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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 Shakspeare.
"The edition now propofed will at leaft 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 affistance, then begins the task of critical fagacity: and fome changes may well be admitted in a text never fettled by the author, 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 Shakspeare, 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 ftudious of his author'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 endeavour to read the books which the author read, to trace his knowledge to its fource, and compare his copies with the originals. If in this part of his design he hopes to attain any degree of fuperiority 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, tỏ declare the truth, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were: very ignorant of the ancient English literature; Dr. Warburton was detained by more important ftudies and Mr. Theobald, if fame be juft to his memory, confidered learning only as an inftrument of gain, and made no further inquiry after his author'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 Shakspeare with thofe of writers who lived at the fame time, immediately preceded, or immediately followed him, he fhall be able to afcertain his ambiguities, difentangle his intricacies, and recover the meaning of words now loft in the darkness 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 VOL. I.
the fenfe is broken by the fuppreffion of part of the fentiment in pleasantry or paffion, the connection 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 supported by the authorities of other writers, or by parallel paffages of Shakspeare himself.
"The obfervation of faults and beauties is one of the duties of an annotator, which fome of ShakIpeare's editors have attempted, and some have neglected. For this part of his task, and for this only, was Mr. Pope eminently and indifputably qualified: nor has Dr. Warburton followed him with lefs diligence or lefs fuccefs. But I never obferved that mankind was much delighted or improved by their afterifks, commas, or double commas; of which the only effect is, that they preclude the pleafure of judging for ourselves, teach the young and ignorant to decide without principles; defeat curiofity and discernment by leaving them lefs to dif◄ cover; and, at laft, fhew the opinion of the critick, without the reafons 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 fcenes of nature, a reprefentation of general life, a fentiment of reflection or experience, a deduction of conclufive argument, a forcible eruption of effervefcent paffion, are to be confidered as proportionate to common apprehenfion, unaffisted
by critical officioufnefs; fince to conceive them, nothing more is requifite than acquaintance with the general ftate of the world, and thofe faculties which he must always bring with him who would read Shakspeare.
"But when the beauty arifes from fome adaptation of the fentiment 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 paffages.
The editor does not however intend to preclude himself from the comparison of Shakspeare's fentiments or expreffion with thofe of ancient or modern authors, or from the difplay of any beauty not obvious to the ftudents of poetry; for as he hopes to leave his author better understood, he wilhes 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 pofterity may confider it as including all the reft, and exhibit whatever is hitherto known of the great father of the English drama."
Though Dr. Johnson has here pointed out with his ufual perfpicuity and vigour, the true courfe to be taken by an editor of Shakspeare, fome of the pofitions which he has laid down may be controverted, and fome are indubitably not true. It is
not true that the plays of this author were more incorrectly printed than thofe of any of his contemporaries: for in the plays of Marlowe, Marston, Fletcher, Maflinger, and others, as many errors may be found. It is not true that the art of printing was in no other age in fo unfkilful hands. Nor is it true, in the latitude in which it is ftated, that "these plays were printed from compilations made by chance or by ftealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre : two only of all his dramas, The Merry Wives of Windfor and King Henry V. appear to have been thus thruft into the world, and of the former it is yet a doubt whether it is a firft sketch or an imperfect copy. I do not believe that words were then adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, or that an antiquated diction was then employed by any poet but Spenfer. That the obfcurities of our author, to whatever cause they may be referred, do not arise from the paucity of contemporary writers, the prefent edition may furnifh indifputable evidence. And laftly, if it be true, that "very few of Shakfpeare's lines were difficult to his audience, and that he ufed fuch expreffions as were then common," (a pofition of which I have not the smallest doubt,) it cannot be true, that his reader is embarraffed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with obfoletenefs and innovation.
When Mr. Pope first undertook the task of revifing thefe plays, every anomaly of language, and every expreffion that was not underflood at that time, were confidered as errors or corruptions, and the text was altered, or amended, as it was called, at pleasure. The principal writers of the early part