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ing. And there is no better authority for these latter sort, than for the former, which were equally published in his life-time.
If we give into this opinion, how many low and vicious parts and passages might no longer reflect upon this great genius, but appear unworthily charged upon him? And even in those which are really his, how many faults may have been unjustly laid to his account from arbitrary additions, expunctions, transpositions of scenes and lines, con fusion of characters and persons, wrong application of speeches, corruptions of innumerable passages by the ignorance and wrong corrections of them again by the impertinence of his first editors ? From one or other of these considerations, I am verily persuaded, that the greatest and the grossest part of what are thought his errors would vanish, and leave his character in a light very different from that disadvantageous one, in which it now appears to us.
This is the state in which Shakspeare's writings lie at present; for since the above-mentioned folio edition, all the rest have implicitly followed it, without having recourse to any of the former, or ever making the comparison between them. It is impollible to repair the injuries already done him; too much time has elapsed, and the materials are too few.
In what I have done I have rather given a proof of my willingness and desire, than of my ability, to do him justice. I have discharged the dull duty of an editor, to my best judgment, with more labour than I expect thanks, with a religious abhorrence of all innovation, and without any indulgence to my private sense or conjecture. The method taken in this edition will shew itself. The various
readings are fairly put in the margin, fo that every one may compare them; and those I have preferred into the text are constantly ex fide codicum, upon authority. The alterations or additions, which Shakfpeare himself made, are taken notice of as they occur. Some suspected passages, which are excessively bad (and which seem interpolations by being so inserted that one can entirely omit thein without any chafm, or deficience in the context) are degraded to the bottom of the page; with an asterisk referring to the places of their insertion,
The scenes are marked fo distinctly, that every removal of place is specified; which is more necessary in this author than any other, since he shifts them more frequently; and sometimes without attending to this particular, the reader would have met with obscu. rities. The more obsolete or unusual words are explained. Some of the most shining passages are diftinguished by commas in the margin; and where the beauty lay not in particulars, but in the whole, a star is prefixed to the scene. This seems to me a shorter and less oftentatious method of performing the better half of criticism (namely, the pointing out an author's excellencies) than to fill a whole paper with citations of fine passages, with general applauses, or empty exclamations at the tail of them. There is also subjoined a catalogue of those first editions, by which the greater part of the various readings and of the corrected passages are authorized; most of which are such as carry their own evidence along with them. These editions now hold the place of originals, and are the only materials left to repair the deficiencies or restore the corrupted sense of the author: I can only
wish that a greater number of them (if a greater were ever published) may yet be found, by a search more successful than mine, for the better accomplishment of this end.
I will conclude by saying of Shakspeare, that with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finished and regular, as upon an ancient majestick piece of Gothick architecture, compared with a neat modern building: the latter is more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and more folemn. It must be allowed that in one of these there are materials enough to make many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler apartments; though we are often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth passages.
Nor does the whole fail to ftrike us with greater reverence, though many of the parts are childish, ill-placed, and unequal to its grandeur,
HE attempt to write upon SHAKSPEARE is like going into a large, a spacious, and a splendid dome, through the conveyance of a narrow and obscure
7 This is Mr. Theobald's preface to his fecond edition in 1740, and was much curtailed by himself after it had been prefixed to the impression in 1733. STEEVENS.
A glare of light suddenly breaks upon you beyond what the avenue at first promised; and a thousand beauties of genius and character, like so many gaudy apartments pouring at once upon the eye, diffuse and throw themselves out to the mind. The prospect is too wide to come within the compass of a single view: it is a gay confusion of pleasing objects, too various to be enjoyed but in a general admiration; and they must be separated and eyed distinály, in order to give the proper entertainment.
And as, in great piles of building, some parts are often finished up to hit the taste of the connoisseur ; others more negligently put together, to strike the fancy of a common and unlearned beholder; some parts are made ftupendously magnificent and grand, to surprise with the vast design and execution of the architect; others are contracted, to amuse you with his neatness and elegance in little: so, in Shakspeare, we may find traits that will stand the test of the severest judgment; and strokes as careless, ly hit off, to the level of the more ordinary capa cities; fome descriptions raised to that pitch of grandeur, as to astonish you with the compass and elevation of his thought; and others copying nature within so narrow, fo confined a circle, as if the author's talent lay only at drawing in miniature.
In how many points of light must we be obliged to gaze at this great poet! In how many branches of excellence to consider and admire him! Whether we view him on the side of art or nature, he ought equally to engage our attention: whether we respect the force and greatness of his genias, the extent of his knowledge and reading, the power and address with which he throws out and applies either nature
or learning, there is ample scope both for our wonder and pleasure. If his diction, and the cloathing of his thoughts attract us, how much more must we be charmed with the richness and variety of his images and ideas! If his images and ideas steal into our souls, and strike upon our fancy, how much are they improved in price, when we come to reflect with what propriety and justness they are applied ta character! if we look into his characters, and how they are furnished and proportioned to the employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the mastery of his portraits! What draughts of nature! What variety of originals, and how differing each from the other! How are they dressed from the stores of his own luxurious imagination; without being the apes of mode or borrowing from any foreign wardrobe! Each of them are the standards of fashion for themselves: like gentlemen that are above the direction of their tailors, and can adorn themselves without the aid of imitation. If other poets draw more than one fool or coxcomb, there is the same resemblance in them, as in that painter's draughts who was happy only at forming a rose; you find them all younger brothers of the same fax mily, and all of them have pretence to give the fame crest: but Shakspeare's clowns and fops come all of a different house; they are no farther allied to one another than as man to man, members of the same species; but as different in features and lineaments of character, as we are from one another in face or complexion. But I am unawares launching into his character as a writer, before I have said what I intended of him as a private member of the republick,