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derive the same advantages to our own tongue; a tongue, which, though it wants none of the fundamental qualities of an universal language, yet, as a noble writer says, lisps and stammers as in its cradle; and has produced little more towards its polishing than complaints of its barbarity.
Having now run through all those points, which I intended should make any part of this dissertation, and having in my former edition made publick acknowledgments of the assistances lent me, I shall conclude with a brief account of the methods taken in this.
It was thought proper, in order to reduce the bulk and price of the impression, that the notes, wherever they would admit of it, might be abridged: for which reason I have curtailed a great quantity of such, in which explanations were too prolix, or authorities in support of an emendation too numerous: and many I have entirely expunged, which were judged rather verbose and declamatory (and so notes merely of ostentation) than necessary or instructive.
The few literal errors which had escaped notice for want of revisals, in the former edition, are here reformed; and the pointing of innumerable passages is regulated, with all the accuracy I am capable of.
I shall decline making any farther declaration of the pains I have taken upon my author, because it was my duty, as his editor, to publish him with my best care and judgment; and because I am sensible, all such declarations are construed to be laying a sort of debt on the publick. As the former edition has been received with much indulgence, I ought to make my acknowledgments to the town for their favourable opinion of it; and I shall always be proud to think that encouragement the best payment I can hope to receive from my poor studies.
TO THE SECOND EDITION,
THE author of the following ESSAY was solicitous only for the honour of Shakspeare: 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, that any real friends of our immortal POET should be still willing to force him into a situa tion, which is not tenable: treat him as a learned man, and what
shall excuse the most gross violations of history, chronology, and geography?
Οὐ πείσεις, δ ̓ ἦν 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 established his system."-In good time!This had scarcely been attempted by Peter Burman himself, with the library of Shakspeare 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 Shakspeare'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 this argument.
Shakspeare 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 into his rescue, poor Shakspeare had been stript as naked of ornament, as when he first held horses at the door of the play-house.
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 perform
ances, and a thousand to one, it is stolen. Suppose it to 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 domestick affairs." Plainly, from a fragment of Euripides preserved by Stobæus:
“ Γυνὴ γὰρ ἐν κακοῖσι καὶ νόσοις πόσει
σε ψυχὴν μεθισάσ !”- -Par. 4to. 1623.
Malvolio in the Twelfth Night of Shakspeare 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 demonstrate evidence. Upon the whole, I may consider myself as the pioneer of the commentators: I have removed a deal of learned rubbish, and pointed out to them Shakspeare's track in the ever-pleasing paths of nature. This was necessarily a previous inquiry; and I hope I may assume with some confidence, what one of the first criticks of the age was pleased to declare on reading the former edition, that "The question is now for ever decided.”
PREFIXED TO THE THIRD EDITION, 1780.
IT may be necessary to apologize for the republication of this pamphlet. The fact is, it has been for a good while extremely scarce, and some mercenary publishers were induced by the extravagant price, which it has occasionally borne, to project a new edition without the consent of the author.
A few corrections might probably be made, and many additional proofs of the argument have necessarily occurred in more than twenty years: some of which may be found in the late admirable editions of our POET, by Mr. Steevens and Mr. Reed.
But, perhaps enough is already said on so light a subject:A subject, however, which had for a long time pretty warmly divided the criticks upon Shakspearę.
LEARNING OF SHAKSPEARE,
JOSEPH CRADOCK, ESQ.
"SHAKSPEARE," says a brother of the craft,* "is a vast garden of criticism:" and certainly no one can be favoured with more weeders gratis.
But how often, my dear sir, are weeds and flowers torn up indiscriminately?-the ravaged spot is replanted in a moment, and a profusion of critical thorns thrown over it for security. "A prudent man, therefore, would not venture his fingers amongst them."
Be however in little pain for your friend, who regards himself sufficiently to be cautious:-yet he asserts with confidence, that no improvement can be expected, whilst the natural soil is mistaken for a hot-bed, and the natives of the banks of Avon are scientifically choked with the culture of exoticks.
Thus much for metaphor; it is contrary to the statute to fly out so early: but who can tell, whether it may not be demonstrated by some critick or other, that a deviation from rule is peculiarly happy in an Essay on Shakspeare!
You have long known my opinion concerning the literary acquisitions of our immortal dramatist; and remember how I congratulated myself on my coincidence with the last and best of his editors. I told you, however, that his small Latin and less Greekt would still be litigated, and you see very assuredly that I was not mistaken. The trumpet hath been sounded against "the darling project of representing Shakspeare as one of the illiterate vulgar;" and indeed to so good purpose, that I would by all means recommend the performer to the army of the braying faction, recorded by Cervantes. The testimony of his contemporaries is again disputed; constant tradition is opposed by
* Mr. Seward, in his Preface to Beaumont and Fletcher, 10 Vols. 8vo. 1750.
This passage of Ben Jonson, so often quoted, is given us in the admirable preface to the late edition, with a various reading, "small Latin and no Greek," which hath been held up to the publick for a modern sophistication: yet whether an error or not, it was adopted above a century ago by W. Towers, in a panegyrick on Cartwright. His eulogy, with more than fifty others, on this now forgotten poet, was prefixed to the edit. 1651.
flimsy arguments; and nothing is heard, but confusion and nonsense. One could scarcely imagine this a topick very likely to inflame the passions: it is asserted by Dryden, that "those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greatest commendation;" yet an attack upon an article of faith hath been usually received with more temper and complacence, than the unfortunate opinion which I am about to defend.
But let us previously lament with every lover of Shakspeare, that the question was not fully discussed by Mr. Johnson himself: what he sees intuitively, others must arrive at by a series of proofs; and I have not time to teach with precision: be contented therefore with a few cursory observations, as they may happen to arise from the chaos of papers, you have so often laughed at, “a stock sufficient to set up an editor in form." I am convinced of the strength of my cause, and superior to any little advantage from sophistical arrangements.
General positions without proofs will probably have no great weight on either side, yet it may not seem fair to suppress them: take them therefore as their authors occur to me, and we will afterward proceed to particulars.
The testimony of Ben. stands foremost; and some have held it sufficient to decide the controversy: in the warmest panegyrick, that ever was written, he apologizes* for what he supposed the only defect in his "beloved friend,
Soul of the age!
'Th' applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!—' whose memory he honoured almost to idolatry:" and conscious of the worth of ancient literature, like any other man on the same occasion, he rather carries his acquirements above, than below the truth. "Jealousy!" cries Mr. Upton; "people will allow others any qualities, but those upon which they highly value themselves." Yes, where there is a competition, and the competitor formidable: but, I think, this critick himself hath scarcely set in opposition the learning of Shakspeare and Jonson. When a superiority is universally granted, it by no means appears a man's literary interest to depress the reputation of his antagonist.
In truth the received opinion of the pride and malignity of Jonson, at least in the earlier part of life, is absolutely groundless at this time, scarce a play or a poem appeared without Ben's encomium, from the original Shakspeare to the translator of Du Bartas.
But Jonson is by no means our only authority. Drayton, the countryman and acquaintance of Shakspeare, determines his excellence to the naturall braine† only. Digges, a wit of the town, before our poet left the stage, is very strong to the purpose,
Nature only helpt him, for looke thorow
"This whole book, thou shalt find he doth not borow,
* "Though thou hadst small Latin,” &c.
In his Elegie on Poets and Poesie, p. 206. Folio, 1627.