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Earle of PEMBROKE, &c. Lord Chamberlaine to the Kings
moft Excellent Majeltie;
P HI LI P
Earle of MONTGOMERY, &c. Gentleman of his Majesties
Both Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter,
and our fingular good LORD S.
for the many favors we have received from your L. L. we are falne upon the ill fortune, to mingle two the most diverse things that can be, feare, and rashnesse; rashneffe in the enterprize, and feare of the succeffe. For, when we value the places your H. H. sustaine, wee cannot but know the dignity greater, than to descend to the reading of these trifles: and, while we name them trifles, we have deprived ourselves of the defence of our dedication. But since your L. L. have been pleased to thinke these trifles something, heeretofore; and have profequuted both them, and their authour living, with so much favour: we hope that they out-living him, and he not having the fate, common with some, to be exequutor to his owne writings) you will use the fame indulgence toward them, you have done unto their parent. There is a great difference, whether any
booke choose his patrones, or finde them: this hath done
Your Lordshippes moft bounden,
FRO ROM the most able, to him that can but spell: there you
are number’d, we had rather you were weighd. Especially, when the fate of all bookes depends upon your capacities: and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well! it is now publique, and you will stand for your priviledges, wee know: to read, and censure. Doe so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a booke, the stationer saies. Then, how odde soever your braines be, or your wisedomes, make your licence the same, and spare not. Judge your fixe-pen’orth, your shillings worth, your five shillings worth at a time, or higher, fo you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you doe, buy. Censure will not drive a trade, or make the jacke goc. And though you be a magistrate of wit, and sit on the stage at Black-friars, or the Cock-pit, to arraigne plays dailie, know, these playes have had their triall already, and stood out all appeales; and do now come forth quitted rather by a decree of court, than any purchas'd letters of commendation.
It had bene a thing, we confesie, worthie to have been wished, that the author himselfe had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings; but since it hath been ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you doe not envie his friends, the office of their care and paine, to have collected and publish'd them; and so to have publith'd them, as where (before) you were abus’d with divers stolne and furreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos’d them: even those are now offer’d to your view curd,
and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, abfolute in their numbers as he conceived them. Who, as he was a happy imitator of nature, was a most gentle expreffer of it. His mind and hand went together: and what he thought, he uttered with that easinefle, that wee have scarce received from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our province, who onely gather his workes, and give them you, to praise him. It is yours that reade him. And there we hope, to your divers capacities, you will finde enough, both to draw, and hold you: for his wit can no more lie hid, then it could be loft. Reade him, therefore, and againe, and againe : and if then you doe not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him. And so we leave you to other of his friends, who, if you need, can bee your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade yourselves, and others. And such readers we wish him.
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 juft 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 confpicuous instances, both of beauties and faults of all forts. 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 juftly 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 Shakefpeare. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of nature, it proceeded through Ægyptian ftrainers 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 the speaks through him.