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him not only fail, but fail ridiculously; and when he succeeds beft, he produces perhaps but one reading of many probable, and he that suggests another will always be able to dispute his claims.
It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under pleasure. The allurements of emendation are scarcely resistible. Conjecture has all the joy and all the pride of invention, and he that has once started a happy change, is too much delighted to consider what objections may rise against it.
Yet conjectural criticism has been of great use in the learned world; nor is it my intention to depre- ! ciate a study, that has exercised so many mighty minds, from the revival of learning to our own age, from the bishop of Aleria to English Bentley. The criticks on ancient authors have, in the exercise of their sagacity, many assistances, which the editor of Shakespeare is condemned to want. They are employed upon grammatical and settled languages, whose construction contributes so much to perspicuity, that Homer has fewer passages unintelligible than Chaucer. The words have not only a known regimen, but invariable quantities, which direct and confine the choice. There are commonly more manuscripts than one; and they do not often confpire in the same mistakes. Yet Scaliger could confess to Salmafius how little satisfaction his emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conjectura noftræ, quarum nos pudet, polteaquam in meliores codices incidimus. And Lipsius could complain, that criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut olim vitiis, ita nunc
remediis laboratur. And indeed, where mere cona jecture is to be used, the emendations of Scaliger and Lipfius, notwithstanding their wonderful fagacity and erudition, are often vague and disputable, like mine or Theobald's.
Perhaps I inay not be more censured for doing wrong, than for doing little; for raising in the publick expectations, which at last I have not answered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to satisfy those who know not what to demand, or those who demand by design what they think impossible to be done. I have indeed disappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my task with no slight solicitude. Not a single pas. fage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not. attempted to restore : or obscure, which I have not endeavoured to illustrate. In many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my efforts, I have retreated, and confessed the repulse. I have not passed over, with affected. superiority, what is equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where I could not instruct him, have owned my ignorance. I might easily have accumulated a mass of seeming learning upon easy scenes; but it ought not to be imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was necessary, nothing has been done, or that, where others have said enough, I have faid no more.
: Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary
evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the
powers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play, from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is 1 once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or i explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged,' let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption ; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators,
Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of the work is weakened. The mind ! is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are di-' verted from the principal subject; the reader is weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book which he has too diligently studied.
Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been surveyed; there is a kind of intellectual re. moteness necessary for the comprehenfion of any great work in its full design and in its true proportions; a close approach fhews the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is discerned no longer,
It is not very grateful to consider how little the succession of editors has added to this author's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could ac. VOL. I. [E]
cumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor his allusions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce, “ that Shakespeare was the man, “ who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, « had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All « the images of nature were still present to him, and as he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when “ he describes any thing, you more than see it, you « feel it too. Those, who accuse him to have wanted " learning, give him the greater commendation: he 16 was naturally learned: he needed not the spectacles < of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and or found her there. I cannot say he is every where o alike; were he fo, I should do him injury to com
pare him with the greatest of mankind. He is
many times flat and insipid; his comick wit de. “ generating into clenches, his serious swelling into “ boinbast. But he is always great, when some great « occasion is presented to him: no man can say, he - ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then r raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
« Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupreffi.”
It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want à commentary; that his language should become obsolete, or his sentiments obscure. But it is vain to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things; that which must happen to all, has happened to Shakespeare, by accident and time; and more than has been suffered by any other writer since the use of types, has been luffered by him through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that supé
riority of mind, which despised its own performances, when it compared them with its powers, and judged those works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring and explaining.
Among these candidates of inferior fame, I am now to stand the judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and I should feel little solicitude about the sentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.
Of what has been performed in this revifal, an account is given in the following pages by Mr. Steevens, who might have spoken both of his own diligence and fagacity, in terms of greater self-approbation, i without deviating from modesty or truth.