« AnteriorContinuar »
gods by what meanes they could: and the most, though meanest, of things are made more precious, when they are dedicated to temples. In that name therefore, we most humbly consecrate to your H. H. these remaines of your servant 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 so carefull to shew their grati tude both to the living, and the dead, as is
Your Lordshippes most bounden,
tions of mine, imitating (right honourable) in this the customs of the old world, who wanting incense to offer up to their gods, made shift insteade thereof to honour them with milk." The same 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. Especially, when the fate of all bookes depends upon your capacities: and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well! it is now publique, and you will stand for your priviledges, wee know: to read, and censure. Doe so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a booke, the stationer saies. Then, how odde soever your braines be, or your wisdomes, make your licence the same, and spare not. Judge your sixe-pen'orth,"
7 Judge your sixe-pen'orth, &c.] So, in the Induction to Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair: it shall be lawful for any man to judge his six-pen'worth, his twelve-pen'worth, so to his eighteen pence, two shillings, 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 censure for all them too, so that he will undertake that they shall be silent. He shall put in for censurers here, as they do for lots at the lottery: marry, if he drop but six-pence at the door, and will censure a crowns-worth, it is thought there is no conscience or justice in that.'
Perhaps Old Ben was author of the Players' Preface, and, in the instance before us, has borrowed from himself. STEEvens.
your shillings worth, your five shillings worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you doe, buy. Censure will not drive a trade, or make the jacke goe. And though you be a magistrate of wit, and sit on the stage at Black-friars, or the Cockpit, to arraigne plays dailie, know, these playes have had their triall already, and stood 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 confesse, worthie to have been wished, that the author himselfe had lived to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings; but since it hath been ordained otherwise, 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 so to have published them, as where (before) you were abused with divers stolne and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious imposters, that exposed them, even those are now offered to your view cured, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers as he conceived them: who, as he was a happy imitator of nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that wee have scarce received from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our province, who onely gather his workes, and give them you, to praise him. It is 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
8 as where] i. e. whereas. MALONE. Probably they had few of his MSS. STEEVENS,
can no more lie hid, then it could be lost. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe: and if then you doe not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him. And so 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 such readers we wish him.
IT is not my design to enter into a criticism upon this author; though 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 Shakspeare 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 us. We shall hereby ex
tenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: a design, which, though 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 characteristick excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and universally elevated above all other dramatick writers. Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occasion of doing it.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of nature, it proceeded through 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 Shakspeare was inspiration indeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument, of nature; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much nature herself, that it is 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 shows that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image: each picture, like a mockrainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakspeare 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