Since I have confined my Imagination to the Margin, it must not be confidered as very reprehenfible, if I have fuffered it to play fome Freaks in its own Dominion. There is no Danger in Conjecture, if it be propofed as Conjecture; and while the Text remains uninjured, thofe Changes may be fafely offered, which are not confidered, even by him that offers them, as neceffary or fafe.

If my Readings are of little Value, they have not been oftentatiously displayed, or importunately obtruded. I could have written longer Notes, for the Art of writing Notes is not of difficult Attainment. The Work is performed firft, by railling at the Stupidity, Negligence, Ignorance, and afinine Tafteleffness of the former Editors, and fhewing, from all that goes before, and all that follows, the Inelegance and Abfurdity of the old Reading; then by propofing fomething, which, to fuperficial Readers, would feem fpecious, but which, the Editor rejects with Indignation; then by producing the true Reading, with a long Paraphrafe, and concluding with loud Acclamations on the Discovery, and a fober Wish for the Advancement and Profperity of genuine Criticism.

All this may be done, and perhaps done fometimes without Impropriety. But I have always fufpected that the Reading is right, which requires many Words to prove it wrong; and the Emendation wrong, that cannot, without fo much Labour, appear to be right. The Juftness of a happy Retoration ftrikes at once, and the moral Precept may be well applied to Criticifm, quod dubitas ne feceris.

To dread the Shore which he fees fpread with Wrecks, is natural to the Sailor. I had before my Eye fo many critical Adventures ended in Miscar riage, that Caution was forced upon me. I encountered in every Page Wit ftruggling with its own Sophiftry, and Learning coufufed by the Multiplicity of its Views. I was forced to cenfure thofe VOL. II.



whom I admired, and could not but reflect, while I was difpoffeffing their Emendations, how foon the fame Fate might happen to my own, and how many of the Readings which I have corrected may be, by fome other Editor, defended and established.

Criticks, I faw, that other's Names efface, And fix their own, with Labour, in the Place; • Their own, like others, foon the Place refign'd, Or difappear'd, and left the firft behind.'


That a conjectural Critick fhould often be miftaken cannot be wonderful, either to others or to himself, if it be confidered, that in his Art there is no Syftem, no principal and axiomatical Truth, that regulates fubordinate Pofitions. His Chance of Errour is renewed at every Attempt; an oblique View of the Paffage, a flight Mifapprehenfion of a Phrase, a cafual Inattention to the Parts connected, is fufficient to make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously and when he fucceeds beft, he produces perhaps but one Reading of many probable; and he that fuggefts another will always be able to difpute his Claims.

It is an unhappy State in which Danger is hid under Pleasure. The Allurements of Emendation are scarcely refiftible. Conjecture has all the Joy and all the Pride of Invention, and he that has once ftarted a happy Change is too much delighted to confider what Objections may rife against it.

Yet conjectural Criticism has been of great Ufe in the learned World; nor is it my Intention to depreciate a Study, that has exercised fo many mighty Minds, from the Revival of Learning to our own Age, from the Bishop of Aleria to English Bentley. The Criticks on ancient Authours have, in the Exercife of their Sagacity, many Affiftances which the Editor of Shakespeare is condemned to want. They


are employed upon grammatical and fettled Languages, whofe Conftruction contributes fo much to Pefpicuity, that Homer has fewer Paffages unintelligible than Chaucer. The Words have not only a known Regimen, but invariable Quantities, which direct and confine the Choice. There are commonly more Manuscripts than one; and they do not often confpire in the fame Mistakes. Yet Scaliger could confefs to Salmafius how little Satisfaction his Emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conjecturæ noftræ, quarum nos pudet, pofteaquam in meliores codices incidimus. And Lipfius could complain, that Criticks were making Faults, by trying to remove them: Ut olim vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, where mere Conjecture is to be ufed, the Emendations of Scaliger and Lipfius, notwithstanding their wonderful Sagacity and Erudition, are often vague and difputable, like mine or Theobald's.

Perhaps I may not be more cenfured for doing wrong, than for doing little; for raifing in the Puplick Expectations, which at laft I have not anfwered. The Expectation of Ignorance is indefinite, and that of Knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to fatisfy those who know not what to demand, or those who demand by Design what they think impoffible to be done. I have indeed difappointed no Opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my Tafk with no flight Solicitude. Not a fingle Paffage in the whole Work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not attempted to reftore; or obfcure, which I have not endeavoured to illuftrate. In many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my Efforts, I have retreated, and confeffed the Repulfe. I have not paffed over, with affected Superiority, what is equally difficult to the Reader and to myself, but where I could not inftruct him, have owned my Ignorance. I might eafily have accumulated a Mafs

of feeming Learning upon easy Scenes; but it ought not to be imputed to Negligence, that, where nothing was neceflary, nothing has been done; or that, where others have faid enough, I have faid no more.

Notes are often neceffary, but they are neceffary Evils. Let him that is yet unacquainted with the Powers of Shakespeare, and who defires to feel the highest Pleasure that the Drama can give, read every Play, from the firft Scene to the last, with utter Negligence of all his Commentators. When his Fancy is once on the Wing, let it not ftoop at Correction or Explanation. When his Attention is ftrongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn afide to the Name of Theobald and Pope. Let him read on through Brightness and Obfcurity, through Integrity and Corruption; let him preferve his Comprehenfion of the Dialogue, and his Intereft in the Fable; and when the Pleasures of Novelty have ceased, let him attempt Exactnefs, and read the Commentators.

Particular Paffages are cleared by Notes, but the general Effect of the Work is weakened. The Mind is refrigerated by Interruption; the Thoughts are diverted from the principal Subject, the Reader is weary, he suspects not why, and at fast throws away the Book, which he has too diligently ftudied.

Parts are not to be examined till the Whole has been furveyed; there is a Kind of intellectual Remotenefs neceffary for the Comprehenfion of any great Work, in its full Defign and its true Proportions; a clofe Approach fhews the fmaller Niceties, but the Beauty of the Whole is difcerned no longer.

It is not very grateful to confider how little the Succeffion of Editors has added to this Authour's - Power of pleafing. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the Improprieties which Ignorance and Neglect could


accumulate upon him; while the Reading was yet not rectified, nor his Allufions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce, that Shakespeare was the "Man, who, of all modern, and perhaps ancient Poets, had the largest and most comprehenfive Soul. All the Images of Nature were ftill pre* fent to him, and he drew them not.laboriously, but luckily: When he defcribes any Thing, you more than fee it, you feel it too. Those who accufe him to have wanted Learning, give him the greater « Commendation: He was naturally learned: He needed not the Spectacles of Books to read Nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot fay he is every where alike; were he fo I fhould do him Injury to compare him with the Greatest of Mankind. He is many times flat and infipid; his comick Wit degenerating into Clenches, his ferious Swelling into Bombaft. But he is always great when some great Occafion is prefented to him: No Man can fay he ever had a fit Sub. ject for his Wit, and did not then raise himfelf as high above the Rest of Poets,

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Quantum lenta folent inter viburna cupressi.'

It is to be lamented that fuch a Writer fhould want a Comentary; that his Language fhould become obfolete, or his Sentiments obfcure. But it is vain to carry Wishes beyond the Condition of human Things; that which muft happen to all, has happened to Shakespeare, by Accident and Time; and more than has been fuffered by any other Writer fince the Ufe of Types, has been fuffered by him through his own Negligence of Fame, or perhaps by that Superiority of Mind which defpifed its own Performances, when it compared them with its Powers, and judged thofe Works unworthy to be preferved, which the Criticks of following Ages were to contend for the Fame of reftoring and explaining.

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