The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Samuel Johnson

Part 4 out of 9


It has been lately discovered, that this fable is taken from a story in
the Pecorone[6] of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, a novelist, who wrote in
1378. The story has been published in English, and I have epitomized the
translation. The translator is of opinion that the choice of the caskets
is borrowed from a tale of Boccace, which I have, likewise, abridged,
though I believe that Shakespeare must have had some other novel in

Of The Merchant of Venice the style is even and easy, with few
peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of construction. The comick part
raises laughter, and the serious fixes expectation. The probability of
either one or the other story cannot be maintained. The union of two
actions in one event is, in this drama, eminently happy. Dryden was much
pleased with his own address in connecting the two plots of his Spanish
Friar, which yet, I believe, the critick will find excelled by this


Of this play the fable is wild and pleasing. I know not how the ladies
will approve the facility with which both Rosalind and Celia give away
their hearts. To Celia much may be forgiven for the heroism of her
friendship. The character of Jaques is natural and well preserved. The
comick dialogue is very sprightly, with less mixture of low buffoonery
than in some other plays; and the graver part is elegant and harmonious.
By hastening to the end of his work, Shakespeare suppressed the dialogue
between the usurper and the hermit, and lost an opportunity of
exhibiting a moral lesson, in which he might have found matter worthy of
his highest powers.


Of this play the two plots are so well united, that they can hardly be
called two, without injury to the art with which they are interwoven.
The attention is entertained with all the variety of a double plot, yet
is not distracted by unconnected incidents.

The part between Catharine and Petruchio is eminently sprightly and
diverting. At the marriage of Bianca, the arrival of the real father,
perhaps, produces more perplexity than pleasure. The whole play is very
popular and diverting.


This play has many delightful scenes, though not sufficiently probable,
and some happy characters, though not new, nor produced by any deep
knowledge of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward, such as
has always been the sport of the stage, but, perhaps, never raised more
laughter or contempt than in the hands of Shakespeare.

I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram; a man noble without generosity,
and young without truth; who marries Helen as a coward, and leaves her
as a profligate: when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks home to a
second marriage, is accused by a woman whom he has wronged, defends
himself by falsehood, and is dismissed to happiness[7].

The story of Bertram and Diana had been told before of Mariana and
Angelo, and, to confess the truth, scarcely merited to be heard a second


This play is, in the graver part, elegant and easy, and, in some of the
lighter scenes, exquisitely humorous. Aguecheek is drawn with great
propriety, but his character is, in a great measure, that of natural
fatuity, and is, therefore, not the proper prey of a satirist. The
soliloquy of Malvolio is truly comick; he is betrayed to ridicule merely
by his pride. The marriage of Olivia, and the succeeding perplexity,
though well enough contrived to divert on the stage, wants credibility,
and fails to produce the proper instruction required in the drama, as it
exhibits no just picture of life.


The story of this play is taken from The Pleasant History of Dorastus
and Fawnia, written by Robert Greene.

This play, as Dr. Warburton justly observes, is, with all its
absurdities, very entertaining. The character of Autolycus is very
naturally conceived, and strongly represented.


This play is deservedly celebrated for the propriety of its fictions,
and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of its action; but it has no nice
discriminations of character; the events are too great to admit the
influence of particular dispositions, and the course of the action
necessarily determines the conduct of the agents.

The danger of ambition is well described; and I know not whether it may
not be said, in defence of some parts which now seem improbable, that,
in Shakespeare's time, it was necessary to warn credulity against vain
and illusive predictions.

The passions are directed to their true end. Lady Macbeth is merely
detested; and though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet
every reader rejoices at his fall.


The tragedy of King John, though not written with the utmost power of
Shakespeare, is varied with a very pleasing interchange of incidents and
characters. The lady's grief is very affecting, and the character of the
bastard contains that mixture of greatness and levity which this author
delighted to exhibit.


This play is extracted from the Chronicle of Holinshed, in which many
passages may be found which Shakespeare has, with very little
alteration, transplanted into his scenes; particularly a speech of the
bishop of Carlisle in defence of King Richard's unalienable right, and
immunity from human jurisdiction.

Jonson, who, in his Catiline and Sejanus, has inserted many speeches
from the Roman historians, was, perhaps, induced to that practice by the
example of Shakespeare, who had condescended sometimes to copy more
ignoble writers. But Shakespeare had more of his own than Jonson, and,
if he sometimes was willing to spare his labour, showed by what he
performed at other times, that his extracts were made by choice or
idleness rather than necessity. This play is one of those which
Shakespeare has apparently revised[8]; but as success in works of
invention is not always proportionate to labour, it is not finished at
last with the happy force of some other of his tragedies, nor can be
said much to affect the passions or enlarge the understanding.


I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries out with Desdemona,
"O most lame and impotent conclusion!" As this play was not, to our
knowledge, divided into acts by the author, I could be content to
conclude it with the death of Henry the Fourth.

"In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."

These scenes, which now make the fifth act of Henry IV. might then be
the first of Henry V. but the truth is, that they do not unite very
commodiously to either play. When these plays were represented, I
believe they ended as they are now ended in the books; but Shakespeare
seems to have designed that the whole series of action, from the
beginning of Richard II. to the end of Henry V. should be considered by
the reader as one work, upon one plan, only broken into parts by the
necessity of exhibition.

None of Shakespeare's plays are more read than the first and second
parts of Henry IV. Perhaps no author has ever in two plays afforded so
much delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms
depends upon them; the slighter occurrences are diverting, and, except
one or two, sufficiently probable; the incidents are multiplied with
wonderful fertility of invention, and the characters diversified with
the utmost nicety of discernment, and the profoundest skill in the
nature of man.

The prince, who is the hero both of the comick and tragick part, is a
young man of great abilities and violent passions, whose sentiments are
right, though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are obscured by
negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle
hours he is rather loose than wicked; and when the occasion forces out
his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without
tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in
the trifler. This character is great, original and just.

Percy is a rugged soldier, cholerick and quarrelsome, and has only the
soldier's virtues, generosity and courage. But Falstaff, unimitated,
unimitable Falstaff, how shall I describe thee! thou compound of sense
and vice; of sense which may be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which
may be despised, but hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded
with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He
is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster, always ready to cheat
the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous, and insult
the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirizes in their
absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the
prince only as an agent of vice, but of this familiarity he is so proud,
as not only to be supercilious and haughty with common men, but to think
his interest of importance to the duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus
corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that
despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety,
by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is the more freely
indulged, as his wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but
consists in easy scapes and sallies of levity, which make sport, but
raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous
or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but
that it may be borne for his mirth.

The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more
dangerous than he that, with a will to corrupt, hath the power to
please; and that neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves safe
with such a companion, when they see Henry seduced by Falstaff.


This play has many scenes of high dignity, and many of easy merriment.
The character of the king is well supported, except in his courtship,
where he has neither the vivacity of Hal, nor the grandeur of Henry. The
humour of Pistol is very happily continued; his character has, perhaps,
been the model of all the bullies that have yet appeared on the English

The lines given to the chorus have many admirers; but the truth is, that
in them a little may be praised, and much must be forgiven: nor can it
be easily discovered why the intelligence given by the chorus is more
necessary in this play than in many others where it is omitted. The
great defect of this play is the emptiness and narrowness of the last
act, which a very little diligence might have easily avoided.


Of this play there is no copy earlier than that of the folio in 1623,
though the two succeeding parts are extant in two editions in quarto.
That the second and third parts were published without the first, may be
admitted, as no weak proof that the copies were surreptitiously
obtained, and that the printers of that time gave the publick those
plays, not such as the author designed, but such as they could get them.
That this play was written before the two others is indubitably
collected from the series of events; that it was written and played
before Henry V. is apparent, because in the epilogue there is mention
made of this play, and not of the other parts:

Henry the sixth in swaddling bands crown'd king,
Whose state so many had i' the managing
That they lost France, and made all England rue,
Which oft our stage hath shown.

France is lost in this play. The two following contain, as the old title
imports, the contention of the houses of York and Lancaster.

The two first parts of Henry VI. were printed in 1600. When Henry V. was
written, we know not, but it was printed likewise in 1600, and,
therefore, before the publication of the first and second parts: the
first part of Henry VI. had been often shown on the stage, and would
certainly have appeared in its place had the author been the publisher.


The three parts of Henry VI. are suspected, by Mr. Theobald, of being
supposititious, and are declared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly not
Shakespeare's[9]. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some obsolete
words; but the phraseology is like the rest of our author's style, and
single words, of which, however, I do not observe more than two, can
conclude little.

Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I suppose him to judge upon deeper
principles and more comprehensive views, and to draw his opinion from
the general effect and spirit of the composition, which he thinks
inferiour to the other historical plays.

From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred; in the productions of wit
there will be inequality. Sometimes judgment will err, and sometimes the
matter itself will defeat the artist. Of every author's works one will
be the best, and one will be the worst. The colours are not equally
pleasing, nor the attitudes equally graceful, in all the pictures of
Titian or Reynolds.

Dissimilitude of style, and heterogeneousness of sentiment, may
sufficiently show that a work does not really belong to the reputed
author. But in these plays no such marks of spuriousness are found. The
diction, the versification, and the figures, are Shakespeare's. These
plays, considered without regard to characters and incidents, merely as
narratives in verse, are more happily conceived, and more accurately
finished, than those of King John, Richard II. or the tragick scenes of
Henry IV. and V. If we take these plays from Shakespeare, to whom shall
they be given? What author of that age had the same easiness of
expression and fluency of numbers?

Having considered the evidence given by the plays themselves, and found
it in their favour, let us now inquire what corroboration can be gained
from other testimony. They are ascribed to Shakespeare by the first
editors, whose attestation may be received in questions of fact, however
unskilfully they superintended their edition. They seem to be declared
genuine by the voice of Shakespeare himself, who refers to the second
play in his epilogue to Henry V. and apparently connects the first act
of Richard III. with the last of the third part of Henry VI. If it be
objected that the plays were popular, and that, therefore, he alluded to
them as well known; it may be answered, with equal probability, that the
natural passions of a poet would have disposed him to separate his own
works from those of an inferiour hand. And, indeed, if an author's own
testimony is to be overthrown by speculative criticism, no man can be
any longer secure of literary reputation.

Of these three plays I think the second the best. The truth is, that
they have not sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too
often of the same kind; yet many of the characters are well
discriminated. King Henry and his queen, king Edward, the duke of
Gloucester, and the earl of Warwick, are very strongly and distinctly

The old copies of the two latter parts of Henry VI. and of Henry V. are
so apparently imperfect and mutilated, that there is no reason for
supposing them the first draughts of Shakespeare. I am inclined to
believe them copies taken by some auditor who wrote down, during the
representation, what the time would permit, then, perhaps, filled up
some of his omissions at a second or third hearing, and when he had by
this method formed something like a play, sent it to the printer[10].


This is one of the most celebrated of our author's performances; yet I
know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised
most, when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble
in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition,
cannot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others shocking, and some

I have nothing to add to the observations of the learned criticks, but
that some traces of this antiquated exhibition are still retained in the
rustick puppet-plays, in which I have seen the Devil very lustily
belaboured by Punch, whom I hold to be the legitimate successor of the
old Vice[11].


The play of Henry VIII. is one of those which still keeps possession of
the stage by the splendour of its pageantry. The coronation, about forty
years ago, drew the people together in multitudes for a great part of
the winter[12]. Yet pomp is not the only merit of this play. The meek
sorrows and virtuous distress of Catharine have furnished some scenes
which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But
the genius of Shakespeare comes in and goes out with Catharine[13].
Every other part may be easily conceived, and easily written.

The historical dramas are now concluded, of which the two parts of Henry
IV. and Henry V. are among the happiest of our author's compositions;
and King John, Richard III. and Henry VIII. deservedly stand in the
second class. Those whose curiosity would refer the historical scenes to
their original, may consult Holinshed, and sometimes Hall: from
Holinshed, Shakespeare has often inserted whole speeches, with no more
alteration than was necessary to the numbers of his verse. To transcribe
them into the margin was unnecessary, because the original is easily
examined, and they are seldom less perspicuous in the poet than in the

To play histories, or to exhibit a succession of events by action and
dialogue, was a common entertainment among our rude ancestors upon great
festivities. The parish clerks once performed at Clerkenwell a play,
which lasted three days, containing the History of the World.


The tragedy of Coriolanus is one of the most amusing of our author's
performances. The old man's merriment in Menenius; the lofty lady's
dignity in Volumnia; the bridal modesty in Virgilia; the patrician and
military haughtiness in Coriolanus; the plebeian malignity, and
tribunitian insolence in Brutus and Sicinius, make a very pleasing and
interesting variety: and the various revolutions of the hero's fortune
fill the mind with anxious curiosity. There is, perhaps, too much bustle
in the first act, and too little in the last.


Of this tragedy many particular passages deserve regard, and the
contention and reconcilement of Brutus and Cassius is universally
celebrated; but I have never been strongly agitated in perusing it, and
think it somewhat cold and unaffecting, compared with some other of
Shakespeare's plays; his adherence to the real story, and to Roman
manners, seems to have impeded the natural vigour of his genius.


This play keeps curiosity always busy, and the passions always
interested. The continual hurry of the action, the variety of incidents,
and the quick succession of one personage to another, call the mind
forward, without intermission, from the first act to the last. But the
power of delighting is derived principally from the frequent changes of
the scene; for, except the feminine arts, some of which are too low,
which distinguish Cleopatra, no character is very strongly
discriminated. Upton, who did not easily miss what he desired to find,
has discovered that the language of Antony is, with great skill and
learning, made pompous and superb, according to his real practice. But I
think his diction not distinguishable from that of others: the most
tumid speech in the play is that which Caesar makes to Octavia.

The events, of which the principal are described according to history,
are produced without any art of connexion or care of disposition.


The play of Timon is a domestick tragedy, and, therefore, strongly
fastens on the attention of the reader. In the plan there is not much
art, but the incidents are natural, and the characters various and
exact. The catastrophe affords a very powerful warning against that
ostentatious liberality, which scatters bounty, but confers no benefits,
and buys flattery, but not friendship.

In this tragedy are many passages perplexed, obscure, and probably
corrupt, which I have endeavoured to rectify or explain, with due
diligence; but having only one copy, cannot promise myself that my
endeavours will be much applauded.


All the editors and criticks agree with Mr. Theobald in supposing this
play spurious. I see no reason for differing from them; for the colour
of the style is wholly different from that of the other plays, and there
is an attempt at regular versification and artificial closes, not always
inelegant, yet seldom pleasing. The barbarity of the spectacles, and the
general massacre, which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived
tolerable to any audience; yet we are told by Jonson, that they were not
only borne, but praised. That Shakespeare wrote any part, though
Theobald declares it incontestable, I see no reason for believing.

The testimony produced at the beginning of this play, by which it is
ascribed to Shakespeare, is by no means equal to the argument against
its authenticity, arising from the total difference of conduct, language
and sentiments, by which it stands apart from all the rest. Meres had
probably no other evidence than that of a title-page, which, though in
our time it be sufficient, was then of no great authority; for all the
plays which were rejected by the first collectors of Shakespeare's
works, and admitted in later editions, and again rejected by the
critical editors, had Shakespeare's name on the title[14], as we must
suppose, by the fraudulence of the printers, who, while there were yet
no gazettes, nor advertisements, nor any means of circulating literary
intelligence, could usurp at pleasure any celebrated name. Nor had
Shakespeare any interest in detecting the imposture, as none of his fame
or profit was produced by the press.

The chronology of this play does not prove it not to be Shakespeare's.
If it had been written twenty-five years in 1614, it might have been
written when Shakespeare was twenty-five years old. When he left
Warwickshire I know not; but at the age of twenty-five it was rather too
late to fly for deer-stealing.

Ravenscroft, who in the reign of Charles II. revised this play, and
restored it to the stage, tells us, in his preface, from a theatrical
tradition, I suppose, which in his time might be of sufficient
authority, that this play was touched, in different parts, by
Shakespeare, but written by some other poet. I do not find Shakespeare's
touches very discernible.


This play is more correctly written than most of Shakespeare's
compositions, but it is not one of those in which either the extent of
his views or elevation of his fancy is fully displayed. As the story
abounded with materials, he has exerted little invention; but he has
diversified his characters with great variety, and preserved them with
great exactness. His vicious characters sometimes disgust, but cannot
corrupt, for both Cressida and Pandarus are detested and contemned. The
comick characters seem to have been the favourites of the writer; they
are of the superficial kind, and exhibit more of manners than nature;
but they are copiously filled, and powerfully impressed.

Shakespeare has in his story followed, for the greater part, the old
book of Caxton, which was then very popular; but the character of
Thersites, of which it makes no mention, is a proof that this play was
written after Chapman had published his version of Homer[15].


This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some
pleasing scenes, but they are obtained at the expense of much
incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the
conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and
the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste
criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for
detection, and too gross for aggravation.


The tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of
Shakespeare. There is, perhaps, no play which keeps the attention so
strongly fixed; which so much agitates our passions, and interests our
curiosity. The artful involutions of distinct interests, the striking
oppositions of contrary characters, the sudden changes of fortune, and
the quick succession of events, fill the mind with a perpetual tumult of
indignation, pity and hope. There is no scene which does not contribute
to the aggravation of the distress or conduct of the action, and scarce
a line which does not conduce to the progress of the scene. So powerful
is the current of the poet's imagination, that the mind, which once
ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly along.

On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct, it may be observed, that
he is represented according to histories at that time vulgarly received
as true. And, perhaps, if we turn our thoughts upon the barbarity and
ignorance of the age to which this story is referred, it will appear not
so unlikely as while we estimate Lear's manners by our own. Such
preference of one daughter to another, or resignation of dominion on
such conditions, would be yet credible, if told of a petty prince of
Guinea or Madagascar. Shakespeare, indeed, by the mention of his earls
and dukes, has given us the idea of times more civilized, and of life
regulated by softer manners; and the truth is, that though he so nicely
discriminates, and so minutely describes the characters of men, he
commonly neglects and confounds the characters of ages, by mingling
customs ancient and modern, English and foreign.

My learned friend Mr. Warton, who has, in the Adventurer, very minutely
criticised this play, remarks, that the instances of cruelty are too
savage and shocking, and that the intervention of Edmund destroys the
simplicity of the story. These objections may, I think, be answered, by
repeating, that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical fact, to
which the poet has added little, having only drawn it into a series by
dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologize with equal
plausibility for the extrusion of Gloster's eyes, which seems an act too
horrid to be endured in dramatick exhibition, and such as must always
compel the mind to relieve its distress by incredulity. Yet let it be
remembered that our author well knew what would please the audience for
which he wrote.

The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the action is abundantly
recompensed by the addition of variety, by the art with which he is made
to co-operate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives
the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked
son with the wicked daughters, to impress this important moral, that
villany is never at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last
terminate in ruin.

But though this moral be incidentally enforced, Shakespeare has suffered
the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the
natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and, what is yet
more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified
by the Spectator, who blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and
happiness in his alteration, and declares, that, in his opinion, "the
tragedy has lost half its beauty." Dennis has remarked, whether justly
or not, that, to secure the favourable reception of Cato, "the town was
poisoned with much false and abominable criticism," and that endeavours
had been used to discredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which
the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good,
because it is a just representation of the common events of human life:
but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily
be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or
that, if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise
better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.

In the present case the publick has decided[16]. Cordelia, from the time
of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my
sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate,
I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not
whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I
undertook to revise them as an editor.

There is another controversy among the criticks concerning this play. It
is disputed whether the predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be
the loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a
very judicious critick, has evinced by induction of particular passages,
that the cruelty of his daughters is the primary source of his distress,
and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and
subordinate evil. He observes, with great justness, that Lear would move
our compassion but little, did we not rather consider the injured father
than the degraded king.

The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, which is derived,
I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom
Holinshed generally copied; but, perhaps, immediately from an old
historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior
to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad
has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to
have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the
rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications: it first hinted
Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the
ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would
have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have
occurred if he had seen Shakespeare.


This play is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. The
scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the
catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action
carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to
popular opinions, as tragedy requires.

Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to exhibit the
conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of
juvenile elegance. Mr. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily
reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakespeare, that "he was
obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, lest he should have been
killed by him." Yet he thinks him "no such formidable person, but that
he might have lived through the play, and died in his bed," without
danger to the poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth,
that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is commonly had to the words
than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously
understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety and courage, will always procure him
friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated,
he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play;
nor do I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued his
existence, though some of his sallies are, perhaps, out of the reach of
Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to
humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive and sublime.

The nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted; he
has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious
and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.

His comick scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetick strains are
always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however
distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable


If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterized, each by the
particular excellence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must
allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are
so numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The
scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and solemnity;
with merriment, that includes judicious and instructive observations;
and solemnity, not strained by poetical violence above the natural
sentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual
succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of
conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the
mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and
every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that,
in the first act, chills the blood with horrour, to the fop, in the
last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.

The conduct is, perhaps, not wholly secure against objections. The
action is, indeed, for the most part, in continual progression, but
there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the
feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause[17], for he
does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity.
He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness,
which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.

Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent.
After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the king, he makes
no attempt to punish him; and his death is at last effected by an
incident which Hamlet had no part in producing.

The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons
is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme
might easily have been formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and
Laertes with the bowl.

The poet is accused of having shown little regard to poetical justice,
and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The
apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge
which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him that was
required to take it; and the gratification, which would arise from the
destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely
death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.


The beauties of this play impress themselves so strongly upon the
attention of the reader, that they can draw no aid from critical
illustration. The fiery openness of Othello, magnanimous, artless, and
credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection,
inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate in his revenge; the cool
malignity of Iago, silent in his resentment, subtle in his designs, and
studious at once of his interest and his vengeance; the soft simplicity
of Desdemona, confident of merit, and conscious of innocence, her
artless perseverance in her suit, and her slowness to suspect that she
can be suspected, are such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in human
nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer. The
gradual progress which Iago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the
circumstances which he employs to inflame him, are so artfully natural,
that, though it will, perhaps, not be said of him as he says of himself,
that he is "a man not easily jealous," yet we cannot but pity him, when
at last we find him "perplexed in the extreme."

There is always danger, lest wickedness, conjoined with abilities,
should steal upon esteem, though it misses of approbation; but the
character of Iago is so conducted, that he is, from the first scene to
the last, hated and despised.

Even the inferiour characters of this play would be very conspicuous in
any other piece, not only for their justness, but their strength. Cassio
is brave, benevolent and honest, ruined only by his want of stubbornness
to resist an insidious invitation. Roderigo's suspicious credulity, and
impatient submission to the cheats which he sees practised upon him, and
which, by persuasion, he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong
picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful desires to a false friend;
and the virtue of Aemilia is such as we often find, worn loosely, but
not cast off, easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at
atrocious villanies.

The scenes, from the beginning to the end, are busy, varied by happy
interchanges, and regularly promoting the progression of the story; and
the narrative, in the end, though it tells but what is known already,
yet is necessary to produce the death of Othello.

Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been
occasionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the
most exact and scrupulous regularity.


[1] Mr. Heath, who wrote a Revisal of Shakespeare's text, published in
8vo. circa 1760.

[2] This is not a blunder of Shakespeare's, but a mistake of Johnson's,
who considers the passage alluded to in a more literal sense than
the author intended it. Sir Proteus, it is true, had seen Silvia for
a few moments; but though he could form from thence some idea of her
person, he was still unacquainted with her temper, manners, and the
qualities of her mind. He, therefore, considers himself as having
seen her picture only. The thought is just and elegantly expressed.
So in the Scornful Lady, the elder Loveless says to her, "I was mad
once when I loved pictures. For what are _shape_ and _colours_ else
but _pictures?_"--Mason in Malone's Shak. iv. 137.--Ed.

[3] In the Three Ladies of London, 1584, is the character of an Italian
merchant, very strongly marked by foreign pronunciation. Dr.
Dodypoll, in the Comedy which bears his name, is, like Caius, a
French physician. This piece appeared, at least, a year before The
Merry Wives of Windsor. The hero of it speaks such another jargon as
the antagonist of Sir Hugh, and, like him, is cheated of his
mistress. In several other pieces, more ancient than the earliest of
Shakespeare's, provincial characters are introduced--Steevens.

In the old play of Henry V. French soldiers are introduced speaking
broken English.--Boswell.

[4] See, however, Dr. Drake's Essays on Rambler &c. ii. 392.--Ed.

[5] Johnson's concluding observation on this play, is not conceived with
his usual judgment. There is no analogy or resemblance whatever
between the fairies of Spenser, and those of Shakespeare. The
fairies of Spenser, as appears from his description of them in the
second book of the Faerie Queene, Canto 10. were a race of mortals
created by Prometheus, of the human size, shape, and affections, and
subject to death. But those of Shakespeare, and of common tradition,
as Johnson calls them, were a diminutive race of sportful beings,
endowed with immortality and supernatural power, totally different
from those of Spenser.--M. MASON.

[6] The first novel of the fourth day. An epitome of the novels, from
which the story of this play is supposed to be taken, is appended to
it in Malone's edition, v. 154.

[7] This opinion of the character of Bertram is examined at considerable
length in the New Monthly Magazine, iv. 481.--Ed.

[8] The notion that Shakespeare revised this play, though it has long
prevailed, appears to me extremely doubtful; or to speak more
plainly, I do not believe it. MALONE. See too the Essay on the
Chronological order of Shakespeare's plays, Malone's edition, ii.

[9] For a full discussion of this point, see the Dissertation on the
three parts of King Henry VI. tending to show that those plays were
not written originally by Shakespeare. The dissertation was written
by Malone, and pronounced by Porson to be one of the most convincing
pieces of criticism he had ever met with. Malone's Shakespeare,
xviii. 557.

[10] See this opinion controverted. Malone's Shakespeare, xviii. 550.

[11] This paragraph, apparently so unconnected with the preceding,
refers to some critical dissertations on the character of Vice.
They may be found in Malone's Shakespeare, xix. 244. See likewise
Pursuits of Literature, Dialogue the First.--Ed.

[12] Chetwood says, that during one season it was exhibited 75 times.
See his History of the Stage, p. 68.--Ed.

[13] Dr. Johnson told Mrs. Siddons that he admired her most in this
character.--Mrs. Piozzi.

[14] This statement is not quite accurate concerning the seven spurious
plays, which the printer of the folio in 1664 improperly admitted
into his volume. The name of Shakespeare appears only in the
title-pages of four of them: Pericles, Sir John Oldcastle, the
London Prodigal, and the Yorkshire Tragedy. Malone's Shak. xxi. 382.

[15] The first seven books of Chapman's Homer were published in the year
1596, and again in 1598. The whole twenty-four of the Iliad
appeared in 1611.--STEEVENS.

[16] Dr. Johnson should rather have said that the managers of the
theatres-royal have decided, and that the public has been obliged
to acquiesce in their decision. The altered play has the upper
gallery on its side; the original drama was patronized by Addison:
Victrix causa _Diis_ placuit, sed victa _Catomi_. LUCAN. Malone's
Shak. x. 290.

[17] See, however, Mr. Boswell's long and erudite note in his
Shakespeare, vii. 536. "Il me semble," says Madame De Stael, "cu'en
lisant cette tragedie, on distingue parfaitement dans Hamlet
l'egarement reel a travers l'egarement affecte."--Mme. De Stael de
la Litterature, c. xiii. See also Schlegel in his Dramatic
literature, ii.--Ed.


To solicit a subscription for a catalogue of books exposed to sale, is
an attempt for which some apology cannot but be necessary; for few would
willingly contribute to the expense of volumes, by which neither
instruction nor entertainment could be afforded, from which only the
bookseller could expect advantage, and of which the only use must cease,
at the dispersion of the library[1].

Nor could the reasonableness of an universal rejection of our proposal
be denied, if this catalogue were to be compiled with no other view,
than that of promoting the sale of the books which it enumerates, and
drawn up with that inaccuracy and confusion which may be found in those
that are daily published.

But our design, like our proposal, is uncommon, and to be prosecuted at
a very uncommon expense: it being intended, that the books shall be
distributed into their distinct classes, and every class ranged with
some regard to the age of the writers; that every book shall be
accurately described; that the peculiarities of editions shall be
remarked, and observations from the authors of literary history
occasionally interspersed; that, by this catalogue, we may inform
posterity of the excellence and value of this great collection, and
promote the knowledge of scarce books, and elegant editions. For this
purpose, men of letters are engaged, who cannot even be supplied with
amanuenses, but at an expense above that of a common catalogue.

To show that this collection deserves a particular degree of regard from
the learned and the studious, that it excels any library that was ever
yet offered to publick sale, in the value, as well as number, of the
volumes, which it contains; and that, therefore, this catalogue will not
be of less use to men of letters, than those of the Thuaniau, Heinsian,
or Barberinian libraries, it may not be improper to exhibit a general
account of the different classes, as they are naturally divided by the
several sciences.

By this method we can, indeed, exhibit only a general idea, at once
magnificent and confused; an idea of the writings of many nations,
collected from distant parts of the world, discovered sometimes by
chance, and sometimes by curiosity, amidst the rubbish of forsaken
monasteries, and the repositories of ancient families, and brought
hither from every part, as to the universal receptacle of learning.

It will be no unpleasing effect of this account, if those that shall
happen to peruse it, should be inclined by it to reflect on the
character of the late proprietors, and to pay some tribute of veneration
to their ardour for literature, to that generous and exalted curiosity
which they gratified with incessant searches and immense expense, and to
which they dedicated that time, and that superfluity of fortune, which
many others of their rank employ in the pursuit of contemptible
amusements, or the gratification of guilty passions. And, surely, every
man, who considers learning as ornamental and advantageous to the
community, must allow them the honour of publick benefactors, who have
introduced amongst us authors, not hitherto well known, and added to the
literary treasures of their native country.

That our catalogue will excite any other man to emulate the collectors
of this library, to prefer books and manuscripts to equipage and luxury,
and to forsake noise and diversion for the conversation of the learned,
and the satisfaction of extensive knowledge, we are very far from
presuming to hope; but shall make no scruple to assert, that, if any man
should happen to be seized with such laudable ambition, he may find in
this catalogue hints and informations which are not easily to be met
with; he will discover, that the boasted Bodleian library is very far
from a perfect model, and that even the learned Fabricius cannot
completely instruct him in the early editions of the classick writers.

But the collectors of libraries cannot be numerous; and, therefore,
catalogues could not very properly be recommended to the publick, if
they had not a more general and frequent use, an use which every student
has experienced, or neglected to his loss. By the means of catalogues
only, can it be known what has been written on every part of learning,
and the hazard avoided of encountering difficulties which have already
been cleared, discussing questions which have already been decided, and
digging in mines of literature which former ages have exhausted.

How often this has been the fate of students, every man of letters can
declare; and, perhaps, there are very few who have not sometimes valued
as new discoveries, made by themselves, those observations, which have
long since been published, and of which the world, therefore, will
refuse them the praise; nor can the refusal be censured as any enormous
violation of justice; for, why should they not forfeit by their
ignorance, what they might claim by their sagacity?

To illustrate this remark, by the mention of obscure names, would not
much confirm it; and to vilify, for this purpose, the memory of men
truly great, would be to deny them the reverence which they may justly
claim from those whom their writings have instructed. May the shade, at
least, of one great English critick[2] rest without disturbance; and may
no man presume to insult his memory, who wants his learning, his reason,
or his wit.

From the vexatious disappointment of meeting reproach, where praise is
expected, every man will certainly desire to be secured; and, therefore,
that book will have some claim to his regard, from which he may receive
informations of the labours of his predecessors, such as a catalogue of
the Harleian library will copiously afford him.

Nor is the use of catalogues of less importance to those whom curiosity
has engaged in the study of literary history, and who think the
intellectual revolutions of the world more worthy of their attention,
than the ravages of tyrants, the desolation of kingdoms, the rout of
armies, and the fall of empires. Those who are pleased with observing
the first birth of new opinions, their struggles against opposition,
their silent progress under persecution, their general reception, and
their gradual decline, or sudden extinction; those that amuse themselves
with remarking the different periods of human knowledge, and observe how
darkness and light succeed each other; by what accident the most gloomy
nights of ignorance have given way to the dawn of science; and how
learning has languished and decayed, for want of patronage and regard,
or been overborne by the prevalence of fashionable ignorance, or lost
amidst the tumults of invasion, and the storms of violence. All those
who desire any knowledge of the literary transactions of past ages, may
find in catalogues, like this at least, such an account as is given by
annalists, and chronologers of civil history.

How the knowledge of the sacred writings has been diffused, will be
observed from the catalogue of the various editions of the Bible, from
the first impression by Fust, in 1462, to the present time; in which
will be contained the polyglot editions of Spain, France, and England,
those of the original Hebrew, the Greek Septuagint, and the Latin
Vulgate; with the versions which are now used in the remotest parts of
Europe, in the country of the Grisons, in Lithuania, Bohemia, Finland,
and Iceland.

With regard to the attempts of the same kind made in our own country,
there are few whose expectations will not be exceeded by the number of
English Bibles, of which not one is forgotten, whether valuable for the
pomp and beauty of the impression, or for the notes with which the text
is accompanied, or for any controversy or persecution that it produced,
or for the peculiarity of any single passage. With the same care have
the various editions of the book of Common Prayer been selected, from
which all the alterations which have been made in it may be easily

Amongst a great number of Roman missals and breviaries, remarkable for
the beauty of their cuts and illuminations, will be found the Mosarabick
missal and breviary, that raised such commotions in the kingdom of

The controversial treatises written in England, about the time of the
Reformation, have been diligently collected, with a multitude of
remarkable tracts, single sermons, and small treatises; which, however
worthy to be preserved, are, perhaps, to be found in no other place.

The regard which was always paid, by the collectors of this library, to
that remarkable period of time, in which the art of printing was
invented, determined them to accumulate the ancient impressions of the
fathers of the church; to which the later editions are added, lest
antiquity should have seemed more worthy of esteem than accuracy.

History has been considered with the regard due to that study by which
the manners are most easily formed, and from which the most efficacious
instruction is received; nor will the most extensive curiosity fail of
gratification in this library, from which no writers have been excluded,
that relate either the religious, or civil affairs of any nation.

Not only those authors of ecclesiastical history have been procured,
that treat of the state of religion in general, or deliver accounts of
sects or nations, but those, likewise, who have confined themselves to
particular orders of men in every church; who have related the original,
and the rules of every society, or recounted the lives of its founder
and its members; those who have deduced in every country the succession
of bishops, and those who have employed their abilities in celebrating
the piety of particular saints, or martyrs, or monks, or nuns.

The civil history of all nations has been amassed together; nor is it
easy to determine which has been thought most worthy of curiosity.

Of France, not only the general histories and ancient chronicles, the
accounts of celebrated reigns, and narratives of remarkable events, but
even the memorials of single families, the lives of private men, the
antiquities of particular cities, churches, and monasteries, the
topography of provinces, and the accounts of laws, customs, and
prescriptions, are here to be found.

The several states of Italy have, in this treasury, their particular
historians, whose accounts are, perhaps, generally more exact, by being
less extensive; and more interesting, by being more particular.

Nor has less regard been paid to the different nations of the Germanick
empire, of which neither the Bohemians, nor Hungarians, nor Austrians,
nor Bavarians, have been neglected; nor have their antiquities, however
generally disregarded, been less studiously searched, than their present

The northern nations have supplied this collection, not only with
history, but poetry, with Gothick antiquities and Runick inscriptions;
which, at least, have this claim to veneration, above the remains of the
Roman magnificence, that they are the works of those heroes by whom the
Roman empire was destroyed; and which may plead, at least in this
nation, that they ought not to be neglected by those that owe to the men
whose memories they preserve, their constitution, their properties, and
their liberties.

The curiosity of these collectors extended equally to all parts of the
world; nor did they forget to add to the northern the southern writers,
or to adorn their collection with chronicles of Spain, and the conquest
of Mexico.

Even of those nations with which we have less intercourse, whose customs
are less accurately known, and whose history is less distinctly
recounted, there are in this library reposited such accounts as the
Europeans have been hitherto able to obtain; nor are the Mogul, the
Tartar, the Turk, and the Saracen, without their historians.

That persons, so inquisitive with regard to the transactions of other
nations, should inquire yet more ardently after the history of their
own, may be naturally expected; and, indeed, this part of the library is
no common instance of diligence and accuracy. Here are to be found, with
the ancient chronicles, and larger histories of Britain, the narratives
of single reigns, and the accounts of remarkable revolutions, the
topographical histories of counties, the pedigrees of families, the
antiquities of churches and cities, the proceedings of parliaments, the
records of monasteries, and the lives of particular men, whether eminent
in the church or the state, or remarkable in private life; whether
exemplary for their virtues, or detestable for their crimes; whether
persecuted for religion, or executed for rebellion.

That memorable period of the English history, which begins with the
reign of king Charles the first, and ends with the Restoration, will
almost furnish a library alone; such is the number of volumes, pamphlets
and papers, which were published by either party; and such is the care
with which they have been preserved.

Nor is history without the necessary preparatives and attendants,
geography and chronology: of geography, the best writers and delineators
have been procured, and pomp and accuracy have been both regarded; the
student of chronology may here find, likewise, those authors who
searched the records of time, and fixed the periods of history.

With the historians and geographers may be ranked the writers of voyages
and travels, which may be read here in the Latin, English, Dutch,
German, French, Italian, and Spanish languages.

The laws of different countries, as they are in themselves equally
worthy of curiosity with their history, have, in this collection, been
justly regarded; and the rules by which the various communities of the
world are governed, may be here examined and compared. Here are the
ancient editions of the papal decretals, and the commentators on the
civil law, the edicts of Spain, and the statutes of Venice.

But with particular industry have the various writers on the laws of our
own country been collected, from the most ancient to the present time,
from the bodies of the statutes to the minutest treatise; not only the
reports, precedents, and readings of our own courts, but even the laws
of our West-Indian colonies, will be exhibited in our catalogue.

But neither history nor law have been so far able to engross this
library, as to exclude physick, philosophy, or criticism. Those have
been thought, with justice, worthy of a place, who have examined the
different species of animals, delineated their forms, or described their
properties and instincts; or who have penetrated the bowels of the
earth, treated on its different strata, and analyzed its metals; or who
have amused themselves with less laborious speculations, and planted
trees, or cultivated flowers.

Those that have exalted their thoughts above the minuter parts of the
creation, who have observed the motions of the heavenly bodies, and
attempted systems of the universe, have not been denied the honour which
they deserved by so great an attempt, whatever has been their success.
Nor have those mathematicians been rejected, who have applied their
science to the common purposes of life; or those that have deviated into
the kindred arts of tacticks, architecture, and fortification.

Even arts of far less importance have found their authors, nor have
these authors been despised by the boundless curiosity of the
proprietors of the Harleian library. The writers on horsemanship and
fencing are more numerous and more bulky than could be expected by those
who reflect, how seldom those excel in either, whom their education has
qualified to compose books.

The admirer of Greek and Roman literature will meet, in this collection,
with editions little known to the most inquisitive criticks, and which
have escaped the observation of those whose great employment has been
the collation of copies; nor will he find only the most ancient editions
of Faustus, Jenson, Spira, Sweynheim and Pannartz, but the most
accurate, likewise, and beautiful of Colinaeus, the Juntae, Plantin,
Aldus, the Stephens, and Elzevir, with the commentaries and observations
of the most learned editors.

Nor are they accompanied only with the illustrations of those who have
confined their attempts to particular writers, but of those, likewise,
who have treated on any part of the Greek or Roman antiquities, their
laws, their customs, their dress, their buildings, their wars, their
revenues, or the rites and ceremonies of their worship, and those that
have endeavoured to explain any of their authors from their statues or
their coins.

Next to the ancients, those writers deserve to be mentioned, who, at the
restoration of literature, imitated their language and their style with
so great success, or who laboured with so much industry to make them
understood: such were Philelphus and Politian, Scaliger and Buchanan,
and the poets of the age of Leo the tenth; these are, likewise, to be
found in this library, together with the Deliciae, or collections of all

Painting is so nearly allied to poetry, that it cannot be wondered that
those who have so much esteemed the one, have paid an equal regard to
the other; and, therefore, it may be easily imagined, that the
collection of prints is numerous in an uncommon degree; but, surely, the
expectation of every man will be exceeded, when he is informed that
there are more than forty thousand engraven from Raphael, Titian, Guido,
the Carraccis, and a thousand others, by Nanteuil, Hollar, Callet,
Edelinck, and Dorigny, and other engravers of equal reputation.

Their is also a great collection of original drawings, of which three
seem to deserve a particular mention: the first exhibits a
representation of the inside of St. Peter's church at Rome; the second,
of that of St. John Lateran; and the third, of the high altar of St.
Ignatius; all painted with the utmost accuracy, in their proper colours.

As the value of this great collection may he conceived from this
account, however imperfect; as the variety of subjects must engage the
curiosity of men of different studies, inclinations, and employments, it
may be thought of very little use to mention any slighter advantages, or
to dwell on the decorations and embellishments which the generosity of
the proprietors has bestowed upon it; yet, since the compiler of the
Thuanian catalogue thought not even that species of elegance below his
observation, it may not be improper to observe, that the Harleian
library, perhaps, excels all others, not more in the number and
excellence, than in the splendour of its volumes[3].

We may now, surely, be allowed to hope, that our catalogue will not be
thought unworthy of the publick curiosity; that it will be purchased as
a record of this great collection, and preserved as one of the memorials
of learning.

The patrons of literature will forgive the purchaser of this library, if
he presumes to assert some claim to their protection and encouragement,
as he may have been instrumental in continuing to this nation the
advantage of it. The sale of Vossius's collection into a foreign
country, is, to this day, regretted by men of letters; and if this
effort for the prevention of another loss of the same kind should be
disadvantageous to him, no man will hereafter willingly risk his fortune
in the cause of learning.


[1] This apology is no longer necessary, when the catalogue of Lord
Spencer's library is published at 16_l_. 16_s_. See Dibdin's
Bibliomania, Aedes Althorpianae, and the indignant complaints of the
author of the Pursuits of Literature.--Ed.

[2] It is not quite clear to whom Johnson here alludes; perhaps to
Bentley, and with reference to some of Garth's expressions:

So diamonds take a lustre from their foil;
And to a Bentley 'tis we owe a Boyle.
Dispensary, Canto V.

[3] Mr. Dibdin informs us, that Lord Oxford gave 18,000_l_ for the
_binding_ only the least part of the Harleian Library. See his



Though the scheme of the following miscellany is so obvious, that the
title alone is sufficient to explain it; and though several collections
have been formerly attempted, upon plans, as to the method, very little,
but, as to the capacity and execution, very different from ours; we,
being possessed of the greatest variety for such a work, hope for a more
general reception than those confined schemes had the fortune to meet
with; and, therefore, think it not wholly unnecessary to explain our
intentions, to display the treasure of materials out of which this
miscellany is to be compiled, and to exhibit a general idea of the
pieces which we intend to insert in it.

There is, perhaps, no nation in which it is so necessary, as in our own,
to assemble, from time to time, the small tracts and fugitive pieces,
which are occasionally published; for, besides the general subjects of
inquiry, which are cultivated by us, in common with every other learned
nation, our constitution in church and state naturally gives birth to a
multitude of performances, which would either not have been written, or
could not have been made publick in any other place.

The form of our government, which gives every man, that has leisure, or
curiosity, or vanity, the right of inquiring into the propriety of
publick measures, and, by consequence, obliges those who are intrusted
with the administration of national affairs, to give an account of their
conduct to almost every man who demands it, may be reasonably imagined
to have occasioned innumerable pamphlets, which would never have
appeared under arbitrary governments, where every man lulls himself in
indolence under calamities, of which he cannot promote the redress, or
thinks it prudent to conceal the uneasiness, of which he cannot complain
without danger.

The multiplicity of religious sects tolerated among us, of which every
one has found opponents and vindicators, is another source of
unexhaustible publication, almost peculiar to ourselves; for
controversies cannot be long continued, nor frequently revived, where an
inquisitor has a right to shut up the disputants in dungeons; or where
silence can be imposed on either party, by the refusal of a license.

Not, that it should be inferred from hence, that political or religious
controversies are the only products of the liberty of the British press;
the mind once let loose to inquiry, and suffered to operate without
restraint, necessarily deviates into peculiar opinions, and wanders in
new tracks, where she is, indeed, sometimes lost in a labyrinth, from
which though she cannot return, and scarce knows how to proceed; yet,
sometimes, makes useful discoveries, or finds out nearer paths to

The boundless liberty with which every man may write his own thoughts,
and the opportunity of conveying new sentiments to the publick, without
danger of suffering either ridicule or censure, which every man may
enjoy, whose vanity does not incite him too hastily to own his
performances, naturally invites those who employ themselves in
speculation, to try how their notions will be received by a nation,
which exempts caution from fear, and modesty from shame; and it is no
wonder, that where reputation may be gained, but needs not be lost,
multitudes are willing to try their fortune, and thrust their opinions
into the light; sometimes with unsuccessful haste, and sometimes with
happy temerity.

It is observed, that, among the natives of England, is to be found a
greater variety of humour, than in any other country; and, doubtless,
where every man has a full liberty to propagate his conceptions, variety
of humour must produce variety of writers; and, where the number of
authors is so great, there cannot but be some worthy of distinction.

All these, and many other causes, too tedious to be enumerated, have
contributed to make pamphlets and small tracts a very important part of
an English library; nor are there any pieces, upon which those, who
aspire to the reputation of judicious collectors of books, bestow more
attention, or greater expense; because many advantages may be expected
from the perusal of these small productions, which are scarcely to be
found in that of larger works.

If we regard history, it is well known, that most political treatises
have for a long time appeared in this form, and that the first relations
of transactions, while they are yet the subject of conversation, divide
the opinions, and employ the conjectures of mankind, are delivered by
these petty writers, who have opportunities of collecting the different
sentiments of disputants, of inquiring the truth from living witnesses,
and of copying their representations from the life; and, therefore, they
preserve a multitude of particular incidents, which are forgotten in a
short time, or omitted in formal relations, and which are yet to be
considered as sparks of truth, which, when united, may afford light in
some of the darkest scenes of state, as, we doubt not, will be
sufficiently proved in the course of this miscellany; and which it is,
therefore, the interest of the publick to preserve unextinguished.

The same observation may be extended to subjects of yet more importance.
In controversies that relate to the truths of religion, the first essays
of reformation are generally timorous; and those, who have opinions to
offer, which they expect to be opposed, produce their sentiments, by
degrees, and, for the most part, in small tracts: by degrees, that they
may not shock their readers with too many novelties at once; and in
small tracts, that they may be easily dispersed, or privately printed.
Almost every controversy, therefore, has been, for a time, carried on in
pamphlets, nor has swelled into larger volumes, till the first ardour of
the disputants has subsided, and they have recollected their notions
with coolness enough to digest them into order, consolidate them into
systems, and fortify them with authorities.

From pamphlets, consequently, are to be learned the progress of every
debate; the various state to which the questions have been changed; the
artifices and fallacies which have been used, and the subterfuges by
which reason has been eluded. In such writings may be seen how the mind
has been opened by degrees, how one truth has led to another, how errour
has been disentangled, and hints improved to demonstration, which
pleasure, and many others, are lost by him that only reads the larger
writers, by whom these scattered sentiments are collected, who will see
none of the changes of fortune which every opinion has passed through,
will have no opportunity of remarking the transient advantages which
errour may sometimes obtain, by the artifices of its patron, or the
successful rallies, by which truth regains the day, after a repulse; but
will be to him, who traces the dispute through into particular
gradations, as he that hears of a victory, to him that sees the battle.

Since the advantages of preserving these small tracts are so numerous,
our attempt to unite them in volumes cannot be thought either useless or
unseasonable; for there is no other method of securing them from
accidents; and they have already been so long neglected, that this
design cannot be delayed, without hazarding the loss of many pieces,
which deserve to be transmitted to another age.

The practice of publishing pamphlets on the most important subjects has
now prevailed more than two centuries among us; and, therefore, it
cannot be doubted, but that, as no large collections have been yet made,
many curious tracts must have perished; but it is too late to lament
that loss; nor ought we to reflect upon it, with any other view, than
that of quickening our endeavours for the preservation of those that yet
remain; of which we have now a greater number, than was, perhaps, ever
amassed by any one person.

The first appearance of pamphlets among us is generally thought to be at
the new opposition raised against the errours and corruptions of the
church of Rome. Those who were first convinced of the reasonableness of
the new learning, as it was then called, propagated their opinions in
small pieces, which were cheaply printed, and, what was then of great
importance, easily concealed. These treatises were generally printed in
foreign countries, and are not, therefore, always very correct. There
was not then that opportunity of printing in private; for the number of
printers was small, and the presses were easily overlooked by the
clergy, who spared no labour or vigilance for the suppression of heresy.
There is, however, reason to suspect, that some attempts were made to
carry on the propagation of truth by a secret press; for one of the
first treatises in favour of the Reformation, is said, at the end, to be
printed at "Greenwich, by the permission of the Lord of Hosts."

In the time of king Edward the sixth, the presses were employed in
favour of the reformed religion, and small tracts were dispersed over
the nation, to reconcile them to new forms of worship. In this reign,
likewise, political pamphlets may be said to have been begun, by the
address of the rebels of Devonshire; all which means of propagating the
sentiments of the people so disturbed the court, that no sooner was
queen Mary resolved to reduce her subjects to the Romish superstition,
but she artfully, by a charter[1], granted to certain freemen of London,
in whose fidelity, no doubt, she confided, entirely prohibited ALL
presses, but what should be licensed by them; which charter is that by
which the corporation of Stationers in London is, at this time,

Under the reign of queen Elizabeth, when liberty again began to
flourish, the practice of writing pamphlets became more general; presses
were multiplied, and books were dispersed; and, I believe, it may
properly be said, that the trade of writing began at this time, and that
it has, ever since, gradually increased in the number, though, perhaps,
not in the style of those that followed it.

In this reign was erected the first secret press against the church, as
now established, of which I have found any certain account. It was
employed by the Puritans, and conveyed from one part of the nation to
another, by them, as they found themselves in danger of discovery. From
this press issued most of the pamphlets against Whitgift and his
associates, in the ecclesiastical government; and, when it was at last
seized at Manchester, it was employed upon a pamphlet called More Work
for a Cooper.

In the peaceable reign of king James, those minds which might, perhaps,
with less disturbance of the world, have been engrossed by war, were
employed in controversy; and writings of all kinds were multiplied among
us. The press, however, was not wholly engaged in polemical
performances, for more innocent subjects were sometimes treated; and it
deserves to be remarked, because it is not generally known, that the
treatises of husbandry and agriculture, which were published about that
time, are so numerous, that it can scarcely be imagined by whom they
were written, or to whom they were sold.

The next reign is too well known to have been a time of confusion and
disturbance, and disputes of every kind; and the writings, which were
produced, bear a natural proportion to the number of the questions that
were discussed at that time; each party had its authors and its presses,
and no endeavours were omitted to gain proselytes to every opinion. I
know not whether this may not properly be called, The Age of Pamphlets;
for, though they, perhaps, may not arise to such multitudes as Mr.
Rawlinson imagined, they were, undoubtedly, more numerous than can be
conceived by any who have not had an opportunity of examining them.

After the Restoration, the same differences, in religious opinions, are
well known to have subsisted, and the same political struggles to have
been frequently renewed; and, therefore, a great number of pens were
employed, on different occasions, till, at length, all other disputes
were absorbed in the popish controversy.

From the pamphlets which these different periods of time produced, it is
proposed, that this miscellany shall be compiled, for which it cannot be
supposed that materials will be wanting; and, therefore, the only
difficulty will be in what manner to dispose them.

Those who have gone before us, in undertakings of this kind, have ranged
the pamphlets, which chance threw into their hands, without any regard
either to the subject on which they treated, or the time in which they
were written; a practice in no wise to be imitated by us, who want for
no materials; of which we shall choose those we think best for the
particular circumstances of times and things, and most instructing and
entertaining to the reader.

Of the different methods which present themselves, upon the first view
of the great heaps of pamphlets which the Harleian library exhibits[2],
the two which merit most attention are, to distribute the treatises
according to their subjects, or their dates; but neither of these ways
can be conveniently followed. By ranging our collection in order of
time, we must necessarily publish those pieces first, which least engage
the curiosity of the bulk of mankind; and our design must fall to the
ground, for want of encouragement, before it can be so far advanced as
to obtain general regard: by confining ourselves for any long time to
any single subject, we shall reduce our readers to one class; and, as we
shall lose all the grace of variety, shall disgust all those who read
chiefly to be diverted. There is, likewise, one objection of equal
force, against both these methods, that we shall preclude ourselves from
the advantage of any future discoveries; and we cannot hope to assemble
at once all the pamphlets which have been written in any age, or on any

It may be added, in vindication of our intended practice, that it is the
same with that of Photius, whose collections are no less miscellaneous
than ours, and who declares, that he leaves it to his reader, to reduce
his extracts under their proper heads.

Most of the pieces which shall be offered in this collection to the
publick, will be introduced by short prefaces, in which will be given
some account of the reasons for which they are inserted; notes will be
sometimes adjoined, for the explanation of obscure passages, or obsolete
expressions; and care will be taken to mingle use and pleasure through
the whole collection. Notwithstanding every subject may not be relished
by every reader, yet the buyer may be assured that each number will
repay his generous subscription.


[1] Which begins thus, "Know ye, that We, considering and manifestly
perceiving, that several seditious and heretical books or tracts--
against the faith and sound catholick doctrine of holy mother, the
Church," &c.

[2] The pamphlets in the Harleian collection amounted in number to about
400,000. See Gough's Brit. Topog. 1669.


Having prefixed to the former volumes of my catalogue an account of the
prodigious collection accumulated in the Harleian library, there would
have been no necessity of any introduction to the subsequent volumes,
had not some censures, which this great undertaking has drawn upon me,
made it proper to offer to the publick an apology for my conduct.

The price, which I have set upon my catalogue, has been represented by
the booksellers as an avaricious innovation; and, in a paper published
in the Champion, they, or their mercenary, have reasoned so justly, as
to allege, that, if I could afford a very large price for the library, I
might, therefore, afford to give away the catalogue.

I should have imagined that accusations, concerted by such heads as
these, would have vanished of themselves, without any answer; but, since
I have the mortification to find that they have been in some degree
regarded by men of more knowledge than themselves, I shall explain the
motives of my procedure.

My original design was, as I have already explained, to publish a
methodical and exact catalogue of this library, upon the plan which has
been laid down, as I am informed, by several men of the first rank among
the learned. It was intended by those who undertook the work, to make a
very exact disposition of all the subjects, and to give an account of
the remarkable differences of the editions, and other peculiarities,
which make any book eminently valuable: and it was imagined, that some
improvements might, by pursuing this scheme, be made in literary

With this view was the catalogue begun, when the price was fixed upon it
in publick advertisements; and it cannot be denied, that such a
catalogue would have been willingly purchased by those who understood
its use. But, when a few sheets had been printed, it was discovered,
that the scheme was impracticable, without more hands than could be
procured, or more time than the necessity of a speedy sale would allow:
the catalogue was, therefore, continued without notes, at least in the
greatest part; and, though it was still performed better than those
which are daily offered to the publick, fell much below the original

It was then no longer proper to insist upon a price; and, therefore,
though money was demanded, upon delivery of the catalogue, it was only
taken as a pledge that the catalogue was not, as is very frequent,
wantonly called for, by those who never intended to peruse it, and I,
therefore, promised that it should be taken again in exchange for any
book rated at the same value.

It may be still said, that other booksellers give away their catalogues
without any such precaution, and that I ought not to make any new or
extraordinary demands. But I hope it will be considered, at how much
greater expense my catalogue was drawn up: and be remembered, that when
other booksellers give their catalogues, they give only what will be of
no use when their books are sold, and what, if it remained in their
hands, they must throw away: whereas I hope that this catalogue will
retain its use, and, consequently, its value, and be sold with the
catalogues of the Barberinian and Marckian libraries.

However, to comply with the utmost expectations of the world, I have now
published the second part of my catalogue, upon conditions still more
commodious for the purchaser, as I intend, that all those who are
pleased to receive them at the same price of five shillings a volume,
shall be allowed, at any time, within three months after the day of
sale, either to return them in exchange for books, or to send them back,
and receive their money.

Since, therefore, I have absolutely debarred myself from receiving any
advantage from the sale of the catalogue, it will be reasonable to
impute it rather to necessity than choice, that I shall continue it to
two volumes more, which the number of the single tracts which have been
discovered, makes indispensably requisite. I need not tell those who are
acquainted with affairs of this kind, how much pamphlets swell a
catalogue, since the title of the least book may be as long as that of
the greatest.

Pamphlets have been for many years, in this nation, the canals of
controversy, politicks, and sacred history, and, therefore, will,
doubtless, furnish occasion to a very great number of curious remarks.
And I take this opportunity of proposing to those who are particularly
delighted with this kind of study, that, if they will encourage me, by a
reasonable subscription, to employ men qualified to make the
observations, for which this part of the catalogue will furnish
occasion, I will procure the whole fifth and sixth volumes[1] to be
executed in the same manner with the most laboured part of this, and
interspersed with notes of the same kind.

If any excuse were necessary for the addition of these volumes, I have
already urged in my defence the strongest plea, no less than absolute
necessity, it being impossible to comprise in four volumes, however
large, or however closely printed, the titles which yet remain to be

But, I suppose, none will blame the multiplication of volumes, to
whatever number they may be continued, which every one may use without
buying them, and which are, therefore, published at no expense but my

There is one accusation still remaining, by which I am more sensibly
affected, and which I am, therefore, desirous to obviate, before it has
too long prevailed. I hear that I am accused of rating my books at too
high a price, at a price which no other person would demand. To answer
this accusation, it is necessary to inquire what those who urge it, mean
by a high price. The price of things, valuable for their rarity, is
entirely arbitrary, and depends upon the variable taste of mankind, and
the casual fluctuation of the fashion, and can never be ascertained,
like that of things only estimable according to their use.

If, therefore, I have set a high value upon books: if I have vainly
imagined literature to be more fashionable than it really is, or idly
hoped to revive a taste well nigh extinguished, I know not why I should
be persecuted with clamour and invective, since I only shall suffer by
my mistake, and be obliged to keep those books, which I was in hopes of

If those who charge me with asking a _high price_, will explain their
meaning, it may be possible to give them an answer less general. If they
measure the price at which the books are now offered, by that at which
they were bought by the late possessor, they will find it diminished at
least three parts in four; if they would compare it with the demands of
other booksellers, they must first find the same books in their hands,
and they will be, perhaps, at last reduced to confess, that they mean,
by a high price, only a price higher than they are inclined to give.

I have, at least, a right to hope, that no gentleman will receive an
account of the price from the booksellers, of whom it may easily be
imagined that they will be willing, since they cannot depreciate the
books, to exaggerate the price: and I will boldly promise those who have
been influenced by malevolent reports, that, if they will be pleased, at
the day of sale, to examine the prices with their own eyes, they will
find them lower than they have been represented.


[1] This scheme was never executed; the fifth volume, the only one
subsequently published, was a mere shop catalogue.


In a Letter to the Editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. xiii. 1743.

Mr. Urban,

It would not be found useless in the learned world, if in written
controversies as in oral disputations, a moderator could be selected,
who might, in some degree, superintend the debate, restrain all needless
excursions, repress all personal reflections, and, at last, recapitulate
the arguments on each side; and who, though he should not assume the
province of deciding the question, might at least exhibit it in its true

This reflection arose in my mind upon the consideration of Mr. Crousaz's
commentary on the Essay on Man, and Mr. Warburton's answer to it. The
importance of the subject, the reputation and abilities of the
controvertists, and, perhaps, the ardour with which each has endeavoured
to support his cause, have made an attempt of this kind necessary for
the information of the greatest number of Mr. Pope's readers.

Among the duties of a moderator, I have mentioned that of recalling the
disputants to the subject, and cutting off the excrescences of a debate,
which Mr. Crousaz will not suffer to be long unemployed, and the
repression of personal invectives which have not been very carefully
avoided on either part, and are less excusable, because it has not been
proved, that, either the poet, or his commentator, wrote with any other
design than that of promoting happiness by cultivating reason and piety.

Mr. Warburton has, indeed, so much depressed the character of his
adversary, that before I consider the controversy between them, I think
it necessary to exhibit some specimens of Mr. Crousaz's sentiments, by
which it will probably be shown, that he is far from deserving either
indignation or contempt; that his notions are just, though they are
sometimes introduced without necessity; and defended when they are not
opposed; and that his abilities and piety are such as may entitle him to
reverence from those who think his criticisms superfluous.

In page 35 of the English translation, he exhibits an observation which
every writer ought to impress upon his mind, and which may afford a
sufficient apology for his commentary.

On the notion of a ruling passion he offers this remark: "Nothing so
much hinders men from obtaining a complete victory over their ruling
passion, as that all the advantages gained in their days of retreat, by
just and sober reflections, whether struck out by their own minds, or
borrowed from good books, or from the conversation of men of merit, are
destroyed in a few moments by a free intercourse and acquaintance with
libertines; and, thus, the work is always to be begun anew. A gamester
resolves to leave off play, by which he finds his health impaired, his
family ruined, and his passions inflamed; in this resolution he persists
a few days, but soon yields to an invitation, which will give his
prevailing inclination an opportunity of reviving in all its force. The
case is the same with other men; but is reason to be charged with these
calamities and follies, or rather the man who refuses to listen to its
voice in opposition to impertinent solicitations?"

On the means, recommended for the attainment of happiness, he observes,
"that the abilities which our Maker has given us, and the internal and
external advantages with which he has invested us, are of two very
different kinds; those of one kind are bestowed in common upon us and
the brute creation, but the other exalt us far above other animals. To
disregard any of these gifts would be ingratitude; but to neglect those
of greater excellence, to go no farther than the gross satisfactions of
sense, and the functions of mere animal life, would be a far greater
crime. We are formed by our Creator capable of acquiring knowledge, and
regulating our conduct by reasonable rules; it is, therefore, our duty
to cultivate our understandings, and exalt our virtues. We need but make
the experiment to find, that the greatest pleasures will arise from such

"It is trifling to allege, in opposition to this truth, that knowledge
cannot be acquired, nor virtue pursued, without toil and efforts, and
that all efforts produce fatigue. God requires nothing disproportioned
to the powers he has given, and in the exercise of those powers consists
the highest satisfaction.

"Toil and weariness are the effects of vanity: when a man has formed a
design of excelling others in merit, he is disquieted by their advances,
and leaves nothing unattempted, that he may step before them: this
occasions a thousand unreasonable emotions, which justly bring their
punishment along with them.

"But let a man study and labour to cultivate and improve his abilities
in the eye of his Maker, and with the prospect of his approbation; let
him attentively reflect on the infinite value of that approbation, and
the highest encomiums that men can bestow will vanish into nothing at
the comparison. When we live in this manner, we find that we live for a
great and glorious end.

"When this is our frame of mind, we find it no longer difficult to
restrain ourselves in the gratifications of eating and drinking, the
most gross enjoyments of sense. We take what is necessary to preserve
health and vigour, but are not to give ourselves up to pleasures that
weaken the attention, and dull the understanding."

And the true sense of Mr. Pope's assertion, that "Whatever is, is
right," and, I believe, the sense in which it was written, is thus
explained:--"A sacred and adorable order is established in the
government of mankind. These are certain and unvaried truths: he that
seeks God, and makes it his happiness to live in obedience to him, shall
obtain what he endeavours after, in a degree far above his present
comprehension. He that turns his back upon his Creator, neglects to obey
him, and perseveres in his disobedience, shall obtain no other happiness
than he can receive from enjoyments of his own procuring; void of
satisfaction, weary of life, wasted by empty cares and remorses, equally
harassing and just, he will experience the certain consequences of his
own choice. Thus will justice and goodness resume their empire, and that
order be restored which men have broken."

I am afraid of wearying you or your readers with more quotations, but if
you shall inform me that a continuation of my correspondence will be
well received, I shall descend to particular passages, show how Mr. Pope
gave sometimes occasion to mistakes, and how Mr. Crousaz was misled by
his suspicion of the system of fatality[1].

I am, Sir, yours, &c.


[1] It does not appear that Dr. Johnson found leisure or encouragement
to continue this subject any farther.


JANUARY 1, 1757.

It has always been lamented, that of the little time allotted to man,
much must be spent upon superfluities. Every prospect has its
obstructions, which we must break to enlarge our view; every step of our
progress finds impediments, which, however eager to go forward, we must
stop to remove. Even those who profess to teach the way to happiness,
have multiplied our encumbrances, and the author of almost every book
retards his instructions by a preface.

The writers of the Chronicle hope to be easily forgiven, though they
should not be free from an infection that has seized the whole
fraternity, and instead of falling immediately to their subjects, should
detain the reader for a time with an account of the importance of their
design, the extent of their plan, and the accuracy of the method which
they intend to prosecute. Such premonitions, though not always necessary
when the reader has the book complete in his hand, and may find, by his
own eyes, whatever can be found in it, yet may be more easily allowed to
works published gradually in successive parts, of which the scheme can
only be so far known as the author shall think fit to discover it.

The paper which we now invite the publick to add to the papers with
which it is already rather wearied than satisfied, consists of many
parts, some of which it has in common with other periodical sheets, and
some peculiar to itself.

The first demand, made by the reader of a journal, is, that he should
find an accurate account of foreign transactions and domestick
incidents. This is always expected, but this is very rarely performed.
Of those writers who have taken upon themselves the task of
intelligence, some have given and others have sold their abilities,
whether small or great, to one or other of the parties that divide us;
and without a wish for truth or thought of decency, without care of any
other reputation than that of a stubborn adherence to their abettors,
carry on the same tenour of representation through all the vicissitudes
of right and wrong, neither depressed by detection, nor abashed by
confutation, proud of the hourly increase of infamy, and ready to boast
of all the contumelies that falsehood and slander may bring upon them,
as new proofs of their zeal and fidelity.

With these heroes we have no ambition to be numbered; we leave to the
confessors of faction the merit of their sufferings, and are desirous to
shelter ourselves under the protection of truth. That all our facts will
be authentick, or all our remarks just, we dare not venture to promise:
we can relate but what we hear, we can point out but what we see. Of
remote transactions, the first accounts are always confused, and
commonly exaggerated: and in domestick affairs, if the power to conceal
is less, the interest to misrepresent is often greater; and, what is
sufficiently vexatious, truth seems to fly from curiosity, and as many
inquiries produce many narratives, whatever engages the publick
attention is immediately disguised by the embellishments of fiction. We
pretend to no peculiar power of disentangling contradiction or denuding
forgery, we have no settled correspondence with the antipodes, nor
maintain any spies in the cabinets of princes. But as we shall always be
conscious that our mistakes are involuntary, we shall watch the gradual
discoveries of time, and retract whatever we have hastily and
erroneously advanced.

In the narratives of the daily writers every reader perceives somewhat
of neatness and purity wanting, which, at the first view, it seems easy
to supply; but it must be considered, that those passages must be
written in haste, and, that there is often no other choice, but that
they must want either novelty or accuracy; and that, as life is very
uniform, the affairs of one week are so like those of another, that by
any attempt after variety of expression, invention would soon be
wearied, and language exhausted. Some improvements, however, we hope to
make; and for the rest we think that, when we commit only common faults,
we shall not be excluded from common indulgence.

The accounts of prices of corn and stocks are to most of our readers of
more importance than narratives of greater sound; and, as exactness is
here within the reach of diligence, our readers may justly require it
from us.

Memorials of a private and personal kind, which relate deaths,
marriages, and preferments, must always be imperfect by omission, and
often erroneous by misinformation; but even in these there shall not be
wanting care to avoid mistakes, or to rectify them, whenever they shall
be found.

That part of our work, by which it is distinguished from all others, is
the literary journal, or account of the labours and productions of the
learned. This was for a long time among the deficiencies of English
literature; but, as the caprice of man is always starting from too
little to too much, we have now, amongst other disturbers of human
quiet, a numerous body of reviewers and remarkers.

Every art is improved by the emulation of competitors; those who make no
advances towards excellence, may stand as warnings against faults. We
shall endeavour to avoid that petulance which treats with contempt
whatever has hitherto been reputed sacred. We shall repress that elation
of malignity, which wantons in the cruelties of criticism, and not only
murders reputation, but murders it by torture. Whenever we feel
ourselves ignorant we shall at least be modest. Our intention is not to
preoccupy judgment by praise or censure, but to gratify curiosity by
early intelligence, and to tell rather what our authors have attempted,
than what they have performed. The titles of books are necessarily
short, and, therefore, disclose but imperfectly the contents; they are
sometimes fraudulent and intended to raise false expectations. In our
account this brevity will be extended, and these frauds, whenever they
are detected, will be exposed; for though we write without intention to
injure, we shall not suffer ourselves to be made parties to deceit.

If any author shall transmit a summary of his work, we shall willingly
receive it; if any literary anecdote, or curious observation, shall be
communicated to us, we will carefully insert it. Many facts are known
and forgotten, many observations are made and suppressed; and
entertainment and instruction are frequently lost, for want of a
repository in which they may be conveniently preserved.

No man can modestly promise what he cannot ascertain: we hope for the
praise of knowledge and discernment, but we claim only that of diligence
and candour[1].


[1] Dr. Johnson received the humble reward of a guinea from Mr. Dodsley
for this composition.


Navigation, like other arts, has been perfected by degrees. It is not
easy to conceive that any age or nation was without some vessel, in
which rivers might be passed by travellers, or lakes frequented by
fishermen; but we have no knowledge of any ship that could endure the
violence of the ocean before the ark of Noah.

As the tradition of the deluge has been transmitted to almost all the
nations of the earth, it must be supposed that the memory of the means,
by which Noah and his family were preserved, would be continued long
among their descendants, and that the possibility of passing the seas
could never be doubted.

What men know to be practicable, a thousand motives will incite them to
try; and there is reason to believe, that from the time that the
generations of the postdiluvian race spread to the seashores, there were
always navigators that ventured upon the sea, though, perhaps, not
willingly beyond the sight of land.

Of the ancient voyages little certain is known, and it is not necessary
to lay before the reader such conjectures as learned men have offered to
the world. The Romans, by conquering Carthage, put a stop to great part
of the trade of distant nations with one another, and because they
thought only on war and conquest, as their empire increased, commerce
was discouraged; till under the latter emperours, ships seem to have
been of little other use than to transport soldiers.

Navigation could not be carried to any great degree of certainty without
the compass, which was unknown to the ancients. The wonderful quality by
which a needle or small bar of steel, touched with a loadstone or
magnet, and turning freely by equilibration on a point, always preserves
the meridian, and directs its two ends north and south, was discovered,
according to the common opinion, in 1299, by John Gola of Amalfi, a town
in Italy.

From this time it is reasonable to suppose that navigation made
continual, though slow, improvements, which the confusion and barbarity
of the times, and the want of communication between orders of men so
distant as sailors and monks, hindered from being distinctly and
successively recorded.

It seems, however, that the sailors still wanted either knowledge or
courage, for they continued for two centuries to creep along the coast,
and considered every head-land as impassable, which ran far into the
sea, and against which the waves broke with uncommon agitation.

The first who is known to have formed the design of new discoveries, or
the first who had power to execute his purposes, was Don Henry the
fifth[2], son of John, the first king of Portugal, and Philippina,
sister of Henry the fourth of England. Don Henry, having attended his
father to the conquest of Ceuta, obtained, by conversation with the
inhabitants of the continent, some accounts of the interiour kingdoms
and southern coast of Africa; which, though rude and indistinct, were
sufficient to raise his curiosity, and convince him, that there were
countries yet unknown and worthy of discovery.

He, therefore, equipped some small vessels, and commanded that they
should pass, as far as they could, along that coast of Africa which
looked upon the great Atlantick ocean, the immensity of which struck the
gross and unskilful navigators of those times with terrour and
amazement. He was not able to communicate his own ardour to his seamen,
who proceeded very slowly in the new attempt; each was afraid to venture
much farther than he that went before him, and ten years were spent
before they had advanced beyond cape Bajador, so called from its
progression into the ocean, and the circuit by which it must be doubled.
The opposition of this promontory to the course of the sea, produced a
violent current and high waves, into which they durst not venture, and
which they had not yet knowledge enough to avoid, by standing off from
the land into the open sea.

The prince was desirous to know something of the countries that lay
beyond this formidable cape, and sent two commanders, named John
Gonzales Zarco, and Tristan Vas, in 1418, to pass beyond Bajador, and
survey the coast behind it. They were caught by a tempest, which drove
them out into the unknown ocean, where they expected to perish by the
violence of the wind, or, perhaps, to wander for ever in the boundless
deep. At last, in the midst of their despair, they found a small island,
where they sheltered themselves, and which the sense of their
deliverance disposed them to call Puerto Santo, or the Holy Haven.

When they returned with an account of this new island, Henry performed a
publick act of thanksgiving, and sent them again with seeds and cattle;
and we are told by the Spanish historian, that they set two rabbits on
shore, which increased so much in a few years, that they drove away the
inhabitants, by destroying their corn and plants, and were suffered to
enjoy the island without opposition.

In the second or third voyage to Puerto Santo, (for authors do not agree
which,) a third captain, called Perello, was joined to the two former.
As they looked round the island upon the ocean, they saw at a distance
something which they took for a cloud, till they perceived that it did
not change its place. They directed their course towards it, and, in
1419, discovered another island covered with trees, which they,
therefore, called Madera, or the Isle of Wood.

Madera was given to Vaz or Zarco, who set fire to the woods, which are
reported by Souza to have burnt for seven years together, and to have
been wasted, till want of wood was the greatest inconveniency of the
place. But green wood is not very apt to burn, and the heavy rains which
fall in these countries must, surely, have extinguished the
conflagration, were it ever so violent.

There was yet little progress made upon the southern coast, and Henry's
project was treated as chimerical by many of his countrymen. At last
Gilianes, in 1433, passed the dreadful cape, to which he gave the name
of Bajador, and came back, to the wonder of the nation.

In two voyages more, made in the two following years, they passed
forty-two leagues farther, and in the latter, two men with horses being
set on shore, wandered over the country, and found nineteen men, whom,
according to the savage mariners of that age, they attacked; the
natives, having javelins, wounded one of the Portuguese, and received
some wounds from them. At the mouth of a river they found sea-wolves in
great numbers, and brought home many of their skins, which were much

Antonio Gonzales, who had been one of the associates of Gilianes, was
sent again, in 1440, to bring back a cargo of the skins of sea-wolves.
He was followed in another ship by Nunno Tristam. They were now of
strength sufficient to venture upon violence; they, therefore, landed,
and, without either right or provocation, made all whom they seized
their prisoners, and brought them to Portugal, with great commendations
both from the prince and the nation.

Henry now began to please himself with the success of his projects, and,
as one of his purposes was the conversion of infidels, he thought it
necessary to impart his undertaking to the pope, and to obtain the
sanction of ecclesiastical authority. To this end Fernando Lopez
d'Azevedo was despatched to Rome, who related to the pope and cardinals
the great designs of Henry, and magnified his zeal for the propagation
of religion. The pope was pleased with the narrative, and by a formal
bull, conferred upon the crown of Portugal all the countries which
should be discovered as far as India, together with India itself, and
granted several privileges and indulgences to the churches which Henry
had built in his new regions, and to the men engaged in the navigation
for discovery. By this bull all other princes were forbidden to encroach
upon the conquests of the Portuguese, on pain of the censures incurred
by the crime of usurpation.

The approbation of the pope, the sight of men, whose manners and
appearance were so different from those of Europeans, and the hope of
gain from golden regions, which has been always the great incentive to
hazard and discovery, now began to operate with full force. The desire
of riches and of dominion, which is yet more pleasing to the fancy,
filled the court of the Portuguese prince with innumerable adventurers
from very distant parts of Europe. Some wanted to be employed in the
search after new countries, and some to be settled in those which had
been already found.

Communities now began to be animated by the spirit of enterprise, and
many associations were formed for the equipment of ships, and the
acquisition of the riches of distant regions, which, perhaps, were
always supposed to be more wealthy, as more remote. These undertakers
agreed to pay the prince a fifth part of the profit, sometimes a greater
share, and sent out the armament at their own expense.

The city of Lagos was the first that carried on this design by
contribution. The inhabitants fitted out six vessels, under the command
of Lucarot, one of the prince's household, and soon after fourteen more
were furnished for the same purpose, under the same commander; to those
were added many belonging to private men, so that, in a short time,
twenty-six ships put to sea in quest of whatever fortune should present.

The ships of Lagos were soon separated by foul weather, and the rest,
taking each its own course, stopped at different parts of the African
coast, from cape Blanco to cape Verd. Some of them, in 1444, anchored at
Gomera, one of the Canaries, where they were kindly treated by the
inhabitants, who took them into their service against the people of the
isle of Palma, with whom they were at war; but the Portuguese, at their
return to Gomera, not being made so rich as they expected, fell upon
their friends, in contempt of all the laws of hospitality and
stipulations of alliance, and, making several of them prisoners and


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