Page images

There are fill other reasons, which may be fupposed 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; and parts collected, which had gone through as many changes as performers, either from mutilations or additions made to them.

Hence we derive many chasms and incoherences in the sense and inatter. Scenes were frequently tranfpofed, and shuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or supposed convenience, of some particular actor. Hence much confusion and impropriety has attended and embarrassed the bufiness and fable. To these obvious caufes 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 classick writer.

The nature of any distemper once found has generally been the immediate step to a cure. Shakspeare's case has in a great measure resembled that of a corrupt clasick; and, consequently, the method of cure was likewise to bear a resemblance.

Ву 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 talks 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 pyrity, after having so long lain in a condition that was a disgrace to common

[ocr errors]

sense. To this end I have ventured on a labour, that is the first essay 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 excrefcencies of the Paradise Loft. in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticise the Æneis of Virgil, than to restore corrupted passages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the iniquity or ignorance of his censurers, who, from fome 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 fhew the world, that, if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote fo.

I thought proper to premise this observation to the readers, as it will shew that the critick on Shakspeare 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 coruption of the true text; and the alteration, a real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, so stridly have I sirove 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 effects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three clases; 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 several 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 foř the fake only of perfecting the two other parts, which were the proper objects of the editor's labour. The third lies open for every willing un.

: dertaker: and I shall be pleased to see it the employment of a masterly pen.

It must 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 from 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 fenfe irretrievable either to care or the fagacity of conjecture. But is there any reason therefore to fay, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left defperate? We should shew very little honesty, or wisdom, to play the tyrants with an author's text; to raze, alter, inno: vate, and overturn, at all adventures, and to the utter detriment of his sense and meaning: but to be fo very reserved and cautious, as to interpose

VOL. ),


no relief or conjecture, where it manifestly labours and cries out for affiftance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent absurdity.

As there are very few pages in Shakspeare, upon which some 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 assistance of all the older copies.

In his historical plays, whenever our English chronicles, and in his tragedies, when Greek or Roman story could give any light, no pains have been omitted to set passages right, by comparing my author with his originals : for, as I have frequently observed, he was a close and accurate copier wherever his fable was founded on history.

Wherever the author's fenfe is clear and disa coverable, (though perchance, low and trivial, ) I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of an ostentation of endeavouring to make him fpeak 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 letter or two, or a tranfposition in the pointing, I have restored to him both sense and sentiment: fuch corrections, I am persuaded, will need no indulgence.

And whenever I have taken a great latitude and liberty in amending, I have conflantly endeavoured to suppost

' my corrections and conjectures by parallel passages and authorities from himself, the furest ineans of expounding any author whatsoever. Cette


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

voie d'interpréter un auteur par lui-même est plus Jure 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: Wherever I have ventured at an emendation, a note is constantly subjoined to justify and assert the reafon of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly set forth my grounds for such a conjecture, and submit it to judgment. Some remarks are spent in explaining passages, where the wit or satire 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 ancients : others, to shew where he is rallying his contempos raries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And some are necessarily thrown in, to explain an obscure and obfolete term, phrase, or idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious glosary; but as I have been importuned and am prepared to give a correct edition of our author's PoĖMS, (in which many terms occur that arë not to be met with in his plays,) I thought a glosary to all Shakspeare's works more proper to attend thaè volume.

In reforming an infinite number of passages in the pointing, where the sense was before quite loft, I have frequently subjoined notes to fhew the depraved, and to improve the reformed, pointing : part of labour in this work which I could very


« PreviousContinue »