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occasions, that I find an entire agreement between us in substituting [see Note II.] quarrel for quarry, and in explaining the adage of the cat [Note XVII.]. But this pleasure is, like nost others, known only to be regretted; for I ave the unhappiness to find no such conformity with regard to any other passage.
The line which I have endeavoured to amend, Note XI., is likewise attempted by the new editor, and is perhaps the only passage in the play in which he has not submissively admitted the emendations of foregoing critics. Instead of the common reading,
Dismay'd not this
Our captains brave Macbeth and Banquo ?—Yes. Such harmless industry may, surely, be forgiven, if it cannot be praised: may he therefore never want a monosyllable, who can use it with such wonderful dexterity.
Rumpatur quisquis rumpitur invidia !
The rest of this edition I have not read, but, from the little that I have seen, think it not dangerous to declare that, in my opinion, its pomp recommends it more than its accuracy. There is no distinction made between the ancient reading, and the innovations of the editor; there is no reason given for any of the alterations which are made; the emendations of former critics are adopted without any acknowledgment, and few of the difficulties are removed which have hitherto embarrassed the readers of Shakspeare.
I would not however be thought to insult the editor, nor to censure him with too much petu
is substituted-And the chance in goodness-lance, for having failed in little things, of whom whether with more or less elegance, dignity, and propriety, than the reading which I have offered, I must again decline the province of deciding.
Most of the other emendations which he has endeavoured, whether with good or bad fortune, are too trivial to deserve mention. For surely the weapons of criticism ought not to be blunted against an editor, who can imagine that he is
I have been told, that he excels in greater. But I may without indecency observe, that no man should attempt to teach others what he has never learned himself; and that those who, like Themistocles, have studied the arts of policy, and can teach a small state how to grow great, should, like him, disdain to labour in trifles, and consider petty accomplishments as below their ambition.
any other of the English writers, and what are the deficiences of the late attempts, which another editor may hope to supply?
The business of him that republishes an ancient book is to correct what is corrupt, and to explain what is obscure. To have a text corrupt in many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors that have written since the use of types, almost peculiar to Shakspeare. Most writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings, and preclude all conjectural criticism. Books indeed are sometimes published after the death of him who produced them; but they are better secured from corruption than these unfortunate compositions. They subsist in a single copy written or revised by the author; and the faults of the printed volume can be only faults of one descent.
sages that may conduce to their illustration.
It is the great excellence of Shakspeare, that
He wrote at a time when our poetical language was yet unformed, when the meaning of our phrases was yet in fluctuation, when words were adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring
But of the works of Shakspeare the condition has been far different: he sold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately copied for the actors, and multiplied by transcript after transcript, vitiated by the blun-languages, and while the Saxon was still visiders of the penman, or changed by the affectation of the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to shorten the representation; and printed at last without the concurrence of the author, without the consent of the proprietor, from compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre; and thus thrust into the world surreptitiously and hastily, they suffered another deprivation from the ignorance and negligence of the printers, as every man who knows the state of the press in that age will readily conceive.
It is not easy for invention to bring together so many causes concurring to vitiate the text. No other author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with so little care; no books could be left in hands so likely to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued in manuscript: no other transcribers were likely to be so little qualified for their task as those who copied for the stage, at a time when the lower ranks of the people were universally illiterate: no other editions were made from fragments so minutely broken, and so fortuitously re-united; and in no other age was the art of printing in Juch unskilful hands.
With the causes of corruption that make the revisal of Shakspeare's dramatic pieces neceszary, may be enumerated the causes of obscurity, which may be partly imputed to his age, and partly to himself.
When a writer outlives his contemporaries, and remains almost the only unforgotten name of a distant time, he is necessarily obscure. Every age has its modes of speech, and its cast of thought; which, though easily explained when there are many books to be compared with each other, become sometimes unintelligible, and always difficult, when there are no parallel pas
bly mingled in our diction. The reader is
ever seem remote.
These are the principal causes of the obscurity of Shakspeare; to which might be added the fulness of idea, which might sometimes load his words with more sentiment than they could conveniently convey, and that rapidity of imagination which might hurry him to a second thought before he had fully explained the first. But my opinion is, that very few of his lines were difficult to his audience, and that he used such expressions as were then common, though the paucity of contemporary writers makes them now seem peculiar. >
Authors are often praised for improvement, or blamed for innovation, with very little justice, by those who read few other books of the same age. Addison himself has been so unsuccessful in enumerating the words with which Milton has enriched our language, as perhaps not to have named one of which Milton was the
author; and Bentley has yet more unhappily praised him as the introducer of those elisions into English poetry, which had been used from the first essays of versification among us, and which Milton was indeed the last that practised. Another impediment, not the least vexatious to the commentator, is the exactness with which Shakspeare followed his authors. Instead of dilating his thoughts into generalities, and expressing incidents with poetical latitude, he often combines circumstances unnecessary to his main design, only because he happened to find them together. Such passages can be illustrated only by him who has read the same story in the very book which Shakspeare consulted.
He that undertakes an edition of Shakspeare, has all these difficulties to encounter, and all these obstructions to remove.
The corruptions of the text will be corrected by a careful collation of the oldest copies, by which it is hoped that many restorations may yet be made at least it will be necessary to collect and note the variation as materials for future critics; for it very often happens that a wrong reading has affinity to the right.
In this part all the present editions are apparently and intentionally defective. The critics did not so much as wish to facilitate the labour of those that followed them. The same books are still to be compared; the work that has been done, is to be done again; and no single edition will supply the reader with a text on which he can rely as the best copy of the works of Shakspeare.
The edition now proposed will at least have this advantage over others. It will exhibit all the observable varieties of all the copies that can be found; that if the reader is not satisfied with the editor's determination, he may have the means of choosing better for himself.
Where all the books are evidently vitiated, and collation can give no assistance, then begins the task of critical sagacity: and some changes may well be admitted in a text never settled by the author, and so long exposed to caprice and ignorance. But nothing shall be imposed, as in the Oxford edition, without notice of the alteration; nor shall conjecture be wantonly or unnecessarily indulged.
It has been long found, that very specious emendations do not equally strike all minds with conviction, nor even the same mind at different times; and therefore, though perhaps many alterations may be proposed as eligible, very few will be obtruded as certain. In a language so ungrammatical as the English, and so licentious as that of Shakspeare, emendatory criticism is always hazardous; nor can it be allowed to any man who is not particularly versed in the writings of that age, and particularly studious of his author's diction. There is danger lest peculiarities should be mistaken for cor
ruptions, and passages rejected as unintelligible, which a narrow mind happens not to understand.
All the former critics have been so much employed on the correction of the text, that they have not sufficiently attended to the elucidation of passages obscured by accident or time. editor will endeavour to read the books which the author read, to trace his knowledge to its source, and compare his copies with their originals. If in this part of his design he hopes to attain any degree of superiority to his predecessors, it must be considered that he has the advantage of their labours; that part of the work being already done, more care is naturally bestowed on the other part; and that, to declare the truth, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very ignorant of the ancient English literature; Dr. Warburton was detained by more important studies; and Mr. Theobald, if fame be just to his memory, considered learning only as an instrument of gain, and made no farther inquiry after his author's meaning, when once he had notes sufficient to embellish his page with the expected decorations.
With regard to obsolete or peculiar diction, the editor may perhaps claim some degree of confidence, having had more motives to consider the whole extent of our language than any other man from its first formation. He hopes that, by comparing the works of Shakspeare with those of writers who lived at the same time, immediately preceded, or immediately followed him, he shall be able to ascertain his ambiguities, disentangle his intricacies, and recover the meaning of words now lost in the darkness of antiquity.
When therefore any obscurity arises from an allusion to some other book, the passage will be quoted. When the diction is entangled, it will be cleared by a paraphrase or interpretation. When the sense is broken by the suppression of part of the sentiment in pleasantry or passion, the connection will be supplied. When any for gotten custom is hinted, care will be taken to retrieve and explain it. The meaning assigned to doubtful words will be supported by the authorities of other writers, or by parallel passages of Shakspeare himself.
The observation of faults and beauties is one of the duties of an annotator, which some of Shakspeare's editors have attempted, and some have neglected. For this part of his task, and for this only, was Mr. Pope eminently and indisputably qualified; nor has Dr. Warburton followed him with less diligence or less success. But I have never observed that mankind was much delighted or improved by their asterisks, commas, or double commas; of which the only effect is, that they preclude the pleasure of judging for ourselves, teach the young and ignorant to decide without principles; defeat
curiosity and discernment, by leaving them less | use, to opinions not universally prevalent, or to
to discover; and at last show the opinion of the
any accidental or minute particularity, which cannot be supplied by common understanding, or common observation, it is the duty of a commentator to lend his assistance.
The editor, though he may less delight his The notice of beauties and faults thus limited, own vanity, will probably please his reader more, will make no distinct part of the design, being by supposing him equally able with himself to reducible to the explanation of obscure passages. judge of beauties and faults, which require no The editor does not however intend to pre previous acquisition of remote knowledge. A clude himself from the comparison of Shakdescription of the obvious scenes of nature, a speare's sentiments or expression with those c representation of general life, a sentiment of ancient or modern authors, or from the display reflection or experience, a deduction of conclu- of any beauty not obvious to the students o sive arguments, a forcible eruption of efferves-poetry; for as he hopes to leave his author betcent passion, are to be considered as proportion-ter understood, he wishes likewise to procure ate to common apprehension, unassisted by cri-him more rational approbation. tical officiousness; since to convince them, no- The former editors have affected to slight thing more is requisite than acquaintance with their predecessors: but in this edition all that the general state of the world, and those fa- is valuable will be adopted from every commenculties which he must almost bring with him tator, that posterity may consider it as including who would read Shakspeare. all the rest, and exhibiting whatever is hitherto
But when the beauty arises from some adap-known of the great father of the English drama. tation of the sentiment to customs worn out of
THAT praises are without reason lavished on the | the beauties of the ancients. While an author
Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the notice of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries that reverence it, not from reason, but from prejudice. Some seem to admire indiscriminately, whatever has been long preserved, without considering that time has sometimes co-operated with chance; all perhaps are more willing to honour past than present excellence; and the mind contemplates genius through the shades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through artificial opacity. The great contention of criticism is to find the faults of the moderns, and
To works, however, of which the excellence is not absolute and definite, but gradual and comparative; to works not raised upon principles demonstrative and scientific, but appealing wholly to observation and experience, no other test can be applied than length of duration and continuance of esteem. What mankind have long possessed, they have often examined and compared; and if they persist to value the possession, it is because frequent comparisons have confirmed opinion in its favour. As among the works of nature no man can properly call a river deep, or a mountain high, without the knowledge of many mountains, and many rivers; so, in the productions of genius, nothing can be styled excellent till it has been compared with other works of the same kind. Demonstration immediately displays its power, and has nothing to hope or fear from the flux of years; but
are copied. The irregular combinations of fan-
works tentative and experimental must be esti-
Shakspeare is, above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular
by the peculiarities of studies or professions,
It is from this wide extension of design that
The reverence due to writings that have long subsisted, arises therefore not from any credulous confidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions, that what has been longest known has been most considered, and what is most considered is best understood. The poet, of whose works I have undertaken the revision, may now begin to assume the dignity of an ancient, and claim the privilege of establishing fame and prescriptive veneration. He has long outlived his century, the term commonly fixed as the test of literary merit. Whatever advantages he might once derive from personal allusions, local customs, or temporary opinions, have for many years been lost; and every topic of merriment, or motive of sorrow, which the modes of artificial life afforded him, now only obscure the scenes which they once illuminated. The effects of favour and competition are at an end; the tradition of his friend-pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his ships and his enmities has perished; his works house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a support no opinion with arguments, nor supply specimen. any faction with invectives; they can neither indulge vanity, nor gratify malignity; but are read without any other reason than the desire of pleasure, and are therefore praised only as pleasure is obtained; yet, thus unassisted by interest or passion, they have passed through variations of taste, and changes of manners, and, as they devolved from one generation to another, have received new honours at every transmission.
But because human judgment, though it be gradually gaining upon certainty, never becomes infallible; and approbation, though long continued, may yet be only the approbation of prejudice or fashion; it is proper to inquire, by what peculiarities of excellence Shakspeare has gained and kept the favour of his country
Nothing can please many, and please long, but just representations of general nature. Particular manners can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge how nearly they
It will not easily be imagined how much
Upon every other stage the universal agent is