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PREFACE

TO THE

Works of SHAKESPEAR.

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Tis not my defign to enter into a criticiím this author; tho' to do it effectually and not fuperficially, would be the best occafion that any juft writer could take, to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespear must be confeffed to be the fairest and fulleft fubject for criticism, and to afford the moit numerous, as well as moft confpicuous inftances, both of beauties and faults of all forts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a Preface, the bufinefs of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works, and the difadvantages under which they have been tranfmitted to us. We fhall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not : A defign, which though it can be no guide to future criticks to do him juftice in one way, will at least be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injuftice in the other.

I cannot however but mention some of his principal and characteristic excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and univerfally elevated above all other dramatick Writers. Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occafion of doing it. If ever any author deferved the name of an Original, it was Shakespear. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of Nature; it proceeded thro' Ægyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or fome cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakefpear was infpiration indeed: he is not fo much an Imitator, as an Inftrument, of Nature; and 'tis not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she fpeaks thro' him.

His Characters are fo much Nature herfelf, that 'tis a fort of injury to call them by fo diftant

Those of other Poets

a name as copies of her. have a conftant refemblance, which fhews that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the fame image: each picture like a mock-rainbow is but the reflection of a reflection. But every fingle character in Shakespear is as much an individual, as thofe in life itfelf; it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will upon comparison be found remarkably diftinct. To this life and va

riety of character, we must add the wonderful prefervation of it; which is fuch throughout his Plays, that, had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the perfons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.

The Power over our Paffions was never poffefs'd in a more eminent degree, or difplayed in fo different inftances. Yet all along, there is feen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceiv'd to lead toward it: But the heart fwells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: We are furprized the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the paffion fo juft, that we should be furprized if we had not wept, and wept at that

very moment.

How aftonishing is it again, that the Paffions directly oppofite to thefe, Laughter and Spleen, are no lefs at his command! that he is not more a mafter of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tenderneffes, than of our vaineft foibles; of our ftrongest emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!

Nor does he only excel in the Paffions: in the coolness of Reflection and Reasoning he is full as admirable. His Sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every fubject; but by a talent very peculiar, fomething between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argu

ment turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in thofe great and publick scenes of life which are ufually the fubject of his thoughts: So that he feems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked thro' human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, That the philofopher and even the man of the world, may be born as well as the poet.

It must be owned that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, fo he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in fome measure account for these defects, from several causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlightened a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them. That all thefe contingencies should unite to his disadvantage feems to me almost as fingularly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary) talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.

It must be allowed that Stage-poetry of all other, is more particularly levelled to please the populace, and its success more immediately depending upon the common fuffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakespear, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a fubfiftence, directed his endeavours folely

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to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The audience was generally compofed of the meaner fort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from thofe of their own rank accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almost all the old comedies have their scene among Tradesmen and Mechanicks : And even their historical plays ftrictly follow the common old ftories or vulgar traditions of that kind of ple. In Tragedy, nothing was fo fure to furprize and cause admiration, as the moft ftrange, unexpected, and confequently most unnatural, events and incidents; the most exaggerated thoughts; the most verbose and bombaft expreffion; the most pompous rhymes, and thundering verfification. In Comedy, nothing was fo fure to pleafe, as mean buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jets of fools and clowns. Yet even in thefe, our author's wit buoys up, and is born above his fubject: his genius in thofe low parts is like fome prince of a romance in the difguife of a fhepherd or peafant; a certain greatness and fpirit now and then break out, which manifeft his higher extraction and qualities.

It may be added, that not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better fort piqued themfelves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way; 'till Ben Johnson, getting poffeffion of the

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