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here required, is fuch as judgeth our author by those only laws and principles on which he wrote, NATURE, and COMMON-SENSE.
Our obfervations, therefore, being thus extenfive, will, I prefume, 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, fuch 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 ferious applications: and what certainly the publick at this time of day had never been troubled with, but for the conduct of the two laft editors, and the perfuafions of dear Mr. Pope; whose memory and name,
"Semper honoratum (fic Di voluiftis) habebo."
He was defirous I should give a new edition of this poet, as he thought it might contribute to put a ftop to a prevailing folly of altering the text of celebrated authors without talents or judgment. And he was willing that his edition fhould be melted down into mine, as it would, he said, afford him (fo great is the modefty of an ingenuous temper) a fit opportunity of confeffing his mistakes." In memory of 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 fcenes are divided according to his regulation; and the most beautiful paffages diftinguifhed, as in his book, with inverted commas.
I See his Letters to me.
In imitation of him, I have done the fame by as many others as I thought moft deferving of the reader's attention, and have marked them with double commas.
If, from all this, Shakspeare 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 fhould be unjuft to feveral deferving men of a reputable and useful profeffion, if I did not, on this occafion, acknowledge the fair dealing I have always found amongst them; and profefs my fenfe of the unjuft prejudice which lies against them; whereby they have been, hitherto, unable to procure that fecurity for their property, which they fee the rest of their fellowcitizens enjoy. A prejudice in part arifing from the frequent piracies (as they are called) committed by members of their own body. members no body is without. hard that this fhould be turned to the difcredit of the honeft part of the profeffion, who fuffer more from fuch injuries than any other men. It hath, in part too, arisen from the clamours of profligate fcribblers, ever ready, for a piece of money, to prostitute their bad fenfe for or against any cause profane or facred; 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 worft judges or rewarders of merit,) apply themselves to people of condition; and fupport their importunities by falfe complaints againft bookfellers.
But fuch kind of And it would be
But I fhould now, perhaps, rather think of my own apology, than bufy myfelf in the defence of others. I fhall have fome Tartuffe ready, on the
first appearance of this edition, to call out again, and tell me, that I fuffer myself to be wholly diverted from my purpose by these matters lefs fuitable to my clerical profefsion. "Well, but (fays a friend) why not take fo candid an intimation in good part? Withdraw yourself again, as you are bid, into the clerical pale; examine the records of facred and profane antiquity; and, on them, erect a work to the confufion of infidelity." Why, I have done all this, and more: and hear now what the fame men have faid to it. They tell me, I have wrote to the wrong and injury of religion, and furnished out more handles for unbelievers. "Oh! now the fecret is out; and you may have your pardon, I find, upon easier terms. It is only to write no more.'
Good gentlemen! and fhall I not oblige them? They would gladly obftruct my way to thofe things which every man, who endeavours well in his profeffion, must needs think he has fome claim to, when he fees them given to those who never did endeavour; at the fame time that they would deter me from taking thofe advantages which letters enable me to procure for myfelf. If then I am to write no more (though as much out of my profeffion as they may please to reprefent this work, I fufpect their modefty would not infift on a ferutiny of our feveral applications of this profane profit and their purer gains,) if, I fay, I am to write no more, let me at leaft give the publick, who have a better pretence to demand it of me, fome reafon for my prefenting them with thefe amufements which, if I am not much mistaken, may be excused by the best and faireft examples; and, what is more, may be juftified on the furer reafon of things.
The great Saint CHRYSOSTOM, a name confe
crated to immortality by his virtue and eloquence, is known to have been fo fond of Ariftophanes, as to wake with him at his ftudies, and to fleep 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 refpect of Shakspeare's great fenfe, Ariftophanes's beft wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Ariftophanes's freedoms, Shakspeare writes with the purity of a veftal. But they will fay, St. Chryfoftom contracted a fondness for the comick poet for the fake of his Greek. To this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far be it from me to infinuate fo unfcholar-like a thing, as if we had the fame ufe for good English, that a Greek had for his Attick elegance. Critick Kufter, in a taste and language peculiar to grammarians of a certain order, hath decreed, that the hiftory and chronology of Greek words is the moft SOLID entertainment of a man of letters.
I fly then to a higher example, much nearer home, and still more in point, the famous univerfity of OXFORD. This illuftrious body, which hath long fo juftly held, and with fuch equity difpenfed the chief honours of the learned world, thought good letters fo much interested in correct editions of the beft English writers, that they, very lately, in their publick capacity, undertook one of this very author by fubfcription. And if the editor hath not discharged his talk with fuitable abilities for one fo much honoured by them, this was not their fault, but his, who thruft himself into the employment. After fuch an example, it would be weakening any defence to seek further for authorities. All that can be now decently urged, is the reafon of the thing; and this I fhall
do, more for the fake of that truly venerable body than my own.
Of all the literary exercitations of fpeculative men, whether defigned for the use or entertainment. of the world, there are none of fo much importance or what are more our immediate concern, than those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercife the reason, or amuse the imagination; but thefe only can improve the heart, and form the human mind to wisdom. Now, in this science, our Shakspeare is confessed to occupy the foremost place; whether we confider the amazing fagacity with which he investigates every hidden fpring 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 paffions, appetites, and purfuits. These afford a leffon which can never be too often repeated, or too conftantly inculcated; and, to engage the reader's due attention to it, hath been one of the principal objects of this edition.
As this fciente (whatever profound philofophers may think) is, to the reft, in things; fa, in words, (whatever fupercilious pedants may talk) every one's mother tongue is to all other languages. This hath ftill been the fentiment 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 fenfe in modern times, even amidft the cruel inroads that art and VOL. I.