come popular, I have not promised to myself: A few wild Blunders, and rifible Abfurdities, from which no Work of fuch Multiplicity was ever free, may for a Time furnifh Folly with Laughter, and harden Ignorance into Contempt; but useful Diligence will at laft prevail, and there never can be wanting fome who diftinguish Desert; 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 Syntax and Etymology; and that even a whole Life would not be fufficient; that he, whose Design includes whatever Language can exprefs, muft often fpeak of what he does not understand; that a Writer will fometimes be hurried by Eagerness to the End, and fometimes faint with Wearinefs under a Tafk, 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 sudden 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 Yefterday he knew with intuitive Readinefs, and which will come uncalled into his Thoughts To-morrow.

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 Authour, 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 Diction nary 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 Shelter of academick Bowers, but amidst Inconve G 3 nience

nience and Distraction, in Sicknefs and in Sorrow; And it may reprefs the Triumph of malignant Criticifm to obferve, 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 immu. tably fixed, and comprised in a few Volumes, be yet, after the Toil of fucceffive Ages, inadequate and delufive; if the aggregated Knowledge, and cooperating 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 Praife of Perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this Gloom of Solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my Work till most of those whom I wished to please have funk into the Grave, and Succefs and Mifcarriage are empty Sounds: I therefore difmifs it with frigid Tranquility, having little to fear or hope from Cenfure or from Praise.







Printed in the Year 1756.


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 Business of him that republishes 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 Authours that have written fince the Ufe of Types, almoft peculiar to Shakespeare. Moft Writers, by pub. lishing their own Works, prevent all various Readings, and preclude all conjectural Criticifm. Books indeed are fometimes published after the Death of him who produced them; but they are better fecured from Corruption than thefe unfortunate Compofitions. They fubfift in a fingle Copy, written or revised

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revised by the Authour; and the Faults of the printed Volume can be only Faults of one Descent.

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 Tranfcript 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 shorten the Representation; and printed at laft without the Concurrence of the Authour, 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 thruft into the World furreptitiously and haftily, they fuffered another Depravation from the Ignorance and Negligence of the Printers, as every Man who knows the State of the Prefs in that Age will readily conceive.

It is not eafy for Invention to bring together fo many Caufes concurring to vitiate the Text. No other Authour 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 Task as thofe who copied for the Stage, 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 fortuitoufly reunited; and in no other Age was the Art of Printing in fuch unskilful Hands.

With the Caufes of Corruption that make the Revifal of Shakespeare's Dramatick Pieces neceflary, may be enumerated the Caufes of Obfcurity, which may be partly imputed to his Age, and partly to himself,

When a Writer outlives his Contemporaries, and remains almost the only unforgotten Name of a diftant Time, he is neceffarily obfcure. Every Age has

its Modes of Speech, and its Caft of Thought; which, though eafily explained when there are many Books to be compared with each other, become fometimes unintelligible, and always difficult, when there are no parallel Paffages that may conduce to their Illuftration. Shakespeare is the first confiderable Authour of fublime or familiar Dialogue in our Language. Of the Books which he read, and from which he formed his Style, fome perhaps have perished, and the reft are neglected. His Imitations are therefore unnoted, his Allufions are undifcovered, and many Beauties, both of Pleafantry and Greatnefs, are loft with the Objects to which they were united, as the Figures vanish when the Canvas has decayed.

It is the great Excellence of Shakespeare, that he drew his Scenes from Nature, and from Life. He copied the Manners of the World then paffing before him, and has more Allufions than other Poets to the Traditions and Superftition of the Vulgar; which must therefore be traced before he can be understood.

He wrote at a Time when our poetical Language was yet unformed, when the Meaning of our Phrases was yet in Fluctuation, when Words were adopted at Pleasure from the neighbouring Languages, and while the Saxon was ftill vifibly mingled in our Diction. The Reader is therefore embarraffed at once with dead and with foreign Languages, with Obfoleteness and Innovation. In that Age, as in all others, Fashion produced Phrafeology, which fucceeding Fashion swept away before its Meaning was generally known, or fufficiently authorised: And in that Age, above all others, Experiments were made upon our Language, which distorted its Combina tions, and difturbed its Uniformity.

If Shakespeare has Difficulties above other Writers, it is to be imputed to the Nature of his Work, which


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