« AnteriorContinuar »
To revive the anomalies, barbarisms and blanders of some ancient copies, in preference to the corrections of others almost equally old, is likewise a circumstance by no means honourable to our author, however secure respecting ourselves. For what is it, under pretence of restoration, but to use him as he has used the Tinker in the Taming of a Shrew,- to re-clothe him in his pristine rags? To assemble parallels in support of all these deformities, is no infuperable labour; for if we are permitted to avail ourselves of every typographical mistake, and every provincial vulgarism and offence against established grammar, that may be met with in the coëval productions of irregular humourists and ignorant fe&taries and buffoons, we may aver that every casual combination of syllables may be tortured into meaning, and every species of corruption exemplified by corresponding depravities of language ; but not of such language as Shakspeare, if compared with himself where he is perfect, can be supposed to have written. By similar reference ic is that the style of many an ancient building has been characteristically reitored. The members of architecture left entire, have instructed the renovator how to supply the loss of such as had fallen into decay. The poet, therefore, whose dialogue has often, during a long and uninterrupted series of lines, no other peculiarities than were common to the works of his most celebrated contemporaries,
and whose general ease and sweetness of versification are hitherto unrivalled, ought not so often to be fufpcéted of having produced ungrammatical nonsense, and such rough and defective numbers as would disgrace a village school-boy in his first attempts at English poetry. - It may also be observed, that our author's earliest compositions, his Sonnets, &c. are wholly free from metrical imperfections.
The truth is, that from one extreme we have reached another. Our incautious predecessors, Rowe, Pope, Hanmer, and Warburton, were sometimes justly blamed for wanton and needless devia. tions from ancient copies ; and we' are afraid that censure will as equitably fall' on some of us, for a revival of irregularities which have no reasonable fan&tion, and few champions but such as are excited by a fruitless ambition to defend certain posts and passes that had been supposed untenable. The " wine of collation," indeed, had long been " drawn," and little beside the “ mere lees was left" for very modern editors “ to brag of.” It should therefore be remembered, that as judgement, without the aid of collation, might have insufficient materials to work on, so collation, divested of judgement, will be often worse than thrown away, because it introduces obscurity instead of light. To render Shakspeare less intelligible by a recall of corrupt phraseology, is not, in our opinion, the
furest way to extend his fame and multiply his readers ; unless (like Curll the bookseller, when the Jews spoke Hebrew to him,) they happen to have most faith in what they least understand. Respecting our author therefore, on some occasions, we cannot join in the prayer of Cordelia :
Refloration hang ". Thy medicine ou his lips !"
It is unlucky for him, perhaps, that between the interest of his readers and his editors a material difference should subfift. The former wish to meet with as few difficulties as possible, while the latter are tempted to seek them out, because they afford opportunities for explanatory criticism.
Omissions in our author's works are frequently suspected, and sometimes not without fufficient reason. Yet, in our opinion, they have suffered a more certain injury from interpolation ; for almost as often as their measure is deranged, or redundant, some words, alike unnecessary to sense and the grammar of the age, may be discovered, and in a thousand instances, might be expunged, without loss of a single idea meant to be expressed; a liberty which we have sometimes taken, though not (as it is hoped) without constant notice of it to the reader. Enough of this, hoviever, has been already attempted, to show that more, on the same plan,
might be done with safety.* - So far from understanding the power of an ellipsis, we may venture to affirin that the very name of this figure in rhetorick never reached the ears of our ancient editors. Having on this subject the support of Dr. Farmer's acknowledged judgement and experience, we shall not flirink from controversy with those who maintain a different opinion, and refuse to acquiesce in modern suggestions if opposed to the authority of quartos and folios, consigned to us by a set of people who were wholly uninstructed in the common forms of style, orthography and punctuation. We do not therefore hesitate to affirm, that a blind fidelity to the eldest printed copies, is on some occasions a confirmed treason against the sense, fpirit, and versification of Shakspeare.
All these circumstances confidered, it is time, instead of a timid and servile adherence to ancient copies, when (offending against sense and metre) they furnish no real help, that a future editor, well acquainted with the phraseology of our author's age, should be at liberty to restore some apparent meaning to his corrupted lines, and a decent flow to his obitructed versification.
* Sufficient instances of measure thus rendered defe&ive, and in the present edition unamended, may be found in the three laft a&s of Hamlet, and in Othello. The length of this prefatory advertisement las precluded their exemplification, which was here meant to have been given.-We wish, however, to impress the foregoing circum. Itance on the memory of the judicious reader.
The latter (as already has been observed) may be frequently effected by the expulsion of useless and supernumerary syllables, and an occasional supply of such as might fortuitously have been omitted, notwithstanding the declaration of Hemings and Condell, whose fraudulent preface asserts that they have published our author's plays “as absolute in their numbers as he conceived them." Tillsomewhat resembling the process above suggested, be authorized, the publick will ask in vain for a commodious and pleasant text of Shakspeare. Nothing will be lost to the world on account of the measure recommende ed, there being folios and quartos enough remaining for the use of antiquarian or critical travellers, to whom a jolt over a rugged pavement may be more delectable than an easy passage over a smooth one, though they both conduct to the same abject.
To a reader unconversant with the licences of a theatre, the charge of more material interpolation than that of mere syllables, will appear to want support; and yet whole lines and passages in the following plays incur a very just suspicion of having originated from this practice, which continues even in the present improved state of our dramatick arrangements; for the propensity of modern performers to alter words, and occafionally introduce ideas incongruous with their author's plan, will not always escape detection. In such vagaries our comedians have been much Vol. *