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The indignation, perhaps, for being represented a blockhead, may be as strong in us, as it is in the ladies for a reflexion on their beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to him for some flagrant civilities; and I shall willingly devote a part of my life to the honest endeavour of quitting scores: with this exception however, that I will not return those civilities in his peculiar strain, but confine myself, at least, to the limits of common decency. I shall ever think it better to want wit, than to want humanity: and impartial posterity may, perhaps, be of my opinion.
But to return to my subject, which now calls upon me to enquire into those causes, to which the depravations of my author originally may be affigned. We are to consider him as a writer, of whom no authentick manuscript was left extant; as a writer, whose pieces were dispersedly performed on the several fiages then in being. And it was the custom of those days for the poets to take a price of the players for the pieces they from time to time furnished; and thereupon it was supposed they had no farther right to print them without the consent of the players. As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublished, when any one succeeded, there was a contest betwixt the curiosity of the town, who deinanded to see it in print, and the policy of the fagers, who wifhed to secrete it within their own walls. Hence, many picces were taken down in short-hand, and imperfectly copied by ear from a representation: others were printed from piece-meal parts surreptitiously obtained from the theatres, uncorrect, and without the poet's knowledge. To some of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform those pieces which stole fingly into the world in our author's life-time.
There are still other reasons, which may be supposed to have affected the whole fet. When the players took upon them to publish his works entire, every theatre was ransacked to supply the copy; and parts collected, which had gone through as many changes as performers, either from mutilations or additions made to them. Hence we derive many charms and incoherences in the sense and matter. Scenes were frequently transpored, and shuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or supposed convenience of some particular actor. Hence much confusion and impropricty has attended, and embarrafled the business and fable. To these obvious causes of corruption it must be added, that our author has lain under the disadvantage of having his er
tors propagated and multiplied by time: because, for near a century, his works were published from the faulty copies, without the affiftance of any intelligent editor: which has been the case likewise of many a clallick writer.
The nature of any distemper once found has generally been the immediate step to a cure. Shakespeare's cafe has in a great measure resembled that of a corrupt clasick; and, consequently, the method of cure was likewise to bear a resemblance. By what means, and with what success, this cure has been effected on ancient writers, is too well known, and needs no formal illustration. The reputation, consequent on talks of that nature, invited me to attempt the mea thod here; with this view, the hopes of restoring to the publick their greatest poet in his original purity: after having so long lain in a condition that was a disgrace to common sense. 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 species. It is plain, it was the intention of that great man rather to correct and pare off the excrescencies of the Paradise Lof, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticise the Æneis of Virgil, than to restore corrupted palsages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the iniquity or ignorance of his censurers, who, from some expresions, 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 criticism is plainly to fhew 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 observation to the readers, as it will shew that the critick on Shakespeare is of a quite different kind. His genuine text is for the most part rea ligiously adhered to, and the numerous faults and blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is altered, but what by the clearest reasoning can be proved a corruption of the true text ; and the alteration, a real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, 10 strictly have I strove to give the true reading, though sometimes not to the advantage of my author, that I have been ridiculously ridiculed for it by those, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to iny disadvantage; or else were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.
The The science of criticism, as far as it affects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three classes; the emendation of corrupt passages; the explanation of obfcure and difficult ones; and an enquiry into the beauties and defects of composition. This work is principally confined to the two former parts: though there are some specimens interspersed of the latter kind, as several of the emendations were best supported, and several of the difficulties belt explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the composition pcculiar to this immortal poet. But this was but occasional, and for the sake 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 shall be pleased to see it the employment of a masterly pen.
It must necessarily happen, as I have formerly observed, that where the assistance of manuscripts is wanting to set an author's meaning right, and rescue him from those errors which have been transmitted down through a series of incorrect editions, and a long intervention of time, many passages must be desperate, and past a cure; and their true sense irretrievable either to care or the sagacity of conjecture. But is there any reason therefore to say, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left defperate? We should shew very little honesty, or wisdom, 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 sense and meaning : but to be so very reserved and cautious, as to interpose no relief or conjecture, where it manifestly labours and cries out for ailistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent absurdity.
As there are very few pages in Shakespeare, upon which some fufpicions of depravity do not reasonably arise; I have thought it my duty in the first place, by á diligent and laborious collation, to take in the assistances of all the older copies.
In his historical plays, whenever our English chronicles, and in his tragedies, when Greek or Roman story could give any light, no pains have been omitted to set passages right, by comparing my author with his originals; for, as I have frequently observed, he was a close and accurate copier where-ever his fable was founded on history.
Where-ever the author's sense is clear and discoverable (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.
Where, through all the former editions, a passage has laboured under fat nonsense and invincible darkneis, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, or a transposition in the pointing, I have restored to him both sense and sentiment; such corrections, I am persuaded, will need no indulgence.
And whenever I have taken a greater latitude and liberty in amending, I have constantly endeavoured to support my corrections and conjectures by parallel passages and authorities from himself, the sureit means of expounding any author whatsoever. Cette voie d'interpreter un autheur par lui-même est plus sure que tous les commentaires, says a very learned French critick.
As to my notes (from which the common and learned readers of our author, I hope, will derive fome satisfaction) I have endeavoured to give them a variety in some proportion to their number. Wherever I have ventured at an emendation, a note is constantly subjoined to justify and aflcrt the reason of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly set forth my grounds for such conjecture, and submit it to judgment. Some remarks are spent in explaining passages, where the wit or satire depends on an obfcure point of history : others, where allusions are to divinity, philofophy, or other branches of science. Some are added to shew, where there is a surpicion of our author having borrowed from the ancients : others, to fhew where he is rallying his contemporaries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And some are neceliarily thrown in, to explain an obscure and obsolete term, phrase, or idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious glosary; but as I have been importuned, and am prepared to give a correct edition of our author's POEMS, (in which many terms occur that are not to be met with in his plays) I thought a glosary to all Shakespeare's works more proper to attend that volume.
In reforming an infinite number of passages in the pointing, where the sense was before quite lost, I have frequently subjoined notes to shew the depraved, and to prove the reformed, pointing : a part of labour in this work which I could very willingly have spared 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 ma- .
terial. Without such notes, these passages in subsequent editions would be liable, through the ignorance of printers and correctors, to fall into the old confusion : whereas, a note on every one hinders all possible return to depravity; and for ever secures them in a state of purity and integrity not to be lost or forfeited.
Again, as some notes have been neceffary to point out the detection of the corrupted text, and establish the resteration of the genuine readings ; some others have been as necessary for the explanation of passages obscure and difficult. To understand the necessity and use of this part of my task, some particulars of my author's character are previously to be explained. There are obfiurities in him, which are common to him with all poets of the same species ; there are others, the issue of the times he lived in; and there are others, again, peculiar to himself. The nature of comick poetry being entirely satirical, it busies itself more in exposing what we call caprice and humour, than vices cognizable to the laws. The English, from the happiness of a free constitution, and a turn of mind peculiarly speculative and inquisitive, are observed to produce more humourifs, and a greater variety of original characters, than any other people whatsoever : and these owing their inmediate birth to the peculiar genius of each age, an infinite number of things alluded to, glanced at, and exposed, must needs become obscure, as the characters themselves are antiquated and disused. An editor therefore should be well versed in the history and manners of his author's age, if he aims at doing him a service in this respect.
Besides, wit lying mostly in the assemblage of ideas, and in putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance, or congruity, to make up pleasant pictures, and agreeable visions in the fancy; the writer, who aims at wit, mult of course range
far and wide for materials. Now the age in which Shake- speare lived, having, above all others, a wonderful affection
to appear learned, they declined vulgar images, such as are immediately fetched from nature, and ranged through the circle of the sciences to fetch their ideas from thence. But as the refemblances of such ideas to the subject must neceffarily lie very much out of the common way, and every piece of wit appear a riddle to the vulgar ; this, that should have taught them the forced, quaint, unnatural tract they were in (and induce them to follow a more natural one)