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select that which best suits with the state, opinions, and modes of language prevailing in every age, and with his authour's particular cast of thought, and turn of expression. Such must be his knowledge, and such his taste. Conjectural criticism demands more than humanity possesses, and he that exercises it with most praise has very frequent need of indulgence. Let us now be cold no more of the dull duty of an editor.
Confidence is the coinmon consequence of success. They whose excellence of any kind has been loudly celebra:ed, are ready to conclude, that their powers are universal. Pope's edition 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 hoftility with verbal criticism.
I have retained all his notes, that no fragment of fo
great a writer may be lost; his preface, valuable alike for elegance of composition and justness of remark, and containing a general criticism on his authour, so extensive that little can be added, and so exact, that little can be disputed, every editor has an interest to suppress, but that every reader would demand iis insertion.
Pope was succeeded by Theobald; a man of narrow comprehension and fmall acquisitions, with no native and intrinsick splendour of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it. He cola Vol. I.
lated the ancient copies, and rectified many errors. * A man so anxiously scrupulous might have been expected to do more, but what little he did was commonly right.
In his reports of copies and editions he is not to be trusted, without examination. He speaks sometimes indefinitely of copies, when he has only one. In his enumeration of editions, he mentions the two first folios as of high, and the third folio as of middle authority ; but the truth is, that the first is equivalent to all others, and that the rest only deviate from it by the printer's negligence. Whoever has any of the foliu's has all, excepting those diversities which mere ruiteration of editions will produce. I collated them all at the beginning, but afterwards used only the first.
Of his not:s I have generally retained those which he retained himself in his second edition, except when they were confuted by subsequent annotators, or were too minute to merit preservation. I have sometimes adopted his reforation of a comma, without inserting the panegyrick in which he celebrated himself for his archievement. The exuberant excrefcence of diction I have often lopped, his triumphant exultations over Pope and Rove I have sometimes fuppreffed, and his contemptible oftentation I have frequently concealed ; but I have in some places Mewn him, as he would have shewn himself, for the reader's diversion, that the inflated emptiness of some notes may justify or excufe the @ntraction of the rest.
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 solicite favour, against those who command reverence ; and so easily is he praised, whom no man can envy.
Our author fell then into the hands of Sir Thomas Hanmer, the Oxford editor, a man, in my opinion, eminently qualified by nature for such studies. He had, what is the first requisite to emendatory criticism, that intuition by which the poet's intention is immediately discovered, and that dexterity of intellect which dispatches its work by the easiest means. He had undoubtedly read much ; his acquaintance with customs, opinions, and traditions, seem to have been large ; and he is often learned without shew. He seldom passes what he does not understand, without an attempt to find or to make a meaning, and sometimes hastily make what a little more attention would have found. He is folicitous to reduce to grammar, what he could not be sure that his authour intended to be grammatical. Shakespeare regarded more the series of ideas, than of words; and his language, not being designed for the reader's desk, was all that he desired it to be, if it conveyed his meaning to the audience.
Harmer's care of the metre has been too violently censured. He found the measures reformed in fo many pallages, by the filent labours of fome editors, C 2
with the silent acquiescence of the rest, that he thought himself allowed to extend a little further the license, which had already been carried so far without reprehension ; and of his corrections in general, it must be confessed, that they are often just, and ma'e commonly with the least possible violation of the text.
But, by inserting his emendations, whether invented or borrowed, into the page, without any notice of varying copies, he has appropriated the labour of his predecessors, and made his own edition of little authority. His confidence indeed, both in himself and others, was too great; he fuppofes all to be right that was done by Pope and Theobald ; he seems not to fuspect a critick of fallibility, and it was but reasonable that he fould claim what he so liberally
As he never writes without careful enquiry and diligent consideration, I have received all his notes, and believe that every reader will wish for more.
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 jufly offended at that liberty of which he has himself to 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 whicli, I suppose, lince the ardour of composition is remitted, he no longer numbers among his happy effusions.
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 prefumes to do, by furveying the surface, what labour only can perform, by penetrating the bottom. His notes exhibit sometimes perverse interpretations, and sometimes in probable conjectures ; he at one time gives the authour more profundity of meaning than the sentence admits, and at another discovers absura dities, 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 fagacious.
Of his notes, I have commonly rejected those, against which the general voice of the publick has exclaimed, or which their own incongruity immediately condemns, and which, I suppose, the authour himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, 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 ; and part I have censured without reserve, but I am fure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, without wantonness of insult.
It is no pleasure to me, in revising my volumes, to observe how much paper is walted 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, C 3