« AnteriorContinua »
BEAUTIES should be so obscured, and that he himself should be made a kind of stage, for bungling critics to show their clumsy activity upon.
It was my first intention to have considered each play critically and regularly through all its parts; but as this would have swelled the work beyond proper bounds, I was obliged to confine myself solely to a collection of his Poetical Beauties: and I doubt not, every reader will find so large a fund for observation, so much excellent and refined morality, that he will prize the work as it deserves, and pay, with me, all due adoration to the manes of Shakspeare.
Longinus tells us, that the most infallible test of the true sublime, is the impression a performance makes upon our minds when read or recited. "If," says he, "a person finds, that a performance transports not his soul, nor exalts his thoughts; that it calls not up into his mind ideas more enlarged than the mere sounds of the words convey, but on attentive examination its dignity lessens and declines, he may conclude, that whatever pierces no deeper than the ears, can never be the true sublime That, on the contrary, is grand and lofty, which the more we consider, the greater ideas we conceive of it: whose force we cannot possibly withstand; which immediately sinks deep, and makes such impression on the mind as cannot easily be worn out or effaced: in a word, you may pronounce that sublime, beautiful, and genuine, which always pleases and takes equally with all sorts of men. For when persons of different humours, ages, professions, and inclinations, agree in the same joint approbation of any performance, then this union of assent, this combination of so many different judgments, stamps a high and indisputable value on that performance, which meets with such general appause." This fine observation of Longinus is most remarkably verified in Shakspeare; for all humours, ages, and inclinations, jointly proclaim their approbation and esteem of him; and will, I hope, be found true in most of the passages which are here collected from him: I say, most, because there are some which I am convinced will not stand this test: the oid, the grave, and the severe, will disapprove, perhaps, the more soft (and as they may call them) trifling love-tales, so elegantly breathed forth, and so emphatically extolled by the young, the gay, and the passionate; while these will esteem as dull and languid, the sober saws of morality, and the home-felt observations of experience. However, as it was my business to collect for readers of all tastes, and all complexions, let me desire none to disapprove what hits not their own humour, but to turn over the page, and they will surely find something acceptable and engaging. But I have yet another apology to make, for some passages introduced merely on account
See Longinus on the Sublime, Sect. 7. The translation in the text is from the learned Mr. Smith.
of their peculiarity, which to some, possibly, will appear neither sublime nor beautiful, and yet deserve attention, as indicating the vast stretch, and sometimes particular turn of the poet's imagination.
There are many passages in Shakspeare so closely connected with the plot and characters, and on which their beauties so wholly depend, that it would have been absurd and idle to have produced them here: hence the reader will find little of the inimitable Falstaff in this work, and not one line extracted from the Merry Wives of Windsor, one of Shakspeare's best, and most justly admired comedies: whoever reads that play, will immediately see, there was nothing either proper or possible for this work; which, such as it is, I most sincerely and cordially recommended to the candour and benevolence of the world: and wish every one that peruses it, may feel the satisfaction I have frequently felt in composing it, and receive such instructions and advantages from it, as it is well calculated and well able to bestow. For my own part, better and more important things henceforth demanded my attention, and I here, with no small pleasure, take leave of Shakspeare and the critics; as this work was begun and finished, before I entered upon the sacred function, in which I am now happily employed, let me trust, this juvenile performance will prove no objection, since graver, and some very eminent members of the church, have thought it no improper employ, to comment, explain, and publish the works of their own country poets.
THE name of Shakspeare, which is mentioned by Verste gan, among those "syrnames imposed upon the first bearers of them for valour and feats of arms," is one of great antiquity in the woodland districts of Warwickshire. The family, thus honorably distinguished, appears to have received its origin either at Rowington or Lapworth. Long before the genius of our great dramatic poet had rendered their name a subject of national interest, the Shakspeares were established among the more affluent inhabitants of those villages, and thente several individuals of the race, from time to time, removed, and became settlers in the principal places of the country.
After the most indefatigable researches, Malone found himself unable to trace the particular branch of the family from which Shakspeare himself descended, beyond his immediate ancestor; but it is mentioned by Rowe, as being "of good figure and fashion," in the town of Stratford. This statement is supported by the authority of a document, preserved in the College of Heralds, conferring the grant of a coat of arms on John Shakspeare, the father of the poet, in which the title of gentleman is added to his denomination; and it is stated, that "his great grandfather had been rewarded by King Henry the Seventh, for his faithful and approved services, with lands and tenements given him in those parts of Warwickshire, where they have continued by some descents. in good reputation and credit."
If Shakspeare's father inherited any portion of the estate which the royal munificence had thus conferred on his ances.
tor, it was insufficient for his wants; and he was obliged to have recourse to trade to increase the narrow measure of his patrimony. The traditional accounts that have been received respecting him are consistent in describing him as engaged in business, though they disagree in the nature of the employment which they ascribe to him. In the MS. notes which Aubrey had collected for a life of the poet, it is affirmed, that "his father was a butcher;" while, on the other hand, it is stated by Rowe that he was "a considerable dealer in wool." The truth of the latter report it is scarcely possible to doubt. It was received from Betterton the player, whose veneration for the poet induced him to make a pilgrimage to Warwickshire, that he might collect all the information respecting the object of his enthusiasm which remained among his townsmen, at a time when such prominent facts as the circumstances and avocation of his parents could not yet have sunk into oblivion. It is, indeed, not improbable that both these accounts may be correct. "Few occupations," observes' Malone, "can be named which are more naturally connected with each other." Dr. Farmer has shown that the two trades were occasionally united: or if they were not thus exercised together by the poet's father, his having adopted them separately at different periods of his life, is not inconsistent with the changeful character of his circumstances. The new notion of John Shakspeare's having been a glover, which has been advanced in Malone's last edition of our author's works, I have no hesitation in dismissing. It is neither supported by tradition, nor probability; and the brief minute which the laborious editor discovered in the bailiff's court at Stratford, must have referred to some other of the innumerable John Shakspeares, whom we find mentioned in the wills and registers of the time.
The father of Shakspeare married, probably about the year 1555 or 1556, Mary the daughter of Robert Arden, of Willingcote, in the county of Warwick; by which connexion he obtained a small estate in land, some property in money, and such accession of respectability as is derived from an equal and honorable alliance. The family of Mary Arden, like his own, was one of great antiquity in the country, and her an