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PREFIXED TO

THE THIRD EDITION, 1789.

IT may be necessary to apologize for the republication of this pamphlet. The fact is, it has been for a good while extremely scarce, and some mercenary publishers were induced by the extravagant price, which it has occasionally borne, to project a new edition without the consent of the

author.

A few corrections might probably be made, and many additional proofs of the argument have necessarily occurred in more than twenty years: some of which may be found in the late admirable editions of our POET, by Mr. Steevens and Mr. Reed.

But, perhaps enough is already said on so light a subject:-A subject, however, which had for a long time pretty warmly divided the criticks upon Shakspeare.

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AN

ESSAY

ON THE

LEARNING OF SHAKSPEARE:

ADDRESSED TO

JOSEPH CRADOCK, ESQ.

"SHAKSPEARE," says a brother of the craft, "is a vast garden of criticism :" and certainly no can be favoured with more weeders gratis.

one

But how often, my dear sir, areweeds and flowers torn up indiscriminately?-the ravaged spot is replanted in a moment, and a profusion of critical thorns thrown over it for security.

"A prudent man, therefore, would not venture his fingers amongst them."

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Be however in little pain for your friend, who regards himself sufficiently to be cautious:-yet he asserts with confidence, that no improvement can be expected, whilst the natural soil is mistaken for a hot-bed, and the natives of the banks of Avon are scientifically choked with the culture of exoticks.

Mr. Seward, in his Preface to Beaumont and Fletcher, 10 Vols. 8vo. 1750

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Thus much for metaphor; it is contrary to the statute to fly out so early; but who can tell, whether it may not be demonstrated by some critick or other, that a deviation from rule is peculiarly happy in an Essay on Shakspeare!

You have long known my opinion concerning the literary acquisitions of our immortal dramatist; and remember how I congratulated myself on my coincidence with the last and best of his editors. I told you, however, that his small Latin and less Greek would still be litigated, and you see very assuredly that I was not mistaken. The trumpet hath been sounded against "the darling project of representing Shakspeare as one of the illiterate vulgar;" and indeed to so good purpose, that I would by all means recommend the performer to the army of the braying faction, recorded by Cervantes. The testimony of his contemporaries is again disputed; constant tradition is opposed by flimsy arguments; and nothing is heard, but confusion and nonsense. One could scarcely imagine this a topick very likely to inflame the passions: it is asserted by Dryden, that "those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greatest commendation;" yet an attack upon an article of faith hath been usually received with more temper and complacence, than the unfortunate opinion which I am about to defend.

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But let us previously lament with every lover of

* This passage of Ben Jonson, so often quoted, is given us in the admirable preface to the late edition, with a various reading, "small Latin and no Greek," which hath been held up to the publick for a modern sophistication: yet whether an error or not, it was adopted above a century ago by W. Towers, in a panegyrick on Cartwright. His eulogy, with more than fifty others,on this now forgotten poet, was prefixed to the edit. 1651.

Shakspeare, that the question was not fully discussed by Mr. Johnson himself: what he sees intuitively, others must arrive at by a series of proofs; and I have not time to teach with precision: be contented therefore with a few cursory observations, as they may happen to arise from the chaos of papers, you have so often laughed at," a stock sufficient to set up an editor in form." I am convinced of the strength of my cause, and superior to any little advantage from sophistical arrangements.

General positions without proofs will probably have no great weight on either side, yet it may not seem fair to suppress them: take them therefore as their authors occur to me, and we will afterward proceed to particulars.

The testimony of Ben. stands foremost; and some have held it sufficient to decide the controversy: in the warmest panegyrick, that ever was written, he apologizes for what he supposed the only defect in his "beloved friend,

Soul of the age!

Th' applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!'

whose memory he honoured almost to idolatry:" and conscious of the worth of ancient literature, like any other man on the same occasion, he rather carries his acquirements above, than below the truth. "Jealousy!" cries Mr. Upton; " people will allow others any qualities, but those upon which they highly value themselves." Yes, where there is a competition, and the competitor formidable: but, I think, this critick himself hath scarcely set in opposition the learning of Shakspeare and Jonson

"Though thou hadst small Latin," &c.

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