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country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology, without a conteft, to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of every people arifes from its authors: whether I fhall add any thing by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to time: much of my life has been loft under the preffures of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provifion for the day that was paffing over me; but I fhall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my affistance foreign nations, and diftant ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repofitories of fcience, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.
When I am animated by this with, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the fpirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular I have not promifed to myfelf: a few wild blunders, and risible abfurdities, from which no work of fuch multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance in contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting fome who distinguish defert; who will confider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, fince, while it is haftening to publication, fome words are budding, and fome falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon fyntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be fufficient; that he, whofe defign, includes whatever language can Q 2
exprefs, must often fpeak of what he does not un derftand; that a writer will fometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and fometimes faint with wearinefs under a task, which Scaliger compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always prefent; that fudden fits of inadvertency will furprife vigilance, flight avocations will feduce attention, and cafual eclipfes of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer fhall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need, for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to
In this work, when it fhall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewife is performed; and though no book was ever fpared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little folicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns; yet it may gratify curiofity to inform it, that the English Dictionary was written with little affiftance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the foft obfcurities of retirement, or under the fhelter of academick bowers, but amidst inconvenience and diftraction, in sickness and in forrow. It may repress the triumph of malignant criticifm 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 immutably fixed, and comprized in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of fucceffive ages, inadequate and delufive; if the aggregated know
ledge, and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians, did not fecure them from the cenfure 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 fecond edition another form, I may furely be contented without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of folitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to pleafe have funk into the grave, and fuccefs and miscarriage are empty founds: I therefore difmifs it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from cenfure or from praise,
HEN the works of Shakespeare are, after fo many editions, again offered to the publick, it will doubtlefs be enquired, why Shakespeare ftands in more need of critical affiftance than any other of the English writers, and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts, which another editor may hope to fupply?
The bufinefs of him that republifhes 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 au、 thors that have written fince the ufe of types, almoft peculiar to Shakespeare. Moft writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings, and preclude all conjectural criticifim. Books indeed are fometimes published after the death of him who produced them; but they are better fecured
cured from corruption than these unfortunate compofitions. 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 defcent.
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 tranfcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penman, or changed by the affectation of the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jeft, or mutilated to fhorten the representation; and printed at laft without the concurrence of the author, without the confent of the proprietor, from compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the feparate parts written for the theatre; and thus thrust into the world furreptitiously and haftily, they fuffered another depravation from the ignorance and negligence of the printers, as every man who knows the ftate of the prefs 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 author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with fo little care: no books could be left in hands fo likely to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued in manufcript: no other transcribers were likely to be fo little qualified for their tafk as those who copied for the ftage, at a time when the lower ranks of the people were univerfally illiterate no other editions were made from fragments fo minutely broken, and fo fortuitously reunited; and in no other age was the art of printing in fuch unfkilful hands.