صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

been affected on ancient writers, is too well known, and needs no formal illustration. The reputation, confequent on tasks of that nature, invited me to attempt the method here; with this view, the hopes of reftoring to the publick their greatest poet in his original purity, after having fo long lain in a condition that was a difgrace to common fenfe. To this end I have ventured on a labour, that is the first affay of the kind on any modern author whatsoever. For the late edition of Milton, by the learned Dr. Bentley, is, in the main, a performance of another fpecies. It is plain, it was the intention of that great man rather to correct and pare off the excrefcencies of the Paradife Loft, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticise the Aneis of Virgil, than to reftore corrupted paffages. Hence, therefore, may be feen either the iniquity or ignorance of his cenfurers, who, from fome expreffions would make us believe the doctor every where gives us his corrections as the original text of the author; whereas the chief turn of his criticifm is plainly to fhow the world, that, if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote fo.

I thought proper to premise this obfervation to the readers, as it will fhow that the critick on Shakspeare is of a quite different kind. His genuine text is for the moft part religiously adhered to, and the numerous faults and blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is altered but what by the cleareft reafoning can be proved a corruption of the true, text; and the alteration, a real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, fo ftrictly have I ftrove to give the true reading, though fometimes not to the advantage of my author, that I have been ridiculously ridi

culed for it by thofe, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to my disadvantage; or elfe were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.

The science of criticism, as far as it effects an editor, feems to be reduced to these three claffes; the emendation of corrupt paffages; the explanation of obfcure and difficult ones; and an enquiry into the beauties and defects of compofition. This work is principally confined to the two former parts: though there are some specimens interspersed of the latter kind, as feveral of the emendations were beft fupported, and feveral of the difficulties beft explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the compofition peculiar to this immortal poet. But this was but occafional, and for the fake only of perfecting the two other parts, which were the proper objects of the editor's labour. The third lies open for every willing undertaker: and I fhall be pleased to fee it the employment of a mafterly pen.

It must neceffarily happen, as I have formerly obferved, that where the affistance of manufcripts is wanting to fet an author's meaning right, and refcue him from thofe errors which have been tranfmitted down through a series of incorrect editions, and a long intervention of time, many paffages must be defperate, and past a cure; and their true fenfe irretrievable either to care or the

fagacity of conjecture. But is there But is there any reafon therefore to say, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left defperate? We fhould fhow very little honefty, or wifdom, to play the tyrants with an author's text; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all adventures, and to the utter detriment of his fenfe and meaning: but to

be so very reserved and cautious, as to interpofe no relief or conjecture, where it manifeftly labours and cries out for affistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent abfurdity.

As there are very few pages in Shakspeare, upon which fome fufpicions of depravity do not reafonably arife; I have thought it my duty in the first place, by a diligent and laborious collation, to take in the affiftances of all the older copies.

In his hiftorical plays, whenever our English chronicles, and in his tragedies, when Greek or Roman ftory could give any light, no pains have been omitted to fet paffages right, by comparing my author with his originals; for, as I have frequently obferved, he was a close and accurate copier wherever his fable was founded on hiftory.

Wherever the author's fenfe is clear and difcoverable, (though, perchance, low and trivial,) I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of an oftentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old copies have done.

[ocr errors]

Where, through all the former editions, a paffage has laboured under flat nonfenfe and invincible darkness, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, or a tranfpofition in the pointing, I have reftored to him both fenfe and fentiment; fuch corrections, I am perfuaded, will need no indulgence.

And whenever I have taken a greater latitude and liberty in amending, I have conftantly endeavoured to fupport my corrections and conjectures by parallel paffages and authorities from himself, the fureft means of expounding any author whatsoever. Cette voie d'interpreter un autheur par lui-même eft plus fure que tous les commentaires, fays a very learned French critick.

As to my notes, (from which the common and learned readers of our author, I hope, will derive fome fatisfaction,) I have endeavoured to give them a variety in fome proportion to their number. Wherever I have ventured at an emendation, a note is conftantly fubjoined to juftify and affert the reafon of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly fet forth my grounds for fuch conjecture, and fubmit it to judgment. Some remarks are fpent in explaining paffages, where the wit or fatire depends on an obfcure point of hiftory: others, where allufions are to divinity, philofophy, or other branches of fcience. Some are added, to fhow where there is a fufpicion of our author having borrowed from the ancients : others, to show where he is rallying his contemporaries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And fome are neceffarily thrown in, to explain an obfcure and obfolete term, phrafe, or idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious gloffary; but as I have been importuned, and am prepared to give a correct edition of our author's POEMS, (in which many terms occur which are not to be met with in his Plays,) I thought a gloffary to all Shakspeare's works more proper to attend that yolume.

In reforming an infinite number of paffages in the pointing, where the sense was before quite loft, I have frequently fubjoined notes to fhow the depraved, and to prove the reformed, pointing: a part of labour in this work which I could very willingly have fpared myself. May it not be objected, why then have you burdened us with these notes? The answer is obvious, and, if I mistake not, very material. Without fuch notes, these paffages in fubfequent editions would be liable,

through the ignorance of printers and correctors, to fall into the old confufion: whereas, a note on every one hinders all poffible return to depravity: and for ever secures them in a state of purity and integrity not to be lost or forfeited.

Again, as fome notes have been neceffary to point out the detection of the corrupted text, and establish the restoration of the genuine reading; fome others have been as neceffary for the explanation of paffages obfcure and difficult. To understand the neceffity and use of this part of my task, some particulars of my author's character are previously to be explained. There are obfcurities in him, which are common to him with all poets of the fame fpecies; there are others, the iffue of the times he lived in; and there are others, again, peculiar to himself. The nature of comick poetry being entirely fatirical, it bufies itself more in expofing what we call caprice and humour, than vices cognizable to the laws. The English, from the happiness of a free conftitution, and a turn of mind peculiarly fpeculative and inquifitive, are obferved to produce more humourifts, and a greater variety of original characters, than any other people whatsoever and thefe owing their immediate birth to the peculiar genius of each age, an infinite number of things alluded to, glanced at, and expofed, muft needs become obfcure, as the characters themfelves are antiquated and difufed. An editor therefore fhould be well verfed in the history and manners of his author's age, if he aims at doing him a service in this respect.

Befides, wit lying moftly in the affemblage of ideas, and in putting thofe together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance, or congruity, to make up pleasant pictures, and

« السابقةمتابعة »