Imágenes de páginas

himself to works of established reputation; not to teach the world to admire, which, in those circumstances, to say the truth, they are apt enough to do of themselves; but to teach them how', with reason to admire: no easy matter, I will afsure 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 fo much abounds; 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.

Thefe, such, as they are, were among my younger amusements, when many years ago, I used to turn over these fort 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 persuasions of dear Mr. Pope; whose memory and name,

- semper acerbum,
Semper honoratum (fic Di voluiflis) habebo.

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 modefty of an ingenuous temper) a fit opportunity of confessing his mistakes*. In memory of See his Letters to me.


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 profefs my fense 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 profession, 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 prophane or sacred; or in any fcandal 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 Tartuffé 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 fuitable to my clerical profession. “Well, but (lays 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 prophane antiquity; “ and, on them, erect a work to the confusion of infide “ lity." Why, I have done all this, and more; and hear


of account in very worst jud condition;

now what the same men have said to it. They tell me, 1 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. 6. 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 modeity 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 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 fairelt 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's best wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's 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 unfcholarlike 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 Itill 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


i fory and chronic of a certain ortalte and I

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 hath not discharged his talk 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 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 juft and living paintings which he has given us of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits. There 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; so, in words, (whatever fupercilious 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 complete 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 inroads that art and fashion have made upon nature and the simplicity of wisdom. Menage, the greatest name in France for all kinds of philologick learning, prided himself in writing critical notes on their best lyrick 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 VOL. I. [L]

poet, .

poet, one Michael Drayton. But the English tongue, at this juncture, deserves and demands our particular regard. It hath, by means of the many excellent works of different kinds compofed in it, engaged the notice, and become the ftudy, 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 crisical attention: and its being yet destitute of a test or standard to apply to, in cases of doubt or dilliculty, shews how much it wants that attention. For we have neither GRAMMAR nor DICTIONARY, neither chart nor compass, to guide us through this wide sca 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 logick and philosophy (and none but such will deserve the name) are to be procured; the forwarding of this will be a general concorn: for, äs Quintilian observes, “ Verborum proprietas ac differentia omnibus, qui fermonem curæ habent, debet “ efle 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 I observe, that these things now begin to be understood among ourselves; and that I can acquaint the publick, we may soon expect very elegant editions of Fletcher and Milton's Paradise Lost from gentlemen of distinguished abilities and learning. But this interval of good sente, as it may be - short, 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 profefior of the occult sciences. Yet these very friends, I fuppose, would have thought it had added lustre to his high ftation, to have new-furbished out some dull northern chronicle, or dark Sibylline ænigma. But let it not be thought that what is here laid insinuates any thing to the discredit of Greek and Latin criticism. If the follies of particular men were sulficient to bring any branch of learning into difrepute, I do not know any that would stand in a worse fitua-. tion than that for which I now apologize. For I hardly think there ever appeared, in any learned language, fo exea

• erable

« AnteriorContinuar »