« AnteriorContinuar »
is a stranger to, at the expence of his own reputation, and the integrity of the text of eftablished authors. But these uses may be well supplied by what is occafionally said upon the subject, in the course of the following remarks.
U. The second fort of notes condits in an explanation of the author's meaning, when, by one or more of these caufes, it becomes obscure; either from a licentius use of terms, or a hard or ungrammatical conflı ucllon; or lastly, from far-fetched or quaint allusions.
1. This licentious use of words is almost peculiar to the language of Shakespeare. To common terms he hath affixa ed meanings of his own, unauthorized by use, and not to be justified by analogy. And this liberty he hath taken with the nobleit parts of speech, such as mixed modes; which, as they are most susceptible of abuse, so their abuse most hurts the clearness of the discourse. The criticks (to whom Shakespeare's licence was still as much a secret as his meaning, which that licence had obfcured) fell into two contrary mistakes; but equally injurious to his reputation and his writings. For some of them, observing a darkness that pervaded his whole expresion, have censured him for confusion of ideas and inaccuracy of reasoning. In the neighing of a horse (says Rymer) or in the growling of a mastiff, there is a meaning, there is a lively expression, and, may I jay, more humanity than many times in the tragical flights of Shakespeare. The ignorance of which censure is of a piece with its brutality. The truth is, no one thought clearer, or argued more closely than this immortal bard. But his superiority of genius less needing the intervention of words in the act of thinking, when he came to draw out his contemplations into discourse, he took up (as he was hurried on by the torrent of his matter) with the first words that lay in his way; and if, amongst these, there were two mixed modes that had but a principal idea in common, it was enough for him; he regarded them as synonymous, and would use the one for the other without fear or fcruple.Again, there have been others, such as the two laft editors, who have fallen into a contrary extreme; and regarded Shakespeare's anomalies (as we may call them) amongst the corruptions of his text; which, therefore, they have cashiered in great numbers, to make room for a jargon of their own. This hath put me to additional trouble; for I had not only their interpolations to throw out again, but the genuine text to replace, and establish in its ficad; which, in many cases, could not be done without
shewing the peculiar sense of the terms, and explaining the
2. The poet's hard and unnatural construction had a dif-
3. As to his far-fetched and quaint allusions, these are often a cover to common thoughts; just as his hard construction is to common expression. When they are not so, the explanation of them has this further advantage, that, in clearing the obfcurity, you frequently discover Tome latent conceit not unworthy of his genius.
III. The third and last fort of notes is concerned in a cri. tical explanation of the author's beauties and defects; but chiefly of his beauties, whether in stile, thought, sentiment, character, or composition. An odd humour of finding fault hath long prevailed amongst the criticks; as if nothing were worth remarking, that did not, at the fame time, deserve to be reproved. Whereas the publick judgment hath less need to be asisted in what it shall reject, than in what it ought to prize; men being generally more ready at spying faults than in discovering beauties. Nor is the value they set upon a work, a certain proof that they understand it.' For it is ever seen, that half a dozen voices of credit give the lead : and if the public chance to be in good humour, or the author much in their favour, the people are sure to follow, Hence it is that the true critick hath fo frequently attached
himself to works of established reputation; not to teach the world to admire, which, in those circumstances, to say the truth, they are apt enough to do of themselves; but to teach them how, with realon to admire: no casy matter, I will assure you, on the subject in question: for though it be very true, as Mr. Pope hath observed, that Shakespeare is the faireft and fulleft subject for criticism, yet it is not such a sort of criticiím as may be raised mechanically on the rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Boilu have collected from antiquity; and of which, such kind of writers as Rymer, Gildon, Dennis, and Oldmison, have only gathered and chewed the husks: nor on the other hand is it to be formed on the plan of those crude and supersicial judgments, on books and things, with which a certain celebrated paper so much abounds; too good indeed to be named with the writers last mentioned, but being unluckily mistaken for a model, because it was an original, it hath given rise to a deluge of the worst sort of critical jargon; I mean that which looks most like sense. But the kind of criticism here required, is such as judgeth our author by those only laws and principles on which he wrote, NATURE, and COMMON-SENSE.
Our observations, therefore, being thus extensive, will, I presume, cnable the reader to form a right judgment of this favourite poet, without drawing out his character, as was once intended, in a continued difcourse.
Those, such, as they are, were among my younger amusements, when many years ago, I used to turn over these sort of writers to unbend myself from more serious applications: and what, certainly, the publick, at this time of day, had never been troubled with, but for the conduct of the two last editors, and the persualions of dear Mr. Pope; whose memory and name,
- femper acerbum,
He was desirous I should give a new edition of this poet, as he thought it might contribute to put a stop to a prevailing folly of altering the text of celebrated authors without talents or judgment. And he was willing that his edition should be melted down into mine, as it would, he said, afford him (so great is the modesty of an ingenuous temper) a fit opportunity of confelling his mistakes* In memory of
• See his Letters to me.
our friendship, I have, therefore, made it our joint edition. His admirable preface is here added; all his notes are given, with his name annexed; the fcenes are divided according to his regulation; and the most beautiful pallages distinguishel, as in his book, with inverteil commas. In imitation of him, I have done the fame by as many others as I thought most deserving of the reader's attention, and have marked them with double commas.
If, from all this, Shakespeare or goed letters have received any advantage, and the publick any benefit, or entertainment, the thanks are due to the proprietors, who have been at the expence of procuring this edition. And I thould be unjust to several deserving men of a reputable and useful profellion, if I did not, on this occasion, acknowledge the fir dealing I have always found amongst them; and profess my sense of the unjust prejudice which lies against them; whereby they have been, hitherto, unable to procure that fecurity for their property, which they fee the rest of their fellow-citizens enjoy. A prejudice in part arising from the frequent piracies (as they are called) committed by members of their own body. But such kind of members no body is without. And it would be hard that this ihould be turned to the discredit of the honest part of the profession, who suffer more from such injuries than any other men. It hath, in part too, arisen from the clamours of profligate fcribblers, ever ready, for a piece of money, to prostitute their bad senfe for or against any cause prophane or facred; or in any scandal publick or private: these mecting with little encouragement from men of account in the trade (who, even in this enlightened age, are not the very worst judges or rewarders of merit) apply themselves to people of condition; and support their importunities by false complaints against booksellers.
But I should now, perhaps, rather think of my own apology, than buly myself in the defence of others. I shall have fome Tartuffé ready, on the first appearance of this edition, to call olit again, and tell me, that I suffer myself to be wholly diverted from my purpose by these matters less suitable to my clerical profeffin.“ Well, but (íays a friend) why not " take fo candid an intimation in good part? Withdraw “ yourself again, as you are bid, into the clerical pale: o examine the records of sacred and prophane antiquity; " and, on them, erect a work the confusion of infide* lity." Why, I have done all this, and more; and hear
now what the fame men have said to it. They tell me, 1 have wrote to the wrong and injury of religion, and furnished out more handles for unbelicders. « Oh! now the secret is out; " and you may have your pardon, I find, upon easier terms. “ It is only to write no more.”-Good gentlemen! and shall I not oblige them? They would gladly obstrucl my way to those things which every man, who endeavours well in his profession, must needs think he has some claim to, when he sees them given to those who never did endeavour; at the same time that they would deter me from taking those advantages which letters enable me to procure for myself. If then I am to write no more (though as much out of my profession as they may please to represent this work, I fuspect their modesty would not insist on a scrutiny of our several applications of this prophane profit and their purer gains) if, I say, I am to write no more, let me at least give the publick, who have a better pretence to demand it of me, some reason for my prefenting them with these amusements; which, if I am not much mistaken, may be excused by the best and fairest examples; and, what is more, may be justified on the surer reason of things.
The great Saint CHRYSOSTOM, a name confecrated to immortality by his virtue and eloquence, is known to have been so fond of Aristophanes, as to wake with him at his studies, and to sleep with him under his pillow: and I never heard that this was objected either to his piety or his preaching, not even in those times of pure zeal and primitive relie gion. Yet, in respect of Shakespeare's great sense, Aristophanes's best wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's freedoms, Shakespeare writes with the purity of a vestal. But they will say, St. Chryfoftom contracted a fondness for the comick poet for the sake of his Greek. To this, indeed, I have nothing to reply. Far be it from me to infinuate so unscholarlike a thing, as if we had the fame use for good English, that a Greek had for his Attick elegance. Critick Kuiter, in a taste and language peculiar to grammarians of a certain order, hath decreed, that the history and chronology of Greek words is the mof SOLID entertainment of a man of letters.
I fly then to a higher example, much nearer home, and fill more in point, the famous university of Oxford. This illustrious body, which hath long so justly held, and with Luch equity difpenfed, the chief honours of the learned world, thought good letters so much interested in correct