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might have spoken both of his own diligence and fagacity, in terms of greater felf-approbation, without deviating from modesty or truth *.

JOHNSON.

* This paffage relates to the edition published in 1773, by GEORGE STEEVENS, Efq. MALONE.

Other paffages in this Preface allude to the edition of 1793, with Notes by SAMUEL JOHNSON and GEORGE STEEVENS, Efq. JOHNSON's Preface is preserved in this edition (without alteration) for its beauty of diction, and the happy turn of reasoning throughout the whole.

AN

AN

ESSAY

ON THE

LEARNING OF SHAKSPEARE:

ADDRESSED TO

JOSEPH CRADOCK, Esq.

"SHAKSPEARE," fays a brother of the craft, "is

a vaft garden of criticifm:" and certainly no one

can be favoured with more weeders gratis.

up

But how often, my dear fir, are weeds and flowers torn indifcriminately?-the ravaged fpot is replanted in a moment, and a profusion of critical thorns thrown over it for fecurity.

"A prudent man, therefore, would not venture his fingers amongst them.”

Be however in little pain for your friend, who regards himself fufficiently to be cautious :-yet he afferts with confidence, that no improvement can be expected, whilft the natural foil 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 fo early; but who can tell, whether it may not

be demonstrated by fome critick or other, that a deviation from rule is peculiary happy in an Effay on Shakspeare !

You have long known my opinion concerning the li. terary acquifitions 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 lefs Greek would fill be litigated, and you fee very affuredly that I was not mistaken. The trumpet hath been founded against "the darling project of representing Shakspeare as one of the illiterate vulgar;" and indeed to fo good purpose, that I would by all means recommend the performer to the army of the braying faction, recorded by Cervantes. The teftimony of his contemporaries is again difputed; conftant tradition is opposed by flimfy arguments; and nothing is heard, but confufion and nonfenfe. One could fcarcely imagine this a topick very likely to inflame the passions: it is afferted by Dryden, that "those who accufe 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 Shakfpeare, that the queftion was not fully difcuffed by Mr. Jonfon himself: what he fees 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 curfory obfervations, as they may happen to arise from the chaos of papers, you have so often laughed at, "a stock fufficient to fet up an editor in form." I am convinced of the strength of my cause, and fuperior to any little advantage from fophiftical arrangements.

General pofitions without proofs will probably have no

great

great weight on either fide, yet it may not feem fair to fupprefs them: take them therefore as their authors occur to me, and we will afterward proceed to particulars. The teftimony of Ben. ftands foremost: and some have held it fufficient to decide the controverfy: in the warmeft panegyrick, that ever was written, he apologizes for what be supposed the only defect in his "beloved friend,

Soul of the age!

Th' applaufe! delight! the wonder of our ftage!

whose memory he honoured almost to idolatry:" and, confcious of the worth of ancient literature, like any other man on the fame occafion, 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 fet in oppofition the learning of Shakspeare and Jonson. When a fuperiority is univerfally granted, it by no means appears a man's literary intereft to deprefs the reputation of his antagonist.

In truth the received opinion of the pride and malignity of Jonfon, at least in the earlier part of life, is abfolutely groundless: at this time fcarce a play or a poem appeared without Ben's encomium, from the original Shakspeare to the translator of Du Bartas.

But Jonfon 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 ftrong to the purpose,

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Nature only helpt him, for looke thorow

This whole book, thou shalt find he doth not borow,
One phrafe from Greekes, not Latines imitate,

Nor once from vulgar languages tranflate.

Suckling oppofed his easier ftrain to the fweat of the learned Jonfon. Denham affures us, that all he had was from old mother-wit. His native wood-notes wild, every one remembers to be celebrated by Milton. Dryden obferves prettily enough, that "he wanted not the spectacles of books to read nature." He came out of her hand, as fome one else e preffes it, like Pallas out of Jove's head, at full growth and mature.

The ever memorable Hales of Eton, (who, notwithftanding his epithet, is, I fear, almost forgotten,) had too great a knowledge both of Shakspeare and the ancients to allow much acquaintance between them and urged very justly on the part of genius in oppofition to pedantry, that "if he had not read the clafficks, he had likewife not stolen from them; and if any topick was produced from a poet of antiquity he would undertake to show somewhat on the fame subject, at least as well written by Shakspeare."

Fuller, a diligent and equal fearcher after truth and quibbles, declares pofitively, that "his learning was very little,―nature was all the art used upon him, as he himfelf, if alive, would confefs." And may we not fay, he did confefs it, when he apologized for his untutored lines to his noble patron the Earl of Southampton?-this lift of witneffes might be eafily enlarged; but I flatter myself, I fhall ftand in no need of fuch evidence.

One of the first and moft vehement affertors of the learning of Shakspeare, was the editor of his poems, the well-known Mr. Gildon; and his steps were most punc

tually

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