The town hath seldom been more divided in its opinion than concerning the merit of the following scenes. Whilst some publicly affirmed that no author could produce so fine a piece but Mr. P[ope], others have with as much vehemence insisted that no one could write anything so bad but Mr. F[ielding].
Nor can we wonder at this dissension about its merit, when the learned world have not unanimously decided even the very nature of this tragedy. For though most of the universities in Europe have honored it with the name of egregium et maximi pretii opus, tragœdiis tam antiquis quam novis longe anteponendum;1 nay, Dr. B[entley] hath pronounced, Citius Mævii Æneadem quam Scribleri istius tragœdiam hanc crediderim, cujus auctorem Senecam ipsum tradidisse haud dubitarim;2 and the great Professor Burman3 hath styled Tom Thumb, Heroum omnium tragicorum facile principem.4 Nay, though it hath, among other languages, been translated into Dutch, and celebrated with great applause at Amsterdam (where burlesque never came) by the title of Mynheer Vander Thumb, the burgomasters receiving it with that reverent and silent attention which becometh an audience at a deep tragedy: notwithstanding all this, there have not been wanting some who have represented these scenes in a ludicrous light; and Mr. D[ennis]5 hath been heard to say with some concern, that he wondered a tragical and Christian nation would permit a representation on its theatre so visibly designed to ridicule and extirpate everything that is great and solemn among us.
This learned critic and his followers were led into so great an error by that surreptitious and piratical copy which stole last years6 into the world -- with what injustice and prejudice to our author, I hope will be acknowledged by everyone who shall happily peruse this genuine and original copy. Nor can I help remarking, to the great praise of our author, that, however imperfect the former was, still did even that faint resemblance of the true Tom Thumb contain sufficient beauties to give it a run of upwards of forty nights, to the politest audiences. But, notwithstanding that applause which it received from all the best judges, it was as severely censured by some few bad ones and, I believe, rather maliciously than ignorantly reported to have been intended a burlesque on the loftiest parts of tragedy and designed to banish what we generally call fine things from the stage.
Now, if I can set my country right in an affair of this importance, I shall lightly esteem any labor which it may cost. And this I the rather undertake; first, as it is indeed in some measure incumbent on me to vindicate myself from that surreptitious copy before mentioned, published by some ill-meaning people under my name; secondly, as knowing myself more capable of doing justice to our author than any other man, as I have given myself more pains to arrive at a thorough understanding of this little piece, having for ten years together read nothing else; in which time I think I may modestly presume, with the help of my English dictionary, to comprehend all the meanings of every word in it.
But should any error of my pen awaken Clariss Bentleium7 to enlighten the world with his annotations on our author, I shall not think that the least reward or happiness arising to me from these my endeavors.
I shall waive at present what hath caused such feuds in the learned world, whether this piece was originally written by Shakespeare, though certainly that, were it true, must add a considerable share to its merit, especially with such as are so generous as to buy and to commend what they never read, from an implicit faith in the author only -- a faith which our age abounds in as much as it can be called deficient in any other.
Let it suffice that the Tragedy of Tragedies, or, The Life and Death of Tom Thumb, was written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Nor can the objection be made by Mr. D[ennis] that the tragedy must then have been antecedent to the history, have any weight, when we consider that though the History of Tom Thumb, printed by and for Edward M[idwinte]r, at the Looking-Glass8 on London Bridge, be of a later date; still must we suppose this history to have been transcribed from some other, unless we suppose the writer thereof to be____________________