1766 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

C. M., "On Shakespeare. By a Bookseller" St. James's Chronicle (12 April 1766).



Great Shakespeare's Works, Octavos, Quartos, Folios,
Were once so swift of Sale, that Chicks and Oglios,
With Claret and Champaigne, crown'd Tonson's Board.
Ev'n Non-proprietors could then afford
Mutton and Port. Now Critics, Commentators,
Hypers, and all the Train of Wordy-Praters,
Wrangling about him, quite confuse his Text;
And, where he's clear, they'll swear he is perplex'd.
During this Heat of verbal Altercation,
Lifeless the Shelf he loads. No Dutch Translation
Could e'er have hurt him more. Editors may
Bill their own Purses, make the Public pay,
But the Trade suffer. One says, the Johnsonian
Edition nothing means. The Warburtonian
Perverts the Sense; and the superb Oxonian
Dresses the ancient Bard in modern Guise;
Laborious Theobald dealt in Trifles, cries
Another; Pope was lazy; careless Rowe
Found the Page faulty, and he left it so.
Poet divine! — when to fair Avon's Stream
Thou didst retire, had then some kindly Dream
Inform'd thee of the Literary Rage
Thy Works would kindle in a distant Age,
Some of those Moments sure by thee enjoy'd
In sacred Leisure, would have been employ'd
To give us, in their native Majesty,
Thy own pathetic Scenes, correct, and worthy thee.
Though thou wert nobly negligent of Fame,
Something methinks to thy much injur'd Name,
Immortal Bard! was due. Oh, that thy Pen
Had check'd the Boldness of licentious Men;
That thou hadst giv'n a twentieth of that Time,
Which Pope bestow'd in polishing his Rhime,
To a Revision of thy Thoughts sublime!
Nor suffer'd the interpolating Race
Of pedant Players to mix, to thy Disgrace,
Their heterogeneous Trash, and to defile
With their low Ribaldry, thy manly Style,
Then had we seen thee in thy genuine Light,
Like a strong Eagle, soaring to the Height,
Proving not Gain alone, but Glory wing'd thy Flight.