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piling Grammars and Dictionaries, endeavour, with all their Influence, to ftop the Licence of Translatours, whofe Idieness and Ignorance, if it be suf. fered to proceed, will reduce us to babble a Dialect of France.
If the Changes that we fear be thus irresistible what remains but to acquiefce with Silence, as in the other infurmountable Distreffes of Humani. ty? It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure.
Life may be tengthened by Care, though Death cannot be ultimately defeated : Tongues, like Governments, have a natural Tendency to Degeneration; we have long preferved our Constitution, let us make some Struggles for our Language.
In Hope of giving Longevity to that which its own Nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this Book, the Labour of Years, to the Honour of my Country, that we may no longer yield the Palm of Philology to the Nations of the Continent. The chief Glory of every People arises from its AuThours! Whether I thall add any Thing by my own Writings to the Reputation of English Literature, must be left to Time : Much of my Life has been loft under the Preffures of Disease ; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in Provision for the Day that was passing over me ; but I shall not think my Employment useless or ignoble, if by my Assistance foreign Nations, and distant Ages, gain Access to the Propagators of Knowledge, and understand the Teachers of Truth ; if my Labours afford Light to the Repositories of Science, and add Celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton and to Boyle.
When I am animated by this Wish I look with Pleasure on my Book, however defective, and dea liver it to the World with the Spirit of a Man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately be
come popular, I have not promised to myself: A. few wild Blunders, and rigble Abfurdities, from which no Work of such Multiplicity was ever free, may for a Time furnish Folly with Laughter, and harden Ignorance into Contempt; but ulesul Diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some who distinguish Desert; who will consider that no Dictionary of a living Tongue ever can be perfect, fince, while it is baftening to Publication, lome Words are budding, and some falling &way ; that a whole Life cannot be spent upon Syntax and Etymology; and that even a whole Life would not be sufficient; that he, whose Design includes whatever Language can express, muit ofter speak of what he does not understand ; that a Writer will sometimes be hurried by Eagerness to the End, and sometimes faint with Weariness under a Taik, which Scaliger compares to the Labours of the Anvil and the Mine, that whatisobviousis not always known, and what is known is not always present, that sudden Fits of Inadvertency will surprise Vigilance, flight Avocations will seduce Attention, and casual Eclipses of the Mind will darken Learning; and that the Writer shall often in vain trace his Memory, at the Moment of Need, for that which Yesterday he knew with intuitive Readiness, and which will come un called into his Thoughts To-morrow.
In this Work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed ; and thoug.la no Book was ever fpared out of Tenderness to the Authour, and the World is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the Faults of that which it condemns; yet it may gratify Curiosity to inform it, that the English Dictianary was written with little Aslistance of the Learn. ed, and without any Patronage of the Great ; not in the soft Obfcurities of Retirement, or under the Shelter of academick Bowers, but amidst Inconver
nience and Distraction, in Sickness and in Sorrow : And it may repress the Triumph of malignant Criticism to observe, 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 immutably fixed, and comprised in a few Volumes, be yet, after the Toil of successive Ages, inadequate and delusive ; if the aggregated Knowledge, and cooperating Diligence, of the Italian Academicians, did not secure them from the Censure 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 second Edition another Form, I may surely be contented without the Praise 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 Success and Miscarriage are empty Sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid Tranquility, having little to fear or hope from Censure or from Praise.
HEN the Works of Shakespeare are, after
so many Editions, again offered to the Publick, it will doubtless be enquired, why Shakespeare Itands in more Need of critical Assistance than any other of the English Writers, and what are the Deficiencies of the late Attempts, which another Editor may hope to supply.
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 since the Use of Types, almost peculiar to Shakespeare. Most Writers, by pub. lishing their own Works, prevent all various Readings, and preclude all conjectural Criticism. Books indeed are sometimes published after the Death of him who produced them; but they are better secured from Corruption than these unfortunate ComposiLions. They subsist in a single Copy, written or
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 Transcript after Tran, script, 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 last without the Concurrence of the Authour, without the Confent of the Proprietor, from Compilations made by Chance or by Stealth out of the separate Parts written for the Theatre: And thus thrust into the World surreptitiously and hastily, they suffered another De pravation from the Ignorance and Negligence of the Printers, as every Man who knows the State of the Press in that Age will readily conceive.
It is not easy for Invention to bring together fo many Causes concurring to vitiate the Text. No other Authour ever gave up his works to Fortune and Time with so little Care: No Books could be left in Hands so likely to injure them, as Plays frequently acted, yet continued in Manuscript: Noother Transcribers were likely to be so little qualified for their Talk as those who copied for the Stage, at a Time when the lower Ranks of the People were universally illiterate: No other Editions were made from Fragments fo minutely broken, and so fortui tously reunited ; and in no other Age was the Art of Printing in such unskilful Hands.
With the Causes of Corruption that make the Revisal of Shakespeare's Dramatick Pieces necessary, may be enumerated the Causes of Obscurity, which may be partly įmputed 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 necessarily obscure. Every Age has