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Of the plays which bear the name of Shakspere in the late editions, the greater part were not published till about seven years after his death ; and the few which appeared in his life, are apparently thrust into the world without the care of the author, and therefore probably without his knowledge.
Of all the publishers, clandestine or professed; the negligence and unskilfulness has by the late revisers been sufficiently shewn. The faults of all are indeed numerous and gross, and have not only corrupted many passages, perhaps beyond recovery, but have brought others into suspicion, which are only obscured by obsolete phraseology, or by the writer's unskilfulness and affectation. To alter is more easy than to explain, and temerity is a more common quality than diligence. Those who saw that they must employ conjecture to a certain degree, were willing to indulge it a little further. Had the author published his own works, we should have sat quietly down to disentangle his intricacies, and clear his obscurities ; but now we tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we happen not to understand. · The faults are more than could have happened without the concurrence of many causes. The style of Shakspere was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed, and obscure; his works were transcribed for the players by those who may be supposed to have seldom understood them ; they were transmitted by copiers equally unskilful, who still multiplied errors.; they were perhaps sometimes mutilated by the actors,
for the sake of shortening the speeches; and were at last printed without correction of the press.
In this state they remained, not as Dr. Warburton supposes, because they were unregarded, but because the editor's art was not yet applied to modern languages, and our ancestors were accustomed to so much negligence of English printers, that they could very patiently endure it. At last an edition was undertaken: by Rowe; not because a poet was to be published by a poet, for Rowe seems to have thought very little on correction or explanation ; but that our author's works might appear like those of his fraternity, with the appendages of a life and recommendatory preface, Rowe has been clamorously blamed for not performing what he did not undertake ; and it is time that justice be done him, by confessing, that though he seems to have had no thought of corruption beyond the printer's errors, yet he has made many emendations, if they were not made before, which his suce cessors have received without acknowledgment, and which, if they had produced them, would have filled pages and pages with censures of the stupidity by which the faults were committed, with displays of the absurdities which they involved, with ostentatious expositions of the new reading, and self-congratula. tions on the happiness of discovering,
As of the other editors I have preserved the prefaces, I have likewise borrowed the author's life froin Rowe, though not written with much elegance or spirit; it relates, however, what is now to be known,
and therefore deserves to pass through all succeeding publications. · The nation had been for many years content enough with Mr. Rowe's performance, when Mr. Pope made them acquainted with the true state of Shakspere's text, shewed that it was extremely corrupt, and gave reason to hope that there were means of reforming ito He collated the old copies, which none had thought to examine before, and restored many lines to their integrity ; but, by a very compendious criticism, he rejected whatever he disliked, and thought more of amputation than of cure.
I know not why he is commended by Dr. Warburton for distinguishing the genuine from the spurious plays. In this choice he exerted no judgment of his own'; the plays which he received, were given by Heminge and Condell, the first editors; and those which he rejected, though, according to the licentiousness of the press in those times, they were printed during Shakspere's life, with his name, had been omitted by his friends, and were never added to his works before the edition of 1664, from which they were copied by the later printers.
This is a work which Pope seems to have thought unworthy of his abilities, being not able to suppress his contempt of the dull duty of an editor. He understood but half his undertaking. The duty of a colļator is indeed dull; yet, like other tediaụs tasks, is very necessary; but an emendatory critick would ill discharge his duty, without qualities very different
from dulness. In perusing a corrupted piece, he must have before him all possibilities of meaning, with all possibilities of expression. Such must be his comprehension of thought, and such his copiousness of language. Out of many readings possible, he must be able to select that which best suits with the state, opinions, and modes of language prevailing in every age, and with his author's particular cast of thought, and turn of expression. Such must be his knowledge, and such his taste. Conjectural criticisin demands more than humanity possesses, and he that exercises it with most praise, has very frequent need of indulgence. Let us now be told no more of the dull duty of an editor.
Confidence is the common consequence of success, They whose excellence of any kind has been loudly celebrated, are ready to conclude, that their powers are universal. Pope's edition fell below his own expećtations, 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 hostiLity with verbal criticism.
I have retained all his notes, that no fragment of so 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 author, 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 de. mand its insertion.
Pope was succeeded by Theobald, a man of narrow comprehension, and small 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 collated 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 folios has all, excepting those diversities which mere reiteration of editions will produce. I collated them all at the beginning, but afterwards used only the first,
Of his notes 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 restoration of a comma, without inserting the panegyrick in which he celebrated himself for his achievement. The exuberant excrescence of his diction I have often lopped, his triumphant exultations over Pope and Rowe I have sometimes sup