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Of the last editor it is more difficult to speak, Respect is due to high place, tenderness to living reputation, and veneration to genius and learning ; but he cannot be justly offended at that liberty of which he has himself so frequently given an example, nor very solicitous what is thought of notes, which he ought never to have considered as part of his serious employments, and which, I suppose, fince the ardor of composition is remitted, he no longer numbers among his happy effusions,
· The original and predominant error of his commentary, is acquiescence in his first thoughts ; that precipitation which is produced by consciousness of quick discernment; and that confidence which prefumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labour only can perform, by penetrating the bottom. His notes exhibit sometimes perverse interpretations, and fometimes improbable conjectures; he, at one time gives the author more profundity of meaning than the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdities, where the fense is plain to every other reader. But his emendations are likewise often happy and just; and his interpretation of obscure passages learned and sagacious.
Of his notes, I have commonly rejected those, against which the general voice of the publick has exclaimed, or which their own incongruity iinmediately condemns, and which, I suppose the author himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, to part I have given the highest approbation, by in
ferting serting the offered reading in the text; part I have left to the judgment of the reader, as doubtful, though specious; and part I have censured without reserve, but I am sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, without wantonness of insult. whose diligent perusal of the old English writers has enabled him to make some useful observations. What he undertook he has well enough performed, but as he neither attempts judicial nor emendatory criticism, he einploys rather his memory than his fagacity. It were to be wished that all would endeavour to imitate his inodesty, who have not been able to surpass his knowledge.
It is no pleasure to me, in revifing my volumes, to observe how much paper is waited in confutation. Whoever considers the revolutions of learning, and the various questions of greater or less importance, upon which wit and reason have exercised their powers, must lament the unsuccessfulness of enquiry, and the llow advances of truth, when he reflects, that great part of the labour of every writer is only the destruction of those that went before him. The first care of the builder of a new systein, is to demolish the fabricks which are standing. The chief desire of him that comments an author, is to shew how much other commentators have corrupted and obscured him. The opinions prevalent in one age, as truths above the reach of controversy, are confuted and rejected in another, and rise again to reception in remoter times. Thus the huinan mind is kept in motion without progress. Thus sometimes truth and error, and sometimes contrarieties of error, take each other's place by reciprocal invasion. The tide of seeming knowledge which is poured over one generation, retires and leaves another naked and barren; the sudden meteors of intelligence, which for a while appear to Thoot their beams into the regions of obscurity, on a sudden withdraw their lustre, and leave mortals again to grope their way.
Vol. Ii .
These elevations and depressions of renown, and the contradictions to which all improvers of knowledge must for ever be exposed, tince they are not escaped by the highest and brightest of mankind, may surely be endured with patience by criticks and annotators, who can rank themselves but as the satel. lites of their authors. How canst thou beg for life, says Homer's hero to his captive, when thou knoweft that thou art now to suffer only what must another day be suffered by Achilles ?
Dr. Warburton had a name sufficient to confer celebrity on those who could exalt themselves into antagonists, and his notes have raised a clamour too loud to be distinct. His chief aflailants are the au. thors of The canons of criticism, and of The revisal of Shakespeare's text; of whom one ridicules his errors with airy petulance, suitable enough to the levity of the controversy; the other attacks them with gloomy malignity, as if he were dragging to justice an assassin or incendiary. The one Itings like a fly, sucks a little blood, takes a gay flutter, and returns for more; the other bites like a viper, and would be glad to leave inflammations and gangrene behind him. When I think on one, with his confederates, I remember the danger of Coriolanus, who was afraid that girls with spits, and boys with stones, Should slay him in pury battle; when the other crosses my imagination, I remember the prodigy in Macbeth:
A falon tow'ring in his pride of place,
Let me however do them justice. One is a wit, and one a felolar *. They have both shewn acuteness sufficient in the discovery of faults, and have both advanced some probable interpretations of ob. scure passages; but when they aspire to conjecture and emendation, it appears how falsely we all eftiinate our own abilities, and the little which they have been able to perform might have taught them more candour to the endeavours of others.
Before Dr. Warburton's edition, Critical observations on Shakespeare had been published by Mr. Uptont, a man skilled in languages, and acquainted with books, but who seems to have had no great vigour of genius or nicety of taste. Many of his explanations are curious and useful, but he likewise, though he profesled to oppose the licentious confidence of editors, and adhere to the old copies, is unable to restrain the rage of emendation, though his ardour is ill feconded by his skill. Every cold empirick, when his heart is expanded by a successful experiment, swells into a theorist, and the laborious collator at some unlucky moment frolicks in conjecture..
Critical, historical, and explanatory notes have been likewise published upon Shakespeare by Dr. Grey,
* It is extraordinary that this gentleman should attempt so voluminous a work, as the Revisal of Shakespeare's text, when he tells us in his preface, 6 he was not so fortunate as to be “ furnished with either of the folio editions, much less any of “ the ancient quartos: and even Sir Thomas Hanmer's per“ formance was known to him only by Dr. Warburton's repre“ fentation.” FARMER.
† Republished by him in 1748, after Dr. Warburton's edition, with alterations, &c. STEEVENS.
I can say with great fincerity of all my predecessors, what I hope will hereafter be said of me, that not one has left Shakespeare without improvement, nor is there one to whom I have not been indebted for assistance and information. Whatever I have taken from them, it was my intention to refer to its original author, and it is certain, that what I have not given to another, I believed when I wrote it to be my own. In some perhaps I have been anticipated; but if I am ever found to encroach upon the remarks of any other commentator, I am willing that the honour, be it more or less, should be transferred to the first claimant, for his right, and his alone, stands above dispute; the second can prove his pretensions only to himself, nor can himself always distinguish invention, with sufficient certainty, from recollection.
They have all been treated by me with candour, which they have not been careful of observing to one another. It is not easy to discover from what cause the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally proceed. The subjects to be discusled by him are of very small importance; they involve neither property nor liberty; nor favour the interest of fect or party. The