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It hath been no unusual thing for writers, when disa satisfied with the patronage or judgment of their own times, to appeal to posterity for a fair hearing. Some have even thought fit to apply to it in the first instance; and to decline acquaintance with the publick, till envy and prejudice had quite subsided. But, of all the trusters to futurity, commend me to the author of the following poems, who not only left it to time to do him justice as it would, but to find him out as it could. For, what between too great attention to his profit as a player, and too little to his reputation as a poet, his works, left to the care of door-keepers and prompters, hardly escape the common fate of those writings, how good soever, which are abandoned to their own fortune, and unprotected by party or cabal. At length, indeed, they struggled into light; but so disguised and travested, that no classick author, after having run ten secular stages through the blind clois. ters of monks and canons, ever came out in half so maimed and mangled a condition. But for a full account of his disorders, I refer the reader to the ex.
cellent discourse in Mr. Pope's Preface, and turn myself to consider the remedies that have been ap. plied to them.
Shakspere's works, when they escaped the players, did not fall into much better hands when they came amongst printers and booksellers; who, to say the truth, had at first but small encouragement for putting him into a better condition. The stubborn nonsense, with which he was incrusted, occasioned his lying long neglected amongst the common lumber of the stage. And when that resistless splendour, which now shoots all around him, had, by degrees, broke through the shell of those impurities, his dazzled admirers became as suddenly insensible to the extraneous scurf that still stuck upon him, as they had been before to the native beauties that lay under it. So that, as then he was thought not to deserve a cure, he was now supposed not to need any.
His growing eminence, however, required that he should be used with ceremony; and he soon had his appointment of an editor in form. But the bookseller, whose dealing was with wits, having learnt of them, I know not what silly maxim, that none but a poet should presume to meddle with a poet, engaged the ingenious Mr. Rowe to undertake this employment. A wit indeed he was; but so utterly unacquainted with the whole business of criticism, that he did not even cola lato or consult the first editions of the work he undertook to publish ; but contented himself with giving us a meagre account of the author's life, interlarded with
some common-place scraps from his writings. The truth is, Shakspere's condition was yet but ill understood. The nonsense, now, by consent, received for his own, was held in a kind of reverence for its age and author; and thus it continued till another great poet broke the charın, by shewing us, that the higher we went, the less of it was still to be found. . For the proprietors, not discouraged by their first unsuccessful effort, in due time, made a second ; and, though they still stuck to their poets, with infinitely more success in their choice of Mr. Pope, who, by the mere force of an uncommon genius, without any particular study or profession of this art, discharged the great parts of it so well, as to make his edition the best foundation for all further improvements. He separated the genuine from the spurious plays; and, with equal judgment, though not always with the same success, attempted to clear the genuine plays from the interpolated scenes : he then consulted the old editions; and, by a careful collation of them, rectified the faulty, and supplied the imperfect reading in a great number of places : and, lastly, in an admirable preface, hath drawn a general, but very lively sketch, of Shakspere's poetick character; and, in the corrected text, marked out those peculiar strokes of genius which were inost proper to support and illustrate that character. Thus far Mr. Pope. And although much more was to be done before Shakspere could be restored to himself (such as amending the corrupted text where the printed books afford no
assistance ; assistance ; explaining his licentious phraseology and obscure allusions; and illustrating the beauties of his poetry); yet, with great modesty and prudence, our illustrious editor left this to the critick by profession.
But nothing will give the common reader a better idea of the value of Mr. Pope's edition, than the two attempts which have been since made by Mr. Theo. bald and Sir Thomas Hanmer in opposition to it; who, although they concerned themselves only in the first of these three parts of criticism, the restoring the text (without any conception of the second, or venturing even to touch upon the third), yet succeeded so very ill in it, that they left their author in ten times a worse condition than they found him. But, as it was my ill fortune to have some accidental connexions with these two gentlemen, it will be incumbent on me to be a little more particular concerning them.'
The one was recommended to me as a poor man; the other as a poor critick: and to each of them, at different times, I communicated a great number of observations, which they managed, as they saw fit, to the relief of their several distresses. As to Mr. Theobald, who wanted money, I allowed him to print what I gave him, for his own advantage; and he allowed himself in the liberty of taking one part for his own, and sequestering another for the benefit, as I supposed, of some future edition. But, as to the Oxford editor, who wanted nothing but what he might very well be without, the reputation of a critick, I could not so casily forgive liiin for trafficking with my papers with