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TO THE GREAT VARIETY OF READERS,
'ROM the most able, to him that can but spell:
there are you numbered, we had rather you were weighed. 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 publique, and you will ftand for your priviledges, wee know: to read, and cenfure. Doe fo, but buy it first. That doth best commend a booke, the ftationer faies. Then, how odde foever your braines be, or your wisdomes, make your licence the fame, and spare not. Judge your fixe-pen'orth,"
Judge your fixe-pen'orth, &c.] So, in the Induction to Ben Jonfon's Bartholomew Fair: "-it fhall be lawful for any man to judge his fix-pen'worth, his twelve-pen'worth, fo to his eighteen pence, two fhillings, half a crown, to the value of his place; provided always his place get not above his wit. And if he pay for half a dozen, he may cenfure for all them too, fo that he will undertake that they fhall be filent. He fhall put in for cenfurers here, as they do for lots at the lottery: marry, if he drop but fix-pence at the door, and will cenfure a crownsworth, it is thought there is no confcience or justice in that.”
Perhaps Old Ben was author of the Players' Preface, and, in the inftance before us, has borrowed from himself. STEEVENS.
your fhillings worth, your five fhillings worth at a time, or higher, fo you 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 ftage at Black-friars, or the Cockpit, to arraigne plays dailie, know, these playes have had their triall already, and ftood out all appeales; and do now come forth quitted rather by a decree of court, than any purchased letters of commendation.
It had bene a thing, we confeffe, worthie to have been wished, that the author himfelfe had lived to have fet forth, and overfeen his owne writings; but fince it hath been ordained otherwife, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his friends the office of their care and paine, to have collected and published them; and fo to have published them, as where (before) you were abused with divers ftolne and furreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impofters, that expofed them, even those are now offered 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 mind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that eafineffe, that wee have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.9 But it is not our province, who onely gather his workes, and give them you, to praise 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,
as where-] i. e. whereas. Malone.
? Probably they had few of his MSS. STEEVENS.
then it could be loft. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe: and if then you doe not like him, furely you are in fome manifest danger, not to understand him. And fo we leave you to other of his friends, who, if you need, can bee your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade yourselves, and others. And fuch readers we with him.
T is not my defign to enter into a criticism upon this author; though 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 Shakspeare muft be confeffed to be the fairest and fulleft fubject for criticifm, and to afford the most 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 disadvantages under which they have been tranfmitted to us. We shall hereby ex
tenuate 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 fome of his principal and characteristick excellencies, for which (notwithstanding 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 original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of nature, it proceeded through Ægyptian ftrainers 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 Shakspeare was inspiration indeed he is not fo much an imitator, as an inftrument, of nature; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that the speaks through him.
His characters are so much nature herself, that it is a fort of injury to call them by fo diftant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a conftant resemblance, which shows that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the fame image: each picture, like a mockrainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakspeare is as much an individual, as thofe in life itfelf: it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any refpect appear moft to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably
diftinct. To this life and variety of character, we muft add the wonderful prefervation of it; which is fuch throughout his plays, that had all the fpeeches 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 pafsions was never poffeffed 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 or guefs to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it but the heart fwells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: we are furprifed the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the paffion fo juft, that we should be furprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very
How astonishing is it again, that the paffions directly oppofite to thefe, laughter and fpleen, 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 ftrongeft emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!
Nor does he only excel in the paffions in the coolness of reflection and reafoning he is full as admirable. His fentiments 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
Addison, in the 273d Spectator, has delivered a fimilar opinion refpecting Homer: "There is scarce a speech or action in the Iliad, which the reader may not ascribe to the person who fpeaks or acts, without feeing his name at the head of it."