« PreviousContinue »
do, more for the fake of that truly venerable body than my own.
Of all the literary exercitations of speculative men, whether defigned for the use or entertainment of the world, there are none of fo much importance or what are more our immediate concern, than those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercife the reafon, or amufe the imagination; but thefe only can improve the heart, and form the human mind to wisdom. Now, in this fcience, our Shakspeare is confeffed to occupy the foremost place; whether we confider the amazing fagacity with which he inveftigates every hidden fpring and wheel of human action; or his happy manner of communicating this knowledge, in the juft and living paintings which he has given us of all our paffions, appetites, and purfuits. These afford a leffon which can never be too often repeated, or too constantly inculcated; and, to engage the reader's due attention to it, hath been one of the principal objects of this edition.
As this science (whatever profound philofophers may think) is, to the reft, in things; fo, in words, (whatever fupercilious pedants may talk) every one's mother tongue is to all other languages. This hath ftill been the fentiment of nature and true wisdom. Hence, the greatest men of antiquity never thought themselves better employed, than in cultivating their own country idiom. So, Lycurgus did honour to Sparta, in giving the first complete edition of Homer; and Cicero to Rome, in correcting the works of Lucretius. Nor do we want examples of the fame good fenfe in modern times, even amidst the cruel inroads that art and VOL. I.
fashion have made upon nature and the fimplicity of wisdom. Menage, the greatest name in France for all kinds of philologick learning, prided himself in writing critical notes on their beft lyrick poet Malherbe: and our greater Selden, when he thought it might reflect credit on his country, did not difdain even to comment a very ordinary poet, one Michael Drayton. But the English tongue, at this juncture, deferves and demands our particular regard. It hath, by means of the many excellent works of different kinds compofed in it, engaged the notice, and become the ftudy, of almost every curious and learned foreigner, fo as to be thought even a part of literary accomplishment. This muft needs make it deferving of a critical attention and its being yet deftitute of a teft or standard to apply to, in cafes of doubt or difficulty, fhows how much it wants that attention. For we have neither GRAMMAR nor DICTIONARY, neither chart nor compafs, to guide us through this wide fea of words. And indeed how fhould we? fince both are to be compofed and finifhed on the authority of our best established writers. But their authority can be of little ufe, till the text hath been correctly fettled, and the phrafeology critically
our greater Selden, when he thought he might reflect credit on his country, did not difdain to comment a very ordinary poet, one Michael Drayton.] This compliment to himself for condefcending to write notes on Shakspeare, Warburton copied from Pope, who facrificed Drayton to gratify the vanity of this flattering editor: "I have a particular reafon (fays Pope in a Letter to Warburton) to make you intereft yourfelf in me and my writings. It will caufe both them and me to make a better figure to pofterity. A very mediocre poet, one Drayton, is yet taken notice of becaufe Selden writ a few notes on one of his poems." Pope's Works, Vol. IX. p. 350, 8vo. 1751.
examined. As, then, by thefe aids, a Grammar and Dictionary, planned upon the beft rules of logick and philofophy (and none but fuch will deferve the name,) are to be procured; the forwarding of this will be a general concern: for, as Quintilian obferves, "Verborum proprietas ac differentia omnibus, qui fermonem curæ habent, debet effe communis." By this way, the Italians have brought their tongue to a degree of purity and ftability, which no living language ever attained unto before. It is with pleasure I obferve, that these things now begin to be understood among ourselves; and that I can acquaint the publick, we may foon expect very elegant editions of Fletcher and Milton's Paradife Loft, from gentlemen of diftinguished abilities and learning. But this interval of good fenfe, as it may be fhort, is indeed but new. For I remember to have heard of a very learned man, who, not long fince, formed a defign, of giving a more correct edition of Spenfer; and, without doubt, would have performed it well; but he was diffuaded from his purpose by his friends, as beneath the dignity of a profeffor of the occult fciences. Yet these very friends, I fuppofe, would have thought it added luftre to his high ftation, to have newfurbished out fome dull northern chronicle, or dark Sibylline ænigma. But let it not be thought that what is here faid infinuates any thing to the difcredit of Greek and Latin criticifm. If the follies of particular men were fufficient to bring any branch of learning into difrepute, I do not know any that would ftand in a worse fituation than that for which I now apologize. For I hardly think there ever appeared, in any learned language, fo execrable a heap of nonfenfe, under the name of commentaries, as
hath been lately given us on a certain fatyrick poet, of the last age, by his editor and coadjutor.3
I am fenfible how unjustly the very best classical criticks have been treated. It is faid, that our great philofopher + fpoke with much contempt of the two fineft fcholars of this age, Dr. Bentley and Bifhop Hare, for fquabbling, as he expreffed it, about an old play-book; meaning, I fuppofe, Terence's comedies. But this story is unworthy of him; though well enough fuiting the fanatick turn of the wild writer that relates it; fuch cenfures are amongst the follies of men immoderately given over to one science, and ignorantly undervaluing all the reft. Thofe learned criticks might, and perhaps did, laugh in their turn (though ftill, fure, with the faine indecency and indiscretion,) at that incomparable man, for wearing out a long life in poring through a telescope. Indeed, the weakneffes of fuch are to be mentioned with reverence. But who can bear, without indignation, the fashion-: able cant of every trifling writer, whofe infipidity paffes, with himself, for politenefs, for pretending to be fhocked, forfooth, with the rude and favage air of vulgar criticks; meaning fuch as Muretus, Scaliger, Cafaubon, Salmafius, Spanheim, Bentley ! When, had it not been for the deathless labours of fuch as thefe, the western world, at the revival of letters, had foon fallen back again into a state of ignorance and barbarity, as deplorable as that from which Providence had just redeemed it.
This alludes to Dr. Grey's edition of Hudibras published in 1744. REED.
• Sir Ifaac Newton. See Whifton's Hiftorical Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Clarke, 1748, 8vo. p. 113. REED.
To conclude with an obfervation of a fine writer and great philofopher of our own; which I would gladly bind, though with all honour, as a phylactery, on the brow of every awful grammarian, to teach him at once the ufe and limits of his art: WORD'S ARE THE MONEY OF FOOLS, AND THE COUNTERS OF WISE MEN.
THAT praises are without reafon lavished on the dead, and that the honours due only to excellence are paid to antiquity, is a complaint likely to be always continued by thofe, who, being able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence from the herefies of paradox; or thofe, who, being forced by disappointment upon confolatory expedients, are willing to hope from pofterity what the prefent age refufes, and flatter themselves that the regard which is yet denied by envy, will be at laft bestowed by time.
Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the notice of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries
* First printed in 1765.