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To set an example in this kind, which I trust will be very generally followed, I mean to offer to my readers certain lucubrations on the text of Shakespeare, and of Beaumont and Fletcher, which if they should at first sight appear of very trivial importance, will yet, I hope, on farther consideration, be found about the most innocent in which a man of letters can engage, and really quite as useful as any other. There are already books enough in the world upon all subjects human and divinetheology, politics, philosophy, poems, &c.--and if, instead of writing more, men would henceforth be contented to understand perfectly those which they have, I believe they would find their account in it. I must, therefore, look upon commentators, however much they may be despised in this pretending age, to be about the most useful writers whom it is capable of producing, and if they only shew in some disputed passages of our great wits of former times, that the word of, for instance, ought to be read for the word to, their labours, in my humble opinion, are of a more beneficial tendency to society, than one half of the speculations with which the world hath been amused for the last fifty years. These truths appear to me so self-evident, that I will not insult my reader's judgment with attempting to prove them; and so, without any farther preamble, I shall proceed to lay before him my observations above-mentioned, upon the text of our great dramatists, which I humbly present to
the world, as the model upon which all future commentators are expected to form themselves.
In commenting upon our immortal SHAKESPEARE, who, by the way, hath been dead 200 years all but two, I will begin with the play of CYMBELINE, the first sentence of which presenteth a difficulty of no common magnitude. Two gentlemen are introduced, conversing upon what is passing in the court ; the one of whom says to the other,
You do not meet a man but frowns; our bloods
Still seem, as does the king's, Upon which Warburton 'remarketh, that“ bloods" ought to be s brows;" and Sir Thomas Hanmer reads " our looks, no more obey the heart, even than our courtiers'." Now reader, let me inform thee once for all, that it is a principle with me, never to make any change in the text which is not absolutely necessary, but that I do not scruple about new-pointing, or introducing parentheses, whenever they seem convenient. All the change I would make in this passage is, to remove the point after “ courtiers,” and then the meaning of the sentence is --- our bloods or natural feelings do not more certainly obey the impulses of heaven or the laws of our constitution, than our courtiers still seem as does the king's, or put on the appearance of being actuated with the same feelings which influence the king,"
In the fourth scene of this first act, Pisanio is introduced describing to Imogen the manner of her husband's departure, to whom he says,
-. .. So long i
How could Posthumus (saith Warburton) make himself distinguished by his ear to Pisanio ? He changes, therefore, his in the first line, to this ;and such is the reading adopted in the latter editions. But if a comma is put after the word 6 eye,” the meaning of the expression is, “ SÓ long as he could make or discern me with his eye, or ear could distinguish his voice from that of others, he did keep the deck," &c.
In the fourth scene of the second act, the villain Iachimo describes the appearances which he observed in Imogen's bed-chamber, when he accomplished, as he pretends, his designs upon her chastity :
It was hang'd
Proud Cleopatra, when she met her Roman, . '
The press of boats, or pride : a piece of work
“ This passage (saith Mr Monke Mason) is nonsense as it stands, and therefore the editors have supposed it to be an imperfect sentence. But I believe we should amend it by reading, * Such the true life on't was,' instead of since.” It is here necessary for thee, reader, to recollect, that the time of this play is laid in the reign of Augustus Cæsar. Iachimo, therefore, merely says, that he wonders the painter could have had time to paint so perfectly the story of Cleopatra during the short period that had elapsed since the events really happened, “ since the true life on't was." There is accordingly no need either for Mr M. Mason's emendation, or for supposing the sentence imperfect.
In the letter of Posthumus to Imogen, introduced in the second scene of the third act, there is the following sentence : « Justice and your father's wrath, should he take me in his dominion, could not be so cruel to me, as you, O the dearest of creatures, would even renew me with your eyes.” Mr M. Mason says, “ This passage, which is probably erroneous, is nonsense, unless we suppose that the word as has the force
of but." And Mr Malone hath introduced the word not before “ even renew me,” '&c. which hath since been adopted in the approved editions of our poet's works, The sentence, as it originally stood, is perfectly intelligible. « Your father cannot be so cruel to me as you will renew me, or cannot so much hurt me by his cruelty as you can restore me by your presence.”
These slight illustrations will, I think, satisfy my intelligent readers, that former commentators have been somewhat too hasty in removing original readings, and substituting their own imaginary ones. In some of the examples which follow, he will find still greater liberties of the same kind, which have now taken such deep root in the text, that it will be somewhat difficult to get rid of them.
The fine scene between Belarius and his two pupils, which is the third of the third act, opens with these words, as they are given in all the later editions : Belarius says,
A goodly day not to keep house, with such
Now the reader must be informed, that the original word in the second line, which is now given