Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

the readers of the prefent day the abfurdity of fuch a preference, would be an infult to their underflandings. When we endeavour to trace any thing like a ground for this prepofterous tafte, we are told of Fletcher's cafe, and Jonfon's learning. Of how little ufe his learning was to him, an ingenious writer of our own time has fhewn with that vigour and animation for which he was diftinguished. Jonfon, in the ferious drama, is as much an imitator, as Shakfpeare is an original. He was very learned, as Sampfon was very ftrong. to his own hurt. Blind to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himfelf under it. We fee nothing of Jonson, nor indeed of his admired (but alfo murdered). ancients; for what fhone in the hiftorian is a cloud on the poet, and Catiline might have been a good play, if Salluft had never written.

[ocr errors]

Who knows whether Shakspeare might not have thought lefs, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonfon's learning, as Enceladus under Atna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the

"Was fram'd and finish'd at a lucky hit,

"The pride of nature, and the fhame of fchools,
"Born to create, and not to learn from, rules,
Muft pleafe no more: his baftards now deride
"Their father's nakednefs they ought to hide.

[ocr errors]

Prologue by Sir Charles Sedley, to the Wary Widow,

1693.

To the honour of Margaret Duchefs of Newcastle be it remembered, that however fantaflick in other refpects, fhe had talle enough to be fully fenfible of our poet's merit, and was one of the firft who after the Refloration published a very high eulogy on him. See her Sociable Letters, folio, 1664, p. 244.

moft mountainous oppreffion would have breathed out fome of his inextinguishable fire; yet poffibly he might not have rifen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perhaps he was as learned at his dramatick province required; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was mafter of two books unknown to many of the profoundly, read, though books which the laft conflagration alone can deftroy; the book of nature, and that of man.

3 יי

To this and the other encomiums on our great poet which will be found in the following pages, I fhall not attempt to make any addition. He has jufly obferved, that

"To guard a title that was rich before,
"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
"To throw a perfume on the violet,
"To fmooth the ice, or add another hue
"Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

"To feek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
"Is walteful and ridiculous excefs.

[ocr errors]

Let me, however, be permitted to remark, that befide all his other tranfcendent merits, he was the great refiner and polifher of our language. His compound epithets, his bold metaphors, the energy of his expreffions, the harmony of his numbers, all these render the language of Shakfpeare one of his principal beauties. Unfortunately none of his letters, or other profe compofitions, not in a dramatick form, have reached pofterity; but if any of them ever fhall be difcovered, they

■3 Conjectures on Original Compofition, by Dr. Edward Young.

will, I am confident, exhibit the fame perfpicuity, the fame cadence, the fame elegance and vigour, which we find in his plays. "Words and phrafes," fays Dryden, "muft of neceffity receive a change in fucceeding ages; but it is almoft a miracle, that much of his language remains fo pure; and that he who began dramatick poetry amongst us, untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonfon tells us, without learning, fhould by the force of his own genius perform fo much, that in a manner he has left no praife for any who come after him. "

In these prefatory obfervations my principal object was, to afcertain the true ftate and refpective value of the ancient copies, and to mark out the courfe which has been pursued in the edition now offered to the publick. It only remains, that I fhould return my very fincere acknowledgments to those gentlemen, to whofe good offices I have been indebted in the progrefs of my work. My thanks are particularly due to Francis Ingram, of Ribbisford in Worcefterfhire, Efq. for the very valuable Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, and feveral other curious papers, which formerly belonged to that gentleman; to Penn Afheton Curzon, Efq. for the use of the very rare copy of King Richard III. printed in 1597; to the Mafter, and the Rev. Mr. Smith, librarian, of Dulwich College, for the Manufcripts relative to one of our ancient theatres, which they obligingly tranfmitted to me; to John Kipling, Efq. keeper of the rolls in Chancery, who in the moft liberal manner directed every fearch to be made in the Chapel of the Rolls that I fhould require, with a view to illuftrate the hiftory of our poet's life; and to Mr. Richard Clarke, register of

the diocefe of Worcester, who with equal liberality, at my requeft, made many fearches in his office for the wills of various perfons. I am also in a particular manner indebted to the kindness and attention of the Rev. Mr. Davenport, vicar of Stratford-uponAvon, who moft obligingly made every enquiry in that town and the neighbourhood, which I fuggefted as likely to throw any light on the Life of Shakspeare.

I deliver my book to the world not without anxiety; confcious, however, that I have firenuoufly endeavoured to render it not unworthy the attention of the publick. If the refearches which have been made for the illuftration of our poet's works, and for the differtations which accompany the present edition, fhall afford as much entertainment to others, as I have derived from them, I fhall confider the time expended on it as well employed. Of the dangerous ground on which I tread, I am fully fenfible. "Multa funt in his ftudiis (to in

ufe the words of a venerable fellow-labourer the mines of Antiquity) cineri fuppofita dolofa. Errata poffint effe multa à memoria. Quis enim in memoria thefauro omnia fimul fic complectatur, ut pro arbitratů fuo poffit expromere? Errata poffint effe plura ab imperitia. Quis enim tam peritus, ut in cæco hoc antiquitatis mari, cum tempore colluctatus, fcopulis non allidatur? Hæc tamen à te, humaniffime lector, tua humanitas, mea induftria, patriæ charitas, & SHAKSPEARI dignitas, mihi exorent, ut quid mei fit judicii, fine aliorum præjudicio libere proferam; ut eâdem

4 Camden.

via qua alii in his ftudiis folent, infiftam; & ut erratis, fi ego agnofcam, tu ignofcas. "Those who are the warmeft admirers of our great poet, and most converfant with his writings, best know the difficulty of fuch a work, and will be moft ready to pardon its defects; remembering, that in all arduous undertakings it is easier to conceive than to accomplish; that "the will is infinite, and the execution confined; that the defire is boundless, and the act a flave to limit. "

Queen-Anne-Street, Eaft,
October 25, 1790.

MALONE.

THE END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.

THE QUE

LYON

DE LA

999*1895*

VILLE

« PreviousContinue »