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THE PLAYERS' DEDICATION.
defence of our dedication. But fince your L. L, have been pleased to thinke these trifles fomething, heretofore; and have profequuted both them, and their author living, with fo much favour; we hope that (they out-living him, and he not having the fate, common with fome, to be exequutor to his owne writings) you will ufe the fame indulgence toward them, you have done unto their parent. There is a great difference, whether any booke choose his patrones, or find them: this hath done both. For fo much were your L. L. likings of the feveral parts, when they were acted, as before they were publifhed, the volume afked to be yours. We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his orphanes, guardians; without ambition either of felfe-profit, or fame: onely to keepe the memory of fo worthy a friend, and fellow alive, as was our SHAKSPEARE, by humble offer of his playes, to your most noble patronage. Wherein, as we have juftly observed no man to come neere your L. L. but with a kind. of religious addreffe, it hath bin the height of our care, who are the prefenters, to make the present worthy of your H. H. by the perfection. But, there we must also crave our abilities to be confidered, my Lords. We cannot goe beyond our owne powers. Countrie hands reach forth milke, creame, fruits, or what they have: and many nations (we have heard) that had not gummes and incenfe, obtained their requests with a leavened cake.' It
7 Country hands reach forth milk, &c. and many nations-that had not gummes and incenfe, obtained their request with a leavened cake.] This feems to have been one of the common-places of dedication in Shakfpeare's age. We find it in Morley's Dedication of a Book of Songs to Sir Robert Cecil, 1595:
was no fault to approach their gods by what meanes they could: and the moft, though meaneft, of things are made more precious, when they are dedicated to temples. In that name therefore, we most humbly confecrate to your H. H. these remaines of your fervant 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 fo carefull to fhew their gratitude both to the living and the dead, as is
Your Lordfhippes moft bounden,
PLA Y E R
TO THE GREAT VARIETY OF READERS
ROM the most able, to him that can but fpell: there you are numbered, we had rather you were weighed. Efpecially, when the fate of all bookes depends upon your capacities: and not of
"I have prefumed" (fays he) to make offer of thefe fimple compofitions of mine, imitating (right honourable) in this the cuftom of the old world, who wanting incenfe to offer up to their gods, made fhift insteade thereof to honour them with milk." The fame thought (if I recollect right) is again employed by the players in their dedication of Fletcher's plays, folio, 1647. MALONE.
heads alone, but of your purses. Well! it is now publique, and you will ftand for your priviledges, wee know: to read, and cenfure. Doe fo, but buy it first. That doth beft commend a
booke, the ftationer faies. Then, how odde foever your braines be, or your wisdomes, make your licence the fame, and fpare not. Judge your fixe-pen'orth, your fhillings worth, your five fhillings worth at a time, or higher, so you rife to the juft rates, and welcome. But, whatever you doe, buy. Cenfure will not drive a trade, or make the jacke goe. And though you be a magiftrate
of wit, and fit on the flage at Black-friars, or the Cockpit, to arraigne plays dailie, know, these playes have had their triall already, and flood 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 confeffe, worthie to have been wished, that the author himselfe had lived to have fet forth, and overfeen his owne writings; • but fince it hath been ordained otherwife, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you doe not envie his friends the office of their care and paine, to have collected and published them; and fo to have published them, as where (before) you were abused with divers flolne and furreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and ftealthes of injurious impoftors, that expofed them, even thofe are now offered to your view cured, and perfect of their limbes; and all the reft, abfolute in their numbers as he conceived them: who, as he was a happy imitator of nature, was a most
8 ——— as where ] i. e. whereas. MALONE.
gentle expreffer of it. His inind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that eafineffe, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our province, who only 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 find enough, both to draw and hold you:" for his wit can no more lie hid, than it could be loft. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe and if then you do not like him, furely you are in fome manifeft danger, not to underftand him. And fo we leave you to other of his friends, who, if you need, can be your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade yourselves, and others. And fuch readers we wish him.
T is not my defign to enter into a criticism upon this author; though to do it effectually, and not fuperficially, would be the best occafion that any juft writer could take, to form the judgment and tafte of our nation. For of all English poets Shakspeare muft be confeffed to be the faireft and fulleft fubject for criticifm, and to afford the most numerous, as well as moft confpicuous inftances,
both of beauties and faults of all forts.
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 tranfmitted to us. We fhall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: a defign, which, though it can be no guide to future criticks to do him juftice in one way, will at least be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injusticę in the other.
I cannot however but mention fome of his principal and characteristick excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is juftly and univerfally elevated above all other dramatick writers, Not that this is the proper place of praifing him, but because I would not omit any occafion of doing it.
If ever any author deferved the name of an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of nature, it proceeded through Egyptian ftrainers and channels, and came to him not without fome tincture of the learning, or fome caft of the models, of thofe before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was infpiration indeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an inftrument, of nature; and it is not fo juft to say that he speaks from her, as that fhe fpeaks through him.
His characters are fo much nature herfelf, that it is a fort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a conftant refemblance, which fhews that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers