Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books
Charles W. Eliot

Part 5 out of 9

practical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was said of _Euripides_, that
every verse was a precept; and it may be said of _Shakespeare_, that
from his works may be collected a system of civil and oeconomical
prudence. Yet his real power is not shewn in the splendour of
particular passages, but by the progress of his fable, and the
tenour of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select
quotations, will succeed like the pedant in _Hierocles_, who, when
he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a

It will not easily be imagined how much _Shakespeare_ excells in
accommodating his sentiments to real life, but by comparing him with
other authors. It was observed of the ancient schools of declamation,
that the more diligently they were frequented, the more was the
student disqualified for the world, because he found nothing there
which he should ever meet in any other place. The same remark may be
applied to every stage but that of _Shakespeare_. The theatre, when
it is under any other direction, is peopled by such characters as
were never seen, conversing in a language which was never heard, upon
topicks which will never rise in the commerce of mankind. But the
dialogue of this author is often so evidently determined by the
incident which produces it, and is pursued with so much ease and
simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but
to have been gleaned by diligent selection out of common conversation,
and common occurrences.

Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, by whose power all
good and evil is distributed, and every action quickened or retarded.
To bring a lover, a lady and a rival into the fable; to entangle
them in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppositions of
interest, and harrass them with violence of desires inconsistent with
each other; to make them meet in rapture and part in agony; to fill
their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow; to distress
them as nothing human ever was distressed; to deliver them as nothing
human ever was delivered; is the business of a modern dramatist. For
this probability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language
is depraved. But love is only one of many passions; and as it has no
great influence upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the
dramas of a poet, who caught his ideas from the living world, and
exhibited only what he saw before him. He knew, that any other
passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a cause of happiness or

Characters thus ample and general were not easily discriminated and
preserved, yet perhaps no poet ever kept his personages more distinct
from each other. I will not say with _Pope_, that every speech may be
assigned to the proper speaker, because many speeches there are which
have nothing characteristical; but perhaps, though some may be equally
adapted to every person, it will be difficult to find any that can be
properly transferred from the present possessor to another claimant.
The choice is right, when there is reason for choice.

Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyperbolical or aggravated
characters, by fabulous and unexampled excellence or depravity, as the
writers of barbarous romances invigorated the reader by a giant and a
dwarf; and he that should form his expectations of human affairs from
the play, or from the tale, would be equally deceived. _Shakespeare_
has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men, who act and speak
as the reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on
the same occasion: Even where the agency is supernatural the dialogue
is level with life. Other writers disguise the most natural passions
and most frequent incidents; so that he who contemplates them in the
book will not know them in the world: _Shakespeare_ approximates the
remote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he represents
will not happen, but if it were possible, its effects would probably
be such as he has assigned; and it may be said, that he has not only
shewn human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be
found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed.

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.

His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the censure of
criticks, who form their judgments upon narrow principles. _Dennis_
and _Rhymer_ think his _Romans_ not sufficiently _Roman_; and
_Voltaire_ censures his kings as not completely royal. _Dennis_
is offended, that _Menenius_, a senator of _Rome_, should play the
buffoon; and _Voltaire_ perhaps thinks decency violated when the
_Danish_ Usurper is represented as a drunkard. But _Shakespeare_
always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preserves the
essential character, is not very careful of distinctions superinduced
and adventitious. His story requires Romans or kings, but, he thinks
only on men. He knew that _Rome_, like every other city, had men of
all dispositions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senate-house
for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded him.
He was inclined to shew an usurper and a murderer not only odious but
despicable, he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities,
knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its
natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds;
a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and condition, as a
painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.

The censure which he has incurred by mixing comick and tragick scenes,
as it extends to all his works, deserves more consideration. Let the
fact be first stated, and then examined.

_Shakespeare's_ plays are not in the rigorous and critical sense
either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind;
exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good
and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion
and innumerable modes of combination; and expressing the course of the
world, in which the loss of one is the gain of another; in which, at
the same time, the reveller is hasting to his wine, and the mourner
burying his friend; in which the malignity of one is sometimes
defeated by the frolick of another; and many mischiefs and many
benefits are done and hindered without design.

Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties the ancient
poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, selected
some the crimes of men, and some their absurdities; some the momentous
vicissitudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences; some the
terrours of distress, and some the gayeties of prosperity. Thus
rose the two modes of imitation, known by the names of _tragedy_ and
_comedy_, compositions intended to promote different ends by contrary
means, and considered as so little allied, that I do not recollect
among the _Greeks_ or _Romans_ a single writer who attempted both.

_Shakespeare_ has united the powers of exciting laughter and sorrow
not only in one mind, but in one composition. Almost all his plays
are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in the
successive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce seriousness and
sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter.

That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticism will be
readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticism
to nature. The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is
to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all the
instruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it includes
both in its alterations of exhibition and approaches nearer than
either to the appearance of life, by shewing how great machinations
and slender designs may promote or obviate one another, and the
high and the low co-operate in the general system by unavoidable

It is objected, that by this change of scenes the passions are
interrupted in their progression, and that the principal event, being
not advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at
last the power to move, which constitutes the perfection of dramatick
poetry. This reasoning is so specious, that it is received as true
even by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. The
interchanges of mingled scenes seldom fail to produce the intended
vicissitudes of passion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that the
attention may be easily transferred; and though it must be allowed
that pleasing melancholy be sometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity,
yet let it be considered likewise, that melancholy is often not
pleasing, and that the disturbance of one man may be the relief of
another; that different auditors have different habitudes; and that,
upon the whole, all pleasure consists in variety.

The players, who in their edition divided our authour's works into
comedies, histories, and tragedies, seem not to have distinguished the
three kinds by any very exact or definite ideas.

And action which ended happily to the principal persons, however
serious or distressful through its intermediate incidents, in their
opinion, constituted a comedy. This idea of a comedy continued
long amongst us; and plays were written, which, by changing the
catastrophe, were tragedies to-day, and comedies to-morrow.

Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more general dignity or
elevation than comedy; it required only a calamitous conclusion, with
which the common criticism of that age was satisfied, whatever lighter
pleasure it afforded in its progress.

History was a series of actions, with no other than chronological
succession, independent on each other, and without any tendency to
introduce or regulate the conclusion. It is not always very nicely
distinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer approach to
unity of action in the tragedy of _Antony and Cleopatra_, than in
the history of _Richard the Second_. But a history might be continued
through many plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits.

Through all these denominations of the drama, _Shakespeare's_ mode of
composition is the same; an interchange of seriousness and merriment,
by which the mind is softened at one time, and exhilarated at another.
But whatever be his purpose, whether to gladden or depress, or to
conduct the story, without vehemence or emotion, through tracts of
easy and familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his purpose;
as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit silent with quiet
expectation, in tranquillity without indifference.

When _Shakespeare's_ plan is understood, most of the criticisms of
_Rhymer_ and _Voltaire_ vanish away. The play of _Hamlet_ is opened,
without impropriety, by two sentinels; _Iago_ bellows at _Brabantio's_
window, without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms
which a modern audience would not easily endure; the character of
_Polonius_ is seasonable and useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves
may be heard with applause.

_Shakespeare_ engaged in dramatick poetry with the world open before
him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; but publick
judgment was unformed; he had no example of such fame as might force
him upon imitation, nor criticks of such authority as might restrain
his extravagance: He therefore indulged his natural disposition,
and his disposition, as _Rhymer_ has remarked, led him to comedy. In
tragedy he often writes, with great appearance of toil and study, what
is written at last with little felicity; but in his comick scenes, he
seems to produce without labour what no labour can improve. In tragedy
he is always struggling after some occasion to be comick; but in
comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking
congenial to his nature. In his tragick scenes there is always
something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or
desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his
tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy seems
to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.

The force of his comick scenes has suffered little diminution from the
changes made by a century and a half, in manners or in words. As his
personages act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very
little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations
are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and
therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits,
are only superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet
soon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of former lustre; but
the discriminations of true passion are the colours of nature;
they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that
exhibits them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes
are dissolved by the chance which combined them; but the uniform
simplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase, nor suffers
decay. The sand heap by one flood is scattered by another, but the
rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, which is
continually washing the dissoluble fabricks of other poets, passes
without injury by the adamant of _Shakespeare_.

If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a stile which
never becomes obsolete, a certain mode of phraseology so consonant and
congenial to the analogy and principles of its respective language as
to remain settled and unaltered; this style is probably to be sought
in the common intercourse of life, among those who speak only to
be understood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always
catching modish innovations, and the learned depart from established
forms of speech, in hope of finding or making better; those who wish
for distinction forsake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but
there is a conversation above grossness and below refinement, where
propriety resides, and where this poet seems to have gathered his
comick dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the
present age than any other authour equally remote, and among his other
excellencies deserves to be studied as one of the original masters of
our language.

These observations are to be considered not as unexceptionally
constant, but as containing general and predominant truth.
_Shakespeare's_ familiar dialogue is affirmed to be smooth and clear,
yet not wholly without ruggedness or difficulty; as a country may be
eminently fruitful, though it has spots unfit for cultivation:
His characters are praised as natural, though their sentiments are
sometimes forced, and their actions improbable; as the earth upon the
whole is spherical, though its surface is varied with protuberances
and cavities.

_Shakespeare_ with his excellencies has likewise faults, and faults
sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit. I shall shew
them in the proportion in which they appear to me, without envious
malignity or superstitious veneration. No question can be more
innocently discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to renown; and
little regard is due to that bigotry which sets candour higher than

His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in
books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so
much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write
without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed a system of
social duty may be selected, for he that thinks reasonably must think
morally; but his precepts and axioms drop casually from him; he makes
no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to shew
in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he carries his persons
indifferently through right and wrong, and at the close dismisses them
without further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance.
This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always
a writer's duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue
independent on time or place.

The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very slight
consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that
he seems not always fully to comprehend his own design. He omits
opportunities of instructing or delighting which the train of
his story seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects those
exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the sake of those which
are more easy.

It may be observed, that in many of his plays the latter part is
evidently neglected. When he found himself near the end of his work,
and, in view of his reward, he shortened the labour to snatch
the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he should most
vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced or
imperfectly represented.

He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives to one age
or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions
of another, at the expence not only of likelihood, but of possibility.
These faults _Pope_ has endeavoured, with more zeal than judgment,
to transfer to his imagined interpolators. We need not wonder to find
_Hector_ quoting _Aristotle_, when we see the loves of _Theseus_
and _Hippolyta_ combined with the _Gothick_ mythology of fairies.
_Shakespeare_, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology, for in
the same age _Sidney_, who wanted not the advantages of learning, has,
in his _Arcadia_, confounded the pastoral with the feudal times,
the days of innocence, quiet and security, with those of turbulence,
violence, and adventure.

In his comick scenes he is seldom very successful, when he engages
his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of sarcasm;
their jests are commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious;
neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are
sufficiently distinguished from his clowns by any appearance of
refined manners. Whether he represented the real conversation of his
time is not easy to determine; the reign of _Elizabeth_ is commonly
supposed to have been a time of stateliness, formality and reserve;
yet perhaps the relaxations of that severity were not very elegant.
There must, however, have been always some modes of gayety preferable
to others, and a writer ought to chuse the best.

In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worse, as his labour
is more. The effusions of passion which exigence forces out are for
the most part striking and energetick; but whenever he solicits his
invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is
tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity.

In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction, and a
wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly
in many words, which might have been more plainly delivered in
few. Narration in dramatick poetry is naturally tedious, as it is
unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the action;
it should therefore always be rapid, and enlivened by frequent
interruption. _Shakespeare_ found it an encumberance, and instead of
lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and

His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his
power was the power of nature; when he endeavoured, like other tragick
writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of
inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how much his stores
of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or
resentment of his reader.

It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy
sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he
struggles with it a while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it
in words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved
by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it.

Not that always where the language is intricate the thought is subtle,
or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality of
words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and
vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recommended
by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.

But the admirers of this great poet have never less reason to indulge
their hopes of supreme excellence, than when he seems fully resolved
to sink them in dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by
the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of
love. He is not long soft and pathetick without some idle conceit,
or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner begins to move, than he
counteracts himself; and terrour and pity, as they are rising in the
mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity.

A quibble is to _Shakespeare_, what luminous vapours are to the
traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out
of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant
power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever
be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be
enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing
attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a
quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A
quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from
his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as
it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by
the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the
fatal _Cleopatra_ for which he lost the world, and was content to lose

It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the defects of this
writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect of the unities: his
violation of those laws which have been instituted and established by
the joint authority of poets and criticks.

For his other deviations from the art of writing I resign him to
critical justice, without making any other demand in his favour, than
that which must be indulged to all human excellence: that his
virtues be rated with his failings: But, from the censure which this
irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due reverence to that
learning which I must oppose, adventure to try how I can defend him.

His histories, being neither tragedies nor comedies are not subject to
any of their laws; nothing more is necessary to all the praise which
they expect, than that the changes of action be so prepared as to
be understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and
the characters consistent, natural, and distinct. No other unity is
intended, and therefore none is to be sought.

In his other works he has well enough preserved the unity of action.
He has not, indeed, an intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly
unravelled: he does not endeavour to hide his design only to discover
it, for this is seldom the order of real events, and _Shakespeare_
is the poet of nature: But his plan has commonly what _Aristotle_
requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end; one event is concatenated
with another, and the conclusion follows by easy consequence. There
are perhaps some incidents that might be spared, as in other poets
there is much talk that only fills up time upon the stage; but the
general system makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the
end of expectation.

To the unities of time and place he has shewn no regard; and perhaps a
nearer view of the principles on which they stand will diminish their
value, and withdraw from them the veneration which, from the time of
_Corneille_, they have very generally received, by discovering
that they have given more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to the

The necessity of observing the unities of time and place arises from
the supposed necessity of making the drama credible. The criticks
hold it impossible, that an action of months or years can be possibly
believed to pass in three hours; or that the spectator can suppose
himself to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors go and return between
distant kings while armies are levied and towns besieged, while an
exile wanders and returns, or till he whom they saw courting his
mistress, shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The mind revolts
from evident falsehood, and fiction loses its force when it departs
from the resemblance of reality.

From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the contraction
of place. The spectator, who knows that he saw the first act at
_Alexandria_, cannot suppose that he sees the next at _Rome_, at a
distance to which not the dragons of _Medea_ could, in so short a
time, have transported him; he knows with certainty that he has not
changed his place, and he knows that place cannot change itself; that
what was a house cannot become a plain; that what was _Thebes_ can
never be _Persepolis_.

Such is the triumphant language with which a critick exults over the
misery of an irregular poet, and exults commonly without resistance
or reply. It is time therefore to tell him by the authority of
_Shakespeare_, that he assumes, as an unquestionable principle,
a position, which, while his breath is forming it into words,
his understanding pronounces to be false. It is false, that any
representation is mistake for reality; that any dramatick fable in
its materiality was ever credible, or, for a single moment, was ever

The objection arising from the impossibility of passing the first hour
at _Alexandria_, and the next at _Rome_, supposes, that when the play
opens, the spectator really imagines himself at _Alexandria_, and
believes that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to _Egypt_,
and that he lives in the days of _Antony_ and _Cleopatra_. Surely he
that imagines this may imagine more. He that can take the stage at one
time for the palace of the _Ptolemies_, may take it in half an hour
for the promontory of _Actium_. Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has
no certain limitation; if the spectator can be once persuaded,
that his old acquaintance are _Alexander_ and _Caesar_, that a room
illuminated with candles is the plain of _Pharsalia_, or the bank of
_Granicus_, he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason,
or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean poetry, may despise the
circumscriptions of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind
thus wandering in extacy should count the clock, or why an hour should
not be a century in that calenture of the brains that can make the
stage a field.

The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, and
know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage,
and that the players are only players. They came to hear a certain
number of lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation. The
lines relate to some action, and an action must he in some place;
but the different actions that complete a story may be in places very
remote from each other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that
space to represent first _Athens_, and then _Sicily_, which was always
known to be neither _Sicily_ nor _Athens_, but a modern theatre?

By supposition, as place is introduced, times may be extended; the
time required by the fable elapses for the most part between the acts;
for, of so much of the action as is represented, the real and poetical
duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations for war
against _Mithridates_ are represented to be made in _Rome_, the event
of the war may, without absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe,
as happening in _Pontus_; we know that there is neither war, nor
preparation for war; we know that we are neither in _Rome_ nor
_Pontus_; that neither _Mithridates_ nor _Lucullus_ are before us. The
drama exhibits successive imitations of successive actions; and why
may not the second imitation represent an action that happened years
after the first, if it be so connected with it, that nothing but time
can be supposed to intervene? Time is, of all modes of existence, most
obsequious to the imagination; a lapse of years is as easily conceived
as a passage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of
real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when
we only see their imitation.

It will be asked, how the drama moves, if it is not credited. It is
credited with all the credit due to a drama. It is credited, whenever
it moves, as a just picture of a real original; as representing to the
auditor what he would himself feel, if he were to do or suffer what
is there feigned to be suffered or to be done. The reflection that
strikes the heart is not, that the evils before us are real evils, but
that they are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If there be
any fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players, but that we fancy
ourselves unhappy for a moment; but we rather lament the possibility
than suppose the presence of misery, as a mother weeps over her babe,
when she remembers that death may take it from her. The delight of
tragedy proceeds from our consciousness of fiction; if we thought
murders and treasons real, they would please no more.

Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because they are mistaken
for realities, but because they bring realities to mind. When the
imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, the trees are not
supposed capable to give us shade, or the fountains coolness; but we
consider, how we should be pleased with such fountains playing beside
us, and such woods waving over us. We are agitated in reading the
history of _Henry_ the Fifth, yet no man takes his book for the
field of _Agencourt_. A dramatick exhibition is a book recited with
concomitants that encrease or diminish its effect. Familiar comedy is
often more powerful in the theatre, than on the page; imperial
tragedy is always less. The humour of _Petruchio_ may be heightened
by grimace; but what voice or what gesture can hope to add dignity or
force to the soliloquy of _Cato_.

A play read, affects the mind like a play acted. It is therefore
evident, that the action is not supposed to be real; and it follows,
that between the acts a longer or shorter time may be allowed to pass,
and that no more account of space or duration is to be taken by the
auditor of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, before whom may
pass in an hour the life of a hero, or the revolutions of an empire.

Whether _Shakespeare_ knew the unities, and rejected them by design,
or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible
to decide, and useless to enquire. We may reasonably suppose, that,
when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions
of scholars and criticks, and that he at last deliberately persisted
in a practice, which he might have begun by chance. As nothing is
essential to the fable, but unity of action, and as the unities
of time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, and, by
circumscribing the extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot
think it much to be lamented, that they were not known by him, or
not observed: Nor, if such another poet could arise, should I very
vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at _Venice_, and
his next in _Cyprus_. Such violations of rules merely positive, become
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 tolli.

Yet when I speak thus slightly of dramatick rules, I cannot but
recollect how much wit and learning may be produced against me; before
such authorities I am afraid to stand, not that I think the present
question one of those that are to be decided by mere authority, but
because it is to be suspected, that these precepts have not been so
easily received but for better reasons than I have yet been able to
find. The result of my enquiries, in which it would be ludicrous to
boast of impartiality, is, that the unities of time and place are not
essential to a just drama, that though they may sometimes conduce to
pleasure, they are always to be sacrificed to the nobler beauties
of variety and instruction; and that a play, written with nice
observation of critical rules, is to be contemplated as an elaborate
curiosity, as the product of superfluous and ostentatious art, by
which is shewn, rather what is possible, than what is necessary.

He that, without diminution of any other excellence, shall preserve
all the unities unbroken, deserves the like applause with the
architect, who shall display all the orders of architecture in a
citadel; without any deduction from its strength; but the principal
beauty of a citadel is to exclude the enemy; and the greatest graces
of a play, are to copy nature and instruct life.

Perhaps what I have here not dogmatically but deliberatively written,
may recal the principles of the drama to a new examination. I am
almost frighted at my own temerity; and when I estimate the fame and
the strength of those that maintain the contrary opinion, am ready to
sink down in reverential silence; as _AEneas_ withdrew from the defence
of _Troy_, when he saw _Neptune_ shaking the wall, and _Juno_ heading
the besiegers.

Those whom my arguments cannot persuade to give their approbation
to the judgment of _Shakespeare_, will easily, if they consider the
condition of his life, make some allowance for his ignorance.

Every man's performances, to be rightly estimated, must be compared
with the state of the age in which he lived, and with his own
particular opportunities; and though to the reader a book be not worse
or better for the circumstances of the authour, yet as there is always
a silent reference of human works to human abilities, and as the
enquiry, how far man may extend his designs, or how high he may rate
his native force, is of far greater dignity than in what rank we shall
place any particular performance, curiosity is always busy to discover
the instruments, as well as to survey the workmanship, to know how
much is to be ascribed to original powers, and how much to casual and
adventitious help. The palaces of _Peru_ or _Mexico_ were certainly
mean and incommodious habitations, if compared to the houses
of _European_ monarchs; yet who could forbear to view them with
astonishment, who remembered that they were built without the use of

The _English_ nation, in the time of _Shakespeare_, was yet
struggling to emerge from barbarity. The philology of _Italy_ had
been transplanted hither in the reign of _Henry_ the Eighth; and
the learned languages had been successfully cultivated by _Lilly,
Linacer_, and _More_; by _Pole, Cheke_, and _Gardiner_; and afterwards
by _Smith, Clerk, Haddon_, and _Ascham_. Greek was now taught to boys
in the principal schools; and those who united elegance with learning,
read, with great diligence, the _Italian_ and _Spanish_ poets. But
literature was yet confined to professed scholars, or to men and women
of high rank. The publick was gross and dark; and to be able to read
and write, was an accomplishment still valued for its rarity.

Nations, like individuals, have their infancy. A people newly awakened
to literary curiosity, being yet unacquainted with the true state
of things, knows not how to judge of that which is proposed as its
resemblance. Whatever is remote from common appearances is always
welcome to vulgar, as to childish credulity; and of a country
unenlightened by learning, the whole people is the vulgar. The study
of those who then aspired to plebeian learning was laid out upon
adventures, giants, dragons, and enchantments. _The Death of Arthur
was_ the favourite volume.

The mind, which has feasted on the luxurious wonders of fiction, has
no taste of the insipidity of truth. A play which imitated only
the common occurrences of the world, would, upon the admirers of
_Palmerin_ and _Guy_ of _Warwick_, have made little impression; he
that wrote for such an audience was under the necessity of looking
round for strange events and fabulous transactions, and that
incredibility, by which maturer knowledge is offended, was the chief
recommendation of writings, to unskilful curiosity.

Our authour's plots are generally borrowed from novels, and it is
reasonable to suppose, that he chose the most popular, such as were
read by many, and related by more; for his audience could not have
followed him through the intricacies of the drama, had they not held
the thread of the story in their hands.

The stories, which we now find only in remoter authours, were in his
time accessible and familiar. The fable of _As you like it_, which is
supposed to be copied from _Chaucer's_ Gamelyn, was a little pamphlet
of those times; and old Mr. _Cibber_ remembered the tale of _Hamlet_
in plain _English_ prose, which the criticks have now to seek in _Saxo

His _English_ histories he took from _English_ chronicles and
_English_ ballads; and as the ancient writers were made known to
his countrymen by versions, they supplied him with new subjects; he
dilated some of _Plutarch's_ lives into plays, when they had been
translated by _North_.

His plots, whether historical or fabulous, are always crouded with
incidents, by which the attention of a rude people was more easily
caught than by sentiment or argumentation; and such is the power of
the marvellous even over those who despise it, that every man finds
his mind more strongly seized by the tragedies of _Shakespeare_ than
of any other writer; others please us by particular speeches, but he
always makes us anxious for the event, and has perhaps excelled all
but _Homer_ in securing the first purpose of a writer, by exciting
restless and unquenchable curiosity and compelling him that reads his
work to read it through. The shows and bustle with which his plays
abound have the same original. As knowledge advances, pleasure passes
from the eye to the ear, but returns, as it declines, from the ear to
the eye. Those to whom our authour's labours were exhibited had more
skill in pomps or processions than in poetical language, and perhaps
wanted some visible and discriminated events, as comments on the
dialogue. He knew how he should most please; and whether his practice
is more agreeable to nature, or whether his example has prejudiced the
nation, we still find that on our stage something must be done as
well as said, and inactive declamation is very coldly heard, however
musical or elegant, passionate or sublime.

_Voltaire_ expresses his wonder, that our authour's extravagances are
endured by a nation, which has seen the tragedy of _Cato_. Let him
be answered, that _Addison_ speaks the language of poets, and
_Shakespeare_, of men. We find in _Cato_ innumerable beauties which
enamour us of its authour, but we see nothing that acquaints us with
human sentiments or human actions; we place it with the fairest and
the noblest progeny which judgment propagates by conjunction with
learning, but _Othello_ is the vigorous and vivacious offspring
of observation impregnated by genius. _Cato_ affords a splendid
exhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and delivers just and
noble sentiments, in diction easy, elevated and harmonious, but its
hopes and fears communicate no vibration to the heart; the composition
refers us only to the writer; we pronounce the name of _Cato_, but we
think on _Addison_.

The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately formed
and diligently planted, varied with shades, and scented with flowers;
the composition of _Shakespeare_ is a forest, in which oaks extend
their branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed sometimes
with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and
to roses; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind
with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of precious
rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and polished into
brightness. _Shakespeare_ opens a mine which contains gold and
diamonds in unexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations,
debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals.

It has been much disputed, whether _Shakespeare_ owed his excellence
to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps of
scholastick education, the precepts of critical science, and the
examples of ancient authours.

There has always prevailed a tradition, that _Shakespeare_ wanted
learning, that he had no regular education, nor much skill in the dead
languages. _Johnson_, his friend, affirms, that _he had small Latin,
and no Greek_; who, besides that he had no imaginable temptation to
falsehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of
_Shakespeare_ were known to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore
to decide the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force could
be opposed.

Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep learning in many
imitations of old writers; but the examples which I have known urged,
were drawn from books translated in his time; or were such easy
coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who consider the same
subjects; or such remarks on life or axioms of morality as float in
conversation, and are transmitted through the world in proverbial

I have found it remarked, that, in this important sentence, _Go
before, I'll follow_, we read a translation of, _I prae, sequar_. I
have been told, that when _Caliban_, after a pleasing dream, says, _I
cry'd to sleep again_, the authour imitates _Anacreon_, who had, like
every other man, the same wish on the same occasion.

There are a few passages which may pass for imitations, but so few,
that the exception only confirms the rule; he obtained them from
accidental quotations, or by oral communication, and as he used what
he had, would have used more if he had obtained it.

The _Comedy of Errors_ is confessedly taken from the _Menaechmi_
of _Plautus_; from the only play of _Plautus_ which was then in
_English_. What can be more probable, than that he who copied that,
would have copied more; but that those which were not translated were

Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain. That his plays have
some _French_ scenes proves but little; he might easily procure them
to be written, and probably, even though he had known the language in
the common degree, he could not have written it without assistance. In
the story of _Romeo_ and _Juliet_ he is observed to have followed the
_English_ translation, where it deviates from the _Italian_; but
this on the other part proves nothing against his knowledge of the
original. He was to copy, not what he knew himself, but what was known
to his audience.

It is most likely that he had learned _Latin_ sufficiently to make him
acquainted with construction, but that he never advanced to an easy
perusal of the _Roman_ authours. Concerning his skill in modern
languages, I can find no sufficient ground of determination; but as
no imitations of _French_ or _Italian_ authours have been discovered,
though the _Italian_ poetry was then high in esteem, I am inclined to
believe, that he read little more than _English_, and chose for his
fables only such tales as he found translated.

That much knowledge is scattered over his works is very justly
observed by _Pope_, but it is often such knowledge as books did not
supply. He that will understand _Shakespeare_, must not be content to
study him in the closet, he must look for his meaning sometimes among
the sports of the field, and sometimes among the manufactures of the

There is however proof enough that he was a very diligent reader, nor
was our language then so indigent of books, but that he might very
liberally indulge his curiosity without excursion into foreign
literature. Many of the _Roman_ authours were translated, and some of
the _Greek_; the reformation had filled the kingdom with theological
learning; most of the topicks of human disquisition had found
_English_ writers; and poetry had been cultivated, not only with
diligence, but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient for a
mind so capable of appropriating and improving it.

But the greater part of his excellence was the product of his
own genius. He found the _English_ stage in a state of the utmost
rudeness; no essays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared, from
which it could be discovered to what degree of delight either one
or other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue were yet
understood. _Shakespeare_ may be truly said to have introduced them
both amongst us, and in some of his happier scenes to have carried
them both to the utmost height.

By what gradations of improvement he proceeded, is not easily known;
for the chronology of his works is yet unsettled. _Rowe_ is of
opinion, that _perhaps we are not to look for his beginning, like
those of other writers, in his least perfect works; art had so little,
and nature so large a share in what he did, that for ought I know_,
says he, _the performances of his youth, as they were the most
vigorous, were the best._ But the power of nature is only the power of
using to any certain purpose the materials which diligence procures,
or opportunity supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when
images are collected by study and experience, can only assist in
combining or applying them. _Shakespeare_, however favoured by nature,
could impart only what he had learned; and as he must increase his
ideals, like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, he, like them,
grew wiser as he grew older, could display life better, as he knew it
more, and instruct with more efficacy, as he was himself more amply

There is a vigilance of observation and accuracy of distinction which
books and precepts cannot confer; from this almost all original
and native excellence proceeds. _Shakespeare_ must have looked
upon mankind with perspicacity, in the highest degree curious and
attentive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding
writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of
present manners; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the
same. Our authour had both matter and form to provide; for except
the characters of _Chaucer_, to whom I think he is not much indebted,
there were no writers in _English_, and perhaps not many in other
modern languages, which shewed life in its native colours.

The contest about the original benevolence or malignity of man had not
yet commenced. Speculation had not yet attempted to analyse the
mind, to trace the passions to their sources, to unfold the seminal
principles of vice and virtue, or sound the depths of the heart for
the motives of action. All those enquiries, which from that time that
human nature became the fashionable study, have been made sometimes
with nice discernment, but often with idle subtilty, were yet
unattempted. The tales, with which the infancy of learning was
satisfied, exhibited only the superficial appearances of action,
related the events but omitted the causes, and were formed for such as
delighted in wonders rather than in truth. Mankind was not then to
be studied in the closet; he that would know the world, was under the
necessity of gleaning his own remarks, by mingling as he could in its
business and amusements.

_Boyle_ congratulated himself upon his high birth, because it favoured
his curiosity, by facilitating his access. _Shakespeare_ had no such
advantage; he came to _London_ a needy adventurer, and lived for a
time by very mean employments. Many works of genius and learning have
been performed in states of life, that appear very little favourable
to thought or to enquiry; so many, that he who considers them
is inclined to think that he sees enterprise and perseverance
predominating over all external agency, and bidding help and hindrance
vanish before them. The genius of _Shakespeare_ was not to be
depressed by the weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow
conversation to which men in want are inevitably condemned; the
incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his mind, _as dewdrops
from a lion's mane_.

Though he had so many difficulties to encounter, and so little
assistance to surmount them, he has been able to obtain an
exact knowledge of many modes of life, and many casts of native
dispositions; to vary them with great multiplicity; to mark them
by nice distinctions; and to shew them in full view by proper
combinations. In this part of his performances he had none to imitate,
but has himself been imitated by all succeeding writers; and it may
be doubted, whether from all his successors more maxims of theoretical
knowledge, or more rules of practical prudence, can be collected, than
he alone has given to his country.

Nor was his attention confined to the actions of men; he was an exact
surveyor of the inanimate world; his descriptions have always some
peculiarities, gathered by contemplating things as they really exist.
It may be observed, that the oldest poets of many nations preserve
their reputation, and that the following generations of wit, after a
short celebrity, sink into oblivion. The first, whoever they be, must
take their sentiments and descriptions immediately from knowledge;
the resemblance is therefore just, their descriptions are verified by
every eye, and their sentiments acknowledged by every breast. Those
whom their fame invites to the same studies, copy partly them, and
partly nature, till the books of one age gain such authority, as
to stand in the place of nature to another, and imitation,
always deviating a little, becomes at last capricious and casual.
_Shakespeare_, whether life or nature be his subject, shews plainly,
that he has seen with his own eyes; he gives the image which he
receives, not weakened or distorted by the intervention of any other
mind; the ignorant feel his representations to be just, and the
learned see that they are compleat.

Perhaps it would not be easy to find any authour, except _Homer_, who
invented so much as _Shakespeare_, who so much advanced the studies
which he cultivated, or effused so much novelty upon his age or
country. The form, the characters, the language, and the shows of the
_English_ drama are his, _He seems_, says _Dennis, to have been the
very original of our_ English _tragical harmony, that is, the harmony
of blank verse, diversified often by dissyllable and trissyllable
terminations. For the diversity distinguishes it from heroick harmony,
and by bringing it nearer to common use makes it more proper to gain
attention, and more fit for action and dialogue. Such verse we make
when we are writing prose; we make such verse in common conversation_.

I know not whether this praise is rigorously just. The dissyllable
termination, which the critic rightly appropriates to the drama, is
to be found, though, I think, not in _Gorboduc_ which is confessedly
before our author; yet in _Hieronnymo_, of which the date is not
certain, but which there is reason to believe at least as old as his
earliest plays. This however is certain, that he is the first who
taught either tragedy or comedy to please, there being no theatrical
piece of any older writer, of which the name is known, except to
antiquaries and collectors of books, which are sought because they are
scarce, and would not have been scarce, had they been much esteemed.

To him we must ascribe the praise, unless _Spenser_ may divide it with
him, of having first discovered to how much smoothness and harmony
the _English_ language could be softened. He has speeches, perhaps
sometimes scenes, which have all the delicacy of _Rowe_, without his
effeminacy. He endeavours indeed commonly to strike by the force and
vigour of his dialogue, but he never executes his purpose better, than
when he tries to sooth by softness.

Yet it must be at last confessed, that as we owe every thing to
him, he owes something to us; that, if much of his praise is paid
by perception and judgement, much is likewise given by custom and
veneration. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from his
deformities, and endure in him what we should in another loath or
despise. If we endured without praising, respect for the father of
our drama might excuse us; but I have seen, in the book of some modern
critick, a collection of anomalies, which shew that he has corrupted
language by every mode of depravation, but which his admirer has
accumulated as a monument of honour.

He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excellence, but perhaps
not one play, which, if it were now exhibited as the work of a
contemporary writer, would be heard to the conclusion. I am indeed
far from thinking, that his works were wrought to his own ideas of
perfection; when they were such as would satisfy the audience, they
satisfied the writer. It is seldom that authours, though more studious
of fame than _Shakespeare_, rise much above the standard of their own
age; to add a little of what is best will always be sufficient for
present praise, and those who find themselves exalted into fame,
are willing to credit their encomiasts, and to spare the labour of
contending with themselves.

It does not appear, that _Shakespeare_ thought his works worthy of
posterity, that he levied any ideal tribute upon future times, or had
any further prospect, than of present popularity and present profit.
When his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end; he solicited
no addition of honour from the reader. He therefore made no scruple
to repeat the same jests in many dialogues, or to entangle different
plots by the same knot of perplexity, which may be at least forgiven
him, by those who recollect, that of _Congreve's_ four comedies, two
are concluded by a marriage in a mask, by a deception, which perhaps
never happened, and which, whether likely or not, he did not invent.

So careless was this great poet of future fame, that, though he
retired to ease and plenty, while he was yet little _declined into the
vale of years_, before he could be disgusted with fatigue, or disabled
by infirmity, he made no collection of his works, nor desired to
rescue those that had been already published from the depravations
that obscured them, or secure to the rest a better destiny, by giving
them to the world in their genuine state.

Of the plays which bear the name of _Shakespeare_ in the late
editions, the greater part were not published till about seven years
after his death, and the few which appeared in his life are apparently
thrust into the world without the care of the authour, and therefore
probably without his knowledge.

Of all the publishers, clandestine or professed, their negligence and
unskilfulness has by the late revisers been sufficiently shown.
The faults of all are indeed numerous and gross, and have not only
corrupted many passages perhaps beyond recovery, but have brought
others into suspicion, which are only obscured by obsolete
phraseology, or by the writer's unskilfulness and affectation. To
alter is more easy than to explain, and temerity is a more common
quality than diligence. Those who saw that they must employ conjecture
to a certain degree, were willing to indulge it a little further. Had
the author published his own works, we should have sat quietly down
to disentangle his intricacies, and clear his obscurities; but now we
tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we happen not to understand.

The faults are more than could have happened without the
concurrence of many causes. The stile of _Shakespeare_ was in itself
ungrammatical, perplexed and obscure; his works were transcribed for
the players by those who may be supposed to have seldom understood
them; they were transmitted by copiers equally unskilful, who still
multiplied errours; they were perhaps sometimes mutilated by the
actors, for the sake of shortening the speeches; and were at last
printed without correction of the press.

In this state they remained, not as Dr. _Warburton_ supposes, because
they were unregarded, but because the editor's art was not yet applied
to modern languages, and our ancestors were accustomed to so much
negligence of _English_ printers, that they could very patiently
endure it. At last an edition was undertaken by _Rowe_; not because a
poet was to be published by a poet, for _Rowe_ seems to have thought
very little on correction or explanation, but that our authour's works
might appear like those of his fraternity, with the appendages of a
life and recommendatory preface. _Rowe_ has been clamorously blamed
for not performing what he did not undertake, and it is time that
justice be done him, by confessing, that though he seems to have had
no thought of corruption beyond the printer's errours, yet he has made
many emendations, if they were not made before, which his successors
have received without acknowledgement, and which, if they had produced
them, would have filled pages and pages with censures of the stupidity
by which the faults were committed, with displays of the absurdities
which they involved, with ostentatious expositions of the new reading,
and self congratulations on the happiness of discovering it.

Of _Rowe_, as of all the editors, I have preserved the preface, and
have likewise retained the authour's life, though not written with
much elegance or spirit; it relates however what is now to be known,
and therefore deserves to pass through all succeeding publications.

The nation had been for many years content enough with Mr. _Rowe's_
performance, when Mr. _Pope_ made them acquainted with the true state
of _Shakespeare's_ text, shewed that it was extremely corrupt, and
gave reason to hope that there were means of reforming it. He collated
the old copies, which none had thought to examine before, and restored
many lines to their integrity; but, by a very compendious criticism,
he rejected whatever he disliked, and thought more of amputation than
of cure.

I know not why he is commended by Dr. _Warburton_ for distinguishing
the genuine from the spurious plays. In this choice he exerted no
judgement of his own; the plays which he received, were given
by _Hemings_ and _Condel,_ the first editors; and those which he
rejected, though, according to the licentiousness of the press in
those times, they were printed during _Shakespeare's_ life, with his
name, had been omitted by his friends, and were never added to his
works before the edition of 1664, from which they were copied by the
later printers.

This was a work which _Pope_ seems to have thought unworthy of his
abilities, being not able to suppress his contempt of _the dull duty
of an editor_. He understood but half his undertaking. The duty of
a collator is indeed dull, yet, like other tedious tasks, is very
necessary; but an emendatory critick would ill discharge his duty,
without qualities very different from dullness. In perusing a
corrupted piece, he must have before him all possibilities of meaning,
with all possibilities of expression. Such must be his comprehension
of thought, and such his copiousness of language. Out of many readings
possible, he must be able to select that which best suits with the
state, opinions, and modes of language prevailing in every age, and
with his authour's particular cast of thought, and turn of expression.
Such must be his knowledge, and such his taste. Conjectural criticism
demands more than humanity possesses, and he that exercises it with
most praise has very frequent need of indulgence. Let us now be told
no more of the dull duty of an editor.

Confidence is the common consequence of success. They whose excellence
of any kind has been loudly celebrated, are ready to conclude, that
their powers are universal. _Pope's_ edition fell below his own
expectations, and he was so much offended, when he was found to have
left any thing for others to do, that he past the latter part of his
life in a state of hostility with verbal criticism.

I have retained all his notes, that no fragment of so great a writer
may be lost; his preface, valuable alike for elegance of composition
and justness of remark, and containing a general criticism on his
authour, so extensive, that little can be added, and so exact, that
little can be disputed, every editor has an interest to suppress, but
that every reader would demand its insertion.

_Pope_ was succeeded by _Theobald_, a man of narrow comprehension and
small acquisitions, with no native and intrinsick splendour of genius,
with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for
minute accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it. He collated
the ancient copies, and rectified many errours. A man so anxiously
scrupulous might have been expected to do more, but what little he did
was commonly right.

In his report of copies and editions he is not to be trusted, without
examination. He speaks sometimes indefinitely of copies, when he has
only one. In his enumeration of editions, he mentions the two first
folios as of high, and the third folio as of middle authority; but
the truth is, that the first is equivalent to all others, and that the
rest only deviate from it by the printer's negligence. Whoever has
any of the folios has all, excepting those diversities which mere
reiteration of editions will produce. I collated them all at the
beginning, but afterwards used only the first.

Of his notes I have generally retained those which he retained himself
in his second edition, except when they were confuted by subsequent
annotators, or were too minute to merit preservation. I have sometimes
adopted his restoration of a comma, without inserting the panegyrick
in which he celebrated himself for his atchievement. The exuberant
excrescence of his diction I have often lopped, his triumphant
exultations over _Pope_ and _Rowe_ I have sometimes suppressed, and
his contemptible ostentation I have frequently concealed; but I have
in some places shewn him, as he would have shewn himself, for the
reader's diversion, that the inflated emptiness of some notes may
justify or excuse the contraction of the rest.

_Theobald_, thus weak and ignorant, thus mean and faithless, thus
petulant and ostentatious, by the good luck of having _Pope_ for his
enemy, has escaped, and escaped alone, with reputation, from this
undertaking. So willingly does the world support those who solicite
favour, against those who command reverence; and so easily is he
praised, whom no man can envy.

Our authour fell then into the hands of Sir _Thomas Hanmer,_ the
_Oxford_ editor, a man, in my opinion, eminently qualified by nature
for such studies. He had, what is the first requisite to emendatory
criticism, that intuition by which the poet's intention is immediately
discovered, and that dexterity of intellect which despatches its work
by the easiest means. He had undoubtedly read much; his acquaintance
with customs, opinions, and traditions, seems to have been large; and
he is often learned without shew. He seldom passes what he does not
understand, without an attempt to find or to make a meaning, and
sometimes hastily makes what a little more attention would have found.
He is solicitous to reduce to grammar, what he could not be sure that
his authour intended to be grammatical. _Shakespeare_ regarded more
the series of ideas, than of words; and his language, not being
designed for the reader's desk, was all that he desired it to be, if
it conveyed his meaning to the audience.

_Hanmer's_ care of the metre has been too violently censured. He found
the measures reformed in so many passages, by the silent labours
of some editors, with the silent acquiescence of the rest, that he
thought himself allowed to extend a little further the license, which
had already been carried so far without reprehension; and of his
corrections in general, it must be confessed, that they are often
just, and made commonly with the least possible violation of the text.

But, by inserting his emendations, whether invented or borrowed, into
the page, without any notice of varying copies, he has appropriated
the labour of his predecessors, and made his own edition of little
authority. His confidence indeed, both in himself and others, was
too great; he supposes all to be right that was done by _Pope_ and
_Theobald_; he seems not to suspect a critick of fallibility, and it
was but reasonable that he should claim what he so liberally granted.

As he never writes without careful enquiry and diligent consideration,
I have received all his notes, and believe that every reader will wish
for more.

Of the last editor it is more difficult to speak. Respect is due to
high place, tenderness to living reputation, and veneration to genius
and learning; but he cannot be justly offended at that liberty
of which he has himself so frequently given an example, nor very
solicitous what is thought of notes, which he ought never to have
considered as part of his serious employments, and which, I suppose,
since the ardour of composition is remitted, he no longer numbers
among his happy effusions.

The original and predominant errour of his commentary, is acquiescence
in his first thoughts; that precipitation which is produced by
consciousness of quick discernment; and that confidence which presumes
to do, by surveying the surface, what labour only can perform,
by penetrating the bottom. His notes exhibit sometimes perverse
interpretations, and sometimes improbable conjectures; he at one
time gives the authour more profundity of meaning, than the sentence
admits, and at another discovers absurdities, where the sense is plain
to every other reader. But his emendations are likewise often happy
and just; and his interpretation of obscure passages learned and

Of his notes, I have commonly rejected those, against which the
general voice of the publick has exclaimed, or which their own
incongruity immediately condemns, and which, I suppose, the authour
himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, to part I have
given the highest approbation, by inserting the offered reading in
the text; part I have left to the judgment of the reader, as doubtful,
though specious; and part I have censured without reserve, but I am
sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, without wantonness of

It is no pleasure to me, in revising my volumes, to observe how much
paper is wasted in confutation. Whoever considers the revolutions of
learning, and the various questions of greater or less importance,
upon which wit and reason have exercised their powers, must lament the
unsuccessfulness of enquiry, and the slow advances of truth, when he
reflects, that great part of the labour of every writer is only the
destruction of those that went before him. The first care of the
builder of a new system, is to demolish the fabricks which are
standing. The chief desire of him that comments an authour, is to
shew how much other commentators have corrupted and obscured him.
The opinions prevalent in one age, as truths above the reach of
controversy, are confuted and rejected in another, and rise again
to reception in remoter times. Thus the human mind is kept in motion
without progress. Thus sometimes truth and criour, and sometimes
contrarieties of errour, take each other's place by reciprocal
invasion. The tide of seeming knowledge which is poured over one
generation, retires and leaves another naked and barren; the sudden
meteors of intelligence which for a while appear to shoot their beams
into the regions of obscurity, on a sudden withdraw their lustre, and
leave mortals again to grope their way.

These elevations and depressions of renown, and the contradictions to
which all improvers of knowledge must for ever be exposed, since they
are not escaped by the highest and brightest of mankind, may surely
be endured with patience by criticks and annotators, who can rank
themselves but as the satellites of their authours. How canst thou beg
for life, says _Achilles_ to his captive, when thou knowest that
thou art now to suffer only what must another day be suffered by

Dr. _Warburton_ had a name sufficient to confer celebrity on those who
could exalt themselves into antagonists, and his notes have raised a
clamour too loud to be distinct. His chief assailants are the authours
of _the Canons of criticism_ and of the _Review of_ Shakespeare's
_text_; of whom one ridicules his errours with airy petulance,
suitable enough to the levity of the controversy; the other attacks
them with gloomy malignity, as if he were dragging to justice an
assassin or incendiary. The one stings like a fly, sucks a little
blood, takes a gay flutter, and returns for more; the other bites like
a viper, and would be glad to leave inflammations and gangrene behind
him. When I think on one, with his confederates, I remember the danger
of _Coriolanus,_ who was afraid that _girls with spits, and boys with
stones, should slay him in puny battle_; when the other crosses my
imagination, I remember the prodigy in _Macbeth_,

_An eagle tow'ring in his pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd._

Let me however do them justice. One is a wit, and one a scholar. They
have both shown acuteness sufficient in the discovery of faults, and
have both advanced some probable interpretations of obscure passages;
but when they aspire to conjecture and emendation, it appears how
falsely we all estimate our own abilities, and the little which they
have been able to perform might have taught them more candour to the
endeavours of others.

Before Dr. _Warburton's_ edition, _Critical observations on_
Shakespeare had been published by Mr. _Upton_, a man skilled in
languages, and acquainted with books, but who seems to have had no
great vigour of genius or nicety of taste. Many of his explanations
are curious and useful, but he likewise, though he professed to oppose
the licentious confidence of editors, and adhere to the old copies,
is unable to restrain the rage of emendation, though his ardour is ill
seconded by his skill. Every cold empirick, when his heart is expanded
by a successful experiment, swells into a theorist, and the laborious
collator at some unlucky moment frolicks in conjecture.

_Critical, historical and explanatory notes_ have been likewise
published upon _Shakespeare_ by Dr. _Grey_, whose diligent perusal
of the old _English_ writers has enabled him to make some useful
observations. What he undertook he has well enough performed, but
as he neither attempts judicial nor emendatory criticism, he employs
rather his memory than his sagacity. It were to be wished that all
would endeavour to imitate his modesty who have not been able to
surpass his knowledge.

I can say with great sincerity of all my predecessors, what I hope
will hereafter be said of me, that not one has left _Shakespeare_
without improvement, nor is there one to whom I have not been indebted
for assistance and information. Whatever I have taken from them it was
my intention to refer to its original authour, and it is certain, that
what I have not given to another, I believed when I wrote it to be my
own. In some perhaps I have been anticipated; but if I am ever found
to encroach upon the remarks of any other commentator, I am willing
that the honour, be it more or less, should be transferred to the
first claimant, for his right, and his alone, stands above dispute;
the second can prove his pretensions only to himself, nor can
himself always distinguish invention, with sufficient certainty, from

They have all been treated by me with candour, which they have not
been careful of observing to one another. It is not easy to discover
from what cause the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally proceed.
The subjects to be discussed by him are of very email importance; they
involve neither property nor liberty; nor favour the interest of
sect or party. The various readings of copies, and different
interpretations of a passage, seem to be questions that might exercise
the wit, without engaging the passions. But, whether it be, that
_small things make mean men proud_, and vanity catches small
occasions; or that all contrariety of opinion, even in those that can
defend it no longer, makes proud men angry; there is often found in
commentaries a spontaneous strain of invective and contempt, more
eager and venomous than is vented by the most furious controvertist in
politicks against those whom he is hired to defame.

Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce to the vehemence
of the agency; when the truth to be investigated is so near to
inexistence, as to escape attention, its bulk is to be enlarged by
rage and exclamation: That to which all would be indifferent in its
original state, may attract notice when the fate of a name is appended
to it. A commentator has indeed great temptations to supply by
turbulence what he wants of dignity, to beat his little gold to a
spacious surface, to work that to foam which no art or diligence can
exalt to spirit.

The notes which I have borrowed or written are either illustrative,
by which difficulties are explained; or judicial by which faults
and beauties are remarked; or emendatory, by which depravations are

The explanations transcribed from others, if I do not subjoin any
other interpretation, I suppose commonly to be right, at least I
intend by acquiescence to confess, that I have nothing better to

After the labours of all the editors, I found many passages which
appeared to me likely to obstruct the greater number of readers, and
thought it my duty to facilitate their passage. It is impossible
for an expositor not to write too little for some, and too much for
others. He can only judge what is necessary by his own experience;
and how long soever he may deliberate, will at last explain many lines
which the learned will think impossible to be mistaken, and omit many
for which the ignorant will want his help. These are censures merely
relative, and must be quietly endured. I have endeavoured to be
neither superfluously copious, nor scrupulously reserved, and hope
that I have made my authour's meaning accessible to many who before
were frighted from perusing him, and contributed something to the
publick, by diffusing innocent and rational pleasure.

The compleat explanation of an authour not systematick and
consequential, but desultory and vagrant, abounding in casual
allusions and light hints, is not to be expected from any single
scholiast. All personal reflections, when names are suppressed, must
be in a few years irrecoverably obliterated; and customs, too minute
to attract the notice of law, such as modes of dress, formalities of
conversation, rules of visits, disposition of furniture, and practices
of ceremony, which naturally find places in familiar dialogue, are
so fugitive and unsubstantial, that they are not easily retained or
recovered. What can be known, will be collected by chance, from the
recesses of obscure and obsolete papers, perused commonly with some
other view. Of this knowledge every man has some, and none has much;
but when an authour has engaged the publick attention, those who can
add any thing to his illustration, communicate their discoveries, and
time produces what had eluded diligence.

To time I have been obliged to resign many passages, which, though I
did not understand them, will perhaps hereafter be explained, having,
I hope, illustrated some, which others have neglected or mistaken,
sometimes by short remarks, or marginal directions, such as every
editor has added at his will, and often by comments more laborious
than the matter will seem to deserve; but that which is most difficult
is not always most important, and to an editor nothing is a trifle by
which his authour is obscured.

The poetical beauties or defects I have not been very diligent to
observe. Some plays have more, and some fewer judicial observations,
not in proportion to their difference of merit, but because I gave
this part of my design to chance and to caprice. The reader, I
believe, is seldom pleased to find his opinion anticipated; it is
natural to delight more in what we find or make, than in what we
receive. Judgement, like other faculties, is improved by practice, and
its advancement is hindered by submission to dictatorial decisions, as
the memory grows torpid by the use of a table book. Some initiation is
however necessary; of all skill, part is infused by precept, and part
is obtained by habit; I have therefore shewn so much as may enable the
candidate of criticism to discover the rest.

To the end of most plays, I have added short strictures, containing
a general censure of faults, or praise of excellence; in which I know
not how much I have concurred with the current opinion; tut I have
not, by any affectation of singularity, deviated from it. Nothing
is minutely and particularly examined, and therefore it is to be
supposed, that in the plays which are condemned there is much to be
praised, and in these which are praised much to be condemned.

The part of criticism in which the whole succession of editors has
laboured with the greatest diligence, which has occasioned the
most arrogant ostentation, and excited the keenest acrimony, is the
emendation of corrupted passages, to which the publick attention
having been first drawn by the violence of contention between _Pope_
and _Theobald_, has been continued by the persecution, which, with a
kind of conspiracy, has been since raised against all the publishers
of _Shakespeare_.

That many passages have passed in a state of depravation through all
the editions is indubitably certain; of these the restoration is only
to be attempted by collation of copies or sagacity of conjecture. The
collator's province is safe and easy, the conjecturer's perilous and
difficult. Yet as the greater part of the plays are extant only in one
copy, the peril must not be avoided, nor the difficulty refused.

Of the readings which this emulation of amendment has hitherto
produced, some from the labours of every publisher I have advanced
into the text; those are to be considered as in my opinion
sufficiently supported; some I have rejected without mention, as
evidently erroneous; some I have left in the notes without censure or
approbation, as resting in equipoise between objection and defence;
and some, which seemed specious but not right, I have inserted with a
subsequent animadversion.

Having classed the observations of others, I was at last to try what
I could substitute for their mistakes, and how I could supply their
omissions. I collated such copies as I could procure, and wished
for more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities very
communicative. Of the editions which chance or kindness put into
my hands I have given an enumeration, that I may not be blamed for
neglecting what I had not the power to do.

By examining the old copies, I soon found that the later publishers,
with all their boasts of diligence, suffered many passages to stand
unauthorised, and contented themselves with _Rowe's_ regulation of
the text, even where they knew it to be arbitrary, and with a
little consideration might have found it to be wrong. Some of these
alterations are only the ejection of a word for one that appeared to
him more elegant or more intelligible. These corruptions I have often
silently rectified; for the history of our language, and the true
force of our words, can only be preserved, by keeping the text of
authours free from adulteration. Others, and those very frequent,
smoothed the cadence, or regulated the measure; on these I have
not exercised the same rigour; if only a word was transposed, or a
particle Inserted or omitted, I have sometimes suffered the line
to stand; for the inconstancy of the copies is such, as that some
liberties may be easily permitted. But this practice I have not
suffered to proceed far, having restored the primitive diction
wherever it could for any reason be preferred.

The emendations, which comparison of copies supplied, I have inserted
in the text; sometimes where the improvement was slight, without
notice, and sometimes with an account of the reasons of the change.

Conjecture, though it be sometimes unavoidable, I have not wantonly
nor licentiously indulged. It has been my settled principle, that the
reading of the ancient books is probably true, and therefore is not
to be disturbed for the sake of elegance, perspicuity, or mere
improvement of the sense. For though much credit is not due to the
fidelity, nor any to the judgement of the first publishers, yet they
who had the copy before their eyes were more likely to read it right,
than we who read it only by imagination. But it is evident that they
have often made strange mistakes by ignorance or negligence, and that
therefore something may be properly attempted by criticism, keeping
the middle way between presumption and timidity.

Such criticism I have attempted to practice, and where any passage
appeared inextricably perplexed, have endeavoured to discover how it
may be recalled to sense, with least violence. But my first labour
is, always to turn the old text on every side, and try if there be any
interstice, through which light can find its way; nor would _Huetius_
himself condemn me, as refusing the trouble of research, for the
ambition of alteration. In this modest industry I have not been
unsuccessful. I have rescued many lines from the violations of
temerity, and secured many scenes from the inroads of correction. I
have adopted the _Roman_ sentiment, that it is more honourable to
save a citizen, than to kill an enemy, and have been more careful to
protect than to attack.

I have preserved the common distribution of the plays into acts,
though I believe it to be in almost all the plays void of authority.
Some of those which are divided in the later editions have no division
in the first folio, and some that are divided in the folio have no
division in the preceding copies. The settled mode of the theatre
requires four intervals in the play, but few, if any, of our authour's
compositions can be properly distributed in that manner. An act is so
much of the drama as passes without intervention of time or change of
place. A pause makes a new act. In every real, and therefore in every
imitative action, the intervals may be more or fewer, the restriction
of five acts being accidental and arbitrary. This _Shakespeare_ knew,
and this he practised; his plays were written, and at first printed
in one unbroken continuity, and ought now to be exhibited with
short pauses, interposed as often as the scene is changed, or any
considerable time is required to pass. This method would at once quell
a thousand absurdities.

In restoring the author's works to their integrity, I have considered
the punctuation as wholly in my power; for what could be their care of
colons and commas, who corrupted words and sentences. Whatever could
be done by adjusting points is therefore silently performed, in some
plays with much diligence, in others with less; it is hard to keep a
busy eye steadily fixed upon evanescent atoms, or a discursive mind
upon evanescent truth.

The same liberty has been taken with a few particles, or other words
of slight effect. I have sometimes inserted or omitted them without
notice. I have done that sometimes, which the other editors have
done always, and which indeed the state of the text may sufficiently

The greater part of readers, instead of blaming us for passing
trifles, will wonder that on mere trifles so much labour is expended,
with such importance of debate, and such solemnity of diction. To
these I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an art which
they do not understand; yet cannot much reproach them with their
ignorance, nor promise that they would become in general, by learning
criticism, more useful, happier or wiser.

As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less; and after
I had printed a few plays, resolved to insert none of my own readings
in the text. Upon this caution I now congratulate myself, for every
day encreases my doubt of my emendations.

Since I have confined my imagination to the margin, it must not be
considered as very reprehensible, if I have suffered it to play some
freaks in its own dominion. There is no danger in conjecture, if it
be proposed as conjecture; and while the text remains uninjured, those
changes may be safely offered, which are not considered even by him
that offers them as necessary or safe.

If my readings are of little value, they have not been ostentatiously
displayed or importunately obtruded. I could have written longer
notes, for the art of writing notes is not of difficult attainment.
The work is performed, first by railing at the stupidity, negligence,
ignorance, and asinine tastelessness of the former editors, and
shewing, from all that goes before and all that follows, the
inelegance and absurdity of the old reading; then by proposing
something which to superficial readers would seem specious, but
which the editor rejects with indignation; then by producing the true
reading, with a long paraphrase, and concluding with loud acclamations
on the discovery, and a sober wish for the advancement and prosperity
of genuine criticism.

All this may be done, and perhaps done sometimes without impropriety.
But I have always suspected that the reading is right, which requires
many words to prove it wrong; and the emendation wrong, that cannot
without so much labour appear to be right The justness of a happy
restoration strikes at once, and the moral precept may be well applied
to criticism, _quod dubitas ne feceris_.

To dread the shore which he sees spread with wrecks, is natural to
the sailor. I had before my eye, so many critical adventures ended in
miscarriage, that caution was forced upon me. I encountered in every
page Wit struggling with its own sophistry, and Learning confused by
the multiplicity of its views. I was forced to censure those whom I
admired, and could not but reflect, while I was dispossessing their
emendations, how soon the same fate might happen to my own, and how
many of the readings which I have corrected may be by some other
editor defended and established.

Criticks, I saw, that other's names efface,
And fix their own, with labour, in the place;
Their own, like others, soon their place resign'd,
Or disappear'd, and left the first behind,


That a conjectural critick should often be mistaken, cannot be
wonderful, either to others or himself, if it be considered, that in
his art there is no system, no principal and axiomatical truth that
regulates subordinate positions. His chance of errour is renewed
at every attempt; an oblique view of the passage, a slight
misapprehension of a phrase, a casual inattention to the parts
connected, is sufficient to make him not only fails, but fail
ridiculously; and when he succeeds best, he produces perhaps but one
reading of many probable, and he that suggests another will always be
able to dispute his claims.

It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under pleasure. The
allurements of emendation are scarcely resistible. Conjecture has all
the joy and all the pride of invention, and he that has once started
a happy change, is too much delighted to consider what objections may
rise against it.

Yet conjectural criticism has been of great use in the learned world;
nor is it my intention to depreciate a study, that has exercised so
many mighty minds, from the revival of learning to our own age, from
the Bishop of _Aleria_ to English _Bentley_. The criticks on ancient
authours have, in the exercise of their sagacity, many assistances,
which the editor of _Shakespeare_ is condemned to want. They are
employed upon grammatical and settled languages, whose construction
contributes so much to perspicuity, that _Homer_ has fewer passages
unintelligible than _Chaucer_. The words have not only a known
regimen, but invariable quantities, which direct and confine the
choice. There are commonly more manuscripts than one; and they do not
often conspire in the same mistakes. Yet _Scaliger_ could confess
to _Salmasius_ how little satisfaction his emendations gave him.
_Illudunt nobis conjectureae nostrae, quarum nos pudet, posteaquam
in meliores codices incidimus_. And _Lipsius_ could complain, that
criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, _Ut olim
vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur_. And indeed, where mere
conjecture is to be used, the emendations of _Scaliger_ and _Lipsius_,
notwithstanding their wonderful sagacity and erudition, are often
vague and disputable, like mine or _Theobald_'s.

Perhaps I may not be more censured for doing wrong, than for doing
little; for raising in the publick expectations, which at last I have
not answered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of
knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to satisfy those who know
not what to demand, or those who demand by design what they think
impossible to be done. I have indeed disappointed no opinion more
than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my task with no slight
solicitude. Not a single passage in the whole work has appeared to me
corrupt, which I have not attempted to restore; or obscure, which I
have not endeavoured to illustrate. In many I have failed like others,
and from many, after all my efforts, I have retreated, and confessed
the repulse. I have not passed over, with affected superiority, what
is equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where I could
not instruct him, have owned my ignorance. I might easily have
accumulated a mass of seeming learning upon easy scenes; but it ought
not to be imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was necessary,
nothing has been done, or that, where others have said enough, I have
said no more.

Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils. Let him, that
is yet unacquainted with the powers of _Shakespeare_, and who desires
to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play
from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his
commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at
correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged,
let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of _Theobald_ and of
_Pope_. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through
integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the
dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures
of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the

Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of
the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the
thoughts are diverted from the principal subject; the reader is weary,
he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book, which he has
too diligently studied.

Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been surveyed; there
is a kind of intellectual remoteness necessary for the comprehension
of any great work in its full design and its true proportions; a close
approach shews the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is
discerned no longer It is not very grateful to consider how little the
succession of editors has added to this authour's power of pleasing.
He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet
deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could
accumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor
his allusions understood; yet then did _Dryden_ pronounce "that
_Shakespeare_ was the 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 laboriously,
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; were he so, I should do
him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many
times flat and insipid; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his
serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when 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."

It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want a commentary;
that his language should become obsolete, or his sentiments obscure.
But it is vain to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things;
that which must happen to all, has happened to _Shakespeare_, by
accident and time; and more than has been suffered by any other writer
since the use of types, has been suffered by him through his own
negligence of fame, or perhaps by that superiority of mind, which
despised its own performances, when it compared them with its powers,
and judged those works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks
of following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring and

Among these candidates of inferiour fame, I am now to stand the
judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce my
commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour
of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient,
and I should feel little solicitude about the sentence, were it to be
pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.


BY J.W. VON GOETHE. (1798)

The youth, when Nature and Art attract him, thinks that with a
vigorous effort he can soon penetrate into the innermost sanctuary,
the man, after long wanderings, finds himself still in the outer

Such an observation has suggested our title. It is only on the step,
in the gateway, the entrance, the vestibule, the space between the
outside and the inner chamber, between the sacred and the common, that
we may ordinarily tarry with our friends.

If the word _Propylaea_ recalls particularly the structure through
which was reached the citadel of Athens and the temple of Minerva,
this is not inconsistent with our purpose; but the presumption of
intending to produce here a similar work of art and splendor should
not be laid to our charge. The name of the place may be understood
as symbolizing what might have happened there; one may expect
conversations and discussions such as would perhaps not be unworthy of
that place.

Are not thinkers, scholars, artists, in their best hours allured to
those regions, to dwell (at least in imagination) among a people to
whom a perfection which we desire but never attain was natural,
among whom in the course of time and life, a culture developed in a
beautiful continuity, which to us appears only in passing fragments?
What modern nation does not owe its artistic culture to the Greeks,
and, in certain branches, what nation more than the German?

So much by way of excuse for the symbolic title, if indeed an excuse
be necessary. May the title be a reminder that we are to depart as
little as possible from classic ground; may it, through its brevity
and signification, modify the demands of the friends of art whom
we hope to interest through the present work, which is to contain
observations and reflections concerning Nature and Art by a harmonious
circle of friends.

He who is called to be an artist will give careful heed to everything
around him; objects and their parts will attract his attention, and
by making practical use of such experience he will gradually train
himself to observe more sharply. He will, in his early career, apply
everything, so far as possible, to his own advantage; later he will
gladly make himself serviceable to others. Thus we also hope to
present and relate to our readers many things which we regard as
useful and agreeable, things which, under various circumstances, have
been noted by us during a number of years.

But who will not willingly agree that pure observation is more rare
than is believed? We are apt to confuse our sensations, our opinion,
our judgment, with what we experience, so that we do not remain
long in the passive attitude of the observer, but soon go on to make
reflections; and upon these no greater weight can be placed than may
be more or less justified by the nature and quality of our individual

In this matter we are able to gain stronger confidence from our
harmony with others, and from the knowledge that we do not think and
work alone, but in common. The perplexing doubt whether our method
of thought belongs only to us--a doubt which often comes over us when
others express the direct opposite of our convictions--is softened,
even dispelled, when we find ourselves in agreement with others; only
then do we go on rejoicing with assurance in the possession of those
principles which a long experience, on our own part and on the part of
others, has gradually confirmed.

When several persons thus live united, so that they may call one
another friends, because they have a common interest in bringing about
their progressive cultivation and in advancing towards closely related
aims, then they may be certain that they will meet again in the most
varied ways, and that even the courses which seemed to separate them
from one another will nevertheless soon bring them happily together

Who has not experienced what advantages are afforded in such cases by
conversation? But conversation is ephemeral; and while the results
of a mutual development are imperishable, the memory of the means by
which it was reached disappears. Letters preserve better the stages of
a progress which friends achieve together; every moment of growth is
fixed, and if the result attained affords us agreeable satisfaction,
a look backward at the process of development is instructive since it
permits its to hope for an unflagging advance in the future.

Short papers, in which are set down from time to time one's thoughts,
convictions, and wishes, in order to find entertainment in one's past
self after a lapse of time, are excellent auxiliary means for
the development of oneself and of others, none of which should be
neglected when one considers the brief period allotted to life and the
many obstacles that stand in the way of every advance.

It is self evident that we are talking here particularly of an
exchange of ideas between such friends as are striving for cultivation
in the sphere of science and art; although life in the world of
affairs and industry should not lack similar advantages.

In the arts and sciences, however, in addition to this close
association among their votaries, a relation to the public is as
favorable as it is necessary. Whatever of universal interest one
thinks or accomplishes belongs to the world, and the world brings to
maturity whatever it can utilize of the efforts of the individual. The
desire for approval which the author feels is an impulse implanted by
Nature to draw him toward something higher; he thinks he has attained
the laurel wreath, but soon becomes aware that a more laborious
training of every native talent is necessary in order to retain the
public favor; though it may be attained for a short moment through
fortune or accident also.

The relation of the author to his public is important in his early
period; even in later days he cannot dispense with it. However little
he may be fitted to teach others, he wishes to share his thoughts with
those whom he feels congenial, but who are scattered far and wide in
the world. By this means he wishes to re-establish his relation with
his old friends, to continue it with new ones, and to gain in the
younger generation still others for the remainder of his life. He
wishes to spare youth the circuitous paths upon which he himself
went astray, and while observing and utilizing the advantages of the
present, to maintain the memory of his praiseworthy earlier efforts.

With this serious view, a small society has been brought together; may
cheerfulness attend our undertakings, and time may show whither we are

The papers which we intend to present, though they are composed by
several authors, will, it is hoped, never be contradictory in the main
points, even though the methods of thought may not be the same in all.
No two persons regard the world in exactly the same way, and different
characters will often apply in different ways a principle which
they all acknowledge. Indeed, a person is not always consistent with
himself in his views and judgments: early convictions must give way to
later ones. The individual opinions that a man holds and expresses may
stand all tests or not; the main thing is that he continue on his way,
true to himself and to others!

Much as the authors wish and hope to be in harmony with one another
and with a large part of the public, they must not shut their eyes to
the fact that from various quarters many a discord will ring out.
They must expect this all the more since they differ from prevailing
opinions in more than one point. Though far from wishing to dominate
or change the way of thinking of a third person, still they will
firmly express their own opinion, and, as circumstances dictate, will
avoid or take tip a quarrel. On the whole, however, they will adhere
to one creed, and especially will they repeat again and again those
conditions which seem to them indispensable in the training of an
artist. Whoever takes an interest in this matter, must be ready to
take sides; otherwise he does not deserve to be effective anywhere.

If, therefore, we promise to present reflections and observations
concerning Nature, we must at the same time indicate that these
remarks will chiefly have reference, first, to plastic art; then, to
art in general; finally, to the general training of the artist.

The highest demand that is made on an artist is this: that he be
true to Nature, study her, imitate her, and produce something that
resembles her phenomena. How great, how enormous, this demand is,
is not always kept in mind; and the true artist himself learns it by
experience only, in the course of his progressive development. Nature
is separated from Art by an enormous chasm, which genius itself is
unable to bridge without external assistance.

All that we perceive around us is merely raw material; if it happens
rarely enough that an artist, through instinct and taste, through
practice and experiment, reaches the point of attaining the beautiful
exterior of things, of selecting the best from the good before him,
and of producing at least an agreeable appearance, it is still more
rare, particularly in modern times, for an artist to penetrate into
the depths of things as well as into the depths of his own soul,
in order to produce in his works not only something light and
superficially effective, but, as a rival of Nature, to produce
something spiritually organic, and to give his work of art a content
and a form through which it appears both natural and beyond Nature.

Man is the highest, the characteristic subject of plastic art;
to understand him, to extricate oneself from the labyrinth of his
anatomy, a general knowledge of organic nature is imperative. The
artist should also acquaint himself theoretically with inorganic
bodies and with the general operations of Nature, particularly if, as
in the case of sound and color, they are adaptable to the purposes
of art; but what a circuitous path he would be obliged to take if
he wanted to seek laboriously in the schools of the anatomist, the
naturalist, and the physicist, for that which serves his purposes! It
is, indeed, a question whether he would find there what must be most
important for him. Those men have the entirely different needs of
their own pupils to satisfy, so that they cannot be expected to think
of the limited and special needs of the artist. For that reason it is
our intention to take a hand, and, even though we cannot see prospects
of completing the necessary work ourselves, both to give a view of the
whole and to begin the elaboration of details.

The human figure cannot be understood merely through observation
of its surface; the interior must be laid bare, its parts must be
separated, the connections perceived, the differences noted, action
and reaction observed, the concealed, constant, and fundamental
elements of the phenomena impressed on the mind, if one really wishes
to contemplate and imitate what moves before our eyes in living waves
as a beautiful, undivided whole. A glance at the surface of a living
being confuses the observer; we may cite here, as in other cases,
the true proverb, "One sees only what one knows" For just as a
short-sighted man sees more clearly an object from which he draws
back than one to which he draws near, because his intellectual vision
comes to his aid, so the perfection of observation really depends on
knowledge. How well an expert naturalist, who can also draw, imitates
objects by recognizing and emphasizing the important and significant
parts from which is derived the character of the whole!

Just as the artist is greatly helped by an exact knowledge of the
separate parts of the human figure, which he must in the end regard
again as a whole, so a general view, a side glance at related objects,
is highly advantageous, provided the artist is capable of rising to
Ideas and of grasping the close relationship of things apparently
remote. Comparative anatomy has prepared a general conception of
organic creatures; it leads us from form to form, and by observing
organisms closely or distantly related, we rise above them all to see
their characteristics in an ideal picture. If we keep this picture in
mind, we find that in observing objects our attention takes a definite
direction, that scattered facts can be learned and retained more
easily by comparison, that in the practice of art we can finally
vie with Nature only when we have learned from her, at least to some
extent, her method of procedure in the creation of her works.

Furthermore, we would encourage the artist to gain knowledge also of
the inorganic world; this can be done all the more easily since now we
can conveniently and quickly acquire knowledge of the mineral kingdom.
The painter needs some knowledge of stones in order to imitate their
characteristics; the sculptor and architect, in order to utilize them;
the cutter of precious stones cannot be without a knowledge of
their nature; the connoisseur and amateur, too, will strive for such

Now that we have advised the artist to gain a conception of the
general operations of Nature, in order to become acquainted with those
which particularly interest him, partly to develop himself in more
directions, partly to understand better that which concerns him; we
shall add a few further remarks on this significant point.

Up to the present the painter has been able merely to wonder at the
physicist's theory of colors, without gaining any advantage from it.
The natural feeling of the artist, however, constant training, and a
practical necessity led him into a way of his own. He felt the vivid
contrasts out of the union of which harmony of color arises, he
designated certain characteristics through approximate sensations, he
had warm and cold colors, colors which express proximity, others which
express distance, and what not; and thus in his own way he brought
these phenomena closer to the most general laws of Nature. Perhaps the
supposition is confirmed that the operations of Nature in colors, as
well as magnetic, electric, and other operations, depend upon a mutual
relation, a polarity, or whatever else we might call the twofold or
manifold aspects of a distinct unity.

We shall make it our duty to present this matter in detail and in a
form comprehensible to the artist; and we can be the more hopeful of
doing something welcome to him, since we shall be concerned only with
explaining and tracing to fundamental principles things which he has
hitherto done by instinct.

So much for what we hope to impart in regard to Nature; now for what
is most necessary in regard to Art.

Since the arrangement of this work proposes the presentation of single
treatises, some of these only in part, and since it is not our desire
to dissect a whole, but rather to build up a whole from many parts,
it will be necessary to present, as soon as possible and in a general
summary, those thing's which the reader will gradually find unfolded
in our detailed elaborations. We shall, therefore, be occupied first
with an essay on plastic art, in which the familiar rubrics will be
presented according to our interpretation and method. Here it will be
our main concern to emphasize the importance of every branch of Art,
and to show that the artist must not neglect a single one, as has
unfortunately often happened, and still happens.

Hitherto we have regarded Nature as the treasure chamber of material
in general; now, however, we reach the important point where it is
shown how Art prepares its materials for itself.

When the artist takes any object of Nature, the object no longer
belongs to Nature; indeed, we can say that the artist creates the
object in that moment, by extracting from it all that is significant,
characteristic, interesting, or rather by putting into it a
higher value. In this way finer proportions, nobler forms, higher
characteristics are, as it were, forced upon the human figure; the
circle of regularity, perfection, signification, and completeness is
drawn, in which Nature gladly places her best possessions even though
elsewhere in her vast extent she easily degenerates into ugliness and
loses herself in indifference.

The same is true of composite works of art, of their subject and
content, whether the theme be fable or history. Happy the artist who
makes no mistake in undertaking the work, who knows how to choose, or
rather to determine what is suitable for art! He who wanders uneasily
among scattered myths and far-stretching history in search of a
theme, he who wishes to be significantly scholarly or allegorically
interesting, will often be checked in the midst of his work by
unexpected obstacles, or will miss his finest aim after the completion
of the work. He who does not speak clearly to the senses, will not
address himself clearly to the mind; and we regard this point as so
important that we insert at the very outset a more extended discussion
of it.

A theme having been happily found or invented, it is subjected to
treatment which we would divide into the spiritual the sensuous, and
the mechanical. The spiritual develops the subject according to its
inner relations, it discovers subordinate motives; and, if we can at
all judge the depth of ar artistic genius by the choice of subject,
we can recognize in his selection of themes his breadth, wealth,
fullness, and power of attraction. The sensuous treatment we
should define as that through which the work becomes thoroughly
comprehensible to the senses, agreeable, delightful, and irresistible
through its gentle charm. The mechanical treatment, finally, is that
which works upon given material through any bodily organ, and thus
brings the work into existence and gives it reality.

While we hope to be useful to the artist in this way, and earnestly
wish that he may avail himself of advice and of suggestions in
his work, the disquieting observation is forced upon us that every
undertaking, like every man, is likely to suffer just as much from its
period as it is to derive occasional advantage from it, and in our
own case we cannot altogether put aside the question concerning the
reception we are likely to meet with.

Everything is subject to constant change, and since certain things
cannot exist side by side, they displace one another This is true of
kinds of knowledge, of certain methods of instruction, of methods of
representation, and of maxims. The aims of men remain nearly always
the same: they still desire to become good artists or poets as they
did centuries ago; but the means through which the goal is reached are
not clear to everybody, and why should it be denied that nothing
would be more agreeable than to be able to carry out joyfully a great

Naturally the public has a great influence upon Art, since in
return for its approval and its money it demands work that may give
satisfaction and immediate enjoyment; and the artist will for the
most part be glad to adapt himself to it, for he also is a part of the
public, he has received his training during the same years, he feels
the same needs, strives in the same direction, and thus moves along
happily with the multitude which supports him and which is invigorated
by him. In this matter we see whole nations and epochs delighted by
their artists, just as the artist sees himself reflected in his nation
and his epoch, without either having even the slightest suspicion
that their path might not be right, that their taste might be at least
one-sided, their art on the decline, and their progress in the wrong

Instead of proceeding to further generalities on this point, we shall
make a remark which refers particularly to plastic art.

For the German artist, in fact for modern and northern artists in
general, it is difficult--indeed almost impossible--to make the
transition from formless matter to form, and to maintain himself at
that point, even should he succeed in reaching it. Let every artist
who has lived for a time in Italy ask himself whether the presence of
the best works of ancient and modern art have not aroused in him
the incessant endeavour to study and imitate the human figure in its
proportions, forms, and characteristics, to apply all diligence and
care in the execution in order to approach those artistic works, so
entirely complete in themselves, in order to produce a work which, in
gratifying the sense, exalts the spirit to the greatest heights. Let
him also admit, however, that after his return he must gradually relax
his efforts, because he finds few persons who will really see, enjoy,
and comprehend what is depicted, but, for the most part, finds only
those who look at a work superficially, receive from it mere random
impressions, and in some way of their own try to get out of it any
kind of sensation and pleasure.

The worst picture can appeal to our senses and imagination by arousing
their activity, setting them free, and leaving them to themselves, the
best work of art also appeals to our senses, but in a higher language
which, of course, we must understand; it enchains the feelings and
imagination, it deprives us of caprice, we cannot deal with a perfect
work at our will; we are forced to give ourselves up to it, in order
to receive ourselves from it again, exalted and refined.

That these are no dreams we shall try to show gradually, in detail,
and as clearly as possible, we shall call attention particularly to a
contradiction in which the moderns are often involved. They call
the ancients their teachers, they acknowledge in their works an
unattainable excellence, yet they depart both in theory and practice
far from the maxims which the ancients continually observed. In


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