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How Shadwell hasty, Wycherley was slow;
the confidence, and so direct the cry of the public. But, (as, in fact, it too often falls out,) this prerogative of the few may be abused to the prejudice of the many. The partialities of friendship, the fashionableness of the writer, his compliance with the reigning taste, the lucky concurrence of time and opportunity, the cabal of a party, nay, the very freaks of whim and caprice; these, or any of them, as occasion serves, can support the dullest, as the opposite disadvantages can depress the noblest performance: and give a currency or neglect to either, far beyond what the genuine character of each demands. Hence the public voice, which is but the aggregate of these corrupt judgments, infinitely multiplied, is, with the wise, at such a juncture, deservedly of little esteem. Yet, in a succession of such judgments, delivered at different times, and by different sets or juntos of these sovereign arbiters of the fate of authors, the public opinion naturally gets clear of these accidental corruptions. Every fresh succession shakes off some; till, by degrees, the work is seen in its proper form, unsupported of every other recommendation, than what its native inherent excellence bestows upon it. Then, and not till then, the voice of the people becomes sacred; after which it soon advances into divinity, before which all ages must fall down and worship. For now reason alone, without her corrupt assessors, takes the chair; and her sentence, when once promulgated and authorised by the general voice, fixes the unalterable doom of authors:
Ολως καλα νομιζε ύψη και αληθινα, τα διαπαντος αρεσκοντα και Taow. Longinus, Sect. 7.
Ver. 91. Gammer Gurton] A piece of very low humour, one
Ut nihil anteferat, nihil illis comparet, errat:
of the first printed plays in English, and therefore much valued by some antiquaries. Pope.
It was written by J. Still, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells.
If our author had been more acquainted with, and had not so much despised, our old plays, he would have acquitted himself better in his edition of Shakespear. A correct edition of this comedy, written 1551, was given by Mr. R. Dodsley, in his valuable collection of Old Plays; a publication which had the merit of exciting an attention to our ancient writers. Warton.
J. Still was born at Grantham in Lincolnshire, 1542, and educated at Christ's College, Cambridge. Ellis. T. Warton and Ellis have both quoted his pleasant ballad, introduced in Gammer Gurton, of "Jolly good ale, and old."
"I love no roast but a nut-brown toast,
And a crab laid in the fire;
A little bread shall do me stead,
Much bread I not desire:
No frost, no snow, no wind, I trow,
I am so wrapt and thoroughly capt,
Of jolly good ale, and old.”
Sir John Harrington thus speaks of him: "But what STILE shall I use to set forth this STILL, whom well nigh thirty yeeres since, my reverend tutor in Cambridge stiled by this name, Divine Still, &c. who was often content to grace my young exercises with his venerable presense, who, from that time to this, hath given me some helps, more hopes, and some encouragements, in my best studies? To whom I never came but I grew more religious, from whom I never went but I parted better instructed."—(State of the Church.) Bowles.
says, "very incorrect."
Or say our fathers never broke a rule;
But let them own, that greater faults than we 95 They had, and greater virtues, I'll agree.
Spenser himself affects the obsolete,
And Sidney's verse halts ill on Roman feet:
Ver. 92. Careless Husband praise,] This line is quoted as an instance of our author's candour towards Cibber. This play was at first denied to be Cibber's, and was given to the Duke of Argyle, and other noblemen. It met with the greatest success, and was soon ascribed to its right author. Mrs. Oldfield's abilities were first known and admired by her acting Lady Betty Modish. The reconciliation scene between Sir Charles and Lady Easy was applauded. It is singular, that Cibber should be the first writer that, after the Restoration, produced a play, his Love's Last Shift, in which any purity of manners, any decency of language, and any respect to the honour of the marriage-bed, were preserved. (See Davis's Miscell. p. 400. v. 3.) Warton.
Ver. 97. affects the obsolete,] One, who is allowed to have studied Spenser attentively, has remarked, "that the censure of Jonson upon his style, is perhaps unreasonable; Spenser in affecting the ancients writ no language." The ground-work and substance of his style is the language of his age. This indeed is seasoned with various expressions, adopted from the elder poets; but in such a manner, that the language of his age was rather strengthened and dignified, than debased and disguised, by such a practice. In truth, the affectation of Spenser in this point is by no means so striking and visible as B. Jonson has insinuated; nor is his phraseology so difficult and obsolete as it is generally supposed to be. For many stanzas together, we may frequently read him with as much facility as we can the same number of lines in Shakespear. Observations on the Fairy Queen, vol. i. p. 133. by Thomas Warton, A. M. Warton.
Ver. 98. And Sidney's verse] For a specimen, take the following stanza of one of his Sapphics: Arcadia, book i. p. 142:
Dicere cedit eos, 'ignavè multa fatetur,
Et sapit, et mecum facit, et Jove judicat æquo.
sed emendata videri
Pulchraque, et exactis minimùm distantia, miror:
"If the spheres senseless do yet hold a music,
If the swan's sweet voice be not heard, but at death,
If the mute timber when it hath the life lost
Yieldeth a lute's tune."
Warton. Ver. 100. Now serpent-like,] Nobody can deny there are inequalities in this poem; and this observation of our author is adopted from Dryden, who says, that Milton runs into a flat thought sometimes for a hundred lines together; "but it is when he is got into a tract of scripture;" but such passages bear no proportion to the General sublime of the poem. Warton.
Ver. 104. Bentley] This excellent critic, who had the fortune to be extravagantly despised and ridiculed by two of the greatest wits [P. S.], and as extravagantly feared and flattered by two of the greatest scholars of his time [C. H.], will deserve to have that justice done him now, which he never met with while alive.
He was a great master both of the languages and the learning of polite antiquity; whose writings he studied with no other design than to correct the errors of the text. For this he had a strong natural understanding, a great share of penetration, and a sagacity and acumen very uncommon; all which qualities he had greatly improved by long exercise and application. Yet, at the same time, he had so little of that elegance of judgment, we call Taste, that he knew nothing of Style, as it accommodates itself, and is appropriated to, the various kinds of composition. And his reasoning faculty being infinitely better than that of his imagination, the style of poetry was what he least understood. So that, that clearness of conception, which so much assisted his cri
Milton's strong pinion now not Heaven can bound,
And God the Father turns a school-divine.
tical sagacity, in discovering and reforming errors in books of science, where a philosophical precision and grammatical exactness of language is employed, served but to betray him into absurd and extravagant conjectures, whenever he attempted to reform the text of a poet; whose diction he was always for reducing to the prosaic rules of logical severity; and whenever he found what a great master of speech calls verbum ardens, he was sure not to leave it till he had thoroughly quenched it in his critical standish. But to make philology amends, he was a perfect master of all the mysteries of the ancient rhythmus.
The most important of his works, as a scholar, is his Critique on the Epistles of Phalaris; and the least considerable, his Remarks on the Discourse concerning Free-thinking. Yet the first, with all its superiority of learning, argument, and truth, was borne down by the vivacity and clamour of a party, which (as usual) carried the public along with them: while the other, employed only in the easy and trifling task of exposing a very dull and very ignorant rhapsodist, was as extravagantly extolled. For it was his odd fortune (as our poet expresses it) to pass for
"A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits:"
whereas, in truth, he was neither one nor the other. The injustice that had been done him in the first case, made him always speak, amongst his friends, of the blind partiality of the public, in the latter, with the contempt it deserved. For however he might sometimes mistake his own force, he was never the dupe of the public judgment; of which, a learned prelate, now living, gave me this instance: He accidentally met Bentley in the days of Pha