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Theobald, thus weak and ignorant, thus mean and faithless, thus petulant and oftentatious, by the good luck of having Pope for his enemy, has escaped, and escaped alone, with reputation, from this undertaking. So willingly does the world fupport those who folicite favour, against those who command reverence; and so easily is he praised, whom no man can envy.
Our authour fell then into the hands of Sir Thom mas Hanmer, the Oxford editor, a man, in my opinion, eminently qualified by nature for such studies. He had, what is the first requisite to emendatory criticism, that intuition by which the poet's intention is immediately discovered, and that dexterity of intellect which dispatches its work by che easiest means. He had undoubtedly read much ; his acquaintance with customs, opinions, and traditions, seems to have been large; and he is often learned without shew. He feldom passes what he does not understand, without an attempt to find or to make a meaning, and sometimes hastily makes what a little more attention would have found. He is solicitous to reduce to grammar, what he could not be sure that his authour intended to be grammatical, Shakej peare regarded more the series of ideas, than of words; and his language, not being designed for the reader's desk, was all that he desired it to be, if it conveyed his meaning to the audience.
Hanmer's care of the metre has been coo violently censured. He found the measures reformed in fo many passages, by the fulent labours of some editors,
with the silent acquiescence of the rest, that he thoughc himself allowed to extend a little further the license, which had already been carried so far without reprehension, and of his corrections in general, it must be confeffed, that they are often juft, and made commonly with the least possible violation of the text.
But, by inserting his emendations, whether invented or borrowed, into the page, without any notice of varying copies, he has appropriated the labour of his predeceffors, and made his own edition of little authority. His confidence indeed, both in himself and others, was too great; he supposes all to be right that was done by Pope and Theobald; he seems not to suspect a critick of fallibility, and it was but reasonable that he should claim what he so liberally granted.
As he never writes without careful enquiry and diligent consideration, I have received all his notes, and believe that every reader will wish for more.
Of the last editor it is more difficult to speak. Respect is due to high place, tenderness to living reputation, and veneration to genius and learning; but he cannot be justly offended at that liberty of which he has himself so frequently given an example, nor very solicitous what is thought of notes, which he ought never to have considered as part of his serious employments, and which, I suppose, since the ardour of composition is remitted, he no longer numbers among his happy effufions.
The original and predominant errour of his commentary, is acquiescence in his first thoughts ; that precipitation which is produced by consciousness of quick discernment; and that confidence which prefumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labour only can perform, by penetrating the bottom. His noces exhibit sometimes perverse interpretations, and sometimes improbable conjectures; he at one time gives the authour more profundity of meaning than the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdities, where the sense is plain to every other reader. But his emendations are likewise often happy and just; and his interpretation of obscure passages learned and fagacious.
Of his notes, I have commonly rejected those, against which the general voice of the publick has exclaimed, or which their own incongruity immediately condemns, and which, I suppose, the authour himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, to part I have given the highest approbation, by inserting the offered reading in the text ; part
I have left to the judgment of the reader, as doubtful, though specious; and part I have censured without reserve, but I am sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, without wantonness of infult.
It is no pleasure to me, in revising my volumes; to cbserve how much paper is wasted in confutation, Whoever considers the revolutions of learning, and the various questions of greater or less importance, upon which wit and reason have exercised their powers,
must lamene che unsuccessfulness of enquiry, and the Now advances of truth, when he reflects, that great part of the labour of every writer is only the destruction of those that went befo.e him. The first care of the builder of a new system, is to demolish the fabricks which are standing. The chief desire of him that comments an authour, is to few how much other commentators have corrupted and obscured him. The opinions prevalent in one age, as truths above the reach of controversy, are confuted and rejected in another, and rise again to reception in remoter times, Thus the human mind is kept in motion without progress. Thus sometimes truth and errour, and sometimes contrarieties of errour, take each others place by reciprocal invasion. The side of seeming knowledge which is poured over one generation, re. tires and leaves another naked and barren ; the sudden meteors of intelligence which for a while appear to shoot their beams into the regions of obscurity, on a sudden withdraw their luftre, and leave mortals again to grope their way.
These elevations and depressions of renown, and the contradictions to which all improvers of knowledge must for ever be exposed, since they are not escaped by the highest and brightest of mankind, may surely be endured with patience by criticks and annotators, who can rank themselves but as the satellites of their authours. How canit thou beg for life, says Achilles to his captive, when thou knowest that thou art now to suffer only whaç must another day be suffered by Achilles ?
Dr. Warburton had a name fufficient to confer celebrity on those who could exalt themselves into antagonists, and his notes have raised a clamour too loud to be diftinct. His chief assailants are the authours of tbe Canons of criticism and of the Review of Shakespeare's text; of whom one ridicules his errours with airy perulance, suitable enough to the levity of the controversy; the other attacks them with gloomy malignity, as if he were dragging to justice an assassin or incendiary. The one stings like a fly, sucks a little blood, takes a gay Autter, and returns for more; the other bites like a viper, and would be glad to leave inflammations and gangrene behind him. When I think on one, with his confederates, I remember the danger of Coriolanus, who was afraid that girls with spits, and boys with stones, jould say him in puny battle; when the other crosses my imagination, I remember the prodigy in Macbeth, An eagle tow'ring in his pride of place, Was by a mousing owl bawk'd at and killd.
Let me however do them juftice. One is a wit, and one a scholar. They have both shewn acuteness sufficient in the discovery of faules, and have both advanced some probable interpretations of obscure passages; but when they aspire to conjecture and emendation, it appears how falsely we all estimate our own abilities, and the little which they have been able to perform might have taught them more candour to the endeavours of others.