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and labour. What he read he could transcribe: but, as what he thought, if ever he did think, he could but ill exprefs, fo he read on: and by that means got a character of learning, without risquing, to every observer, the imputation of wanting a better talent. By a punctilious collation of the old books, he corrected what was manifeftly wrong in the latter editions, by what was manifeftly right in the earlier. And this is his real merit ; and the whole of it. For where the phrafe was very obfolete or licentious in the common books, or only flightly corrupted in the other, he wanted fufficient knowledge of the progrefs and various ftages of the English tongue, as well as acquaintance with the peculiarity of Shakspeare's language, to underftand what was right; nor had he either common judgment to fee, or critical fagacity to amend, what was manifeftly faulty. Hence he generally exerts his conjectural talent in the wrong place: he tampers with what is found in the common books; and, in the old ones, omits all notice of variations, the fenfe of which he did not understand.
How the Oxford editor came to think himself qualified for this office, from which his whole courfe of life had, been fo remote, is ftill more difficult to conceive. For whatever parts he might have either of genius or erudition, he was abfolutely ignorant of the art of criticifin, as well as of the poetry of that time, and the language of his author. And fo far from a thought of examining the first editions, that he even neglected to compare Mr. Pope's, from which he printed his own, with Mr. Theobald's; whereby he loft the advantage of many fine lines, which the other had recovered from the old quartos. Where he trufts to his own fagacity, in what affects the fenfe, his
conjectures are generally abfurd and extravagant, and violating every rule of criticism. Though, in this rage of correcting, he was not abfolutely deftitute of all art. For, having a number of my conjectures before him, he took as many of them as he faw fit, to work upon; and by changing them to fomething, he thought, fynonymous or fimilar, he made them his own; and fo became a critick at a cheap expence. But how well he hath fucceeded in this, as likewife in his conjectures, which are properly his own, will be feen in the course of my remarks; though, as he hath declined to give the reasons for his interpolations, he hath not afforded me fo fair a hold of him as Mr. Theobald hath done, who was lefs cautious. But his principal object was to reform his author's numbers; and this, which he hath done, on every occafion, by the infertion or omiffion of a fet of harmless unconcerning expletives, makes up the grofs body of his innocent corrections. And fo, in spite of that extreme negligence in numbers, which diftinguifhes the first dramatick writers, he hath tricked up the old bard, from head to foot, in all the finical exactness of a modern measurer of fyllables.
For the reft, all the corrections, which these two editors have made on any reafonable foundation, are here admitted into the text; and carefully affigned to their respective authors: a piece of justice which the Oxford editor never did; and which the other was not always fcrupulous in observing towards me. To conclude with them in a word, they separately poffeffed those two qualities which, more than any other, have contributed to bring the art of criticifm into difrepute, dulnefs of apprehenfion, and extravagance of conjecture.
I am now to give fome account of the present
undertaking. For as to all thofe things which have been publifhed under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Obfervations, &c. on Shakspeare, (if you except fome critical notes on Macbeth, given as a fpecimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius,) the reft are abfolutely below a serious notice.
The whole a critick can do for an author, who deferves his fervice, is to correct the faulty text; to remark the peculiarities of language; to illuftrate the obfcure allufions; and to explain the beauties and defects of fentiment or compofition. And furely, if ever author had a claim to this fervice, it was our Shakspeare; who, widely excelling in the knowledge of human nature, hath given to his infinitely varied pictures of it, fuch truth of defign, fuch force of drawing, fuch beauty of colouring, as was hardly ever equalled by any writer, whether his aim was the ufe, or only the entertainment of mankind. The notes in this edition, therefore, take in the whole compass of criticism.
I. The first fort is employed in restoring the poet's genuine text; but in thofe places only where it labours with inextricable nonfenfe. In which, how much foever I may have given fcope to critical conjecture, where the old copies failed me, I have indulged nothing to fancy or imagination; but have religioufly obferved the fevere canons of literal criticism, as may be feen from the reasons accompanying every alteration of the common text. Nor would a different conduct have become a critick, whofe greateft attention, in this part, was to vindicate the established reading from interpola
Published in 1745, by Dr. Johnfon. REED,
tions occafioned by the fanciful extravagancies of others. I once intended to have given the reader a body of canons, for literal criticifm, drawn out in form; as well fuch as concern the art in general, as those that arife from the nature and circumftances of our author's works in particular. And this for two reafons. First, to give the unlearned reader a juft idea, and confequently a better opinion of the art of criticism, now funk very low in the popular efteem, by the attempts of fome who would needs exercife it without either natural or acquired talents; and by the ill fuccefs of others, who feemed to have loft both, when they came to try them upon English authors. Secondly, To deter the unlearned writer from wantonly trifling with an art he is a stranger to, at the expence of his own reputation, and the integrity of the text of established authors. But these uses may be well supplied by what is occafionally faid upon the fubject, in the course of the following remarks.
II. The fecond fort of notes confifts in an explanation of the author's meaning, when by one or more of these causes it becomes obfcure; either from a licentious ufe of terms, or a hard or ungrammatical conftruction; or laftly, from far-fetched or quaint allufions,
1. This licentious ufe of words is almoft peculiar to the language of Shakspeare. To common terms he hath affixed meanings of his own, unauthorized by ufe, and not to be juftified by analogy. And this liberty he hath taken with the nobleft parts of speech, fuch as mixed modes; which, as they are most fufceptible of abuse, fo their abuse much hurts the clearness of the difcourfe. The criticks (to whom Shakspeare's licence was ftill as much a fecret as his meaning which that licence
had obfcured) fell into two contrary mistakes; but equally injurious to his reputation and his writings. For fome of them, obferving a darkness that pervaded his whole expreffion, have cenfured him for confufion of ideas and inaccuracy of reafoning. In the neighing of a horfe (fays Rymer) or in the growling of a maftiff, there is a meaning, there is a lively exprefsion, and, may I fay, more humanity than many times in the tragical flights of Shakspeare. The ignorance of which cenfure is of a piece with its brutality. The truth is, no one thought clearer, or argued more closely, than this immortal bard. But his fuperiority of genius lefs needing the intervention of words in the act of thinking, when he came to draw out his contemplations into difcourse, he took up (as he was hurried on by the torrent of his matter) with the first words that lay in his way; and if, amongst these, there were two mixed modes that had but a principal idea in common, it was enough for him; he regarded them as fynonymous, and would ufe the one for the other without fear or fcruple.Again, there have been others, fuch as the two laft editors, who have fallen into a contrary extreme; and regarded Shakspeare's anomalies (as we may call them) amongst the corruptions of his text; which, therefore, they have cafhiered in great numbers, to make room for a jargon of their own. This hath put me to additional trouble; for I had not only their interpolations to throw out again, but the genuine text to replace, and establish in its ftead; which, in many cafes, could not be done without fhowing the peculiar fenfe of the terms, and explaining the caufes which led the poet to so perverse a ufe of them. I had it once, indeed, in my defign, to give a general alphabetick glossary of thofe