« ElőzőTovább »
much inveteracy, that; not to dispute whether they should come from a christian, they leave it a question whether they could come from a man. I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like case:
Sive bomo, feu fimilis turpissima bestia nobis
The indignation, perhaps, for being represented a blockhead, may be as strong in us, as it is in the ladies for a reflexion on their beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to him for fome flagrant civilities; and I fall willingly devote a part of my life to the honest endeavour of quitting scores : with this exception however, that I will not return those civilities in his peculiar strain, but confine myself, at least, to the limits of common decency. I shall ever think it better to want wit, than to want humanity: and impartial pofterity may, perhaps, be of my opinion. But to return to my subject, which now calls
upon me to enquire into those causes, to which the depravations of my author originally may be assigned. We are to consider him as a writer, of whom no authentick manuscript was left extant; as a writer, whose pieces were dispersedly performed on the several ftages then in being. And it was the custom of those days for the poets to take a price of the players for the pieces they from time to time furnished; and thereupon it was supposed they had no farther right to print them without the consent of the players. As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublished, when any one succeeded, there was a contest betwixt the curiosity of the town, who demanded to see it in print, and the policy of the stagers, who wished to secrete it within their own walls, Hence, many pieces were taken down in short-hand, and imperfectly copied by ear from a representation : others were printed from piece-meal parts furrepti-'
tiously obtained from the theatres, uncorrect, and without the poet's knowledge. To some of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform those pieces which stole singly into the world in our author's life-time.
There are still other reasons, which may be supposed to have affected the whole set. When the players took upon them to publish his works entire, every theatre was ransacked to supply the copy; parts collected, which had gone through as many changes as performers, either from mutilations or additions made to them. Hence we derive many chasins and incoherences in the sense and matter. Scenes were frequently transposed, and shuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or sup-, posed convenience of some particular actor. Hence much confusion and impropriety has attended, and embarrassed the business and fable. To these obvious cauf.s of corruption it must be added, that our author has lain under the disadvantage of having his errors propagated and multiplied by time : because, for near a century, his works were published from the faulty copies, without the assistance of any intelligent editor : which has been the case likewise of many a clasick writer.
The nature of any distemper once found has generally been the inimediate step to a cure, Shakespeare's cafe has in a great measure resembled that of a corrupt clasick; and, consequently, the method of cure was likewise to bear a resemblance. By what means, and with what success, this cure has been effected on ancient writers, is too well known, and needs no formal illustration. The reputation, consequent on tasks of that nature, invited me to attempt the method here ; with this view, the hopes of restoring to the publick their greatest poet in his original purity : after having so long lain in a condition that was a disgrace to common sense. To this end I have ventured on a labour, that is the first affay of the kind on any modern author whatsoever. For the late edition of Milton by the learned Dr. Bentley is, in the main, a performance of another species. It is plain, it was the intention of that great man rather to correct and pare off the excrescencies of the Paradise Lost, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticise the Æneis of l'irgil, than to restore corrupted paffages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the iniquity or ignorance of his cenfurers, who, from some expressions, would make us believe, the doctor every where gives us his corrections as the original text of the author ; whereas the chief turn of his criticism is plainly to shew the world, that if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote so.
I thought proper to premise this observation to the readers, as it will shew that the critick on Shakespeare is of a quite different kind. His genuine text is for the most part religiously adhered to, and the numerous faults and blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is altered, but what by the clearest reasoning can be proved a corruption of the true text; and the alteration, a real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, so strictly have I strove to give the true reading, though sometimes not to the advantage of my author, that I have been ridiculously ridiculed for it by those, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to my disadvantage; or else were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.
The science of criticism, as far as it affects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three classes ; the emendation of corrupt passages; the explanation of obscure and difficult ones, and an enquiry into the beauties and defects of composition. This work is principally confined to the two former parts : though there are some specimens interspersed of the latter kind, as several of the emendations were best supported, and several of the difficulties best explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the composition peculiar to this immortal poet. But this was but occasional, and for the sake only of
perfecting the two other parts, which were the proper objects of the editor's labour. The third lies open for every willing undertaker : and I shall be pleased to see it the employment of a masterly pen.
It iuft necessarily happen, as I have formerly observed, that where the assistance of manuscripts is wanting to fet an author's meaning right, and rescue him froin those errors which have been transmitted down through a series of incorrect editions, and a long intervention of time, many passages must be desperate, and past a cure; and their true fense irretrievable either to care or the fagacity of conjecture. But is there any reason therefore to say, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left desperate ? We should shew very little honesty, or wisdom, to play the tyrants with an author's text ; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all adventures, and to the utter detriment of his fenfe and meaning : but to be so very reserved and cautious, as to interpose no relief or conjecture, where it manifestly labours and cries out for assistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent absurdity.
As there are very few pages in Shakespeare, upon which fome suspicions of depravity do not reasonably arise ; I have thought it my duty, in the first place, by a diligent and laborious collation, to take in the alfitances of all the older copies.
In his his crical plays, whenever our English chronicles, and in his tragedies, when Greek or Roman story could give any light, no pains have been omitted to fet passages right; by comparing my author with his originals; for, as I have frequently observed, he
was a close and accurate copier where-ever his fable was founded on history.
Where-ever the author's sense is clear and discoverable (though, perchance, low and trivial) I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of an ostentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old copies have done.
Where, through all the former editions, a passage has laboured under flat nonsense and invincible darkness, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, or a transposition in the pointing, I have restored to him both sense and sentiment; such corrections, I am persuaded, will need no indulgence.
And whenever I have taken a greater latitude and liberty in amending, I have constantly endeavoured to support my corrections and conjectures by parallel passages and authorities from himself, the surest means of expounding any author whatsoever. Cette voïe d'interpreter un autheur par lui-même est plus sure que tous les commentaires, says a very learned French critick.
As to my notes (from which the common and learned readers of our author, I hope, will derive some satisfaction) I have endeavoured to give them a variety in some proportion to their number. Whereever I have ventured at an emendation, a note is constantly subjoined to justify and assert the reason of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly set forth my grounds for such conjecture, and submit it to judgment. Some remarks are spent in explaining passages, where the wit or fatire depends on an obscure point of history : others, where allusions are to divinity, philosophy, or other branches of science. Some are added to shew, where there is a suspicion of our author having borrowed from the antients : others, to fhew where he is rallying his contemporaries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And some are necessarily thrown in, to explain