very names of the perfons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every fpeaker.
The power over our passions was never poffeffed in a more eminent degree, or difplayed in fo different inftances. Yet all along there is feen no labour nor pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our gue's to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it: but the heart fwells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places. We are furprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the paffion fo juft, that we fhould be furprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.
How aftonishing is it again, that the paffions directly oppofite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his command! that he is not more a master of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tendernesses, than of our vaineft foibles; of our ftrongest emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!
Nor does he only excel in the paffions: in the coolnefs of reflection and reafoning he is full as admirable. His fentiments are not only in general the most 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 argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in thofe great and public fcenes of life which are ufually the fubject of his thoughts: fo that he feems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, That the philofopher,
and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet.
It must be owned, 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 meafure account for these defects from several causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine, that fo large and fo enlightened a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them That all these contingencies fhould unite to his difadvantage, feems to me almost as fingularly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary) talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.
It must be allowed, that stage-poetry, of all other, is more particularly levelled to please the populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depending upon the common fufferage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakefpear, 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 compo fed of the meaner fort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from those of their own rank. Accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almost all the old comedies, have their fcene among tradesmen and mechanics: and even their historical plays ftrictly follow the common old ftories or vulgar traditions of that kind of people. In tragedy, nothing was fo fure to furprife, and caufe admiration, as the most strange, unexpected, and confequently moft unnatural events and incidents; the most exaggerated thoughts; the most verbose and bombaft expreffion; the most pompous rhymes, and thundering verfification. In comedy, nothing was fo fure to please, as mean buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jes of fools and clowns. Yet even in thefe our author's wit buoys up, and is borne above his fubject: his genius in those low parts, is like fome prince of a romance in the disuise of a shepherd or peasant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then break out, which manifeft his higher extraction and qualities.