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come popular, I have not promised to myself: A few wild Blunders, and rigible Absurdities, from which no Work of such Multiplicity was ever free, may for a Fime furnish Folly with Laugliter, and harden Ignorance into Contempt; but useful Diligence will at last.prevail, and there never can be wanting some who distinguish Desert; who will consider that no Dictionary of a living Tongue ever can be perfect, fince, while it is hastening to Publica. tion, fome Words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole Life cannot be spent upon Syntax and Etymology; and that even a whole Life would not be sufficient; that he, whose Design includes whatever Language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand ; that a Writer will fometimes be burried by Eagerness to the End, and sometimes faint with Weariness under a Talk, which Scaliger compares to the Labours of the Anvil and the Mine; that what is obviousis not always known, and what is known is not always present, that sudden Fits of Inadvertency will surprile Vigilance, flight Avocations will seduce Attention, and casual Eclipses of the Mind will darken Learning, and that the Writer shall often in vain trace bis Memory, at the Moment of Need, for that which Yesterday he knew with intuitive Readiness, and which will come una called into his Thoughts To-morrow.
In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed ; and though no Book was ever spared out of Tenderness to the Authour, and the World is little folicitous to know whence proceeded the Faults of that which it condcmns; yet it may gratify Curiosity to inform it, that the English Diction nary was written with little Assistance of the Learned, and without any Patronage of the Great ; not in the soft Obscurities of Retirement, or under the Shelter of academick Bowers, but amidst Inconver
nience and Distraction, in Sickness and in Sorrow : And it may repress the Triumph of malignant Criticism to observe, that if our Language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an Attempt which no human Powers have hitherto completed. If the Lexicons of ancient Tongues, now immu. tably fixed, and comprised in a few Volumes, be yet, after the Toil of successive Ages, inadequate and delufive ; if the aggregated Knowledge, and cooperating Diligence, of the Italian Academicians, did not secure them from the Censure of Beni ; if the embodied Criticks of France, when fifty Years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its Economy, and give their second Edition another Form, I may surely be contented without the Praise of Perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this Gloom of Solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my Work till most of those whom I wished to please have funk into the Grave, and Success and Miscarriage are empty Sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid Tranquility, having little to fear or hope from Censure or from Praise.
P R O P O S A LS
FOR PRINTING THE
Printed in the Year 1756.
HEN the Works of Shakespeare are, after fo
many Editions, again offered to the Publick, it will doubtless be enquired, why Shakespeare stands in more Need of critical Assistance than any other of the English Writers, and what are the Deficiencies 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 obfcure. To have a Text corrupt in many Places, and in many doubtful, is, among the Authours that have written since the Use of Types, almost peculiar to Shakespeare. Most Writers, by pub. lishing their own Works, prevent all various Readings, and preclude all conjectural Criticism. Books indeed are sometimes publiced after the Death of him who produced them; but they are better secured from Corruption than these unfortunate Composi. tions. They subfist in a single Copy, written or G4
revised by the Authour; and the Faults of the printed Volume can be only Faults of one Descent.
But of the Works of Shakespeare the Condition has been far different ; He fold 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 Blunders 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 Authour, 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 De: pravation 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 fo many Causes concurring to vitiate the Text. No other Authour 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 fre, quently acted, yet continued in Manuscript: Noother 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 fortui, tously reunited ; and in no other Age was the Art of Printing in such unskilful Hands.
With the Causes of Corruption that make the Revisal of Shakespeare's Dramatick Pieces necessary, may Þe 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 diftant Time, he is necessarily obscure. Every Age has ats Modes of Speech, and its Cast of Thought ; which, though easily explained when there are many Books to be compared with each other, become fometimes unintelligible, and always difficult, when there are no parallel Passages that may conduce to their Illustration. Shakespeare is the first congderable Authour of sublime or familiar Dialogue in our Language. Of the Books which he read, and from which he formed his Style, fome perhaps have perished, and the rest are neglected. His Imitations are therefore unnoted, his Allusions are undiscovered, and many Beauties, both of Pleasantry and Greatness, are lost with the Objects to which they were united, as the Figures vanish when the Canvas has decayed.
It is the great Excellence of Shakespeare, that he drew his Scenes from Nature, and from Life. He copied the Manners of the World then passing before him, and has more Allusions than other Poets to the Traditions and Superftition of the Vulgar ; which must therefore be traced before he can be under. stood.
He wrote at a Time when our poetical Language was yet unformed, when the Meaning of our Phrales was yet in Fluctuation, when Words were adoptel at Pleasure from the neighbouring Languages, and while the Saxon was still visibly mingled in our Diction. - The Reader is therefore embarrassed at once with dead and with foreign Languages, with Obfoleteness and Innovation. In that Age, as in all others, Fashion produced Phrafeology, which succeeding Fashion swept away before its Meaning was generally known, or sufficiently authorised: And.in that Age, above all others, Experiments were made upon our Language, which distorted its Combina. cions, and disturbed its Uniformity.
If Shakespeare has Difficulties above other Writers, is to be imputed to the Nature of his work, which