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LIFE AND BEAUTIES
S HA K S P E A RE:
CAREFUL SELECTIONS FROM EACH PLAY;
DIGESTING THEM UNDER PROPER HEADS.
BY THE LATE
REV. WILLIAM DODD, D. D.
I SHALL not attempt any labored encomiums on Shakspeare, or endeavour to set forth nis perfections, at a time when such universal and just applause is said him, and when every ligue is big with his boundless fame. He nimseli tells us,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess. And was:eful and ridiculous indeed it would be, to say any thing in his praise, when presenting ine world with such a collection of BEAUTIES as perhaps is no where to be met with, and, I may very safely affirm, cannot be paralleles from the productions of any other single author, ancient or mdern There is scarcely a topic, common with other writers, on which he has not excelled them all; there are niany nobly peculiar to himself, where he shines unrivalled, and, like the eagle, roper. est emblem of his daring genius, soars beyond the cimmon reach, and gazes undazzled on the sun. His flights are som times so bold, frigid criticism almost dares to disapprove them and those narrow minds which are incapable of elevating their ideas to the sublimity of their author's, are willing to bring them town to a level with their own. Hence many tine passages have been condemned in Shakspeare, as rant and fustian, intolerable vompast, and turgid nonsense, which, if read with the least glow of the same imagination that warmed the writer's bosom, w uld blaze in the robes of sublimity, and obtain the commendation of a Longinus. And, unless some of the same spirit that elevated ho poet, elevate the reader too, he must not presume to talk of tista and elegance; he will prove a languid reader, an indiffer ini judge, and a far more indifferent critic and commentator.
It is some time since I first proposed publishing this collecu n; for Shakspeare was ever, of all inodern authors, my chief favor ite; and during my relaxations from my more severe and nec ssary studies at college, I never omitted to read and indulg? mys it in the rapturous Nights of this delightful and sweetest child of fancy: and when my imagination has been heated by the glow'.g ardour of his uncommon fire, have never failed to lament, that is
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 criti. cally 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: and I doubt not, every reader will find so large a fund for observation, so much excellent and refined morality, that he will prize the work as it deserves, and pay, with me, all due adoration to the mancs 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 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 easily be 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 conibination of so many different judgments, stamps a high and indisputable value on that performance, which meets with such general appause.” This fine observation of Longinus is most remarkably verified in kspeare; for all humours, ages, and inclinations, jointly proclaim their approbation and esteem of him; and will, I hope, be found true in most of the passages which are here collected from him: I say, most, because there are some which I am convinced will not stand this test: the old, the grave, and the severe, will disapprove, perhaps, the more soft (and as they may call them) trifling love-tales, so elegantly breathed forth, and so emphatically extolled by the young, the gay, and the passionate; while these will esteem as dull and languid, the sober saws of morality, and the home-felt observations of experience. However, as it was my business to collect for readers of all tastes, and all complexions, let me desire none to disapprove what hits not their own humour, but to turn over the page, and they will surely find something acceptable and engaging. But I have yet another apology to make, for some passages introduced merely on account
*See Longinus on the Sublime, Sect. 7. The translation in the text u from the learned Mr. Smith.