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There are fill other reafons, which may be fuppofed to have affected the whole fet. When the players took upon them to publifh his works entire, every theatre was ranfacked to fupply 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 chafms and incoherences in the fenfe and matter. Scenes were frequently tranfpofed, and fhuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or supposed convenience, of fome particular actor. Hence much confufion and impropriety has attended and embarraffed the bufiness and fable. To thefe 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 publifhed from the faulty copies, without the affiftance of any intelligent editor: which has been the cafe likewife of many a claffick writer.
The nature of any diftemper once found has generally been the immediate ftep to a cure. fpeare's cafe has in a great measure refembled that of a corrupt claffick; and, confequently, the method of cure was likewife to bear a refemblance. By what means, and with what fuccefs, this cure has been effected on ancient writers, is too well known, and needs no formal illuftration. The reputation, confequent on talks of that nature invited me to attempt the method here; with this view, the hopes of reftoring to the publick their greatest poet in his original purity, after having fo long lain in a condition that was a difgrace to common
fense. To this end I have ventured on a labour, that is the firft effay 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 fpecies. It is plain, it was the intention of that great man rather to correct and pare off the excrefcencies of the Paradife Loft, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticife the Eneis of Virgil, than to reftore corrupted paffages. Hence, therefore, may be feen either the iniquity or ignorance of his cenfurers, who, from fome expreffions 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 criticifm 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 obfervation to the readers, as it will fhew 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 cleareft reafoning can be proved a corruption of the true text; and the alteration, a real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, fo ftricly have I firove to give the true reading, though fometimes not to the advantage of my author, that I have been ridiculously ridiculed for it by thofe, who either were iniquitoufly for turning every thing to my difadvantage; or elfe were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.
The fcience of criticifm, as far as it effects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three claffes; the emendation of corrupt paffages; the explana tion of obfcure and difficult ones; and an enquiry into the beauties and defects of compofition. This work is principally confined to the two former parts: though there are feveral fpecimens interfperfed of the latter kind, as feveral of the emendations were beft fupported, and feveral of the difficulties. best explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the compofition peculiar to this immortal poet. But this was but occafional, and for 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 undertaker and I fhall be pleased to see it the employment of a masterly pen.
It must neceffarily happen, as I have formerly obferved, that where the affiftance of manufcripts is wanting to fet an author's meaning right, and refcue him from thofe errors which have been tranfmitted down through à feries of incorrect editions, and a long intervention of time, many paffages must be defperate, 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 becaufe all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left defperate? We fhould fhew very little honefty, or wifdom, to play the tyrants with an author's text; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all adventures, and to the utter detriment of his fense and meaning: but to be fo very reserved and cautious, as to interpofe M
no relief or conjecture, where it manifeftly labours and cries out for affiftance, feems, on the other hand, an indolent abfurdity.
As there are very few pages in Shakspeare, upon which fome fufpicions 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 affiftance of all the older copies.
In his hiftorical plays, whenever our English chronicles, and in his tragedies, when Greek or Roman ftory could give any light, no pains have been omitted to fet paffages right, by comparing my author with his originals: for, as I have frequently observed, he was a clofe and accurate copier wherever his fable was founded on history.
Wherever the author's fenfe is clear and dif coverable, (though perchance, low and trivial, ) I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of an oftentation of endeavouring to make him fpeak better than the old copies have done.
Where, through all the former editions, a paffage has laboured under flat nonfenfe and invincible darkness, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, or a tranfpofition in the pointing, I have reftored to him both fenfe and fentiment: fuch corrections, I am perfuaded, will need no indulgence.
And whenever I have taken a great latitude and liberty in amending, I have conflantly endeavoured to fupport my corrections and conjectures by parallel paffages and authorities from himfelf, the fureft ineans of expounding any author whatsoever.
voie d'interpréter un auteur par lui-même eft plus Jure que tous les commentaires, fays a very learned
As to my notes, (from which the common and learned readers of our author, I hope, will derive fome fatisfaction,) I have endeavoured to give them a variety in fome proportion to their number. Wherever I have ventured at an emendation, a note is conftantly fubjoined to justify and affert the reafon of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly fet forth my grounds for fuch a conjecture, and submit it to judgment. Some remarks are fpent in explaining paffages, where the wit or fatire depends on an obfcure point of hiftory: others, where allufions are to divinity, philofophy, or other branches of science. are added, to fhew where there is á fufpicion of our author having borrowed from the ancients : others, to fhew where he is rallying his contemporaries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And fome are neceffarily thrown in, to explain an obfcure and obfolete term, phrafe, or idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious gloffary; but as I have been importuned and am prepared to give a correct edition of our author's POEMS, (in which many terms occur that are not to be met with in his plays,) I thought a gloffary to all Shakspeare's works more proper to attend that
In reforming an infinite number of paffages in the pointing, where the sense was before quite loft, I have frequently fubjoined notes to fhew the depraved, and to improve the reformed, pointing: a part of labour in this work which I could very