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PREF A C E.
T hath been no unusual thing for Writers, when disfatisfied with the Patronage or Judge
ment of their own Times, to appeal to Porterity for a fair Hearing. Some have even thought fit to apply to it in the first Instance ; and to decline Acquaintance with the Public till Envy and Prejudice had quite subsided. But, of all the Trusters to Futurity, commend me to the Author of the following Poems, who not only left it to Time to do him Justice as it would, but to find him out as it could. For, what between too great Attention to his Profit as a Player, and too little to his Reputation as a Poet, his Works, left to the Care of Door-keepers and Prompters, hardly escaped the common Fate of those Writings, how good foever, which are abandoned to their own Fortune, and unprotected by Party or Cabal. At length, indeed, they struggled into Light; but so disguised and travested, that no claffic Author, after having runten secular Stages thro' the blind Cloisters of Monks and Canons, ever came out in half so maimed and mangled a Condition. But for a full Account of his Disorders, I refer the Reader to the excellent Discourse which follows, and turn myself to consider the Remedies that have been
applied to them.
Shakespear's Works, when they escaped the Players, did not fall into much better Hands when they came amongst Printers and Booksellers: who, to say the Truth, had, at first, but small Encouragement for putting him into a better Condition. The stubborn Nonsense, with which he was incrusted, occasioned his lying long neglected amongst the common Lumber of the Stage. And when that resistless Splendor, which now shoots all around him, had, by degrees, broke thro' the Shell of those Impurities, his dazzled Admirers became as suddenly insenfible to the extraneous Scurf that still stuck
upon him, as they had been before to the native Beauties that lay under it. So that, as then, he was thought not to deserve a Cure, he was now supposed not to necd any.
His growing Eminence, however, required that he should be used with Ceremony: And he foon had his Appointment, of an Editor in form. But the Bookseller, whose dealing was with Wits, having learnt of them, I know not what filly Maxiin, that none but a Poet should prefume to meddle with a Poet, engaged the ingenious Mr. Rowe to undertake this Employment. A Wit indeed he was; but fo utterly unacquainted with the whole Business of Criticism, that he did not even collate or consult the first Editions of the Work he undertook to publish ; but contented himself with giving us a meagre Account of the Author's Life, interlarded with some common-place Scraps from his Writings. The Truth is, Sbakespear's Condition was yet but ill anderstood. The Nonsense, now, by consent, received for his own, was held in a kind of Reverence for its Age and Author: and thus it continued, till another great Poet broke the Charm by shewing us, that the higher we went, the less of it was still to be found.
For the Proprietors, not discouraged by their Girft unsuccessful Effort, in due time, made a second; and, tho' they still stuck to their Poets, with infinitely more Success in their Choice of Mr. Pope. Who by the mere force of an uncommon Genius, without any particular Study or Profession of this Art, discharged the great Parts of it so well as to make his Edition the best Foundation for all further Improvements. He separated the genuine from the spurious Plays : And, with equal Judgment, tho’not always with the fame Success, attempted to clear the genuine Plays from the interpolated Scenes: He then consulted the old Editions; and, by a careful Collation of them, rectified the faulty, and supplied the imperfect Reading, in a great number of Places : And lastly, in an admirable Preface, hath drawn a general, but very lively, Sketch of ShakeSpear's poetic Character; and, in the corrected Text, marked out those peculiar Strokes of Genius which were most proper to support and illustrate that Character. Thus far Mr. Pope. And altho' much more was to be done before Shakespear could be restored to himself, (such as amending the corrupted Text where the printed Books afford no Assistance ; explaining his. licentious Phraseology and obscure Allusions; and illustrating the Beauties
of his Poetry :) yet, with great Modesty and Prudence, our illustrious Editor left this to the Critic by Profession.
But nothing will give the common Reader a better Idea of the Value of Mr. Pope's Edition, than the two Attempts which have been since made, by Mr. Theobald and Sir Thomas Hanmer, in Opposition to it. Who, altho' they concerned themselves only in the first of these three Parts of Criticism, the restoring the Text, (without any Conception of the second, or venturing even to touch upon
the third) yet succeeded so
very ill in it, that they left their Author in ten times a worse Condition than they found him. But, as it was my ill Fortune to have some accidental Connexions with these two Gentlemen, it will be incumbent on me to be a little more particular concerning them.
The One was recommended to me as a poor Man; the Other as a poor Critic : and to each of them, at different times, I communicated a great number of Observations, which they managed, as they saw fit, to the Relief of their feveral Distresses. As to Mr. Theobald, who wanted Money, I allowed him to print what I gave him for his own Advantage: and he allowed himself in the Liberty of taking one Part for his own, and sequestering another for the Benefit, as I supposed, of some future Edition. But, as to the Oxford Editor, who wanted nothing, but what he might very well be without, the Reputation of a Critic, I could not so easily forgive him for trafficking with my Papers without
my Knowledge ; and, when that Project failid, for employing a number of my Conjectures in his Edition against my express Desire not to have that Honour done unto me.
Mr. Theobald was naturally turned to Industry and Labour. What he read he could transcribe: but, as what he thought, if ever he did think, he could but ill express, so he read on; and, by that means got a Character of Learning, without risquing, to every Observer, the Imputation of wanting a better Talent. By a punctilious Collation of the old Books, he corrected what was manifestly wrong in the latter Editions, by what was manifestly right in the earlier. And this is his real Merit; and the whole of it. For where the Phrase was very obsolete or licentious in the common Books, or only slightly corrupted in the other, he wanted fufficient Knowledge of the Progress and various Stages of the English Tongue, as well as Acquaintance with the Peculiarity of Shakespear's Language to understand what was right; nor had he either common Judgment to fee, or critical Sagacity to amend, what was manifestly faulty. Hence he generally exerts his conjectural Talent in the wrong Place: He tampers with what is found in the common Books; and, in the old ones, omits all Notice of Variations the Sense of which he did not understand.
How the Oxford Editor came to think himself qualified for this Office, from which his whole Course of Life had been so remote, is still more difficult to conceive. For whatever Parts he might have either of Genius or Erudition, he