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negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.
Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are diverted from the principal subject; the reader is weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book which he has too diligently studied.
Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been surveyed; there is a kind of intellectual remoteness necessary for the comprehension of any great work in its full design and in its true proportions; a close approach shews the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is discerned no longer.
It is not very grateful to consider how little the succession of editors has added to this author's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor his allusions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce, “that Shakespeare was the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation : he was naturally learned : he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I
say he is every where alike ; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and insipid ; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him : no man can say, he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi. It is to be lamented that such a writer should want a commentary; that his language should become obsolete, or his sentiments obscure. But it is vain to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things; that which must happen to all, has happened to Shakespeare, by accident and time; and more than has been suffered by any other writer since the use of types, has been suffered by him through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that superiority of mind, which despised its own performances, when it compared them with its powers, and judged those works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring and explaining
Among these candidates of inferior fame, I am now to stand the judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and I should feel little solicitude about the sentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.
An Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare:
Addressed to Joseph Cradock, Esq.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION, 1767.
The Author of the following Essay was solicitous only for the honour of Shakespeare: he hath however, in his own capacity, little reason to complain of occasional Criticks, or Criticks by profession. The very few, who have been pleased to controvert any part of his Doctrine, have favoured him with better manners than arguments; and claim his thanks for a further opportunity of demonstrating the futility of Theoretick reasoning against Matter of Fact. It is indeed strange
It is indeed strange that any real Friends of our immortal Poet should be still willing to force him into a situation which is not tenable: treat him as a learned Man, and what shall excuse the most gross violations of History, Chronology, and Geography?
Ου πείσεις ούδ' ήν πείσης is the Motto of every Polemick: like his Brethren at the Amphitheatre, he holds it a merit to die hard; and will not say, Enough, though the Battle be decided. “Were it shewn,” says some one, “ that the old Bard borrowed all his allusions from English books then published, our Essayist might have possibly estab
lished his System.”—In good time!- -This had scarcely been attempted by Peter Burman himself, with the Library of Shakespeare before him. • Truly,” as Mr. Dogberry says, “ for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a King, I
“ could find in my heart to bestow it all on this Subject": but where should I meet with a Reader ? When the main Pillars are taken away, the whole Building falls in course: Nothing hath been, or can be, pointed out, which is not easily removed; or rather, which was not virtually removed before: a very little Analogy will do the business. I shall therefore have no occasion to trouble myself any further; and may venture to call my Pamphlet, in the words of a pleasant Declaimer against Sermons on the thirtieth of January, “an Answer to every thing that shall hereafter be written on the Subject."
But “this method of reasoning will prove any one ignorant of the Languages, who hath written when Translations were extant. Shade of Burgersdicius does it follow, because Shakespeare's early life was incompatible with a course of Education—whose Contemporaries, Friends and Foes, nay, and himself likewise, agree in his want of what is usually called Literaturewhose mistakes from equivocal Translations, and even typographical Errors, cannot possibly be accounted for otherwise, that Locke, to whom not one of these circumstances is applicable, understood no Greek ?-I suspect, Rollin's Opinion of our Philosopher was not founded on
Shakespeare wanted not the Stilts of Languages to raise him above all other men. The quotation from Lilly in the Taming of the Shrew, if indeed it be his, strongly proves the extent of his reading : had he known Terence, he would not have quoted erroneously from his Grammar. Every one hath met with men in common life, who, according to the language of the Water-poet, “ got only from Possum. to Posset," and yet will throw out a line occasionally from their Accidence or their Cato de Moribus with tolerable propriety.- If, however, the old Editions be trusted in this passage, our Author's memory somewhat failed him in point of Concord.
The rage of Parallelisms is almost over, and in truth nothing can be more absurd. “This was stolen from one Classick, -That from another”;--and had I not stept in to his rescue, poor Shakespeare had been stript as naked of ornament, as when he first held Horses at the door of the Playhouse.
The late ingenious and modest Mr. Dodsley declared himself
Untutor'd in the lore of Greece or Rome : Yet let us take a passage at a venture from any of his performances, and a thousand to one, it is stolen. Suppose it be his celebrated Compliment to the Ladies, in one of his earliest pieces, The Toy-shop: “A good Wife makes the cares of the World sit easy, and adds a sweetness to its pleasures ; she is a Man's best Companion in Prosperity, and his only Friend in Adversity; the carefullest preserver of his Health, and the kindest Attendant in his Sickness; a faithful Adviser in Distress, a Comforter in Affliction, and a prudent Manager in all his domestic Affairs.”—Plainly, from a fragment of Euripides preserved by Stobæus.
Γυνή γαρ εν κακoίσι και νόσοις πόσει
Ψυχήν μεθιστάσ' ! -Par. 4to. 1623. Malvolio in the Twelfth-Night of Shakespeare hath some expressions very similar to Alnaschar in the Arabian Tales : which perhaps may be sufficient for some Criticks to prove his acquaintance with Arabic !
It seems however, at last, that “ Taste should determine the matter.” This, as Bardolph expresses it, is a word of exceeding good command: but I am willing that the Standard itself be somewhat better ascertained before it be opposed to demonstrative Evidence.—Upon the whole, I may consider myself as the Pioneer of the Commentators :