Abbildungen der Seite

and Comedy, different as they are in their natures from each other; and who may be faid without partiality to have equalled, if not excelled, in both kinds, the beft writers of any age or country who have thought it glory enough to diftinguish themselves in either.

Since therefore other nations have taken care to dignify the works of their most celebrated poets with the fairest impreffions beautified with the ornaments of sculpture, well may our Shakespear be thought to deferve no less confideration: and as a fresh acknowledgment hath lately been paid to his merit, and a high regard to his name and memory, by erecting his ftatue at a publick expence; fo it is defired that this new edition of his works, which hath coft fome attention and care, may be looked upon as another small monument defigned and dedicated to his honour.

[merged small][ocr errors]
[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][ocr errors]



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 juft writer could take, to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespear muft be confeffed to be the faireft and fulleft fubject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as most 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 difadvantages under which they have been transmitted to us. We shall hereby extenuate 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 justice in one way, will at least be sufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice

in the other.

I CANNOT, however, but mention fome of his principal and characteristick excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly 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.

Ir ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakespear. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Egyptian ftrainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or fome caft of the models, of thofe before him. The



[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

poetry of Shakespear was infpiration indeed : he is not fo much an imitator, as an inftrument, of nature; and 'tis not so just to say, that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.

HIS. characters are fo much nature herself, that 'tis a fort of jnjury to call them by fo diftant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a conftant resemblance, which fhows that they receiv'd them from one another, and were but multipliers of the fame image: each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every fingle character in Shakespear is as much an individual, as those in life itself; it is as impoffible to find any two alike; and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably diftinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful prefervation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that, had all the fpeeches been printed without the very names of the perfons, I believe, one might have apply'd them with certainty to every speaker.

THE power over our paffions was never poffefs'd in a more eminent degree, or difplay'd in fo different inftances. Yet all along, there is feen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceiv'd to lead toward it: but the heart fwells, and the tears burft out, juft at the proper places: we are furpriz'd, the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we should be furpriz'd if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.

How aftonishing is it again, that the paffions directly oppofite to these, laughter and fpleen, are no lefs at his command that he is not more a master of the great, than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our nobleft tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idleft fenfations!

NOR does he only excel in the paffions: in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His fentiments


« ZurückWeiter »