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out some of his inextinguishable fire; yet possibly he might not have risen 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 master of two books unknown to many of the profoundly read, though books which the last conflagration alone can destroy; 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 shall not attempt to make any addition. He has justly observed, that
"To guard a title that was rich before,
"To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Let me, however, be permitted to remark, that beside all his other transcendent merits, he was the great refiner and polisher of our language. His compound epithets, his bold metaphors, the energy of his expressions, the harmony of his numbers, all these render the language of Shakspeare one of his principal beauties. Unfortunately none of his letters, or other prose compositions, not in a dramatick form, have reached posterity; but if any of them ever shall be discovered, they will, I am confident, exhibit the same perspicuity,
* Conjectures on Original Composition, by Dr Edward Young.
the same cadence, the same elegance and vigour, which we find in his plays. "Words and phrases," says Dryden, "must of necessity receive a change in succeeding ages; but it is almost a miracle, that much of his language remains so pure; and that he who began dramatick poetry amongst us, untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonson tells us, without learning, should by the force of his own genius perform so much, that in a manner he has left no praise for any who come after him.”
In these prefatory observations 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 should return my very sincere acknowledgements to those gentlemen, to whose good offices I have been indebted in the progress of my work. My thanks are particularly due to Francis Ingram, of Ribbisford in Worcestershire, Esq. for the very valuable Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, and several other curious papers, which formerly belonged to that gentleman; to Penn Asheton Curzon, Esq. for the use of the very rare copy of King Richard III. printed in 1597; to the Master, and the Rev. Mr. Smith, librarian, of Dulwich College, for the Manuscripts relative to one of our ancient theatres, which they obligingly transmitted to me; to John Kipling, Esq. keeper of the rolls in Chancery, who in the most liberal manner directed every search to be made in the Chapel of the Rolls that I should require, with a view to illustrate the history of our poet's life; and to Mr. Richard Clark, registrar of the diocese of Worcester, who with equal liberality, at my request, made many searches in his office for
the wills of various persons. I am also in a particular manner indebted to the kindness and attention of the Rev. Mr. Davenport, vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon, who most obligingly made every inquiry in that town and the neighbourhood, which I suggested as likely to throw any light on the Life of Shakspeare.
I deliver my book to the world not without anxiety; conscious, however, that I have strenuously endeavoured to render it not unworthy the attention of the publick. If the researches which have been made for the illustration of our poet's works, and for the dissertations which accompany the present edition, shall afford as much entertainment to others, as I have derived from them, I shall consider the time expended on it as well employed, Of the dangerous ground on which I tread, I am fully sensible. "Multa sunt in his studiis (to
use the words of a venerable fellow-labourer in the mines of Antiquity) cineri supposita, doloso. Errata possint esse multa à memoria. Quis enim in memoriæ thesauro omnia simul sic complectatur, ut pro arbitratu suo possit expromere? Errata possint esse plura ab imperitia. Quis enim tam peritus, ut in cæco hoc antiquitatis mari, cum tempore colluctatus, scopulis non allidatur? Hæc tamen à te, humanissime lector, tua humanitas, mea industria, patriæ charitas, et SHAKSPEARI dignitas, mihi exorent, ut quid mei sit judicii, sine aliorum præjudicio libere proferam; ut eâdem via qua alii in his studiis solent, insistam; et ut erratis, si ego agnoscam, tu ignoscas." Those who are the warmest admirers of our great poet, and most
conversant with his writings, best know the difficulty of such a work, and will be most ready to pardon its defects; remembering, that in all arduous undertakings, it is easier to conceive than to accomplish; that "the will is infinite, and the execution confined; that the desire is boundless, and the act a slave to limit."
Queen Anne Street, East,
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