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E N of Learning and Leisure have usually busied themselves in reprinting the Works of the celebrated antient Authors in the Greek and Latin Languages: By which means it happens, that of many of these we have more than we need,
and Numbers of no Use at all; the Editors being so very inconsiderable, as to drive Gentlemen of Taste back to the earliest Impressions of Books, where the genuine Sense appears in a truer Light than in the idle Comments of our modern Publishers. Firlt Editions are rarely to be seen, but like Jewels in the Cabinets of the richly Curious; and many new ones bear little Value, either from their Commonness, or Coarseness. What then has been done by the really Learned to the dead Languages, by treading backwards into the Paths of Antiquity, and reviving and correcting good old Authors; we in Justice owe to our own great Writers, both in Prose, and Poetry. They are in some degree our Claffics ; on their Foundation we mult build, as the Formers and Refiners of our Language:
I N reforming old Palaces, we find that Time and Carelesness have kept equal Pace in spreading Ruin ; and so it fares
with Authors, who carry with the Rust of Antiquity, the Blemishes of Neglect and ill Usage. Of this, SHAKESPEAR is a very remarkable Instance, who has been handed down from Age to Age very incorrect, his Errors increasing by Time, and being almost constantly republish'd to his Disgrace. Whatever were the Faults of this great Poet, the Printers have been hitherto as careful to multiply them, as if they had been real Beauties thinking perhaps with the Indians that the disfiguring a good Face with Scars of artificial Brutes, had improv'd the Form and Dignity of the Person. A fine Writer thus treated looks like Deiphobus among the Shades, so maim'd by his pretended Friend, that the good Æneas hardly knew him again ; and with him we may cry out,
Quis tam crudeles optavit sumere Pænas ? The Answer is easy, the Tribe of Editors, Correctors, and Printers, who have usually as little Pity for a Helen, as she had for her Husband.
THESE Abominations of the Press, with several others, we shall no doubt find remov'd in the new Edition of his Plays. When a Genius of similar Fire and Fancy, temper’d with a learned Patience, sits down to consider what SHAKESPEAR would Think, as well as what he could Write, we may then expect to see his Works answer our Idea of the Man.
FAR be it from any Hopes of mine, that this Edition of his Poems should equal his curious Correctness: a less faulty one than the former is all the Reader is to expect. A short History, and some few occasional Remarks will be added, to give Light to fome Passages, as well of the Author, as of Mr. Gildon.
THIS Gentleman rcpublish'd these Poems from an old Impression, in the Year i7io. at the same time with Mr. Rowe's
Publication of his Plays. He uses many Arguments to prove them genuine, but the best is the Style, Spirit, and Fancy of SHAKESPEAR, which are not to be mistaken by any tolerable Judge in these Matters. Venus and Adonis, Tarquin and Lucrece, are out of Dispute, they being put to the Press, and dedicated by the Author himself to the Earl of Southampton his great Patron. So that Mr. Rowe is evidently mistaken when he says, That his Venus and Adonis was the only Piece of Poetry he publish'd himself; there being the same Authority for his Tarquin and Lucrece, as for the other.
If we allow the rest of these Poems to be genuine (as I think Mr. Gildon has prov'd them) the Occasional ones will appear to be the first of his Works. A young Muse must have a Mistress to play off the beginnings of Fancy, nothing being so apt to raise and elevate the Soul to a pitch of Poetry, as the Passion of Love. We find, to wander no farther, that - Spenser, Cowley, and many others paid their First-fruits of Poetry to a real, or an imaginary Lady: Upon this occasion I conjecture, that SHAKESPEAR took fire on reading our admirable Spenser, who went but just before him in the Line of Life, and was in all probability the Poet most in Vogue at that time. To make this Argument the stronger, Spenfer is taken notice of in one of these little Pieces as a Favourite of our Author's
. He alludes certainly to the Fairy Queen,when he mentions his Deep Conceit ; that Poem being entirely Allegorical. It has been remark’d, that more Poets have sprung from Spenser than all our other Englis Writers ; to which let me add an Observation of the late Dr. Garth, That most of our late ones have been spoild by too early an Admiration of Milton. Be it to Spenfer then that we owe SHAKESPEAR!
The Fairest Scyon of the Fairest Tree. In Metaphor, Allusion, Description, and all the strongest and highest Colourings of Poetry, they both are certainly without Equals. Spenser indeed trod more in the Paths of Learning,
borrow'd, improv'd, and heighten’d all he imitated: But
Shakespear, Fancy's sweetest Child,
The Child of Fancy, with the additional Epithet of sweetest, is an
AND yet I cannot place his Learning so low as others have done, there being evident Marks thro all his Writings of his Knowledge in the Latin Language, and the Roman History. The Translation of Ovid s two Epistles, Paris to Helen, and her Answer, gives a sufficient Proof of his Acquaintance with that Poet. Nor are these Letters so very easy for a common Trans lator : For there is a good deal of the Heathen Mythology and Poetical Fictions, of which SHAKESPEAR misses none, but is ever faithful to the Original. How they may be receiv'd in these Days of Aowing Versification I know not ; but I have a Translation of the Metamorphoses of the fame Age, far inferior to these Epistles.
BUT to return to Mr. Gildon, the Republisher of these Poems. He has prefix'd to them an Ejay on the Rise and Progress of the Stage, and added Remarks on all his Plays, in order to let the Reader into the Beauties, and Defects of SH A KE
As to the Essay, tho there have been many Things wrote in a loose unconnected manner on the same Subject; yet I have seen nothing in our Tongue so regular, so fully explanatory, or so well supported by Instances from the antient Tragic Poets. One may safely say, that this was the Study of