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understood. 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 Thewing us, that the higher we went, the less of it was still to be found.
For the Proprietors, not discouraged by their first 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 Affisance ; explaining his licentious Phraseology and obkure 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 several 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 my Knowledge ; and, when that Project fail'd, 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 sufficient 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 see, 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
was absolutely ignorant of the Art of Criticisin,
from Head to Foot, in all the finical Exactness of a modern Measurer of Syllables.
For the rest, all the Corrections which these two Editors have made on any reasonable Foundation, are here admitted into the Text; and carefully assigned to their respective Authors. A piece of Justice which the Oxford Editor never did; and which the Other was not always scrupulous in observing towards me. To conclude with them in a word, They separately possessed those two Qualities which, more than any other, have contributed to bring the Art of Criticism into difrepute, Dulness of Apprehension, and Extravagance of Conjecture.
I am now to give some Account of the present Undertaking. For as to all those Things, which have been published under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakespear, (if you except some critical Notes on Macbeth, given as a Specimen of a projected Edition, and written, as appears, by a Man of Parts and Genius) the rest are absolutely below a serious Notice.
The whole a Critic can do for an Author who deserves his Service, is to correct the faulty Text; to remark the Peculiarities of Language ; to illustrate the obscure Allusions; and to explain the Beauties and Defects of Sentiment or Composition. And surely, if ever Author had a Claim to this Service, it was our Shakespear: Who, widely excelling in the Knowledge of Human Nature, hath given to his infinitely varied Pictures of it, such Truth of Design, such Force of Drawing, such Beauty of Colouring, as was hardly