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than his fagacity. It were to be wished that all would endeavour to imitate his modefty, who have not been able to furpafs his knowledge.
I can fay with great fincerity of all my predeceffors, what I hope will hereafter be faid of me, that not one has left Shakspeare without improvement, nor is there one to whom I have not been indebted for affiftance and information. Whatever I have taken from them, it was my intention to refer to its original author, and it is certain, that what I have not given to another, I believed when I wrote it to be my own. In fome perhaps I have been anticipated; but if I am ever found to encroach upon the remarks of any other commentator, I am willing that the honour, be it more or lefs, fhould be transferred to the firft. claimant, for his right, and his alone, ftands above difpute; the fecond can prove his pretenfions only to himself, nor can himself always diftinguifh invention, with fufficient certainty, from recollection.
They have all been treated by me with candour, which they have not been careful of obferving to one another. It is not eafy to difcover from what cause the acrimony of a fcholiaft can naturally proceed. The fubjects to be difcuffed by him are of very finall importance; they involve neither property nor liberty; nor favour the intereft of fect or party. The various readings of copies, and different interpretations of a paffage, feem to be queftions that might exercise the wit, without engaging the paffions. But whether it be, that small things make mean men proud, and vanity catches fmall occafions; or that all contrariety of opinion, even in those that can defend it no longer, makes proud men angry; there is often found in commentaries a fpontaneous ftrain of invective and con
tempt, more eager and venomous than is vented by the most furious controvertift in politicks against those whom he is hired to defame.
Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce to the vehemence of the agency; when the truth to be investigated is fo near to inexiftence, as to escape attention, its bulk is to be enlarged by rage and exclamation: that to which all would be indifferent in its original ftate, may attract notice when the fate of a name is appended to it. A commentator has indeed great temptations to fupply by turbulence what he wants of dignity, to beat his little gold to a fpacious furface, to work that to foam which no art or diligence can exalt to spirit.
The notes which I have borrowed or written are either illustrative, by which difficulties are explained; or judicial, by which faults and beauties are remarked; or emendatory, by which depravations are corrected.
The explanations tranfcribed from others, if I do not fubjoin any other interpretation, I fuppofe commonly to be right, at least I intend by acquiescence to confefs, that I have nothing better to propose.
After the labours of all the editors, I found many paffages which appeared to me likely to obftruct the greater number of readers, and thought it my duty to facilitate their paffage. It is impoffible for an expofitor not to write too little for fome, and too much for others. He can only judge what is neceffary by his own experience; and how long foever he may deliberate, will at laft explain many lines which the learned will think impoffible to be mistaken, and omit many for which the ignorant will want his help. Thefe are cenfures merely relative, and must be quietly endured. I have
endeavoured to be neither fuperfluously copious, nor fcrupulously referved, and hope that I have made my author's meaning acceffible to many, who before were frighted from perufing him, and contributed fomething to the publick, by diffufing innocent and rational pleasure.
The complete explanation of an author not fyftematick and confequential, but defultory and vagrant, abounding in cafual allufions and light hints, is not to be expected from any single scholiaft. All perfonal reflections, when names are fuppreffed, must be in a few years irrecoverably obliterated; and cuftoms, too minute to attract the notice of law, yet fuch as modes of drefs, formalities of converfation, rules of vifits, difpofition of furniture, and practices of ceremony, which naturally find places in familiar dialogue, are fo fugitive and unfubftantial, that they are not eafily retained or recovered. What can be known will be collected by chance, from the receffes of obfcure and obfolete papers, perufed commonly with fome other view. Of this knowledge every man has fome, and none has much; but when an author has engaged the publick attention, thofe who can add any thing to his illuftration, communicate their discoveries, and time produces what had eluded diligence.
To time I have been obliged to refign many paffages, which, though I did not understand them, will perhaps hereafter be explained, having, I hope, illuftrated fome, which others have neglected or mistaken, sometimes by fhort remarks, or marginal directions, such as every editor has added at his will, and often by comments more laborious than the matter will feem to deferve; but that which is moft difficult is not always most important, and to
an editor nothing is a trifle by which his author is obfcured.
The poetical beauties or defects I have not been very diligent to obferve. Some plays have more, and fome fewer judicial obfervations, not in proportion to their difference of merit, but because I gave this part of my defign to chance and to caprice. The reader, I believe, is feldom pleased to find his opinion anticipated; it is natural to delight more in what we find or make, than in what we receive. Judgment, like other faculties, is improved by practice, and its advancement is hindered by fubmiffion to dictatorial decifions, as the memory grows torpid by the ufe of a table-book. Some initiation is however neceffary; of all skill, part is infused by precept, and part is obtained by habit; I have therefore shown so much as may enable the candidate of criticifm to difcover the rest.
To the end of moft plays I have added short ftrictures, containing a general cenfure of faults, or praise of excellence; in which I know not how much I have concurred with the current opinion; but I have not, by any affectation of fingularity, deviated from it. Nothing is minutely and particularly examined, and therefore it is to be supposed, that in the plays which are condemned there is much to be praised, and in these which are praised much to be condemned.
The part of criticism in which the whole fucceffion of editors has laboured with the greatest diligence, which has occafioned the most arrogant oftentation, and excited the keeneft acrimony, is the emendation of corrupted paffages, to which the publick attention having been first drawn by the violence of the contention between Pope and Theobald, has been continued by the perfecution, which, with
a kind of confpiracy, has been fince raised against all the publishers of Shakspeare.
That many paffages have paffed in a ftate of depravation through all the editions is indubitably certain; of these, the restoration is only to be attempted by collation of copies, or fagacity of conjecture. The collator's province is fafe and easy, the conjecturer's perilous and difficult. Yet as the greater part of the plays are extant only in one copy, the peril must not be avoided, nor the difficulty refused.
Of the readings which this emulation of amendment has hitherto produced, fome from the labours of every publisher I have advanced into the text; thofe are to be confidered as in my opinion fufficiently supported; fome I have rejected without mention, as evidently erroneous; fome I have left in the notes without cenfure or approbation, as refting in equipoife between objection and defence; and fome, which feemed fpecious but not right, I have inferted with a fubfequent animadverfion.
Having claffed the obfervations of others, I was at laft to try what I could fubftitute for their mistakes, and how I could fupply their omiffions. I collated fuch copies as I could procure, and wifhed for more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities very communicative. Of the editions which chance or kindness put into my hands I have given an enumeration, that I may not be blamed for neglecting what I had not the power to do.
By examining the old copies, I foon found that the later publishers, with all their boasts of diligence, fuffered many paffages to ftand unauthorized, and contented themfelves with Rowe's regulation.