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SHALL not attempt any laboured encomiums on Shakspeare, or endeavour to set forth his perfections, at a time when such universal and just applause is paid him, and when every tongue is big with his boundless fame. He himself tells us,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To seek the beauteous eye of heav'n to garnish,
And wasteful and ridiculous indeed it would be, to say any thing in his praise, when presenting the world with such a collection of BEAUTIES, as perhaps is no where else to be met with; and which, I may very safely affirm, cannot be equalled from the productions of any other single author, ancient or modern. There is scarcely a topic, common with other writers, on which he has not excelled them all: there are
many nobly peculiar to himself, where he shines unrivalled, and, like the eagle, the properest emblem of his daring genius, he soars beyond the common reach, and gazes undazzled on the His flights are sometimes so bold, that frigid criticism almost dares to disprove them; and those narrow minds which are incapable of elevating their ideas to the sublimity of the author's, are desirous of bringing them down to a level with their own. Hence many fine
passages have been condemned in Shakspeare, as rant, and fustian, intolerable bombast, and turgid nonsense, which, if read with the least glow of the same imagination that warmed the writer's bosom, would blaze in the robes of sublimity, and obtain the commendation of a Longinus. And, unless part of the same spirit that elevated the poet, elevate the reader too, he must not presume to talk of taste and elegance: he will prove a languid reader, an indifferent judge, and a far more indifferent critic and commentator.
It is some time since I first proposed publishing this collection, for Shakspeare was ever, of all modern authors, my chief favourite. During my relaxations from my more severe and necessary studies at college, I never
omitted to read and indulge myself in the rapturous flights of this delightful and sweetest child of fancy; and when my imagination has been heated by the glowing ardour of his uncommon fire, I have never failed to lament, that his BEAUTIES should be so obscured, and that he himself should be made a kind of stage, for bungling critics to show their clumsy activity upon.
It was my first intention to have considered each play critically and regularly through all its parts; but, as this would have swelled the work beyond proper bounds, I was obliged to confine myself solely to a collection of his POETICAL BEAUTIES: I doubt not, every reader will find so large a fund for observation, and so much excellent and refined morality, that he will prize the work as it deserves, and pay, with all due adoration to the manes of Shakspeare.
Longinus* tells us, that the most infallible test of the true sublime, is the impression a performance makes upon our minds, when read or recited. If,' says he, a person finds, that a performance transports not his soul, nor exalts
* See Longinus on the Sublime, sect. 7. The translation in the text is from the learned Mr. Smith.
his thoughts; that it calls not up into his mind ideas more enlarged than the mere sounds of the words convey, but on attentive examination its dignity lessens and declines, he may conclude, that whatever pierces no deeper than the ears, can never be the true sublime. That, on the contrary, is grand and lofty, which, the more we consider, the greater ideas we conceive of it; whose force we cannot possibly withstand; which immediately sinks deep, and makes such impression on the mind as cannot be easily worn out or effaced: in a word, you may pronounce that sublime, beautiful, and genuine, which always pleases and takes equally with all sorts of men. For when persons of different humours, ages, professions, and inclinations, agree in the same joint approbation of any performance, then this union of assent, this combination of so many different judgments, stamps a high and an indisputable value on that performance which meets with such general applause.' This fine observation of Longinus is most remarkably verified in Shakspeare; for all humours, ages, and inclinations, jointly proclaim their approbation and esteem of him. It will, I hope, be found true in most of the passages which are here collected