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TO

THE READER.

(FOLIO, 1647.)

POETRY is the child of nature, which, regulated and made beautiful by art, presenteth the most harmonious of all other compositions; among which (if we rightly consider) the dramatical is the most absolute, in regard of those transcendent abilities which should wait upon the composer; who must have more than the instruction of libraries (which of itself is but a cold contemplative knowledge,) there being required in him a soul miraculously knowing and conversing with all mankind, enabling him to express not only the phlegm and folly of thick-skinned men, but the strength and maturity of the wise, the air and insinuations of the court, the discipline and resolution of the soldier, the virtues and passions of every noble condition, nay, the counsels and characters of the greatest princes.

This, you will say, is is a vast comprehension, and hath not happened in many ages. Be it then remembered, to the glory of our own, that all these are demonstrative and met in Beaumont and Fletcher, whom but to mention is to throw a cloud upon all former names, and benight posterity; this

book being, without flattery, the greatest monument of the scene that time and humanity have produced, and must live, not only the crown and sole reputation of our own, but the stain of all other nations and languages: for, it may be boldly averred, not one indiscretion hath branded this paper in all the lines, this being the authentic wit that made Blackfriars an academy, where the three hours spectacle, while Beaumont and Fletcher were presented, was usually of more advantage to the hopeful young heir, than a costly, dangerous, foreign travel, with the assistance of a governing monsieur or signor to boot; and it cannot be denied but that the young spirits of the time, whose birth and quality made them impatient of the sourer ways of education, have, from the attentive hearing these pieces, got ground in point of wit and carriage of the most severely-employed students, while these recreations were digested into rules, and the very pleasure did edify. How many passable discoursing dining wits stand yet in good credit, upon the bare stock of two or three of these single scenes!

And now, reader, in this tragical age, where the theatre hath been so much out-acted, congratulate thy own happiness, that, in this silence of the stage, thou hast a liberty to read these inimitable plays, to dwell and converse in these immortal groves which were only shewed our fathers in a conjuring-glass, as suddenly removed as represented; the landscape is now brought home by this optic, and the press, though too pregnant before, shall be now looked upon as greatest benefactor to Englishmen, that must acknowledge all the felicity of wit and words to this derivation.

You may

here find passions raised to that excellent pitch, and by such insinuating degrees, that

you shall not choose but consent, and go along with them, finding yourself at last grown insensibly the very same person you read; and then stand admiring the subtile tracks of your engagement, Fall on a scene of love, and you will never believe the writers could have the least room left in their souls for another passion; peruse a scene of manly rage, and you would swear they cannot be expressed by the same hands; but both are so excellently wrought, you must confess none but the same hands could work them.

Would thy melancholy have a cure? thou shalt laugh at Democritus himself; and, but reading one piece of this comic variety, find thy exalted fancy in Elysium; and, when thou art sick of this cure, (for the excess of delight may too much dilate thy soul) thou shalt meet almost in every leaf a soft purling passion or spring of sorrow, so powerfully wrought high by the tears of innocence, and wronged lovers, it shall persuade thy eyes to weep into the stream, and yet smile when they contribute to their own ruins.

Infinitely more might be said of these rare copies; but let the ingenuous reader peruse them, and he will find them so able to speak their own worth, that they need not come into the world with a trumpet, since any one of these incomparable pieces, well understood, will prove a preface to the rest; and if the reader can taste the best wit ever trod our English stage, he will be forced himself to become a breathing panegyric to them all.

Not to detain or prepare thee longer, be as ca pricious and sick-brained as ignorance and malice

3 Ingenuous reader.] In Coles's Dict. 1677, it is remarked, "Ingenuous and ingenious are too often confounded."-Ed.

can make thee, here thou art rectified; or be as healthful as the inward calm of an honest heart, learning, and temper can state thy disposition, yet this book may be thy fortunate concernment and companion

It is not so remote in time but very many gentlemen may remember these authors; and some, familiar in their conversation, deliver them upon every pleasant occasion so fluent, to talk a comedy. He must be a bold man that dares undertake to write their lives: what I have to say is, we have the precious remains; and as the wisest contemporaries acknowledge they lived a miracle, I am very confident this volume cannot die without one.

What more specially concerns these authors and their works, is told thee by another hand, in the following epistle of the Stationer to the Readers.

Farewell: Read, and fear not thine own understanding; this book will create a clear one in thee: and when thou hast considered thy purchase, thou wilt call the price of it a charity to thyself; and, at the same time, forgive

Thy friend,

And these authors' humble admirer,

JAMES SHIRLEY.3

James Shirley. It is much to be regretted that this ingenious gentleman did nothing more to the first folio than writing the preface; we should not then so justly lament the incorrectness of that edition.-Ed. 1778.

That Shirley should have given us a critically correct edition of our authors it is idle to wish, as such a thing was almost unknown at the time. The only tolerably correct edition of a dramatic work then was Ben Jonson's collection of his own works. It is much more to be regretted that Shirley should have been deterred, by his modesty, from writing the lives of our authors.

THE

STATIONER TO THE READERS.

(FOLIO, 1647.)

GENTLEMEN,

BEFORE you engage further, be pleased to take notice of these particulars: You have here a new book; I can speak it clearly; for of all this large volume of comedies and tragedies, not one, till now, was ever printed before. A collection of plays is commonly but a new impression, the scattered pieces which were printed single being then only re-published together: 'Tis otherwise here.

Next, as it is all new, so here is not any thing spurious or imposed: I had the originals from such as received them from the authors themselves; by those, and none other, I publish this edition.

And as here is nothing but what is genuine and theirs, so you will find here are no omissions; you have not only all that I could get, but all that you must ever expect. For, besides those which were formerly printed, there is not any piece written by

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