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Sir T. HÅN ME R's
W H AT the publick is here to expect is a true and cor
rect edition of Shakespeare's works, cleared from the corruptions with which they have hitherto abounded. One of the great admirers of this incomparable author hath made it the amusement of his leisure hours for many years past to look over his writings with a careful eye, to note the obscurities and absurdities introduced into the text, and according to the best of his judgment to restore the genuine sense and purity of it. In this he proposed nothing to himfelf, but his private fatisfaction in making his own copy as perfect as he could; but as the emendations multiplied upon his hands, other gentlemen, equally fond of the author, desired to see them, and some were so kind as to give their assistance, by communicating their observations and conjectures upon difficult paffages which had occurred to them. Thus by degrees the work growing more considerable than was at first expected, they who had the opportunity of looking into it, too partial perhaps in their judgment, thought it worth being made publick; and he, who hath with difficulty yielded to their persuasions, is far from desiring to refiect upon the late editors for the omissions and defects which they left to be supplied by others who should follow them in the same province. On the contrary, he thinks the world much obliged to them for the progress they made in weeding out so great a number of blunders and mistakes as they have done, and probably he who hath carried on the work might never have thought of such an undertaking, if he had not found a considerable part so done to his hands.
From what causes it proceeded that the works of this author, in the first publication of them, were more injured and abused than perhaps any that ever passed the press, hath bcen sufficiently explained in the preface to Mr. Pope's edition, which is here fubjoined, and there needs no more to be said upon that subject. This only the reader is desired to bear in mind, that as the corruptions are more numerous, and of a groffer kind than can well be conceived, but by those who have looked nearly into them; so in the correct. ing them this rule hath been most strictly observed, not to give a loose to fancy, or indulge a licentious fpirit of criticism, as if it were fit for any one to presume to judge what Shakespeare ought to have written, instead of endeavouring to discover truly and retrieve what he did write: and so great caution hath been used in this respect, that no alterations have been made, but what the sense necessarily required, what the measure of the verse often helped to point out, and what the fimilitude of words in the false reading and in the true, generally speaking, appeared very well to justify.
Most of those passages are here thrown to the bottom of the page, and rejected as spurious, which were stigmatized as such in Mr. Pope's edition, and it were to be wished that more had then undergone the same sentence. The promoter of the present edition hath ventured to discard but few more upon his own judgment, the most considerable of which is that wretched piece of ribaldry in King Henry the Fifth, put into the mouths of the French princess and an old gentlewoman, improper enough as it is all in French, and not intelligible to an English audience, and yet that perhaps is the best thing that can be said of it. There can be no doubt but a great deal more of that low stuff, which disgraces the works of this great author, was foisted in by the players after his death, to please the vulgar audiences by which they fubfifted: and though some of the poor witticisms and conceits must be supposed to have fallen from his pen, yet as he hath put them generally into the mouths of low and ignorant people, so it is to be remembered that he wrote for the ftage, rude and unpolished as it then was; and the vicious taste of the age must stand condemned for them, since he kash left upon record a signal proof how much he despised them. In his play of The Merchant of VENICE, a clown is introduced quibbling in a miserable manner; upon which one, who bears the character of a man of fenre, makes the following reflexion: How every fool can play upon a word ! ! think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into silence, and dis; course grow commendable in none but parrots. He could hardly have found stronger words to express his indignation at those false pretences to wit then in vogue; and therefore though [K 3]
fuch such trash is frequently interspersed in his writings, it would be unjust to cast it as an imputation upon his taste and judge ment and character as a writer.
There being many words in Shakespeare which are grown out of use and obsolete, and many borrowed from other languages which are not enough naturalized or known among us, a glossary is added at the end of the work, for the explanation of all those terms which have hitherto been so many stumbling-blocks to the generality of readers; and where there is any obscurity in the text, not arising from the words, but from a reference to some antiquated customs now forgotten, or other causes of that kind, a note is put at the bottom of the page to clear up the difficulty.
With these several helps, if that rich vein of sense which runs through the works of this author can be retrieved in every part, and brought to appear in its true light, and if it may be hoped, without presumption, that this is here effecied; they who love and admire him will receive a new pleasure, and all probably will be more ready to join in doing him justice, who does great honour to his country as a rare and perhaps a singular genius: one who hath attained an high degree of perfection in those two great branches of poetry, tragedy and comedy, different as they are in their natures from each other; and who may be said without partiality to have equalled, if not excelled, in both kinds, the beit writers of any age or country, who have thought it glory enough to distinguish themselves in either.
Since therefore other nations have taken care to dignify the works of their most celebrated poets with the fairest impressions beautified with the ornaments of sculpture, well may our Shakespeare be thought to deserve no less confideration: and as a fresh acknowledgment hath lately been paid to his merit, and a high regard to his name and memory, by erecting his statue at a publick expence; so it is desired that this new edition of his works, which hath cost some attention and care, may be looked upon as another small monu. ment designed and dedicated to his honour.
TT hath been no unusual thing for writers, when dissatis
fied with the patronage or judgment of their own times, to appeal to posterity for a fair hearing. Some have even thought fit to apply to it in the first instance; and to decline acquaintance with the publick, till envy and prejudice had quite subsided. But, of all the trusters to futurity, commend me to the author of the following poems, who not only left it to time to do him justice as it would, but to find him out as it could. For, what between too great attention to his profit as a player, and too little to his reputation as a poet, his works, Icft to the care of door-keepers and prompters, hardly escaped the common fate of those writings, how good foever, which are abandoned to their own fortune, and unprotected by party or cabal. At length, indeed, they fruggled into light; but so disguised and travested, that 10 claflick author, after having run ten fecular stages through the blind cloisters of monks and canons, ever came out in half so maimed and mangled a condition. But for a full account of his disorders, I refer the reader to the excellent discourse which follows, and turn myself to confider the remedies that have been applied to them.. · Shakespeare's works, when they escaped the players, did not fall into much better hands when they came amongst printers and booksellers; who, to say the truth, had at first but small encouragement for putting him into a better condition. The stubborn nonsense, with which he was incrusted, occasioned his lying long neglected amongst the common lumber of the stage. And when that resistless splendor, which now shoots all around him, had, by degrees, broke through the shell of those impurities, his dazzled admirers became as suddenly insensible to the extraneous fcurf that still stuck upon him, as they had been before to the na[K 4]
broke which now the stage.me neglected haich he waster con
tive beauties that lay under it. So that, as then he was thought not to deserve a cure, he was now supposed not to need any.
His growing eminence, however, required that he should be used with ceremony; and he foon had his appointment of an editor in form. But the bookseller, whose dealing was with wits, having learnt of them, I know not what filly maxim, that none but a post should presume to meddle with a poet, engaged the ingenious Mr. Rowe to undertake this employment. A wit indeed he was; but so utterly unacquainted with the whole business of criticism, that he did not even collate or consult the first editions of the work he undertook to publish; but contented himself with giving us a meagre account of the author's life, interlarded with some commonplace scraps from his writings. The truth is, Shakespeare's condition was yet but ill understood. The nonsense, now, by confent, received for his own, was held in a kind of reverence for its age and author ; and thus it continued, till another great poet broke the charm, by shewing us, that the higher we went, the less of it was still to be found.
For the proprietors, not discouraged by their first unsuccessful effort, in due time, made a second; and, though they still stuck to their poets, with infinitely more success in their choice of Mr. Pope, who, by the mere force of an uncommon genius, without any particular study or profession of this art, discharged the great parts of it so well, as to make his edition the best foundation for all further improvements. He separated the genuine from the fpurious plays; and, with equal judgment, though not always with the same success, attempted to clear the genuine plays from the interpolated scenes: he then consulted the old editions; and, by a careful collation of them, rectified the faulty, and supplied the imperfect reading in a great number of places; and lastly, in an admirable preface, hath drawn a general, but very lively sketch of Shakespeare's poetick character: and, in the corrected text, marked out those peculiar strokes of genius which were most proper to support and illustrate that character. Thus far Mr. Pope. And although much more was to be done before Shakespeare could be restored to him, self (such as amending the corrupted text where the printed books afford no assistance; explaining his licentious phraseology and obscure allusions; and illustrating the beauties of his poetry) yet, with great modesty and prudence, our illustrious editor left this to the critick by profession.