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PREF A C E.
TT hath been no unusual thing for Writers,
when dissatisfied with the Patronage or Judge
ment of their own Times, to appeal to Porterity 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 be tween 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 abandoned to their own Fortune, and unprotected by Party or Cabal. At length, indeed, they struggled into Light; but so disguised and travested, that no claffic Author, after having fun ten secular Stages thro' the blind Cloisters of Monks and Canons, ever came out in half fo maimed and mangled a Condition. But for a full Aca count of his Disorders, I refer the Reader to the excellent Discourse which follows, and turn myself to consider the Remedies that have been apa plied 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 foon had his Appointment, of an Editor in form. But the Bookseller, whose dealing was with Wits, having learnt of them, I know not what filly 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 Thewing 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 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 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 obfcure Allusions; and illustrating the Beauties
E RR A T A. Page 51 .. ult. for would catch read would I catch. p. 103. 1. 6. for this read hic. ;-265. I. 1. for gords read gord. p. 356. I. 23. for word read words.' p. 442. l. 26. for with read wish'd.