صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

sure, was occafioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, both great Latinilts. For it is not to be wondered at, if both the court and schools, equal fiatterers of power, thould adapt themselves to the royal tafte.

But now I am touching on the quesion (which has been so frequently agitated, yet so entirely undecided) of his learning and acquaintance with the languages; an additional word or two naturally falls in here upon the genius of our author, as compared with that of Jericn his contemporary. They are confeffudly the greatest writers our nation could ever boast of in the drams. The first, we say, owed all to his prodigious natural genius; and the other a great deal to his art and Icarning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable appearance in their writings. Besides those wonderful master-pieces of art and genius, which each has given us; they are the authors of other works very unworty of them: but with this difference; that in Jonson's bad pieces we do not discover one fingle trace of the author of The Fox and sich mit: but in the wild extravagant notes of Shakcipeare you every now and then encounter strains that recognize the divine composer. This difference may be thus accounted for. Jenson, as we faid before, owing all his excellence to his art, by which he sometimes itrained himfelf to an uncommon pitch, when at other times he unbent and played with his subject, having nothing then to support him, it is no wonder that he wrote so far beneath himfelf. But Shakespeare, indebted more largely to nature, than the other to acquired talents, in his most negligent lours could never fo totally diveft himself of his genius, but that it would frequently break out with astonishing force and splena dor.

As I have never proposed to dilate farther on the character of my author, than was necessary to explain the nature and use of this edition, I shall proceed to consider him as a genius in poffeflion of an everlasting name. And how great that merit must be, which could gain it against all the disadvantages of the horrid condition in which he has hitherto appeared! Had Homer, or any other admired author, first started into publick fo maimed and deformed, we cannot determine whether they had not sunk for ever under the ignominy of such an ill appearance. The mangled condition of Shakespeare has been acknowledged by Nir. Rowe, who published him indeed, but neither corrected his text, or collated the old copies. This gentleman had abilities, and

fuficient

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

fufficient knowledge of his author, had but his industry been equal to his talents. The same mangled condition has been acknowledged too by Mr. Pope, who published him likewile, pretended to have collated the old copies, and yet seldom has corrected the text but to its injury. I congratulate with the manes of our poet, that this gentleman has been sparing in indulging his private sense, as he phrases it; for he, who tampers with an author, whom he does not understand, must do it at the expence of his subject. I have made it evident throughout my remarks, that he has frequently inflicted a wound where he intended a cure. He has acted with regard to our author, as an editor, whom LIPsius mentions, did with regard to MARTIAL; Inventus eft nescio quis Popa, qui non vitia ejus, fed ipsum excidit. He has attacked him like an unhandy flaughterman; and not lopped off the errors, but the poet.

When this is found to be the fact, how abfurd must appear the praises of such an editor? It seems a moot point, whether Mr. Pope has done most injury to Shakespeare, as his editor and encomiast; or Mr. Rymer done him service, as his rival and censurer. They have both shewn themselves in an equal impuissance of suspecting or amending the corrupted passages: and though it be neither prudence to censure, or commend what one does not understand; yet if 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

to swallow whatever is given us as his, and set off with encomiums; and hence we quit all fuípicions of depravity : on the contrary, the censure of fo divine an author sets 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 ani. madvert 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 question whether they could come from a man. I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like cafe:

a

apt

Sive homo, feu fimilis turpiffima beftia nobis
Vulnera denie dedit.

Thc

The indignation, perhaps, for being represented a blockhead, 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 fcores: with this exception however, that I will not return those civilities in his peculiar strain, but confine myself, at least, to the limits of common decency. I shall ever think it better to want wit, than to want humanity: and impartial posterity 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 originally may be assigned. We are to consider him as a writer, of whom no authentick manuscript was left extant; as a writer, whose pieces were dispersedly pera formed 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 curiosity of the town, who demanded to see it in print, and the policy of the stagers, who wished to secrete it within their own walls. Hence, many pieces were taken down in short-hand, and imperfectly copied by car from a representation: others were printed from piece-meal parts surreptitiously obtained from the theatres, uncorrect, and without the poet's knowledge. ·To some of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform those pieces which stole fingly into the world in our author's life-time.

There are still other reasons, which may be supposed to have affected the whole fet. When the players took upon them to publish his works entire, 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 derive many chasms and incoherences in the sense and matter. Scenes were frequently transposed, and shuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or supposed convenience of some particular actor. Hence much confusion and impro . priety has attended, and embarrassed the business and fable. To these obvious causes of corruption it must be added, that our author has lain under the disadvantage of having his er

rors

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

TOTS propagated and multiplied by time: because, for near a century, his works were published from the faulty copies, without the assistance of any intelligent editor: which has been the case likewise of many a claffick 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 claffick; 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, consequent on tasks of that 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 have 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 first affay of the kind on any modern author whatfoever. 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 excrescencies of the Paradise Lost, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticise the Æneis of Virgil, than to restore corrupted pafa sages. 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 shew the world, that if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote fo.

I thought proper to premise this observation to the readers, as it will show that the critick 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 cleareit 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 trofe, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to my disadvantage ; or else were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.

The

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

• The science of criticism, as far as it affeas an editor, seems to be reduced to thefe three claffes; the emendation of corrupt pafiages; the explanation of obfcure and difficult ones; 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 occationat, 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 thall be pleased to see it the employment of a masterly pen.

It must neceffarily happen, as I have formerly observed, that where the aflıstance of manuscripts is wanting to fee an author's meaning right, and refcue him from those errors which have been transmitted down through a series of incorrect editions, and a long intervention of time, many passages muít be desperate, and past a cure; and their true' fenfe irretrictable either to care or the fagacity of conjecture. But is there any reason therefore to say, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left def- . perate? We should thew 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 manifestly labours and cries out for afiftance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent absurdity. · As there are very few pages in Shakespeare, upon which some fufpicions of depravity do not reafonably 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 historical 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 where-ever his fable was founded on biflory. · Where-ever the author's fenfe is clear and discoverable (though, perchance, low and trivial) I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of 2:1 oftentation of

endea,

« السابقةمتابعة »