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By way of preface to the edition of 1623 was the
TO THE GREAT VARIETY OF READERS, From the most able to him that can but spell: There you are number'd. We had rather you were weigh'd : especially, when the fate of all books depends upon your capacities; and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well! it is now public, and will stand for your privileges, we know; to read, and censure. Do so, but buy it first : that doth best commend a book, the Stationer says. Then, how odd soever your brains be, or your wisdoms, make your license the same, and spare not. Judge your sixpen'orth, your shilling's worth, your five shillings' worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you do, buy. Censure will not drive a Trade, nor make the Jack go. And though you be a Magistrate of wit, and sit on the stage at Blackfriars, or the Cock-pit, to arraign plays daily, know, these plays have had their trial already, and stood out all appeals ; and do now come forth quitted rather by a decree of court, than any purchas'd letters of commendation.
It had been a thing, we confess, worthy to have been wished, that the Author himself had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his own writings: But since it hath been ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envy his Friends the office of their care and pain, to have collected and publish'd them; and so to have publish'd them, as where, before, you were abus'd with divers stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealths of in
jurious impostors, that expos’d them; even those are
now offer'd to your view curd, and perfect of their
limbs; and all the rest absolute in their numbers, as
he conceived them: Who, as he was a happy imitator of
Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His mind and
hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered
with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him
a blot in his papers. But it is not our province, who only
gather his works, and give them you, to praise him: it is
yours that read him. And there we hope, to your divers
capacities you will find enough both to draw, and hold
you: for his wit can no more lie hid, than it could be lost.
Read him, therefore; and again, and again: and if then
you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest dan-
ger not to understand him. And so we leave you to other
of his Friends, whom if you need, can be your guides: if
you need them not, you can lead yourselves and others.
And such Readers we wish him.
Prefixed to the folio of 1623. To the Memory of my beloved, the Author, Mr. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, and what he hath left us.
To draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name, Am I thus ample to thy book and fame; While I confess thy writings to be such As neither man, nor muse, can praise too much : 'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these ways Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise : For silliest ignorance on these may light, Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right; Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ; Or crafty malice might pretend this praise, And think to ruin, where it seem'd to raise. These are, as some infamous bawd, or whore, Should praise a matron: What could hurt her more ? But thou art proof against them; and, indeed, Above the ill fortune of them, or the need. I, therefore, will begin :— Soul of the age, The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage, My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by Chaucer, or Spenser; or bid Beaumont lie A little further, to make thee a room : Thou art a monument without a tomb; And art alive still, while thy book doth live, And we have wits to read, or praise to give. That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses ; I mean, with great but disproportion'd muses : For, if I thought my judgment were of years, I should commit thee surely with thy peers;
And tell how far thou didst our Lily outshine,
Or sporting Kid, or Marlowe's mighty line:
And though thou hadst small Latin, and less Greek,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
For names; but call forth thundering Eschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles, to us,
Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life again, to hear thy buskin tread,
And shake a stage: or, when thy socks were on,
Leave thee alone for the comparison
Of all that insolent Greece, or haughty Rome,
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain! thou hast one to show,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the muses still were in their prime,
When like Apollo he came forth to warm
Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm.
Nature herself was proud of his designs,
And joy'd to wear the dressing of his lines ;
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As since she will vouchsafe no other wit.
The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please ;
But antiquated and deserted lie,
As they were not of Nature's family.
Yet must I not give Nature all: thy art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part:
For though the poet's matter nature be,
His art doth give the fashion; and that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are,) and strike the second heat
Upon the muses' anvil ; turn the same,
(And himself with it,) that he thinks to frame ;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn,
For a good poet's made, as well as born:
And such wert thou. Look, how the father's face
Lives in his issue; even so the race
Of Shakespeare's mind, and manners, brightly shines
In his well-turned and true-filed lines ;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance.
Sweet Swan of Avon, what a sight it were,
To see thee in our waters yet appear;
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay ; I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanc'd, and made a constellation there :
Shine forth, thou star of poets! and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheer, the drooping stage;
Which since thy flight from hence hath mourn'd
And despairs day, but for thy volume's light !
To the Memory of the deceased Author, MASTER
Shakespeare, at length thy pious fellows give
The world thy works ; thy works, by which outlive
Thy tomb thy name must: when that stone is rent,
And time dissolves thy Stratford monument,
Here we alive shall view thee still: this book,
When brass and marble fade, shall make thee look
Fresh to all ages; when posterity
Shall loathe what's new, think all is prodigy
That is not Shakespeare's, every line, each verse,
Here shall revive, redeem thee from thy hearse.
Nor fire, nor cankering age, as Naso said
Of his, thy wit-fraught book shall once invade: