COULD some gentlemen of approved ability have been prevailed upon to do justice to the subject of the following Ode, the present apology would have been unnecessary;—but as it was requisite to produce something of this kind upon the occasion, and the lot having unluckily fallen on the person perhaps the least qualified to succeed in the attempt, it is hoped the candour of the public will esteem the performance rather as an act of duty, than vanity in the author.

As some news-paper writers have illiberally endeavoured to shake the poetic character of our immortal bard (too deeply indeed rooted in the heart to be affected by them) it is recommended to those who are not sufficiently established in their dramatic faith, to peruse a work lately published, called, An Essay on the Writings and Genius of SHAKESPEARE, by which they will with much satisfaction be convinced, that England may justly boast the honour of producing the greatest dramatic poet in the world.

To strengthen and justify the general admiration of this astonish­ing Genius, it has been thought proper to subjoin to the Ode some undeniable Testimonies (both in prose and verse) of his unequalled original talents.

If it shall be found, that speaking that part of the Ode, which has usually been conveyed in recitative, produces a better effect, the Author flatters himself he may lay claim to some little merit on that account: As to the Ode itself, he presents it to the public as an object of their good-nature,—to his friends as an exercise of their partiality,—to his enemies, as a lucky opportunity of venting their wit, humour, criticism, spleen, or whatever else they please, should they think it worthy of their notice.

N. B. In page 2. line 11. by mistake, in some of the copies, the line that should be

Now swell at once the choral song,


At once pour forth the choral song.


TO what blest genius of the isle,
Shall Gratitude her tribute pay,
Decree the festive day,
Erect the statue, and devote the pile?
Do not your sympathetic hearts accord,
To own the "bosom's lord?"
'Tis he! 'tis he!—that demi-god!
Who Avon's flow'ry margin trod,
While sportive Fancy round him flew,
Where Nature led him by the hand,
Instructed him in all she knew,
And gave him absolute command!
'Tis he! 'tis he!
" The god of our idolatry!"
[Page 2] To him the song, the Edifice we raise,
He merits all our wonder, all our praise!
Yet ere impatient joy break forth,
In sounds that lift the soul from earth;
And to our spell-bound minds impart
Some faint idea of his magic art;
Let awful silence still the air!
From the dark cloud, the hidden light
Bursts tenfold bright!
Prepare! prepare! prepare!
Now swell the choral song,
Roll the full tide of harmony along;
Let Rapture sweep the trembling strings,
And Fame expanding all her wings,
With all her trumpet-tongues proclaim,
The lov'd, rever'd, immortal name!
Let th'inchanting sound,
From Avon's shores rebound;
Thro' the Air,
Let it bear,
The precious freight the envious nations round!
Swell the choral song,
Roll the tide of harmony along,
Let Rapture sweep the strings,
Fame expand her wings,
With her trumpet-tongues proclaim,
The lov'd, rever'd, immortal name!
Sweetest bard that ever sung,
Nature's glory, Fancy's child;
Never sure did witching tongue,
Warble forth such wood-notes wild!
Come each Muse, and sister Grace,
Loves and Pleasures hither come;
Well-you know this happy place,
Avon's banks were once your home.
Bring the laurel, bring the flow'rs,
Songs of triumph to him raise;
He united all your pow'rs,
All uniting, sing his praise!
Tho' Philip's fam'd unconquer'd son,
Had ev'ry blood-stain'd laurel won;
He sigh'd—that his creative word,
(Like that which rules the skies,)
Could not bid other nations rise,
To glut his yet unsated sword:
But when our SHAKSPEARE's matchless pen,
Like Alexander's sword, had done with men;
He heav'd no sigh, he made no moan,
Not limited to human kind,
He fir'd his wonder-teeming mind,
Rais'd other worlds, and beings of his own!
When Nature, smiling, hail'd his birth,
To him unbounded pow'r was given;
The whirlwind's wing to sweep the sky,
" The frenzy-rowling eye,
To glance from heav'n to earth,
From earth to heav'n!"
O from his muse of fire
Could but one spark be caught,
Then might these humble strains aspire,
To tell the wonders he has wrought.
To tell,—how sitting on his magic throne,
Unaided and alone,
In dreadful state,
The subject passions round him wait;
Who tho' unchain'd, and raging there,
He checks, inflames, or turns their mad career;
With that superior skill,
Which winds the fiery steed at will,
He gives the aweful word—
And they, all foaming, trembling, own him for their Lord.
With these his slaves he can controul,
Or charm the soul;
So realiz'd are all his golden dreams,
Of terror, pity, love, and grief,
Tho' conscious that the vision only seems,
The woe-struck mind finds no relief:
Ingratitude would drop the tear,
Cold-blooded age take fire,
To see the thankless children of old Lear,
Spurn at their king, and sire!
[Page 6] With his our reason too grows wild!
What nature had disjoin'd,
The poet's pow'r combin'd,
Madness and age, ingratitude and child.
Ye guilty, lawless tribe,
Escap'd from punishment, by art or bribe,
At Shakespeare's bar appear!
No bribing, shuffling there—
His genius, like a rushing flood,
Cannot be withstood,
Out bursts the penitential tear!
The look appall'd, the crime reveals,
The marble-hearted monster feels,
Whose hand is stain'd with blood.
When law is weak, and justice fails,
The poet holds the sword and scales.
Though crimes from death and torture fly,
The swifter muse,
Their flight pursues,
Guilty mortals more than die!
[Page 7] They live indeed, but live to feel
The scourge and wheel,
" On the torture of the mind they lie;"
Should harrass'd nature sink to rest,
The Poet wakes the scorpion in the breast,
Guilty mortals more than die!
When our Magician, more inspir'd,
By charms, and spells, and incantations fir'd,
Exerts his most tremendous pow'r;
The thunder growls, the heavens low'r,
And to his darken'd throne repair,
The Demons of the deep, and Spirits of the air!
But soon these horrors pass away,
Thro' storms and night breaks forth the day:
He smiles,—they vanish into air!
The buskin'd warriors disappear!
Mute the trumpets, mute the drums,
The scene is chang'd—Thalia comes,
Leading the nymph Euphrosyne,
Goddess of joy and liberty!
She and her sisters, hand in hand,
Link'd to a num'rous srolick band,
[Page 8] With roses and with myrtle crown'd,
O'er the green velvet lightly bound,
Circling the Monarch of th' inchanted land!
Wild, frantick with pleasure,
They trip it in measure,
To bring him their treasure,
The treasure of joy.
How gay is the measure,
How sweet is the pleasure,
How great is the treasure,
The treasure of joy.
Like roses fresh blowing,
Their dimpled-cheeks glowing,
His mind is o'erflowing;
A treasure of joy!
His rapture perceiving,
They smile while they're giving,
He smiles at receiving,
A treasure of joy.
With kindling cheeks, and sparkling eyes,
Surrounded thus, the Bard in transport dies;
The little Loves, like bees,
Clust'ring and climbing up his knees,
His brows with roses bind;
While Fancy, Wit, and Humour spread
Their wings, and hover round his head,
Impregnating his mind.
Which teeming soon, as soon brought forth,
Not a tiny spurious birth,
But out a mountain came,
A mountain of delight!
LAUGHTER roar'd out to see the sight,
And FALSTAFF was his name!
With sword and shield he, puffing, strides;
The joyous revel-rout
Receive him with a shout,
[Page 10] And modest Nature holds her sides:
No single pow'r the deed had done,
But great and small,
Wit, Fancy, Humour, Whim, and Jest,
The huge, mishapen heap impress'd;
And lo—SIR JOHN!
A compound of 'em all,
A comic world in ONE.
A world where all pleasures abound,
So fruitful the earth,
So quick to bring forth,
And the world too is wicked and round.
As the well-teeming earth,
With rivers and show'rs,
Will smiling bring forth
Her fruits and her flow'rs;
So FALSTAFF will never decline;
Still fruitful and gay,
He moistens his clay,
And his rain and his rivers are wine;
[Page 11] Of the world he has all, but its care;
No load, but of flesh, will he bear;
He laughs off his pack,
Takes a cup of old sack,
And away with all sorrow and care.
Like the rich rainbow's various dyes,
Whose circle sweeps o'er earth and skies,
The heav'n-born muse appears;
Now in the brighest colours gay,
Now quench'd in show'rs, she sades away,
Now blends her smiles and tears.
Sweet Swan of Avon! ever may thy stream
Of tuneful numbers be the darling theme;
Not Thames himself, who in his silver course
Triumphant rolls along,
Britannia's riches and her force,
Shall more harmonious flow in song.
O had those bards, who charm the list'ning shore
Of Cam and Isis, tun'd their classic lays,
[Page 12] And from their full and precious store,
Vouchsaf'd to fairy-haunted Avon praise!
(Like that kind bounteous hand*,
Which lately gave the ravish'd eyes
Of Stratford swains
A rich command,
Of widen'd river, lengthen'd plains,
And opening skies)
Nor Greek, nor Roman streams would flow along,
More sweetly clear, or more sublimely strong,
Nor thus a shepherd's feeble notes reveal,
At once the weakest numbers, and the warmest zeal.
Thou soft-flowing Avon, by thy silver stream,
Of things more then mortal, sweet Shakespear would dream,
The fairies by moonlight dance round his green bed,
For hallow'd the turf is which pillow'd his head.
The love-stricken maiden, the soft-sighing swain,
Here rove without danger, and sigh without pain,
[Page 13] The sweet bud of beauty, no blight shall here dread,
For hallow'd the turf is which pillow'd his head.
Here youth shall be fam'd, for their love, and their truth,
And chearful old age, feel the spirit of youth;
For the raptures of fancy here poets shall tread,
For hallow'd the turf is that pillow'd his head.
Flow on, silver Avon, in song ever flow,
Be the swans on thy bosom still whiter than snow,
Ever full be thy stream, like his fame may it spread,
And the turf ever hallow'd which pillow'd his head.
Tho' bards with envy-aching eyes,
Behold a tow'ring eagle rise,
And would his flight retard;
Yet each to Shakespeare's genius bows,
Each weaves a garland for his brows,
To crown th' heaven-distinguish'd Bard.
Nature had form'd him on her noblest plan,
And to the genius join'd the feeling man.
[Page 14] What tho' with more than mortal art,
Like Neptune he directs the storm,
Lets loose like winds the passions of the heart,
To wreck the human form;
Tho' from his mind rush forth, the Demons to destroy,
His heart ne'er knew but love, and gentleness, and joy.
More gentle than the southern gale,
Which softly fans the blossom'd vale,
And gathers on its balmy wing,
The fragrant treasures of the spring,
Breathing delight on all it meets,
" And giving, as it steals, the sweets."
Look down blest SPIRIT from above,
With all thy wonted gentleness and love;
And as the wonders of thy pen,
By heav'n inspir'd,
To virtue fir'd,
The charm'd, astonish'd, sons of men!
With no reproach, even now, thou view'st thy work,
To nature sacred as to truth,
[Page 15] Where no alluring mischiefs lurk,
To taint the mind of youth.
Still to thy native spot thy smiles extend,
And as thou gav'st it fame, that fame defend;
And may no sacrilegious hand
Near Avon's banks be found,
To dare to parcel out the land,
And limit Shakespear's hallow'd ground*
For ages free, still be it unconfin'd,
As broad, and general, as thy boundless mind.
Can British gratitude delay,
To him the glory of this isle,
To give the festive day
The song, the statue, and devoted pile?
To him the first of poets, best of men?
" We ne'er shall look upon his like again!"
Shall the hero laurels gain,
For ravag'd fields, and thousands slain?
And shall his brows no laurels bind,
Who charms to virtue humankind?
We will,—his brows with laurel bind,
Who charms to virtue human kind:
Raise the pile, the statue raise,
Sing immortal Shakespeare's praise!
The song will cease, the stone decay,
But his Name,
And undiminish'd fame,
Shall never, never pass away.


To draw no envy, SHAKESPEARE, on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame.
While I confess thy writings to be such,
As neither man nor muse can praise too much,
I therefore will begin. Soul of the age!
Th' applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!
My SHAKESPEAR rise. I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer or Spencer, or bid Beaumont lie
A little farther to make thee a room;
Thou art a monument without a tomb.
Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe,
He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the muses still were in their prime;
When like Apollo he came forth to warm
Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm!
Nature herself was proud of his designs,
And joy'd to wear the dressing of his lines!
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As since she will vouchsafe no other wit.
My gentle Bard! look how the father's face
Lives in his issue, even so the race
[Page 20] Of SHAKESPEARE's mind and manners brightly shines,
In his well-turned and true-filed lines:
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance,
Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
To see thee in our water yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames.
That so did take Eliza, and our James!
But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanc'd, and made a constellation there!
Shine forth, thou Star of poets, and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or chear the drooping stage;
Which since thy flight from hence, hath mourn'd like night,
And despairs day, but sor thy volume's light.
What needs my SHAKESPEARE for his honour'd bones
The labour of an age in piled stones,
Or that the hallow'd reliques should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument.
For whilst to the shame of slow endeavouring art
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalu'd book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving;
[Page 21] And so sepulcher'd in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die!
SHAKESPEARE, who (taught by none) did first impart,
To Fletcher wit, to labouring Jonson art:
He, monarch-like, gave those his subject law,
And is that Nature which they paint and draw:
Fletcher reach'd that which on his heights did grow,
Whilst Jonson crept, and gather'd all below:
This did his love, and this his mirth digest;
One imitates him most, the other best:
If they have since out-writ all other men,
'Tis with the drops which fall from SHAKESPEARE's pen:
But SHAKESPEARE's magic could not copied be,
Within that circle none durst walk but he;
He works by magic supernatural things,
For SHAKESPEARE's pow'r is sacred as a king's.
SHAKESPEARE, (whom you, and ev'ry playhouse bill,
Style the divine, the matchless, what you will)
For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight,
And grew immortal in his own despight.
—For lofty sense,
Creative fancy, and inspection keen,
Thro' the deep windings of the human heart,
Is not wild SHAKESPEARE thine and Nature's boast?
[Page 22]
When learning's triumph o'er her barb'rous foes
First rear'd the stage, immortal SHAKESPEARE rose;
Each change of many-colour'd life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new:
Existence saw him spurn her boundless reign,
And panting Time toil'd after him in vain:
His pow'rful strokes presiding truth impress'd,
And unresisted passion storm'd the breast.
What are the lays of artful Addison,
Coldly correct, to SHAKESPEARE's warblings wild?
Whom on the winding Avon's willow'd banks
Fair Fancy found, and bore the smiling babe
To a close cavern: (still the shepherds shew
The sacred place, whence with religious awe
They hear, returning from the field at eve,
Strange whisp'ring of sweet musick thro' the air)
Here, as with honey gather'd from the rock,
She fed the little pratler, and with songs
Oft sooth'd his wondering ears, with deep delight,
On her soft lap he sat, and caught the sounds.
—But happier Stratford, thou
With incontested laurels deck thy brow;
Thy bard was thine unschool'd, and from thee brought
More than all Egypt, Greece, or Asia taught.
Not Homer's self such matchless honours won,
The Greek has rivals, but thy SHAKESPEARE none.
[Page 23]
O youth and virgins: O declining eld:
O pale misfortune's slaves: O ye who dwell
Unknown with humble quiet; ye who wait
In courts, or fill the golden seat of kings:
O sons of sport and pleasure: O thou wretch
That weep'st for jealous love, or the sore wounds
Of conscious guilt, or death's rapacious hand
Which left thee void of hope: O ye who roam
In exile; ye who thro' the embattl'd field
Seek bright renown; or who for nobler palms
Contend, the leaders of a public cause;
Approach: behold this marble. Know ye not
The feature? Hath not oft his faithful tongue
Told you the fashion of your own estate,
The secrets of your bosom? Here then, round
His monument with reverence while ye stand,
Say to each other: " This was SHAKESPEARE's form;
Who walk'd in every path of human life,
Felt every passion; and to all mankind
Doth now, will ever, that experience yield
Which his own GENIUS only could acquire."
Far from the sun and summer gale,
In thy green lap was Nature's * darling laid,
What time, when lucid Avon stray'd,
To him the mighty mother did unveil
Her awful face: The dauntless child
Stretch'd forth his little arms, and smil'd.
[Page 24] This pencil take (she said) whose colours clear
Richly paint the vernal year:
Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy!
This can unlock the gates of joy;
Of horror that, and thrilling fears,
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.
Bring thou to Britain's plain the choral throng;
Display thy buskin'd pomp, thy golden lyre;
Give her historic powers the soul of song,
And mingle Attic art with SHAKESPEARE's fire.
Ah! what, fond boy, dost thou presume to claim?
The Muse reply'd: Mistaken suppliant, know,
To light in SHAKESPEARE's breast the dazzling flame
Exhausted all Parnassus could bestow.
In the first seat, in robe of various dyes,
A noble wildness flashing from his eyes,
Sat SHAKESPEARE.—In one hand a wand he bore,
For mighty wonders fam'd in days of yore;
The other held a globe, which to his will
Obedient turn'd, and own'd the master's skill:
Things of the noblest kind his genius drew,
And look'd thro' Nature at a single view:
A loose he gave to his unbounded soul,
And taught new lands to rise, new seas to roll;
Call'd into being scenes unknown before,
And, passing Nature's bounds, was something more.
[Page 25]
Hail, prodigy of Nature's genuine growth!
Collected in thyself thou standst sublime,
A world of intellect, and fancy! Thou,
Reaching from high to low, with magic touch,
Inchanted'st ev'ry theme. To thee was shewn
Each passion's inmost source, with all the wiles,
And each meander of the changeful heart.
Thy pen from life's warm school its copies drew,
The striking feature, and descriptive air,
Comic, or grave, and, by the mimic scene
Compell'd, loud Laughter roar'd amain, Grief wept,
And Terror look'd aghast. Ev'n royalty,
Array'd by thee, mov'd more majestic. Wit
And humour flow'd spontaneous from thy mind,
As flow'rs from Earth's green lap. Thy potent spells
From their bright seats aerial sprites detain'd,
Or from their unseen haunts, and slumb'ring shades
The fairy tribes awak'd, with jocund step,
The circled green and leafy hall to tread:
While, from his dripping caves, old Avon sent
His willing Naiads to their harmless rout.
Hear them on SHAKESPEARE! there they foam, they rage!
Yet taste not half the beauties of HIS page;
Nor see that Art, as well as Nature, strove
To place HIM foremost in th' Aonian grove.
For there, there only, where the Sisters meet,
His Genius triumphs, and the work's complete.
WHITEHEAD, Poet Laureat.

[Page 26] Though there are many, many more poets who have spoken of SHAKESPEARE with equal praise and admiration, yet these, which first occurred, were thought sufficient.—Lest any of our readers should think with a certain gentleman, who, upon hearing Milton's verses in praise of SHAKESPEARE, said, He never regarded what was said in poetry,—that the very nature of it was fiction, and had no value without it,—there is added some undeniable testi­monies in prose, of SHAKESPEARE's unparalleled genius.

—SHAKESPEARE was a man, who, of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of Nature were still present to him, and he drew them not labouriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned: he needed not the spectacles of books to read Nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; where he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. But he is always great, where some great occasion is presented to him: No man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets, ‘Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.’


Among the English, SHAKESPEARE has incomparably excelled all others. That noble extravagance of fancy, which he had in so great perfection, thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak superstitious part of his reader's imagination; and made him ca­pable of succeeding, when he had nothing to support him besides [Page 27] the strength of his own genius. There is something so wild, and yet so solemn, in the speeches of his ghosts, fairies, witches, and the like imaginary persons, that we cannot forbear thinking them natural, though we have no rule by which to judge of them, and must confess, if there are such beings in the world, it looks highly probable they should talk and act as he has represented them.

—Our inimitable SHAKSPEARE is a stumbling-block to the whole tribe of these rigid criticks: who would not rather read one of his plays, when there is not a single rule of the stage observed, than any production of a modern critic, where there is not one of them violated? SHAKESPEARE was indeed born with all the seeds of poetry, and may be compared to the stone of Pyrrhus's ring, which, as Pliny tells us, had the figure of Apollo and the nine muses in the viens of it, produced by the spontaneous hand of Nature without any help from art.


But certainly the greatness of this Author's genius does no where so much appear, as where he gives his imagination an entire loose, and raises his fancy to a flight above mankind, and the limits of the visible world.


If ever any author deserved the name of an original it was SHAKESPEARE. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of Nature, it proceeded through Egyptian stainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models of those before him. The poetry of SHAKESPEARE was inspiration indeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument of Nature; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.

[Page 28] His characters are so much Nature herself, that it is a sort of in­jury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shews that they re­ceived them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image: each picture, like a mock rainbow, is but the re­flection of a reflection. But every single character in SHAKESPEARE is as much an individual, as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.

The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along, there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or to be perceived to lead toward it: but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: we are surprized the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we should be surprized if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.

How astonishing is it again, that the passions directly opposite to these, Laughter and Spleen, are no less at his command! That he is not more a master of the great, than of the ridiculous, in human nature; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations!

Nor does he only excel in the passions; in the coolness of re­flection and reasoning, he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject, but by a talent very peculiar, something between pene­tration [Page 29] and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each moment de­pends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and public scenes of life, which are usually the subject of his thoughts: so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through 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.


SHAKESPEARE created, as it were, the English theatre: that he boasted a strong, fruitful genius: that he was natural and sublime: that his scenes are beautiful and noble, though sometimes dread­ful: that his passages are strong and forcible, and atone sor all his faults: and that his dramatic pieces dart such resplendant flashes as amaze and astonish!

VOLTAIRE's Letters concerning the English Nation.

In how many points of light must we be obliged to gaze at this great poet! In how many branches of excellence to consider and admire him! Whether we view him on the side of art or nature, he ought equally to engage our attention: whether we re­spect the force and greatness of his genius, the extent of his knowledge and reading, the power and address with which he throws out and applies either Nature, or Learning, there is ample scope both for our wonder and pleasure. If his diction, and the cloathing of his thoughts attract us, how much more must we be charmed with the richness and variety of his images and ideas! If his images and ideas steal into our souls, and strike upon our fancy, how much are they improved in price, when we come to reflect with what propriety and justness they are applied to character! If we [Page 30] look into his characters, and how they are furnished and propor­tioned to the employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the mastery of his portraits! What draughts of Nature! What variety of originals, and how differing from each other! How are they dressed from the stores of his own luxurious imagination, without being the apes of mode, or borrowing from any foreign wardrobe!


Since therefore other nations have taken care to dignify the works of their most celebrated poets with the fairest impressions, beauti­fied with the ornaments of sculpture, well may our SHAKESPEARE be thought to deserve no less consideration: and as a fresh acknow­ledgment hath lately been paid to his merit, and a high regard to his name and memory, by erecting his statue at a public expence; so it it is desired that this new edition of his works, which has cost some attention and care, may be looked upon as another small monument designed and dedicated to his honour.


WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, whose excellent Genius opened to him the whole heart of man, all the mines of Fancy, all the stores of nature, and gave him power beyond all other writers to move, astonish, and delight mankind.


Of all the literary exercitations of speculative man, whether de­signed for the use or entertainment of the world, there are none of so much importance, or what are more of our immediate concern, than those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercise the reason, or amuse the imagination; but these only can improve the heart, and form the human mind to wisdom. Now in this science our SHAKESPEARE is confessed to occupy the fore­most [Page 31] place; whether we consider the amazing sagacity with which he investigates every hidden spring and wheel of human action; or his happy manner of communicating this knowledge, in the just and lively paintings which he has given us of all our passions, appe­tites, and pursuits.


I shall not attempt any laboured encomiums on SHAKESPEARE, or endeavour to set forth his perfections, at a time when such uni­versal and just applause is paid him: He himself tells us,

To gild refined gold, or paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

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 to be met with; and, I may very safely affirm, cannot be paralleled from the productions of any other single author, ancient or modern.


—If such another poet could arise, should I very vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at Venice, and his next at Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely passive, becomes the com­prehensive Genius of SHAKESPEARE, and such censures are suitable to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire:

Non usque adeo permiscuit imis
Longus summa dies, ut non, si voce Metelli
Serventur leges, malint a Caesare telli.

[Page 32] This therefore is the praise of SHAKESPEARE, that his drama is the mirrour of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in fol­lowing the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his delirious extasies, by reading human senti­ments in human language; by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.


—My design amounted to no more than a desire to en­courage others to think of preserving the oldest editions of the English writers, which are growing scarcer every day; and to afford the world all the assistance or pleasure it can receive from the most authentic copies extant of its NOBLEST POET.


It is said of the ostrich, that she drops her egg at random, to be disposed of as chance pleases; either brought to maturity by the sun's kindly warmth, or else crushed by beasts, and the feet of pas­sengers: such, at least, is the account which naturalists has given us of this extraordinary bird; and admitting it for a truth, she is in this a fit emblem of almost every great genius; they conceive and produce with ease those noble issues of human understanding; but incubation, the dull work of putting them correctly upon paper, and afterwards publishig, is a task they cannot away with. If the original state of all such author's writings, even from Homer down­ward, could be inquired into and known, they would yield proof in abundance of the justness of what is here asserted: but the author now before us shall suffice for them all; being at once the greatest instance of genius in producing noble things, and of negligence in providing for them afterwards.

[Page 33]

There was a time, when the art of Johnson was set above the divinest raptures of SHAKESPEARE. The present age is well con­vinced of the mistake. And now the Genius of SHAKESPEARE is idolized in its turn. Happily for the public taste it can scarcely be too much so.


SHAKESPEARE is a kind of established religion in poetry, and his bays will always flourish with undiminished verdure. When I say this, I am not for maintaining that he is not guilty of trans­gressions, but for every transgression he recompences his auditors with beauties which no art will ever equal. That the notes established by Aristotle and Horace are agreeable to nature, I am ready to allow, and that inferior geniuses may avail themselves by a skilful conformity to them, I as freely assent to. But fable is but a secondary beauty; the exhibition of character, and the excite­ment of the passions, justly claim the precedence in dramatic poetry. It is in writing as in gardening, where nature does not afford spontaneous beauties, recourse must be had to the establish­ments of slow and endeavouring art, to the regularity of uniform vistas, the intricacy of elaborate mazes, and a studied insertion of ever-greens; but when the course of the country of itself presents attractive scenes on every side, when the trees branch out with a free expansion, and the bold prospect surprizes with the heath, the lawn, the hill, and valley in wild variety, the littleness of tedious culture is unnecessary, and trifling ornaments are unlooked for.

Gray's-Inn Journal.

SHAKESPEARE came out of Nature's hand like Pallas out of Jove's head, at full growth and mature.

[Page 34]

Voltaire is a genius, but not of SHAKESPEARE's magnitude Without recurring to disputable authority, I appeal from Voltaire to himself. I shall not avail myself of his former encomiums on our mighty poet; though the French critic has twice translated the same speech in Hamlet, some years ago in admiration, latterly in de­rision; and I am sorry to find that his judgment grows weaker, when it ought to be further matured.


Such is SHAKESPEARE's merit, that the more just and refined the taste of the nation has become, the more he has increased in re­putation. He was approved by his own age, admired by the next, and is revered, and almost adored by the present. His merit is disputed by little wits, and his errors are the jests of little critics; but there has not been a great poet, or great critic, since his time, who has not spoken of him with the highest veneration, Mr. Vol­taire excepted. His translations often, his criticisms still oftener, prove he did not perfectly understand the words of the author: and therefore it is certain he could not enter into his meaning. He com­prehended enough to perceive he was unobservant of some established rules of composition; the felicity with which he performs what no rules can teach, escapes him. Will not an intelligent spectator ad­mire the prodigious structures of Stone-henge, because he does not know by what law of mechanics they were raised? Like them our author's works will remain for ever the greatest monuments of the amazing force of nature, which we ought to view as we do other prodigies, with an attention to, and admiration of their stupendous parts, and proud irregularity of greatness.

An Essay on the Writings and Genius of SHAKESPEARE; Author unknown.

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