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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. 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 wel
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 cur'd, 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 danger 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 for the laurel he may gain a scorn,
To the Memory of the deceased Author, MASTER