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thrown light upon it is unhappily no more.
We are reduced, therefore, to the alternative of examining the internal evidence which the contents of the volume afford. Now Mr. Collier implies, and insinuates in almost every page, that the corrections may have been, nay, were, derived from some old authentic source, and that therefore there is no appeal from their authority! Had he fortuned to chance upon some autograph remains of Shakespeare, (and I sincerely wish he yet may do so, in order that he may make the first bonfire on the occasion with his volume of Notes and Emendations and his PseudoShakespeare,) he could not have urged a more strenuous and decided claim to have them accepted as unequivocal authority! This is to be regretted, for it has been justly observed that such an uncompromising claim to authority excites a natural repugnance against enforced opinion, and endangers the success of the few suggestive emendations his volume affords.
The following pages will however clearly demonstrate how very far from probable, or even possible, it is that the correctors of this volume had any ancient authority
for their doings; that, on the contrary, the greater part of them are adopted from recent annotators; and that, of what are original, or can be considered new readings, abundance are changes for the worse, and a still larger number entirely unnecessary and impertinent!
Such a number of glaring mistakes and misapprehensions of the language of the poet have never before appeared at once among all the voluminous comments which have from time to time been published; and the reader has only to refer to the blunders about the words strain, voyage, imperseverant, and carve,' to be convinced that such fatal perversions of the language of the poet could not have been made by any one who could be at all held to have had old authority for what he or they have done. Indeed, it has been observed, that many of the substitutions bear such evident marks of savouring of modern phraseology, as to render it highly improbable that they were made by any one living at an earlier period than the last century. This is a conviction which nothing but the discovery of the "authorities" upon which Mr. Collier dwells would have power to shake. We can therefore yield to these manuscript corrections no more credit than we should give those of any other anonymous note-writer, whether printed or manuscript, and proceed to scrutinize their merits and defects, by which they must stand or fall.
When Mr. Collier published his first edition of Shakespeare, begun in 1842, and finished in 1844, he was a strict conservative, and his notes afford critical canons
* See pages 6, 27, 74, 301-2, 308-9, and PASSIM for other in
which are entirely at issue with his recent conduct. Thus, in one place, he tells us: "There cannot, we apprehend, be a moment's doubt as to the propriety of adhering to the text of every old edition, and of rejecting that of every modern one." (Vol. iv. p. 137.) Again: "Malone and the modern editors silently omit 'an,' probably under the notion that they had a right to correct Shakespeare's metre"! And speaking of one of Malone's additions to the text, he says: "To insert lines of his own is a province of a commentator of which we never before heard; but this is an error to be pointed out by an annotator, not to be corrected in Malone's mode." (Vol. iv. p. 146.) How strenuously he opposed himself to alterations for the sake of the rhyme, such as he now advocates, (even when they were manifestly required from the whole of the dialogue being in rhyme,) will appear from his rejection of Theobald's judicious alteration in Midsummer-Night's Dream:
"And in the wood, where often you and I
Mr. Collier adheres to the old evidently erroneous readings swell'd and companions. Yet he would now admit uncalled for rhymes substituted where they are by no means so clearly indicated. What can have converted Mr. Collier to such an entirely opposite extreme of revolutionary rashness? Is it that he has found the adherence to long-exploded typographical errors and evidently erroneous readings had been urged against his edition, and had prevented it from becom
ing extensively popular, and that the discovery of his pseudo-antique commentary afforded him an apt excuse for furnishing a more readable text? It has been remarked that convertites are very prone to fall into a course opposite in the extreme to that which had guided them before conversion; and from Mr. Collier's volume of Notes and Emendations, as well as from the garbled one-volume edition of Shakespeare he has just put forth, it is but too evident that this is the case with him. The following canons have been deduced from the course he has recently pursued and advocated :—
A professed critic on Shakespeare has a right to declare that his author wrote whatever he thinks he should have written, with as much positiveness as if he had been at his elbow.
Should lines or rhymes seem to him to be wanting, he may boldly supply them without much regard to the sense of the context; and he may re-write, or re-construct any passage which he fancies he can "improve.”
He has a right to alter what he does not understand, even when parallel passages in the poet might be adduced to explain the meaning.
These alterations he may make in spite of the evidence afforded by the old copies, even where perfectly intelligible, upon the plea of lines having too few or too many syllables, according to finger scansion.
Where he does not like an expression, he may call it "awkward," and impute the defect to the author, or he may condemn it as an interpolation.
He may find out obsolete words, or coin new ones, and put them in the place of such as he does not like or does not understand.
He may prove a reading, or support an explanation by any sort of reasons, no matter whether good or bad; and call that" illogical" which his own want of logic prevents him from comprehending.
He may interpret his author, so as to make him appear to mean directly the contrary to what he says.
He should extirpate all poetical licenses, or playful banter, which he does not understand.
He may explain a difficult passage by circumlocution, which shall be less intelligible than the passage he has to explain.
He may contradict his own assertions without any
regard to consistency, and what was at one time impos
sible, may be at another not only possible, but indisputable.