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required the Ufe of the common colloquial Language, and confequently admitted many Phrafes allufive, elliptical, and proverbial, fuch as we fpeak and hear every hour without obferving them; and of which, being now familiar, we do not fufpect that they can ever grow uncouth, or that, being now obvious, they can ever feem remote.
These are the principal Causes of the Obfcurity of Shakespeare; to which might be added the Fulnefs of Idea, which might fometimes load his Words with more Sentiment than they could conveniently convey, and that Rapidity of Imagination which might hurry him to a fecond Thought before he had fully explained the firft. But my Opinion is, that very few of his Lines were difficult to his Audience, and that he used fuch Expreffions as were then common, tho' the Paucity of contemporary Writers makes them now feem peculiar.
Authours are often praised for Improvement, or blamed for Innovation, with very little Juftice, by thofe who read few other Books of the fame Age. Addifon himself has been fo unsuccessful in enumerating the Words with which Milton has enriched our Language, as perhaps not to have named one of which Milton was the Author; and Bentley has yet more unhappily praised him as the Introducer of thofe Elifions into English Poetry, which had been ufed from the firft Effays of Verfification among us, and which Milton was indeed the laft that practifed.
Another Impediment, not the leaft vexatious to the Commentator, is the Exactnefs with which Shakespeare followed his Authours. Inftead of dilating his Thoughts into Generalities, and expreffing Incidents with poetical Latitude, he often combines . Circumftances unneceffary to his main Defign, only because he happened to find them together. Such Paffages can be illuftrated only by him who has read
the fame Story in the very Book which Shakespeare confulted.
He that undertakes an Edition of Shakespeare, has all these Difficulties to encounter, and all these Obftructions to remove.
The Corruptions of the Text will be corrected by a careful Collation of the oldest Copies, by which it is hoped that many Restorations may yet be made: At leaft it will be neceffary to collect and note the Variation as Materials for future Criticks; for it very often happens that a wrong Reading has Affinity to the right.
In this Part all the prefent Editions are apparently and intentionally defective. The Criticks did not fo much as wish to facilitate the Labour of those that followed them. The fame Books are still to be compared; the Work that has been done, is to be done again; and no fingle Edition will fupply the Reader with a Text on which he can rely as the best Copy of the Works of Shakespeare.
The Edition now propofed will at least have this Advantage over others. It will exhibit all the obfervable Varieties of all the Copies that can be found; that, if the Reader is not fatisfied with the Editor's Determination, he may have the Means of choofing better for himself.
Where all the Books are evidently vitiated, and Collation can give no Affiftance, then begins the Talk of critical Sagacity: And fome Changes may well be admitted in a Text never fettled by the Authour, and fo long expofed to Caprice and Ignorance. But nothing fhall be impofed, as in the Oxford Edition, without Notice of the Alteration; nor fhall Conjecture be wantonly or unneceffarily indulged.
It has been long found, that very fpecious Emendations do not equally ftrike all Minds with Conviction, nor even the fame Mind at different Times; and therefore, though perhaps many Alterations may
be propofed as eligible, very few will be obtruded as certain. In a Language fo ungrammatical as the English, and fo licentious as that of Shakespeare, emendatory Criticism is always hazardous; nor can it be allowed to any Man who is not particularly verfed in the Writings of that Age, and particularly studious of his Authour's Diction. There is Danger left Peculiarities fhould be mistaken for Corruptions, and Paffages rejected as unintelligible, which a narrow Mind happens not to understand.
All the former Criticks have been fo much employed on the Correction of the Text, that they have not fufficiently attended to the Elucidation of Paffages obfcured by Accident or Time. The Editor will endeavoured to read the Books which the Authour read, to trace his Knowledge to its Source, and compare his Copies with their Originals. If in this Part of his Defign he hopes to attain any Degree of Superiority to his Predeceffors, it must be confidered, that he has the Advantage of their Labours; that Part of the Work being already done, more Care is naturally bestowed on the other Part; and that, to declare the Truth, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very ignorant of the ancient English Literature; Dr. Warburton was detained by more important Studies; and Mr. Theobald, if Fame be just to his Memory, confidered Learning only as an Inftrument of Gain, and made no further Enquiry after his Authour's Meaning, when once he had Notes fufficient to embellish his Page with the expected Decorations.
With Regard to obfolete or peculiar Diction, the Editor may perhaps claim fome Degree of Confidence, having had more Motives to confider the whole Extent of our Language than any other Man from its firft Formation. He hopes that, by comparing the Works of Shakespeare with thofe of Writers who lived at the fame Time, immediately preceded, or immediately followed him, he fhall be able to afcer
tain his Ambiguities, difentangle his Intricacies, and recover the Meaning of Words now loft in the Darknefs of Antiquity.
When therefore any Obfcurity arifes from an Allufion to fome other Book, the Paffage will be quoted. When the Diction is entangled, it will be cleared by a Paraphrafe or Interpretation. When the Senfe is broken by the Suppreffion of Part of the Sentiment in Pleafantry or Paffion, the Connexion will be supplied. When any forgotten Cuftom is hinted, Care will be taken to retrieve and explain it. The Meaning affigned to doubtful Words will be fupported by the Authorities of other Writers, or by paralle! Paffages of Shakespeare himself.
The Obfervation of Faults and Beauties is one of the Duties of an Annotator, which fome of ShakeSpeare's Editors have attempted, and fome have neglected. For this Part of his Tafk, and for this only, was Mr. Pope eminently and indifputably qualified; nor has Dr. Warburton followed him with lefs Diligence or lefs Succefs. But I have never obferved that Mankind was much delighted or improved by their Afteritks, Commas, or double Commas; of which the only Effect is, that they preclude the Pleasure of judging for ourselves, teach the Young and Ignorant to decide without Principles; defeat Curiofity and Difcernment, by leaving them lefs to difcover; and at laft fhew the Opinion of the Critick, without the Reasons on which it was founded, and without affording any Light by which it may be examined.
The Editor, though he may lefs delight his own. Vanity, will probably please his Reader more, by fuppofing him equally able with himself to judge of Beauties and Faults, which require no previous Acquifition of remote Knowledge. A Defcription of the obvious Scenes of Nature, a Reprefentation of general Life, a Sentiment of Reflection or Expe
rience, a Deduction of conclufive Arguments, a for cible Eruption of effervefcent Paffion, are to be confidered as proportionate to common Apprehenfion, unaflifted by critical Officioufnefs; fince, to convince them, nothing more is requifite than Acquaintance with the general State of the World, and those Faculties which he must almoft bring with him who would read Shakespeare.
But when the Beauty arifes from fome Adaptation of the Sentiment to Customs worn out of Use, to Opinions not univerfally prevalent, or to any accidental or minute Particularity, which cannot be fupplied by common Understanding, or common Obfervation, it is the Duty of a Commentator to lend his Affiftance.
The Notice of Beauties and Faults thus limited, will make no diftinct Part of the Defign, being reducible to the Explanation of obfcure Paflages.
The Editor does not however intend to preclude himfelf from the Comparison of Shakespeare's Sentiments or Expreffion with thofe of ancient or modern Authours, or from the Display of any Beauty not obvious to the Students of Poetry; for as he hopes to leave his Authour better understood, he wishes likewife to procure him more rational Approbation.
The former Editors have affected to flight their Predeceffors: But in this Edition all that is valuable will be adopted from every Commentator, that Posterity may confider it as including all the reft, and exhibiting whatever is hitherto known of the great Father of the English Drama.