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friendly offices, as well as sincere criticisms of Mr. Congreve, who had led me the way in translating some parts of Homer. I must add the name of Mr. Rowe and Dr. Parnell, though I shall take a further opportunity of doing justice to the last, whose good-nature (to give it a great panegyric) is no less extensive than his learning. The favour of these gentlemen is not entirely undeserved by one who bears them so true an affection. But what can I say of the honour so many of the Great have done me, while the first names of the age appear as my subscribers, and the most distinguishing patrons and ornaments of learning as my chief encouragers. Among these it is a particular pleasure to me to find, that my highest obligations are to such who have done most honour to the name of Poet: That his Grace the Duke of Buckingham was not displeased I should undertake the author to whom he has given (in his excellent Ebay) fo complcat a praise.
Read Horner once, and you can read no more ;
And Homer will be all the Books you need. . That the Earl of Halifax was one of the first to favour me, of whom it is hard to say whether the advancement of the polite arts is more owing to his generosity or his example. That such a Genius as my Lord Bolingbroke, not more diftinguished in the great scenes of business, than in ali the useful and entertaining parts of learning, has not refused to be the critic of these sheets, and the patron of their writer. And that the noble author of the Tragedy of Heroic Love, has continued his partiality to ms, from my writing Pastorals to my attempting the Iliast. I cannot deny myself the pride of confeffing, that I have had the advantage not only of their advice for the conduct in general, but their correction of several particulars of this translation. I could say a great deal of the pleasure of being diftin
guished by the Earl of Carnarvon, but it is almost absurd to particularize any one generous action in a person whose whole life is a continued series of them. Mr. Stanhope, the present Secretary of State, will pardon my defire of having it known that he was pleased to promote this affair. The particular zeal of Mr. Harcourt (the son of the late Lord Chancellor) gave me a proof how much I am honoured in a share of his friendship. I must attribute to the fame motive that of several others of my friends, to whom all acknowledgments are rendered unnecessary by the privileges of a familiar correspondence : and I am satisfied I can no way better oblige men of their turn, than by my silence.
In short, I have found more patrons than ever Homer wanted. He would have thought himself happy to have met the same favour at Athens, that has been shewn me by its learned rival, the University of Oxford. And I can hardly envy him those pompous honours he received after death, when I reflect on the enjoyment of so many agreeable obligations, and easy friendships, which make the satisfaction of life. This distinction is the more to be acknowledged, as it is shewn to one whose pen has ne- , ver gratified the prejudices of particular parties, or the vanities of particular men.
Whatever the success may prove, I shall never repent of an undertaking in which I have experienced the candour and friendship of so
many persons of merit; and in which I hope to pass some of those years of youth that are generally lost in a circle of follies, after a manner neither wholly unuseful to others, nor disagreeable to myself,
A C E
WORKS or SHAKESPEAR.
IT T is not my design to enter into a criticisin upon this
author; though to do it effe&tually and not fuperficially, 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 faireft and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numcrous, as well as most confpicuous inftances, 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 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 critics to do him justice in one way, will at least be fufficient 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 defcêts) 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.
If ever any author deserved the name of an Original, it was Shakcfpcar. Homer himself drew not his art fo immediately from the fountains of Nature; it proceeded through Ægyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tin&ture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of thoíe before him. The poetry of
Shakespear was inspiration indeed : he is not so much an Imitator, as an Instrument of Nature; and ’ris not so just to say he speaks from her, as that she ipeaks through him.
His Characters are so much Nature herself, that 'tis a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Thole of other Poets have a constant refemblance, which shews that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image : each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. 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 diftinct. 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 applied them with certainty to every speaker.
The Power over our Poffrons was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed 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 perceived to lead toward it: but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places : we are surprized the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion fo juft, that we should be surprized if we had not wept, and wept at that very mo
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 vaines foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idleft 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 perfc&tly ainazing, 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 looked thro' human 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 owned that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defcets; 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 defeats, from several causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that so large and so enlightened 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 levelled to please the populace, and its success more immediately depending upon the common fuffrage. One cannot therefore wonder if Shakespear, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings than to procure a fubfiftence, directed his endeavours solely to hit the taste and humour that then prevaile
The audience was generally composed of the meaner fort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from those of their own rank ; accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almost all the old comedies have their scene among Tradesmen and Mechanics : and even their historical plays strictly follow the common old stories or vulgar traditions, of that kind of