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VOL. XII. PART I.
ART. I.—The Plays acted before the University of Cambridge.
THE prejudice modern readers have taken against every thing earlier than the productions of their own century, by giving us a proof of their indolence, affords a still stronger one, that their attainments are superficial. Those precocious wits, who say better things than they know, and write more than they read, furnish congenial food for this numerous class, who are either unwilling or unable to submit to the laws which justly impose on man the labour of penetrating into the mine, before he is permitted to possess the metal. Perhaps, indeed, the contracted ideas of some former antiquaries, who have launched indiscriminate condemnation against pursuits differing from their own, and their conclusive dogma that estimates value by age, have conduced in no small degree to injure the very cause they wished to advocate. The acrimony of a Ritson has probably deterred many from drinking at a purer stream, than the one newly cut from the parent river. But, without justifying the moroseness of these laborious writers, it is impossible not to censure those who affect to ridicule pursuits, the utility of which they are not qualified to appreciate. Qui non intelligit, aut taceat, aut discat, was the motto the astrological Dr. Dee put to his Monas Hieroglyphica; upon which Queen Elizabeth declared with unusual liberality," that if he would disclose unto her the secrets of that book, she would et discere et facere." Whereupon her Majestie had a little perusal of the same with him; and then, in most heroical and princely wise, did comfort him, and
VOL. XII. PART I.
encourage him in his studies, philosophical and mathematical."* To many who study only the ephemeral hot-pressed† authors of our own age, we might apply the quaint but nervous expressions of Stephen Gosson, "You know it is a notable point of folly, for a man to toast himself by his neighbour's fire, and never bestir him to keep any warmth in his own chimney as great a madness is it in many readers, when they are taught, not to seek to maintain it of their own; which is, to content themselves with the glorious blaze of another man's knowledge, whereby they outwardly get some colour in their cheeks, but within they are dusky, dark, and obscure." Still less can any justification be offered, for indulging in abuse against the pursuits of others, because we can unfortunately instance many eminent men, who have committed themselves upon similar occasions. Sir Isaac Newton is said to have sneered at Dr. Bentley, and Bishop Hare, for squabbling, as he expressed it, about an old play book. Warburton has commented on the fact, in his preface to Shakespeare.
Such censures are among the follies of men, immoderately given up to one science, and ignorantly undervaluing all others. It is in this all-pervading spirit of illiberality, that the drama itself has been at different periods assailed, from the era of Tertullian, and the Fathers, to that of Jeremy Collier, and the Puritans of our own times. William Prynne, its most voluminous antagonist, affirms in his elaborate book, to Scourge Stage Plaiers, that he has therein cited against them no less than fifty-five Synods and Councils, seventy Fathers and Christian writers before the year 1200, one hundred and fifty foreign and domestic Protestant and Popish authors since, and forty heathen Philosophers and Poets. In despite of it, the drama still continues to instruct and amuse us,
" -There have been more, in some one play,
Life of Dr. Dee, appended to Hearne's Joann. Glaston. Chron.
-Yet all admire
Author. The paper?
Octavius. Yes; ten shillings every quire;
The type is Bulmer's, just like Boydell's plays:
So Mister Hayley shines in Milton's rays.
Pursuits of Literature, p. 229. Ed. 1808.