« PreviousContinue »
conferred on that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant fonnetteer. *
What remains to be added concerning this republication is, that a considerable number of fresh remarks are both adopted and supplied by the present editors. They have persisted in their former track of reading for the illustration of their author, and canuot help observing that those who receive the benefit of explanatory extracts from ancient writers, little know at what expence of time and labour such atoms of intelligence have been collected. — That the foregoing information, however, may communicate no alarm, or induce the reader to suppose we have “bestowed our whole tedioufnels" on him, we should add, that many notes have likewise been withdrawn. A few, manifestly erroneous, are indeed retained, to show how much the tone of Shakspearian criticism is changed, or on account of the skill displayed in their confutation ; for surely every editor in his
* His sonnets, though printed without date, were entered in the year 1581 on the books of the Stationers' Company, under the title of “ Watson's Passions, manifesting the true frenzy of love."
Shakspeare appears to have been among the number of his readers, having in the following passage of Venus and Adonis, – • Leading him prisoner in a
red-rose chain" borrowed an idea from his 83d Sonnet:
" The Muses not long since intrapping love
• In chaines of roafes," &c. Watson, however, declares on this occasion that he imitated Ronsard; and it must be confessed, with equal truth, that in the present instance Ronsard had been a borrower from Anacreon,
turn is occasionally entitled to be seen, as he would have shown himself, with his vanquished adversary at his feet. We have therefore been sometimes willing to “ bring a corollary, rather than want a fpirit.” Nor, to confess the truth, did we always
. think it juftifiable to shrink our predecessors to piga mies, that we ourselves, by force of comparison, might assume the bulk of giants.
The present editors must also acknowledge, that unless in particular instances, where the voice of the publick had decided against the remarks of Dr. Johnson, they have hesitated to displace them; and had rather be charged with superstitious reverence for his name, than censured for a presumptuous disregard of his opinions.
As a large proportion of Mr. Monck Mason's ftrictures on a former edition of Shakspeare are here inserted, it has been thought necessary that as much of his Preface * as was designed to introduce them, should accompany their second appearance. Any formal recommendation of them is needless, as their own merit is sure to rank their author among the most diligent and fagacious of our celebrated Poet's annotators. It may be
proper, indeed, to observe that a few of these remarks are omitted because they had been anticipated ; and that a few others have excluded themselves by their own immoderate length; for he
* See p. 371.
who publishes a series of comments unattended by the text of his author, is apt to
" overflow the measure” allotted to marginal criticism. In these cases, either the commentator or the poet must give way, and no reader will patiently endure to see “ Alcides beaten by his page." — Inferior volat umbra deo. Mr. M. Mason will also forgive us if we add, that a small number of his proposed amendments are suppressed through honest commiseration. " 'Tis much he dares, and he has a wisdom that often guides his valour to act in safety;" yet occafionally he forgets the prudence that should attend conjecture, and therefore, in a few instances, would have been produced only to be persecuted. — May it be subjoined, that the freedom with which the same gentleman has treated the notes of others, seems to have authorized an equal degree of licence respecting his own? And yet, though the sword may have been drawn against him, he shall not complain that its point is “unbated and envenomed;" for the conductors of this undertaking do not scruple thus openly to express their wishes that it may have merit enough to provoke a revision from the acknowledged learning and perspicacity of their Hibernian coadjutor. -- Every re-impression of our great dramatick master's works must be considered in some degree as experimental; for their corruptions and obscurities are still fo numerous, and the progress of fortunate conjecture so tardy and uncertain, that
our remote descendants may be perplexed by passages that have perplexed us; and the readings which have hitherto disunited the opinions of the learned, may continue to disunite them as long as England and Shakspeare have a name. In Mort, the peculiarity
, once ascribed to the poetick ifle of Delos, may be exemplified in our author's text, which on account of readings alternately received and reprobated, must remain in an unsettled state, and float in obedience to every gale of contradictory criticism. - Could a perfect and decisive edition of the following scenes be produced, it were to be expected only (though we fear in vain) from the hand of Dr. Farmer, whose more serious avocations forbid him to undertake what every reader would delight to pofsefs.
But as we are often reminded by our " brethren of the craft,” that this or that emendation, however apparently necessary, is not the genuine text of Shakspeare, it might be imagined that we had received this text from its fountain head, and were therefore certain of its purity. Whereas few literary occurrences are better understood, than that it came down to us discoloured by “the variation of every soil” through which it had flowed, and that it stagnated at last in the muddy reservoir of the first folio.*
In plainer terms, that the vitiations * It will perhaps be urged, that to this first folio we are indebted for the only copies of fixteen or seventeen of our author's plays. True : but may not our want of yet earlier and less corrupted editions of these very dramas be solely attributed to the monopolizing vigilance of its
of a careless theatre were seconded by those of as ignorant a press. The integrity of dramas thus prepared for the world, is juft on a level with the innocence of females nursed in a camp and educated in a bagnio.
As often therefore as we are told, that by admitting corrections warranted by common sense and the laws of metre, we have not rigidly adhered to the text of Shakspeare, we shall entreat our opponents to exchange that phrase for another
more germane," and say instead of it, that we have deviated from the text of the publishers of single plays in quarto, or their fucceffors, the editors of the first folio; that we have sometimes followed the suggestions of a Warburton, a Johnson, a Farmer, or a Tyrwhitt, in preference to the decifions of a Hemings or a Condell, notwithstanding their choice of readings might have been influenced by associates whose high-founding names cannot fail to enforce respect, viz. William Oftler, John, Shanke, William Sly, and Thomas Poope.* editors, Messieurs Hemings and Condell? Finding they had been deprived of some tragedies and comedies which, when opportunity offered, they designed to publish for their own emolument, they redoubled their solicitude to withhold the reft, and were but too successo ful in their precaution. “ Thank fortune (says the original putterforth of Troilus and Cressida) for the scape hath made amongst you; fince by the grand poffeffors' wills, I believe, you should have pray'd for it rather than beene pray'd, "--Had quartos of Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, All's well that ends well, &c. been sent into the world, froin how many corruptions might the text of all these dramas have been secured!
* Sce firft Folio, &c. for the List of A&ors in our author's Plays.