« AnteriorContinuar »
animadvert on Mr. Pope as a Critick; but there are Provocations which a Man can never quite forget. His Libels have been thrown out with so much Inveteracy, that, not to dispute whether they should come from a Christian, they leave it a Question whether they could come from a Man. I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like Case,
Sive homo, seu similis turpissima bestia nobis,
The Indignation, perhaps, for being represented a Blockhead, may be as strong in us as it is in the Ladies for a Reflexion on their Beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to Him for some flagrant Civilities ; and I shall willingly devote a Part of my Life to 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 inquire into those Causes, to which the Depravations of my Author originally may be assign'd. We are to consider him as a Writer, of whom no authentic Manuscript was left extant; as a Writer, whose Pieces were dispersedly perform'd on the several Stages then in Being. And it was the Custom of those Days for the Poets to take a Price of the Players for the Pieces They from time to time furnish'd; and thereupon it was suppos'd, 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 unpublish'd, 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 wish'd 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 piece-meal Parts
surreptitiously obtain'd 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 Lifetime.
There are still other Reasons which may be suppos'd to have affected the whole Set. When the Players took upon them to publish his Works intire, every Theatre was ransack'd to supply the Copy; and Parts collected, which had gone thro' 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 suppos'd Convenience, of some particular Actor. Hence much Confusion and Impropriety has attended and embarrass'd 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 publish'd from the faulty Copies, without the Assistance of any intelligent Editor : which has been the Case likewise of many a Classic Writer.
The Nature of any Distem per once found has generally been the immediate Step to a Cure. Shakespear's Case has in a great Measure resembled That of a corrupt Classic ; and, consequently, the Method of Cure was likewise to bear a Resemblance. By what Means, and with what Success, this Cure has been effected 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 restoring to the Publick their greatest Poet in his original Purity : after having so long ain in a Condition that was a Disgrace to common Sense. To this end I have ventur'd 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 employ'd to criticize the Æneis of Virgil, 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 Critic on Shakespeare is of a quite different Kind. His genuine Text is for the most part religiously adher'd to, and the numerous Faults and Blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is alter'd, 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, tho' sometimes not to the Advantage of my Author, that I have been ridiculously ridicul'd 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 effects an Editor, \ seems to be reduced to these three Classes; the Emendation of corrupt Passages; the Explanation of obscure and difficult ones; and an Inquiry into the Beauties and Defects of Composition. This work is principally confin'd to the two former Parts : tho' there are some Specimens interspers’d of the latter Kind, as several of the Emendations were best supported, and several of the Difficulties best explain'd, 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 willing Undertaker: and I shall be pleas'd to see it the Employment of a masterly Pen.
It must necessarily happen, as I have formerly observ'd, 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 thro' a series of incorrect Editions, 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 retriev'd, All ought to be left desperate ? We should shew very little Honesty, 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 Shakespear, 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 where-ever his Fable was founded on History.
Where-ever the Author's Sense is clear and discoverable (tho', perchance, low and trivial), I have not by .any Innovation tamper'd with his Text, out of an Ostentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old Copies have done.
Where, thro' all the former Editions, a Passage has labour'd under flat 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 endeavour'd to support my Corrections and Conjectures by parallel Passages and Authorities from himself, the surest Means of expounding any Author whatsoever. Cette voïe 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 endeavour'd to give them a Variety in some Proportion to their Number. Where-ever I have ventur'd at an Emendation, a Note is constantly subjoin'd 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 shew where there is a Suspicion of our Author having borrow'd 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, Phrase, or Idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious Glossary; but as I have been importun'd, and am prepar'd, 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 Shakespeare'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