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grant civilities; and I shall willingly devote a part of my life te the honest endeavour of quitting scores: with this exception, however, that I will not return those civilities in his peculiar strain, but confine myself, at least, to the limits of common decency. I shall ever think it better to want wit, than to want humanity: and impartial posterity may, perhaps, be of my opinion.
But to return to my subject, which now calls upon me to enquire into those causes, to which the depravations of my author originally may be assigned. We are to consider him as a writer, of whom no authentick manuscript was left extant; as a writer, whose pieces were dispersedly performed on the several stages, then in being. And it was the custom of those days for the po. ets to take a price of the players for the pieces they from time to time furnished; and thereupon it was supposed they had no farther right to print them without the consent of the players. As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublished, when any one succeeded, there was a contest betwixt the curiosity of the town, who demanded to see it in print, and the policy of the stagers, who wished to secrete it within their own walls. Hence many pieces were taken down in short-hand, and imperfectly copied by ear from a representation : others were printed from pieceineal parts surreptitiously obtained from the theatres, uncorrect, and without the poet's knowledge. To some of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform those pieces which stole singly into the world in our author's life-time.
There are still other reasons, which may be supposed to have affected the whole set. When the players took upon them to publish his works entire, every theatre was ransacked to supply the copy; and parts collected, which had gone through as many changes as performers, either from mutilations or additions made to them. Hence we derive many chasms and incoherences in the sense and matter. Scenes were frequently transposed, and shuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or supposed convenience, of some particular actor. Hence much confusion and impropriety has attended and embarrassed the business and fable. To these obvious causes of corruption it must be added, that our author has lain under the disadvantage of having his errors propagated and multiplied by time: because, for near a century, his works were published from the faulty copies, without the assistance of any intelligent editor: which has been the case likewise of many a classick writer.
The nature of any distemper once found has generally been the immediate step to a cure. Shakspeare's case has in a great measure resembled that of a corrupt classick; and, consequently, the method of cure was likewise to hear a resemblance. By what means, and with what success, this cure has heen affected on ancient writers, is too well known, and needs no formal illustration. The reputation, consequent on tasks of that nature, invited me to attempt the method here; with this view, the hopes of res storing to the publick their greatest poet in his original purity, after having so long lain in a condition that was a disgrace to common sense. To this end I have ventured on a labour, that is the first assay of the kind on any modern author whatsoever. For the late edition of Milton, by the learned Dr. Bentley, is, in the main, a performance of another species. It is plain, it was the intention of that great man rather to correct and pare off the excrescencies of the Paradise Lost, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticise the Æneis of Vir. gil, than to restore corrupted passages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the iniquity or ignorance of his censurers, who, from some expressions would make us believe the doctor every where gives us his corrections as the original text of the author; whereas the chief turn of his criticism is plainly to shew the world, that, if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote so.
I thought proper to premise this observation to the readers, as it will shew that the critick on Shakspeare is of a quite different kind. His genuine text is for the most part religiously adhered to, and the numerous faults and blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is altered but what by the clearest reasoning can be proved a corruption of the true text; and the alteration, a real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, so strictly have I strove to give the true reading, though sometimes not to the advantage of my author, that I have been ridiculously ridiculed for it by those, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to my disadvantage; or else were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.
The science of criticism, as far as it affects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three classes; the emendation of corrupt passages; the explanation of obscure and difficult ones ; and an enquiry into the beauties and defects of composition. This work is principally confined to the two former parts: though there are some specimens interspersed of the latter kind, as several of the emendations were best supported, and several of the difficulties best explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the composition peculiar to this immortal poet. But this was but occasional, and for the sake only of perfecting the two other parts, which were the proper objects of the editor's labour. The third lies open for every wil. ling undertaker: and I shall be pleased to see it the employment of a masterly pen.
It must necessarily happen, as I have formerly observed, that where the assistance of manuscripts is wanting to set an author's meaning right, and rescue him from those errors which have been transmitted down through a series of incorrect edi. tions, and a long intervention of time, many passages must be desperate, and past a cure; and their true sense irretrievable either to care or the sagacity of conjecture. But is there any reason therefore to say, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left desperate? We should shew very little bonesty, or wisdom, to play the tyrants with an author's text; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all adventures, and to the utter detriment of his sense and meaning: but to be so 'very reserved and cautious, as to interpose no relief or conjecture, where it manifestly labours and cries out for assistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent absurdity.
As there are very few pages in Shakspeare, upon which some suspicions of depravity do not reasonably arise; I have thought it my duty in the first place, by a diligent and laborious collation, to take in the assistances of all the older copies.
In his historical plays, whenever our English chronicles, and in his tragedies, when Greek or Roman story could give any light, no pains have been omitted to set passages right, by comparing my author with his originals; for, as I have frequently observed, he was a close and accurate copier wherever his fable was founded on history.
Wherever the author's sense is clear and discoverable, though, perchance, low and trivial, I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of an ostentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old copies have done.
Where, through all the former editions, a passage has la. boured under fat nonsense and invincible darkness, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, or a transposition in the pointing, I have restored to him both sense and sentiment; such corrections, I am persuaded, will need no indulgence.
And whenever I have taken a greater latitude and liberty in amending, I have constantly endeavoured to support my corrections and conjectures by parallel passages and authorities from himself, the surest means of expounding any author whatsoever. Cette voże d'interpreter un autheur par lui-même est plus sure que tous les commentaires, says a very learned French critick.
As to my notes, (from which the common and learned readers of our author, I hope, will derive some satisfaction,) I have en. deavoured to give them a variety in some proportion to their number. Wherever I have ventwed at an emendation, a note is constantly subjoined to justify and assert the reason of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly set forth my grounds for such conjecture, and submit it to judgment. Some remarks are spent in explaining passages, where the wit or satire depends on an obscure point of history: others, where allusions are to divinity, philosophy, or other branches of sci. ence. Some are added, to shew where there is a suspicion of our author having borrowed from the ancients: others, to shew where he is rallying his contemporaries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And some are necessarily thrown in, to explain an obscure and obsolete term, phruse, or idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious glossary; but as I have been importuned, and am prepared to give a correct edition of our author's POEMS, (in which many terms occur that are not to be met with in his Plays) I thought a glossary to all Shakspeare's works more proper to attend that volume.
In reforming an infinite number of passages in the pointing, where the sense was before quite lost, I have frequently subjoined notes to shew the depraved, and to prove the reformed, pointing: a part of labour in this work which I could very willingly have spared myself. May it not be objected, why then have you burdened us with these notes? The answer is obvious, and, if I mistake not, very material. Without such notes, these passages in subsequent editions would be liable, through the ignorance of printers and correctors, to fall into the old confusion: whereas, a note on every one binders all possible return to depravity: and for ever secures them in a state of purity and integrity not to be lost or forfeited.
Again, as some notes have been necessary to point out the detection of the corrupted text, and establish the restoration of the genuine reading; some others have been as necessary for the explanation of passages obscure and difficult. To understand the necessity and use of this part of my task, some particulars of my author's character are previously to be explained. There are obscurities in him, which are common to him with all poets of the same species; there are others, the issue of the times he lived in; and there are others, again, peculiar to himself. The nature of comick poetry being entirely satirical, it busies itself more in exposing what we cail caprice and humour, than vices cognizable to the laws. The English, from the hap. piness of a free constitution, and a turn of mind peculiarly speculative and inquisitive, are observed to produce more humour. ists, and a greater variety of original characters, than any other people whatsoever: and these owing their immediate birth to the peculiar genius of each age, an infinite number of things alluded to, glanced at, and exposed, must needs become obscure, as the characters themselves are antiquated and disused. An edi. tor therefore should be well versed in the history and manners of his author's age, if he aims at doing him a service in this respect.
Besides, wit, lying mostly in the assemblage of ideas, and in putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance, or congruity, to make up pleasant pictures, and agreeable visions in the fancy; the writer, who aims at wit, must of course range far and wide for materials. Now the age in which Shakspeare lived, having, above all others, a wonderful affection to appear learned, they declined vulgar images, such as are immediately fetched from nature, and ranged through the circle of the sciences, to fetch their ideas from thence. But as the resemblances of such ideas to the subject must necessarily lie very much out of the common way, and every piece of wit appear a riddle to the vulgar; this, that should have taught them the forced, quaint, unnatural tract they were in, (and induce them to follow a more natural one) was the very thing that kept them attached to it. The ostentatious affectation of abstruse learning, peculiar to that time, the love that men naturally have to every thing that looks like mystery, fixed them down to the habit of obscurity. Thus became VOL. I.
the poetry of Donne (though the wittiest man of that age) nothing but a continued heap of riddles. And our Shakspeare, with all his easy nature about him, for want of the knowledge of the true rules of art, falls frequently into this vicious manner.
The third species of obscurities which deform our author, as the effects of his own genius and character, are those that proceed from his peculiar manner of thinking, and as peculiar a manner of clothing those thoughts. With regard to his thinking, it is certain, that he had a general knowledge of all the sciences: but his acquaintance was rather that of a traveller than a native. Nothing in philosophy was unknown to him; but every thing in it had the grace and force of novelty. And as novelty is one main source of admiration, we are not to wonder that he has perpetual allusions to the most recondite parts of the sciences: and this was done not so much out of affectation, as the effect of admiration begot by novelty. Then, as to his style and diction, we may much more justly apply to SHAKSPEARE, what a celebrated writer said of MILTON: Our language sunk under him, and was unequal to that greatness of soul which furnished him with such glorious conceptions. He therefore frequently uses old words, to give his diction an air of solemnity; as he coins others, to express the novelty and variety of his ideas.
Upon every distinct species of these obscurities, I have thought it my province to employ a note for the service of my author, and the entertainment of my readers. A few transient remarks too I have not scrupled to intermix, upon the poet's negligence and omissions in point of art; but I have done it always in such a manner, as will testify my deference and veneration for the immortal author. Some censurers of Shakspeare, and particularly Mr. Rymer, have taught me to distinguish betwixt the railer and critick. The outrage of his quotations is so remarkably violent, so pushed beyond all bounds of decency and sober reasoning, that it quite carries over the mark at which it was levelled. Extravagant abuse throws off the edge of the intended disparagement, and turns the madman's weapon into his own bosom. In short, as to Rymer, this is my opinion of him from his criticisms on the tragedies of the last age. He writes with great vivacity, and appears to have been a scholar: but as for his knowledge of the art of poetry, I cannot perceive it was any deeper than his acquaintance with Bossu and Dacier, from whom he has transcribed many of his best reflections. The late Mr. Gildon was one attached to Rymer by a similar way of thinking and studies. They were both of that species of criticks who are desirous of displaying their powers rather in finding faults, than in consulting the improvement of the world; the hypercritical part of the science of criticism.
I had not mentioned the modest liberty I have here and there taken of animadverting on my author, but that I was willing to obviate in time the splenetick exaggerations of my adversaries on this head. From past experiments I have reason to be conscious, in what light this attempt may be placed: and that what I call a modest liberty will, by a little of their dexterity, be in.