Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

crated 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 Shakspeare's great fense, Aristophanes's best wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's freedoms, Shakspeare writes with the purity of a vestal. But they will fay, St. Chrysostom contracted a fondness for the comick poet for the sake of his Greek. To this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far he it from me to insinuate so unseholar-like a thing, as if we had the fame 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 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 publick 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 stall do, more for the sake of that truly venerable body than my own.

Of all the literary exercitatiorts of speculative men, whether designed for the use or entertainment of the world, there are Hone 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 Shakspeare is confesied to occupy the foremost place; whether we consider the amazing sagacity 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 lesion 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 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 complete edition of Homer; and Cicero to Rome, in correcting the works of Lucretius. Nor do we want examples of the fame good fense in modern times, even amidst the cruel inroads that art and Vol. I. R

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 poet, one Michael Drayton.2 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 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, shows 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

2 —— our greater Selden, when he thought he might reflect credit on his country, did not disdain to comment a very ordinary poet, one Michael Drayton.] This compliment to himself for condescending to write notes on Shakspeare, Warburton copied from Pope, who sacrificed Drayton to gratify the vanity of this flattering editor: "I have a particular reason (says Pope in a Letter to Warburton) to make you interest yourself in me and my writings. It will cause both them and me to make a better figure to posterity. A very mediocre poet, one Drayton, is yet taken notice of because Selden writ a Jew notes on one of his poems." Pope's Works, Vol. IX. p. 350, 8vo. 1751.

Holt Whitb. 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 concern: for, as Quintilian observes, "Verborum proprietas ac differentia 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 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 Lojl, from gentlemen of distinguished abilities and learning. But this interval of good fense, 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 professor of the occult sciences. Yet these very friends, I suppose, would have thought it added lustre to his high station, to have newfurnished out feme 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, 1 do not know any that would stand in a worse situation than that for which I now apologize. For 1 hardly think there ever appeared, in any learned language, so execrable a heap of nonsense, under the name of commentaries, as

hath been lately given us on a certain satyrick poet, of the last age, by his editor and coadjutor.3

I am sensible how unjustly the very best classical criticks have been treated. It is said, that our great philosopher * spoke with much contempt of the two finest scholars of this age, Dr. Bentley and Bishop Hare, for squabbling, as he expressed it, about an old play-book; meaning, I suppose, Terence's comedies. But this story is unworthy of him; though well enough suiting the fanatick turn of the wild writer that relates it; such censures are amongst the follies of men immoderately given over to one science, and ignorantly undervaluing all the rest. Those learned criticks might, and perhaps did, laugh in their turn (though still, sure, with the fame indecency and indiscretion,) at that incomparable man, for wearing out a long life in poring through a telescope. Indeed, the weaknesses of such are to be mentioned with reverence. But who can bear, without indignation, the fashionable cant of every trifling writer, whose insipidity passes, with himself, for politeness, for pretending to be shocked, forsooth, with the rude and savage air of vulgar criticks; meaning such as Muretus, Scaliger, Casaubon, Salmasius, Spanheim, Bentley! When, had it not been for the deathless labours of such as these, the western world, at the revival of letters, had soon fallen back again into a state of ignorance and barbarity, as deplorable as that from which Providence had just redeemed it.

3 This alludes to Dr. Grey's edition of Hudibras published in 1744. Reed.

4 Sir Isaac Newton. See Whiston's Historical Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Clarke, 1748, 8vo. p. 113. Reed.

« AnteriorContinuar »