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of knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to fatisfy those who know not what to demand, or thofe who demand by defign what they think impoffible to be done. I have indeed difappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my task with no flight folicitude. Not a fingle paffage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not attempted to reftore; or obfcure, which I have not endeavoured to illuftrate.. In many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my efforts, I have retreated, and confeffed the repulfe. I have not paffed over, with affected fuperiority, what is equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where I could not inftruct him, have owned my ignorance. I might eafily have accumulated a mafs of feeming learning upon eafy fcenes; but it ought not to be imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was neceffary, nothing has been done, or that, where others have faid enough, I have faid no more.
Notes are often neceffary, but they are neceffary evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who defires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not ftoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is ftrongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn afide to the name of Theobald and Pope. Let him read on through brightness
and obfcurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preferve his comprehenfion of the dialogue and his intereft in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness; and read the commentators.
Particular paffages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are diverted from the principal fubject; the reader is weary, he fufpects not why; and at laft throws away the book, which he has too diligently studied.
Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been furveyed; there is a kind of intellectual remotenefs neceffary for the comprehenfion of any great work in its full defign and its true proportions; a close approach fhews the fmaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is difcerned no longer.
It is not very grateful to confider how little the fucceffion of editors has added to this authour's power of pleafing. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not réctified, nor his allufions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce "that Shakespeare was the man,
who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, "had the largest and most comprehenfive foul. All "the images of nature were ftill present to him, "and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily : "When he defcribes any thing, you more than see
"it, you feel it too. Those who accufe him to "have wanted learning, give him the greater com"mendation he was naturally learned: he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he "looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot "fay he is every where alike; were he fo, I fhould "do him injury to compare him with the greatest "of mankind. He is many times flat and infipid; "his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his fe"rious fwelling into bombaft. But he is always great, when fome great occafion is prefented to "him: No man can fay, he ever had a fit fubject "for his wit, and did not then raife himself as high "above the reft of poets,
Quantum lenta falent inter viburna cupreffi."
It is to be lamented, that fuch a writer fhould want a commentary; that his language fhould become obfolete, or his fentiments obfcure. But it is vain to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things; that which muft happen to all, has happened to Shakespeare, by accident and time; and more than has been fuffered by any other writer fince the use of types, has been fuffered by him through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that fuperiority of mind, which defpifed its own performances, when it compared them with its powers, and judged thofe works unworthy to be preferved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of reftoring and explaining.
Among these candidates of inferiour fame, I am now to ftand the judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and I fhould feel little folicitude about the fentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.
WILLIA A M
Earle of PEMBROKE, &c. Lord Chamberlaine to the Kings most excellent Majeftie.
Earle of MONTGOMERY, &c. Gentleman of his Majefties Bed-Chamber. Both Knights of the most Noble Order of the Garter, and our fingular good LORDS.
HILST we study to be thankefull in our particular, for the many favors we have received from your L. L. we are falne upon the ill fortune, to mingle two the most divers things that can be, feare, and rashnesse; rashnesse in the enterprize, and feare of the fucceffe. For, when we value the places your H. H. fuftaine, wee cannot but know their dignity greater, than to defcend to the reading of these trifles and, while we name them trifles, we have depriv'd ourselves of the Defence of our Dedication. But fince your L. L. have been pleas'd to thinke thefe 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