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VIS a common observation, and there
fore perhaps not altogether untrue, that
critics generally set out with these two maxims; the one, that the author must always dictate what is beft; the other, that the critic is to determine what that best is. There is an assertion not very unlike this, that Dr. Bentley has made in his late edition of Milton: “I have
1. See his first note on Milton's Paradise loft. However to do the Dr. justice, there are some errors which he has undoubtedly mended, of which two are moft remarkable. B. VII, 321. The smelling gourd, which should be swelling. and *.451. fowl living, which ought to have been printed, foul living. In most of the other places, if he cannot find errors, he will make them. But methinks an author should
“ such an efteem for our poet, that which of the o two words is the better, that I say was dictated
bear his share, as well as the transcriber: and though the context is a sacred thing, and ought not to be disturbed, yet in a note a better reading may be proposed. -B. IX 3.670. there is the following beautiful description.
As when of old some orator renound
Motion, each act won audience, ere the tongue. In descriptions particularly the words ought to be neither embarrassed, nor ambiguous. But here, is motion the accufative or nominative case? If the accusative; how far fetch'd is the meaning, each part won motion ? If the nominative ; Milton should have given it, each part, each motion, each at : or rather thus, in a great measure according to Dr. Bentley's reading,
Stood in himself collected whole, while each
Colleeted whole : In feipfo totus teres, atque rotundus. Hor. L. II. f. 7. A person must have no feeling of poetry not to allow this the better reading ; but allowing this, no rules of criticism will suffer him to alter, what the transcriber, or printer has not first altered. In Shakespeare the editors have proposed many better readings, which they fhould have mention'd only in their notes ; and they would thus have deserved that praise for their ingenuity, which they seem to forfeit, by going out of their province to correct the author, when they should only have corrected the faulty copy.