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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 relistless 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 till 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 fon had his Appointment, of an Editor in form. But the Book seller, whose dealing was with Wits, having learnt of them, I know not whac filly Maxiın, that none but a Poet hould presume to meddle wi h a Poet, engaged the ingenious Mr. Rowe to undertake this Employment. A Wic indeed he was ; but so vitterly 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, Shakesprer's Condition was yet but ill understood. The None fe, now, by confent, 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 Then ing us, thug the higher we went, the lets of it was fill to be found.
For the Proprietors, not discouraged by their first unsuccessful Efor, in due time, made a second ; and, tho' they fill fuck to their Peets, with infin tely more VOL. I.
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 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 fame Succels, attempted to clear the genuine Plays from the interpolated Scenes : He then consulted the old Edi. tions; 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 illultrate that Character. Thus far Mr. Pope. And altho' much more was to be done before Shakespear could be reltored to himself, (such as amending the corrupt. ed Text where the printed Books afford no Alistance ; explaining his licentious Phraseology and obscure Allulions ; and illustrating the Beauties of his Poe ry ;) yet, with great Modesty and Prudence, our illustrious Editor lefc 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 fince 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 fo 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 wich 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, ac different times, I communicated a great Number of Observations, which they managed, as they saw fit, to the Relief of their feveral Distreffes. As to Mr. Theobald, who wanted Money, I allowed him to print what I gave him for his own Advantage : and he allowed himself in the Liberty of taking one Part for his own, and fequeftring another for the Benefit, as I supposed, of some future Edition. But, as to the Oxford Editor, who wanted nothing, but what he might very well be without, the Reputation of a Critic, I could not so easily forgive him for trafficking with my Papers without any Knowledge ; and, when chat Project failed, for employing a number of my conjectures in his Edition against my express Desire not to have that honour done unto me.
Mr. Theobald was naturally turned to Industry and Labour. What he read he could transcribe: but, as what he thought, if ever he did think, he could but ill express, so he read on; and, by that means, got a Character of Learning, without risquing, to every Observer, the Imputation of wanting a better Talent. By a punctilious Collation of the old Books, he corrected what was manifestly wrong in the latter Editions, by what was manifestly right in the earlier. And this is his real Merit ; and the whole of it. For where the Phrase was very obsolete or licentious in the common Books, or only slightly corrupted in the other, he wanted sufficient Knowledge of the Progress and various Stages of the English Tongue, as well as Acquaintance with the Peculiarity of Shakespear's Language to understand what was right; nor had he either common Judgment to fee, or critical Sagacity to amend, what was manifestly faulty. Hence he generally exerts his conjectural Talent in the wrong Place : He tampers with what is found in the common
Books; and, in the old ones, omits all Notice of Variations the Sense of which he did not understand.
How the Oxford Editor came to think himself qua. lified for this Office, from which his whole Course of Life had been so remote, is fill more difficult to conceive. For whatever Parts he might have either of Genius cr Erudition, we was absolutely ignorant of the Art of Criticism, as well as of the Poetry of that Time, and the language of his Author. And so far from a Thought of examining the first Editions, that he even neglected to compare Mr. Pope's, from which he printed his own, with Mr. Tieobald's ; where. by he lost the Advantage of many fine Lines which the other had recovered from the old Quartos. Where he trusts to his own Sagacity, in what affects the Sense, his Conjectures are generally absurd and extravagant, and volating every Rule of Criticism. Tho', in this Rage of Correcting, he was not absolutely destitute of all Art. For, having a number of my Conjectures betore him, he took as many of them as he saw fit, t) work upon ; and by changing them to something, hi thought, synonymous or timilar, he made them his Ovn: and to became a Critic at a cheap Expence. But how well he hath succeeded in this, as likewise in his Conjectures which are properly his own, will be fren in the course of my Remarks: Tho', as he hath cediied to give the Reasons for his Interpolations, he hach not afforded me so fair a hold of him as Mr. Thobold hath done, who was less cautious. But his principal Object was to reform his Author's Numbers; and this, which he hath done, on every Occasion, by the infortion or Oniton of a fit of harmless unconcerning Expletives, makes up the gross Body of his innocerit Corrections. And so, in ipite of that extreme Negligence in Numbers, which dillinguishes the first Dramatic Writers, he hath trickled up the old Bard, from Head to Foot, in all the finical Exactness of a modern Measurer of Syllables.
For the rest, all the Corrections which these two Editors have made on any reasonable Foundation, are here admitted into the Text; and carefully assigned to their respective Authors. A piece of Justice which the Oxford Editor never did; and which the Oiher was not always scrupulous in oblerving towards me. To conclude with them in a word, They separately porfeffed those two Qualities which, more than any other, have contributed to bring the Art of Criticism into disrepute, Dulness of Apprehension, and Extravagance of Conjecture.
I am now to give some Account of the present Undertaking. For as to all those Things, which have been published under the titles of Elays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakespear, (if you except fome critical Notes on Macbeth, given as a Specimen of a projected Edition, and written, as appears, by a Man of Parts and Genius) the rest are absolutely below a serious Notice.
The whole a Critic can do for an Author who deferves his Service, is to correct the faulty Text; to remark the Peculiarities of Language ; to illustrate the obscure Allusions ; and to explain the Beauties and Defects of Sentiment or Composition. And surely, if ever Author had a Claim to this Service, it was our Shakespear: Who, widely excelling in the Knowledge of Human Nature, hath given to his infinitely varied Pictures of it, such Truth of Design, such Force of Drawing, such Beauty of Colouring, as was hardly ever equalled by any Writer, whether his Aim was the Ule, or only the Entertainment of Mankind. The Notes in this Edition, therefore, take in the whole Compass of Criticism.
I. The first fort is employed in restoring the Poet's genuine Text; but in those Places only where it labours with inextricable Nonfenfe. In which, how much foever I may have given Scope to critical Conjecture, where the old Copies failed me, I have in