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1688-1744 HE second editor was Alexander Pope, born May 22, 1688, died May 30, 1744.
Pope was a self-made man in the realm of
letters. He had but little schooling and was self-taught in the languages, having as a basis for his Latin and Greek some lessons from a Roman Catholic priest.
In his sixteenth year he began to frequent the London coffee houses, where wits and writers of the day most did congregate. From the moment of making friends he made quarrels. His satire was bitter and cruel.
We omit mention of his other literary work, which is sufficiently well known, to note that in 1725, eleven years after Rowe's second edition, appeared Pope's in six volumes quarto. His critical work in the notes by no means takes rank with his other literary achievements. He set the pace for future critics, however. · His malignant genius fastened upon Lewis Theobald, whom he made a hero of the “ Dunciad,” because of certain comments on Pope's methods of using Shakespeare's text. In 1728 he issued a second edition, and his text was reprinted after his death at Glasgow in 1766, and in Birmingham in 1768. He died at Twickenham.
ALEXANDER POPE'S PREFACE
[To quarto edition of the works, in six volumes, 1728.]
It is not my design to enter into a criticism upon this author: though to do it effectually, and not superficially, would be the best occasion that any just writer could take, to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespeare must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as most conspicuous instances, both of beauties and faults of all sorts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a preface, the business of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works, and the disadvantages under which they have been transmitted to us. We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: a design, which, though it can be no guide to future criticks to do him justice in one way, will at least be sufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.
I cannot however but mention some of his principal and characteristick excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and universally elevated above all other dramatick writers. Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occasion of doing it.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakespeare. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Ægyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning,
or some cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakespeare was inspiration indeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument, of nature; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much nature herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shows that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image: each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakespeare is as much an individual, as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike; and such, as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of characters, we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.
The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide or guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead towards it: but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: we are surprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment. How astonishing is it again, that the passions