صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

in an equal impuisance of suspecting, or amending, the corrupted passages : and though it be neither prudence to censure, or commend, what one does not understand, yet if a man must do one when he plays the critick, the latter is the more ridiculous office: and by that Shakespeare suffers moft. For the natural veneration which we have for him, makes us apt to swallow whatever is given us as bis, and set off with encomiums; and hence we quit all suspicions of depravity: on the contrary, the cenfure of so divine an author fets us upon his defence; and this produces an exact scrutiny and examination, which ends in finding out and difcriminating the true from the fpurious.

It is not with any secret pleasure that I so frequently animadvert on Mr. Pope as a critick; but there are provocations which a man can never quite forget. His libels have been thrown out with so much inveteracy, that, not to dispute whether they should come from a Christian, they leave it a queftion whether they could come from a man, I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like case,

Sive bomo, feu fimilis turpissima bestia nobis,

Vulnera dente dedit. The indignation, perhaps, for being represented a blocka kead, 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 civili. ties in his peculiar strain, but confine myself, at least, to the li nits of common decency. I shall ever think it better to want wit, than to want kumanity: and impartial pofterity 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 may readily be afsigned. We are to consider him as a writer, of whom no authentic manuscript was left extant; as a writer, whose pieces were dispersedly performed on the several stages 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 As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublished, when any one succeeded, there was a contest betwixt the curiofity of the town, who desired to see it in print, and the policy of the ftagers, who wished to secrete it within their own walls, Hence many pieces were taken down in fort-band, and imperfe&ly 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 fome of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform those pieces wbich stole fingly into the world in our author's life-time.

There are ftill other reasons, which may be supposed to hakse affected the whole set. When the players took upon ihem to publish his works intire, 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 derivę many chasms' and incohérer ces in the sense and matter, Scenies were frequently transposed, and shuffled out of their place, to humour the caprice, or supposed convenience, of some particular actor. Hence much confusion and impropriety has attended, and embarrassed the business and fable; VoL, I,

To these obvious causes of corruption, it must be added, that our author has lain under the disadvantage of having his errors 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 classic 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 classic; 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, conse. quent on tásks of this nature, invited me to attempt the method here; with this view, the hopes of restoring to the publick their greatest poet in his original purity, after hav. ing 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 firft effay 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 excrescences of the Paradise Loft, in the man, aer that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticize the Æneis of Virgil, than to restore corrupted passages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the iniquity or ignorance of his censurers, who, from some expressions, 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 thew the world, that if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote fo.

[ocr errors]

I thought proper to premise this observation to the reader, as it will shew that the critic on Shakespeare is of a quite different kind. His genuine text is for the most part religiously 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, so strictly have I ftrove 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 my disadvantage, or else were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.

The science of criticism, as far as it affects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three classes ; the emendation of corrupt paffages; the explanation of obscure and difficult, enes ; 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 beft supported, and several of the difficulties best explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the composition peculiar 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 neceffarily happen, as I have formerly observed, that where the affiftance 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 in

correct editions, and a long intervention of time, many passages must be desperate, and past a cure, and their true fense 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 desperate ? 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 manifeftly labours and cries out for atlistance, seems, on the other hand, ap indolent absurdity.

As there are very few pages in Shakespeare, upon which some suspicions of depravity do not reasonably arise, I have thought it my duty, in the first place, by a diligent and laborious collation to take in the assistances of all the older copies.

In his biftorical 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 wherever his fable was founded on bistory.

Wherever 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 fyeak better than the old copies have done.

Where, through all the former editions, a passage has laboured under flat nonsense and invincible darkness, if, by the addition of a letter or two, or a transposition in the pointing, I have restored to him both sense and senti

1

« السابقةمتابعة »