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Oxford edition, without notice of the alteration; nor fhall conjecture be wantonly or unneceffarily indulged.
"It has been long found, that very fpecious emendations do not equally ftrike all minds with conviction, nor even the fame mind at different times; and therefore, though perhaps many alterations may be propofed as eligible, very few will be obtruded as certain. In a language fo ungrammatical as the English, and fo licentious as that of Shakspeare, emendatory criticism is always hazardous; nor can it be allowed to any man who is not particularly verfed in the writings of that age, and particularly ftudious of his author's diction. There is danger left peculiarities fhould be mistaken for corruptions, and paffages rejected as unintelligible, which a narrow mind happens not to understand.
"All the former criticks have been fo much employed on the correction of the text, that they have not fufficiently attended to the elucidation of paffages obfcured by accident or time. The editor will endeavour to read the books which the author read, to trace his knowledge to its fource, and compare his copies with the originals. If in this part of his defign he hopes to attain any degree of fuperiority to his predeceffors, it must be confidered, that he has the advantage of their labours; that part of the work being already done, more care is naturally bestowed on the other part; and that, to declare the truth, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very ignorant of the ancient English literature; Dr. Warburton was detained by more important ftudies; and Mr. Theobald, if fame be just to his memory, confidered learning only as an inftrument of gain, and made no further inquiry after his author's meaning, when once he had notes
fufficient to embellish his page with the expected decorations.
"With regard to obfolete or peculiar diction, the editor may perhaps claim fome degree of confidence, having had more motives to confider the whole extent of our language than any other man from its first formation. He hopes, that, by comparing the works of Shakspeare with those of writers who lived at the fame time, immediately preceded, or immediately followed him, he fhall be able to ascertain his ambiguities, difentangle his intricacies, and recover the meaning of words now loft in the darkness of antiquity.
"When therefore any obfcurity arifes from an allufion to fome other book, the paffage will be quoted. When the diction is entangled, it will be cleared by a paraphrafe or interpretation. When the sense is broken by the fuppreffion of part of the fentiment in pleasantry or paffion, the connection will be fupplied. When any forgotten cuftom is hinted, care will be taken to retrieve and explain it. The meaning affigned to doubtful words will be fupported by the authorities of other writers, or by parallel paffages of Shakspeare him
"The obfervation of faults and beauties is one of the duties of an annotator, which some of Shakfpeare's editors have attempted, and fome have neglected. For this part of his tafk, and for this only, was Mr. Pope eminently and indisputably qualified nor has Dr. Warburton followed him with lefs diligence or lefs fuccefs. But I never obferved that mankind was much delighted or improved by their afterifks, commas, or double commas; of which the only effect is, that they preclude the pleasure of judging for ourfelves;
teach the young and ignorant to decide without principles; defeat curiofity and difcernment by leaving them lefs to discover; and, at laft, fhow the opinion of the critick, without the reasons on which it was founded, and without affording any light by which it may be examined.
"The editor, though he may lefs delight his own vanity, will probably please his reader more, by fuppofing him equally able with himself to judge of beauties and faults, which require no previous acquifition of remote knowledge. A defcription of the obvious fcenes of nature, a representation of general life, a fentiment of reflection or experience, a deduction of conclufive argument, a forcible eruption of effervefcent paffion, are to be confidered as proportionate to common apprehenfion, unaffifted by critical officioufnefs; fince to conceive them, nothing more is requifite than acquaintance with the general ftate of the world, and those faculties which he must always bring with him who would read Shakspeare.
"But when the beauty arifes from fome adaptation of the fentiment to cuftoms worn out of ufe, to opinions not univerfally prevalent, or to any accidental or minute particularity, which cannot be fupplied by common understanding, or common obfervation, it is the duty of a commentator to lend his affiftance.
"The notice of beauties and faults thus limited will make no diftinct part of the defign, being reducible to the explanation of obfcure paffages.
"The editor does not however intend to preclude himself from the comparison of Shakspeare's fentiments or expreffion with those of ancient or modern authors, or from the display of any beauty not obvious to the ftudents of poetry; for as he
hopes to leave his author better understood, he wishes likewise to procure him more rational approbation.
"The former editors have affected to flight their predeceffors: but in this edition all that is valuable will be adopted from every commentator, that pofterity may confider it as including all the rest, and exhibit whatever is hitherto known of the great father of the English drama."
Though Dr. Johnson has here pointed out with his usual perfpicuity and vigour, the true course to be taken by an editor of Shakspeare, fome of the pofitions which he has laid down may be controverted, and fome are indubitably not true. It is not true that the plays of this author were more incorrectly printed than thofe of any of his contemporaries for in the plays of Marlowe, Marston, Fletcher, Maffinger, and others, as many errors may be found. It is not true that the art of printing was in no other age in fo unfkilful hands. Nor is it true, in the latitude in which it is stated, that "these plays were printed from compilations made by chance or by ftealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre:" two only of all his dramas, The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry V. appear to have been thus thruft into the world, and of the former it is yet a doubt whether it is a first sketch or an imperfect copy. I do not believe that words were then adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, or that an antiquated diction was then employed by any poet but Spenfer. That the obfcurities of our author, to whatever cause they may be referred, do not arise from the paucity of contemporary writers, the prefent edition may furnish indifputable evidence.
And lastly, if it be true, that "very few of Shakfpeare's lines were difficult to his audience, and that he used fuch expreffions as were then common," (a pofition of which I have not the smallest doubt,) it cannot be true, that "his reader is embarraffed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with obfoleteness and innovation.”
When Mr. Pope first undertook the task of revifing these plays, every anomaly of language, and every expreffion that was not understood at that time, were confidered as errors or corruptions, and the text was altered, or amended, as it was called, at pleasure. The principal writers of the early part of this century feem never to have looked behind them, and to have confidered their own era and their own phrafeology as the ftandard of perfection: hence, from the time of Pope's edition, for above twenty years, to alter Shakfpeare's text and to reftore it, were confidered as fynonymous terms. During the last thirty years our principal employment has been to restore, in the true fenfe of the word; to eject the arbitrary and capricious innovations made by our predeceffors from ignorance of the phrafeology and customs of the age in which Shakspeare lived.
As on the one hand our poet's text has been described as more corrupt than it really is, fo on the other, the labour required to inveftigate fugitive allufions, to explain and juftify obfolete phrafeology by parallel paffages from contemporary authors, and to form a genuine text by a faithful collation of the original copies, has not perhaps had that notice to which it is entitled; for undoubtedly it is a laborious and a difficult tafk: and the due execution of this it is, which can alone