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It is remarkable that in a century after our poet's death, five editions only of his plays were publifhed; which probably confifted of not more than three thoufand copies. During the fame period three editions of the plays of Fletcher, and four of thofe of Jonfon, had appeared. On the other hand, from the year 17 16 to the prefent time, that is, in feventy-four years, but two editions of the former writer, and one of the latter, have been iffued from the prefs; while above thirty thoufand copies of Shakspeare have been difperfed through England. That nearly as many editions of the works of Jonfon as of Shakspeare fhould have been demanded in the laft century, will not appear furprifing, when we recollect what Dryden has related foon after the Reftoration: that others were then generally preferred before him." By others Jonfon
Notwithstanding our high admiration of Shakspeare, we are yet without a fplendid edition of his works, with the illuftrations which the united efforts of various commentators have contributed; while in other countries the moft brilliant decorations have been lavifhed on their diftinguished poets. The editions of Pope and Hanmer, may, with almost as much propriety, be called their works, as thofe of Shakspeare; and therefore can have no claim to be admitted into any elegant library. Nor will the promised edition, with engravings, undertaken by Mr. Alderman Boydell, remedy this defect, for it is not to be accompanied with notes. At fome future, and no very diftant, time, I mean to furnish the publick with an elegant edition in quarto (without engravings,) in which the text of the prefent edition fhall be followed, with the illuftrations fubjoined in the fame page.
In the year 1642, whether from fome capricious viciffitude in the publick tafte, or from a general inattention to the drama, we find Shirley complaining that few came to fee our author's performances:
and Fletcher were meant.
To attempt to fhew to
What audience we have: What company
"To Shakspeare comes? whofe mirth did once beguile
Prologue to The Sifters.
"I'th' lady's questions, and the fool's replies;
And which made bawdry pafs for comical. "Nature was all his art; thy vein was free "As his, but without his fcurrility.
Verfes on Fletcher, by William Cartwright, 1647. After the Restoration, on the revival of the theatres, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were efteemed fo much fuperior to thofe of our author, that we are told by Dryden, two of their pieces were acted through the year, for one of Shakspeare's." If his teftimony needed any corroboration, the following verfes would afford it:
"In our old plays, the humour, love, and paffion,
Like doublet, hofe, and cloak, are out of fashion; "That which the world call'd wit in Shakspeare's age, Is laugh'd at, as improper for our flage.
Prologue to Shirley's Love Tricks, 1667. "At every fhop, while Shakspeare's lofty ftile Neglected lies, to mice and worms a spoil, "Gilt on the back, juft fmoking from the prefs,
The apprentice fhews you D'Urfey's Hudibras, "Crown's Mask, bound up with Settle's choiceft labours, "And promifes fome new effay of Babor's."
SATIRE, published in 1680.
against old as well as new to rage,
"Is the peculiar frenzy of this age.
Shakspeare muit down, and you muft praife no more,
"Soft Defdemona, nor the jealous Moor:
Shakspeare, whofe fruitful genius, happy wit,
the readers of the prefent day the abfurdity of fuch a preference, would be an infult to their understandings. 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 diftinguifhed. Jonfon, in the ferious drama, is as much an imitator, as Shakspeare 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 himself under it. We fee nothing of Jonfon, nor indeed of his admired (but also 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.
"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 Etna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the
"Was fram'd and finifh'd at a lucky hit,
"The pride of nature, and the fhame of fchools,
Muft please no more: his baftards now deride
Prologue by Sir Charles Sedley, to the Wary Widow, 1693.
To the honour of Margaret Duchefs of Newcastle be it remembered, that however fantaftick in other refpects, fhe had tafte enough to be fully fenfible of our poet's merit, and was one of the first who after the Restoration published very high eulogy on him. See her Sociable Letters, folio, 1664, p. 244.
moft mountainous oppreffion would have breathed out fome of his inextinguifhable 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
To this and the other encomiums on our great poet which will be found in the following pages, I shall not attempt to make any addition. He has juftly obferved, that
"To guard a title that was rich before,
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To feek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
"Is wafteful and ridiculous excefs."
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 discovered, they
3 Conjectures on Original Compofition, by Dr. Edward Young.
will, I am confident, exhibit the same 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 amongft ús,. untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonfon tells us, without learning, should by the force, of his own genius perform fo much, that in a manner he has left no praise for any who come after him.
In these prefatory obfervations my principal object was, to ascertain the true ftate and refpective value of the ancient copies, and to mark out the courfe which has been purfued in the edition now offered to the publick. It only remains, that I fhould return my very fincere acknowledgments to thofe 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 Worcesterfhire, 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 history of our poet's life; and to Mr. Richard Clarke, register of