« AnteriorContinuar »
and Fletcher were meant. To attempt to fhow to the readers of the prefent day the abfurdity of
"What audience we have: what company
"To Shakspeare comes? whofe mirth did once beguile
Prologue to The Sifters.
Shakspeare to thee was dull, whofe beft jeft lies "I'th lady's queftions, and the fool's replies; "Old fashion'd wit, which walk'd from town to town, "In trunk-hofe, which our fathers call'd the clown; "Whose wit our nicer times would obfceneness call, "And which made bawdry pass for comical. "Nature was all his art; thy vein was free "As his, but without his fcurrility."
Verses on Fletcher, by William Cartwright, 1647.
After the Reftoration, on the revival of the theatres, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were esteemed fo much fuperior to thofe of our author, that we are told by Dryden, "two of their pieces were acted through the year, for one of Shakspeare's." If his teftimony needed any corroboration, the following verfes would afford it:
"In our old plays, the humour, love, and paffion,
Prologue to Shirley's Love Tricks, 1667 "At every fhop, while Shakspeare's lofty ftile Neglected lies, to mice and worms a spoil, "Gilt on the back, juft fmoking from the press, "The apprentice fhews you D'Urfey's Hudibras, "Crown's Mask, bound up with Settle's choiceft labours, "And promises fome new effay of Babor's."
SATIRE, published in 1680.
"Is the peculiar frenzy of this age.
"Shakspeare muft down, and you must praise no more,
"Soft Defdemona, nor the jealous Moor:
againft old as well as new to rage,
fuch a preference, would be an infult to their understandings. When we endeavour to trace any thing like a ground for this prepofterous taste, we are told of Fletcher's eafe, and Jonfon's learning. Of how little ufe his learning was to him, an ingenious writer of our own time has shown with that vigour and animation for which he was diftinguished. Jonfon, in the ferious drama, is as much an imitator, as Shakspeare is an original. He was very learned, as Sampfon was very strong, to his own hurt. Blind to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himself under it. We fee nothing of Jonfon, nor indeed of his admired (but alfo murdered) ancients; for what fhone in the hiftorian is a cloud on the poet, and Catiline might have been a good play, if Salluft had never written.
"Who knows whether Shakspeare might not have thought lefs, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonfon's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the moft mountainous oppreffion would have breathed
"Shakspeare, whofe fruitful genius, happy wit,
"The pride of nature, and the shame of schools,
Prologue by Sir Charles Sedley, to the Wary Widow,
To the honour of Margaret Duchefs of Newcastle be it remembered, that however fantaftick in other refpects, fhe had tafte enough to be fully fenfible of our poet's merit, and was one of the first who after the Reftoration published a very high eulogy on him. See her Sociable Letters, folio, 1664, p. 244.
out fome of his inextinguishable fire; yet poffibly he might not have rifen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatick province required; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was mafter of two books unknown to many of the profoundly read, though books which the laft conflagration alone can deftroy; the book of nature, and that of man."5
To this and the other encomiums on our great poet which will be found in the following pages, I fhall not attempt to make any addition. He has juftly obferved, that
"To guard a title that was rich before,
Let me, however, be permitted to remark, that befide all his other tranfcendent merits, he was the great refiner and polifher of our language. His compound epithets, his bold metaphors, the energy of his expreffions, the harmony of his numbers, all these render the language of Shakfpeare one of his principal beauties. Unfortunately none of his letters, or other profe compofitions, not in a dramatick form, have reached pofterity; but if any of them ever fhall be difcovered, they will, I am confident, exhibit the fame perfpicuity,
$ Conjectures on Original Compofition, by Dr. Edward Young.
the fame cadence, the fame elegance and vigour, which we find in his plays. "Words and phrates," fays Dryden," muft of neceffity receive a change in fucceeding ages; but it is almoft a miracle, that much of his language remains fo pure; and that he who began dramatick poetry amongst us, untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonfon tells us, without learning, fhould by the force of his own genius perform fo much, that in a manner he has left no praise for any who come after him."
In these prefatory obfervations my principal object was, to ascertain the true state and respective value of the ancient copies, and to mark out the course which has been pursued in the edition now offered to the publick. It only remains, that I fhould return my very fincere acknowledgements to thofe gentlemen, to whofe good offices I have been indebted in the progrefs of my work. My thanks are particularly due to Francis Ingram, of Ribbisford in Worcestershire, Efq. for the very valuable Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, and several other curious papers, which formerly belonged to that gentleman; to Penn Afheton Curzon, Efq. for the use of the very rare copy of King Richard III. printed in 1597; to the Mafter, and the Rev. Mr. Smith, librarian, of Dulwich College, for the Manuscripts relative to one of our ancient theatres, which they obligingly tranfmitted to me; to John Kipling, Efq. keeper of the rolls in Chancery, who in the most liberal manner directed every fearch to be made in the Chapel of the Rolls that I fhould require, with a view to illuftrate the hiftory of our poet's life; and to Mr. Richard Clarke, regiftror of the diocese of Worcester, who with equal liberality, at my requeft, made many fearches in his office for
the wills of various perfons. I am also in a particular manner indebted to the kindness and attention of the Rev. Mr. Davenport, vicar of Stratfordupon-Avon, who moft obligingly made every inquiry in that town and the neighbourhood, which I fuggefted as likely to throw any light on the Life of Shakspeare.
I deliver my book to the world not without anxiety; confcious, however, that I have ftrenuously endeavoured to render it not unworthy the attention of the publick. If the refearches which have been made for the illuftration of our poet's works, and for the differtations which accompany the prefent edition, fhall afford as much entertainment to others, as I have derived from them, I fhall confider the time expended on it as well employed. Of the dangerous ground on which I tread, I am fully fenfible. "Multa funt in his ftudiis (to
ufe the words of a venerable fellow-labourer the mines of Antiquity) cineri fuppofita dolofo. Errata poffint effe multa à memoria. Quis enim in memoriæ thefauro omnia fimul fic complectatur, ut pro arbitratu fuo poffit expromere? Errata poffint effe plura ab imperitia. Quis enim tam peritus, ut in cæco hoc antiquitatis mari, cum tempore colluctatus, fcopulis non allidatur? Hæc tamen à te, humaniffime lector, tua humanitas, mea induftria, patriæ charitas, et SHAKSPEARI dignitas, mihi exorent, ut quid mei fit judicii, fine aliorum præjudicio libere proferam; ut eâdem via qua alii in his ftudiis folent, infiftam; et ut erratis, fi ego agnofcam, tu ignofcas." Those who are the warmeft admirers of our great poet, and most