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filently performed, in some plays with much diligence, in others with less; it is hard to keep a buty eye steadily fixed upon evanescent atons, or a discursive mind upon evanescent truth. .
The same liberty has been taken with a few particles, or other words of highe effect. I have sometimes inserted or omitted then without notice. I have done that sometimes, which the other editors have done always, and which indeed the state of the text may sufficiently justify.
The greater part of readers, instead of blaming us for passing trifes, will wonder that on mere trifes fo much labour is expended, with such importance of debate, and such folemnity of diction. To these I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an art which they do not understand; yet cannot much reproach them with their ignorance, nor promise that they would become in general, by learning criticism, more useful, happier or wiser.
As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less; and after I had printed a few plays, resolved to insert none of my own readings in the text. Upon this caution I now congratulate myself, for every day encreases my doubt of my emendations.
Since I have confined my imagination to the margin, it must not be considered as very reprehensible, if I have suffered it to play fome freaks in its own dominion. There is no danger in conjecture, if it be proposed as conjecture; and while the text remains uninjured, those changes may be safely offered, which
are not considered even by him that offers them as necessary or safe.
If my readings are of little value, they have not been oftentatiously displayed or importunately obtruded. I could have written longer notes, for the art of writing notes is not of difficult attainment. The work is performed, first by railing at the stupidity, negligence, ignorance, and asinine tastelessness of the former editors, and shewing, from all that goes before and all that follows, the inelegance and absurdity of the old reading; then by proposing something, which to superficial readers would seem fpecious, but which the editor rejects with indignation; then by producing the true reading, with a long paraphrase, and concluding with loud acclamations on the discovery, and a sober wish for the advancement and prosperity of genuine criticism,
All this may be done, and perhaps done sometimes without impropriety. But I have always suspected that the reading is right, which requires many words to prove it wrong; and the emendation wrong, that cannot without so much labour appear to be right. The justness of a happy restoration strikes at once, and the moral precept may be well applied to criticism, quod dubitas ne feceris.
To dread the shore which he sees spread with wrecks; is natural to the sailor. I had before my eye, so many critical adventures ended in miscarriage, that caution was forced upon me.
I encountered in every page Wit itruggling with its own fophiftry, and
Learning confused by the multiplicity of its views. I was forced to censure those whom I admired, and could not but reflect, while I was dispossessing their emendations, how soon the same fate might happen to my own, and how many of the readings which I have corrected may be by some other editor defended and established. Criticks, 1 saw, that other's names efface, And fix their own, wi!h labour, in the place ; Their own, like others, foon their place resign'd, Or disappear'd, and left the firft behind.
POPE. That a conjectural critick should often be mistaken, cannot be wonderful, either to others or himself, if it be considered, that in his art there is no system, no principal and axiomatical truth that regulates subordinate positions. His chance of errour is renewed at every attempt; an oblique view of the passage, a night misapprehension of a phrase, a casual inattention to the parts connected, is Tufficient to make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously; and when he succeeds best, he produces perhaps but one reading of many probable, and he that suggests ancther 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 ob, jections may rise against it.
Yet conjectural criticism has been of great use in the learned world; nor is it my intention to depreciate a study, that has exercised so many mighty minds, from the revival of learning to our own age, from the Bishop of ileria to English Bentley. The criticks on ancient authours have, in the exercise of their fagacity, many assistances, which the editor of Shakefare is condemned to want. They are employed upon grammatical and settled languages, whose construction contributes so much to perfpicuity, that Homer has fewer paffages unintelligible than Cbaucer. The words have not only a known regimen, but invariable quantities, which direct and confine the choice. There are commonly niore manuscripts than one ; and they do not often conspire in the same mistakes. Yet Scaliger could confess to Salmafius how little satisfaction his emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conje&turæ nofiræ, quarum nos pudet, postecquani in sneliores codices incidimus. And Lipfius could complain, that criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut olim viliis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, where mere conjecture is to be used, the emendations of Scaliger and Liffius, notwithstanding their wonderful fagacity and erudition, are often vague and disputable, like mine or Theobald's.
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, 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 talk with no night 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 confeffed the repulse. I have not paffed 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, chat, where nothing was necessary, nothing has been done, or that, where others have said enough, I have said 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 once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of 7%20bald and Pofe. Let him read on throug! brightness