Alexander Pope.

The works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) online

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Online LibraryAlexander PopeThe works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) → online text (page 19 of 20)
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ferves his friend. The humanity and franknefs of

Sir Samuel Garth are what I never knew wanting

on any occafion. I muft alfo acknowledge with

infinite pleafure, the many friendly offices, as well

as fincere criticifms ef Mr. Congreve, who had led

me the way in tranflating fome parts of Homer. I

muft add the names of Mr. Rowe and Dr. Parnell,

though I (hall take a further opportunity of doing

juftice to the laft, whofe good-nature (to give it

a great panegyrick) is no lefs extenfive than his

learning. The favour of thefe gentlemen is not

entirely undeferved by one who bears them fo true

an affection. But what can I fay of the honour fo

many of the Great have done me, while the fir/t

names of the age appear as my fubfcribers, and

the moft diftinguifhed patrons and ornaments of

learning as my chief encouragers. Among thefe

it is a particular pleafure to me to find, that my

higheft obligations are to fuch who have done

moft honour to the name of Poet : That his Grace

the Duke of Buckingham was not difpleafed I

fhould undertake the author to whom he has

given (in his excellent EJfay ) fo complete a

Read Homer once, and you can read no more ;
For all Books elfe appear fo mean, fo poor y
Verfe will fe em Profe : but ftill perfiji to ready
And Homer will be all the Books you need.

That the Earl of Hallifax was one of the firft to
favour me, of whom it is hard to fay whether
the advancement of the polite arts is more owing

H O M E R'S I L I A D. 327

to his gencrofity or his example. That fuch a Ge-
nius as my Lord Bolingbroke, not more diftin-
guiflicd in the great fcenes of bufinefs, than in all
the ufeful and entertaining parts of learning, has
not refufed to be the critick of thefe fliccts, and
the patron of their writer. And that the noble
author of the Tragedy of Heroic Love, has con-
tinued his partiality to me, from my writing Paf-
torals, to my attempting the Iliad. I cannot deny
myfelf the pride of confefling, that I have had the
advantage not only of their advice for the conduit
in general, but their correction of feveral particu-
lars of this tranflation.

I could fay a great deal of the pleafure of being
diftinguifhed by the Earl of Carnarvon, but it is
almoft abfurd to particularize any one generous ac-
tion in a perfon whofe whole life is a continued
feries of them. Mr. Stanhope, the prefent Se-
cretary of State, will pardon my defire of hav-
ing it known that he was pleafed to promote this
affair. The particular zeal of Mr. Harcourt (the
fon of the late Lord Chancellor) gave me a proof
how much I am honoured in a fhare of his friend-
ftiip. I muft attribute to the fame motive that of
feveral others of my friends, to whom all acknow-
ledgments are rendered unneceflary by the privi-
leges of a familiar correfpondcnce : Arid I am fa-
tisfy'd I can no way better oblige men of their turn,
than by my filence.

In fhort, I have found more patrons than ever
Homer wanted. He would have thought himfelf
happy to have met the fame favour at Athens that
has been (hewn me by its learned rival, the Uni-
verfity of Oxford. And I can hardly envy him
thofc pompous honours he received after death, when
J reflect on the enjoyment of fo many agreeable
obligations, and eafy friendships, which make the
Y 4 % fatis-


fatisfa<5Hon of life. This diftin&ion is the more
to be acknowledged, as it is fhewn to one whofe
pen has never gratified the prejudices of particular
forties^ or the vanities of particular men. Whatever
the fuccefs may prove, I (hall never repent of an
undertaking in which I have experienced the can-
dour and friendfhip of fo many perfons of merit ;
and in which I hope to pafs fomeof thofe years of
youth that are generally loft in a circle of follies,
after a manner neither wholly unufeful to others,
hor difagreeable to myfelf.


{ 3*9 )




IT is not my defign to enter into a criticifm up-
on this author j tho' to do it effectually and
not fuperficially, would be the beft occafion that
any juft writer could take, to form the judgment
and tafte of our nation. For of all Englim poets
Shalcefpear muft be confefled to be the faireft and
fulleft fubje<t for criticifm, and to afford the moft
numerous, as well as moft confpicuous inftances,
both of beauties and faults of all forts. But this
far exceeds the bounds of a Preface, the bufmefs
of which is only to give an account of the fate or*
his works, and the difadvantages under which they
have been tranfmitted to us. We (hall hereby ex-
tenuate many faults which are his, and clear him
from the imputation of many which are not : A
defign, which though it can be no guide to future
criticks to do him juftice in one way, will at leaft
be fufficient to prevent their doing him an injuftice
in the other.

I cannot however but mention fome of his prin-
cipal and, charactcriftk excellencies, for whio*i



(notwithftanding his defecls) he is juftly and uni-
verfally elevated above all other dramatick Writers.
Not that this is the proper place of praifmg him,
but becaufe I would not omit any occafion of do-
ing it.

If ever any author deferred the name of an Ori-
ginal^ it was Shakefpear. Homer himfelf drew not
his art fo immediately from the fountains of Na-
ture ; it proceeded thro' Egyptian ftrainers and
channels, and came to him not without fome tinc-
ture of the learning, or fome caft of the models,
of thofe before him. The poetry of Shakefpear
was infpiration indeed : he is not fo much an Imi-
tator, as an Inftrument, of Najture ; and 'tis not
fo juft to fay that he fpeaks from her, as that {he
fpeaks thro' him.

His Characters are fo much Nature herfelf,
that 'tis a fort of injury to call them by fo di-
ftant a name as copies of her. Thofe of other
Poets have a conftant refemblance, which (hews
that they received them from one another, and
were but multipliers of the fame image : each
picture like a mock-rainbow is but the reflexion
of a reflexion. But every fmgle character in
Shakefpear is as much an individual, as thofe in
life itfelf j it is as impoffible to find any two alike ;
and fuch as from their relation or affinity in any
refpeft appear moil to be twins, will upon compa-
rifbn be found remarkably diftin<St. To this life
and variety of character, we muft add the won-
derful prelervation of it - y which is fuch throughout
his Plays, that, had all the fpeeches been printed
without the very names of the perfons, I believe
one might have applied them with certainty to every

The Power over our Pajficm was never poflefi.'d
in a more eminent degree, or difplayed in fo dif-


ferent inftances. Yet all along, there is feen no
labour, no pains to raife them ; no preparation to
guide our guefs to the effect, or be pcrceiv'd to
lead toward it : But the heart fwells, and the tears
burft out, juft at the proper places : We are fur-
prized the moment we weep ; and yet upon reflec-
tion find the paflion fo juft, that we (hould be fur-
prized if we had not wept, and wept at that very

How aftoniming is it again, that the Paflions di-
rectly oppofite to thefe, Laughter and Spleen, are
no lefs at his command ! that he is not more a ma-
fter of the great than of the ridiculous in human
nature ; of our nobleft tendernefles, than of our
vaineft foibles ; of our ftrongeft emotions, than of
our idlcft fenfations !

Nor does he only e^ccel in the Paflions : in the
coolnefs of Reflection and Rcafoning he is full as
admirable. His Sentiments arc not only in gene-
ral the moft pertinent and judicious upon every
fubjedl ; but by a talent very peculiar, fomething
between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that
particular point on which the bent of each argu-
ment turns, or the force of each motive depends.
This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no edu-
cation or experience in thofe great and publick
fcenes of life which are ufually the fubject of his
thoughts : So that he feems to have known the
world by intuition, to have looked thro' human
nature at one glance, and to be the only author
that gives ground for a very new opinion, That the
philosopher and even the man of the world, may
be born-, as well as the poet.

It mud be owned that with all thefe great ex-
cellencies, he has almoft as great defects ; and that
as he has certainly written better, fo he has per-
haps written worfe, than any other. But I think


I can in fome mcafure account for thefc defect*,
from fevcral caufes and accidents ; without which
it is hard to imagine that fo large and fo enlight-
ened a mind could even have been fufceptible of
them. That all thele contingencies fhould unite
to his difadvantage fcems to me almoft as fmgular-
ly unlucky, as that fo many various (nay contrary)
talents mould meet in one man, was happy and

It muft be allowed that Stage-poetry of all
other, is more particularly levelled to pleafe the
populace, and its fuccefs more immediately depend-
ing upon the common fuffrage. One cannot there-
fore wonder, if Shakefpear, having at his firft ap-
pearance no other aim in his writings than to pro-
cure a fubfiftence, directed his endeavours folely
to hit the tafte and humour that then prevailed.
The audience was generally compofed of the
meaner fort of people ; and therefore the images
of life were to be drawn from thofe of their own
rank : accordingly we find, that not our author's
only, but almoft all the old comedies have their
fcene among Tradefmen and Mechanicki : And even
their hiftorical play* ftri&ly follow the common
old Jlories or vulgar traditions of that kind of peo-
ple. In Tragedy, nothing was fo fure tofurprizt
and cauie admiration, as the moft ftrange, unex-
pected, and confequently moft unnatural, events
and incidents j the moft exaggerated thoughts ;
the moft verbofe and bombaft exprelEon ; the moft
pompous rhymes, and thundering verification.
In Comedy, nothing was fo ftire to pleafe, as mean
buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jefts of
fools and clowns, Yet even in thefe, our author's
wit buoys up, and is born above his fubjedl : his
genius in thofe low parts is like fome prince of a
romance in the difguife of a fhepherd or peafant ;



a certain greatnefs and fpirit now and then break
out, which manifeft his higher extraction and qua-

It may be added, that not only the common
audience had no notion of the rules of writing,
but few even of the better fort piqued themfelves
upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that
way ; 'till Ben Johnfon, getting pofleflion fcf the
Itoge, brought critical learning into vogue : And
that this was not done without difficulty, may ap-
pear from thofc frequent lellbns (and indeed aJ
moil declamations) which he was forced to prefix
to his firft plays, and put into the mouth of his
actors, the Grex, Chorus^ etc. to remove the pre-
judices, and inform the judgment of his hearers.
'Till then, our authors had no thoughts of writ-
ing on the model of the ancients : their Tragedies
were only hiftories in dialogue ; and their come-
dies followed the thread of any novel as they found
it, no lefs implicitly than if it had been true hif-

To judge therefoi* of Shakefpear by Ariftotle's
rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one
country, who acted under thole of another. He
writ to the ptople ; and writ at firft without patro-
nage from the better fort, and therefore without
aims of pleafmg them : without afliftance or advice
from the learned, as without the advantage of edu-
cation or acquaintance among them : without that
knowledge of the beft models, the ancients, to in-
fpire him with an emulation of them : in a word,
without any views of reputation, and of what
poets are pleafed to call immortality : Some or all
f which have encouraged the vanity, or animated
the ambition, of other writers.

Yet it mult be obferved, that when his perfor-
mances had merited the protection of his prince,



and when the encouragement of the court had fuc-
ceeded to that of the town ; the works of his riper
years are manifeftly raifed above thofe of his for-
mer. The dates of his plays fufficiently evidence
that his productions improved, in proportion to
the refpecl: he had for his auditors. And I make
no doubt this obfervation would be found true in
every inftance, were but editions extant from which
we might learn the exaci time when every piece
was cempofed, and whether writ for the town or
the court.

Another caufe (and no lefs ftrong than the for-
mer) may be deduced from our Author's being a
flayer, and forming himfelf firft upon the judg-
ments of that body of men whereof he was a mem-
ber. They have ever had a ftandard to themfelves,
upon other principles than thofe of Ariftotle. As
they live by the majority, they know no rule but
that of pleafing the prefent humour, and comply-
ing with the wit in fafhion ; a confidcration which
brings all their judgment to a fhort point. Players
are juft fuch judges of what is right, as taylors are
of what is graceful. And in this view it will be
but fair to allow, that moft of our Author's faults
are lefs to be afcribed to his wrong judgment as a
Poet, than to his right judgment as a Player.

By thcfe men it was thought a praife to Shake-
fpcar, that he fcarce ever blotted a line. This they
indulrrioufly propagated, as appears from what we
are told by Ben Johnfon in his Difcoveries y and
from the preface of Hcminges and Condell to the
firft folio edition. But in reality (however it has
prevailed) there never was a more groundlefs re-
port, or to the contrary of which there are more
undeniable evidences. As the Comedy of the
Merry IPlves of J^indfor^ which he entirely new
writ ; the Hljltry of Henry VI. which was firft



publiflied under the title of the Conti'titijn of York
nnd Lancajltr : and that of Henry V. extreme-
ly improved ; that of Hamlet enlarged to almoft
as much again as at firft, and many others. I be-
lieve the common opinion of his want of learn-
ing proceeded from no hetter ground. This too
might be thought a praife by fome, and to this his
errors have as injudicioufly been afcribed by others.
For 'tis certain, were it true, it could concern but
a fmall part of them ; the moft are fuch as are
not properly defects ; but fuperfcetations ; and a-
rife not from want of learning or reading, but
from want of thinking or judging : or rather (to
be morejuft to our Author) from a compliance
to thofe wants in others. As to a wrong choice of
the fubjecl, a wrong conduct of the incidents,
falfe thoughts, forced expreflions, etc. if thefc are
not to be afcribed to the aforefaid accidental rea-
fons, they muft be charged upon the poet himfclf,
and there is no help for it. But I think the two
difadvantages which I have mentioned (to be oblig-
ed to pleafe the lowed of people, and to keep the
worft of company) if the conlideration be extend-
ed as far as it reafonably may, will appear fuffici-
ent to miflead and deprefs the greateft Genius up-
on earth. Nay the more modefty with which fuch
a one is endued, the more he is in danger of fub-
mitting and conforming to others, againft his own
better judgment.

But as to his want of learning, it may be necef-
&ry to fay fomcthing more : There is certainly a
vail difference between learning and language*.
How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot
determine ; but 'tis plain he had much reading at
leaft, if fhey will not call it learning. Nor is it
any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whe-
ther he has it from one language or from another.
3 Nothing


Nothing is more evident than that he had a tafte
of natural philofophy, mechanicks, ancient and
modern hiftory, poetical learning and mythology :
We find him very knowing in the cuftoms, rites,
and manners of antiquity. In Coriolanus and Ju-
Uus C<efar, not only the fpirit, but manners, of
the Romans are exactly drawn j and frill a nicer
diftinction is mown, between the manners of the
Romans in the time of the former, and of the lat-
ter. His reading in the ancient hiftorians is no
lels coafpicuous, in many references to particular
pafTages : and the fpeeches copied from Plutarch
in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an in-
flance of his learning, as thofe copied from Ci-
cero in Catiline, of Ben Johnfon's. The manners
of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Vene-
tians, French, etc. are drawn with equal propriety.
Whatever object of nature, or branch of fcience,
he either fpeaks of or defcribes ; it is always with
competent, if not extenfive knowledge : his de-
fcriptions are ftill exa<5l ; all his metaphors appro-
priated, and remarkably drawn from the true na-
ture and inherent qualities of each fubjecl. When
he treats of ethic or politic, we may conftantly
obferve a wonderful juftnefs of diftinftion, as well
as extent of comprehenfion. No one is more a
mafter of the poetical ftory, or has more frequent
allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller
(who has been celebrated for this laft particular)
has not (hewn more learning this way than Shake -
fpear. We have tranflations from Ovid publifhed
in his name, among thofe poems which pafs for
his, and for fome of which we have undoubted
authority (being publifhed by himfelf, and dedi-
cated to his noble patron the Earl of Southampton :)
He appears alfo to have been converfant in Plautus,
from whom he has taken the plot of one of his
4 plays :


plays : he follows the Greek authors, and parti-
cularly Dares Pbrygius, in another : (altho' I will
not pretend to fay in what language he read them.)
The modern Italian writers of novels he was mani-
feftly acquainted with ; and we may conclude him
to be no lefs converfant with the ancients of his
own country, from the ufe he has made of Chau-
cer in Troilus and CreJJida-, and in the Tws noble
Kinfmen, if that Play be his, as there goes a tra-
dition it was (and indeed it has little refemblance
of Fletcher, and more of our Author than fome of
thofe which have been received as genuine.)

I am inclined to think, this opinion proceeded
originally from the zeal of the Partizans of our Au-
thor and Ben Johnfon ; as they endeavoured to ex-
alt the one at the expence of the other. It is ever
the natur of Parties to be in extremes ; and no-
thing is fo probable, as that becaufc Ben Johnfon
had much the more learning, is was faid on the
one hand that Shakefpear had none at all j and be-
caufe Shakefpear had much the mod wit and fan-
cy, it was retorted on the other, that Johnfon
wanted both. Becaufe Shakefpear borrowed no-
thing, it was faid that Ben Johnfon borrowed every
thing. Becaufe Johnfon did not write extempore,
he was reproached with being a year about every
piece ; and becaufe Shakefpear wrote with eafe and
rapidity, they cried, he never once made a blot.
Nay the fpirit of oppofition ran fo high, that
whatever thofe of the one fide objected to the other,
was taken at the rebound, and turned into praifes ;
as mjudicioufly, as their antagonifts before had
made them objections.

Poets are always afraid of envy ; but fure they

have as much reafon to be afraid of admiration. They

are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors ; thofe

who efcapc one, often fall by the other. Pejfimum



genus in'im'icorum laudantes t fays Tacitus : and Vir-
gil defines to wear a charm againft thofc who praife
a poet without rule or reafon.

Si ultra placitum laudarit^ baccare frontem
ne vati noceat.

But however this contention might be carried on
by the Partizans on cither fide, I cannot help think-
ing thefc two great poets were good friends, and
lived on amicable terms, and in offices of fociety
with each other. It is an acknowledged fa&, that
Ben Johnfon was introduced upon the ftage, and
his firft works encouraged, by Shakcfpear. And
after his death, that Author writes To the memory
of bis beloved Mr. William Shakefpear, which
fhews as if the friendfhip had continued thro' life.
I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious
or fyarlng in thofe verfes, but wonder Mr. Drydcn of that opinion. He exalts him not only above
all his contemporaries, but above Chaucer and
Spenfer, whom he will not allow to be great enough
to be ranked with him ; and challenges, the
names of Sophocles, Euripides, and &tcbyfas,
nay all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him ;
and (which is very particular) exprefly vindicates
him from the imputation of wanting art, not en-
during that all his excellencies mould be attributed
to nature. It is remarkable too, that the praife
he gives him in his Difcaveries feems to proceed
from a perfonal kindnefe ; he tells us that he lov'd
the man, as well as honoured his memory ; cele-
brates the honefty, opcnnefe, and franknefs of his
temper ; and only diftinguilhcs, as he reafonably
ought, between the real merit of the Author, and
the filly and derogatory applaufes of the Players.
Ben Johnfon might indeed be fparing in his com-
mendiitions, (tho' certainly he is not fo in this in-



fbnce) partly from his own nature, and partly
from judgment. For men of judgment think they
do any man more fen ice in praifing him jultly,
thrm hivifhly. I ('.". , I would fain believe they
v.x-re friend - , tho' the violence and ill-breeding of
their followers and flatterers were enough to give
ntrary report. I would hope that it
be with parties t both in wit and ftate, as
with thofe monfters dcfcribcd by the poets ; and
that their heads at leaft may have fomething hu-
man, tlio' their bodies and t.tils are wild bcafts and

As I believe that what I have mentioned gave
rife to the opinion of Shakcfpear's want of learn-
ing ; fo what has continued it down to us may
have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the
firft publifhers of his works. In thefe editions
their ignorance fhines in almoft every page ; no-
thing is more common than Aftus tertia. Exit
cmtiff. Enter three witches folus. Their French
i- as bad as their Latin, both in conftru&ion and
ipelling : Their very Welfh is falfe. Nothing is
more likely than that thofe palpable blunders of
He&or's quoting Ariftotle, with others of that
grofs kind, fprung from the fame root : it not be-
ing at all credible that thefe could be the errors of
any man who had the leaft tincture of a fchool,
or the lead convcrfation with fuch as had. Ben
Johnfon (whom they will not think partial to him)
allows him at leaft to have ^A feme Latin ; which
is utterly inconfiftent with miftakcs like thefe.
Nay the conftant blunders in proper names of per- 1
fons and places, are fuch as muft have proceeded
from a man, who had not fo much as read any
hiflory, in any language : fo could not be Shnkc-

IpCi. :

Z 2 J


I (hall now lay before the reader fome of thcte
almoft innumerable errors, which have rifen from
one fource, the ignorance of the players, both as his
actors, and as his editors. When the nature and
kinds of thcfe are> enumerated and confidered, I
dare to fay that not Shakefpear only, but Ariftotle
or Cicero, had their works undergone the fame
fate, might have appeared to want fenfe as well as

It is not certain that any one of his plays was
publiflied by himfclf. During the time of bis em-
ployment in the Theatre, feveral of his pieces were
printed feparately in quarto. What makes me
think that moft of thefe were not publiflied by him,
is the excefiive careleflhefs of the prefs : every
page is fo fcandaloufly falfe fpelled, and almoft ail
the learned or unufual words fo intolerably man-
gled, that it's plain there cither was no corrector
to the prefs at all, or one totally illiterate. If auy
were fupervifed by himfelf, I mould fancy the two
parts of Henry IV. and Midfummer Night's Dream
might have been fo : becaufe I find no other print-
ed with any exadlnefs ; and (contrary to the reff)
there is very little variation in all the fubfequent
editions of them. There are extant two prefaces,
to the firft quarto edition of Troilus and Crejjuiti
in 1609, and to that of Othello ; by which it ap-
pears, that the firft was publifhcd without his
knowledge or confent, and even before it was
acted, lo late as feven or eight years before he
died ; and that the latter was not printed till after

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryAlexander PopeThe works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) → online text (page 19 of 20)