It is not my design to enter into a criticism upon this author, though to do it effectually and not superficially would be the best occasion that any just writer could take to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English poets Shakespeare must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous as well as most conspicuous instances both of beauties and faults of all sorts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a Preface, the business of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works and the disadvantages under which they have been transmitted to us. We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: a design which, though it can be no guide to future critics to do him justice in one way, will at least be sufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.
I cannot however but mention some of his principal and characteristic excellencies, for which (notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and universally elevated above all other dramatic writers. Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occasion of doing it.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakespeare. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of Nature; it proceeded through Egyptian strainers and channels and came to him not without some tincture of the learning or some cast of the models of those before him. The poetry of Shakespeare was inspiration indeed; he is not so much an imitator as an instrument of Nature; and 'tis not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much Nature herself that 'tis a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those