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inimitable writer to the modern tribe of authors, who plume themselves so higlily, and set such an enormous value on the literary Nothings chey occasionally produce !
• It does not appear, says our Editor, that Shakespeare thoughe his works worthy of potterity, that he levied any ideal tribute upon future times, or had any further prospect, than of present popularity and present profit. When his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end ; he sollicited no addition of bonour from the reader. He therefore made no scruple to repeat the same jefts in many dialogues, or to entangle different plots by the same knot of perplexity, which may be at least forgiven him, by those who recollect, that of Congreve’s four comedies, two are concluded by a marriage in a maik, by a deception, which perhaps never happened, and which, whether likely or not, he did not invent.
• So careless was this great poet of future fame, that, though he retired to ease and plenty, while he was yet little declined into the vale of years, before he could be disgusted with fatigue, ci disabled by infirmity, he made no collection of his works, nor desired to rescue those that had been already published from the depravations that obscured them, or secure to the rest a better destiny, by giving them to the world in their genuine state.
Of the plays which bear the name of Shakespeare in the la'e editions, the greater part were not published till about seven years after his death, and the few which appeared in his life are apparently thrust into the world without the care of the authour, and therefore probably without his knowledge.'
Having treated of the character and abilities of the poet, Dr. Johnson proceeds to consider those of his editors :
• Of all the publishers, says he, clandestine or professed, their negligence and unskilfulness has by the late revisers been suffici
ently shown. The faults of all are indeed numerous and gross, and have not only corrupted many passages perhaps beyond recovery, but have brought others into suspicion, which are on y ob:cured by obsoleic phraseology, or by the writer's unskilfulness and affectation. To alter is more easy than to explain, and temerity is a more common quality than diligence. Those who saw that they must employ conjecture to a certain degree, were willing to indulge it a little further. Had the authour publifted his own works, we should have fat quietly down to disentangle his intricacies, and clear his obscurities, but now we tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we happen not to understand.
· The faults are more than could have happened without the concurrence of many causes. The stile of Shakespeare was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed and obscure; his works were transcribed for the players by those who may be supposed to have feldom understood them; they were transmitted by copiers equal. ly unskilful, who still multiplied errours; they were perhaps fometimes mutilated by the actors, for the sake of shortening the speeches; and were at last priated without correction of the press.
In this state they remained, not, as Dr. Warburton supposes, because they were unregarded, but because the editor's art was not yet applied to modern languages, and our ancestors were accustomed to so much negligence of English printers, that they could very patiently endure it. At last an edition was undertaken by Rowe ; not because a poet was to be published by a poet, for Rowe seems to have thought very little on correction or explanation, but that our authour's works might appear like those of his fraternity, with the appendages of a life and recommendatory preface. Rowe has been clamorously blamed for not performing what he did not undertake, and it is time that jultice be done him, by confeffing, that though he feems to have had no thought of corruption beyond the printer's errours, yet he has made many emendations, if they were not made before, which his fucceffors have received without acknowledgment, and which, if they had produced them, would have filled pages and pages with censures of the stupidity by which the faults were committed, with displays of the absurdiiies which they involved, with ostentatious expolitions of the new reading, and self-congratulations on the happiness of discovering it.'
The nation, continues the Prefacer, had been for many years content enough with Mr. Rowe's performance, when Mr. Pope made them acquainted with the true state of Shakespeare's text, shewed that it was extremely corrupt, and gave reason to hope that there were means of reforming it. Mr. Pope's edition, however, he observes, fell below his own expectations, and he was so much offended, when he was found to have left any thing for others to do, that he passed the latter part of his life in a state of hostility with verbal criticism.Dr. Johnson proceeds
Pope was succeeded by Theobald, a man of narrow comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native and intrinfic fplendour of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute accuracy, and not negligent in purfuing. He collated the ancient copies, and rectified many errours. A man fo anxiously scrupulous might have been expected to do more, but what little he did was commonly right.' -Is our Editor here altogether consistent? Is Theobald's doing little, compatible with his having been zealously and diligentiy attached to minute accuracy; with his having collated the ancient copies and rectified many errours? Dr. Johnson indeed proceeds 'to treat poor Theobald with
great severity, summing up his character, as an Editor, with the following reflections. Theobald, thus weak and ignorant, thus mean and faithless, thus petulant and oftentatious, by the good luck of having Pope for his enemy, has escaped, and escaped alone, with reputation from this undertaking. So willingly does the world support those who sollicit favour, against those who command reverence; and so easily is he praised, whom no man can envy.'
It is very true, as Dr. Johnson observes, that Theobald hath escaped alone with reputation from the task of commenting on Shakespeare ; we cannot inpute it, however, to the motives afsigned by the present Editor. On the contrary, we are well convinced, that the object of praise is generally the object of envy, and vice verfâ; although it is certain, that in notorious cases, the public prepoffeil on sometimes gives' way to public justice. At the same time, the writer must content himself with a very slender pittance of fame, indeed, who derives it only froin the public compassion. Fame, like other strumpets, may be sometimes bullied into compliance, but the fondest of her lovers may pine himself into a consumption, ere he obtains any fubftantial favour from her pity.
Of Sir Thomas Hanmer, Shakespeare's next editor, the Prefacer speaks with great moderation and candour; giving him the due praise to which we think he is justly entitied.
We shall give what he says of the next editor * in his own words.
« 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 folicitous what is thought of notes, which he ought never to have considered as part of his serious employments, and which, I suppose, since the ardour of compofition is remitted, he no longer numbers among his happy effufions.
« The original and predominant errour of his commentary, is acquiescence in his first thoughts; that precipitation which is produced by consciousness of quick discernment; and that confidence which presumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labour only can perform, by penetrating (to) the bottom. His notes exhibit sometimes pervcrie interpretations, and sometimes improbable conjectures ; he at one time gives the authour more profundity of meaning, than the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdities, where the sense 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
. Dr. Warburton.
which the general voice of the publick has exclaimed, or which their own incongruity immediately condemns, and which, I suppose the authour bimself would desire to be forgotten. Of the relt, to part I have given the highest approbation, by inserting the offered reading in the text; part I have left to the judgment of the reader, as doubtful, though specious į and part I have censured without reserve, but I am sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, without wantonness of infult.'
The prefacer does several other annotators on Shakespeare the honour of mentioning them, particularly the authors of the Can nons of Criticism, Mr. Upton and Dr. Grey, but with different degrees of approbation and censure. He dismisses them, nevertheless, with the following general and apparently-ingenuous reflections :
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 aud information. Whatever I have taken from them it was my intention to refer to its original authour, 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 difpute; the second can prove his pretensions only to himself, nor can himself always distinguish invention, with sufficient certainty, from recollection.
Our Editor proceeds next to give an account of what he hath done, or attempted to do himself, and to apologize for what he hath not done, or confessedly found himself unable to do. We cannot help being somewhat apprehenfive, however, that the readers of this part of Dr. Johnson's preface, will be apt to think he hath, in more places than one, betrayed a conscious·ness of the want of application in his pretended endeavours, as well as of the ill success attending them. There runs, indeed, through the whole of this preface, such a mixed and inconsistent vein of praise and censure respecting others; and of boasting and excuse regarding himself, that we think we discover it to be the production of a wavering pen, directed by a hand equally wearied and disgusted with a task, injudiciously undertaken, and as indolently pursued. We shall take our leave of it therefore with one more quotation, which may serve farther to confirm what is here advanced :
Perhaps I may 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, 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 flight solicitude. Not a single passage 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 eafy 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 said no more.
As to the work itself; the present Editor hath prefixed the several prefaces of Pope, Theobald, Hanmer and Warburton, as alfo the dedication and preface of Heminge and Condell, and Shakespeare's life by Mr. Rowe. Of Mr. Pope's notes the Editor hath retained the whole ; in order, as he says, that no frág. ment of fo great a writer may be loft. With Dr. Johnson's leave, however, as Mr. Pope's attempts on Shakespeare do fo little honour to his memory, a future editor who affected to severe that memory ought to have suppressed them; at least those of them which were the most exceptionable.- Of Theobald's notes, the weak, ignorant, mean, faithless, petulant, ostenia. ticus Theobald, the present Editor hath generally retained those which he retained himself in bis second edition; and these, we muft acquaint our Readers, are not a few nor unimportant.Of Sir Thomas Hanmer's notes, Dr. Johnson professes, and we find no reason to disbelieve him, that he hath inserted them all, -To Dr. Warburton he is still more obliged than to any of the preceeding commentators, at least in point of quantity.-To the author of the Canons of Criticism he is also equally obliged in point of quality; but we know not to what cause we must impute it, that the Editor is fo extremely sparing of confefsing his obligations, from this quarter.
As to the Editor's own notes, it posibly will not be expected they Mhould be so numerous, or so important, as those he had an opportunity of borrowing from his predeceflors: the Reader will meet with some of them, however, here and there interspersed among the rest, and like the rest, bona quædam, mala, meditera. *If the Reader should complain that these are too few and inlignificant, we can only impute their paucity and want of importance to a notion entertained by the Editor (the most unfortunate fure that ever entered into the head of a commentator !) that the