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As to my notes, (from which the common and learned readers of our author, I hope, will derive some satisfaction,) I have endeavoured to give them a variety in some proportion to their number. Wherever I have ventured 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 science. Some are added, to show where there is a suspicion of our author having borrowed from the ancients : others, to show 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, phrase, 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 which 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 show 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 hinders 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 call caprice and humour, than vices cognizable to the laws. The English, from the happiness of a free constitution, and a turn of mind peculiarly speculative and inquisitive, are observed to produce more humourists, 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 editor 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 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 negli gences 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 inverted into downright impudence. From a hundred mean and dishonest artifices employed to discredit this edition, and to cry down its editor, I have all the grounds in nature to beware of attacks. But though the malice of wit, joined to the smoothness of versification, may furnish some ridicule; fact, I hope, will be able to stand its ground against banter and gaiety.
It has been my fate, it seems, as I thought it my duty, to discover some anachronisms in our author; which might have slept in obscurity but for this Restorer, as Mr. Pope is pleased affectionately to style me as for instance, where Aristotle is mentioned by Hector in Troilus and Cressida; and Galen, Cato, and Alexander the Great, in Coriolanus. These, in Mr. Pope's opinion, are blunders, which the illiteracy of the first publishers of his works has fathered upon the poet's memory: it not being at all credible, that these could be the errors of any man who had the least tincture of a school, or the least conversation with such as had. But I have sufficiently proved, in the course of my notes, that such anachronisms were the effect of poetick licence, rather than of ignorance in our poet. And if I