Imagens das páginas





To the great variety of Readers.

ROM the most able, to him that can but fpell: There you are mamber'd, we had rather you were weigh'd. Efpecially, when the fate of all Bookes depends upon your capacities: and not of your heads alone, but of your purfes. Well, it is now publike and you will stand for your priviledges, we know: to reade, and cenfure. Doe fo, but buy it firft. That doth best commend a Booke, the Stationer fayes. Then, how odde foever your braines be, or your wifdomes, make your licence the fame, and fpare not. Judge your fixe-penny'orth, your fhillings worth, your five fhillings worth at a time, or higher, fo rife to the juft rates, and welcome. But, whatever you doe, buy. Cenfure will not drive a Trade, or make the Jacke goe. And though you be a Magiftrate of wit, and fit, on the Stage at Black-Fryers, or the Cock-pit, to arraigne Playes dayly, know, thefe Playes have had

[ocr errors]



their triall already, and ftood out all Appeales; and doe now come forth quitted rather by a Decree of Court, than any purchafed letters of commendation.

It had been a thing, we confeffe, worthy to have been wifhed, that the Author himfelfe had liv'd to have fet forth, and overfeene his owne writings; But fince it hath been ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envy his Friends, the office of their care, and paine, to have collected and publish'd them; and fo to have publifht them, as where (before) you were abus'd with divers ftolne, and furreptitious Copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and ftealths of injurious Impoftors, that expos'd them: even thofe, are now offer'd to your view cured, and perfect of their limbes; and all the reft, abfolute in their numbers as he conceived them. Who, as he was a happy imitator of Nature, was a moft gentle expreffer of it. His minde and hand went together: And what he thought he uttered with that eafineffe, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our Province, who onely gather his workes, and give them you, to praife him. It is yours that reade him. And there we hope, to your divers capacities, you will finde enough, both to draw, and hold you: for his wit can no more lie hid, then it could be loft. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and again: And if then you doe not like him, furely you are in, fome manifeft danger, not to underftand him. And fo we leave you to other of his Friends, who, if you need, can be your guides: if you Reede them not, you can leade yourfelves, and others. And fuch readers we wish him.







Tis not my defign to enter into a criticism upon this Author, tho' to do it effectually and not fuperficially, would be the best occafion that any just Writer could take, to form the judgment and tafte of our nation. For of all English Poets Shakespeare must be confeffed to be the fairest and fulleft fubject for Crititifm, and to afford the moft 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 business 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 tho' it can be no guide to future Criticks to do him justice in one way, will at least be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.

I cannot however but mention fome of his principal and characteristic Excellencies for which (notwithftanding his defects) he is juftly and univerfally elevated above all other Dramatick Writers. Not that this is the proper place of praifing him, but because I would not omit any occafion of doing it.

If ever any Author deferved the name of an Origi nal, it was Shakespeare. Homer himself drew not his


art fo immediately from the fountains of Nature, it proceeded thro' Egyptian ftrainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The Poetry of Shakespeare was infpiration indeed: he is not fo much an Imitator, as an instrument, of Nature ; and 'tis not fo juft to fay that he speaks from her, as that she speaks thro' him.

His Characters are fo much Nature herself, that 'tis a fort of injury to call them by fo diftant a name as Copies of her. Thofe of other Poets 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 reflexion of a reflexion. But every fingle character in Shakespeare is as much an Individual, as those in Life itfelf; it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear moft to be twins, will upon comparifon be found remarkably diftinct. To this life and variety 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 apply'd them with certainty to every speaker.

The Power over our Paffions was never poffeffed in a more eminent degree, or display'd in fo different inftances. Yet all along, there is feen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guefs to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it: But the heart fwells, and the tears burft out, juft at the proper places: We are furpriz'd the moment we weep; and yet upon reflexion find the paflion fo juft, that we fhou'd be furpriz'd 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 master of the Great than of the Ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tenderneffes, than of our vaineft foibles; of our ftrorgeft emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!


Nor does he only excel in the Paffions: In the coolnefs of reflexion and Reasoning he is full as admirable. His Sentiments are not only in general the moft 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 argument turns, or the force of each moment 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 seems to have known the world by Intuition, to have look'd 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 own'd 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 thefe defects, from feveral caufes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlighten'd a mind could ever have been fufceptible of them. That all these Contingencies should unite to his disadvantage feems to me almoft as fingularly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary) Talents fhould meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.

It must be allowed that Stage-Poetry of all other, is more particularly levell'd to please the Populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depending upon the Common Suffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakefpeare, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a fubfiftance, directed his endeavours folely to hit the tafte 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 Tradefmen

« AnteriorContinuar »