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My inquiries having been carried on almost to the very moment of publication, some circumstances relative to our poet were obtained too late to be introduced into any part of the present work. Of these due use will be made hereafter.
The prefaces of Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton, 1 have not retained, because they appeared to me to throw no light on our author or his works: the room which they would have taken up, will, I trust, be found occupied by more valuable matter.
As some of the preceding editors have justly been condemned for innovation, so perhaps (for of objections there is no end,) I may be censured for too strict an adherence to the ancient copies. I have constantly had in view the Roman sentiment adopted by Dr. Johnson, that “it is more honourable to save a citizen than to destroy an enemy,” and, like him, “have been more careful to protect than to attack."-" I do not wish the reader to forget, (says the same writer,) that the most commodious (and he might have added, the most forcible and elegant,) is not always the true reading. On this principle I have uniformly proceeded, having resolved never to deviate from the authentick copies, merely because the phraseology was harsh or uncommon. Many passages, which have heretofore been considered as corrupt, and are now supported by the usage of contemporary writers, fully prove the propriety of this caution.
*King Henry IV. Part II.
+ See particularly The Merchant of Venice, vol. v. p. 68. That many may be meant "By the fool multitude."
with the note there.
We undoubtedly should not now write
"But, lest myself be guilty to self-wrong,-"
yet we find this phrase in The Comedy of Errors, vol. iv. p. 214,
n. 4. See also The Winter's Tale, vol. xiv. p. 428, n. 5.
This your son-in-law,
"And son unto the king, (whom heavens directing,)
Measure for Measure, vol. ix. p. 156, n. 1; "-to be so bared,-."
Coriolanus, vol. xiv. p. 133, n. 2:
"Which often, thus, correcting thy stout heart," &c. Hamlet, vol. vii. p. 203, n. 2:
"That he might not beteem the winds of heaven," &c. VOL. I.
The rage for innovation till within these last thirty years was so great, that many words were dismissed from our poet's text, which in his time were current in every mouth. In all the editions since that of Mr. Rowe, in the Second Part of King Henry IV. the word channel has been rejected, and kennel substituted in its room, though the former term was commonly employed in the same sense in the time of our author; and the learned Bishop of Worcester has strenuously endeavoured to prove that in Cymbeline the poet wrote-not shakes but shuts or checks, "all our buds from growing+;" though the authenticity of the original reading is established beyond all controversy by two other passages of Shakspeare. Very soon, indeed, after his death, this rage for innovation seems to have seized his editors; for in the year 1616 an edition of his Rape of Lucrece was published, which was said to be newly revised and corrected; but in which, in fact, several arbitrary changes were made, and the ancient diction rejected for one somewhat more modern. Even in the first complete collection of his plays published in 1623, some changes were undoubtedly made from ignorance of his meaning and phraseology. They had, I suppose, been made in the playhouse copies after his retirement from the theatre. Thus in Othello, Brabantio is made to call to his domesticks to raise "some special officers of might," instead of "officers of night;" and the phrase "of all loves," in the same play, not being understood, "for love's sake" was substituted in its room. So, in Hamlet, we have ere ever for or ever, and rites instead of the more ancient word, crants. In King Lear, Act I. Sc. I. the substitution of—" Goes thy heart with this?" instead of
As You Like It, vol. vi. p. 396, n. 7: "My voice is ragged,
Cymbeline, vol. xiii. p. 228, n. 2:
"Whom heavens, in justice, (both on her and hers,)
*Act II. Sc. I: ".
throw the quean in the channel.” In that passage, as in many others, I have silently restored the original reading, without any observation; but the word in this sense, being now obsolete, should have been illustrated by a note. This defect, however, will be found remedied in K. Henry VI. P. II. Act II. Sc. II:
"As if a channel should be call'd a sea."
+ Hurd's Hor. 4th edit. vol. i. p. 55.
"Goes this with thy heart?" without doubt arose from the same cause. In the plays of which we have no quarto copies, we may be sure that similar innovations were made, though we have now no certain means of detecting them.
After what has been proved concerning the sophistications and, corruptions of the Second Folio, we cannot be surprised that when these plays were republished by Mr. Rowe in the beginning of this century from a later folio, in which the interpolations of the former were all preserved, and many new errors added, almost every page of his work was disfigured by accumulated corruptions. In Mr. Pope's edition our author was not less misrepresented; for though by examining the oldest copies he detected some errors, by his numerous fanciful alterations the poet was so completely modernized, that I am confident, had he "re-visited the glimpses of the moon," he would not have understood his own works. From the quartos indeed a few valuable restorations were made; but all the advantage that was thus obtained, was outweighed by arbitrary changes, transpositions, and interpolations.
The readers of Shakspeare being disgusted with the liberties taken by Mr. Pope, the subsequent edition of Theobald was justly preferred; because he professed to adhere to the ancient copies more strictly than his competitor, and illustrated a few passages by extracts from the writers of our poet's age. That his work should at this day be considered of any value, only shows how long impressions will remain, when they are once made; for Theobald, though not so great an innovator as Pope, was yet a considerable innovator; and his edition being printed from that of his immediate predecessor, while a few arbitrary changes made by Pope were detected, innumerable sophistications were silently adopted. His knowledge of the contemporary authors was so scanty, that all the illustration of that kind dispersed throughout his volumes, has been exceeded by the researches which have since been made for the purpose of elucidating a single play.
Of Sir Thomas Hanmer it is only necessary to say, that he adopted almost all the innovations of Pope, adding to them whatever caprice dictated.
To him succeeded Dr. Warburton, a critick, who (as hath been said of Salmasius) seems to have erected his throne on a heap of stones, that he might have them at
hand to throw at the heads of all those who passed by. His unbounded licence in substituting his own chimerical conceits in the place of the author's genuine text, has been so fully shown by his revisers, that I suppose no critical reader will ever again open his volumes. An hundred strappadoes, according to an Italian comick writer, would not have induced Petrarch, were he living, to subscribe to the meaning which certain commentators after his death had by their glosses extorted from his works. It is a curious speculation to consider how many thousand would have been requisite for this editor to have inflicted on our great dramatick poet for the same purpose. The defence which has been made for Dr. Warburton on this subject, by some of his friends, is singular. "He well knew," it has been said, "that much the greater part of his notes do not throw any light on the poet of whose works he undertook the revision, and that he frequently imputed to Shakspeare a meaning of which he never thought; but the editor's great object was to display his own learning, not to illustrate his author, and this end he obtained; for in spite of all the clamour against him, his work added to his reputation as a scholar."-Be it so then; but let none of his admirers ever dare to unite his name with that of Shakspeare; and let us at least be allowed to wonder, that the learned editor should have had so little respect for the greatest poet that has appeared since the days of Homer, as to use a commentary on his works merely as "a stalking-horse, under the presentation of which he might shoot his wit."
At length the task of revising these plays was undertaken by one, whose extraordinary powers of mind, as they rendered him the admiration of his contemporaries, will transmit his name to posterity as the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century; and will transmit it without competition, if we except a great orator, philosopher, and statesman*, now living, whose talents and virtues are an honour to human nature. In 1765, Dr. Johnson's edition, which had long been impatiently expected, was given to the publick. His admirable preface, (perhaps the finest composition in our language,) his happy, and în general just, characters of these plays, his refutation of the false glosses of Theobald and Warburton, and his
* The Right Honourable Edmund Burke.
numerous explications of involved and difficult passages, are too well known to be here enlarged upon; and therefore I shall only add, that his vigorous and comprehensive understanding threw more light on his author than all his predecessors had done.
In one observation, however, concerning our poet, I do not entirely concur with him. "It is not (he remarks) very grateful to consider how little the succession of editors has added to this author's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him."
He certainly was read, admired, studied, and imitated, at the period mentioned; but surely not in the same degree as at present. The succession of editors has effected this; it has made him understood; it has made him popular; it has shown every one who is capable of reading, how much superior he is not only to Jonson and Fletcher, whom the bad taste of the last age from the time of the Restoration to the end of the century set above him, but to all the dramatick poets of antiquity:
Jam monte potitus,
Ridet anhelantem dura ad vestigia turbam.
Every author who pleases must surely please more as he is more understood, and there can be no doubt that Shakspeare is now infinitely better understood than he was in the last century. To say nothing of the people at large, it is clear that Dryden himself, though a great admirer of our poet, and D'Avenant, though he wrote for the stage in the year 1627, did not always understand him*. The very books which are necessary to our author's
* "The tongue in general is so much refined since Shakspeare's time, that many of his words, and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible.", Preface to Dryden's Troilus and Cressida. The various changes made by Dryden in particular passages in that play, and by him and D'Avenant in The Tempest, prove decisively that they frequently did not understand our poet's language.
In his defence of the Epilogue to The Conquest of Granada, Dryden arraigns Ben Jonson for using the personal, instead of the neutral, pronoun, and unfeard for unafraid:
Though heaven should speak with all his wrath at once, "We should stand upright, and unfear'd."