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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 fairest and fullest subject for criticism, yet it is not such a sort of criticism as may be raised mechanically on the rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Bossu have collected from antiquity, 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 formed on the plan of those crude and superficial judgments on books and things with which a certain celebrated paper so much abounds ;3 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 sort 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 observations, 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 among 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 publick at this time of day had never been troubled with, but for the conduct of the two last editors, and the persuasion of dear Mr. Pope, whose memory and name,
"... semper acerbum,
• The Spectator.
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 opportunity of confessing his mistakes. 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 proprietors, 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 amongst 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) 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 pro
fession, who suffer more from such injuries than any other men. It hath in part, too, arisen from the clamours of profligate scribblers, ever ready for a piece of money, to prostitute their bad sense for or against any cause, profane or sacred, 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 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 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 (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 profane antiquity, and on them erect a work to the confusion of infidelity.” Why, I have done all this, and more; and hear now what the same men have said to it. They tell me, I have wrote to the wrong and injury of religion, and furnished out more handles for unbelievers. “Oh! now the secret is out; and you may have your pardon, I find, upon easier terms. It is only to write no more.” Good gentlemen! and shall I not oblige them? They would gladly obstruct my way to those things which every man who endeavours well in his profession, must needs think he has some claim to when he sees 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 profane 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, some reason for my presenting them with these amusements; which, if I am not much mistaken, 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 so fond of Aristophanes as to wake with him at his studies, 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, Aristophanes' best wit is but buffoonery; and in comparison of Aristophanes' 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 his Greek. To this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far be it from me to insinuate so unscholar-like a thing, as if we had the same 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 fly then to a higher example, much nearer home, and still more in point, the famous university of Oxford.
This illustrious body, which hath long so justly held, and with such equity dispensed 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 publick capacity undertook one of this very author by subscription. And if the editor 4 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 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 con fessed to occupy the foremost place, whether we con sider the amazing sagacity 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 lesson 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. • Hanmer's edition was issued by the Oxford University Press.