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rience, a Deduction of conclusive Arguments, a fora cible Eruption of effervescent Passion, are to be confidered as proportionate to common Apprehension, unassisted by critical Officiousness ; since, to convince them, nothing more is requisite than Acquaintance with the general State of the World, and those Fas culties which he must almost bring with him who would read Shakespeare.
But when the Beauty arises from fome Adaptation of the Sentiment to Customs worn out of Use, to Opinions not universally prevalent, or to any accidental or minute Particularity, which cannot be sup. plied by common Understanding, or common Obfervation, it is the Duty of a Commentator to lend his A flistance.
The Notice of Beauties and Faults thus limited, will make no distinct Part of the Design, being reducible to the Explanation of obscure Paisages."
· The Editor does not however intend to preclude himself from the Comparison of Shakespeare's Sentiments or Expression with those of ancient or modern Authours, or from the Display of any Beauty not obvious to the Students of Poetry; for as he hopes to leave his Authour better understood, he wishes likewise to procure him more rational Approbation.
The former Editors have affected to flight their Predeceffors : But in this Edition all that is valuable will be adopted from every Commentator, that Pofterity may consider it as including all the rest, and exhibiting whatever is hitherto known of the great Father of the English Drama.
rs, or fillion with ilion of shaend to press
PŘ E F À CE, ;
TO S HA K E S P E A R E.
Published in the Year 1768.
THAT Praises are withouť Reason Tavished on
the Dead, and that the Honours due only to Excellence are paid to Antiquity, is a Complaint likely to be always continued by those, who, being able to add nothing to Truth, hope for Eminence from the Herefies of Paradox; or those, who, teing forced by Disappointment upon consolatory Ex. pedients, are willing to hope from Pofterity what the present Age refuses, and flatter themselves that the Regard which is yet denied by Envy, will be at last bestowed by Time.
Antiquity, like every oi her Quality that attracts the Notice of Mankind, has undoubtedly Votaries that reverence it, not from Reason, but from Preju. judice. Sone seem to admire indiscriminately whatcver has been long preserved, without conlidering that Time has sometimes co-operated with Chance ; all perhaps are more willing to honour past than prefent Excellence; and the Mind contemplates Genius through the Shades of Age, as the Eye furveys the Sun through artificial Opacity. The great Contention of Criticism is to find the Faults of the Moderns, and the Beauties of the Ancients. Whilean Authour is' yet living, we estimate his Powers by his worst Performance, and when he is dead, we rate them by his best..
To Works, however, of which the Excellence is not absolute and definire, but gradual and comparitive; to Works not raised upon Principles demon strative and scientifick, but appealing wholly to Obfervation and Experience, no other Test can be applied chan Length of Duration, and Continuance of Efteem. What Mankind have long possessed, they have often examined and compared ; and if they perlift to value the Poffeffion, it is because frequent Comparisons have confirmed Opinion in its Favour. As among the Works of Nature no Man can properly call a River deep, or a Mountain high, without the Knowledge of many Mountains and many Rivers, so, in the Productions of Genius, nothing can be stiled excellent till it has been compared with other Works of the fame Kind. Demonstration immediately displays its Power, and has nothing to hope or fear from the Flux of Years ; but Works tentative and experimental must be estimated by their Proportion to the general and colleclive Ability of Man, as it is discovered in a long Succession of Endeavours. Of the first Building that was raised, it might be with Certainty determined that it was round or square; but whether it was spacious or Jofty must have been referred to Time. The Pya thagorean Scale of Numbers was at once discovered to be perfect; but the Poems of Homer we yet know not to transcend the common Limits of human Intelligence, but by remarking, that Nation after Nation, and Century after Century, has been able to do little more than transpose his Incidents, new name his Characters, and paraphrase his Senti. menis.
The Reverence due to Writings that have long fubfifted, arises therefore not from any credulous Confidence in the superior Wisdom of past Ages, or gloomy Persuasion of the Degeneracy of Mankind, but is the Consequence of acknowledged and indubitable Positions, that what has been longest known
has been post considered, and what is most conli. dered is best understood.
The Poet, of whose Works I have undertaken the Revision, may now begin to assume the Dignity of an Antient, and claim the Privilege of established Fame and prescriptive Veneration. He has long outlived his Century, the Term commonly fixed as the Test of literary Merit. Whatever Advantages he might once derive from personal Allusions, local Customs, or temporary Opinions, have for many Years been lost; and every Topick of Merriment, or Motive of Sorrow, which the Modes of artificial Life afforded him, now only obscure the Scenes which they once illuminated. The Effects of Favour and Competition are at an End; the Tradition of his Friendships and his Enmities has perished; his Works support no Opinion with Arguments, nor supply any Faction with Invectives; they can neither indulge Vanity, nor gratify Malignity, but are read without any other Reason than the Defire of Pleasure, and are therefore praised only as Pleasure is obtained ; yet, thus unassisted by Interest or Pallion, they have past through Variations of Taste, and Changes of Manners, and, as they devolved from one Generation to another, have received new Honours at every Transmission,
But because human Judgment, though it be gradually gaining upon Certainty, never becomes infallible; and Approbation, though long continued, may yet be only the Approbation of Prejudice or Fashion: it is proper to inquire by what Peculiari. ties of Excellence Shakespeare has gained and kept the Favour of his Countrymen.
Nothing can please many, and please long, but just Representations of general Nature. Particular Manners can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge how nearly they are copied. The irregular Combinations of' fanciful Invention may VOL. II.
delight a-while, by that Novelty of which the common Satiety of Life sends us all in queft; but the Pleasures of sudden Wonder are foon exhausted, and the Mind can only repose on the Stability of Truth.
Shakespeare is above all Writers, at least above all modern Writers, the Poet of Nature; the Poet that holds up to his Readers a faithful Mirrour of Manners and of Life. His Characters are not modified by the Customs of particular Places, unpractised by the rest of the World; by the Peculiarities of Studies or Professions, which can operate but upon small Numbers ; or by the Accidents of transient Fashions, or temporary Opinions : They are the genuine Progeny of common Humanity, such as the World will always supply, and Observation will always find. His Persons act and speak by the Influence of those general Passions and Principles by which all Minds are agitated, and the whole System of Life is continued in Motion. In the Writings of other Poets a Character is too often an Indivi. dual; in those of Shakespeare it is commonly a Species.
It is from this wide Extension of Defign that so much Instruction is derived. It is this which fills the Plays of Shakespeare with practical Axioms and domestick Wisdom. It was said of Euripides, that every Verse was a Precept; and it may be faid of Shakespeare, that from his Works may be collected a System of civil and economical Prudence. Yet his real Power is not shown in the Splendour of particular Passages, but by the Progress of his Fable, and the Tenour of his Dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select Quotations, will suceeed like the Pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his House to Sale, carried a Brick in his Pocket as à Specimen.
It will not easily be imagined how much Shake: speare excells in accommodating his Sentiments to
dualin Poets alles in Motion