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gods by what meanes they could: and the most, though meaneft, of things are made more precious, when they are dedicated to temples. In that name therefore, we moft humbly confecrate to your H. H. these remaines of your fervant SHAKSPEARE; that what delight is in them may be ever your L. L. the reputation his, and the faults ours, if any be committed, by a paire fo carefull to fhew their gratitude both to the living, and the dead, as is
Your Lordfhippes moft bounden,
tions of mine, imitating (right honourable) in this the customs of the old world, who wanting incenfe to offer up to their gods, made fhift infteade thereof to honour them with milk." The fame thought (if I recollect right) is again employed by the players in their dedication of Fletcher's plays, folio 1647.
TO THE GREAT VARIETY OF READERS,
FROM 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 firft. That doth best commend a booke, the ftationer faies. Then, how odde foever your braines be, or your wifdomes, make your licence the fame, and fpare not. Judge your fixe-pen'orth,7
7 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 shall 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 set 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 ftealthes of injurious imposters, that exposed them, even thofe 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 most 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. 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 manifeft 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.
IT is not my defign to enter into a criticism upon this author; though to do it effectually, and not fuperficially, would be the beft occafion that any juft writer could take, to form the judgment and tafte of our nation. For of all English poets Shakspeare must be confeffed to be the fairest and fulleft fubject for criticism, 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 fhall 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
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 caft of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was infpiration indeed: he is not fo much an imitator, as an inftrument, of nature; and it is not fo just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are fo 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 fingle 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 respect appear moft to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably