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conjectures are generally abfurd and extravagant, and violating every rule of criticifm. Though, in this rage of correcting, he was not abfolutely deftitute of all art. For, having a number of my conjectures before him, he took as many of them as he faw fit, to work upon; and by changing them to fomething, he thought, fynonymous or fimilar, he made them his own; and fo became a critick at a cheap expence. But how well he hath fucceeded in this, as likewife in his conjectures, which are properly his own, will be feen in the courfe of my remarks; though, as he hath declined to give the reasons for his interpolations, he hath not afforded me fo fair a hold of him as Mr. Theobald hath done, who was lefs cautious. But his principal object was to reform his author's numbers; and this, which he hath done, on every occafion, by the infertion or omiffion of a fet of harmless unconcerning expletives, makes up the grofs body of his innocent corrections. And fo, in fpite of that extreme negligence in numbers, which diftinguifhes the first dramatick writers, he hath tricked up the old bard, from head to foot, in all the finical exactness of a modern measurer of fyllables.
For the reft, all the corrections, which these two editors have made on any reasonable foundation, are here admitted into the text; and carefully af figned to their respective authors: a piece of juftice which the Oxford editor never did; and which the other was not always fcrupulous in obferving towards me. To conclude with them in a word, they separately poffeffed thofe two qualities which, more than any other, have contributed to bring the art of criticism into difrepute, dulnefs of apprehenfion, and extravagance of conjecture.
I am now to give fome account of the present
undertaking. For as to all thofe things which have been published under the titles of Ffsays, Remarks, Obfervations, &c. on Shakspeare, (if you except fome critical notes on Macbeth,8 given as a fpecimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius,) the reft are abfolutely below a serious notice.
The whole a critick can do for an author, who deserves his service, is to correct the faulty text; to remark the peculiarities of language; to illuftrate the obfcure allufions; and to explain the beauties and defects of fentiment or compofition. And furely, if ever author had a claim to this fervice, it was our Shakspeare; who, widely excelling in the knowledge of human nature, hath given to his infinitely varied pictures of it, fuch truth of defign, fuch force of drawing, fuch beauty of colouring, as was hardly ever equalled by any writer, whether his aim was the ufe, or only the entertainment of mankind. The notes in this edition, therefore, take in the whole compass of criticifm.
I. The first fort is employed in restoring the poet's genuine text; but in those places only where it labours with inextricable nonfenfe. In which, how much foever I may have given scope to critical conjecture, where the old copies failed me, I have indulged nothing to fancy or imagination; but have religiously obferved the fevere canons of literal criticism, as may be feen from the reasons accompanying every alteration of the common text. Nor would a different conduct have become a critick, whofe greatest attention, in this part, was to vindicate the established reading from interpola
Published in 1745, by Dr. Johnson. REED,
tions occafioned by the fanciful extravagancies of others. I once intended to have given the reader a body of canons, for literal criticifm, drawn out in form; as well fuch as concern the art in general, as thofe that arife from the nature and circumftances of our author's works in particular. And this for two reafons. Firft, to give the unlearned reader a juft idea, and confequently a better opinion of the art of criticifm, now funk very low in the popular efteem, by the attempts of some who would needs exercife it without either natural or acquired talents; and by the ill fuccefs of others, who feemed to have loft both, when they came to try them upon English authors. Secondly, To deter the unlearned writer from wantonly trifling with an art he is a ftranger to, at the expence of his own reputation, and the integrity of the text of established authors. But thefe ufes may be well fupplied by what is occafionally faid upon the fubject, in the courfe of the following remarks.
II. The fecond fort of notes confifts in an explanation of the author's meaning, when by one or more of thefe caufes it becomes obfcure; either from a licentious ufe of terms, or a hard or ungrammatical conftruction; or laftly, from far-fetched or quaint allufions.
1. This licentious ufe of words is almoft peculiar to the language of Shakspeare. To common terms he hath affixed meanings of his own, unauthorized by ufe, and not to be juftified by analogy. And this liberty he hath taken with the nobleft parts of speech, fuch as mixed modes; which, as they are moft fufceptible of abuse, so their abuse much hurts the clearness of the difcourfe. The criticks (to whom Shakspeare's licence was ftill as much a fecret as his meaning which that licence
had obfcured) fell into two contrary mistakes; but equally injurious to his reputation and his writings. For fome of them, obferving a darkness that pervaded his whole expreffion, have cenfured him for confufion of ideas and inaccuracy of reafoning. In the neighing of a horfe (fays Rymer) or in the growling of a mastiff, there is a meaning, there is a lively exprefsion, and, may I fay, more humanity than many times in the tragical flights of Shakspeare. The ignorance of which cenfure is of a piece with its brutality. The truth is, no one thought clearer, or argued more closely, than this immortal bard. But his fuperiority of genius lefs needing the intervention of words in the act of thinking, when he came to draw out his contemplations into difcourse, he took up (as he was hurried on by the torrent of his matter) with the first words that lay in his way; and if, amongst these, there were two mixed modes that had but a principal idea in common, it was enough for him; he regarded them as fynonymous, and would use the one for the other without fear or fcruple. Again, there have been others, fuch as the two laft editors, who have fallen into a contrary extreme; and regarded Shakspeare's anomalies (as we may call them) amongst the corruptions of his text; which, therefore, they have cafhiered in great numbers, to make room for a jargon of their own. This hath put me to additional trouble; for I had not only their interpolations to throw out again, but the genuine text to replace, and establish in its ftead; which, in many cafes, could not be done without fhowing the peculiar fenfe of the terms, and explaining the caufes which led the poet to so perverfe a ufe of them. I had it once, indeed, in my defign, to give a general alphabetick glossary of thofe
terms; but as each of them is explained in its proper place, there feemed the lefs occafion for fuch an index.
2. The poet's hard and unnatural conftruction had a different original. This was the effect of mistaken art and defign. The publick tafte was in its infancy; and delighted (as it always does during that state) in the high and turgid; which leads the writer to difguife a vulgar expreffion with hard and forced conftruction, whereby the fentence frequently becomes cloudy and dark. Here his criticks fhow their modefty, and leave him to himself. For the arbitrary change of a word doth little towards difpelling an obfcurity that arifeth, not from the licentious ufe of a fingle term, but from the unnatural arrangement of a whole fentence. And they rifqued nothing by their filence. For Shakspeare was too clear in fame to be fufpected of a want of meaning; and too high in fashion for any one to own he needed a critick to find it out. Not but, in his best works, we muft allow, he is often fo natural and flowing, fo pure and correct, that he is even a model for ftyle and language.
3. As to his far-fetched and quaint allufions, these are often a cover to common thoughts; juft as his hard conftruction is to common expreffion. When they are not fo, the explanation of them has this further advantage, that, in clearing the obfcurity, you frequently difcover fome latent conceit not unworthy of his genius.
III. The third and laft fort of notes is concerned in a critical explanation of the author's beauties and defects; but chiefly of his beauties, whether in style, thought, fentiment, character, or compofition. An odd humour of finding fault hath long prevailed amongst the criticks; as if nothing