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are apt to call Fustian or Bombast. There are Lines in some Places which are very obscure, and whole Scenes which ought to be alter'd.

I have, Sir, employ'd some Time and Pains, and that little Judgment which I have acquir’d in these Matters by a long and a faithful reading both of Ancients and Moderns, in adding, retrenching, and altering several Things in the Coriolanus of Shakespear, but with what Success I must leave to be determin'd by you. I know very well that you will be surpriz'd to find, that after all that I have said in the former Part of this Letter against Shakespear's introducing the Rabble into Coriolanus, I have not only retain'd in the second Act of the following Tragedy the Rabble which is in the Original, but deviated more from the Roman Customs than Shakespear had done before me. I desire you to look upon it as a voluntary Fault and a Trespass against Conviction : 'Tis one of those Things which are ad populum Phalera, and by no means inserted to please such Men as you.

Thus, Sir, have I laid before you a short but impartial Account of the Beauties and Defects of Shakespear, with an Intention to make these Letters publick if they are approv'd by you ; to teach some People to distinguish between his Beauties and his Defects, that while they imitate the one, they may with Caution avoid the other (there being nothing of more dangerous Contagion to Writers, and especially to young ones, than the Faults of great Masters], and while with Milton they applaud the great Qualities which Shakespear had by Nature, they may follow his wise Example, and form themselves as he assures us that he himself did, upon the Rules and Writings of the Ancients.

Sir, if so candid and able a Judge as your self shall happen to approve of this Essay in the main, and to excuse and correct my Errors, that Indulgence and that Correction will not only encourage me to make these Letters publick, but will enable me to bear the Reproach of those who would fix a Brand even upon the justest Criticism, as the Effect of Envy and Illnature ; as if there could possibly be any Ill-nature in the doing Justice, or in the endeavouring to advance a very noble and a very useful Art, and consequently to prove beneficent to Mankind. As for those who may accuse me of the want of a due Veneration for the Merit of an Author of so establish'd a Reputation as Shakespear, I shall beg leave to tell them, that they chuse the wrongest time that they could possibly take for such an Accusation as that. For I appeal to you, Sir, who shews most Veneration for the Memory of Shakespear, he who loves and admires his Charms and makes them one of his chief Delights, who sees him and reads him over and over and still remains unsatiated, and who mentions his Faults for no other Reason but to make his Excellency the more conspicuous, or he who, pretending to be his blind Admirer, shews in Effect the utmost Contempt for him, preferring empty effeminate Sound to his solid Beauties and manly Graces, and deserting him every Night for an execrable Italian Ballad, so vile that a Boy who should write such lamentable Dogrel would be turn'd out of Westminster-School for a desperate Blockhead, too stupid to be corrected and amended by the harshest Discipline of the Place?

I am,

SIR,

Yours, &c.

ALEXANDER POPE

Preface to Edition of Shakespeare

1725

It is not my design to enter into a Criticism upon this Author ; tho' to do it effectually and not superficially would be the best occasion that any just Writer could take, to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English Poets Shakespear must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for Criticism, and to afford the most numerous as well as most conspicuous instances, both of Beauties and Faults of all sorts. 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 transmitted to

We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not : A design, which, tho' it can be no guide to future Criticks to do him justice in one way, will at least be sufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.

I cannot however but mention some of his principal and characteristic Excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and universally elevated above all other Dramatic Writers. Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occasion of doing it.

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If ever any Author deserved the name of an Original, it was Shakespear. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of Nature; it proceeded thro' Ægyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The Poetry of Shakespear was Inspiration indeed : he is not so much an Imitator, as an Instrument, of Nature ; and 'tis not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks thro' him.

His Characters are so much Nature her self, that 'tis a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as Copies of her. Those of other Poets have a constant resemblance, which shews that they receiv'd them from one another, and were but multiplyers of the same image : each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflexion of a reflexion. But every single character in Shakespear is as much an Individual as those in Life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike ; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be Twins, will upon comparison be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of Character, we must add the wonderful Preservation of it ; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the Speeches been printed without the very names of the Persons, I believe one might have apply'd them with certainty to every speaker.

The Power over our Passions was never possess'd in a more eminent degree, or display'd in so different instances. Yet all along, there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceiv'd to lead toward it: But the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places : We are surpriz'd, the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we shou'd be surpriz'd if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.

How astonishing is it again, that the passions directly opposite to these, Laughter and Spleen, are no less at his command! that he is not more a master of the Great, than

of the Ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles ; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations !

Nor does he only excel in the Passions : In the coolness of Reflection and Reasoning he is full as admirable. His Sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between Penetration and Felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and publick scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts : So that he seems to have known the world by Intuition, to have look'd thro' humane nature at one glance, and to be the only Author that gives ground for a very new opinion, That the Philosopher, and even the Man of the world, may be Born, as well as the Poet.

It must be own'd that with all these great excellencies he has almost as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in some measure account for these defects, from several causes and accidents ; without which it is hard to imagine that so large and so enlighten'd a mind could ever have been susceptible of them. That all these Contingencies should unite to his disadvantage seems to me almost as singularly unlucky, as that so many various (nay contrary) Talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.

It must be allowed that Stage-Poetry of all other is more particularly levell’d to please the Populace, and its success more immediately depending upon the Common Suffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakespear, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a subsistance, directed his endeavours solely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The Audience was generally composed of the meaner sort of people ; and therefore the Images of Life were to be

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