« AnteriorContinuar »
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; (tho' 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 prophane profit and their purer gains) if, I say, I am to write no more, let me at least give the Public, 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 Elo, quence, 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 Shakespear's great sense, Aristophanes's belt wit is but buffoonry; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's Freedoms, Shake
Spear writes with the purity of a Vestal. But they will say, St. Chryfoftom contracted a fondness for the comic Poet for the sake of bis Greek. To this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far be it from me to insinuate so unscholarlike a thing, as if We had the same Use for good English that a Greek had for his Attic elegance. Critic 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 entertain. ment 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 public Capacity, undertook one, of this very Author, by subscription. And if the Editor 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 Shakespear 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 still 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 compleat Edition of Homer ; and Cicero, to Rome, in correcting
the Works of Lucretius. Nor do we want Examples of the same good sense in modern Times, even amidst the cruel inrodes that Art and Fashion have made upon Nature and the simplicity of Wisdom. Menage, the greatest name in France for all kinds of philologic Learning, prided himself in writing critical Notes on their best lyric 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
tongue, at this Juncture, deserves and demands our particular regard. It hath, by means of the many excellent Works of different kinds composed in it, engaged the notice, and become the study, of almost every curious and learned Foreigner, so as to be thought even a part of literary accomplishment. This must needs make it deserving of a critical attention : And its being yet destitute of a Test or Standard to apply to, in cases of doubt or difficulty, shews how much it wants that attention. For we have neither GRAMMAR nor DictioNARY, neither Chart nor Compass, to guide us through this wide sea of Words. And indeed how should we? since 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 settled, and the Phraseology critically examined. As, then, by these aids, a Grammar and Dictionary, planned upon the best rules of Logic and Philosophy, (and none but
such will deserve the name) are to be procured ; the forwarding of this will be a general concern : For, as Quintilian cbserves, “Verborum pro“ prietas ac diferentia omnibus, qui sermonem “ curæ habent, debet esse communis." By this way, the Italians have brought their tongue to a degree of Purity and Stability which no living Language ever attained unto before. It is with pleasure Iobserve, that these things now begin to be understood amongst ourselves ; and that I can acquaint the Public, we may soon expect very elegant Éditions of Fletcher and Milton's Paradise Lost from Gentlemen of distinguished Abilities and Learning. But this interval of good sense, as it may be Thort, 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 lustre to his high Station, to have new-furbished out some dull northern Chronicle, or dark Sibylline Ænigma. But let it not be thought that what is here said insinuates any thing to the discredit of Greek and Latin criticism. If the follies of particular Men were sufficient to bring any branch of Learning into disrepute, I don't know any that would stand in a worse situation than that for which I now apologize. For I