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stuff which disgraces the works of this great Author, was foisted in by the Players after his death, to please the vulgar audiences by which they subsisted: and though some of the poor witticisms and conceits must be supposed to have fallen from his pen, yet as he hath put them generally into the mouths of low and ignorant people, so it is to be remember'd that he wrote for the Stage, rude and unpolished as it then was; and the vicious taste of the age must stand condemned for them, since he hath left upon record a signal proof how much he despised them. In his Play of The Merchant of Venice a Clown is introduced quibbling in a miserable manner, upon which one who bears the character of a man of sense makes the following reflection : How every fool can play upon a word! I think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into silence, and discourse grow commendable in none but parrots. He could hardly have found stronger words to express his indignation at those false pretences to wit then in vogue; and therefore though such trash is frequently interspersed in his writings, it would be unjust to cast it as an imputation upon his taste and judgment and character as a Writer.
There being many words in Shakespear which are grown out of use and obsolete, and many borrowed from other languages which are not enough naturalized or known among us, a Glossary is added at the end of the work, for the explanation of all those terms which have hitherto been so many stumbling-blocks to the generality of Readers; and where there is any obscurity in the text not arising from the words but from a reference to some antiquated customs now forgotten, or other causes of that kind, a note is put at the bottom of the page to clear up the difficulty.
With these several helps if that rich vein of sense which runs through the works of this Author can be retrieved in every part and brought to appear in its true light, and if it may be hoped without presumption that this is here effected; they who love and admire him will receive a new pleasure, and all probably will be more ready to join in doing him justice, who does great honour to his country as a rare and perhaps a singular Genius : one who hath attained an high degree of perfection in those two great branches of Poetry, Tragedy and Comedy, different as they are in their natures from each other; and who may be said without partiality to have equalled, if not excelled, in both kinds, the best writers of any age or country who have thought it glory enough to distinguish themselves in either.
Since therefore other nations have taken care to dignify the works of their most celebrated Poets with the fairest impressions beautified with the ornaments of sculpture, well may our Shakespear be thought to deserve no less consideration : and as a fresh acknowledgment hath lately been paid to his merit, and a high regard to his name and memory, by erecting his Statue at a publick expence; so it is desired that this new Edition of his works, which hath cost some attention and care, may be looked upon as another small monument designed and dedicated to his honour.
It hath been no unusual thing for Writers, when dissatisfied with the Patronage or Judgment of their own Times, to appeal to Posterity for a fair Hearing. Some have even thought fit to apply to it in the first Instance; and to decline Acquaintance with the Public till Envy and Prejudice had quite subsided. But, of all the Trusters to Futurity, commend me to the Author of the following Poems, who not only left it to Time to do him Justice as it would, but to find him out as it could. For, what between too great Attention to his Profit as a Player, and too little to his Reputation as a Poet, his Works, left to the Care of Door-keepers and Prompters, hardly escaped the common Fate of those Writings, how good soever, which are abandon'd to their own Fortune, and unprotected by Party or Cabal. At length, indeed, they struggled into Light; but so disguised and travested, that no classic Author, after having run ten secular Stages thro' the blind Cloisters of Monks and Canons, ever came out in half so maimed and mangled a Condition. But for a full Account of his Disorders, I refer the Reader to the excellent Discourse which follows, and turn myself to consider the Remedies that have been applied to them.
Shakespear's Works, when they escaped the Players, did not fall into much better Hands when they came amongst Printers and Booksellers: who, to say the Truth, had, at first, but small Encouragement for putting him into a better Condition. The stubborn Nonsense, with which he was incrusted, occasioned his lying long neglected amongst the common Lumber of the Stage. And when that resistless Splendor, which now shoots all around him, had, by degrees, broke thro' the Shell of those Impurities, his dazzled Admirers became as suddenly insensible to the extraneous Scurf that still stuck upon him, as they had been before to the native Beauties that lay under it. So that, as then he was thought not to deserve a Cure, he was now supposed not to need any.
His growing Eminence, however, required that he should be used with Ceremony: And he soon had his Appointment of an Editor in form. But the Bookseller, whose dealing was with Wits, having learnt of them, I know not what silly Maxim, that none but a Poet should presume to meddle with a Poet, engaged the ingenious Mr. Rowe to undertake this Employment. A Wit indeed he was; but so utterly unacquainted with the whole Business of Criticism, that he did not even collate or consult the first Editions of the Work he undertook to publish ; but contented himself with giving us a meagre Account of the Author's Life, interlarded with some common-place Scraps from his Writings. The Truth is, Shakespear's Condition was yet but ill understood. The Nonsense, now, by consent, received for his own, was held in a kind of Reverence for its Age and Author: and thus it continued, till another great Poet broke the Charm ; by shewing us, that the higher we went, the less of it was still to be found.
For the Proprietors, not discouraged by their first unsuccessful Effort, in due time made a second ; and, tho' they still stuck to their Poets, with infinitely more Success in their Choice of Mr. Pope. Who, by the mere force of an uncommon Genius, without any particular Study or Profession of this Art, discharged the great V Parts of it so well as to make his Edition the best Foundation for all further Improvements. He separated the genuine from the spurious Plays : And, with equal Judgment, tho' not always with the same Success, attempted to clear the genuine Plays from the interpolated Scenes : He then consulted the old Editions ; and, by a careful Collation of them, rectified the faulty, and supplied the imperfect Reading, in a great number of places : And lastly, in an admirable Preface, hath drawn a general, but very lively, Sketch of Shakespear's poetic Character; and, in the corrected Text, marked out those peculiar Strokes of Genius which were most proper to support and illustrate that Character. Thus far Mr. Pope. And altho' much more was to be done before Shakespear could be restored to himself (such as amending the corrupted Text where the printed Books afford no Assistance ; explaining his licentious Phraseology and obscure Allusions; and illustrating the Beauties of his Poetry); yet, with great Modesty and Prudence, our illustrious Éditor left this to the Critic by Profession.
But nothing will give the common Reader a better idea of the Value of Mr. Pope's Edition, than the two Attempts which have been since made, by Mr. Theobald and Sir Thomas Hanmer, in Opposition to it. Who, altho' they concerned themselves only in the first of these three Parts of Criticism, the restoring the Text (without any Conception of the second, or venturing even to touch upon the third), yet succeeded so very ill in it, that they left their Author in ten times a worse Condition than they found him. But, as it was my ill Fortune to have some accidental Connexions with these two Gentlemen, it will be incumbent on me to be a little more particular concerning them.
The One was recommended to me as a poor Man ; the Other as a poor Critic: and to each of them, at different times, I communicated a great number of Observations, which they managed, as they saw fit, to