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In imitation of him, I have done the same by as many others as I thought most deserving 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 of procuring this edition. And I should be unjust to several deserving men of a reputable and useful profession, if I did not, on this occasion, acknowledge the fair dealing I have always found amongst them; and profess my sense of the unjust prejudice which lies against them; whereby they have been, hitherto, unable to procure that security for their property, which they see the rest of their fellowcitizens enjoy. A prejudice in part arising from the frequent piracies (as they are called) committed by members of their own body. But such kind of members no body is without. And it would be hard that this should be turned to the discredit of the honest part of the profession, who suffer more from such injuries than any other men. It hath, in part too, arisen from the clamours of profligate scribblers, ever ready, for a piece of money, to prostitute their bad sense for or against any cause profane or sacred; or in any scandal 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 worst judges or rewarders of merit,) apply themselves to people of condition; and support their importunities by false complaints against booksellers.
But I should now, perhaps, rather think of my own apology, than busy myself in the defence of others. I shall have some Tartuffe ready, on the
first appearance of this edition, to call out again, and tell me, that I suffer myself to be wholly diverted from my purpose by these matters less suitable to my clerical profession. "Well, but (says a friend) why not take so candid an intimation in good part? Withdraw yourself again, as you are bid, into the clerical pale; examine the records of sacred and profane antiquity; and, on them, erect a work to the confusion of infidelity." Why, I have done all this, and more: and hear now what the same men have said 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 secret is out; and you may have your pardon, I find, upon easier terms. It is only to write no more.
Good gentlemen! and shall I not oblige them? They would gladly obstruct my way to those things which every man, who endeavours well in his profession, must needs think he has some claim to, when he sees them given to those who never did endeavour; at the same time that they would deter me from taking those advantages which letters enable me to procure for myself. If then I am to write no more (though as much out of my profession as they may please to represent this work, I suspect their modesty would not insist on a scrutiny of our several applications of this profane profit and their purer gains,) if, I say, I am to write no more, let me at least give the publick, who have a better pretence to demand it of me, some reason for my presenting them with these amusements which, if I am not much mistaken, may be excused by the best and fairest examples; and, what is more, may be justified on the surer reason of things.
The great Saint CHRYSOSTOM, a name conse
crated to immortality by his virtue and eloquence, is known to have been so fond of Aristophanes, as to wake with him at his studies, and to sleep 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 respect of Shakspeare's great sense, Aristophanes's best wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's freedoms, Shakspeare writes with the purity of a vestal. But they will say, St. Chrysostom contracted a fondness for the comick poet for the sake of his Greek. To this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far be it from me to insinuate so unscholar-like a thing, as if we had the same use for good English, that a Greek had for his Attick elegance. Critick Kuster, in a taste and language peculiar to grammarians of a certain order, hath decreed, that the history and chronology of Greek words is the most SOLID entertainment of a man of letters.
I fly then to a higher example, much nearer home, and still more in point, the famous university of OXFORD. This illustrious body, which hath long so justly held, and with such equity dispensed the chief honours of the learned world, thought good letters so much interested in correct editions of the best English writers, that they, very lately, in their publick capacity, undertook one of this very author by subscription. And if the editor hath not discharged his task with suitable abilities for one so much honoured by them, this was not their fault, but his, who thrust himself into the employment. After such an example, it would be weakening any defence to seek further for authorities. All that can be now decently urged, is the reason of the thing; and this I shall
do, more for the sake of that truly venerable body than my own.
Of all the literary exercitations of speculative men, whether designed for the use or entertainment of the world, there are none of so much importance or what are more our immediate concern, than those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercise the reason, or amuse the imagination; but these 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 consider the amazing sagacity with which he investigates every hidden spring 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 passions, appetites, and pursuits. These afford a lesson which can never be too often repeated, or too constantly inculcated; and, to engage the reader's due attention to it, hath been one of the principal objects of this edition.
As this science (whatever profound philosophers may think) is, to the rest, in things; so, in words, (whatever supercilious pedants may talk) every one's mother tongue is to all other languages. This hath still been the sentiment 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 same good sense in modern times, even amidst the cruel inroads that art and
fashion have made upon nature and the simplicity of wisdom. Menage, the greatest name in France for all kinds of philologick learning, prided himself in writing critical notes on their best lyrick poet Malherbe: and our greater Selden, when he thought it might reflect credit on his country, did not disdain even to comment a very ordinary poet, one Michael Drayton. But the English tongue, at this juncture, deserves and demands our particular regard. It hath, by means of the many excellent works of different kinds composed in it, engaged the notice, and become the study, of almost every curious and learned foreigner, so as to be thought even a part of literary accomplishment. This must needs make it deserving of a critical attention and its being yet destitute of a test or standard to apply to, in cases of doubt or difficulty, shows how much it wants that attention. For we have neither GRAMMAR nor DICTIONARY, neither chart nor compass, to guide us through this wide sea of words. And indeed how should we? since both are to be composed and finished on the authority of our best established writers. But their authority can be of little use, till the text hath been correctly settled, and the phraseology critically
our greater Selden, when he thought he might reflect credit on his country, did not disdain to comment a very ordinary poet, one Michael Drayton.] This compliment to himself for condescending to write notes on Shakspeare, Warburton copied from Pope, who sacrificed Drayton to gratify the vanity of this flattering editor: "I have a particular reason (says Pope in a Letter to Warburton) to make you interest yourself in me and my writings. It will cause both them and me to make a better figure to posterity. A very mediocre poet, one Drayton, is yet taken notice of because Selden writ a few notes on one of his poems." Pope's Works, Vol. IX. p. 350, 8vo. 1751. HOLT WHITE.